Disconnected

There are times when I feel very disconnected from my religious communities: from the Pagan community (if it can even be called that) and certainly from the Heathen community. I’ve always been the sort of person to go off and do my own thing, but eventually, I’ve discovered, I’ll want to connect with other people and talk about religion, and I’ll do that and for a time I’ll be content with that.

But then, inevitably, I’ll start feeling like I don’t belong in some spaces. I don’t feel comfortable in heavily Wiccanate Pagan spaces because I don’t identify with that tradition, I don’t feel comfortable in Heathen spaces because so much of what I do doesn’t look like what they do, even though we honor the same deities, and I don’t feel comfortable in devotional polytheist spaces because I feel like that term has been co-opted by the sort of folks who really don’t give a shit about people but who simultaneously complain when people don’t give them the time of day, and as someone who honours “people” deities, I like to think they’d like me to give a shit about people.

In any case, what this means is that I pretty much go back to doing my own thing.

I think what needs to happen is that I need to recognize that I do my own thing, and that is okay, and that engaging with other people doesn’t mean I have to have beliefs that match up with theirs. It sounds like such a simple thing to do, and yet, in my experience, it doesn’t often go that way.

Review: The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales

You’ll recall from my review of The School for Good and Evil that I am a fairy tale enthusiast, so when I heard that Penguin was publishing stories from a collection compiled by Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth–lost until very recently–which would mark the first time these tales were available in English, I knew I needed to add it to my collection.

In the 1850s, Schonwerth travelled all over northern Bavaria recording fairy tales, many of these tales were told to him by labourers, women and weavers, people who expressed disbelief that a learned man like Schonwerth would be interested in their stories. This book includes over seventy of the stories that he collected. The stories in this book are divided into several categories: Tales of Magic and Romance, Enchanted Animals, Otherworldly Creatures, Legends, Tall Tales and Anecdotes, and Tales About Nature. Most of the stories are only a couple pages long.

Some of the stories in this collection will be familiar to many readers, and include variations of tales like “Cinderella”, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, “The Devil’s Three Gold Hairs”, “The Clever Tailor”, and “Our Lady’s Child”. In fact, it would be interesting to compare these stories side by side with a book of fairy tales by the Grimms.  Some stories have recognizable mythological motifs, such as the princess turned dragon who is burned three times in order to transform her back into a human, a woman who trades sex with a dwarf for a necklace (their names indicate that they are thin disguises for Odin and Frigga or Freyja), to golden apples and friendly ice giants. I was pleasantly surprised to find a variant of a Finnish story where a boy makes a bargain with the devil that whoever loses their temper first will obtain enough skin off the loser’s back to make a pair of boots, only in this story, a priest is the villain and the prize is gold. There were also plenty of stories I’d never heard of before, such as one where a mother rescues her children from mermaids with the help of a magic belt and necklace.

Many readers will be happy to hear that unlike their more famous counterparts, these stories haven’t been subject to censoring. Some of the protagonists are far from heroic (including one who is a serial killer) and some of the stories end on depressing notes or wouldn’t be out of place as a modern horror movie. Although the tales are more violent than sexual (a woman moons one of the protagonists in one of the stories), the stories don’t sugarcoat the violence and at least one story is a darkly comedic yarn involving a corpse stuffed in a trunk, and while encounters with wood sprites are usually benign, there are at least seven stories in this collection featuring evil mermaids, Bavarian storytellers have something against mermaids, apparently. Some stories feature unlikely allies: beetles, weasels, and even the devil himself help out protagonists who are down on their luck.

The stories also address class conflicts (those of you who are interested in discussions of class and fairy tales need this collection, because there’s a lot of it) and do some interesting things with gender. Heroes are just as likely to faint when frightened as heroines, heroines rescue their lovers or family members, and in “The Scorned Princess” a hero gets his happy ending by burning down the titular princess’ city (killing her and the entire court in the process) and reigns as king over the country.

