Love Fantasy with cut throat politics? A strong female lead? A touch of forbidden lovSource: Personal Copy Original Review: Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Love Fantasy with cut throat politics? A strong female lead? A touch of forbidden love? Alien races? All powerful magicians? Well this edition of the Empire Trilogy has all that and more!
♦ My Thoughts. Mara has proven herself to be much more than a young priestess wannabe. Much to everybody's surprise. she turns the game of council on its collective heads. But her success comes with a cost. Mara is now embroiled in a blood feud against a powerful house. One that could result in her death and the death of her family name.
But Mara is surrounded by not only her brave warriors and loyal advisors; she has mastered the art of thinking outside the box. And the entire realm is wondering what she is going to do next.
♦ What I Liked. Mara keeps developing as a character. She makes mistakes, she challenges tradition and she learns along the way.
This book introduces a new character. A Midkemian slave who intrigues Mara with his lack of humility, his defiance of his enslavement and his irreverent sense of humor. Empire slaves know their "place." A slave is born as such in punishment for sins incurred during his/her past life. Once a slave, always a slave. Best they can hope for is to atone for their past lives by exhibiting unquestioning obedience to their masters so they might receive a higher station in the next.
The barbarians of Midkemia however have different beliefs. To them, slaves have but one duty. To defy and escape. Something no empire slave would ever dream of doing.
Mara, against the advice of her advisors, decides she wants to understand this barbaric behavior so she begins to befriend one of the Midkemia slaves. What she learns will shake the very foundation of all of her beliefs.
Watching this process was engrossing. The relationship between mistress and slave sets up a unique opportunity to explore the very depths of each society and its system of beliefs. Along the way Mara finds out that her world has become stagnant and that maybe, just maybe, living by a strict code of honor isn't everything she was raised to believe. Servant of the Empire (Riftwar Cycle: The Empire Trilogy 2) by Raymond E. Feist, Janny Wurts
♦ What I didn't like. As much as I loved the interaction between Mara and the barbarian Kevin, I found myself questioning the relationship.
Granted, Mara is well known for flouting tradition, but to develop a romance between mistress and slave should never have happened. This wasn't a situation of pushing boundaries, this relationship torn them down and threw them away.
And nobody, not even her enemies, used this relationship against her. Not even when it was discovered that he was a noble in his own land. Nobles were not taken prisoner, they were put to death. But at no point was this information ever acted upon, or even used as a threat. Made no sense.
The other inconsistency that nagged at me was how easily Keven forgot his fellow slaves. He is busy living it up in the main house while they toil in the fields. Ever so often he "remembers" them and pays a visit but for the most part, it is like they don't exist.
For a seemingly caring and compassionate individual, this was totally out of character. I am not sure I could sleep at night if my "friends" were suffering while I lived in opulent luxury. Love may be blind but it should never be THAT blind!
♦ Conclusion. Flaws aside, I still treasured the time I spent with Mara each day. Intelligent, resourceful and willing to embrace alien concepts, her transformation from girl to woman was a joy to watch. Mara is a study in contradiction. One minute she can be warm, caring, full of love and laughter and the next, she is cold, calculating and willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Even if her heart breaks in the process.
And she isn't done yet! I'm looking forward to seeing what Mara gets up to next....more
What do you do when it feels like no matter what good you accomplish, the whole worldSource: Personal Copy Original Review: Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
What do you do when it feels like no matter what good you accomplish, the whole world wants your head on a platter? Well if you are Mara, Lady of the Acoma, you fight that much harder!
♦ My Thoughts. Of all the books in this trilogy, this is the most tragic, and the most triumphant. If Mara thought she had weathered some storms before, they were only a stiff breeze compared to what is going to hit her now.
And, it isn't like the poor woman doesn't have enough on her plate. The assassin's guild has placed a contract on her head, she has to find ways to outfox her competitor's spies, and she has been labeled as a danger to the Black Magicians.
However, a personal tragedy will almost break her. Question is, will she let it bring her down or will she rise from the ashes of her heart. Only time will tell.
♦ What I Liked. I love it when authors throw everything but the kitchen sink at their main character. I can imagine them staying up late at night plotting and planning horrible things to torture Mara with. And they not only succeeded, they caught me by surprise.
But you can't chronicle a person's rise unless you first make them fall. The harder the fall, the better the storyline. Her dilemma is made even more realistic (and more sympathetic) by the fact that Mara understandably falls all to pieces. So far in this series she has made mistakes, learned some hard lessons but nothing has prepared her for this level of angst.
And the hits keep on coming. Before it is all over you will wonder just how this woman manages to get out of bed in the morning. Fortunately, giving up is not Mara's style. She may lose sight of her goal for a time, but she will always get up, brush herself off, lock down her grief and forage straight ahead. Woe to anyone who stands in her way!
Well, I'm not going to tell you what happens of course but I will tell you that I LOVED the ending! I'm a sucker for a book that makes me grin long after I've read the last page.
This was one of those books. 'Nuff said....
♦ What I didn't like. Once again I am having a hard time coming up with anything I didn't like. Rarely have I read a book so well written that I ended up with no gripes or questions left.
Well, guess what! I have no gripes or questions left. Everything was answered. Every storyline was explored and concluded. And honestly, I'm actually pretty upset by this.
The problem is that there will be no more Mara. Her story, the stories of her staunch allies -- and of her enemies -- are all wrapped up in nice neat bows. Now I am going to have to find somebody else to spend my evenings with. Sigh...
Makes me sad. I loved them all, I even loved to hate her opponents and I hate to say goodbye.
Granted, there are LOTS of stories which take place in the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan but none quite like this one. My proverbial hat is off to the team of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
♦ Conclusion. If you want to read about a unique world, love cutthroat politics, enjoy coming of age stories that follow a heroine up to her middle years, stories that come full circle but aren't afraid to kill off key players; oh my the list goes on...
How about I just say this. READ THIS BOOK and SERIES! ...more
Looking for a change from your typical European Medieval setting? How about a new worSource: Personal Copy Original Review: Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Looking for a change from your typical European Medieval setting? How about a new world with a strong eastern style culture. A world where honor is everything and disgrace means falling on your sword. A world where the game of politics determines which Great Houses survive and which are destroyed forever.
♦ My Thoughts. This story has always been one of my all time favorites; worthy of the occasional reread. When I saw it mentioned on a blog recently, I knew instantly it was time to visit with Mara again.
One important thing to note. There are some who say you really should read the Riftwar Saga first. I have but it was eons ago and I remember very little. I also can't find the books in my book pile. Likely I loaned them out or I would have reviewed those first, but...
I don't really believe reading those first is vital. Helpful, yes, vital? No. This is a totally different story in a completely new viewpoint. The main thing you need to know is that there are magical rifts between two worlds. On one side is the Empire of Kelewan, where this story takes place. On the other is side is Midkemia which the Empire is trying, without much success, to subjugate.
But the war itself plays but a bit part in this drama. The main story here is about a young 17 year old girl, only seconds from dedicating her life to a temple, who suddenly finds herself a Ruling Lady. On her tiny shoulders rests the responsibility of both her family name and its very survival.
♦ What I Liked. This book is a prime example of backstabbing politics. Fortunes rise and houses fall, all depending on a House's ability to play the Great Game. There are allies and enemies, blood feuds and annihilation. There are black magicians who are a law unto themselves. At the top of the food chain sits a merciless Warlord. And from behind the scenes the god-chosen Emperor rules them all.
To classify Mara, Ruling Lady of the Acoma, as a reluctant heroine would be understating things. Snatched from her life in a peaceful temple and thrust into the responsibilities of saving her House from total annihilation, any other girl would have curled up in a ball and wept.
But not our Mara! This poor girl, because of the strict traditions defining honor, is not even allowed to weep over the loss of her beloved father and brother. To do so would be to show weakness. So for a solid week she must show no emotion, no pain, no fear. Only once she arrives home and performs the funeral rites can she give into her grief. Talk about hooking the reader!
Unfortunately, her one show of emotion is cut short and the untried young girl must immediately dive head first into the churning waters of murky politics and an uncertain future. And she does just that. I read on in awe as she makes mistakes, recovers and finds ways to turn her misfortunes into triumphs.
It was a joy to watch.
I could continue babbling about flawless pacing, rich worldbuilding, thorough character development, incredible detail and deep immersion. But, I'll spare you. Suffice it to say there are reasons why I have read this series over and over again.
♦ What I didn't like. Normally I would use this space to discuss what I disliked about the book. However, this time I have nothing to say. The book is as close to flawless as anything I have ever read.
So, I'll discuss what I didn't like about this world and its inhabitants!
I hated Mara's future husband. As was intended.
I was fascinated and yet repelled by the system of honor. To die with honor was always preferred over living in shame. I abhorred the practices of servitude and slavery. Especially slavery. In this world slaves have NO options.
This is a society that believes in reincarnation. If you are a slave, you earned it by living a shameful previous life. Once a slave, always a slave. To rise above that station would offend the gods.
Same with servants, though they can rise to positions of responsibility. However, they can never rise above their station.
And yet, regardless of their stations, any member of a House, from the lowest to the highest, will willingly give up their lives --without hesitation-- for their Master/Mistress. Believing that to do so insures they are reborn in a higher position on the wheel of life.
Told you the culture was rich and full of detail!
♦ Conclusion. There was a unique phenomenon which occurred each day as it came time to pick up the book and start reading. I would grin and say (to myself of course) "Yes! It is time to spend some time with Mara." It was literally the highlight of my day. It has also engineered a desire in me to replace and read the Riftwar Saga. Not because I need to in order to enjoy this trilogy, but because I know that that series is just as good.
Now if you'll forgive me; it is time for me to go spend some more quality time with Mara!
This tale builds and grows. Dragons prowl the skies. An unexpected romance develops. A heart isSource: Publisher Original: Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
This tale builds and grows. Dragons prowl the skies. An unexpected romance develops. A heart is destroyed. Meanwhile the shattered moon keeps bombarding this world with fiery fragments and the only people who can save them all, are now under siege.
♦ My Thoughts. It took me far too long to review this and I apologize. Between the holidays and reviews with deadlines that I chose to honor, it fell through the cracks. I want to state, for the record, that the delay had nothing to do with the quality of this book.
The story picks up right where Shatterwing left off and follows the same winding path. Individual storylines merge, split, then merge again. The tension ramps up as the evil Inspector destroys everything in his path. Usually in the most horrible way possible.
