Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

Read: 5 January, 2019

Rather than Urban Fantasy, it might make more sense to call this Urban Mythology. The world of Dreams Underfoot is one where the city is a living ecosystem of magical creatures.

I had read that ‘Nathan Burgoine was inspired by Charles de Lint, and I can absolutely see the connection. Both tell stories of urban magic and found family, and of people that have historically been outsiders coming together to form a new community within a city environment. Both also make magic of art.

There is rape and child abuse in Dreams Underfoot, which is something I really don’t enjoy. However, I did like that de Lint usually used these stories in the victims own character arc, with her being the protagonist of her own story, rather than using it to motivate someone else. Not only that, but victimhood is one part of these characters, not a backstory used in place of a personality. One story, that doesn’t end particularly well, has five (and then six) victims coming together to support each other, to create art, and to help others in similar situations. It’s an exploration of victimhood that does a lot more justice to its characters than I normally see, and I appreciate that.

Of Echoes Born by ‘Nathan Burgoine

Read: 7 October, 2018

This collection absolutely blew me away. I tend to struggle a lot with short stories – by the time I’ve found my footing with the characters and the setting, it’s already all over. Things happen to characters and I just don’t really feel what I know I’m supposed to be feeling because they are still strangers.

But Of Echoes Born was more like Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. The characters were so strong that I got an immediate sense of them. Burgoine will give me a whole love story in a handful of pages and I will feel it – I will feel that attraction the characters have for each other, I will understand their little inside jokes, I will totally buy into the love that they share.

Which, of course, just made my heart so much easier to break – which Burgoine did, again and again throughout the book. It never felt gratuitous or manipulative, though. Burgoine breaks, but he also heals, and nearly every story feels redemptive.

I really love that characters and locations come back through the stories, giving the collection a feeling of community. I’m pretty sure I also recognised at least one character from Triad Blood, though it’s been a while.

I  also love the way that art is used in these stories – and not just one type of art, but everything from painting to clothing design.

There & Then

I’m not a terribly huge fan of rape being used as a plot point, and I do think that this story could have worked without it. That said, I did really enjoy the story. I loved the magic system, and the way that the story taught me to feel for characters just based on what colours were named. I also enjoyed the origin story aspect of having the character discover what his powers mean and what he can choose to do with them.

Time and Tide

There’s a romance trope where a character comes home and is forced to confront a love from the past. I didn’t like this story as much as others in the collection, mostly because the magic and the art didn’t blend into the story the way they do in the other stories.


This isn’t a story where the characters happen to be gay, but a story where the homosexuality is the story. There’s the enforced closet, all the relationships that were never given a chance out of fear, and the complicated relationship between generations. But instead of being a sad, dark story – which it got very close to being – this is a story about magic art that heals history. I felt so uplifted when I got to the end, which was a wonderful feeling after a story that had, up until then, been so dark.

A Little Village Magic

Pentimento moved me, Village Magic outright had me blubbering. There’s the surface story about budding magical powers and a romantic relationship, but the backdrop is the restoration of a defaced LGBTQ+ monument. I love the message of found family.

The Psychometry of Snow

A twist on the ‘going home’ romance story, but again with the addition of magic. I liked this one a lot more than “Time and Tide”, if only because the magic system worked a bit better for me. I felt like “Time and Tide” needed too much exposition, which bogged the story down a bit, whereas the magic in “Psychometry” was pretty easy to grasp and then we had time to get on with things.

The Finish

This one was intense. Right from the beginning, we know that something will go terribly wrong, and that anticipation just gets ramped up with the time skipping and the frantic sex. The payoff was upsetting, of course, but it worked.

Here Be Dragons

Another one that had me crying. This might be a book written by a young(-ish?) author, but the sensitivity and feeling of what mental loss does to a couple is all there.


This one is a kinda funny story with a creepily laughable character, but then it sneaks in this delightfully heartfelt story about finding love and I really enjoyed it.


Burgoine is fantastic at evoking deep emotions in the limited format of a short story. I really fell for Miah and Aiden, and I bought them as a couple. Within a handful of pages, I cared enough for them to be really struck by their loss.

Negative Space

This could have been just another urban fantasy story about solving crime through magic. But Burgoine focuses all the attention on the main character, André, instead. So what we get instead is a story about suffering turned outward to help others.


The main “character” in this one is Ottawa, as the protagonist helps spirits “cross over”. It was neat to see some of the city’s history. Mostly, though, this is another story about the queer community, and all those relationships that were stifled by bigotry. Like “Pentimento”, Burgoine doesn’t just wallow in the sadness of it, but rather redeems his lovers. It’s beautiful, and sweet, and sad, and it’s healing in a way.