Some of my favourite stories in this collection include “The Figs” which contains elements of a tale I loved as a child called “The White Snake” and also involves the hero making friends with Death and the devil, “The Enchanted Quill” where the heroine obtains a magic quill from an enchanted crow, “The Scorned Princess”, “The Belt and the Necklace” where a woman rescues her children from mermaids, “Tricking the Witch” where a princess defeats a witch by cutting her way out of her stomach, and “The Ice Giants” where the titular ice giants end up marrying mortal women and having ice giant children.

The only negative thing that I have to say about this book is that some of the stories might be a little confusing for some readers. Sometimes plot elements are introduced seemingly at random, and some things just aren’t explained even by fairy tale logic, which is frequently bizarre but makes sense if you can accept that talking animals and magical fruit exists. The translator also chose to insert some modern phrases into the text which, while they aren’t especially jarring, might look odd to people who are used to translations with flowery language.  However, if you are at all interested in fairy tales, or particularly if you’re interested in Bavarian folk and fairy tales, you need this book in your life, trust me on this. This review can’t do these wonderful stories justice. Do yourself a favour and pick this one up, it’s a rare glimpse into a world of enchantment that hasn’t been butchered into an attempt to make it “child-friendly”.

Review: The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe: Goddesses, Sacred Women, and the Origins of Western Culture

Even though I don’t consider myself a “Goddessian” anymore, I’m always interested in books about goddesses and the role of women in religion. Last year, I reviewed Celtic Myth and Religion by Sharon Paice MacLeod and liked it despite its flaws, so when I saw she had written a book on Goddesses and women in European history, I was very interested in it.

As the title of the book suggests, this is a book about goddesses, priestesses, and other important women in European religious history. Each chapter covers a specific time period from prehistory (starting from the Paleolithic) to the early Medieval period. Each chapter begins with a short narrative based on sources about daily life in that period to set the stage for the chapter before delving into archaeological finds of interest and speculating as to what these artifacts may have meant to the people who created them by looking at practices and beliefs of present day indigenous cultures, as well as textual evidence where available. The topics she covers range from how humans impacted the environment in the Mesolithic area to our genetic ancestry to ritual art and music. The author argues that European cultures are influenced not solely–or even chiefly–by Greek and Roman culture, but by a rich tapestry of many different traditions.

For the most part, I feel the author tried to remain objective when discussing prehistoric artifacts. She dismisses the popular “Golden Age Matriarchy” theory that we’ve all heard before right off the bat, citing evidence of interpersonal violence in Neolithic settlements. She also attacks the notion that are prehistoric Images depict mother goddesses (assuming they depict goddesses in the first place) or fertility deities, also noting that this tendency erases other roles that women in these communities may have held that aren’t necessarily related to motherhood, such as priestesses or leaders of their communities.

Since I’m not familiar with current research on life in prehistoric times, I found those chapters interesting. A lot of Pagan 101 texts seem to treat prehistory as if it was one continuous line of “goddess worship” until The Patriarchy came. The picture that this book paints, however, is a fascinating one where changes in the environment during the Mesolithic brought significant changes to the way people lived and the artwork they created (the author notes that there is a lack of female figurines from this period when compared to Paleolithic or Neolithic artifacts, for instance).

I’m a bit more familiar with Celtic traditions and Norse things, which are also covered in the book, although I found the chapters on Celtic traditions to basically be a rehashing of the material in Celtic Myth and Religion (which she cites constantly). The section on Norse traditions wasn’t anything I already knew. I did notice that she spent a lot of time talking about how Roman writers viewed these cultures instead of looking at their material culture.

As for things I didn’t like about this book, I found the narratives at the beginning of each chapter more cheesy than mood-setting. A consistent annoyance for me was how the author would frequently segue into discussing the evils of technology and the need for people of European descent to reclaim their spiritual roots. Unfortunately, the message comes across as very “noble savage”=y, as she constantly talks about indigenous traditions and their connection to nature and knowledge that Westerners of European descent have lost. She also begins each chapter with a quote from an indigenous speaker or activist in order to set the “theme” for the chapter. I would understand if this was a book about indigenous traditions around the world, but since it is a book specifically about European traditions it struck me as inappropriate. I found it particularly jarring because her previous book wasn’t feel preachy at all (probably because it was written explicitly for students). I also found it kind of funny that she scoffs at modern druid orders while claiming to be a “Western neoshamanic practitioner” (paraphrased).