Hungry for power, the Inspector is searching for Salinda in the belief that he can take her power as his own. A power that she is barely able to control. Nils, the last of his race, continues his search for dragons while the skywatchers pool their strength to destroy the largest fragment yet. One that will do unbelievable damage if it strikes the surface.
♦ What I Liked. This story puts me into a role of not only a reader but an explorer. A situation that I found priceless. This is an intriguing world with an almost extinct technological race who once lived hidden underground. A race that even the oldest folklore does not mention. There are Dragons. Only no one knows where they came from. And there is a symbiotic relationship between the dragons and the humans that nobody understands. Or even realizes.
When I wasn't exploring the underground city and the mystery of what happened to the people there; I was exploring towns, mountains, valleys and... a Skywatch tower. This is a world of secrets and exploring all the possible answers was a lot of fun.
I also liked the ramp up in tension as the danger switches from general to more specific. As the danger coalesced, I enjoyed watching the characters adapt to the ever changing situations. On this planet you either adapt or you die. And sometimes you die anyway.
♦ What I didn't like. The conclusion ties up this chapter of the story. It ends not so much in a cliffhanger as in a surprising revelation.
The problem lies in the nature of that revelation and the desire it engineers to learn more. Much more.
Now this is in no way the author's fault. If anything, it is an indication of her ability to draw her audience into the story. Now here comes the real conundrum. There "might" be a third book. I assume getting a book deal for book three depends on the popularity of this duology.
Hence the following plea:
Please read these books.... I REALLY want to read the next installment. There are so many things I have yet to learn about this planet and I don't want the journey to end!
♦ Conclusion. As I mentioned in my review of Shatterwing, this is a plot driven story. The characters are varied, intriguing and fun to watch, but I did feel like an observer throughout. I hated the villain with a passion, but I never bonded to the other players of this drama.
And I didn't need to. I was heavily invested in the story. It had mystery, adventure, love, loyalty, tragedy and loss. The dangers felt real. The violence was brutal. The tragedies were heartbreaking. The dogged perseverance of the survivors was inspiring. The dragons were truly frightening. And I can't say enough bad things about the Inspector. Then we have the conclusion. Boy I never saw that coming...
This is a story of two souls who were tailor made for each other. Though if you wereSource: Requested from Netgalley Original Review: Old Bat's Belfry
This is a story of two souls who were tailor made for each other. Though if you were to ask them, they would vehemently disagree. One is Malachi, who is the last known magus. A man who deals with the spirits of the dead. Then there is Avani who is a refugee witch, a loner and who, as it happens, can see both ghosts and visions.
Together they must fight off a great evil. One that threatens their kingdom. But first they must discover its source.
♦ My Thoughts. Sometimes it is hard to write a review of a good book. One that is not great but one that is not horrible either.
When you loved, or hated, the book you can't wait to pour out your feelings, impressions, accolades or complaints. There is passion involved. That passion gives your words wings.
This is a good book by a talented author. In my opinion, an author worth watching, but it isn't a book that elicited much excitement for me. Instead it was a laid back sort of read. One you might chose if you are not in the mood for a complicated, multilayered Epic Fantasy.
♦ What I Liked. This story tries to be several things and while it is focused on one thing or another, it does them extremely well.
When it is focused on being character driven, the characters come to life. Worldbuilding, for the most part, is the same. When the focus is on the plot, the story is mysterious, chilling, and riveting.
♦ What I didn't like. What this story doesn't do is combine all of that wonderful focus into a seamless story. It was alot like trying to take in a panoramic view. You never know where to focus your attention. And the sad thing is, I ended up wishing for more answers than I got.
The characters were great but incomplete. I got a taste of who they were and where they came from but only a taste. Why is Malachi the last of his kind. And how did he end up with his ghostly companion. Why is Avani all alone. She survived the destruction of her homeland at an age that was too young to have completed training in her craft. However, even though there are other survivors of her race, she lives apart. What is her raven and why does it spend so much time watching over everybody but her.
I got a glimpse of their world. Enough of one that I was intrigued but only a glimpse. I wanted to know so much more. What exactly happened to Avani's homeland. How do the local religious beliefs mesh with the practice of necromancy. What are the social, economic, and cultural traditions of this civilization. What is its history. The list goes on.
It is even possible that some of the answers were there but due to the way the focus kept shifting, I lost track. Often concepts -- like religious icons for example -- need to be subtly reinforced from time to time. That way you can stay in the moment without thumbing back through the chapters trying to remember what god was mentioned where or what tenet of faith is being applied currently.
It left me feeling a bit disconnected at times.
♦ Conclusion. In a way, the fact that I wanted so much more from this story is a compliment to the author. She did create characters and a world I was interested in. The ending was every bit as surprising as I had hoped. Once it is all said and done, I look forward to reading more of her stories.
Like I said. This is an author to watch... ...more
In the past a mistake was made. An evil was created. An evil that is now stalking Lauren. Secrets, forSource: HarperCollins Original: Old Bat's Belfry
In the past a mistake was made. An evil was created. An evil that is now stalking Lauren. Secrets, for good or ill, have been kept for generations. Secrets Lauren must now unravel before she too becomes just another victim of an ancient wrong.
♦ The Story. Lauren is a smart, sophisticated young lady just trying to make her way in this world. But when her father dies she discovers that along with his estate, he has left her with a lot of unanswered questions. Questions that can only be answered if she goes back to where he was born.
Gideon, Illinois is where the answers lie. The place where it all began. A place with a violent past and an uncertain future.
But there are people who don't want those answers to be discovered, and one evil being that does...
♦ My Thoughts. Once again I have stepped outside of my comfort zone. And I wasn't disappointed.
Gideon is steeped in history. It is a place where few modern amenities function and it is doubtful that its residents would use them if they did. While there are a few conveniences like pickup trucks and snowmobiles, this is an isolated town. A town living in the past. A town I frequently forgot existed in the here and now.
But that is what I want in a book -- escape from the present. Gideon delivered that escape with an relentless barrage of chills and thrills, mystery and mayhem.
♦ What I Liked. I loved the pace of this novel. It was like watching a rose unfold in slow motion. Granted it was a black rose... But the description still applies. Layer upon layer of history, lore, worldbuilding, mystery and intrigue, all immerge at a pace that keeps the book in your hand and the real world at bay.
The characters too have layers and those layers also unfold slowly but steadily. Fifty shades of gray takes on a whole new meaning in this story. Everything is gray. The border between right, wrong and indifferent are never clear. The line between life and death is murky. Even the evil entity has understandable motives.
Or does it?
Just when you think you know, another layer is revealed and you question everything all over again. I loved every minute of the experience.
♦ What I didn't like. I'm racking my brain on this one and I'm coming up blank. I can't even come up with anything other people might not like.
I did try.
♦ Conclusion. I don't read a lot of horror and I pretty much never enjoy Urban Fantasy or Paranormal. However, this book was an exception. The story is saturated with history, lore, witchcraft and a town that time forgot. I had no problem with full immersion. Had the story frequently crossed back over to more "modern" environs it would have lost me.
Imagine a lonely young princess, pariah not because of who she is, but because of whSource: Publisher Open Road Media Original Review: Old Bat's Belfry
Imagine a lonely young princess, pariah not because of who she is, but because of who she was born to. Now imagine an old warhorse, favorite of the King, put out to pasture while still in his prime because of an injury. Now combine the two, throw in a war, some dragons, plus an understanding father and you end up with a timeless classic.
♦ The Story. This story follows the life of Aerin, a lonely young girl and second heir to the throne of Damar. Almost immediately you feel a connection with her plight. I doubt there are too many of us who haven't felt -- at some point in our lives -- like we were on the outside looking in. For some of us those occurrences were infrequent, for others, a way of life. Either way you know on a deep level exactly what this child is dealing with and you admire her courage and patience as she endures living in the shadows. But Aerin has accepted her lot in life and instead of being a helpless victim, she grabs the reins and decides to make her own destiny.
It comes as no surprise that she eventually makes her way into the paddock of her father's lame warhorse Talat. Talat is, in his own way, just as lonely as Aerin, and feeling just as useless. (A state of affairs he doesn't handle nearly as well as Aerin.) The cantankerous old horse and the sweet young heir will become inseparable friends and may finally find acceptance together.
There are two secondary characters I want to mention because they add so much to the core of the story.
First is Tor. Her male counterpart and the first heir. He is her only real friend and the type of friend we all wished for as kids. He teaches her what little she knows about fighting, even though few women, if any, are warriors. He listens, really listens, when she talks. He supports even when he disagrees with her course. Unfortunately, he is often too busy being the crown prince to spend much time with her.
Second is her father, the king. He is even busier than Tor but it is obvious that he both supports and understands his daughter, primarily from behind the scenes. He lets her forge her own path, realizing that it will be an unorthodox one. Again the type of person that we as kids wanted for our dad.
See where all this is going? This book became such a lifelong favorite of so many because it spoke to the heart's deepest desires. It teaches that all things are possible with a little work, a little love and a whole lot of perseverance. Oh and it has dragons. That never hurts.
♦ My Thoughts. You know those books? The ones everybody has read but you? The words, "OMG! You haven't read The Hero and The Crown!!!" echoing in your ears?" Yeah, this is that book and I can't understand exactly how I ended up missing it in my youth, but I did.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that Open Road Media was converting it into an ebook format. I don't normally request books for review but I jumped all over this one. And it is indeed as priceless as I had heard.
♦ What I Liked. This tale is a classic in every way. A strong female lead whose best friend is an old, lame warhorse. Dragons to fight. A country to save. A hint of a budding romance but not one that has any sort of main focus. An understanding if beleaguered father. A drive to succeed despite considerable obstacles.
I also enjoyed the overall lack of "magic equals easy answers."
There is magic. All of the royal family except for Aerin has some minor degree of it, but its use is normally mundane. Break a dish and repair it type magic. Definitely nothing on the level of Gandalf waving his hand and whole armies fall over. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it is nice when hard work trumps waving an arm. And I don't want to give the wrong impression. There is plenty of powerful magic towards the end of the story. You might argue that it is a bit convenient at the time but the struggle to reach it creates a balance and I still would not call it an easy answer.
Best of all, the book's lessons are subtle but relevant for all ages tween to adult. It took me back to a time when I'd sit in the arms of a crabapple tree, book in hand and the world would simply fade away.
