Lisa Shearin: Con & Conjure (Raine Benares #5) (review – audiobook)

It’s actually really hard to write reviews of this series since they all just seem to blur together. Yes, I know I start listening to the next one as soon as I finish one but they are all so similar that it’s difficult to separate them.

This of course is the Raine Benares series. It consists of six books, taking place over a rather short amount of time. In the first book, Raine helps a friend steal a necklace with a stone. She puts it on – and is instantly bonded with the rock which turns out to be the Saghred, a soul stealing nasty thing that can destroy whole kingdoms and normally, turns it’s wearer, it’s bond-servant, insane. However, Raine is able to wear the rock without getting insane and the rest of the series is spend with Raine trying to get rid of the stone and find a way to destroy it as well as trying to avoid the psychopath Sarad Nukpana who wants both her and the rock. Luckily, Raine has help from not only her friends but also from new friends like Paladin Mychael Ellisor and archmagus Justinius Justinius Valerian.

As per usual, this one starts off with a bang. The conflict between the goblins and elves is slowly escalating and when the Goblin prince Chigaru Mal’Salin arrives to Mid, things gets moving. The prince is wanted dead by almost everyone so before he even sets food on Mid, several assassins try to kill him. Luckily, Raine is there to save him – even though not all the goblins see it that way.

While the elves – or at least some of them, led by Sylvanus Carnades – is trying to get their hands on Raine, having a specially prepared cell ready for her with magic-reducing manacles in the cellars of the elven embassy, the Goblin king and Sarad Nukpana is preparing to attack the elves – and just being nasty as usual.

It seems to me that the new characters being introduced in these last books in the series, are rather more interesting than some of the ones who have been in all the books. In this one, we’re introduced to Raine’s cousin Mago, a banker, who’s of course still in the family business of sneaking, stealing and other sorts of criminal activity. He’s the prince’s banker and is of course in an excellent position to help Raine. Also, we have Raine’s ex-boyfriend and former fiancé who is a most skilled assassin who’s of course after the prince. And maybe others? Someone at least is taking shots at Mychael.

So when you listen to a whole series, it’s hard to come up with something new to say about the narrator for each book. However, when you have listened to a whole series and the narrator suddenly starts saying something in a different way, it does distract from the listening experience. For some reason, in this book Eileen Stevens has started saying ‘the Saghred’ in a different way.The Saghred is mentioned a lot and every time, she says the word in this new way, I start wondering why she has changed it and it takes me out of the listening experience and ruins the flow of the story for me.

Other than that, this is just like the other books in the series. Plenty of action, very fast pace, some things are repeated over and over etc. If you’ve come this far in the series, you know exactly what you get. It’s decent light fantasy. It’s quite entertaining when you read it/listen to it but nothing more. I do admit that at a few points in this one, I really didn’t want to put it down but just to keep on listening but normally, I don’t think about it when not listening to it. I’m actually looking forward to finishing this series so I can try out other audiobooks and see if my lack of enthusiasm is because of the book or the medium I experience them through.

  • Title: Con & Conjure
  • Author: Lisa Shearin
  • Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
  • Publisher: Ace/Audible Frontiers
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 323 pages
  • Time: 9 hours 19 minutes
  • Source: Own Collection (Audible)
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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Lisa Shearin: Bewitched & Betrayed (Raine Benares #4) (review – audiobook)

This book starts a few weeks after the last one left out. Because of the demon queen’s attempt to rescue her husband, some souls escaped from the Saghred, this mighty rock our main protagonist Raine Benares is stuck with. Of course, her arch enemy and serious sadistic black mage Sarad Nukpana is one of the souls who escaped from the Saghred and of course, Raine has to try and  find him. Preferably before he finds her. Only trouble is – maybe Nukpana is even more dangerous than expected. Maybe he has found a creepy ritual that will enable him to bring him back to life or else he’s just being even more evil and creepy than usual. In either case, his idea of gifts – as in the sucked dried, leathery smelling husks of dead elven generals – really needs improving.

So Raine has to find a way to find Nukpana who is working on becoming corporeal again – with the help of his uncle, a very dark and cruel nachtmagus, a man who toys with the dead and their souls for fun. Nukpana’s plan is to suck the life, soul and memories out of enough people to make himself corporeal again – and with each kiss of death, he becomes even more powerful. And more difficult to stop.

A couple of new characters really stepped up to the plate this time around and greatly enhanced the reading experience. Imala Kalis, the head of goblin security – as well as the cutest little thing with dimples. She knows Tam from his time at Goblin court and they pretty much rubbed each other the wrong way. So much in fact, that Imala stabbed him at one point. However, she’s back and she’s great! I hope she will be a huge part in the remaining two books – and since the inevitable war between elves and goblins seem to be getting closer and closer, I think she will be a huge part in the attempt to avoid this war.

