Driven

Driven, by Kelley Armstrongdriven_by_kelley_armstrong_limited_edition
Published January 2016 by Subterranean Press

With Driven, Kelley Armstrong returns to her Women of the Otherworld series for the first time in four years. This entry in the series focuses on Elena, adjusting to her roles both of mother and of Alpha to a werewolf Pack, as she leads an investigation into a serial murderer that’s started to attack other lycanthropes. The Elena we see here is a far cry from the reluctant werewolf that Elena was when the series started, and it was really enjoyable to see her slide into these roles and perform them in a way that readers wouldn’t have expected from previous characters that have held that role.

Another family-related element of the story that was really striking was the interaction between Clay and Malcolm, the man who in many ways was a father to him. Malcolm’s shadow has hung over Clay since the series began, and seeing him come to terms with that made for a very interesting evolution of his character.

Beyond the family elements, the rest of the main plot was a little underwhelming. The Cain clan, the main victims of the killer, have appeared before in the series, but have always been a bit forgettable as antagonists. Ideally, they could have been – they’re organized in such a way that they almost form a dark mirror to the Pack, but none of the individuals in the family stand out as being as interesting as the Pack they seem to try to emulate. Because of this, it was a little hard to have regard for them as victims, which in turn made it difficult to see the killer as an actual threat to the Pack members.

Despite this, for fans of Armstrong’s long-running Women of the Otherworld series, this book will be an absolute delight – it provides for a chance to check in with their favourite wolf pack, and provides a good luck at how much the Pack has evolved since Bitten was released in 2004. If you’re new to the Otherworld book series (even if you’ve come to the characters through the Bitten TV show), you might be better served by jumping in at an earlier point – a new reader would be able to understand the plot of Driven well enough, but a lot of the interactions between Malcolm, Clay, and Elena would lack a lot of the emotional impact that it deserves. Then, once you have, come back for this one, because you’ll love it.

(Note: thanks to Subterranean Press for making a copy of this book available for review)

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Owl and the Japanese Circus

Owl and the Japanese Circus, by Kristi Charish 23213197-_uy475_ss475_

Published January 2015 by Gallery Books

We should start by getting something out of the way: If you’re looking for the story of an anthropomorphic predatory bird that runs away from home to join the circus, you might be a little disappointed. There are no actual owls in this book.

If, on the other hand, you’re in the market for a fun, fast-paced supernatural adventure story that’s reminiscent equally of Indiana Jones-style adventure stories and Whedonesque banter and self-aware humour, then you’re in luck, and Owl and the Japanese Circus is the type of novel you might want to check out.

Owl…, the debut novel from BC author Kristi Charish, is the story of the eponymous Owl, an antiquities thief who tries to live her life by one simple rule: don’t get caught up with the supernatural. This is, of course, a perfectly sensible rule, and like many perfectly sensible rules in life, it gets completely ignored as she gets mixed up with vampires, dragons, and other supernatural creatures in a globe-trotting, temple-robbing adventure. Owl is a rough-around-the-edges protagonist with an interesting backstory and a quick wit, and her adventures are cinematic in pace and scope, while still containing enough depth and complexity that the reader isn’t left wanting.

This is the first book in a series, and in it Charish establishes an interesting character and status quo for the rest of the series while also telling a story that stands well on its own. Without venturing into spoiler territory, this works somewhat as an origin story for Owl, both in terms of the backstory that’s provided for her and the path that she’s set on in terms of future adventures that she will no doubt be having. For fans of urban fantasy, pulpy classic adventure heroes, and compelling, sharp-tongued protagonists, Owl and the Japanese Circus is a title that’s definitely worth picking up.

A Play of Shadow

PlayOfShadows

A Play of Shadow, by Julie E Czernada

Published November 2014 by DAW

A Play of Shadow continues the story of Marrowdell that began in A Turn of Light, Czerneda’s last work. In it, we see Jenn and Bannan’s relationship continue to develop, until some unexpected visitors force them to go on an unexpected journey to help rescue Bannan’s sister from peril.

One of the most intriguing things about the first part of this series was how it inverted the story of the hero’s journey through the magical world that Czerneda established. Central to that was the fact that Jenn couldn’t leave the village of Marrowdell. Her ability to now do so is explained neatly enough, but it initially feels like a difficult idea to accept. It’s a testament to Czerneda’s ability that in the opening act she manages to convince the reader that not only is the journey possible, but that it’s one that Jenn must take.

The characters remain a strong selling point for the book – Jenn and Bannan remain their noble, likeable selves, and the new additions of Bannan’s family provide an interesting context to help us better understand the man himself. The other Marrowdell residents take more of a backseat this time around, but they’re almost all still there and remain their naive-yet-complex selves.

One particularly interesting part of the text is the role that mirrors and reflections play throughout it. This is explicitly true in the plot, with a magic mirror playing a role at one part, but also in the contrasting images of Marrowdell and Channen on opposing sides of the Verge. It will be interesting to see how this affects any later parts of the story – the two books published so far work wonderfully as counterparts to each other, and it seems like there would be little i f any space for another book to fit.