♦ What I Didn't Like. There is a bit of time jumping going on in this book that can, if you are not paying attention, throw you off stride. The story within this story is the key tale. We start out knowing that certain things have happened. What we don't know is how or when or why. That is where the time jumps come in. We get transported back into Aerin's past to get answers to those questions.
Now the only problem with this is that sometimes you crinkled your brow and wonder just how certain things came about, well before the next regression. This type of writing can often lead to skipping ahead because the answer becomes more important than the present events.
The good news is twofold. On the one hand, the way the 2 halves of the story fit together is seamless. Didn't help the need for answers, but you were never jarred by the change in time. The other good thing is that this -- for me -- was an ebook. That meant I couldn't just stick my thumb in the pages while I scanned ahead looking for answers. Sigh. I had to read it in order from start to finish.
You! Yeah you over there! Stop laughing... You know you've done it too... (chuckles)
Eventually, the backstory catches up with the present and then the book really starts flying by.
♦ Conclusion. Doesn't matter whether you want to visit an old friend or discover a new one, I highly recommend this book. Only thing I regret is that I didn't discover it back when I was fighting my own dragons. ...more
They are all here. All of my beloved vampires. So proud, so elegant, so... conflicted. Anne Rice hasSource: Publisher Original Review: Old Bat's Belfry
They are all here. All of my beloved vampires. So proud, so elegant, so... conflicted. Anne Rice has ruined me. Because of her I cannot abide mainstream vampires. They don't fit into our world. But these beautiful, graceful and impossibly old creatures do fit. And they fit so well, I often feel them stalking my dreams.
♦ The Story. Something is stirring. Something long asleep, but now becoming aware. And whatever it is, it is powerful and it is not happy.
This crisis could not have come at a worse time for the vampires. Lestat, the Brat Prince, is in self imposed seclusion, as are most of the oldest among them. Meanwhile a mysterious Voice is instructing the elders to thin out the overabundance of young vampires, resulting in a worldwide burning spree. And with each burning, the "Voice" grows stronger.
And through it all a single young vampire calls out across the radio waves with a plea. A plea for solidarity. A call for vampires to unite and discover the source of this Voice before it kills them all.
A plea the elders ignore at their peril.
♦ My Thoughts. I rarely read horror. However, Anne Rice is my secret weakness. The exception to the rule. She redesigned the vampire into a being I can by turns love, hate, fear and envy. There is some blood and gore but there is also proud elegance, sophistication, impeccable manners and unswerving devotion. They are mesmerizing and irresistible. To say I am a fan is an understatement.
Even so, I haven't kept up with this series. A lack I intend to remedy. The good news is, having read Queen of the Damned, I had no problem following the storyline in Prince Lestat.
And what a story!
Danger, mystery, thrills and chills! This new threat to the Blood is going to take the strongest and oldest of the vampires by surprise and require they band together. But they will need a charismatic leader and the Brat Prince is nowhere to be found.
♦ What I Liked. All of it. Everything. The whole package.
The beauty of Prince Lestat is in the lovingly rendered details. We visit with all of our favorites. Observe where and how they are living. We meet new vampires, new ghosts and old vampires who previously were thought to be gone from this world.
And you learn about their history, one of my favorite aspects of the book. What a joy it would be for me to sit at the feet of one of the oldest vampires as they tell stories of their beginnings and beyond. Or even one of the ghosts.
I'd be in heaven.
The Vampire Chronicles are the closest I will ever get to that dream and I am in awe of Anne Rice's storytelling ability. I felt like I was physically present in ancient Egypt, Rome, Venice, to name a few.
Fully immersed is a weak description. Enraptured is better.
Adding to the fascination of all things vampire, there is a sense of urgency. A real fear that the Voice will destroy some of my beloved vampires. I stayed glued to the pages long into the night.
♦ What I Didn't Like. I usually talk here about what I didn't like. Problem is, the only element I can complain about is not enough Lestat. But I could complain about that fact in any Vampire Chronicles book. I never get enough Lestat!
I will note, there are some who dislike the meandering walk through the history of each vampire. I am not one of those people. To me, each segue into a vampire's origin, or present day environment, is a jewel beyond price.
Is it like reading a bunch of short stories?
Yes it is, but I loved each one. The stories fill gaps in my knowledge of vampire lore. New vampires and ghosts are introduced and added to my list of favorite characters. I envy their experiences; their origins, their tragedies and their triumphs. The story is enriched by those bits of history. Or it is for me.
But the title is a bit misleading. Lestat does play a pivotal role and the plot can't be resolved without him, but you won't encounter much of him for two thirds of the book.
♦ Conclusion. If you love Anne Rice's vampires, this book is required reading. One incredibly important question is answered. Gaps in the history and lore of the vampires are filled. There is alot of tragedy and there is alot of love. And there are examples of unquestioning loyalty and devotion. For all of their capacity for cruelty -- and there is plenty of that too -- nobody understands beauty and love quite like these vampires. It is more than enough to make me wish they were real... ...more
A moon shatters and a world is plunged into chaos as falling chunks of the moon destroy eSource: Publisher Original Review: Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
A moon shatters and a world is plunged into chaos as falling chunks of the moon destroy entire cities. Dragons appear. From where noone knows, but they are linked somehow to mankind's survival. Meanwhile a young vintner/prisoner/slave may hold the key to the planet's salvation -- but only if she learns how to use her powers in time.
♦ My Thoughts. Shatterwing is a unique blend of secondary world with both magic and evidence of lost technology. Plus it has dragons. The mix reminds me a bit of Pern only these dragons are not the nice variety. On this world, humans are on their list of food sources.
This is also an apocalyptic world which is an unusual read for me. Note I said apocalyptic and not post-apocalyptic. The apocalypse on this world is still ongoing and I get the impression it is far from over.
Now there is a reason why I normally avoid dystopian books. They depress the heck out of me. Oddly, this one did not have the normal depressing effect. Not sure if it was because this is obviously not our world so it allowed me to keep my distance or because it has dragons. Personally, I'm leaning towards the dragon theory. Give me dragons and I can ignore a lot...
♦ What I Liked. There are several distinct storylines in this tale and they all intertwine. There is the story and backstory of Salinda and Brill. They start off together, but eventually their storylines will split. There is the mysterious story of Nils, who has awoken from a sleep which spanned generations only to discover that he is the last of his race. Eventually his storyline will merge with another's.
And that is only Part One. Part Two is even more interesting.
In Part Two we meet the Skywatchers who hold powers that frankly caught me offguard. Plus we meet another young lady whose fate may be just as important as Salinda's. Again storylines will split apart, merge back together or intertwine with previous storylines. Reminded me of the Spirograph I spent hours playing with as a child. Loops within loops and no end in sight.
My favorite part of all was the survivability of the characters. This is a harsh, cruel, apocalyptic world full of brutality, uncertainty and death. But the players in this drama are survivors, not victims. Do they suffer from self doubt and helplessness at times? Of course. Do they still pick themselves up, brush themselves off and forge ahead? Yes, yes they do. Giving up is easy. The mark of a true hero is getting back up after being beaten, broken and demoralized. This story does not lack in true heroes.
♦ What I didn't like. This is definitely one of those books where you'll need the sequel on hand. It ends in a major cliffhanger. Several really. So far there are mysteries galore with barely a hint much less an answer. The writing could have been a bit tighter. There were too many repetitions of core information to suit me. Not a deal breaker but worth a star demotion. I hate it when my dogs look at me funny while I rant -- out loud -- "Hey! We know this already, lets get to the good stuff..."
Kind of like my readers do while reading my reviews...
There is also a huge amount of violence and a lot of it comes in the form of rape and torture. In this case, it did not bother me because the brutality fit the degradation of the world in general and the treatment of slaves in particular. This is not a pretty world and to pretend otherwise would be misleading.
In my opinion, the rape, torture, verbal and emotional abuse may be commonplace, but they are handled well. They are only as detailed as they need to be. They are not used for shock value. Instead abuse plays an active role only when it shapes the character in question. However, the abundance of rape and torture will bother some people. If you are someone who is easily offended by heavy doses of brutality, it will not take you long to DNF this book.
♦ Conclusion. This is a plot-driven story. The characters, while either admirable in their tenacity or horrible in their cruelty, are not the main focus. This book's greatest draw lies in its ability to make almost every aspect a deep mystery. With every page you turn you get another piece of the story but no answers. It is a giant puzzle and I loved almost every minute of it. Almost. I would have liked something, anything, conclusive, but since I have the sequel in hand, I'm not too worried. The answers I seek will be revealed in book two and I'm really looking forward to them....more
Source: Publisher/Net Galley for review consideration Originally posted on Old Bat's Belfry
Can a soulless Demoness learn friendship? Can a basilisk, whSource: Publisher/Net Galley for review consideration Originally posted on Old Bat's Belfry
Can a soulless Demoness learn friendship? Can a basilisk, who can kill with a look, become a loving guardian for five orphans? And can those five orphans, each with dangerous gifts, find new homes? Alot is at stake as the very future of Xanth rests on the shoulders of five frightened children.
♦ The Story. The same characters from Board Stiff continue their stories in this new Xanth installment. This is a bit unusual for a Xanth novel. There are plenty of characters that cross over and play bit parts in new books but an entire cast rarely makes a subsequent appearance.
However, this tale may contain familiar characters, but it is a much different story and I have to say -- a better one.
♦ What I Liked. Friendship, love, and relationships are explored from numerous perspectives and when I say explored I mean deeply. Piers Anthony has outdone himself with Five Portraits! As an added plus, some of the "cuteness" of his early novels is back, resulting in some great feel-good scenes.
This is also a thought provoking story. Board Stiff was pretty much about a group of people all trying to find their perfect mate. There was a common goal of saving Xanth but there were lots of individual goals to go with it. In this book however, the main goal (again saving Xanth but from a different threat) felt more urgent and less certain. The plight of the orphans added an emotional connection that was lacking in Board Stiff and having a central protagonist made things more personal. All of this resulted in a much tighter story and led to me giving it a five star rating as opposed to the four stars I gave Board Stiff.
Sadly there were also fewer puns but I barely noticed. The story itself was all the entertainment I could ask for and more. It is full of fun, adventure, danger, and uncertainty. There are monsters to defeat, puzzles to solve, personal demons to deal with and real demons interfering every step of the way. There is alot of personal growth and character development. It was easy to get sucked in and hard to put down. And of course it has its silly moments too.