Here & Now

A book end story, we come back to Christian (now Ian) and Dawn from “There & Then”. There’s enough here for the story to stand on its own, but it works beautifully as a sequel – answering questions that had been raised in “There & Then”, and finishing off the arcs for each character. I particularly loved that, while Ian was healing for Christian in “There & Then”, that very same interaction is shown to be healing for Ian, too. Both versions of himself needed help, and they were there for each other. Which is just such a wonderful metaphor.

Triad Blood #1: Triad Blood by ‘Nathan Burgoine

Read: 21 November, 2017

Full disclosure: Burgoine is a friend of a friend. I met him at a birthday party and looked him up after he was introduced as an author. That said, I would have picked this book to read if I’d heard of it through other means anyway: It’s my genre, it’s not the straight white cis male fiction my reading list has historically been horridly over-saturated with, and it’s set right here in Ottawa. If there’s one thing I love more than anything, it’s local fiction!

One cool thing about reading local authors – library copies are often signed!

That said, the clunky writing in the first few pages had me questioning my choice. Given that the dialogue gets much better later on, I have to assume that the author was trying to use the speech tags to introduce the characters, but it very hard to get into.

Still, I powered through, and I’m very glad of it. The writing quickly loosens up as the plot takes over. There’s another rough patch in the final climax, but that’s not exactly uncommon.

Other than those two portions, I loved the book. The characters are interesting, the sex scenes are steamy, there’s tone-appropriate bits of humour, and the plot is intriguing. This may be a fairly genre-standard urban fantasy novel, but it’s a good one. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.

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The Physics of Magic #1: Magical Deliquents by Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg

Read: 8 January, 2014

Kira is a Walker, a magical race. When she begins her studies at the University of Waterloo, she begins to draw humans into her world – and all of its dangers.

Magical Delinquents is a self-published book written by an acquaintance. Unfortunately, it suffers from many of the same issues as other self-published books I’ve reviewed – notably formatting problems and typographical errors. In this case, the narrative also had an unpolished feel to it, particularly around the time-hopping toward the end, and would have benefited from a good editor and at least one more draft.

That said, the plot was a solid one. It’s the first book in a series, so a lot of time was spent on exposition. Still, the adventure was a fairly exciting one, the characters interesting, and the world-building has fantastic potential. Where this book really shines is in its descriptions of hospital and first aid care – the author is a nurse, and that’s clearly evident. The level of detail is quite a bit higher than is usually the case, and the hospital location used as the setting for several scenes felt very well fleshed out (complete with its own “culture” as the various doctors and nurses interact with each other).

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The Dresden Files #9: White Night by Jim Butcher

Read: 2 November, 2014

Several women with magical abilities have been committing suicide, but Murphy thinks that all might not be as it seems. When she brings in Harry, it quickly becomes apparent that Thomas has been involved.

This instalment may be the most referential to date. Several characters returned, and many of the plotlines that Harry has been juggling over the past few books finally get resolved (or, at least, seem to).

Over the last few books – certainly since Dresden’s first encounter with Lasciel – things have been getting darker. It’s been clear for a while that, at some point, Dresden was going to have to take a long hard look at what he’s becoming. This is the book where that happens, and I’m glad that Murphy got to be a part of it (she calmly and kindly leads Dresden toward the introspection he’s been avoiding, as a concerned friend).

Molly is an interesting sidekick, though largely untouched. She has a few hijinks moments, learns a few lessons, but largely stays out of the fighting. Which is not a bad thing. I think I might feel quite differently about Dresden if he brought her into things so soon.

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Hexslinger #1: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files

Read: 23 November, 2013

When I read the description of A Book of Tongues at the store, I knew I had to get it. Gay cowboy wizards involved with ancient Mesoamerican gods? What’s not to like!

Unfortunately, I just could not get into it. All the elements of a book I’d really like are there, and I found it full of great ideas, but the execution just fell flat. The narrative style was inconsistent, slipping back and forth between modern and Cowboyese. I also noticed several errors – wrong grammatical use, wrong diction, etc – that made the book a hard slog. And while it’s clear that a lot of research was done in the writing of the book, there were a few anachronisms that I found rather jarring (such as one character’s use of the term “glory hole,” which was not used in its present sexual context until much later).

The feverish quality of the narrative meant that I could never get a grasp on the characters – something that’s necessary for me to care what happens next. The entire book read like the weird dream/trance sequences that I always skim through.

