Books

Books : reviews

Lilith Saintcrow.
The Demon's Librarian.
ImaJinn. 2009

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 24 May 2009

Francesca Barnes is a librarian who has discovered that demons are real, and a hidden library of books explaining how to deal with them. So she goes demon hunting. Ryan is a Drakul, a member of the Order who hunts demons. He realises that Chess is more powerful than she knows, and in great danger from the evil High Ones, who will want to destroy her in one of their rituals when they discover who she is. But if he gets close enough to her to protect her, he will be breaking all the rules of his Order.

This follows the standard template established in the "Watcher" series, but here in a differently-detailed universe of good battling evil. There seems more bite to it than the earlier series, with Ryan being part-demon himself, and Chess being a kick-ass biker librarian (although only intermittently, when the plot demands it). Another feature in common with the earlier series: the "good" organisation isn't necessarily that nice to people who aren't members (and even to some who are).

Lilith Saintcrow.
The Iron Wyrm Affair.
Orbit. 2012

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 26 March 2013

In an alternate Victorian London, Emma Bannon is a sorceress intent on serving Britannia, and Archibald Clare is a mentath, intent on not going mad through boredom. Boredom is something he might never feel again after he teams up with Emma to discover who, or what, is murdering mentaths, and why.

This has some of the standard Saintcrow tropes: a powerful but beleaguered woman, and a man intent on saving her, but frustrated in that intent by her actions. But it has its differences: Clare is not that man, and Bannon is not as damaged as most Saintcrow protagonists. Instead this is a fascinating, imaginative and gripping sorcery-and-steam-punk caper, with interesting depth, setting up a novel and complex world for the coming series. Although it might be hard to find a new case as dangerous and significant as this one.

Lilith Saintcrow.
The Red Plague Affair.
Orbit. 2013

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 2 June 2013

Mentath Archibald Clare is intent on tracking down his genius opponent, criminal mastermind Moriarty Francis Vance. But then sorceress Emma Bannon is summoned to help Britannia, and will need all her resources to succeed against a deadly illness threatening the country.

If you haven’t read The Iron Wyrm Affair, start there, otherwise this will make little sense. And if you have read it, you may be disappointed with this. TIWA introduced an imaginative sorcery-and-steam-punk world; this tale is set in that world, but adds little to it. The case is significant, but not really very interesting, and we never really find out why it happened, or who is behind it (beyond some surface details). However, Saintcrow does have the habit of committing pentalogy, so hopefully this is just a slightly faltering step on a more exciting journey.

Lilith Saintcrow.
The Ripper Affair.
Orbit. 2014

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 11 December 2014

Sorcery. Treason. Madness. And murder most foul…

A shattering accident places the mentath Archibald Clare in the care of Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime. Clare needs a measure of calm to repair his faculties of Logic and Reason, but unfortunately, calm will not be found.

A killer hides in the sorcerous steam-hells of Londinium, murdering poor women of a certain reputation. Once more Emma Bannon is pressed into service; once more Archibald Clare is determined to aid her. And there is still no way to reliably find a hansom when one needs it most.

Archibald Clare is caught in a terrorist attack on a court room, which leaves him realising just what Emma Bannon did to save his life earlier. He is not happy about that, and considers breaking the connection. But when the Britannia Empress comes to call on Emma, asking her help in a series of gruesome murders that threaten the Empire itself, Clare finds himself embroiled in the investigation that may cost them both their lives.

This is an improvement on The Red Plague Affair, building on the history, but with a more focussed plotline. We learn a little more of Emma’s background, and see the care she takes of her staff. Unfortunately, we see rather less of Clare’s mentath abilities (although if he had been operating on all mental cylinders, the book would have been somewhat shorter). There is room for many further interesting developments in this universe.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Working for the Devil.
Warner Books. 2005

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 13 January 2008

Dante (Danny) Valentine is a professional Necromance, raising people from the dead to establish facts about their wills, murderers, and so on. But her world is turned upside down the day a demon arrives at her door, to take her to visit his Infernal boss, who engages her to kill another demon. That might sound bad enough, but it seems that everybody is lying to her about their motives. And her own prejudices about demons come under the spotlight, too.

