The Iron Princess by Barbara Hambly is her first fantasy novel in about a decade and a half. To me, it had elements that reminded me of both the Darwath books and the Windrose Chronicles; it’s likely meant to be a world in the same universe, where magical travel between different worlds is possible through a void, mageborn people can see in the dark, and messing with things humans don’t understand can lead to disastrous invasions from outside our ken. The world where most of the story takes place is in the midst of industrial advances via colonialism and slavery. Magic is fading and becoming unreliable, except for that of the Crystal Mages, who rely on the magical dust adamis. Mining for adamis seems to be the origin, or at least the expansion, of the colonialist invasion, which has pushed the indigenous people further and further from the coasts, assuming they can avoid being enslaved as workers. Protagonist Clea is the daughter of the most wealthy of the colonialists, but her mother was a powerful indigenous magic user, and after her father has her mother executed for political reasons (He’s definitely got some Henry the Eighth vibes going on), she connects with her mother’s people and begins to work towards revolution. This novel is more about the monster plot than the nuts and bolts of revolution, but I appreciated that so many issues were at least raised; I’m curious whether there will be more stories set in this world.
A Tempest at Sea by Sherry Thomas is seventh in the “Lady Sherlock” series, and felt a bit like taking a breath with a shipboard mystery/spy story, after the intense Moriarty plotline semi-resolved in book six. Charlotte Holmes’ sister Olivia is at long last free of her mother and going on a long voyage to warmer climes with her beloved older relative, accompanied by her sister’s lover, Ash, and his two children. Then her mother shows up unexpectedly on the same ship. At the same time, Charlotte Holmes and Mrs. Watson are in disguise, looking for some highly classified materials amid the passengers. The mystery has a fair amount of typical Thomas flashbacks that illuminate the mystery with new information or different points of view, but otherwise was fairly standard. I enjoyed it, and will buy the next one.
Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai is contemporary fantasy romance featuring a Chinese near-immortal, Elle, and a half-fae Frenchman, Luc, who both work for a mysterious and powerful supernatural agency. It’s got many Xianxia (Chinese “immortal heroes” fantasy) vibes. After traumatic events with her family, for which Elle feels responsible, she’s in hiding, which means concealing the true extent of her power as a descendant of a god of medicine. Luc is concealing the reasons he continues to work for the domineering head of their agency as a fixer and sometimes assassin. Of course, Elle and Luc fall in love, but their conflicting responsibilities and the true selves they hide from each other add a lot of excellent tension, resulting in difficult but ultimately satisfying decisions. There’s a lot of fun banter and some side characters I’d love to see again. Warning for some instances of magical coercion.
My TBR Challenge book for March was My Father’s Ghost by Suzy McKee Charnas.
Castor and Pollux by Ione is a delightful crossover: Frederica by Georgette Heyer, with the Aubrey-Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian. Frederica is pregnant; she and her family make some new friends.
Human Touch by Edonohana Biggles and von Stalhein from the W.E. Johns books are experimented upon by an evil scientist and must support each other to escape. A perfect hurt-comfort bonbon.
If There Was a Me for You by westernredcedar is a Check Please! AU in which Eric and Jack don’t meet until middle-age. Jack is a retired NHL star, divorced with two kids; Eric is directing commercials, having given up on making a career out of baking long ago. It’s time for a change, for both of them. I really enjoyed this.
Snap Decisions by heyjupiter is an Avengers AU in which there are no superheroes. In their thirties, Tony Stark is an unhappy CEO and and Bruce Banner is a high school teacher with complex PTSD from childhood abuse. They’re both coaching high school academic decathlon teams (the author’s note explains a great deal I never knew about the many different variations of decathlon/bowl). For the most part, it’s a sweet romance between the two with a Greek chorus of high schoolers, until Chancellor Thanos closes half the schools in New York City. Crushed beneath the weight of too many expectations, Bruce needs Tony’s help to survive; meanwhile, Tony has learned a lot from Bruce about how to deal with his own issues. There’s a very satisfying happy ending.
edge of providence by adiduck (book_people) and whimsicalimages is a massive “fixit” for the Star Wars prequel trilogy, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi and his teenaged padawan Anakin Skywalker stumble across the vast clone army being assembled on Kamino while the clones are still teenagers and younger. I saw the prequel trilogy once, in the theater when it came out, and never felt the urge to see it again; I have not seen the Clone Wars animated series and am not that familiar with Star Wars: Legends (the Expanded Universe/EU), but I managed to follow just fine. Ultimately, in this story there’s a romance between Mandalorian Jango Fett (the source of the clones) and Obi-Wan, while Anakin finds the social support he lacked in canon. One of the things I hated most about the prequel movies was the disposability of droids and clones; their purpose in the story felt half-baked, like an excuse for massive CGI battles instead of an integral element of the worldbuilding. This story focuses on the clones and on Mandalorian culture and politics; though I was still extremely dubious about Jango Fett’s initial motivation for the clones and the whole convoluted Sith plot, I ended up enjoying this alternate universe saga quite a bit.
Unbranded Air by suitesamba is a Sherlock AU set in 1890s Wyoming; Sherlock is injured while investigating cattle rustlers and is brought to John Watson, the only available doctor who is trying to forget his widowhood by being a rancher. A gentle romance and an excellent partnership ensue. Spoiler: Mrs. Hudson is fine because Watson is an excellent doctor.
And This, Your Living Kiss by opal_bullets is a mundane Supernatural AU in which Dean Winchester becomes a (very reclusive) poet, at least until his father’s death sends him into depression. After he moves to California to live with brother Sam and his family, he reconnects with his former English teacher Missouri Moseley, who tells him to take a poetry class with Professor Castiel Novak. Romance, and eventually more poetry, ensues. I loved this exploration of another plausible career for Dean, linked to his love for rock lyrics.
Until I Can Say It Myself by westernredcedar is an Olympics AU in which Eric Bittle became an ice dancer and Canadian citizen instead of attending Samwell, and meets Jack Zimmermann when he’s playing for the Canadian national team. As well as a romance, this is a story about standing up to homophobia and realizing how harmful inaction can be. Warning for a hate crime that is not seen, but is briefly described afterwards.