In Shining Armor – by Elliott James (Review)

Pax Arcana #4

Urban Fantasy, Supernatural

Orbit; April 26, 2016

424 pages (PB)

3 / 5 ✪

Carry the Story, Check its Baggage

In Shining Amor stars Harry Dresden and Taylor Lautner knockoff love-child John Charming. Fresh off the events of Fearless (or was that Daring?), which found Charming the godfather of Constance, knights and werewolf daughter alike, In Shining Armor finds her a captive—I suppose because James needed a new book idea and went with his very first thought.

It’s been a few months since John and Sig got together. Charming, being his usual optimistic self, has spent this time automatically assuming something will go wrong. Eventually, you’d have to assume he’d be right. The kidnapping of his goddaughter certainly qualifies. And yet the intriguing part of this is that although her abduction is the initial selling-point of this book, it’s not the all-encompassing story that I assumed it’d be.

No, instead of Constance, In Shining Armor has more to do with her absence. In particular, what her absence means. For when everything points to her abduction being an inside job, the two factions behind her protection start pointing fingers. Mostly at one another. And when the tenuous alliance between knights and werewolves begins to decay, a war is brewing.

Though not the war you’d expect.

The worst part of this was book was the relationship between John and Sig. Seriously, they were really annoying. Really, REALLY ANNOYING. I mean, the casual, witty, sarcastic banter was cute at first. Entertaining, even. But to read it throughout the entire book got old very, very quickly. Especially as it seemed to bleed into every single conversation. The group gets ambushed and almost killed? Witty banter underscored with sexual tension. Our heroes battle for their lives against an ancient, unknown foe? Witty sexual banter. Trying to figure out who wants to start a war and why? Sarcasm and banter mixed. An old ally, a new enemy, any bit of mystery or any kind of planning? Sex. Sarcasm. Relationship. Drama.

It all reads like a guide to Sig and John’s relationship, with the actual plot a simple undercurrent to it. Which is too bad, because the actual plot is pretty solid. Wasn’t what I expected, that’s for sure. The abduction of Constance is too obvious, too quick. The war, the misdirection, the rest—it’s really quite entertaining. Like, a 4.5 or higher story. And yet everything seems to distract from it.

The action is… actiony? I mean, it seems to be added specifically because the author thought there should be action. Because he wanted his characters (semi-action hero-y in the past), to be total Action Heroes. The first fight scene blends pretty well into the background of the tale. From then on, it seemed the fights were just an addendum to everything. Violence for the sake of violence. Now, as a guy, I love a good violence every now and then. You know, 300, explosions, kung fu, Braveheart, All For One and that kinda thing. In Shining Amor reads kinda like a mystery covered in a bunch of sticky notes. Through these, James tries to flesh out the characters, the action, the romance, the development and everything else he thinks the text needs. All the while the real story sits buried—perfectly good in its own right. It really tries to be too much. Could be a romance (well, maybe a casual chick-flick), just cut the action. A thriller, just get rid of the John-Sig affair. A mystery, or paranormal fantasy, just stop trying to add everything else.


In Shining Armor tries and tries, just in the end it tries too much. Its fantastic story is buried beneath heaps of romance and action and thrills that don’t really work. And certainly don’t go together. The dialogue is disgusting and annoying, especially once you get into it. The action is your basic fight-scene, copied and repeated throughout. The story is pretty amazing, by itself. In the end, In Shining Amor is a pretty good read, without all the fiddly bits. It really is. I recommend it, just don’t take it too seriously. Skip over some of the dialogue, some of the fight scenes, some of the sex. It becomes a shorter, much more entertaining adventure, mystery, and experience.

On Tap 10/20

Currently Reading

The Palace of Glass – by Django Wexler

The third book in the Forbidden Library series finds Alice in a race to find a weapon that will allow her to defeat Gerrion and avenge her father.

Fortuna – by Kristyn Merbeth

Seems interesting enough at the outset, but while it features only two POVs, they’re both 1st person, and seem to alternate every chapter. I never feel as immersed in those, and often have trouble keeping who’s who. Love the cover, btw.

