I love books that don’t take themselves too seriously, and from the title alone, I knew “Hold Me Closer, Necromancer” was one of those books. Add in chapter titles all based on classic rock lyrics? I’m in! Plus, after Gideon the Ninth, I was kind of itching for more necromancer-like fantasy reads. This particular NA fantasy follows Sam, plus a lot of other POV characters but mostly Sam, who is nothing special. He’s a college dropout working at a fast-food restaurant with his best friend, just kind of meandering through life without purpose or direction—we’ve all been there. Sam is an incredibly relatable character and the sarcastic 1st person narrative the author gives him really sells Sam as a character and makes you feel for him. Then, one day (as it always happens), Sam’s life is changed when he accidentally puts himself in the path of the most powerful necromancer in Seattle. Then, surprise! Sam learns the family secret that was kept from him pretty much since birth: Sam is also a necromancer. What follows is the traditional race to unlock his power and save his friends, and himself, before Douglas decides Sam is no longer worth the effort. Everything about this book sounds fun and has a cool twist on urban fantasy, and yet I never fell as hard for this story as I wanted.
“The Spec Set” is a little piece of neurodivergent lit that is part superhero adventure, part spy thriller, part alien encounter, and sprinkled with a healthy dose of coming-of-age drama for our MC, Emile. Emile has always taken care of his little brother Max; making sure he gets around, that he’s safe, that he has what he needs. But Emile knows that Max is brilliant, that he is capable of more, even though he doesn’t talk, if only their over protective father would stop coddling the kid. Then Max finds a therapist whose young daughter (Lily) not only helps Max, but introduces Emile to a whole new world, one where he can play a part—as long as he, too, can see his little brother for who, and what, he truly is. I really loved the narrative voice of this novel from the onset, it’s fun and just my kind of sarcastic. I also really loved how Emile views Max early on; as someone with a neurodivergent brother, I related to being a sibling’s keeper, and feeling like they were playing the system more than necessary. But there was also a lot happening in this short read, and I often felt like chunks were missing from the story.
“Laura and the Shadow King” sounds far more ominous than the story actually is: “Shadow” is the name of an elite force of military operatives, and “King” is the nickname of the man in charge of shadow—J.J. Berger. In J. J’s world, a rampant disease has swept through civilization, turning people into a type of zombie, where they devolve into cannibalistic animals, and one bite will infect and turn a person into one of them. Governments have collapsed and the only people in charge are groups of militia, military units, and gangs. It’s a fairly familiar storyline, but the one thing that makes it unique is Laura and her mother, and their role in this new world. Unfortunately, I found the writing style to be the biggest determent in my enjoyment of the novel.
“Anti-Hero” picks up shortly after where “Alter Ego” leaves off, with Mary’s secret identity in shambles and on the run, hunting down those responsible for taking her parents away, and dismantling the lies she held as truth for most of her life. So, don’t read this review if you haven’t read Alter Ego yet (and you should read that, by the way) because there will be mild spoilers for the first book in the series in this review. But in this middle book of the trilogy, Swed does a wonderful job of both answering lingering questions, giving more background on the vigilantes now that the world building is done, while still surprising the reader with new characters, new revelations, and one hell of a twist at the end.
When the synopsis of “The Hungry Ones” says that the city is alive, that is 100% not hyperbole. Gomel has crafted a semi-cyberpunk dystopian where the city itself is a sentient being where the poor, the outcasts, all live on the lowest levels, and the elite high above the labyrinth in glittering towers of flesh and bone. Where the humans of the city have ‘arms that are sentient whip-like weapons embedded in their palms, and the living brain of the city births’ its own odd looking residents. Some of whom are inanimate objects brought to life, like yarn balls or traffic cones. It sounds vaguely funny, but this book is anything but—in a good way. “The Hungry Ones” is a literary fiction, fantasy horror ride that follows a woman who can’t remember who she is, but has a devastating power that can both stop the zombie-like Hungry Ones plaguing the city, and potentially save the city from a looming war with the country. This book was full of disturbing imagery, unexpected twists, and also beautifully written.
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