Honestly, i think this book could have benefited from a more academic tone and less preaching about how Westerners have “lost their way”. I can’t even really say who I would recommend this to, perhaps someone who is interested in the divine feminine (I hate this term, btw) whose only exposure to writings on prehistory is a Llewellyn Pagan 101 book, but for the price of this book you could buy one by someone who really knows their stuff. Celtic Myth and Religion is, in my opinion, a far better book if you’re looking for info on those traditions specifically. But honestly, between the noble savage schtick, the preaching, and the price (cheap for an academic book, expensive for a non-academic book), I can’t see a lot of people clamoring to pick this one up. It’s not a terrible book, but it definitely could have been much better.

Review: Dark Hollow

Late last year I discovered a wondrous thing: Goodreads giveaways, where you can get free books just for providing a mailing address (the author and publisher pay for shipping). I’ve been entering these giveaways nonstop since I discovered they existed. This is how I obtained a copy of Dark Hollow, the debut novel of Indy author Tara Winters.

From an early age, Tabitha Devins has been aware of the fact that she possesses extraordinary powers. At eighteen, she’s been looking forward to leaving the island of Porta Negra and heading to college, away from her emotionally distant mother.

However, just before she’s about to set out, her mother disappears, leaving her with more questions than answers. Her search for her mother will take her through a mysterious portal to a parallel world where she discovers people with abilities much like her own. Unfortunately for her, others are also seeking her and her mother, and their intentions might not be as benign as they claim.

I thought the concept was interesting. The world of Caska is much like our world, only weather patterns and such have altered it in ways that make it distinct from Tabitha’s world (for example, Tabitha’s island home is a peninsula in the alternate universe. The Caskans haven’t domesticated dogs, but they have pet wolves, and they share their world with other races like elves and the  fae Faye, and, of course, Caskans have l33t powers that are pretty standard fantastical powers fare: healing, telepathy, telekinesis, the usual.

Unfortunately, this is yet another instance that while the concept is interesting, the execution is another story. The writing leaves something to be desired. The dialogue is awkward and at times doesn’t make any sense. Here is a quote that’s just one example among many of the quality of writing in this book:

“You forget yourself, Berton. It is not polite not to include your guest in your conversations,” the little woman scolded. Sybille stepped forward and nodded to Tabitha. Tabitha was immediately relaxed by the shy smile the tiny woman shared with her. As tall and masculine as her husband was, Sybille was petite, her head barely up to his shoulder. Her deep black hair hung in a long, straight curtain down her back.Her face was small and round, her nose tiny and upturned, her small mouth delicate, Her eyes were radiant silver, and her skin was pale, as opposed to the golden tones of the two men. She hardly appeared to be old enough to be Luc’s stepmother.”

If there were just a few moments where the text was this awkward I could live with it. After all, I love An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdoms series, and that series isn’t known for its stellar writing either, but here the writing is just plain dull, and because of that, the characterization suffers. The dialogue also suffers from a lack of contractions, which has the effect of making teenage and child characters sound like they’re from the Middle Ages. Tabitha also doesn’t sound or “feel” eighteen, she comes across as a twenty or thirty something woman at best, and this is coming from someone who has difficulty keeping track of a character ages. In another case, I was confused as to whether a child character was an infant or a child with Down’s Syndrome or a similar condition, because while she seemed old enough to indicate that she wanted more cereal, she doesn’t really seem to do much else but smile and sleep. Again, tighter writing and scrupulous editing would have helped clarify a great many things in this book, but as it is I found myself reading sentences over several times and just outright scratching my head trying to figure out what the author was trying to say. Also the big twist at the end is so painfully obvious you can probably guess what’s going to happen, but honestly lots of books have painfully obvious twists.