This is mindless rollercoaster fun, in an (early!) Anita Blake sort of way, as a smart-mouthed non-nonsense professional raiser of the dead quickly gets in over her head, finds she has friends, and ends up in a slug-fest that could easily kill her. Enough guilty pleasure that I've ordered the next in the series, anyway.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Dead Man Rising.
Orbit. 2006

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 30 January 2008

Dante Valentine has been changed by her mission for Lucifer. Rejoined by her ex-lover Jace, but still mourning for the demon Japhrimel, the only way she can keep her thoughts at bay is continual bounty hunts. But then her Necromance cop friend Gabe asks her to help in solving a series of gruesome murders. When Danny discovers the murders are linked to Rigger Hall, the school from hell she attended as a child, it threatens to rip loose a load of memories she'd prefer to keep hidden.

Still loads of mindless rollercoaster fun, and some great sword moments, but with a degree more angst and correspondingly less smart-mouthing, as Danny comes to grips with some very personal demons.

Lilith Saintcrow.
The Devil's Right Hand.
Orbit. 2007

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 4 February 2008

Dante Valentine, Necromance and demon killer, has been slowly recovering from her experiences battling the ghosts of Rigger Hall, aided by resurrected demon Japhrimel. But eventually, the rest cure is over, when Lucifer insists on meeting her again. She ends up bound to him for seven years service, to hunt down four demons who have escaped from hell. But, naturally, all is not what it seems, and she finds herself on the run from demons, hellhounds, and betrayal from all sides.

Certainly still rollercoaster violent fun, but getting a little less mindless, as Dante has to learn more about herself, and come to terms with her reaction to betrayal. Whilst kicking demons to hell and gone, of course. Unlike the first two, which have a large degree of closure to the story, this one ends with a whopping great unresolved issue.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Saint City Sinners.
Orbit. 2007

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 11 February 2008

Dante Valentine has been slowly recovering from the effects of the Rigger Hall incident, aided by Japhrimel, when she gets a call for help form her old friend Gabe. Returning to her home town, she finds a series of murders are being covered up by the police. But her investigations are hampered by Japhrimel's own work hunting down escaped demons, and by her personal god asking a sacrifice that she doesn't know if she can make.

Lots of fun action and violence, but overlaid with a lot more plotting, betrayal, and angst. And this one doesn't so much end on a cliffhanger as in free fall half way down the cliff.

Lilith Saintcrow.
To Hell and Back.
Orbit. 2008

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 16 February 2008

We left Dante Valentine about to confront Lucifer. We rejoin her after that confrontation, battered, broken, and only half sane. But still fighting. Unsure of who, if anyone, she can trust, she needs to find the weapon that will let her put an end to her battles once and for all.

This is definitely the conclusion to the series, as a bloodied and battered Dante fights her way through swathes of demons, fuelled only by rage and sheer bloody-mindedness.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Strange Angels.
Penguin. 2009

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 13 June 2009

For this new YA series, Lilith Saintcrow is writing under the slightly variant name "Lili St. Crow".

Dru Anderson is 16. She's been helping her Dad hunt things of the night ever since her mother died. But now he's a zombie, and she's on her own, being hunted by the same bad guys that killed him. And her life is made more complicated by Graves, a street kid at the same school, who has taken an interest in her. She's in danger of getting him killed, or turned, as collateral damage.

This is fun. Despite the YA tag, it's gritty and frightening -- possibly more so than usual as the protagonist, although well trained in hunting, is also a scared lonely confused kid. And it's okay to scream and cry when they bad guys attack, if you are also kicking them and blasting them into gory pieces.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Betrayals.
Penguin. 2009

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 1 February 2010

Dru Anderson has had a bad time, what with her father being turned into a zombie by a deadly vampire who is now trying to kill her, and the discovery that she's not quite human. But, exhausted and battered, she's been delivered to the local Schola, where she can be trained in her new powers, safe from the vampire. Except that no-one is training her, and her strange owl-sense tells her someone is trying to kill her. But who? and why?

