ARMED AND MAGICAL (ARC)
By Lisa Shearin
Release date: April 2008
OPENING NOTES FROM THE REVIEWER: If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I try to avoid spoilers for potential readers. Knowing what’s going to happen takes the joy out of the journey. But pardon me while I take a moment to enthuse. (Is that a word?) This is, without a doubt, one of the best reads I’ve had in a long, long time. There are twists, turns, shocks and surprises—all contained in a fast-paced story. Unpredictable would be an understatement and the witty dialogue, both spoken and internal, is exceptional.
ARMED AND MAGICAL is the much anticipated Raine Benares Adventure sequel to MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND. I read it in a day. I could not stop. It rolled from one engrossing, hooky scene to the next. There is much to discover and some absolute pound-fists-on-the-table-and-kick-heels-in-glee surprises. Raine has one heck of a penchant for getting herself in the most awkward, intriguing spots. And when she isn’t immersed in a situation full of terrific humor, she’s up to her ears in bite-your-nails creepiness.
On to the elements…
COVER ART: My opinion is based on the artwork posted on Lisa Shearin’s website, since the ARC arrived in a plain gray wrapper. As with MLTF, excellent use of color and Raine’s “Girl With Attitude” expression shines through. As with the first book, I love the active font used for the title. It’s fun, unorthodox, charming and suggests magical influence—perfect for the story. Readers seemed to have a love/hate relationship with MLTF artwork and I’m sure the same will be true for ARMED AND MAGICAL, but as covers go, in my opinion these are two of the best Fantasy covers I’ve seen.
INITIAL IMPRESSION: “Adventure” is too weak of a description for this grab-you-by-the-collar first chapter. By page 6, Raine’s got trouble—BIG trouble—and I’m once again pulled right into the crux of the action by the first person POV as villains pop out of the woodwork, a major character is in jeopardy, and an innocent is snatched. We’re off!
MAIN CHARACTERS: Raine Benares is a seeker, a finder of lost things, and a sorceress of moderate powers. Make that a world-wise, quick-witted, been-around-the-block-a-few-times sorceress from a family of rogues and criminals. She’s savvy and unpredictable, and you never know what she might say next. Tell Raine to keep quiet? Not gonna happen. In MLTF, she found something she wasn’t looking for that attached itself to her with the tenacity of a Pit Bull. Mychael Eiliesor, a fellow elf, Conclave Guardian and paladin (read that: top cop) came into her life to help her shake off her disturbing accessory, but his job often puts him at odds with her instincts. Tam, nightclub owner, exotic bad boy, and goblin with a dubious past also finds himself entangled in Raine’s business, though an entanglement of a different sort is more what he has in mind. This is no static triangle; the balance of the three sides often shifts in dramatic fashion.
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS: Phaelan, Raine’s underhanded pirate cousin, a bad companion with good intentions in MLTF, is outrageously endearing in A/M in a very “Jack Sparrow” sort of way. Phaelan is, without a doubt, devious and conniving, which at times is just what Raine needs to get her out of a jam. Piaras, Raine’s young friend and adopted “kid brother” is a spellsinger student who lands himself smack in the middle of the action. Talon Tandu is a young, seductive, half-blood with a surprise legacy that gets him swept up in the turmoil. Tanik Ozal, is a not altogether trustworthy competitor turned ally of Phaelan’s. There are many more characters and it’s important to remember the names and roles of each, as they often make encore appearances.
VILLAIN: As with MLTF, there are many who might qualify as “villain material,” but two stand out in their special charming, slithery way. Sarad Nukpana is back in all his evil glory, and Rudra Muralin, a goblin with a dark past (or make that an even darker past than most goblins) presents a new force for Raine to contend with.
OTHER CHARACTERS: There is a large and well-drawn contingent of minor characters, including loyal Guardians, corrupt officials, seedy minions, and an overbearing, malevolent librarian that reigns over his turf like a dark thundercloud.
WORLD BUILDING: The imaginative world in MLTF continues on the shores of the Isle of Mid where a citadel, academic structures, government buildings, embassies, and nightclubs may have shadowy basements, tunnels, cells, and secret passageways. In this fantasy world, the threat of a lawsuit is sometimes just as imposing as the threat of violence.
CONFLICT: In a nutshell, Raine can never be sure when her connections are acting in her best interest or their own, and even the experts may make the wrong call when it comes to her safety. Her wits manage to get her into and out of some very tight situations. Conclave Guardian Mychael is her self-appointed protector, but Raine resists being protected, and coming from a family of criminals that view Mychael’s sort with suspicion, she has doubts about his true motivations. Tam has a damning secret, and when Raine discovers who and what he was—and may still be—she is smart enough to heed his warnings. Or try to.
ROMANCE: There’s steam aplenty between Raine and Mychael, but things absolutely crackle between Raine and Tam, the goblin with a pension for showing up in unexpected places at unpredictable times with electric results. Although this couldn’t be classified as a romance I think there are more than enough scenes to satisfy readers who believe no story is complete without some romantic interaction between the main characters.
READABILITY: It is a rare case where a sequel bests the original in brilliant style. MLTF was a delight. ARMED AND MAGICAL is even better. The lightning pace makes for a quick, engrossing read, but real-life elements like politics and legal matters add rich complexity and twists to the story. The element of surprise is always present. You just never know what…or who…might pop up next.
EVIL AUTHORS GUILD STAMP OF APPROVAL: The Evil Authors Guild exists to encourage writers to inflict appropriate amounts of terror, angst and emotional torture into their characters’ lives, and to leave them twisting in the wind at every opportunity. Oh my, yes. Enthusiastic endorsement here.
MOST QUOTABLE QUOTE(S): Sooo many fantastic quotes in this one, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun, so here are a few gems just for flavor:
“In my family, that’s not silence, it’s reloading.”
“Safe is relative.”
“Most girls get flowers or candy. I get a declaration of martial law.”
MAGIC QUOTIENT: Magic is used in imaginative and surprising ways and in at least one scene had me ROFL at the irony when Raine takes on a very convincing disguise and suffers the consequences. Paybacks are hell, huh, Raine?
SECOND READ: There’s so much going on here—character-wise, politics-wise, and plot-wise, that this one is great for multiple reads.
OVERALL RATING: If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I don’t rate on a number scale. Each novel is like sightseeing in a strange city. You learn about the territory as you go. I rate ARMED AND MAGICAL as a New Orleans (during Mardi Gras). So much to discover, a rich culture steeped in tradition and its unique brand of music, but with a few alligators lurking in the sewers, and you never know what you’ll find when you turn the next corner, or what ghosts might haunt the neighborhood. If you love an imaginative Fantasy romp with a winning blend of laugh-out-loud humor and chilling suspense, this novel is a “Must Read.” Look for it in April 2008.