In terms of diversity, well, the closest we come to characters of colour is that some of the men are described as “tanned” which, considering that I’m pretty sure everyone else is white, comes across as “white guys who spend a lot of time in the sun” rather than “character of colour”. The book is also incredibly heteronormative and falls into the problematic territory of many paranormal romance novels with the idea that women can be “claimed” by men who are, naturally, destined to be together. Also since the bonds of heterosex are sacred, other men will back off once a couple pairs off. The excuse for the lack of non-hetero orientations would undoubtedly be that Caskans have few children due to Caskan women only being able to bear one or two offspring before dying. It’s no excuse for the lack of queer psychic sort of elf people, but lack of diversity is always disappointing.

If I wasn’t also sent the sequel, I wouldn’t bother with this series anymore. The ideas in it were at least somewhat interesting, but so poorly executed (and pretty cliche, all things considered) that it’s not even in “so bad it’s good territory for me”.

Deck Review: Oracle of the Mermaids

Happy Valentine’s Day! (Or as I’m now calling it “Self Love/Self Care Day”) Since I’m emphasizing self love on this day, I thought now would be a good opportunity to review a deck I love.

I’ve been a fan of Selina Fenech’s art since I learned of the existence of the Wild Wisdom of Faery Oracle, so when I found out that she was doing the art for a mermaids deck, I knew I had to have it and it instantly went on my deck lust list.

As usual, let’s start with some technical information. The cards are large-ish: 3.67 x 5.50 inches, and are very glossy, each card has a number at the top and the title and keywords at the bottom. The cards also have a thin border in “pearl” shades. The card backs show a blonde mermaid with hair that would make Rapunzel jealous. The backs are non-reversible. The cards come in a sturdy box. Included is a 168 page companion book by Lucy Cavendish. The companion book includes instructions for a three card spread, two five card spreads, and a “Mermaid Celtic Cross” which is like a standard Celtic Cross with an extra card. I personally don’t like to use spreads with oracles, but someone else might find them useful.

The art is simply gorgeous. This is one of those decks that I’ve shown to others where they’re instantly captivated by the art. One of my absolute favourite cards in this deck is “Sanctuary” which depicts a mermaid (representing Melusine) lounging in a bathtub. Another card I loved is “Freedom” which depicts a pirate mermaid with a skull and crossbones shirt and a cutlass lying next to her. Obviously taste in arr varies, but if you liked the art in the Wild Wisdom of Faery Oracle, chances are you’ll like the art in this one too.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much from the companion book. I found the companion book for the fairy oracle to be one of the fluffiest companion books I’ve ever read, and while I don’t think this one is as bad, there were still passages that raised an eyebrow or two for me. For instance, while Lucy Cavendish talks about how society creates unrealistic expectations for men (hello patriarchy), she then goes on to say that men suffer “in some ways even moreso than women” which….no…..just don’t go there. References to Atlantis and Lemuria are common in this book, and at one point there’s a jarring shift in tone from talking about relationships and the importance of taking time for yourself to talking about how Atlanteans conducted cruel experiments on the poor Lemurians. Still, I did appreciate the messages about loving yourself and setting firm boundaries.

This deck has become my self-care deck. If I’m feeling down and need a pick me up. I pull a card from this deck, although you can also use it for relationship readings. I did some readings for others and the feedback I received was that the deck was pretty accurate and helpful.

If I had any gripes with this deck, it would be that there’s not a whole lot of diversity in either body type or race (three cards clearly depict mermaids of colour), and it’s also a very heterosexual deck, with one card “Yearning” looking like a cheesy romance novel cover. I was particularly annoyed by the explanation for the “Soul Cage” card, which turned a story about the friendship between a male fisherman and a merman into a story about a man being rescued by a mermaid, and it’s actually not an old fairy tale at all, but the invention of its author, Thomas Keightley. I should also note in case anyone who follows this blog is tokophobic, but a few of the images in this deck depict pregnant mermaids.

