You were first introduced to Isabella Camherst in A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS in what fellow-reviewer at EBR Steve called a fantasy version of Downto...moreYou were first introduced to Isabella Camherst in A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS in what fellow-reviewer at EBR Steve called a fantasy version of Downton Abby. I would also like to point lovers of Novik's Temeraire series, and even those who enjoy Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody series, to this exciting new world Marie Brennan has created.
THE TROPIC OF SERPENTS begins three years after NATURAL's fateful expedition to the mountains of Vystrana. Isabella agrees to a second expedition, but this time it's a further-flung journey to study species on the continent of Eriga. It's a good thing she loves dragons because anyone with less passion would have given up by now considering the deck stacked against her: Isabella's family disapproves of her adventures, even scientists must deal with local politics, and the climate is not only oppressive it's dangerous. The mountains of Vystrana tested her strength, and now the jungle known as the Green Hell will test her resolve.
Along for this expedition is Mr. Wilker, the only recurring character to appear with consistency. If you recall in NATURAL, Isabella and Mr. Wilker didn't get along much, but here they have to rely on each other and come to a mutual agreement. There is also Isabella's mechanically gifted friend Natalie, who has to escape her family in order to join the expedition. There are various locals and a big-game hunter who stirs things up a bit, but on the whole the story is about Isabella and her experience. As a result the secondary characters don't go into much depth, but Isabella is such a fascinating person and her description of people and events is entertainment enough.
The locale is more in-depth here compared to NATURAL, but there are a lot of place and race names to keep track of. I mentally attempted to parallel the place/race with real-life equivalents, but that only gave me a headache. And there's a lot of politics: the local king, settlers from Isabella's country, locals who live in the swamp, and those who live on the other side of the swamp/river, potential invasions, foreigner meddling, etc. We have a lot to learn about Isabella's world.
Personally I wanted to skip all that for the dragon hunting. Fortunately, despite this front-heavy information, once all that is out of the way we get into the story itself. It's worth pushing through because it does matter to the story, and fortunately Brennan doesn't make it boring. And there's plenty of dragon information to whet one's appetite. Once Isabella arrives on Eriga we begin to get a better feel for the politics and culture, and as the story unfolds everything makes sense.
Brennan's prose and storytelling are a pleasure to read, compelling, delightful, and entertaining. Just like Downton Abby. Definitely worth your time.
Recommended Age: 15+ (my 15-year-old daughter loved the first book and snatched up this one as soon as it arrived) Language: Very little Violence: Peril (human and animal related) and off-screen deaths Sex: Vague references ***Find this and other reviews at Elitist Book Reviews.***(less)
Luna Masterson can see demons. Unfortunately most other folks can't, so she's concerned that everyone thinks she's crazy. Like her brother, Seth, who...moreLuna Masterson can see demons. Unfortunately most other folks can't, so she's concerned that everyone thinks she's crazy. Like her brother, Seth, who is patiently skeptical. She lives with him and her one-year-old niece so she can help out after his wife abandons them. Luna does her best to not shake things up so she can be there for her family.
Until she meets Reed Taylor, who talks to something that people can't see...only it's not a demon (yep, it turns out that angels do exist!). Luna and Reed's mutual interest is apparent from the start, and he asks her out. But in true Luna style she messes up their first date; of course, she can blame the demons for that one.
The fight with the demon turns out to be game changing because it "marks" her, which is like sticking a homing beacon on her, only she can't get rid of it. Now every demon she happens across has it out for her, and she begins to realize that there's a reason the stakes have changed, and she knows she needs to find out why or else her very soul is at risk.
NAMELESS is the first book in a new Urban Fantasy series called The Bone Angel Trilogy by Mercedes M. Yardley. The story is told from Luna's funny (seriously, I lol'd) and witty first-person PoV. It's her narrative that carries the story as she tries to figure out not only what's going on, but also her place in a world where demons influence people, but 99.9% of the population doesn't see any of it or even believe it's happening. She hasn't quite figured out her role in all of this--it doesn't help that she's inherited this ability from a father who never really understood his purpose, either.