However, my favorite new character in this book is Nachtmagus Vidor Kalta. He is this seemingly creepy man who works with raising the dead – or so it seems. In reality, he is an extremely clever man who knows his business, has deep respect for the work he does – and isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in, which creates one of the best scenes in the book when he actually makes Silvanus the little man in a discussion. Priceless!

I also enjoyed that Mychael got out from his desk and really became part of the action this time around. We get to see Mychael in action, actually in ways we hadn’t expected of our knight in shining armor. Parts of his past is revealed and it’s not exactly the past we expected either. All these things mean that Mychael becomes a more well-rounded character – who even knows his way around a bordello… and isn’t afraid to go under-cover.

Also, we actually finally get the love triangle between Raine, Mychael and Tam resolved. Raine made the choice I had expected – although resulting in a rather bad sex scene that I could have lived without (and I’m a bit sad that it wasn’t better since I wrote in my review of the third book in the series that I genuinely enjoyed it when Lisa Shearin played the sexual innuendo game – maybe it just got too explicit and left no room for the humor that so far has been the best part of every sexually loaded situation). However, the bond between Raine, Mychael and Tam is also changed in this book – no longer a threesome. The way of fixing this was clever and rather unexpected – and this part of the plot gave me a bit of a surprise that I enjoyed and it created some great tensions and gut wrenching moments for Raine (as well as a excellent fundament for the further books in the series).

The issues I have with this book, are the same as I’ve had with every book in the series. There are a lot of recaps of what has happened before and it really gets too repetitive. Also, Raine still keeps mentioning that she’s a Benares and therefore, no good – although one should think that after all what she, her cousin and uncle has been doing to help the Guardians, it should no longer matter to her that some high elves might not like her name – especially since she doesn’t like them. So enough already. The Benares family has proven itself – no reason to keep pretending to believe yourself a lowlife. Also – what’s up with the teeth? Everyone smiling has to bare their teeth or fangs – and I think it has been mentioned in every book that a goblin’s fangs are not just for decorative use. Again – enough! Raine’s way of handling things, her sarcastic thoughts and replies to every situation, sometimes feel very off. Not every situation demands a snarky reply!

When listening to these books, I often get a sense of something not being right. Something happens and I think ‘wait a minute – how can that happen?’ It seems to me that this world and it’s magic as well as the various creatures living in it, are not quite consistent. That small changes are made to both the characters and the laws of magic as it suits the plot. Some of the mages also seem extremely powerful – and there seem to be no drawback to using magic. You can just go on and on, throwing out one powerful spell after another and you don’t get drained. You do when you heal people – but not when using spells. I would have liked to see a more developed magical system (that’s one thing I love about the DragonLance series for instance – that mages constantly have to commit spells to memory to be able to use them).

Also, it does feel like Raine, Mychael and Tam – with the support of Archmagus Justinius – should be making progress with at least some of their enemies, specifically the high elf Silvanus who has been after Raine from when she arrived on Mid. We all know that he’s power hungry, we know he wants to rid himself of both Raine, Tam and Mychael and we know that Justinius knows this as well. With Silvanus’ abilities to lock people up as he sees fit, shouldn’t the other side be able to do something about him too? Like maybe just lock him up for slandering, lying and being deceitful? With the combined resources of Raine, Mychael, Tam and Justinius, they ought to have had time to spend 5 minutes tossing about ideas about how to get rid of him – and then just do it. It’s not believable that these very capable people can’t fix at least him. I get that he may be needed for the plot – but if it isn’t believable that he stays free and in power, Shearin has to find another way to move her plot forward.

We did get rid of one of the main bads – and even though that was solved off-camera, so to speak, it was a nice way to end that part of the plot and it made sense. The plot in this book was moved forward and we’re left with a plan for how to proceed.

I haven’t got anything new to say about the narration.Eileen Stevens does her job well, her voice is the voice of Raine to me, and she adds little touches here and there that adds to the listening experience. I still think some of her male voices sound a bit too alike but overall, it works well.

Now, if you haven’t already read/listened to this book, you might want to stop reading now. There’s going to be a bit of spoilers, I think. One thing I don’t quite get is why can’t they just cut open the Saghred and release the souls and diminish it’s power that way? The bloody rock is the cause of all Raine’s problems and with Nukpana now having a bit of link to it as well – or at least Saghred-enhanced powers like Raine – I see no reason to not just cut up the stone, release the souls – and just make sure there’s Reapers around to eat them. Wouldn’t it make it easier for everyone if the stone was dried out – or am I missing something here? Also, I thought the way the umi’atso bond issue was solved was excellent – however, I can’t stop wondering if the Saghred who created the bond in the first place, can’t just do so again…

If you’ve made it this far, I will end by saying, that overall, I do enjoy these books. They are light and fun fantasy romps which suffers a bit from a not completely developed world and a at times too high-paced plot. However, they are enjoyable and at times hard to put down and works great as light entertainment.