Another great breathless slug-fest. It's still gritty and frightening as the previous book, and Dru is still gutsily fighting back, along with having to cope with being a teenager in a new school. Now that she's coming into her powers, some of that fighting is more effective, but the bad guys are getting badder, too.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Jealousy.
Penguin. 2010

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 12 August 2010

Dru Anderson has escaped from the wrong Schola, and finally arrived at Schola Prima, where she can be properly trained, and properly protected from the suckers. But all is not yet well: it's still not clear who the traitor is, and the head of the Order clearly hates having a second svetocha around. And on top of all of that, there are her feelings for Graves. It's not going to be easy.

More fun as Dru finds out more about her past and her abilities, whilst fighting off the bad guys. While it's quite clear who the Big Bad really is, it's breathless fun getting there. And the huge cliffhanger promises an equally breathless next book.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Defiance.
Quercus. 2011

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 22 May 2011

Dru is now being properly trained, but her friend Graves has been captured by Sergej, and Dru doesn't think her people are doing enough to find him. When she is given evidence that Christophe was involved in Graves' capture, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

Not quite as breathless to start with as the previous book, but by the time Dru stops moping around and starts acting, things really hot up to a massive finale.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Reckoning.
Quercus. 2011

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 19 January 2012

Dru has rescued Graves, and they, together with Ash, are on the run, from everyone. As the trio are hounded across the country by vampire packs, and worse, it looks like there can be no safe solution. But Dru now has her full powers, which gives her the chance to fight back. But overwhelming odds really are overwhelming, and she needs to work out how to rely on her friends.

Well, I can't complain that this one isn't breathless! It's essentially one long chase and slug-fest, with a few attempts at doom-laden foreshadowing. However, this is the final book in the series, and it does have a satisfying conclusion, rather than cliff-hanger ending.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Night Shift.
Orbit. 2008

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 14 July 2008

Jill Kismet is a hunter, former apprentice of the fearsome hunter Mikhail, tracking down and exterminating the various hellbreed that infest her town. She has a wary relationship with the cops, who call her in when anything ... strange ... happens. And something very strange is happening now -- cops are being savagely killed by what appears to be a team of hellbreed and werewolf. But the weres never team with hellbreed, and hellbreed never team with anyone. Jill and a team of FBI weres must track down the bad guys before more cops die. But then the most fearsome hellbreed of them all takes an interest...

Saintcrow certainly put her protagonists through the wringer, both before and during their stories. Jill Kismet is no exception, a broken human being kept going only by her determination to fight. And there's lots of great fighting, and chasing, and angst, and sarcasm, and more fighting, set against an interesting background of supernatural evil kept hidden from most of the population.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Hunter's Prayer.
Orbit. 2008

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 18 October 2008

In this second book in the series, Jill Kismet is less alone, being now now accompanied by her new were-lover Saul, and not agonising over the death of her teacher being her fault. Which is just as well, as her demon-mentor has discovered a better way to torment her, and a potentially world-shattering evil is about to be let loose, and it's up to Jill to discover the source and stop it, all in the next few days. (How will Saintcrow top this?)

More sarcasm, fighting, chasing down demons, and rather gruesome descriptions of murders, before the final showdown.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Redemption Alley.
Orbit. 2009

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 16 August 2009

So, to up the pressure on our demon-hunting protagonist Jill Kismet, Saintcrow has sent her were-lover Saul off to be with his dying mother, and has her worrying whether her demon mark is growing and consuming her, or, worse, shrinking to leave her with only mortal powers. On top of this, there appears to be some sort of conspiracy in the police department, and a bunch of mortals out to kill her. On top of all the usual demonic problems, of course.

More non-stop breathless action as Jill fights vampires, demons, humans, and more. It's a good job she's extremely hard to kill, else this book would be very short.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Flesh Circus.
Orbit. 2009

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 17 December 2009

Hunter Jill Kismet is unhappy that she has to let the Hellbreed's Cirque de Charnu into her town, despite the safety of a hostage. She is even more unhappy when strange zombies start attacking the Cirque, and her. She has to find out who has a grudge against the Cirque before they manage to kill the hostage, and all Hell breaks loose. Then there's problems with Saul, and with a kid following her around...

