An abbreviated version, in which I review another stroke of genius from R.R. Virdi and a solid debut effort from Sabaa Tahir.

GrGrave Measuresave Measures by R.R. Virdi

One of the reasons I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show, not the movie) so much was the seamless way in which the tone constantly shifted. From tense to humorous to heartbreaking and back again, Buffy managed to weave all of life’s great and terrible emotions into a fantastic tale that still felt personal.

R.R. Virdi clearly has that same ability. Grave Measures, the follow-up to the fantastic Grave Beginnings, does the same thing. The stakes feel higher this time, even if Vincent Graves finds himself confined to an insane asylum, tracking down something that’s killing patients. Much like the first book, Grave Measures is whimsical, hard-hitting, intense, and emotional… and every bit the page-turning romp Beginnings was.

One need not to have read the first book to follow along with Measures, but those who have will be rewarded. The return of Camilla Ortiz was a pleasant surprise, and she has quickly made herself a personal favorite — even as great as Vincent Graves himself is.

There are no overly shocking revelations in this book, but a novel doesn’t need to be shocking to be a quality read. There are plenty of breadcrumbs sprinkled along the way, fodder for future novels in the series, and I’m looking forward to seeing how everything unravels going forward.

Virdi is a master at ensuring Graves has a voice all his own — easy enough to do in the first-person narrative with a protagonist with no true identity. Still, Graves has a depth all his own, even with the snark and the one-liners, and his personal code — which has evolved over the course of the first two books — makes him more of a hero than I think he’d admit to.

If you loved Grave Beginnings, you’ll love Grave Measures just as much. Even if you didn’t, Virdi has created a fantastic universe full of rich, interesting characters who are easy to root for. This is sort of Columbo meets Constantine, with a little bit of Buffy sprinkled in for effect… and the result is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Seriously, read this book.

Rating: *****
An EAn Ember in the Ashesmber in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel An Ember in the Ashes is a fantastic story that is at once a tremendous balancing act — between two protagonists, between quiet moments and violent encounters, between fate and freedom.

Elias and Laia are both protagonists of this tale, and they take turns sharing their story. This shared first-person narrative works out better than I expected — particularly in later chapters when their paths begin to occasionally cross. Tahir pulls off this balancing act with a grace many authors lack after multiple novels, made all the more impressive with this being her first outing.

Tahir also does a good job ensuring the quiet moments never drag on too long. All of the dramatic beats — the violent moments, the battles, the twists — keep the pages moving.Ember never drags on for too long, and when business picks up, the pages fly by.

Because of the violent nature of this tale — and sometimes, that violence is sexual — there are passages that are uncomfortable to read. Also, there are times where Laia’s personal desires are a bit hard to follow, and it was a subplot that left me scratching my head more than anything. Maybe it’s odd to me because I’ve never been a 17-year-old girl, but it was vexing.

Still, An Ember in the Ashes is a fantastic fantasy novel, and I’m impressed with Tahir’s adept storytelling ability; this was her first novel, but it read as if she had been writing books for decades. I enjoyed this book, and eagerly await the follow-up, A Torch Against the Night.

Rating: ****

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