  • Title: Bewitched & Betrayed
  • Author: Lisa Shearin
  • Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
  • Publisher: Ace/Audible Frontiers
  • Year: 2010
  • Pages:  366 pages
  • Time:  13 hours  25 minutes
  • Source: Own Collection (Audible)
  • Stars: 3  stars out of 5

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Lisa Shearin: The Trouble With Demons (Raine Benares #3) (review – audiobook)

True to form, this third volume in the Raine Benares series starts with a bang. Or rather – The Isle of Mit gets invaded by demons coming in through a Hellgate and of course, Raine is right in the middle of it. Luckily, Raine is able to save the day yet again, with a little help from Tam. Since the Saghred has made sure that Raine and Tam are bonded together to try and make Tam feed it when Raine steadily refuses, Raine is now able to use some of Tam’s magic and power and boost her Saghred enhanced skills even more.

So why are all these demons doing on Mid? Turns out, one of the souls trapped in the Saghred is the demon king and of course, the demon queen wants him back. With a Hellgate raised somewhere on Mid, demons come pouring out. Rudra, the Saghred’s former bond servant, is also on the loose, enjoying himself immensely, trying to wreck as much havoc as possible while getting back in control of the Saghred.

A bad situation gets even worse when Raine finds out that not only can the Saghred be opened and souls released from it, the demon queen wants her to find the dagger forged to do this. A dagger that can be found by a virgin. On a college island. Where students soon discover that to get laid is actually a way of protecting yourself. Of course, Raine succeeds – and of course we all know who the virgin is.

So besides demons being on the loose all over Mid, not much has changed. Raine is still caught between Tam and Mychael, she is still being pursued by Nukpana and in this book, by Rudra especially. She still has lots of spunky replies to everything, no matter what situation she finds herself in and she still rushes headfirst into trouble, without stopping to think. While this is light, action-packed fantasy, it would be nice if once in a while, she did take a breather, listened to advice and acted accordingly. That said, these books take place over a very short amount of time and so, she of course isn’t given much time to ponder her actions – or her love life. But since I think Lisa Shearin has a lot of humor in her writing when the action slows down, I would like to see more of that. Towards the end of this novel, there’s some very amusing scenes between Mychael and Raine and since Shearin has set this three-way between Tam, Mychael and Raine up, there’s plenty of room for sexual innuendo – like the finding of a virgin to help her find a dagger or Mychael having to heal by being naked in bed with Rane… I actually find Shearin at her best when she writes these scenes with lots of humor and lots of sexual tension.

I did like that we got to see more of Justinius, the archmagus. He’s one cool old bugger – with a lot of power! I also think some of the other lesser characters – like the leader of the demon department – are rather entertaining. And, of course, Vegard. Big burly Vegard. The poor Guardian who has gotten the job of keeping Raine safe. Definitely not an easy gig. I like Vegard! He’s a big, dangerous, puppy dog!

My main issue with this book is the same as I had with the second volume. It gets too repetitive. Again, yes, we know you’re a Benares, yes, we know that the Benares are a family of thieves and pirates, and yes we know that Mychael is law abiding and that causes trouble and no decent persons will look your way – yes, yes, yes. We get it. You’ve been saying it for three books now. And why is that everyone smiling shows their fangs or teeth all the time? It makes sense in some cases that the goblins want to show their fangs to show their weapons, but everyone does it over and over. Stop mentioning it!

I’m hoping the 4th book in this series will flesh out Tam and Mychael more – so far, they are still just pure good and pure (reformed) evil and each other’s opposites and it would make the love triangle more interesting if you actually knew enough about these two to be able to root for one of them. I’m also hoping that Shearin will realize that if readers are reading the 4th book in a series, it’s their own fault if they haven’t read the first three and they should go do so – she doesn’t have to retell everything that has happened in the series once more! We got it. Let’s move on! And finally – no more showing of teeth and fangs, no more ‘I’m a Benares’ crap. And then we’ll have us a good book!

As this is an audiobook, I want to comment on the narrator. While Eileen Stevens has become the voice of Raine to me, and her way of reading is overall quite good, I do think there are a few issues with her making voices. To me, some of the male characters sound too much the same and sometimes, that’s a bit confusing. It’s not a huge thing, it’s just a small complaint. Overall, Eileen Stevens does a good enough job for me to enjoy listening to it.

All in all, this book didn’t progress the series’ story arch that much. There simply wasn’t time to investigate how to get rid of the Saghred and in the end, Raine is almost worse off than she was in the beginning. With that said, this book really sets up the next book(s) nicely, maybe hinting at what Raine needs to get rid of the Saghred but also setting the scene for even worse trouble than has been the cause so far. This feels like a typical middle book and hopefully, Shearin can cash in on the ideas she hints at.

  • Title: The Trouble With Demons
  • Author: Lisa Shearin
  • Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
  • Publisher: Ace/Audible Frontiers
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 370 pages
  • Time: 13 hours 41 minutes
  • Source: Own Collection (Audible)
  • Stars:  3 stars out of 5

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