Another typical day in the life of a hunter. There's lots of violent killing of Zombies, but this feels a bit lacklustre, not enough smart-mouthing, maybe as tired as Jill herself is here.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Heaven's Spite.
Orbit. 2010

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 28 December 2010

Hunter Jill Kismet is beset at every turn by attackers, and mass graves being used to populate hellish altars threatening to loose bigger badder demons on her town. With hardly room to breath, she's off fighting hellbreed. But with the return of the Sorrow who murdered her mentor, she's running on dangerous emotion, rather than thought, which might be her undoing.

All slam-bang action, as Kismet shoots, knifes, strangles, and otherwise dispatches the bad guys. And it couldn't end on a more momentous cliffhanger...

Lilith Saintcrow.
Angel Town.
Orbit. 2011

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 8 November 2011

!!!Warning -- SPOILERS for Heaven's Spite!!!

Jill Kismet has been sent back from Hell to finish her job. Trouble is, after having put a bullet through her own brain, her memory is a bit rusty, and she doesn't know who she is, or who the bad guys are. But her reflexes are still good, and as she slowly pieces her life together, she realises she may have to make the ultimate sacrifice. Again.

A satisfying conclusion to the series, as the Big Bad gets bigger and badder, and Jill is tested to the limit, and beyond. Lots of frenetic mayhem, and a few plot explanations.

Lilith Saintcrow.
The Society.
ImaJinn. 2005

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 18 March 2008

Rowan Price is a powerful psion, who has been hiding her talent for fear that she is a freak. But now the secret government Sigma organisation has discovered her, and is determined to capture her and use her talents to their own ends. Justin Delgado was an unwilling Sigma operative until he escaped, and joined the Society, a group of psions fighting Sigma. It is his job to get to Rowan before Sigma does.

This is the usual Saintcrow setup: female discovering and using her powers in the company of protective powerful male, who misunderstand each other much of the time because neither thinks that they are good enough for the other. It is an interesting scenario, set in the contemporary world (cell phones do so help move the plot on smartly) with a sinister government black-ops organisation as the enemy, and we watch Rowan turn from an "ordinary" everyday person into a competent operative. It is also "good" (in some sense) to see a character witness the violent deaths of friends and family and be devastated by it. But it does make Rowan come across as a bit of a wimp to start with.

Be warned: there is a whopping cliffhanger at the end.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Hunter, Healer.
ImaJinn. 2005

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 24 March 2008

The Society headquarters has been overrun by Sigma, who have recaptured Justin Delgado, torturing him to get information about the powerful psion Rowan Price. But Justin has forced himself to forget, until he can escape and rejoin her. Meanwhile Rowan is helping the remnants of the Society rebuild themselves, determined to avenge Justin and her family by destroying Sigma. When Justin escapes, he tracks down Rowan, just as Sigma want him to...

This is definitely a second half to the whole story of Rowan and Justin. Rowan has continued to grow in strength, and is no longer so wimpy -- her constant passing out is now due to getting shot or otherwise attacked, not just "vapours". The resolution is frenetically active, but maybe a little too pat.

This completes the story, with no final cliffhanger, although it is potentially open for further action in that world.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Steelflower.
Samhain. 2008

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 27 December 2008

Kaia is G'Mai, a member of an elf-like race, shunned by them for her lack of Power, and made outcaste 11 years ago. Now she is a successful thief, assassin, and sword-for-hire. But when she picks the pocket of a strange red-haired barbarian, it leads her to fighting the city guards at his side, fleeing her home, and gradually acquiring a motley band of followers. Life will never be the same again.