And therein lies the rub. She doesn't know why she sees demons. She can do some sort of thing that protects a house from them, but we never learn how. Does this mean she has magic? Or is it as simple as pouring salt around the foundation? She can beat up the demons, but I'm not sure how she can (she uses her fists, knives, and general cat-like fury), or even what happens to them when she's successful. Demons talk to her, and most want to possess her, while others sort of float around, and yet others want to "help"--which pretty much only involves warning her that bad things are going to happen. She doesn't seem much interested in solving her lack of education in all things demon. There are the beginnings of world-building--demon hierarchy, demons can only come in a house when invited, etc--but it falls flat because so much is left unexplained. The concept for the book is there, but the story still felt full of holes, like it's a glorified outline without the detail to give it depth and interest.
The plot is a simple one that moves forward in a straightforward and predictable fashion clear up to the end. The pacing and flow suffers from the occasional hiccup in scene movement and jumps in time--the short, choppy chapters don't help this problem. The novel reads more like an introduction to Luna and her relationship with Reed than a set-up to a trilogy. I'm not clear what Yardley was trying to accomplish with this first book, but since the book read fast and I enjoyed Luna's voice, I'm willing to try book two and see where the story goes.
Recommended Age: 14+ Language: A handful Violence: A fair amount of blood and other unpleasant imagery Sex: A reference to an affair but without detail
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Thousands of years in the future humans have created an inter-planetary empire, and they've done it by using powerful starships to take over human and...moreThousands of years in the future humans have created an inter-planetary empire, and they've done it by using powerful starships to take over human and alien planets. While the starship officers are human, the crew is comprised of ancillaries, people who resisted empire annexation of their home planets. An ancillary's mind is wiped and they're hooked into the ship's central AI--in essence, an ancillary is the ship.
Breq used to be an ancillary to the starship Justice of Toren, but is the only survivor. The separation from her ship is sometimes disorienting for her, but at the same time what she learned while an ancillary has made her deadly. And she plans to use that ability to seek revenge for what was taken, even from the Lord of the Radch herself.
Ann Leckie takes her time telling Breq's story in ANCILLARY JUSTICE. We're told in parallel the current story (the quest) and past events when Breq was an ancillary (the why for the quest). The result is a slow narrative and Leckie attempts to reveal piece by piece the whole sordid story and the politics surrounding it. The prose is clean with the feel of Le Guin or other writers of that era, without being overbearing--the writing doesn't draw attention to itself but I found myself stepping back just to study what Leckie was doing because it seemed so effortless yet evocative.
While the second half of the book moves quicker that the first, it's still slow, and that will put off more action-oriented science fiction readers. Ultimately the plot is really very straightforward, it's the deliberate pace of the story that will deceive you into thinking it's more complicated than it really is. So what's the problem? It's Breq's navel gazing.
ANCILLARY JUSTICE tries to be a space opera, but first-person narration focuses the story so pin-point small on the titular character that there's not a whole lot of room left to help readers understand the true scope of events. Don't get me wrong, I was utterly fascinated with Breq's story, what she was, or rather what she had been, and how that defines her. How she misses what she once was, and yet sometimes doesn't. How she must cope. But it is this very character-oriented story that will frustrate readers because Leckie hints that there is so much more, but can't give it to us because of the limitations of the narrative.
And what else is there? There are many different worlds. There are aliens. There are AI ships and an ever-expanding empire--and don't forget the ancillaries. There's the Lord of the Radch, who has cloned herself in order to rule said empire, and is in effect immortal...yet also at war with herself. There is some gender bending (the Radch language uses "she" for male and female) that at the same time drove me crazy but was also oddly liberating--it kept me focused on what made these people tick beyond their gender, which can influence how we see even fictional characters.