♦ What I didn't like. There was some profanity that slipped past the "Bleep" censor. (Profanity used around or by children usually comes out as "Bleep!" or if they are very young, "Blip!") The slips were by design of course, along with explanations on when a word is being used clinically and when it is used as a curse word. In other situations the cussing fit the innate proclivities of some of Xanth's more violent residents. Along the same lines, there were a few too many potential rape scenes to suit me, but since this is satirical exaggeration it is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable on occasion. In these books you will find pure evil, extreme good and creatures simply being true to their natures. It all fits, even when things are particularly nasty.
♦ My Thoughts. There is a priceless afterword at the conclusion of this book where Piers Anthony explains his use of parody and apologizes for the lack of a profusion of puns. He also explains the writing process behind this book and of course credits the puns he did use. This addendum to the book alone was almost worth the price of admission.
I did have a technical issue with him calling his writing a series of parodies, while I consider them to be satirical, but it is his book. If he says he employes parodies, well then parodies it is. I don't care what they are called; they explore the dark depths of mankind's less endearing qualities while providing laugh out loud comic relief.
I call it genius!
♦ Conclusion. You can read this book without reading Board Stiff first. There are enough "what has gone before" scenes to bring you up to speed but I recommend reading #38 anyway. That way you'll experience the full flavor of the characters involved. Be aware that while this book may feature young children with coming of age issues, it addresses some very adult subjects along the way. Be prepared to squirm at times but also be prepared for sudden urges to laugh or to hug the people you love. This novel is a gem of diversity and a lesson in the true meaning of friendship. Easily one of the best comedic fantasies ever written.
Fairy tale elements fill this book in a magical adventure involving both mystery and romance. Beautifully wSource: Publisher Original: Old Bat's Belfry
Fairy tale elements fill this book in a magical adventure involving both mystery and romance. Beautifully written, flawlessly paced, this book will transport you to an ancient Ireland where myth and magic lurk in the shadows. Reader beware lest you too fall under this book's powerful spell.
♦ The Story. This tale is told from three POVs. First is Blackthorn, a disillusioned healer who lives for the day that she can exact revenge against an evil overlord. Next is Grim, her unstable former prison mate. He has some serious demons of his own to battle, a battle that is made easier by doing something useful. With that in mind, he makes guarding Blackthorn his new mission in life, without any regard for her feelings about the matter. The third orator is Oran, a handsome, gentle and compassionate prince. Oran will face mystery, uncertainty and impossible choices and only Blackthorn and Grim can unravel the clues to solving the prince's dilemma. But, there is a problem. Getting involved in royal intrigues is the last thing Blackthorn and Grim want to do.
Will Blackthorn's promise, to the mysterious elf who facilitated her escape from prison, force her to get involved? Well you'll just have to read the book and find out!
♦ What I Liked. Flawed characters, fairy tale magic, an intriguing mystery and a Prince Charming who was actually quite charming. What is not to love? This is one of those books that I tore through in record time.
I enjoyed the flow of the three POVs. The switches always felt natural and well timed. Blackthorn and Grim may be partners of a sort, but they live separate lives. Blackthorn, being a healer and very much a hermit, usually stays close to home. Grim, who is beset by voices in his head, finds that keeping busy is key to retaining what sanity he has left. So he finds odd jobs here and there and stays away from home most of the day. Since the two of them encounter different situations, by switching POVs we get to experience a wider picture of the evolving story.
Oran however, starts off living a completely different story, but it eventually becomes intertwined with the lives of Blackthorn and Grim. It is beautifully integrated and a joy to read. Far too many times I've read books where multiple POVs made me skip ahead because I cared more for one person's story than I did another's. In this book that was never the case because it is all basically the same story, but told from different perspectives. No narrator was more - or less - important than any other and each moved the story forward.
I also loved the fact that the book had a conclusive ending. That doesn't take away from the fact that obviously there is more to the story of Blackthorn and Grim, which I am eagerly looking forward to reading, but I love a book with a solid conclusion instead of a blatant cliffhanger.
♦ What I Didn't Like. I hated running out of pages to read. I wanted more. Much more. This book is a prime example of why I usually wait until a series is complete before I read it. I want the next book NOW!
♦ Conclusion. Irish folklore, reluctant heroes, smooth storytelling and a satisfying ending made this book one of the best I've read this year. I will eagerly wait for more stories of Blackthorn and Grim. ...more
What I Liked. I had a strong feeling at the conclusion of Exile that I was going tSource: Author (Honest Review Requested) Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
♦ What I Liked. I had a strong feeling at the conclusion of Exile that I was going to love Sanctuary and I was right. In some ways this book was better than the first two books combined. It wasn't perfect mind you. But you can ask anybody in this household and they will tell you I literally disappeared from this world every time I opened its pages.
Juggling this much information is hard sometimes but for the most part I had very little trouble keeping up. There are some really clever players in this drama and they kept me on my toes. I wavered between "omg, what else can go wrong" to "omg, what a great solution!"
The issues explored are deep and varied. The pace marched to a rhythm of 2 steps forward, followed by one or more steps back. Progress is made but the means are often tragic or at the very least, painful. And as with almost any civilization, change is fought against every step of the way.
The whole process was a joy to read.
♦ What I didn't like. I wasn't entirely happy with the ending. It had too much of a "to be continued" feel to it. To make matters worse, I am not sure -- this being a prequel -- if there is going to be a continuation of this story or it was designed to tie into the first series, Fall of Fair Isle. I doubt that it is though. I haven't read the first series but it is my understanding that it takes place well into the future. The cliffhanger I am referring to suggests something more imminent.
Now before you misunderstand me on this, the book did conclude most of the major conflicts; effectively ending this chapter of the character's lives. It was only the very end that felt like a segway into a whole new series. Granted one I very much want to read but it is bad enough when book one and two within a trilogy end in a cliffhanger. For a concluding volume to do so makes me alittle angry. If I loved the series I don't need a hook to read the next one. I'm going to do it because I love the author's style. The whole reason why I read entire series at one time is so I don't have to put up with cliffhangers! Grrrrr.
♦ Conclusion. As long as I shove my annoyance over the ending aside, I have to say this was the strongest of the three books. I can't help but admire a writer who so perfectly juggles the lives of so many people all while dealing with a myriad of social, racial, cultural and gender related issues. This is true Epic Fantasy all the way from beginning to end. Highly recommended. ...more
There is an uneasy peace between the realms of Summerlea and Wintercraig. Both roya Source: Old Bat's Belfry ~ ARC courtesy of HarperCollins
♦ The Story ♦
There is an uneasy peace between the realms of Summerlea and Wintercraig. Both royal houses are blessed with weather gifts inherent to their individual realms. Gifts that they can bestow, or withhold, from or on the other country. But that was before betrayal, murder and forbidden magic come into play -- and a devastating war ensues.
Questions are explored, moral dilemmas are assessed. Can the horrible price of revenge be offset by a selfless sacrifice made in the name of peace?
♦ My Thoughts ♦
Romance books have changed since I last read them with any regularity. Some 30 years ago. There is a bit more detail as people have become less shocked by just about everything. The female leads have become stronger and more apt to take control of their situations. Other things will never change. Atleast not in a medieval setting. Women are still going to be political pawns and marrying for love is something reserved for the lower classes. This story is no different in that regard except for one thing. The forced marriage has an interesting twist.
But this story is so much more than a romance. There is intricate world building but only as much as the story really needs. You'll discover a unique, though vaguely familiar, fairy tale spin on the standoff between Summer and Winter. Politics, betrayal, war and magic all play center roles. There is conflict, drama and action on an epic scale.
The seamless marriage of the two genres came as a pleasant surprise.
This is also a character-driven fantasy where the secondary characters play strong roles. This is what saved the book for me. There was so much going on; so many characters playing vital roles and all sporting their own agendas. This all meant that I didn't get overwhelmed by the romance. There was a lot of epic goodness here for me to enjoy.
♦ What I Liked ♦
Right from the prologue C. L. Wilson creates a male and female lead that you feel empathy for. She then goes on to lay out the whole tragic scenario and does so beautifully. Everything you need to know about the situation on both sides, the reason for the war, the consequences of that war, the types of magic and how it all works, are all explained. And in only 200 pages. And to make matters even more impressive, with little to no info dumping. All of this is experienced in a smooth paced intimate context. Before I ever started Chapter One I was hooked.
For the most part the pace was smooth and active throughout. There were a few slow downs. But not many and not for long. The action and conflict, both inside and outside of the marriage, kept me wanting more. The romance itself was really well written. There was plenty of detail but it wasn't crass. The words used were carefully chosen. More focus was put on passion as opposed to physical acts. Way more rated "R" scenes than "X".
♦ What I didn't like ♦
As with most any romance there are times when the female lead's stubbornness and refusal to see what is right in front of her leaves me scratching my head. This is a beautiful woman who is smart, educated, strong willed, powerful and yet feels like she has to prove all this. Why? Eventually she grows into her own skin, but the journey had some -- WTF were you thinking -- moments. On the one hand, this journey of self adds to the drama and suspense. On the other you just want to kick her.
There were a couple of plot holes that also created some confusion for me. I actually think that in certain cases, both lead characters made some tough choices way too easily. And I'm not talking about the ones directly relating to the romance portion of the new marriage either. I expected most of those. Maybe I've gotten too used to long angst scenes but there were a few switches in loyalty that I found unsettling and illogical. In those cases I think there was a bit too much fairy tale and not enough reality.
♦ Conclusion ♦
I believe that romance lovers are going to be pleased with the romantic portions of this tale. However, the thing that caught me completely off guard was the strength of the story; the big picture so to speak. I expected your normal cookie cutter romance with a distant backstory and I got the opposite. What I took away from this tale a strong epic fantasy with a romance backstory.
But that is what makes this tale so priceless. I'm not fond of romance, but I was able to relegate it to the background and thoroughly enjoy the epic portion of the tale. Romance lovers will be able to do the same, but in reverse. People who love both genres are going to be the truly fortunate ones. They will get the best of both worlds.
I didn't go into this tale with high hopes, but I'm sure glad I gave it a shot. Did it make me a romance fan? Ummm... no. Would I read more of C.L. Wilson's Epic Fantasy Romances? Short answer... yes. This is one case where a marriage (of genres) was almost perfect. ...more
(Book gifted by author in exchange for honest review)
What I Liked. I could just say everything but that would make for a boring review so let us see(Book gifted by author in exchange for honest review)
♦ What I Liked. I could just say everything but that would make for a boring review so let us see if I can elaborate without too much gushing and spoiling.