The Queen of All Crows – by Rod Duncan

A TBR, one that I’m excited to get into. Sees Elizabeth traveling to America in search of… pirates? I haven’t read the Gas-Lit trilogy, so I’m missing some nuances. Among other things.

Up Next

Age of Legend – by Michael J. Sullivan

With Age of Death out anytime now, I need to catch up. Haven’t forgiven Sullivan for the ending to War yet, but it’s time to move on. …the bastard.

Anyone read any of these? Are they good? And what else SHOULD I be reading? Please let me know!

Additional TBR

  1. A Princess of Mars – by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Barsoom #1)
  2. Star Maker – by Olaf Stapledon
  3. Metro 2035 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro #3)
  4. Magebane – by Stephen Aryan (Age of Dread #3)

TBR – October

Currently Reading

The Queen of All Crows – by Rod Duncan

I’ve had the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire on my TBR for years, but I was able to get my hands on the first book of Duncan’s new series and here we are. Supposedly, though you’ll miss the nuances of the trilogy before, it’s entirely possible to enjoy the Map of Unknown Things without reading it. Fingers crossed!

Top 4

  1. Age of Legend – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #4)
  2. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Lays of Anuskaya #3)
  3. Sky in the Deep – by Adrienne Young (Sky in the Deep #1)
  4. Senlin Ascends – by Josiah Bancroft (Books of Babel #1)

Next 4

  1. Queen of Swords – by R.S. Belcher (Golgotha #3)
  2. The Last Mortal Bond – by Brian Staveley (Unhewn Throne #3)
  3. The Thousand Names – by Django Wexler (The Shadow Campaigns #1)
  4. City of Stairs – by Robert Jackson Bennett (Divine Cities #1)

Last 4

  1. Those Above – by Daniel Polansky (Empty Throne #1)
  2. Cold Iron – by Miles Cameron (Mages & Masters #1)
  3. Wolves – by Nicholas Sansbury Smith (Hell Divers #4)
  4. The Obelisk Gate – by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth #2)

TBR Finished since September

  1. In Shining Armor – by Elliott James (Pax Arcana #4)
  2. The Land You Never Leave – by Angus Watson (West of West #2)
  3. A Time of Blood – by John Gwynne (Of Blood & Bone #2)

Hey, 3! Not bad for a month. For me, at least. Didn’t have a whole lot of ARCs this month. I doubt November will go quite as well, what with Nanowrimo going on, though.

Library of the Unwritten – by A.J. Hackwith (Review)

Hell’s Library #1

Supernatural, Fantasy

Ace Books; October 1, 2019

384 pages (ebook)

2.3 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both Ace and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

Business Corrupts

Set in a corporate supernatural world, Library of the Unwritten was an interesting idea that in practice just did not work for me. Possessed of an unfulfilling story of loss and redemption, Unwritten tries to fit many different genres but is ultimately fails to find its way. While a decent supernatural adventure, the story was neither mysterious nor thrilling enough to succeed as either. I was never quite sure where the story was going next as it combined uninspired chases and lame battles with the politics of heaven and hell, neither of which ever felt very tangible, and sported plot-holes and inconsistencies.

The Chief Librarian of the Unwritten Wing, Claire Juniper Hadley, has had better days. An Unwritten Tale has slipped out of Hell and escaped to the mortal realm. Worse still, the tale—which has taken on the handsome, winsome guise of Hero—has contacted its would-be author, an event that never ends well for the person involved. And so Claire and her ragtag band of champions must track the tale down and return it to the library before too much harm is done. And yet there is a wrinkle in their plan. For Angelic Warden, and initially dim investigator, Ramiel attacks them, believing the party in possession of a corrupt codex—the Devil’s Bible.

Thus begins an epic adventure to find the real Devil’s Bible before the legion of Heaven can, in order to prevent a war between Heaven and Hell.

