Patricia Briggs, Moon Called: I really liked Briggs’s first Ward Hurog book. Her other fantasy efforts I’ve found less successful. This is a new direction for her: modern urban fantasy in the early Laurell K. Hamilton style, which is to say – magical female protagonist holding her own against a lot of hot supernatural guys, but no sexual gymnastics. It feels as if Briggs looked at Anita Blake’s sales and said “I can do that,” using a skinwalker instead of a necromancer. And she really can – the setup and payoff are both well-executed; the protagonist has limited powers and uses her brains to make up the difference; the men are relatively interesting and distinct. It’s just that I didn’t feel she was tapping her own vein of kink the way Hamilton did, so it’s not quite as sexy. Nonetheless, and despite the awful cheesecake cover, I will probably pick up the sequel for a quick diversion.
Jim Butcher, Academ’s Fury: Butcher, by contrast, has written that he really wants to be writing this epic fantasy, now that he’s made enough of a name with Harry Dresden. In the country of Alera, where people control elemental spirits, political machinations are afoot, with the ailing leader heirless and factions lining up to replace him. There are also external magical threats, appreciated fully only by the barbarians who are Alera’s traditional enemies. It’s perfectly competent stuff, and the treatment of women is a lot less problematic than it was in the first volume, but (and this is probably what Briggs was thinking) I like Harry better.
Jim Butcher, Proven Guilty: This paperback has “As seen on SciFi” on it, which is a little misleading. SciFi’s version has taken away a lot of Harry’s tortured and baroque backstory, though maybe it will be reintroduced. I’m really glad Butcher’s done so well, but I’m just not enjoying the show very much; I would have watched James Marsters run through the very standard plots, but this other guy hasn’t grabbed me. Anyway, the book involves the hot, young, rebellious daughter of Harry’s avenging-angel-type friend Michael, who is somehow connected to a series of vicious attacks carried out in the style of famous movie killers. There’s a fan convention (of course!), further angst about Harry’s relationship with the demon now resident in his head, and some setup for the next iterations of Harry’s conflict with the fairy courts. Butcher’s hit his stride with this series, and he seems to have ideas for further complications, including deepening Harry’s involvement with Chicago cop Karin Murphy and giving him a wizardly mentoring role, so I’m looking forward to the next book.
Diana Gabaldon, Outlander: Okay, I think I get why many people adore this 850-page doorstop of a book. Gabaldon did a bunch of research, then put in everything that did it for her (cf. Id Vortex). WWII nurse? Cute seventeenth-century Scottish highlander in a kilt? Mysterious time warp? Forced marriage? Experienced woman/virginal man? Domestic discipline? Meaningful jewelry? All there and more. Apparently written with visceral joy verging on glee, I can see that this could be a lot of fun for fans of more conventional historicals. Since I’m not one, by the end I was just reading to see what else would come out of Aladdin’s cave. And Aladdin’s cave would not have been all that surprising – the only reason there’s no kitchen sink in the book is that Gabaldon’s protagonist rarely visits a kitchen.