This is a fun romp through a well-drawn fantasy world, with many of Saintcrow's standard tropes. Kaia is, as usual, a badly damaged soul finding the possibility of true love, but losing none of her attitude or fighting skills in the process. The fantasy setting allows pitched battles as well as individual combat, duels, and, of course, wise-cracking. There is a degree of closure at the end of the book, but it is clearly just the beginning of a substantial saga. The rather larger than usual band of hangers-on promises to be entertaining.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Dark Watcher.
ImaJinn. 2004

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 16 March 2008

Theo Morgan is a green witch: a healer who spends her time and energy caring for the deadbeats and dropouts where she lives. She is so powerful that both the Crusade and the Dark are targetting her: up until now she has survived only by luck and instinct. Dante is a Watcher, a man seeking redemption, sent by Circle Lightfall to protect her and other Lightbringers. But to give him the strength to do this, the Circle has bonded some Dark to him. Can he make Theo trust him enough to save her from the dangers?

Of course he can. But it's a fun bit of mind candy along the way, with some quite interesting back story mythology, and some good fights against the bad guys on all sides. And even though this is one of the "Dark" series, there's closure at the end.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Storm Watcher.
ImaJinn. 2005

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 17 March 2008

Mari, a water witch and Guardian of her city, is trying to finish her degree, so that she can get a job and move into a better place. Hanson, her Watcher, is making her current flatmates nervous. And she is having visions of her death, and Theo's death, with Hanson involved somehow. Then her flatmates are gruesomely murdered, and she discovers a frightening link between the Guardian spell and the recent earthquake. Solving this problem may very well make her vision come true.

This involves the same characters from Dark Watcher, but with different ones foregrounded. It carries on pretty much in the same manner, but Mari is a bit more of a wimp than Theo, and Hanson is a bit more angsty than Dante. There's lots of darkness and fighting. It's rather obvious who the main enemy is, and of the resolution of Miri's vision, but again, it's fun mind candy getting there. There are some obvious set-ups for the future books, but still closure at the end of this.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Fire Watcher.
ImaJinn. 2006

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 28 March 2008

Elise, the third witch in the trio of Guardians of Saint City, is having a bad time. Her two companions, Theo and Mari, are seemingly besotted with their new-found Watchers, leaving her lonely, and her anger seems to be growing. She needs to find control before she does something dangerous. Then a new Watcher, Remy, appears, and recognises some of her jewellery as being a powerful fire Talisman, that has its own agenda. He needs to convince Elise to trust him before it gets out of control.

The same template at the previous books, but with different characters: Lightbringer Elise and Watcher Remy come together, through various misunderstandings, climaxing in a great battle against the evil. Elise is less of a wimp (sorry, is less "gentle") that Theo and Mari, so there's a bit more fighting and a bit less passing out from her.

Lilith Saintcrow.
Cloud Watcher.
ImaJinn. 2006

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 29 March 2008

Anya is an air witch, one step ahead of the Dark beings trying to eat her, when she arrives in Saint City, and meets up with the three Guardians, Theo, Mari, and Elise. She forms a fourth to their earth, water, and fire, completing them. And her Watcher, Jack Gray, also turns up. His past is so dark and vile he is afraid that Anya will never accept him.

But we know she will, because this follows the same underlying template as the rest of the series. Here it is just slightly different, because Anya has a dependent, Shell, a grown man with the mind of a five-year-old, who is jealous of Jack, and who the bad guys can use as a lever against Anya. Despite this, it follows very much the same outline, with an ever more furious final battle. (Additionally, there are hints that this may be the same world as the one in which the later Dante Valentine stories are set: talk of collaring psychics to control them, and of psychic vampires.)

Lilith Saintcrow.
Mindhealer.
ImaJinn. 2008

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 25 February 2009

Caroline Robbins is a Mindhealer: a witch who can enter another's thoughts to help cure them. She is a member of Circle Lightfall, but has refused to have a Watcher since hers died protecting her. Merrick is a Watcher being driven slowly mad by the suffering the Dark is causing the witches. Caro is summoned to the Altamira safehouse to help investigate a devastating series of attacks on psychics. Almost as soon as she arrives, she is attacked by the Dark, and is only just saved by a patrolling Merrick. The attacks grow in ferocity as she gets closer to the cause, until it looks like maybe neither she nor Merrick will survive.

This follows the same template as all the other Watcher series books, with only the slight difference that it is set within Circle Lightfall. It finishes satisfactorily, but is clearly setting the stage for a new level of conflict between the Circle and its many enemies.