Okay, so first: the reasoning of much of this setup is… loose, at best. From Ramiel attacking them all half-cocked at the beginning, from the actions of Hero throughout, even to Claire and Brevity—no character stays “in character”. I mean, they just act chaotically from time to time and then return to normal, with no questions asked or conflicts of identity. Ramiel particularly begins as a patient Watcher, then shows incredible impatience for a chapter, then is back to normal, with nothing more about the lapse said. I feel like the war between Heaven and Hell was meant to lend the text an element of thrill and anticipation, but it really didn’t. The explanation of it made sense, but only kinda, and was readily accepted by everyone as canon.

Speaking of canon, the world-building was sadly incomplete. Though half the prominent characters of Unwritten are deceased souls, they consistently worried about being killed, even though they were already dead. About halfway through it was explained about how and why Hero (as an unwritten story) could die, which was something. I spent the whole thing wondering if this was one of those double-death things from the Sandman Slim universe (which I really hate, btw), but it was never addressed. The logic of Unwritten Wing itself can be pieced together through bits of lore and quotes in the foreword of each chapter, and frequent—if widely spaced—discussions in the text. While I began the story intrigued about the nature of unwritten books, by the middle I was confused and annoyed that it hadn’t been satisfyingly addressed.

The adventure itself is pretty run of the mill. Set in a fictionalized corporate Heaven and Hell, it seems that business has corrupted everything about the afterlife. Much like the middle seasons of Supernatural, the lines separating angels and demons, heaven and hell blurred to the point I would summarize it with the following—“Business Corrupts”. And it seems the afterlife is no different. But when a ragtag band of misfits sets out to save the world… I dunno, it just didn’t bear the weight.


Library of the Unwritten is definitely an outside-the-box idea. It definitely pushes the boundaries—only to fall flat on its face under the weight of expectation. The world-building is riddled with inconsistencies and holes. The characters are somehow neither predictable nor do they develop. Claire’s own arc, which runs parallel to the main story, felt uninspiring upon completion, though it never really grabbed me throughout. It was a thriller I didn’t find thrilling, a mystery I didn’t find mysterious. A fairly run of the mill adventure, found in a certainly new and exotic locale, possessed of a new and interesting idea. While I was initially intrigued at Unwritten’s prospect, it quickly soured. Though in all fairness, I don’t usually go for angels and demons as a genre. And while I’m constantly reminded by others that this is a great book, I just didn’t find it.

The Land You Never Leave – by Angus Watson (Review)

West of West #2

Dark Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; February 22, 2018

476 pages (PB)

4.3 / 5 ✪

SPOILERS – Contains spoilers for You Die When You Die

The Land You Never Leave is the second book in Watson’s West of West series, the continuation of a journey of stranded Vikings across a fictionalized New World in order to defeat an ancient evil threatening to destroy the world. Following the events of You Die When You Die; the Hardworkers have fled their destroyed town, pursued west across the continent by the Calnian Owsla—a squad of Amazon-like super soldiers, intent on eliminating them. In a twist ending, the two tribes unite, whereupon they must journey west of the Shining Mountains, past the Desert That You Don’t Walk Out Of, to the Meadows to save the world.

So begins TLYNL, or as I like to call it “Sex, Lies, and Wootah”.

TLYNL picks up right where YDWYD leaves off, with the Wootah and the Owsla on the edge of the Ocean of Grass, traveling west. Though some of the Owsla have been making eyes at the Mushroom Men, and the Wootah—though, mostly Finnbogi—have been entertaining lurid sexual fantasies involving the Owsla, the two tribes are far from trusting each other. Or even tolerating one another.

Soon enough, however, any chemistry is the least of their problems. For even before the two reach the Water Father, our heroes encounter the denizens of the Badlands—the Badlanders—a horrifying collection of monsters and killers, complete with their own Owsla. Far from bonding over a picnic, the two are soon at one another’s throats, with the Badlanders victorious, and the Wootah and Calnians taken prisoner and carted off to the Badlands to be brutally killed.

Before the book is out, Watson treats us to some terrifying threats both new and ancient, a few high-profile deaths, and a truly epic, entertaining adventure. Assuming you’ve read YDWYD, TLYNL provides more of the same, with intense violence, near-constant sexual innuendo, dark comedy, and generally good-natured fun. While I wouldn’t call any of what it does “family friendly”, well… you’d probably have noticed that from #1 anyway. TLYNL is an excellent continuation of the series—combining adventure, excitement, comedy with a number of unexpected twists, including one at the very end.