Despite these annoyances, I really like this deck and I think any mermaid fan should check it out. It easily has the most appealing art of any of the mermaid/sea themed decks on the market for me at this time. If it had the racial diversity of, say, the World Spirit Tarot or the diverse body types of the Mythical Goddess Tarot, it would have been that much better, but as it is, it’s still a great deck, especially if you’re into mermaids.

Review: Pies and Prejudice

It’s that time again where I step outside of my favourite genre and read something a little different. I’ve always liked a good mystery, but the last time I read a mystery novel I wasn’t too impressed with the writing, and, as you know, bad writing kills a book for me.

I picked up Pies and Prejudice after it was recommended by a book blog I trust on tumblr. I love baking so I appreciated the fact that it included recipes, even if I don’t usually bake pies.

Ella Mae LeFaye, recently separated from her husband after catching him cheating on her, has returned to her hometown of Havenwood, Georgia, determined to get her life back on track, with assistance from her mother and quirky aunts, she opens the Charmed Pie Shoppe, but things quickly become interesting when her pies start having magical effects on people. Things start heating up when her longtime rival’s fiancé is found murdered using Ella Mae’s own rolling pin,it’ll take all her sweet magic to clear her name.

My first impression of this book was that it was well-written and heavy on the food porn. The book paints and idyllic picture of Havenwood, a small town where everyone knows everyone else and nothing much happens. Normally, I would be frustrated by the book’s slow pace and focus on “mundane” matters, but I found this book to be oddly relaxing.

Unfortunately, that favourable first impression didn’t last, as while the descriptive text is well-written, the dialogue lacks any sense of subtlety. Case in point, Ella Mae meets her longtime rival, Loralyn Gaynor, who is every bit the Alpha Bitch trope, who promptly boasts that she’s hired sex workers and cheerleaders to ruin the reputations of her previous husbands so she can line her pockets with cash. Yeah that’s a really smart thing to do.

Since Ella Mae isn’t a detective and really shouldn’t be poking around crime scenes (common in cozy mysteries), it’s important to find other ways of investigating crimes. In urban fantasy, typically characters either consult for the police or have supernatural powers that somehow enable them to track the criminal. In Ella Mae’s case, her investigative method involves baking pies and pestering people. It’s to be expected that a book focused around pies would use pies some way in the plot, but after awhile it seemed gimmicky, and I found myself wondering what would happen if Ella Mae encountered anyone who couldn’t have gluten, dairy, or eggs because the narrative is utterly dependent on the characters having a thing for pie.

If you’re looking to pick up this book because the back cover promises magical mayhem, I’d say don’t bother. Ella Mae only gets an inkling that something might be up with her pies about halfway through the book, and the mystery surrounding her family is literally solved in the last few pages. I did like the more subtle approach to magic but not how it felt like the author forgot about that element until the very end.

Sometimes books have a definite culture to them, and this book definitely feels very “Southern US” though I can’t say how applicable it is to Georgia in particular. Characters drink sweet tea a lot, old money families are racist as fuck, and family feuds that have gone on for ages are the norm. It’s so stereotypical it’s almost funny. There’s not much I can say about this except that at times it struck me as charming and other times as cliche.

I also felt that the central mystery of the book was pretty cliche as well in that I figured out what was going on as soon as the victim’s profession was mentioned and the protagonist makes an assumption that a murder victim drowned in custard that I found too ridiculous to even contemplate. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from a first novel in a series but this struck me as particularly cliche.

Pies and Prejudice was an experiment, and unfortunately my good first impression of the book didn’t last. I probably won’t be picking up the other books in the series, but I haven’t given up on the mystery genre yet. I’m just not sure cozies are for me.

 

The Companions Project is No More

I know I just posted the entry for Eisheth and it seems silly to post it and then scrap the whole thing, but to be honest I’m not really feeling it anymore. The one entry’s been sitting there for ages and to be honest I feel as if it isn’t very useful to anyone but myself.

