Without Light or Guide, by T. Frohock

Without Light or Guide picks up soon
after the events of In Midnight’s Silence,
after Diago has rescued his son from Moloch, ruler of the daimons, who wishes
to use young Rafael for his own empowerment.  Diago and his husband Miquel begin to put their lives in
order with the addition of Rafael, while trying to get to the bottom of the
conflict between the angels, daimons, and angel-born Nefilim to whom they are
both sworn.

Part
1930’s noir, part urban fantasy, Without
Light or Guide
explores human pain in all its facets, and the many forms
that healing can take.  Diago has
doubted himself for so long after the events of his first life that even though
he looks for mercy for others in their reincarnations, he reserves none for
himself.  This time, he has to deal
with the suspicion and even open hostility of other Nefilim while attempting to
solve a series of murders—and the victims have direct connections to him.  As the clues point towards a greater
game being played than just conflict between angels and daimons, Diago must
learn to trust himself again in order to face the next attack from Moloch, who
has only been weakened, not defeated.

Diago’s
humanity, and indeed that of all the Nefilim the reader encounters, is what
drives this story.  Frohock draws a
definitive line between the mortals and immortals, then skillfully blurs it,
allowing the reader to fall into it headfirst only to be brought up short with
the delightfully horrific realization that, no, these are not humans; though
they may make attempts to spare humans when it’s convenient, the lives of
mortals are not a priority.  Frohock’s
use of music as magic is a perfect example: music is both commonplace and
transcendent as a human endeavor, and yet when the Nefilim use it, it becomes
something more altogether—something that can kill or heal at will, and beguile
mortals to turn them into pawns in a greater game.

Readers
of urban fantasy and magical realism will enjoy the way Frohock blends myth,
reality, and her own blend of magic to create a unique fantasy world.  For those who like a historical,
alt-universe this series firmly places the story within its real-world setting,
all the while hinting at a much more sinister world history than we were taught
in school.  Any reader of fantasy
drawn to character-driven stories, will surely find much to love in Without Light or Guide and its
co-volumes.

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In Midnight’s Silence, by T. Frohock

Something
awful has happened.  Diago Alvarez
had thought all he had to worry about were the amorous advances of his sullen
piano pupil’s mother, but something has come back from his past, not just to
haunt him but to destroy him.  In a
fast-paced start to her three-part series Los Nefilim, Frohock takes her readers
to the mouth of hell and back in In
Midnight’s Silence.

Frohock
is no stranger to the strange, and In
Midnight’s Silence
is delightfully eerie while also being poignant and
soulful.  It’s no wonder, really,
as her characters are the children of angels and masters of music and
song.  This is Diago’s story,
hinted at in her short Hisses and Wings,
brought to life in vivid color and motion.  The characters practically step off the page, and Frohock’s
narrative style will have readers gasping and delighting right along with them
at every turn. 

The
world of Los Nefilim is ours… with a twist.  Throughout history, humanity has thought it was in control
of events, while in fact everything has been carefully shaped by the angels and
daimons who have been alive, reborn again and again, since time
immemorial.  Encompassing many
aspects of ancient religion and culture, In
Midnight’s Silence
hints that perhaps the first rebellion of the angels is
not over—that perhaps our human conceptions of gods and angels is but a
fragment of the whole picture. 

Anyone
interested in Spanish history particularly the early 20th century,
will appreciate the authenticity of the narrative, while those who enjoy an
alternate take on ideas of Judeo-Christian divinity and history will likewise
like the hints of a deeper past that crop up throughout the novella.  Concepts of family, of hidden pasts,
and the notion of redemption drive this story; while the action is
well-narrated, it is the connections between characters that will pull the
reader in and keep them there.

Hisses and Wings, by T. Frohock and Alex Bledsoe

Hisses and Wings makes you want to believe in magic.  It draws on a long line of urban fantasy stories in which fae/immortal beings come to Earth and live among humans, mixing to different degrees.  This story brings to mind the music magic of Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks.  In the ways that it invokes a lost history and unknown number of separate but magical races it evokes the wild and untamed world-building of N.K. Jemisin’s Kingdom of Gods. 

I enjoyed this story for the feelings it conjured, the shared lore it participates in.  It leaves the reader with more questions than answers and a lot to ponder.  On second read I found compelling themes—the binding nature of immortality, what it means for immortal creatures to approach mortality, and the true meaning of redemption; what happens when music becomes a contract; what can happen to even magical creatures when their music is made tangible—when their expression of magic is in their wings, or is a creature of their body; the relationship between wishing and willing. 