Finnbogi realized he might admire the psychopath who’d tried to have him killed by giant snakes more than the woman who’d taken him in and raised him like her own child. Life was odd.
- The Land You Never Leave, Finnbogi the Boggy

Though the Badlands plot dominates most of the book, there exist a number of minor and sub-plots throughout that add further elements to an otherwise jam-packed story. While a few of these are too brief or absurd to be enjoyable, most provide a brief respite, ensuring that the overarching plot doesn’t grow tedious or the pacing lax.

I was all-around impressed with The Land You Never Leave, but my favorite aspect of it is what I love to see in every post-first-book entry: character development.

Over the course of epic adventures, characters change. This is a big component especially of Coming-of-Age stories, so I was pleased to see it in TLYNL, for what were the Hardworkers in YDWYD exactly but big children? From being provided with everything they’ve ever needed, to being forced to survive on their own while being hounded and hunted across the continent. Well, come TLYNL they’re evolving into something more—or being left behind. Without a doubt, my personal favorite of these was Finnbogi’s development, for coming into TLYNL, well, he hadn’t done much. And as any such hero, the sequel provides him with more than enough hardship and strife to mold him into something new, something… Boggy-ish. Or, MORE Boggyish, I suppose. Without spoiling anything, I can’t say much, only that his personal journey was particularly impressive, though not without its own blunders.

While the individual character development stole the show, the group element needs to be mentioned. Coming into the second book, the Calnian Owsla and Wootah were tenuous allies. Throughout the course of the story this evolves into something more—while at the same time, also something less. That is, bonds are tested and stretched, or just broken and reformed. While some characters change, others stay resolute, forcing their dynamic to adapt, or be broken. Not all the change in TLYNL is positive. There is a combination of the two, some of which remains unresolved even at the end.

Sadly, while I loved TLYNL, it is not perfect. Toward the end, after the main plot has been completed, there is a bit of a stutter. Plot-holes, gaps, and questionable reasoning solved, and a setup for the finale only made possible by the timely intervention of a clairvoyant (and short-lived) warlock. Solved in but a chapter, no less. After an adventure that was entirely epic, this was a bit of a let-down.


The Land You Never Leave is a suitable successor to You Die When You Die, providing an epic adventure with more of the same fun, comedy, sex and violence prevalent in its predecessor. I particularly enjoyed the character development, specifically that of its individuals, though that of the group’s dynamic as well. However, a misstep toward the end when a fairly large number of potential problems are solved by a magical intervention, tends to spoil an otherwise epic conclusion. A number of revelations and interesting sub-plots did well to keep me reading through the end without issue—the last pages providing a particularly intriguing twist, one that hopefully will pay dividends in the final book.

Secrets and lies may yet bring an end to this noble mission, or the truth may remain forever buried. An epic adventure requires a fitting conclusion, one that I fervently hope Watson can provide. I don’t know about you, but I eagerly await the conclusion to this trilogy. And personally I’m hoping for a Bard’s Tale-esque ending. No, not that one. The second one. Or the third one, where they just go drinking. You know, either or.

Where Gods Fear to Go, the third and final installment of West of West, is set to release late this year—on December 3rd in the US and December 5th in the UK.

Duchamp Versus Einstein – by Christopher Hinz & Etan Ilfeld (Review)


Speculative, Scifi, Alt-History

Angry Robot; October 8, 2019

72 pages (ebook)

1.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

The entire premise seems to be ‘What if Marcel Duchamp and Albert Einstein played chess?’

And that’s it.

Now, if you could make it past this and still be interested in the story, someone might be forgiven the obvious question of: ‘Why?’, instead focusing on: ‘How would they do that?’ because, as far as I know or could figure out, Duchamp and Einstein never met. There’s also the fact that while Duchamp turned into quite the chess player later in life, Einstein never showed it much interest. So, why would they play?

Enter a mysterious, extra-terrestrial Observer, as seen in such things as John Carter, MIB, the Themis Files, etc. She, for some reason, decides to facilitate the game. Which she does through seducing both men.