No, the author and publisher didn’t track me down and demand that I stop. I’m just feeling like my work with the Companions needs to be a bit more private. The Thirteen Houses Project is staying where it is, however, so there’s that, and I might start something similar with my own fictional deities.

If you’re interested in stuff involving the Companions, I’d encourage you to read the source material (that is, the Kushiel’s Legacy series) or you can message me about it on tumblr or Facebook.

Review: The School for Good and Evil

[sexism tw]

As you probably know, I am a folk and fairy tale enthusiast. I took courses on fairy tales and storytelling while working towards my MLIS degree and they were some of my favourite courses in library school, so I’m always on the hunt for interesting spins on fairy tales.

The School For Good and Evil had an interesting premise: every four years, two children are taken from the village of Gavaldon and sent to the School For Good and Evil, where they learn to be fairy tale heroes and villains. Sophie, with her love of pink and dedication to doing good deeds, is sure she’ll be sent to the School for Good to become a fairytale princess and live happily ever after, while Agatha, with her cantankerous cat and hatred of nearly everyone, seems like a natural fit for the School for Evil. However, when the two girls are finally kidnapped, Sophie finds herself in the School for Evil and Agatha in the School for Good. Will they be able to rectify the mistake, or will they perhaps discover who they really are?

This sort of mistaken identity plot has been done before, but the idea of two schools that train fairy tale heroes and villains was intriguing. Unfortunately, there are several things that are so awful about this book that this very nearly ended up being a “Sturgeon’s 90%” title, and the only reason it avoided that dubious distinction was because it was somewhat readable.

I say somewhat, but really, this book was badly in need of an editor. The book is riddled with very awkward dialogue and sentence structure in general. It’s a lot of “The [noun] [verbed]” and that’s it, no description of any kind. Some word choices are just plain incorrect or unnatural (such as using the word “hailed” when “exclaimed” would have been a better choice), in the vein of “X bashed Y. Y fell over” it’s a very mechanical way of writing. It doesn’t flow or provide the reader with a lot of information, and the book definitely suffers for it. The dialogue is similarly structured, and there were multiple occasions where I found myself wondering what the heck the characters were actually saying. It’s just a mess all around. Apparently the author is involved in the film industry, which explains a lot. However, writing a screenplay uses a very different set of skills than writing a novel, and it definitely shows that just because you’re good at one form of writing doesn’t mean you’ll be great with another form.

 You probably have an idea as to where the plot is going; the problem is that the characters themselves don’t want to accept the inevitable. Both Sophie and Agatha spend about 75% of the book insisting that they’re in the wrong school, and when they finally accept that they belong in their respective schools, the change is very abrupt. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the characters, but to be honest I could forgive that if they weren’t so one note in the most irritating way possible. 

As if the writing and characterization weren’t bad enough, the book really has some sexism issues. Girls who attend the School for Good are taught to essentially wait around for boys to rescue them, and while Agatha does comment on how silly it is, nothing is really done to change the situation. It reaches its peak in the narrative during the ball that the School for Good hosts. In a nutshell, every student requires a date, boys who don’t have a date take half grades, girls who don’t have a date flunk, and students who flunk get turned into wolves or fairies and are forced to guard the other school. Also, don’t worry, queer friends! Apparently two princes going to the ball together is “silly”! Did I mention the book completely subverts it’s own message (that how we look doesn’t matter, it’s what we do) by having the villains magically become beautiful when they all become Good–which includes the only fat kid in the book becoming skinny? Even the twist on “true love’s kiss” at the end (which you will no doubt be familiar with if you’ve seen certain recent Disney movies) failed to impress me by the end, because I ultimately felt like the book was talking the talk but utterly failing to walk the walk.

It’s just such a trainwreck.

Honestly, this could have been a fun book–the premise was certainly interesting, but the issues start with the awful writing and it only gets worse from there. Part of me can’t believe this is being turned into a movie, but part of me isn’t that surprised. I don’t think I’ll be picking up the sequel to this one and I recommend skipping this and waiting for the collection of brand new fairy tales that have never been published in English to come out later this month because it looks like it will be an interesting read.