All in all, I find myself very disappointed. I love creative magic systems and I just can’t get enough of books that incorporate mythology into their narrative, but A Book of Tongues just did not do it for me.

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The Dresden Files #4: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Read: 17 October, 2013

I had been warned that the Dresden Files series took a little while to warm up, and that’s certainly proving to be true. The difference in quality between Summer Knight and Storm Front is quite noticeable. The story is much tighter, the writing is more straightforward, and the characters are more “in character.”

I’ve noticed other differences, too. The “Noir” shtick has relaxed a bit, so Summer Knight relies more on its own atmosphere rather than simply borrowing conventions. The sexism is also much more subtle – Dresden is still powerless not to help a “damsel in distress” and women’s appearance is still described in far more fetishistic terms that men’s (when men’s appearance is described at all), but the women are getting more agency as the series progresses. Murphy, in particular, is changing quite drastically. Though she’s mostly just a convenient side-plot in this novel, her presence is no longer marked by her erratic behaviour.

The plot for Summer Knight returns to the fairies. After finding out about Dresden’s fairy godmother in the last book, and his debt to her, we find out that the debt has been sold to the queen of the winter fairies. Worse yet, Dresden must complete a task for her if he’s ever to get out of his obligation to her and save the wizards from the war he started with the vampire Red Court. Yeah, it’s starting to get a little complicated.

The only complaint I have is one I nearly always have when dealing with the fae – there’s an emphasis on how alien they are, and how incomprehensible their thinking from a human vantage point. And yet, for the purposes of solving a mystery involving them, and for the purposes of interacting with them, they are written in a way that makes their thinking seem perfectly rational and ordinary (albeit their concerns are shifted towards things and territories and matters that are more relevant to them). This leads to a disconnect between the way that they are described and the way that we see them behave. It’s a minor quibble, but I do wish that Butcher would either spend less time going on and on about how alien they are, or spend a little more time actually making them so.

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The Hollows #2: The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison

Read: 10 October, 2013

I had a lot of negative things to say about Dead Witch Walking, mostly involving contrived plot hinges and senseless decisions. I had been recommended the series as a friend and wanted to stick it through because of that, but I was unimpressed and waited a long time before I bothered to pick up the next book.

I’m really glad that I took my friend’s advice and kept reading! The second book is a huge improvement. The plot is much tighter, the character motives are clearer, the suspense is more believable… All around, it’s a far better book. It also answers many of the questions from the first that had bugged me, and is much better at asking questions for future instalments (one of the complaints I had about the first book was that there were plot elements that I was confused about and only figured out that I was supposed to be confused by looking them up online – nothing in the text had hinted that the mysteries were still open).

That being said, I did find Morgan’s fixation on Trent rather disquieting. There really wasn’t a reason for her to think he was involved in the murders she was investigating, yet she hounds him down anyway. Then her behaviour in the case was utterly incomprehensible (and her realization of how inappropriate she’d been didn’t seem to explain why she’d ever thought her actions were a good idea in the first place). The lengthy arguments with the F.I.B. officers over her wanting to just accuse and lock up Trent without anything more than her suspicions were tiresome and frustrating.

Even so, I can definitely see the series picking up, and I think I can now consider myself “into it.”

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The Dresden Files #3: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Read: 31 March, 2013

Dresden and his friend Michael – a Knight of the Cross – are kept busy. Ghosts are going crazy all over town, and the veil that separates the real world from the Nevernever has been weakening.

I’ve been told that the series really starts to pick up with this book and I think I can see it (though it could just be that I was expecting to like it better so I did. Brains are weird like that sometimes.).

The last two books had started to show a predictable pattern: Mystery is introduced, Dresden makes two potions for funsies, Murphy messes everything up because she’s blinded by her distrust for Dresden, potions just happen to be exactly what Dresden needs, showdown, The End. But Grave Peril breaks from the formula quite significantly.

For one thing, there’s two new major characters introduced: Michael Carpenter (aptly named for a devout Christian) on Team Dresden, and Lea, Dresden’s Fairy Godmother and most definitely not on Team Dresden. While I found Lea interesting, I did find it strange that she would pursue Dresden so doggedly in Grave Peril yet not make any appearance at all in earlier books. I don’t think that this absence was ever explained (or retconned, as the case may be).

Potions don’t make an appearance in this one, which is a shame because it’s the aspect of Dresden’s magic that I enjoy reading about the most. However, leaving them out did keep the series from falling into too laughably absurd a pattern, so I suppose it’s okay.