Apparently inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s archived letters (which are, yes, real), though the novella itself doesn’t seem to include any real ones. Instead, it introduces a series of letters, newly discovered in 2061, following the 3rd World War. This is the first and only time this event or the future is mentioned, which was just odd.

So… I liked the description of the world. I never had a problem picturing any of the things mentioned in the text. Duchamp Versus Einstein was well described and well-written.

Otherwise, it was awful.

There’s no real plot, just the premise ‘what would’ve happened if these two dudes played chess’. The ending was incredibly unsatisfying. Abrupt. The whole thing likely was nothing but an allegory for the illusion of free will. Neither of the characters are believable as their historic counterparts. Well, maybe Duchamp. More so than the portrayal of Einstein, at least. The pacing was strange, the time-skips stranger, the character Stella the strangest.


While Duchamp Versus Einstein initially seemed mildly intriguing, whatever appeal it held soon faded. So… nope, can’t recommend it. I liked the description. Really didn’t care for anything else. Like, nothing. The pacing, the nonexistent plot, the characters, the lack of realism, the premise. The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. Definitely not my cup of tea.

The Mad Apprentice – by Django Wexler (Review)

The Forbidden Library #2

YA, Fantasy

Kathy Dawson Books; April 21, 2015

336 pages (ebook) / 7hr 22m (audio)

4 / 5 ✪

The Mad Apprentice is the second in the Forbidden Library sequence by Django Wexler. A YA series, it chronicles the adventures of Alice the Reader as she navigates through the world, attempting to find her place in it. Though I was somewhat split over the Forbidden Library—it’s really the sophomore effort that can make or break a possible series. And the Mad Apprentice delivered in a big way.

Little has happened following the events of Forbidden, with Alice continuing to study under her uncle, Geryon, master and Reader extraordinaire. She has heard nothing from Isaac, the boy she bonded the dragon with in the first book, and similarly little from the dragon itself. Other than the vague sense that it lurks within her mind, it might as well have been a dream. So begins Book #2, and Alice is quickly dispatched to deal with the former apprentice of a “friend” of Geryon, who has apparently gone rogue and killed his master. Here she meets with several other apprentices, each sent by their masters to deal with this threat. While a few seem friendly enough, some are decidedly not—including one that Alice has met before. Isaac seems different from when Alice had met him before. He is closed off from her, despite their bond. But when Alice begins to doubt that the danger facing them may come more from without than within, something new reveals itself to her. For the labyrinth itself is home to a far more dangerous creature than Jacob (the apprentice that killed his master). In the darkness lurks the ominous creature Torment. But while this contesting this creature may result in Alice and the other apprentices’ demise, it may instead provide information useful to make the risk worthwhile. Specifically, the details of her father’s disappearance.

So, I enjoyed Apprentice better than the initial Forbidden.

Returning are the elements of intrigue, backstabbing and mystery. The characters are more of a strength than the initial; as both Alice and Isaac return, joined by other apprentices. I’ll be interested to see if any appear further down the line—either as friends or enemies. Though several of the other apprentices do form relationships with Alice. Friendly, or otherwise. Also, the budding romance is still budding, as it were. Little more comes of it, in Apprentice.

The character development is rather minute—but given that it is a YA fantasy, that’s not unexpected. There does seem to be a bit for Alice, a bit of a greater arc, one that is sure to continue. The dragon also appears to have its own story arc, but we won’t get into that. Some more of the magic is explained, as each apprentice seems to manifest a different and unique ability. There’s a bit added to every aspect, in my opinion. Each improved upon by a degree. I liked it more, I hope you will too!


The Mad Apprentice capitalizes on the successes it made in The Forbidden Library, pretty much improving across the board. While it’s by no means perfect, Wexler has crafted an solid YA coming-of-age fantasy, complete with magic and mystery. While before we got very little of what it means to be a Reader past jumping into books, Apprentice expands upon this, introducing more characters each possessing their own unique magical abilities. Alice is an interesting, heart-felt character that continues to shine, and hopefully will continue to into the future of the sequence.