Renewal

The beginning of 2015 has so far been a time of change and renewal for me. I have started to exercise more, and eventually I will start eating right. I’ve slowly been working my way through my massive to-read pile. I published a book that I wrote in a month. This winter has felt like a time of renewal, of shaking off old habits and adopting new ones.

Those of you who follow me on tumblr will know this already, but for those of you who don’t know me from either tumblr or Facebook, this year didn’t start off great for me. My mother lost her battle with cancer on the 19th of January, that loss is still raw, but I can deal with it. Time, as they say, heals all wounds.

So, yeah, there’s been a lot of changes over the past couple of weeks, but there’s not much I can do besides soldier on.

I’m not going to let anything get me down.

Review: Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1)

[tw: drug use]

If you’ve read the review I just posted, you’ll notice that I very much enjoyed Max Gladstone’s writing, and when I enjoy someone’s writing, I naturally want to read everything they’ve written. Luckily for me, Max Gladstone’s written a few books set in the same universe as Choice of the Deathless. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

Tara Abernathy recently graduated from the Hidden Schools. Well, more like she graduated then was thrown out on her ass. Luckily for her, she’s quickly snatched up by the mysterious Lady Kevarian and made a junior associate at the firm Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao. Her first assignment? Travel to the city of Alt Coulumb and resurrect a dead god before the city’s steam generators shut down, causing the trains to stop and the people to riot. Her only help is a priest of the dead god, Abelard. Together, they need to discover what happened to the god and make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts. However, their search for the truth could put their lives–and the fate of an entire city–on the line.

Let’s get the fangasming out of the way. The world of the Craft Sequence is really interesting. This is a world where there are few true deities left, where deities enter into contracts that are handled by firms that specialize in that sort of thing, where the city’s police force is made up of faceless ordinary citizens who temporarily give up control to a goddess. The nightclubs and courts of Alt Coulumb wouldn’t be out of place in any urban fantasy story, and yet it’s not set on Earth, but in a secondary world.

I love Tara as a protagonist. She’s tough without being hyper aggressive (something that’s always annoyed me about urban fantasy heroines). She’s confident but knows when she’s in over the head. Abelard, meanwhile, is Tara’s opposite: he doesn’t have her expertise in the world of craft or lawyering, but he wants to help and his faith in his god (despite the fact that his god is dead) is strong. What’s really interesting about these characters is how all of them are a bit broken in some way. Tara is haunted by the circumstances surrounding her graduation, Abelard is undergoing a crisis of faith, a third character, Cat, is a desperate junkie who is always looking for her next fix (in this case, her fix is the euphoria caused by vampire bite), but they’re not all-consuming traumas. They have an effect on the characters without saturating the narrative. Something that made me really happy was that Tara and Abelard manage to work together without buckets of sexual tension or any romance to speak of, that’s right, no love triangles, no mush, just two characters working together to solve a problem.

This book is also a great example of “Show, don’t tell.” Many authors love to tell you about their worlds in info dumps, Gladstone expects you to dive in and swim around for a bit, and events won’t make sense until much later in the book. On the one hand, it’s nice to not be told everything all the time. On the other hand, It can be a bit confusing at that.moment in the story, leaving the reader scratching their head. Considering that this is a book where mystery is an essential element in the plot, it makes sense to not reveal everything right away, but I would have appreciated a bit of an explanation at certain points in the story.

Unfortunately there’s not a lot of representation in this book. Other than Tara, there’s a black vampire captain named Raz who has a small impact on the plot, but IIRC Gladstone doesn’t describe the skin tones of the other characters. There don’t appear to be any queer characters either.

Other than the things I outlined above, there aren’t many negative things I can say about this book. I really enjoyed it and the sequel, Two Serpents Rise, is already in my to-read pile. If you’re a fan of legal thrillers or urban fantasy or both, I recommend adding Three Parts Dead to your collection.