There's early buzz for this book, putting it on the short-list for awards season. Certainly ANCILLARY JUSTICE was different in a lot of good ways, and written by a lady with serious writing chops. But at the same time you can't compare her to a Lois McMaster Bujold or an Ian M. Banks, obviously, because Leckie is starting out and Bujold/Banks (and others) are firmly established in the genre. But where Leckie is scratching the surface, Bujold/Banks have been digging in the trenches for years and have shown us consistently the wonder and awe of the universe. Whether Leckie deserves the buzz is yet to be seen, because right now ANCILLARY JUSTICE isn't enough to stand on its own.
Recommended Age: 16+ more for comprehension than content Language: Maybe five instances Violence: A handful of instances, and while blood is referenced there is little detail Sex: None
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A Young Adult thriller, probably best for the older of the YA crowd (lots of profanity and sexual references). Despite some plot holes and spare prose...moreA Young Adult thriller, probably best for the older of the YA crowd (lots of profanity and sexual references). Despite some plot holes and spare prose, the story is tautly written and engaging from page one. Crutcher writes in a believable voice (especially the teenage boys), and despite the omniscient PoV, which usually annoys me, it works just fine here. Lots of dialogue means the story reads fast. An interesting take on the complications of teenage male-female relationships that would make YA readers nod their heads but also think about their own behaviors.(less)
Noon Onyx is a waning magic user--the same magic used to control the demons who won Armageddon. Her magic is not what's extraordinary, it's that she's...moreNoon Onyx is a waning magic user--the same magic used to control the demons who won Armageddon. Her magic is not what's extraordinary, it's that she's a woman with an ability that manifests only in men. In the series' first book, DARK LIGHT OF DAY, Noon had to come to grips with her ability and be trained so she wouldn't be a danger to herself and others.
As her schooling progresses, Noon has improved--even if her control still isn't what it should be. But even as a maegester-in-training there is a lot expected of her. First off is that despite a pacifist philosophy she must be willing to kill the demons who transgress the law. The other is to accept a student of waxing magic as her protector. But as someone who doesn't plan to seek out dangerous situations, she finds this exercise pointless. That is, until she's sent on her first assignment to the Swallows, a swamp region where the locals complain of disappearances and blame their own demon protector as the culprit.
FIERY EDGE OF STEEL is told from Noon's straightforward point-of-view narrative. She's been raised in a privileged household, but even that has its own problems considering the magical ability of her parents, and especially her father, the head of the Demon Council. Noon knows she'll never live up to her father's expectations and she's determined to be her own woman. But as a future maegester she's under the direct influence of the Demon Council. Even by the end of the book I wasn't really sure what I thought about her. She wasn't too whiny, annoying, or unrealistic, but she was still meh for me.
I liked the secondary characters much better. There's the mysterious Ari Carmine, her boyfriend and partner on their assignment to the Swallows. There's Rafe Sinclair, the laid-back waxing magic user who's assigned to guard her, but Noon can't seem to get him to cooperate like she wants him to. There's Ari's guardian waxing magic user Fara, who exclusively uses glamour to cover her true appearance. Even the ship's captain is fascinating. The mystery of these people is unraveled throughout the book, and I found their quirks more interesting than even the main character's.
The setting is what makes this book shine--it takes place after Armageddon, only it wasn't the host of Heaven who won, it was the demons. That doesn't necessarily mean that demons rule the world, but it does mean they live openly among humans; fortunately humans have been given the ability to seek justice on demons using their magic. Sometimes it was weird to have this half-medieval, half-modern setting, with jeans and t-shirts, espressos, swords, scripture, and magic spells. The concept is interesting and the way Archer displays for us the landscape, people, and magic all work together well.
However, despite a fun setting and interesting characters, it was the story itself that held back my giving an unhesitating endorsement. Which is too bad because all of the elements are there. Well, except maybe for the meh main character, but she's fine as a narrator so it didn't bug me too much. It's that I had a hard time knowing where this story was going. Like Homer's The Odyssey, FIERY seems to be mostly about the journey (not that I'd compare them as equivalent in literary terms)--Noon and Co. spend three-quarters of the book trying to get to the Swallows. Maybe I'm being too nitpicky, but I waded through an extended focus on the tedium of traveling and study, waiting for Noon and her entourage to arrive in the Swallows where the real crescendo of action should happen. As a result, the ending didn't have the building action it needed to give it real significance.
