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Tag Archives: urban fantasy
The October Man, by Ben Aaronovitch is an offshoot of Aaronovitch’s The Rivers of London series, and perfect for the coming Halloween season. Set in the city of Trier, one of the few Roman conquered cities in Germany, this modern urban fantasy runs, KDA Polezei Tobias Winter, and local officer Vanessa Sommer, up and down hills, staircases, and steep vineyards in a puzzling magic and mythology-laden case.
Tobias is a member of the Abteilung Komplexe und diffuse Angelegenheiten (KDA)—Department of Complex and Diffuse Matters, a lovely, and vague way to say that his division looks into what it calls “infractions” –of a supernatural nature, often involving death. No aliens are involved, but, as in Aaronovitch’s other stories, a great many creatures from myth, plus, of course, river spirits. Tobias is the Director’s apprentice, just as Peter Grant of the Rivers of London Series, is an apprentice of the Nightingale. Vanessa Sommer is a Kriminalpolizei officer in Trier, specializing in crimes involving wine. As the story develops, she also has a budding talent for magic.
The mystery begins with a dead male body, covered with a fungus called Botrytis cinerea or Noble Rot (sometimes introduced to grapes to create a sweet wine, ) and not usually found on humans, much less as a cause of death. The body was dumped below a steep field of grapes, and above a river. The victim was a member of a club of mostly middle-aged men, who started with the quote from Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” They begin by drinking good wine, but eventually branch out by beyond their comfort zones, taking classes, going to museums, going to live theatre. When the first death occurs, it was actually at the point of starting to voluntarily disband. Every member had improved his life and was happier in it. Tobias and Vanessa have to discover how magic is involved.
The owner of the vineyard is involved, as well. The Stracker family had a connection with the river below, the Kyll (or Kelly, as she prefers to be known when walking around town.) When Jacqueline Stracker inherited the vineyard from her grandfather, she returned from working in the wine country of California, and that may have started the supernatural activity. And when pressed about unusual activities, admits to following her grandfather one night when he made a “wine sacrifice” to the river, intending to steal the bottles. She was very surprised when a shining, nude woman walked out of the water and gave her a message for her grandfather, that the compact was broken. She never mentioned the incident to family.
Aaronovitch’s writing is addicting, his descriptions of the countryside and highways can be confusing, but add texture to his stories. His characters have depth. I’d like more stories about these two. It doesn’t hurt to have an interest or background in folklore and mythology, but it certainly not necessary. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
The October Man, by Ben Aaronovitch, A Rivers of London Novella, Subterranean Press, ISBN 9781596069084, hard back. 208 pages.
I really enjoyed Jade City by Fonda Lee. While many reviewers drew parallels to the Godfather, I felt more as if I’d been transported into a somewhat different, contemporary Asian city, such as 1990s Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Bangkok. Years ago in this world, Kekon Island, and its people were in a war fought over the control of bioenergetics jade, a stone that gives the wearer super abilities, such as strength, perception, or making the body lighter. The warriors who wear jade, (called Green Bones) use it for added abilities, especially in combat. The war was settled, and foreign soldiers and overlords were defeated. Two of the heroes of that war founded families that helped control the exportation of bioenergetic jade. In the modern capital city, an added source of tension is the introduction of a drug called “Shine”, that can be used to give the ability to use jade to those who don’t have the natural ability. It also has a cost, addicting those that use it.
The characters are complex, and the source of the magic is intriguingly crafted. There is even a world stage, where events in the city and small island, make a difference, as well as influences the action in the story. The book is compared to the Godfather, and mob based movies and books. It’s also been compared to Wuxia (wooSHya) stories, wandering kung fu masters. Science and magic exist side by side, in this 20th century city. There are also family, and interpersonal relationships that helped pull me into the story, along with the awesome world building.
It is also a multiple viewpoint story, with a family with all the quirks of a real one. Kaul Sen, the grandfather, fought in the liberating guerilla war, where his son Kaul Du died. Kaul Lan, 35, the oldest grandson, is the current Pillar, leader of the clan, competent, cautious, and ambassadorial. Kaul Hilo, is the Fist of the clan, an extroverted, impulsive younger man. And their sister Kaul Shia, has come home from college abroad, with a degree in business, and determined to construct a life for herself away from clan business. A large part of clan business is the regulation of crime, especially the ownership of bioenergetic jade, only legally used by “Green Bones” Kekoneese clan members, whether they are warriors or lawyers, or businessmen. This jade, only found and mined on Kekon island, grants those attuned to it to use powers verging on magical, strength, lightness, perception, healing, to those who are trained to use it. It is only a stone, to the Abukei, indigenous to Kekon. The rest of the world, it is used by special armed forces, with the help of a drug called “Shine.”
The family itself has enough conflict for a novel, but the jade being mined is not all reaching the Kaul clan. The Ayt clan is trying to consolidate all the clans in their own. Violently, for the most part. The island is still not free from the foreign interests that they warred in an earlier generation.
Jade War, is the second title in the trilogy, and is already out.
The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp is an urban fantasy, but in the way of the best Fantasy and Science Fiction, it’s so much more. It makes you think about questions of morality, doing the wrong thing for the right reason, all the shades of gray adults maneuver in the real world, but on steroids in an urban fantasy. Each chapter also begins with a section about mythology, superstition, and religion–which I found fascinating. I didn’t always agree, but it showed me the flavor of New Orleans, where this fantasy takes place. The writer, began writing this on his way out of the city during the flooding of hurricane Katrina.
It’s set in New Orleans, 6 years after Hurricane Katrina hit, and Jude Dubuisson lives on the street, sometimes using his “gifts” to help customers find the lost, from a mother’s earings, to a child taken all the way to Ohio. Not always simple, his gift, he can find the lost item and tell you so much more. But since the hurricane, neither New Orleans, or Jude, has been the same. It’s been raw, painful, to open to his gifts, and he has drawn away from it and himself. But now, his old partner has an invitation that begins it all again. He owes a fortune god a favor, and goes to the meeting place, to be dealt a hand of poker with tarot cards. His seat is among the four gathered supernaturals, a vampire, Scarpelli; an angel, Wings; the Egyptian god of Scribes, Thoth; and voodoo god of the crossroads riding a middle-aged priestess, Papa Legba; and the luck god of New Orleans, Dodge, who resembles the laughing Buddha, or Budhai statues. Jude may owe everything to everyone, and draws a hand of 5 blank cards. He leaves the game, believing it’s a dead man’s hand, but it’s Dodge who is killed.
The characters are well drawn, and even side characters are more than cutouts, but its hard to be certain who will be more important to the story. And the story is a wonderfully worded wild ride. There’s enough here for the literature reader, the travel reader, and the folklorist. We see so many facets of New Orleans actual culture, along with the supernatural aspects in this story, one can nearly smell the different city streets.
The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp, Series: A Crescent City novel, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018, hardcover, ISBN 9781328810793