Faith Hunter – Nell Ingram

I didn’t want to like Nell Ingram, Faith Hunter‘s main character in her Soulwood series. I have nothing in common with her, having never lived in the woods, in America’s south, or been a part of a religious cult-like community. For all intents and purposes, I should never have gotten past the first fifty pages of Blood of the Earth.

Blood of the EarthYet, I did. Nell is fascinating as a strong, reliable, and hard working main character, all traits I would like to embody.
She emerges from a cloistered existence, part of a very closed religious community that does everything it can to be self-reliant, into a town with paranormal cops policing her community that also has vampires, werewolves, witches, and humans. As a woman who owns her own house and woods, Nell must protect herself and her property from members of her church who view it as theirs because she is a woman and shouldn’t be able to own property.

To protect herself and her property, Nell relies on her wits and a couple of shotguns. She’s afraid but she doesn’t back down. She holds her own without help from others. What a powerful woman!
Nell’s new job with the paranormal investigative branch means all kinds of changes for her including cell phones and computers. Yet, these changes don’t phase her. She adjusts, keeps moving forward, forging her own path in a place where she has no one to follow.

Through her new job, she discovers her own latent abilities, a supernatural that can make plants grow, read the earth and much more. These abilities, to nurture and protect those around her, once discovered, in hindsight should be obvious since she’s protecting that which is closest to her, her freedom and her family, when we first meet her.

She risks herself to protect her family and her friends and by the end, she’s protecting her new work colleagues, expanding her world and those she considers close to her. She’s growing, blossoming like the plants she coaxes into full bloom and there’s lots more to come.

Rhonda Parrish – Sandra Wickham

Anthologies offer a great variety of stories so I love to grab one when I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for. Sirens, edited by Rhonda Parrish, is a collection that is a walk along the beach meandering into a neighbouring mangrove forest, soft water bathing buried toes even as gloomy trees threaten to stab feet and any other body parts with their thirsty roots.

The anthology contains “Experience” by Sandra Wickham, a story that had me cheering. Who doesn’t want to see the bad guy get punished?

Well, this is awkward. The main character doesn’t have a name, just “I” since the story is in first person.

She’s a Siren, who works at the behest of the Goddess, to avenge women who have been wronged by men and has done so for millennium. Yet, now she just sings, pulling her audience so far but never over to obsession, having lost the desire to kill.

The Siren has been called to kill again and she doesn’t want to. Her Goddess removes her abilities to force her to hunt and she moves quickly after that to comply since she ages into an old woman instead of a sultry siren.

Our Siren becomes a wounded woman’s revenge on an assailant from many years ago and I cheered for the Siren because violations stay with victims. Those hurts linger, informing a victim’s decisions and choices forever afterwards. The perpetrator should, our innate sense of justice tells us, pay for the damage that that has been inflicted. It doesn’t happen enough in real life so I love stories with characters that deliver justice, even if these simple solutions would never balance out in real life.

What really struck me about the woman wronged though was her choice to keep her own experiences despite those painful wounds: “I’ve done my time, lived my life. I like who I am now.”

Axel Howerton – Jimmy Finn

What do we as a society do with misfits? More importantly what do misfits do with themselves in a society hell bent on conformity and the norm? In Furr , Jimmy Finn’s mother sends him to a psychiatrist and eventually to the mental health ward of the local hospital so he can be cured. Society tries to cure our misfits with drugs and therapy but for Jimmy Finn, none of those work. He’s a misfit with urges and rages. They come and they go and he can live a somewhat normal life with a job and an apartment. He drinks to cope, consuming a burning liquid to incinerate what he can’t control. 

Until he starts drinking on the job, and he wakes up in a park with the police chasing him. He runs from the city into the hills, where, through a series of unexpected discoveries, he finds himself because he finds others like him and finds his past. 

Who hasn’t felt out of place at some point – at the office, with friends, surrounded by family? My current out of place environment is the office. I ride this cusp having been so long in one job I’m considered experienced and senior yet realizing that younger, less experienced people are passing me by. I stick out like a sore thumb. 

Our need to belong is strong, hard wired into us to maximize our survival, and Jimmy wages a constant battle with that need to belong when he is so out of place in modern society. He desperately wants acceptance but can’t have it, squirming against the order that society tries to impose upon him time and again, fleeing the skyscrapers and cement and roads for open skies, woods and small towns.

Oh, how I would love to do the same when that out of place feeling strikes, waiting to pounce on me from behind every cubicle wall. 

In the mountains, Jimmy finds an unexpected place where everyone knows him and what’s going on, leaving him to wonder why he doesn’t know what’s going on. What he does find is a place where he belongs, one way or another and he will carve that place out for himself or die trying. 

Good on you, Jimmy Finn.

Seanan McGuire – Toby Daye

I first found Seanan McGuire through a friend. Word of mouth is so important for books! Spread the word for those that you love.