Politics: Everything I love and more. The greedy, angry, vengeful, power hungry players in this drama are dangerous, conniving and ruthless. Balancing them are the selfless, protective, loyal folks who want nothing more than to preserve the greater good.
Cultural diversity: Plenty of that too. The rich, the poor, the magical, the mystical and the mundane. Each culture has its own set of rules, rituals, customs and their own view on the world. Some are content, some feel helpless to affect change, while others realize change is possible by taking small steps. Others flat out rebel. And as I indicated in my first review, prejudice, jealousy and flat out hatred run rammant. Plus there is a fair amount of gender bias thrown in to spice things up a bit.
Action/Adventure: As with most culturally diverse societies there is constant conflict and often out and out war. There are rebels, spies, double agents, factions within factions; all waiting for their chance to turn the tide. There is murder, rape, poison, ambush, lies and betrayals. You know the evil villains are evil but they still surprise you with the lengths they will go to get what they want. You know the heroic people are heroic but the depth of their sacrifices will surprise you also. But the best of all is the smart folks who know when to move forward and when to stand still, even when what is going on secretly breaks their heart. With all of this going on, it is impossible to tell what will happen next.
That wasn't too gushy was it? I hope not because I think I may have pulled something in the process of restraining myself!
♦ What I didn't like. With familiarity some empathy with the characters is going to develop. I personally would have liked a bit more. I also realize that when you have a huge cast of characters involved in complex, multilayered situations, character development is a distant concern at best. Instead of spending time shifting through thoughts and feelings in search of motivations, you find them instead in bits and pieces of the character's history. This leads to alot of "ah ha!" moments which can be fun all on their own. Not a major complaint and not enough to deduct a star. More of a heads up for character-driven purists. You will like, hate, feel sympathy or feel indifferent but I doubt you'll love any of these characters. Which is a good thing because alot of them have a habit of ending up dead.
♦ My Thoughts. My reading tastes are in some ways, pretty narrow. I prefer series, I prefer epic, high, or sword and sorcery. Within those categories I become more lenient. I adore character-driven fantasy. I love political intrigue. I enjoy action/adventure. I'll tolerate romance as long as it is not the main focus. I even enjoy military fantasy though I may not understand it completely.
On worldbuilding I'm kinda weird. I'm not visual. Descriptions of architecture, landscapes, clothing, furnishings etc. are fairly lost on me. On the other hand, religious, political, social, and cultural descriptions I soak up like a sponge.
Where I am going with all this is I think that the worldbuilding here was just about perfect. At no time did I flip pages impatiently looking for "the story" to continue. I did get the impression that there were some beautiful, lovingly rendered settings throughout the book. I am just not wired to appreciate them. For the those who love meticulous detail, I think you will enjoy what you find.
♦ Conclusion. I am on a roll. This is yet another book which does NOT suffer from middle book syndrome. If anything it flowed so much better than Besieged because the learning curve has been conquered. Epic Fantasy lovers everywhere really should give this series a try. I can't imagine that book three is going to be anything except better.
(Book gifted by author in exchange for honest review)
The Story. Oh my. How do I describe this tale? There is so much of it it defies a simple explana(Book gifted by author in exchange for honest review)
♦ The Story. Oh my. How do I describe this tale? There is so much of it it defies a simple explanation. But I'll give it a shot.
Lets start with the basic makeup of this world. At the core there are three main races. The mystics, the non gifted (humans with no mystical powers) and the half-bloods.
The mystics consist of sisterhoods and brotherhoods, both laboring under an uneasy truce. To make things even more interesting, the brotherhoods are not only at odds with the sisterhoods. They are feuding with each other. The non-gifted have the usual divisions of class, religion, social status, wealth and power. In the background there is also a group of foreign scholars but they play a distant role at best. Oh, and if that isn't enough, there is a parallel plane filled with power hungry monsters.
With me so far? Well hold on, it gets even better. Almost every division hates, fears or distrusts the others. The end result is a tale full to the brim with tons of conflict. The majority motivated by political, religious, cultural, gender biased, racial and/or personal ambitions. Add to the mix a touch of greed, a bit of revenge, a few doses of misguided loyalty, then stir in some lies and you have a recipe for disaster.
♦ What I Liked. I enjoyed the complexity. The political, religious, gender and racial divisions intrigued me. The backstabbing, conniving, and secret agendas all kept me glued to the pages. The pace was fast, tense and flowed without effort. It was like being a fly on the wall watching the events as they unfold.
Another thing I loved were the twists and backflips. It was like watching a bunch of gymnasts -- on steroids. Loyalties flip, then flip again. The balance of power shifts constantly. Fortunes rise and fall. Sometimes things change for the better and other times for the worse, but almost always in ways you didn't see coming.
There is no question, this is true epic fantasy.
♦ What I didn't like. There was, for me, a huge learning curve. The severity is going to depend (I think) on whether you've read Rowena Cory Daniells' earlier T'En trilogy, Fall of Fair Isle. It takes place in the same world but is set many years later. If so, you are already familiar with some of the main structure. Unfortunately I haven't read that series so I had to learn everything from scratch.
First you have the various levels within each society. The brotherhoods, sisterhoods, political and religious factions each have their own circles and hierarchies. Add in the various cultural, social and magical components and you end up with alot to learn.
However, the main problem for me lay with the terms used by each race. For example, the non-gifted call themselves True-Men but the Mystics call them Mieren. The True-Men call the half-bloods either half-bloods or Wyrds. But, the mystic race calls them Malaunje. The mystics themselves are T'En but are also referred to as Wyrds, depending on who is doing the talking. Finally, the half-bloods use all of the various terms. Then you have rare births of individuals with special powers. There are completely different names for each of those those. Confused yet? I was.
I struggled the most with the different races all having individual names for each other. For awhile there I kept getting pulled out of the story while I figured out which race the text was referring to. Granted the names Mieren and Malaunje look completely different in the context of this review. However when thrown at you in a fast paced action story, the difference isn't so obvious. To make matters worse, I am still not sure I understand the full meaning of every term used. Especially the ones that indicate an individual has some kind of special power.
In my opinion this book needs a glossary but perseverance works almost as well :)
♦ My Thoughts. This is not a book to read before bedtime. Especially if you have trouble shutting off your mind as I do. It is also not a book you need to read if you have alot of distractions going on around you. Trust me, it will demand your full attention. The bathtub with a "Do not disturb" sign on the door might work. Just don't forget to get out before the water cools and you catch pneumonia because you have forgotten where you are. Oh and a treadmill would be perfect! Unfortunately you'll likely need new soles on your shoes afterwards. Especially if you run at the same pace as this saga.
There is alot of violence, rape, hate crimes, torture, tragedy and hardship. And when I say alot, I mean 20-30 years worth packed into one book. But it isn't all bad. There are some good folks too. Individuals who wish to better their world, or atleast their race's place within it. There is even a bit of romance amongst the chaos.
♦ Conclusion. I'm really liking this series so far. I am also seriously impressed. Rowena Cory Daniells covered a full generation of schemes, plots and power struggles. Build an entire fully realized world. Plus did all this without me once skimming back through chapters for reminders of what is going on. It is nothing short of amazing. The only thing that gets sacrificed along the way is intimacy with the characters. There are characters you will develop some feelings for but on the whole this is definitely a plot-driven story.
If you love dark, harsh, complicated worlds. Plenty of politics, ambition and greed. Lots of backstabbing, vow breaking, betrayal and strife, this book sure fits the bill. If you are looking for a simpler, kinder tale, this book will overwhelm you. Highly recommended for lovers of dark, complex epic fantasy!
I got to read this for free on my Kindle as a member of Amazon Prime. I didn't have high expectations since the publisher was an Amazon Imprint. But II got to read this for free on my Kindle as a member of Amazon Prime. I didn't have high expectations since the publisher was an Amazon Imprint. But I have a soft spot for Historical Fiction set in Roman times so I took a chance. The narrative is done by Livia Drusilla, wife of Caesar Octavianus, Julius Caesar's heir. Viewing that historical era through her eyes was priceless and very well done. One of the best first person POVs I've seen in years. Fast read, riveting storyline, highly recommended....more
My Thoughts. Action, adventure, danger, romance and some awesome poetic justice, all provide a nonstop ride in this concluding book of the Rain Wilds♦ My Thoughts. Action, adventure, danger, romance and some awesome poetic justice, all provide a nonstop ride in this concluding book of the Rain Wilds Chronicles.
I'll have to admit, I didn't think it was possible to tie up ALL of the various storylines. Especially the ones that did not come into sharp focus until volume three. I am happy to say that I was wrong. They all got tied up, or close enough, and the entire story concluded at a momentous time. It was as close to perfect as I've ever experienced in a series. What a joy!
♦ What I Liked. Oh my, where do I start. Most, not all mind you, but most of the "bad" people got what was coming to them and in spades. Some of them in ways that made me snicker. The "good" folks for the most part, got a happy ending or atleast found themselves better off than when they started this journey. And the dragons. Those poor crippled, deformed, pitiful dragons...
Waiting for me to drop a spoiler aren't you. Nope. Not happening. You are just going to have to read the books. I'm evil like that yanno.
♦ What I didn't like. I want to use this space to touch on something I completely left out of my last three reviews. There is a separate storyline threaded throughout all four books. At the end of each chapter there are a couple of pages devoted to personal messages between the messenger bird keepers of Bingtown and the Rain Wilds. Now at first they did not make much sense to me. They didn't seem to have much to do with the main story. But I kept reading them and slowly it dawned on me that they were providing cameo shots of what was going on "at home."
Eventually, aside from giving me a glimpse of what was going on abroad, these asides took on a life of their own. Not enough for me to really care about the bird keepers but enough for me to be curious about what would happen next. They also ended up being the only storyline I was dissatisfied with. I would have loved to see some poetic justice there too but that is what I get for being greedy I guess.
♦ Conclusion. This series may have gotten off to a slow start but it sure didn't end that way. If anything it came close to ending too fast. Of all of the books in the series this is the one that sent me to bed late and got me up early. But I have to admit. The rush was smooth as silk. There were some scenes that ended rather abruptly but that was just the author cutting out unneeded fluff and moving on to more important stuff. Considering everything that was going on, at no time was I confused or even overwhelmed. And that last chapter? Well it was everything I could have hoped for and more.