I’d like to digress a bit and explore this idea of magic a bit more.  On a superficial level, everything is there to make this story a great exploration of all those themes I just mentioned.  We are given a fair amount of information about Janet, about Diago and the rest of the Nephilim, to understand why the story moves in the direction it does and ends the way it does.  But.  In lieu of description and adverbial phrases, I’d have expected a starkness to the parts of the story in which Janet appears.  I want her sorrow at the losses the Tufa have discovered to be palpable.  And I want a fire to burn—bright as the bonfire they light—when the Nephilim are given description and thoughts.  I understand that Janet is intelligent and possesses a reckless ability to charm people when she needs to, but I never got to see that one moment in the story when her personality and motivations are given light. 

The authors, I would wager, had all these ideas and more when they devised this story.  They knew what they wanted to accomplish and have begun to do it.  The plot moves smoothly thanks to a serviceable narrative style and pacing, and attention to details like local dialect and history; each setting feels firmly placed in time and space.  Where the prose shone, of course, was in descriptions of music.  Understanding, among characters, is shaped through the music they create together.  I could have wished, though, that this power was exploited more by the authors.  

I waited for the “aha” moment, but though the authors circled around it they never quite hit on, for me, what was at the heart of the story’s tension; they never quite pushed it far enough for me to feel satisfied with the ending.  Certainly, though, I look forward to more stories in this cycle, as it holds great potential for storytelling.

The Shiver Trilogy | Maggie Stiefvater

I realize I’ve been away from the old Tumbls for a bit, but never fear, I’m still reading.  And the next book (series) I want to talk about I didn’t actually read, but listened to.  Back when I was a youth librarian I started listening to audio books on CD (though I had a tape deck, if the occasion called for it!) to fill the long hour of driving each day.  Towards the end of my year there (right before I took off for a year to lands unknown), I got started on the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.  

There was about a year and a half gap in between Shiver (#1) and the second two books: Linger and Forever.  In terms of remembering every single detail, that didn’t work out wonderfully well, but certainly each book is written with its own distinct plot progression, so even if you hadn’t read the first, you’d be able to get through the second two without too much confusion and Stiefvater does a good job of reiterating the relevant details through dialog and character explication.

There’s a lot of thinking and feeling in these books.  Which I didn’t consider a bad thing because these books are about teenagers and thinking and feeling is kind of a big deal when you’re that age.  It also wasn’t a big deal because, once again, each book has plot and action, and a large amount of character arc for each POV character.  Even the non-POV characters, some of them, show a fair amount of movement from beginning to end.  

I will admit that at times the books seemed a bit slow going, because of the thinking and feeling.  It didn’t overly detract from my reading (listening) of the books though.  Whether Stiefvater meant to or not, the fact that everything seemed to come to a standstill while a character went into detail about something actually created even greater urgency when events were afoot.  And it also seemed this type of pacing was a great metaphor for the teenage condition–endlessly waiting to grow up and simultaneously rushing toward adulthood at breakneck speed.  

The story itself would probably be lumped in with urban fantasy or paranormal romance–because of the wolves–if people had to pick a more specific genre than simply fantasy or SFF.  I think, though, that giving the typical werewolf story a medical twist separates it from other paranormal fantasy, even so far as taking it out of the romance category.  There are romantic relationships in the series, but there are in almost any book, of any genre.  This trilogy is really a “secret lives of teenagers” subgenre, if anything.  Like great YA, it treats teenagers as full people, while still allowing them to be teenagers.  

Everyone knows that teens have lives that they are developing apart from their parents, things they think or feel or do that their parents may never find out about.  Some parents stick their heads in the sand, some become control freaks, and others go the best-friend route.  But no matter what, no matter the approach, parents realize–or are forced to realize–that they can’t control everything anymore, and that there are certain things their kids don’t want to–or can’t–talk about.  The Wolves of Mercy Falls is all of those situations poured together, but in this case it’s something they actually can’t talk about with their parents.  And for some it causes almost irreparable damage to relationships.

I think at the end of the trilogy some might see the eventual resolution as an easy way out.  A minor adult character steps in to alleviate the greatest plot strain.  But I would argue that the real plot conflicts and resolutions have already been played out in the personal interactions.  The final plot sequence dealing with the wolves is a secondary story, a point where all the characters finally come together, having dealt with their own conflicts.  

The only real objections I have are with the cast of characters itself.  The characters could have been a bit more diverse ethnically/racially.

Overall I’d recommend this trilogy to people who like character-driven stories, fantasy, paranormal/urban fantasy, music lovers, book lovers, and yes, even romance.  Steifvater has a lot of respect for both her characters and her readers, as I know from having read other novels by her.  

Check it out!

The Shiver Trilogy | Maggie Stiefvater