The last big difference from the other two books is that Grave Peril puts a bit more focus on Dresden’s moral choices – the idea of having to choose between a small number of people he cares for and a large number of people he doesn’t know, or whether it’s worth killing a baddy if it means also killing innocents as well (and what Dresden’s share of guilt in such a situation might be). It added an interesting dimension to the series and a little food for thought – though, of course, the questions were merely raised, never answered.

Through much of the book, Murphy is unconscious and out of the picture, and I find it sad how much of a relief that was. She’s a terrible character. Her propensity to make getting the baddies far more difficult than it needs to be because of her lack of trust has really been getting old. Perhaps even worse is the fact that neither character-Dresden nor narrator-Dresden ever acts like her attitude is a problem. He’s always apologetic, accepting his guilt, and seems to believe that being irrational and angry all the time is what makes a strong female character. Compare her to her replacement in Grave Peril, Michael. Michael and Dresden are able to work together as a team, trusting each other when information needs to be withheld, respecting each other enough not to withhold it unless absolutely necessary, and able to protect each other without it being a gender thing. Michael is, in many ways, what Murphy should have been from the beginning.

One thing that confused me, and perhaps someone could explain it to me in the comments, is why Dresden mentions the possibility of calling Murphy for backup twice, despite knowing that she was unconscious. The first time he’s corrected, but the second time it’s just mentioned and dropped. Was that an editing error or did I miss something?

Anyways, I did enjoy this book much better. It had a few twists where it seemed to be following a predictable pattern and then veered off, which kept things interesting. I found that the resolution of the mystery was rather flimsy (spoiler: two baddies were working together, though I couldn’t figure out why they would do so except for their mutual dislike for Dresden), but that’s okay. I enjoyed the ride.

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The Hollows #1: Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

Read: 19 March, 2013

Rachel Morgan has been getting bored with all the small-fry runs she’s been sent on lately. She knows she’s a good runner, so why won’t they give her any good runs? So, on a whim, she decides to leave the I.S. and strike out on her own, despite the stories about the last person who tried to break his contract…

I did enjoy the book – really! – and I fully intend to read more of the series. But there were some issues that bugged me. For example:

Rachel really needs to get laid, or maybe just masturbate or something. Throughout the story, she is physically attracted to the point of distraction nearly every character she meets! Except, of course, the one she ends up dating. She notices his body on a few occasions, but not in the “gaga” way that she notices Ivy, Jenks, or Trent. In fact, while I’m on the subject, the whole Nick romance feels somewhat forced.

There are other plot critical points that just don’t seem to make much sense, or aren’t sufficiently explained. For example, why won’t the I.S. let her leave? If the problem is just the breech of contract, why not sue her or seize her assets instead of trying to kill her? If the problem is that she might have some “insider knowledge,” why doesn’t she seem to have any? And if the issue really is just that she’s taken Ivy with her so her old boss has a personal grudge, in what world is having someone killed an acceptable (let alone institutional) way of dealing with such things?

Or the point was just to add some tension to the story early on and give Rachel a reason to keep pursuing Trent once he proves himself to be rather more dangerous than she might be able to handle. Yet even this didn’t quite work. The idea that there was some suspicion surround Trent is raised early on, but there’s no reason to believe that the I.S. would suddenly stop trying to kill Rachel just because she brought in Trent – or anyone else. In fact,  if Trent is really as powerful as he’s made out to be, it seems that the I.S. might have more reason to want to avoid such a high profile and volatile case.

Same goes for the Ivy subplot. There’s some questions about Ivy’s motives, and Rachel distrusts her throughout the story, but she stays with her anyway. Again, it feels forced. Either the issue is a simple misunderstanding that an honest conversation could fix, in which case Rachel is blowing it way out of proportion, or Ivy really is a threat, in which case Rachel needs to stop trusting her so much. But it feels like Harrison wants to preserve the mystery while still having Rachel and Ivy be friends, so instead Rachel just bounces back and forth between trusting Ivy and being terrified of her.

We’re told on a few occasions that Rachel is a great runner, but the story doesn’t really seem to play that out. She scoffs at the idea of planning ahead and just kinda throws herself into situations completely unprepared. Again and again, she relies on luck and other people to save her.

And the size of the role that luck plays is rather disappointment. For example, when Rachel is in the fighting ring (no spoilers!) and just happens to be pitted against the one person who can help her. I kept waiting for it all to be part of Trent’s plan, but no. It was just unbelievable luck.

But, like I said, I really did enjoy the book. It was fast paced and there are some characters I really like. Jenks and his family are fantastic, and I loved the bits about fairies and pixies. I also found Nick intriguing, and I feel like there’s going to be a lot more to him later in the series.

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