What more can I say? Dragons! Character driven! Robin Hobb! Did I mention... Dragons! Throw in politics, romance, evil, danger, adventure, (deep breath) betrayal, war, justice, mystery, vividly unique personalities and you have a recipe for yet another priceless Robin Hobb classic.
My Thoughts. Now that the traveling part of the dragon's journey is done, more time can be devoted to what is going on in other parts of this world.♦ My Thoughts. Now that the traveling part of the dragon's journey is done, more time can be devoted to what is going on in other parts of this world. There are more scenes in Chalced, a distant country with a dying Duke who believes dragon parts can restore his health. There are scenes in the Rain Wilds surrounding the Elderlings Malta and Reyn. There are even goings on in Bingtown, concerning Hest, Alise's cruel husband and her friend Sedric's former employer. There is also a new and varied landscape at the site of the dragon city which begs to be explored.
♦ What I Liked. With the addition of more variety this book picks up quite a bit of speed. I didn't really think it was possible but this is now my favorite of the three books so far. (One more to go yet.)
It is no longer just a story about the crippled dragons and their keepers. Oh they still play a major role but the story of Trader Hest, the Duke of Chalced and the elderlings Malta and Reyn, all who previously were relegated to the background, are now of equal importance. There are even strong indications that Selden (the third Elderling) and Tintaglia (who at one time was the "last" dragon) will be taking a starring role in the conclusion. I'll be honest, there are so many cool things going on now that I can't wait to see how it all ends. Besides that, the more heads I get the chance to rummage around in, the happier I am. Even when they are full of sewage, like Hest's and the Duke's.
♦ What I didn't like. Ummmm, I'm thinking... gimme a minute...
There isn't much not to like. It does confuse me that the dragons, being the prideful, arrogant, stubborn creatures that they are, are not all trying harder to become more independant. Seems to me that creatures with those innate qualities would do anything not to be dependant on mere humans. Granted I understand that both pride and a fear of failure are getting in the way. However, I'd think that their overrated sense of superiority would override any fear of failure. They are mighty dragons! They can't fail! However a bunch of them never even try, even after seeing their compatriots succeed. Just leaves me scratching my head.
♦ Conclusion. This is not one of my longer reviews but I literally can't wait to see how everything ties up. I am even worried that some of the storylines, specifically the newest ones, will be left dangling. I hope not but I suppose it is possible. Would not be the first time a sidestory was a lead in to a new series. Now if you'll please excuse my brevity, there are a few hours left before dawn and I have reading to do...
My Thoughts. This is a series that is signature Robin Hobb. There is sporadic action, a few thrills, chills, catastrophes and plenty of conflict but♦ My Thoughts. This is a series that is signature Robin Hobb. There is sporadic action, a few thrills, chills, catastrophes and plenty of conflict but mainly it is about characters. Each is distinctly individual and while some share common backgrounds, each experienced those backgrounds in vastly different ways. The dragons too are as unique as their keepers. They are arrogant, wise, self-serving, insecure, quick to anger, loving, cruel, affectionate, in a word, complex. Only one really takes center stage, ie we get to ride inside of her head on occasion, but we "see" enough of the rest to get a feel for their personalities.
Robin Hobb also uses this story as a platform to explore prejudices of all kinds. There is alot of class bias, and gender bias. You have dragons who believe they are superior to humans (and often each other.) But they are not much different from the wealthy Traders who pretty much look down on everybody and everything. You have former slaves who were promised a place within the Rain Wilds society as "equals." A promise that was well intended but far from kept. You have the Rain Wilders themselves who are "marked" over time by their harsh environment. The more heavily marked they are, the less they are accepted, and sometimes resort to veiling their disfigured faces in an act of self defense. And there is worse. A child who is born already drastically affected is usually killed at birth. There is also sexual bias. Same sex relationships are not considered acceptable behavior among the more elite trader and merchant classes and must be hidden at all cost. Fortunately this doesn't seem to be a huge issue with the so called "outcasts". Funny how that works... And while there are plenty of strong female leads both with and without positions of power, there are still plenty of people who have definite ideas as to what constitutes a woman's "place" in society.
The range and complexity of the societies and the characters who live within them makes for a fascinating exploration into human (and dragon) nature.
♦ What I Liked. I am hands down, a lover of character-driven fantasy. I've always been fascinated with the why behind how people think, feel, act and react. I want it to be ugly when it needs to be, endearing at times and tragic at others. And I want development. It can be forwards, backwards or even sideways but as long as the characters change in some way, I am happy.
Suffice it to say, I am very happy.
And the changes are not all internal. All of the main characters are changing physically. Some of the changes are due to environmental factors, some to the rigors of survival, some are induced by the dragons and some are due to the natural process of growing up. And the environment? It goes through some major changes too. No I'm not going to elaborate. That would be "tellin."
♦ What I didn't like. Well, it is not so much what I didn't like but more like what I know some people won't like. There is more action than there was in Dragon Keeper but overall the pace is still fairly slow. Now this is both a good and a bad thing depending on how you look at it. For rollicking non-stop action fans, this is a bad thing and you'll likely be bored to tears. For character development loving fans, this is close to perfect. For me it makes little difference. I try to enjoy a book for what it is. If it is a tense, edge of your seat action adventure, I'm all in. If it is a slow journey to nowhere that allows for copious amounts of time inside the characters' heads, I'm all for that too. All depends on the reader's tastes or even mood.
I do have one little nitpicking annoyance. I can't for the life of me figure out why this series is labeled Epic Fantasy. It is secondary world and there is magic though I would consider it to be peripheral at best but there is no world wide conflict of good versus evil. There are some bad people who do bad things but only a few. The journey upriver could easily be called epic but it is only part of the story. Plenty of things are going on in other cities and some even in other countries. I am not sure what it is exactly but the personal nature of the stories combined with dragons, liveships, serpents and elderlings makes it feel closer to High Fantasy to me. Sadly I guess high fantasy conjures up visions of tired old tropes so you rarely see it used anymore. Doesn't really matter much in the overall scheme of things. A good book is a good book, no matter how you "label" it. It just bothers me as a reviewer because I feel like calling it epic fantasy gives readers a misguided impression of what to expect.
♦ Conclusion. If you read my last review (you DID read it right?) you might recall that I called that book a series of journeys. Well this one is a series of changes. Some are gradual, some are drastic and some are even fatal. Everything changes. The characters, the dragons, the scenery and even the odds of survival are changed, several times and in some fascinating ways. Because I am such a fierce lover of deeply emotional character driven fantasy, this rates as another 5 stars for me. It is going on my reread shelf to be savored time and time again.
My second thought is that this is not a story to read without reading Liveships first. Even though there are scenes that try to give you enough info to grasp what is going on but they don't quite succeed. They were enough to remind me of certain points I had forgotten but for somebody new to this world I don't believe they would be nearly enough. But hey! I could tell you worse things than read the Liveship Trilogy first. That trilogy rocks!
My third thought is the need for a clarification of the main subject of this story. On the surface it is about dragons but what I took away from it was wonderful characters. Yes the dragons play a major role. Yes they are as individual as the characters. But I didn't feel like they were the main focus of this tale. Granted the dragons are a very close second but my gut says they will be taking center stage later in the series. Instead this book focuses mainly on the young keepers and their older escorts and guides. Not a bad thing since people is what Robin Hobb does so well but if you were hoping on all dragons all the time, that isn't quite going to happen.
♦ What I Liked. This tale is part adventure, part coming of age, part romance, part discovery of self (for the adults.) Discovery of self and coming of age is something Robin Hobb excels at in her characters. She pushes the players in this drama well outside of their comfort zones and presents them with challenges that force them to acknowledge their faults and shortcomings. And you take this journey with them, every painful step of the way. It spoke to my character loving heart. Sometimes you want to hug them. Mostly you want to scream, smack, shake and knock them upside the head for missing the obvious and making really bad choices. Of course you also want to cheer when they finally "get it."
I also loved those selfish, arrogant, self-absorbed dragons. They too have a rough road to travel. They can no longer fly, kill for themselves, or even remember all of the things they should have known at birth. Some are truly pathetic, have no ancestral memories at all, can't even remember their own names and are so badly deformed they can barely function. However none of this stops the stronger dragons from viewing humans as beneath them, of little worth other than servants to their every whim. In other words, they are definitely dragons at heart, despite all of their handicaps.
My other favorite part of this tale is the various group dynamics. You have the harmony of the crew of the escort barge. There is the constant struggle for leadership and survival among the dragon keepers. There are the conundrums involved in a group of dragons, normally very solitary creatures, having to work together towards a common goal. There are secrets, lies and betrayals, all adding delightful spice to the journey.
♦ What I didn't like. This book is really slow. I think mainly due to the info dumps contained within the huge amount of time the characters spend replaying their past histories. Some people may not see it that way. They believe there are no info dumps at all but unfortunately I disagree. Every time someone examines events from their "old" life (events that happened before this journey began) those memories contain important backstory, in vivid detail. Granted comparing the past to the present is an integral part of "discovery of self" but the amount of meticulous detail slows things down. I am hoping that this book has successfully covered all the backstory needed and book two can now focus on moving quickly forward.
♦ Conclusion. Best way to sum up this tale is by calling it a series of journeys. At the core is the slow, tortuous travel up a shallow, uncharted, acid filled river, in search of a home for the dragons which may not even exist. Then you have the journey into adulthood by the young keepers, each fighting to prove their worth in a world which considers them worthless. There are the personal journeys of discovery. And those revelations are never very pleasant. Almost nobody, including the dragons, remains unchanged, and some of those changes may surprise you. And the best part? These journeys are just beginning. I predict that many transformations still lie ahead.
Review copy provided by publisher In exchange for an honest review.
The Story. The story starts off with a familiar fairytale type romance. Boy meets Review copy provided by publisher In exchange for an honest review.
♦ The Story. The story starts off with a familiar fairytale type romance. Boy meets girl, sparks fly, boy marries girl and they settle into wedded bliss. That is until their baby is stolen and replaced by an evil changeling. At this point the story turns very dark and very tragic.
♦ What I Liked. Normally I don't like crossover Fantasy. I much prefer secondary worlds that do not touch our own. This book however contained several elements that appealed to me so strongly I was able to enjoy even the crossover bits.
First real hook for me was how quickly the story switched over to the fae world. Had it lingered in ours, the book would have lost me right off. Granted it switches back to modern later in the tale but by then I was well and truly invested in the story.