Ms McGuire has a couple of series but I started with her October Daye series, which follows October (Toby) Daye, a changeling who navigates the Fae courts and its denizens in modern day San Francisco. 

Toby does dumb things. Really stupid, dangerous things that get her injured and push her limited magical knowledge and ability to dangerous territory. However her tenacity and moral code have given her powerful friends who want to help her, when she will let them. 

Doing the right thing is what we are taught in most of our childhood and adulthood stories. We’re told that doing the right thing will be rewarded. Adulthood teaches us this is not actually how the world works. But Toby’s actions, doing the right thing even when it means she may lose everything, does get rewarded through her relationships and the high regard people hold her in. 

It is this ideal that draws me to her, that we could do the right thing to help someone else and have that decision be a positive action. Characters like her are important because they remind us that intention can count for something, even if the results are never as pure as what shows up in our books.

 

Kevin Hearne – Atticus O’Sullivan

I first heard about Kevin Hearne through Twitter as a casual mention and then saw that he was attending the Creative Ink Festival in British Columbia. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the festival. When I saw one of his books, Hounded, at a used book sale, it was a perfect opportunity to check out this author and am I ever glad I did.

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Atticus O’Sullivan, despite his paranoia, is a fun character. His friends reflect this, including his dog Oberon with a goofy sense of humour and the old widow who likes to enjoy life with a glass of whiskey in hand. For example, here’s Oberon speaking to Atticus on page 152:

“You know, Atticus, that turning into a crow business is pretty slick, but that’s not her best godlike power by a long shot. She can sense when specific people are approaching in time to avoid them! Wouldn’t it be cool if you could automatically avoid assholes for the rest of your life?”

He’s out only to enjoy life and at the same time be a steward of the Earth, something our modern era could use a lot more of.

His paranoia, although extensive, is justified since it has kept him alive for over 2000 years and of course, throughout each book, any lapse in paranoia is rewarded with conflict and mayhem.

Especially in science fiction and fantasy, much of what we read is end of the world, high stakes, heart pounding fiction so it’s refreshing to have a character that will make fun of gods and goddesses, that will help out old ladies just because and make sure his dog is rewarded with french poodles when he’s been extra helpful.

At the heart of it all, despite his better judgement, he tries to help those around him, which is something all of us would like to think we do. If you choose to read The Iron Druid Chronicles, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 

Faith Hunter – Thorn St. Croix

One of the reasons I love reading is that characters often embody the ideal human. When I was younger, I thought the ideal human – fair and noble and always did the right thing – was what all people strived for. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since I believed that but that makes reading about these characters all the more enjoyable.

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Thorn St. Croix of Faith Hunter’s  Rogue Mage series is noble, putting herself in danger to help the townspeople, even when they reject her, as noted in page 43 of Seraphs:

“Out front of the old building a throng of people milled, split into two factions…We would have to walk between the two crowds to gain entry. Well, in one way that was symbolic of what I had done to the town: Divided it utterly.”

 Looking at the world we’re currently in, where racism and exclusion reign supreme, this series and Thorn St. Croix’s struggle has never seemed more relevant when it should be much less relevant.

Could I do what she does? Help the very people who want to kill her just for who she is? I’m not sure anymore. But when I read these books, Thorn makes me want to believe that I could. She believes in doing what’s right, in protecting the people around her, because it’s what we should all do, even if we don’t. Maybe we need to see the ideal to keep striving for it.

Anne Rice – The Vampire Lestat

VampireLestatTo someone like me who spent too much of her early life following the rules, the very idea that someone can walk through the world boldly and as if it was theirs, hooks me from the beginning. That’s who Lestat is for me – a brat prince with a personality that encompasses everyone who comes in contact with him. He pursues what he wants and everyone else follows, even if they don’t want to. Wow, to be able to capture people in such a manner – I want to be him and yet, I don’t quite.

Lestat’s passions enable him to survive in this new vampire world he is thrown into by Magnus, his creator, who creates him and then kills himself, leaving Lestat all alone. Lestat’s emotions, wandering between despair and joy at this sudden change, hold his actions captive. He navigates the vampire world with confidence or depressed fatalism, pushing and prodding it to find out more information. He finds who he wants, Marius, when he shouldn’t have been able to, through sheer persistence. And because his passions drive him, he wakes the first vampire Akasha.

Lestat’s journey introduces us to this gothic world where predators can’t be with each other yet know they must come together as only other vampires can match their wild passions. Lestat’s audacious attitudes contrast the gothic world he’s been thrust into, a shadowy world driven by the strong emotions of long lived creatures. Lestat’s recklessness places this murky world in danger with his actions all the while seeking a truth he may never find – is there a God and if so, where is he in God’s plan?

And that’s why I love reading Anne Rice.