The second hook, and my favorite, were the educational chapters. These were asides based on book entries, apparently made by scholars, describing the various fae, their world, their characteristics, their powers and how dangerous (or not) they were. This was not only fascinating in and of itself, it insured that I wouldn't get confused by all the different types of fae. Even better, these snippets of lore kept my interest operating at full capacity. Each of these little gems of info occurred just before the chapter which introduced the fae, lore or situation described. By the time I finished reading the intro chapter, I couldn't wait to find out how the new info fit into the ongoing events.
The third hook was the genie. I love genies but rarely see any in the books I read. This genie had his own fascinating part in the story along with an excellent backstory. Once he paired up with the second young boy featured in this tale, I knew I was not going to be able to put the book down until it was done.
♦ What I didn't like. I'm guessing roughly the first half of the book revolved around events within the Fae world but eventually things get fairly tied up there and the focus returns to the modern world. With this change came this huge lapse in time and suddenly I was reading about two men in their (I'm guessing) 20s as opposed to the young boys I knew before. The double shift in focus was disconcerting because I had to wrap my mind around not only the change of venue but the sudden change in age.
It knocked me off stride and I would have liked a more gradual transition. Evidently alot happened in those intervening years and you do learn about it in bits and pieces of backstory. The problem is that the sudden jump led to a disconnect from the characters. At that point the story became plot driven instead of character driven. For the life of me I just couldn't find the empathic connections I had prior to the switch.
♦ My Thoughts. Even though I eventually lost my connections to the main characters, I was still fascinated by the story itself. It was dark, scary, tragic, complicated, intense and very deep. There is so much going on here, both at the forefront and in the background, that you really have to pay close attention. All of this contributed to making this a very fast read.
This is also one of those stories where nearly everybody has their own agenda and most of the time you have no idea what that agenda is. Better yet, if and when you do find out, it is sure to surprise you and usually not in a good way.
♦ Conclusion. This foray into uncharted waters revealed a true pearl of a story. I am still not sure how enamored I would have been if it wasn't for all that lovely reference material but they set the hook and reeled me in. It also had all of the fantasy fae I could have possibly wished for plus a dark, often violent, occasionally tragic, and always interesting roller coaster ride of a story. It didn't quite sell me on Contemporary Fantasy but it showed me that there are always exceptions to every rule.
The Story. The story is pretty basic. A hidden map, a buried treasure, a band of unlikely compatriots compriARC provided by Pyr for an honest review.
♦ The Story. The story is pretty basic. A hidden map, a buried treasure, a band of unlikely compatriots comprised of members representing several levels of society. All of the elements needed for an adventure filled quest. What sets this tale apart is the worldbuilding. Dark, exotic, depraved, violent and the list goes on. This is no knight in shining armor type tale.
♦ What I Liked. While I like knight in shining armor type stories I normally enjoy dark ones too. The premise here was solid. The oddball mix of characters were vivid and distinct, each with a voice all their own. The worldbuilding was just as vivid but in a depraved way. This is a horrible world and the author does nothing to sugar coat it. It is evil, depraved, perverted and quite frankly, horrible. It makes the Dark Ages look mild by comparison. This is also something that is pretty rare when it comes to epic fantasy. This book is a true standalone. Though I've seen it said that it is a standalone with the potential to become a series.
♦ What I didn't like. First off let me explain my views on profanity and sadistic sex. I am 53. I've pretty much seen, said or read it all and I use more than my own share of profanity when I am angry or in pain. I don't consider myself a prude and I think I am fairly open-minded about most things. This book however crossed a line with me. The use of profanity was constant. The sadistic sex was -- in my eyes -- over the top and disgusting in a way which made me very uncomfortable.
On top of that, the language didn't fit the worldbuilding. Granted this was a uniquely harsh world but it is still basically medieval. Dropping the F bomb and other modern cuss words, occasionally a dozen times on one page, was jarring. And the frequency of use gave me the feeling it was more for shock value than anything else. Oh I am sure they used just as much profanity in medieval times as we use presently. I'm also reasonably sure their profanity wasn't comprised of the same exact words we use now. Unfortunately inconsistencies like that tend to pull me right out of an otherwise good story.
♦ My Thoughts. I wanted to like this book, I really did. I normally like dark fantasy but this was -- for me -- too dark. This isn't my first time reading a book with heavy doses of profanity but those books either used profanity that fit the era or made up phrases to fit the world. It also was not my first time reading about perverted, sadistic practices but they were mild compared to what happens here. Closest examples I can think of are Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series and Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series but those stories balanced the violent sadism with love, humor, respect and romance. Granted I didn't read but half of this book but if there was any good balancing the evil, I missed it.
♦ Conclusion. Maybe, as much as I hate to admit it, I am just not the right audience/age or maybe even gender for this book. I hear and use enough profanity in real life and see enough horror in the news. I don't want that level of dark in my fiction. Instead of giving me an "escape" this story gave me nightmares. I am also sure that the same things that turned me off, will appeal to other readers. So in conclusion I am not going to claim, by any stretch of the imagination, that this isn't a well plotted, well written book with layer upon layer of detailed worldbuilding. What I will say is it simply wasn't very enjoyable for me.
I also want to note that the 1 star rating may seem unfair but since a 1 star rating means I could not finish the book that is what I'm giving it. It may very well deserve much better but I am not in a position to make that assessment.
What I Liked: Once again I enjoyed the uniqueness of this tale. Unlike book one, magic plays a big role in this adventure, though mainly as a subject♦ What I Liked: Once again I enjoyed the uniqueness of this tale. Unlike book one, magic plays a big role in this adventure, though mainly as a subject of debate with tantalizing hints as to its validity.
The story centers around Theron Campion and his University mentor/lover. Theron has many of the qualities of his father, Alec. He is an enigma when it comes to personality. Sometimes blindly passionate, sometimes easily led, insecure but with the arrogance that comes from a being member of the upper class, he often wavers between loyalties. His lover however, the handsome professor Basil St. Cloud, is more single minded in his pursuits. Whether is the search for historical truth or romancing his soulmate, Dr. St. Cloud throws all of his attention into his current task to the exclusion of all else.
I also liked the political aspect. It is a true fact that history is rewritten by the victors and this tale brings that lesson home in a big way. Truth is not always welcome, especially when it challenges current opinion. Basil St. Cloud has an uphill battle as he attempts to prove that not only did magic exist in the past, but there is a vital need for it to come into play again.
And it is much more than politics, romance or even magic. There are layers upon layers of story as complicated and unbalanced as the society itself. Loyalties change frequently as the players in this melodrama try to choose a side. Betrayal, deceit, broken hearts and secrets test each player on this theatrical stage. Bonds are formed and bonds are broken. Lies are told and truths are spoken. And all the while ancient mystical forces are behind the scene leading the dance.
Sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, but rarely boring, this story has alot to say.
♦ What I didn't like: Because this tale takes place many years past the events that took place in book one, I often felt a bit lost. There were too many interesting characters, a number of them very strong women, whose story I wanted to know more about. I would have been in worse shape if the short stories included in Swordspoint hadn't provided a bit of a lead in, but even with that, the lead in was incomplete. Interesting enough, I did get a good amount of fascinating detail on the history of Riverside. Unfortunately I did not get much background on the current players in this drama.
I also wish I had known a bit more about the lore regarding the "Great Hunt." I vaguely remember it being associated with druids. (I think) The basic premise having to do with Kings being bound by blood to the land in a series of rituals which included a hunt for a horned stag. Now here is my problem. I could have looked it up but that would have meant pulling out of the book to research well... the book. Again I felt like I was missing information that would have greatly enhanced the story. As it was, I muddled along as best I could.
♦ Conclusion: I can't say in all honesty that I loved this book. Liked it, yes, loved it, no. I kept wishing it was about Jessica, Theron's pirate sister, or Sophia, Theron's physician mother, the first woman ever to hold a chair in the University or even his strong-willed aunt Katherine, the Duchess of Tremontaine, who was an excellent swordswoman and a fierce matriarch.
Now, from what I read in the Afterword of Swordpoint, Ellen Kushner actually started writing the third book, which is set only 15 years after Swordspoint, before writing and publishing The Fall of Kings with Delia Sherman. It appears that Priviledge of the Sword is indeed written about Katherine. I have a feeling, gleaned from the parts she played in this drama, I am going to love her story. What I am questioning now is if I should have read them out of order. I'll have to let you know.
What I Liked: Aside from a couple of interesting female leads this tale also has another of my favorite subjects. Political intrigue. As in book one,♦ What I Liked: Aside from a couple of interesting female leads this tale also has another of my favorite subjects. Political intrigue. As in book one, Alec thrives on mayhem. He somehow manages to get nearly everyone to believe he is slightly mad and quite harmless. In reality he has his finger in every pot and is not afraid to see how much trouble he can stir up. It is alot of fun to watch. Alec is much like an onion. He has layers under layers under more layers. And you might be surprised at what you find at his core.
Then we have Katherine. Forced into servitude to her "mad" uncle, she has no idea what to expect. Irregardless she is determined to take whatever he dishes out so her family's fortunes can be restored. Much to her surprise and dismay, he takes away all her dresses, gives her the attire of a boy and demands that she train with a swordmaster. The transition makes for a great coming of age tale.
Meanwhile we have Artemisia, a beautiful maiden of a noble house, abet a poor one, who dreams of nothing but true love and a blissful marriage. Katherine's best friend, she too has a coming of age tale to tell as she discovers the harsh realities of life.
Last we have Marcus, the Mad Duke's faithful servant. He has a story to tell too only you'll have to read the book to find out what it is 'cause I ain't tellin'.
♦ What I didn't like: I am honestly racking my brain on this one. Nothing jumps out at me as being unlikeable. This book even has less romance and if you are familiar with my tastes, less is better. I don't mind a little romance in my fantasy but I don't much care for it being the main focus.
Ultimately the only thing I can really complain about was the confusion created by the publication dates of the three books.
Swordspoint was written first, The Fall of the Kings second and this book third. There were also several blurbs which called Kings "the stunning follow up to Swordspoint." Those comments added to my confusion. However the published order is not the intended reading order. The chronological order is Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword and then The Fall of the Kings. Fortunately Ellen Kushner very politely corrected me when I mistakenly labeled Fall of Kings as book 2 in a tweet. She then graciously pointed me to 2 posts she had written explaining the correct order. The World of Riverside and Chronology and Short Fiction
I have corrected all of my posts here, on twitter, facebook, pinterest, and on tumblr so hopefully nobody else will make the same mistake. I know better. While it is rare to see books published out of order it does happen and I should have double checked my facts. For that I sincerely apologise.
♦ Conclusion: Fortunately my mistake took absolutely none of the pleasure out of this book. If anything reading The Fall of the Kings first made me more eager to read Katherine's story.
As with the other 2 books there is not a cliffhanger ending. (Always a plus in my opinion.) That being said, I do recommend reading Swordspoint first in order to get the full story behind Alec and Richard St. Vier. It is also invaluable due to the short stories included at the end of the book. They help to tie together both the events here and in The Fall of the Kings.
All in all a pleasant change of pace and a delightful read. Highly recommended!
What I Liked: The short answer is alot. This tale literally drips with wit, elegance, lovely prose and dangerous romance. It abounds with political i♦ What I Liked: The short answer is alot. This tale literally drips with wit, elegance, lovely prose and dangerous romance. It abounds with political intrigue, matters of honor and doses of betrayal. The worldbuilding was sparse (single society) but unique and very believable. It was suitably dark at times, humorous at others and the writing was tight. There are no unneeded info dumps to distract you which helps in making it a lively fun read.
This story had more of a romance element than I normally like but it was a well established romance. It was also far from your cookie cutter sappy romance. This love affair had some very dark and scary moments; one of the partners was a borderline psychopath with suicidal tendencies. This gave the relationship an aura of reality that I found to be refreshing. It could be tender, violent, self serving, possessive and often involved some very careful handling. I've seen fight scenes that were not choreographed as well. Oh, and there were alot of fight scenes too. The duels read like a beautiful dance, only at the end, one person usually ended up dead.
♦ What I didn't like: Well, not much. And this came as a bit of a surprise to me. My usual fare is rift with magic and mayhem, complexity and adventure. This tale had plenty of depth but the flow was smoother, the issues more focused, making it, for me, a lighter read. Lighter reads have their place and I was in the mood for one, so I have little to complain about.
♦ A Note: This story does revolve around a M/M romance that was descriptive without being overly graphic. I personally enjoyed the dynamic it created between the two main characters. However, I know it does bother some, and I respect that, so this is your heads up.
I also want to note that my version of the book included several short stories. I do not plan to review those. I'm not a big fan of short stories and I suck at reviewing them, but they were an interesting addition.
♦ Conclusion: Wonderful change of pace. The prose was lovely and Kushner a master at painting pictures with words. The setting was a secondary world, alternate history with an interesting social hierarchy. It was actually fun to have an entire story revolve around the events of a single city for a change. Instead of massive battles against unspeakably evil monsters, this story gives you duels between individuals, political intrigue at every turn, and fascinating characters. I look forward to reading the next two books set in the worlds of Riverside.
What I Liked. All of the individual story lines make sense now. And I do mean all of them. What this tale ended up being, once you cut through all ofWhat I Liked. All of the individual story lines make sense now. And I do mean all of them. What this tale ended up being, once you cut through all of the weird world building, was a mystery. A who-done-it and why puzzle full of misdirection and interesting twists. On the whole, I loved the continuing creativity and I enjoyed how it all wrapped up in ways I did not expect. Despite being YA, there was not a sappy, feel good ending either. It was bittersweet, partially tragic but true to the story.
What I Didn't Like. I never did feel comfortable in this world. It was just too all over the place. I understand that an alternate reality is going to develop differently from ours and I accept that. However the mix of technology and ancient history wasn't one I could wrap my head around. Sabers and rifles, ancient gods and biblical references, steam factories and magical flying sunbarks, submarines and oar driven galleys, magic working alchemists and laboratory scientists. I also had a bit of a motivation problem. Not involving the grand scheme of things, because that is all explained in this conclusion. My problem lay in the motivation of the protagonists; the choices they made and the ones they didn't make but let others make for them. Alot of the time is was like they were just along for the ride because they had nothing better to do.
Conclusion. In terms of plot and pacing, this was a great book. In terms of creativity alone it was priceless. Unfortunately, the worldbuilding nagged at me though out. I just could not accept the mix of really ancient with fairly modern. Of course, I am not exactly the target audience. Maybe a teen would be more focused on the story itself to the exclusion of the odd mix of magic and technology and less inclined to feel the need to develop any kind of bond with the characters. And I can't rule out the possibility that some things were lost in the translation.
What I Liked. This is purely an adventure story. In addition to the unique creatures we encountered in The Water Mirror, this time around mighty sphinWhat I Liked. This is purely an adventure story. In addition to the unique creatures we encountered in The Water Mirror, this time around mighty sphinx are added to the mix. And like the lions, some are winged and some are not. Meanwhile, one group of characters stays in Venice while the other group flies off to explore the environs of Hell.
Now this is not Dante's Inferno. This hell has massive talking stone heads flying through the air, mad scientists, mysterious technology and alien like creatures. Oh and did I mention the 500 yard high stone warriors who guard the entrance? In terms of creativity, this book was flat out amazing. I can easily see an imaginative 12 year old thinking that this version of Hell is way too cool. (No pun intended.) I also, to my delight, I got a few of those answers I was looking for in terms of backstory. Not alot of them mind you, but enough to keep my appetite whetted for more.
What I didn't like. When I read book one, I assumed this was an alternate history. There are valid reasons for that. First off was unwanted orphans being apprenticed to merchant craftsmen, a common enough practice in the 1200s though one that continued through the 1800s. Secondly was the making of crafts, like glass and mirrors, all by hand. Glass was not commercially manufactured until the middle 1800s. Thirdly was that while they had flying ships, those ships were kept aloft by magic, not technology. Actually there was no modern technology that I could discern, aside from rifles. Swords were the predominant weapon, and rifles themselves date back to the 1400s. Add in a ruling Pharaoh, (Cleopatra was the last ruling Pharaoh and she died in 30 BC), ancient Egyptian gods, sword wielding zombies, guards patrolling on stone lions and I honestly had no idea what era this was but surely no later then the 1400s
This book however had very different overtones. Hell contains machines, steel gears, pipes, steam engines and suddenly a reference is made to steam factories in Venice itself. The presence of steel alone bumps the timeline up to the 1700s. The whole thing had me scratching my head.
To cap my confusion, the main protagonist, when describing somebody she met on her journey, said "He has lost his marbles." A phrase that has its origins in the late 1800s. Such a small thing I know but one that startled me. Now all of a sudden I am not sure if this is alternate reality or still alternate history but not nearly as far back as I first assumed. It is also possible the marbles phrase was simply a bad translation. In any case, not having a sense of when I was threw off my immersion in the story. Granted your typical 12 year old would not know much of this, much less care, so maybe I was just too old for the story to be believable.
Conclusion. My advice? Go into this book expecting a wonderful, imaginative and amazingly creative adventure with a few truly priceless revelations pertaining to the backstory. Expect a deepening mystery surrounding the main characters but don't expect any plot progression. Not yet. Evidently that is being saved for book three.
What I Liked. The spin put on some familiar fantasy elements was fascinating. I love it when fantasy tropes are turned on their heads then flipped insWhat I Liked. The spin put on some familiar fantasy elements was fascinating. I love it when fantasy tropes are turned on their heads then flipped inside out. Otherwise beautiful mermaids, but with hideous shark like heads, are enslaved and used to pull gondolas through the canals of Venice. Those winged stone lions that today you see gracing the buildings, are alive, also enslaved and used as guards. Egyptians, not Romans, are the major invaders in this tale with their armies of undead mummies, flame throwing flying ships and powerful navy. And only thing that has saved Venice up to this point is the being know simply as the "Flowing Queen" who protects Venice's lagoon and prevents the Egyptian galleys from entering the waterways. And that barely scratches the surface. There are literally too many unique components to list.
What I didn't like. I am not sure if something was lost in the translation or if it was simply a matter of too much story and not enough character development, but I felt disconnected. I liked the orphans who are at the heart of this story but I never developed a sympathetic connection. Instead I felt more sympathy for the mythical entities. This may improve later on, now that the worldbuilding is covered, but it may not. I am struggling with the characters' motivation. It feels like the story is moving the characters instead of the characters moving the story. If that makes sense.
I also have my usual problem with the drop you off the edge of a cliff abrupt ending. Good thing I have the omnibus because otherwise, I'd be seriously frustrated.
Conclusion. I am on the fence so far. The uniqueness and creativity is priceless. If I was rendering an opinion based on the worldbuilding alone, I'd give it a five out of five. However, the portrayal of the characters could have been better. There were too many convenient scenes. Events consistently took place simply because the protagonists were in the right place (or wrong place depending on how you look at it) at just the right time.There is also the fact that there are so many storylines to keep track of. There is the lions' story, the mermaids' story, the orphans' stories, the Flowing Queen's story, Venice's story, the mirror maker's story, his housekeeper's story and a budding romance to keep track of. Deep breath... Never boring mind you, not with all of that going on, but a bit overwhelming at times.
Finally the series has reached its conclusion and what an ending! Just like the series as a whole, this concluding book is a dark, tense, twisting, tuFinally the series has reached its conclusion and what an ending! Just like the series as a whole, this concluding book is a dark, tense, twisting, turning, page flipping adventure that keeps you guessing right up until the last pages. Just like its predecessors, this book has wisdom to impart, moral dilemmas to explore, plus tragedy and triumph in equal measures. Long after finishing the last page, you will find yourself pondering the choices made, the actions taken and the resulting consequences. This is truly a drama that will grab you and never let you go.
It is hard to put into words everything I love about this tale. This is more than a story, it is a full-fledged journey on many many levels. Nothing is taboo. Faith is compared to despair, loyalty to betrayal, self-doubt to self-revelation, possession to free choice, fear to courage, and love to loss. This book evoked in me every strong emotion possible. I laughed, I teared up, I cheered, I got angry, I got frustrated, I even caught my foot swinging back and forth as I held my breath waiting on the outcome of a tense scene. I did not just read this book, I lived it.
While I will not discuss the ending in any type of detail I will say it satisfied. I will also note that at no point during the book did I have a clue about how it would end. This is not, nor has it ever been, a story with easy answers and sometimes there are no answers at all. Instead there is often nothing but blind, unwavering faith and the knowledge that on occasion doing something, even if it is wrong, is better than doing nothing at all.
I highly recommend both this book, and the entire series.