I continue to find myself--even a couple of weeks after finishing it--thinking about the magic and demons and angels. The plot? Not so much.
Recommended Age: 16+ Language: Not that I remember Violence: Scattered fighting with demons, but without gory detail Sex: An undetailed scene; otherwise implied or referenced
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Beautifully written (what else can you expect from the author of SEABISCUIT?) and haunting story of Louie Zamperini and his experiences as a POW in WW...moreBeautifully written (what else can you expect from the author of SEABISCUIT?) and haunting story of Louie Zamperini and his experiences as a POW in WWII Japan. Often difficult to read because of the subject, Hillenbrand is able to give details in a way that is faithful to the story and unapologetic to the times and the people experiencing the events. Worth reading every single word.(less)
One hundred years ago Telsharu was imprisoned after a failed attempt to kill the emperor. Telsharu still lives, and in the opening pages of THE TALE O...moreOne hundred years ago Telsharu was imprisoned after a failed attempt to kill the emperor. Telsharu still lives, and in the opening pages of THE TALE OF TELSHARU, he secures his escape from prison in order to finish the quest he began all those years ago.
Xansul, the youngest son of a noble house, secretly leads a group of rebels who struggle for freedom against a tyrannical emperor. He risks his own life and the future of his freedom fighters when one night he sneaks onto the palace grounds to test the security.
ShianMai, the emperor's youngest daughter, wants only to gain her father's favor, and works via politics to bring down the rebels by exposing their sympathizers and leadership. But her naiveté puts herself and those she loves in danger.
Daryun and Aisina operate their own martial arts training school in the mountains far north of the Imperial City, but even that remoteness doesn't shield Daryun from his duty to aid the empire when the famed prisoner Telsharu escapes.
Sure TELSHARU borrows from a few well-known stories like "The Scarlet Pimpernel", "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon", and even "Kung-Fu Panda"--but then Mechling and Stubbs turn those stories on their heads, taking the familiar and breathing into it new life. It's a good thing, too, because the opening prologue and chapters felt a little quaint and even silly, the prose too self-aware (even by the end when I was used to the prose's rhythm, I still stumbled over some of the phrasing), the setting rather ordinary and full of unfamiliar words. But what will grab you here are the characters and the very difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.
Told in a rotating third-person PoV between Daryun, Aisina, Xansul, ShianMai, and Telsharu, we come to appreciate their distinct personalities: Daryun's humble strength, Aisinia's determination, Xansul's sense of justice, and ShianMai's innocence. These are their strengths and their weaknesses. I enjoyed each couple's relationships with each other, how they support each other, and become better people by knowing the other--it is these characters who will carry me to the sequel. Even the villainous Telsharu's actions and motivations were choreographed with an empathetic hand.
The setting is a pretty standard Sho-gun Era meets Ancient China. However, the authors weave more details into the story about martial arts itself, the different disciplines, how warriors incorporate it into their own lives. This knowledge isn't tacked on, it's an integral part of the story. Even the way demons are introduced into the story feels seamless and natural. The fights had a sense of detail about how true fights worked, and as a result they felt real and visceral, even if flashy at times (not necessarily a bad thing).
The pace is consistent throughout the novel, the plot moving forward at a steady clip, with enough twists and tension to suck you into what at first seems a borrowed story, but eventually evolves into something more. It didn't go where I expected it to, and by the exciting end I was drawn into the disastrous choices the main characters make--for good reasons or for bad--and the equally disastrous consequences. I'm interested in seeing how the Tales of the Seventh Empire series continues.
Recommended Age: 14+, it would actually be a great book for young teen boys who like ninjas and whose parents want to keep their books clean Language: None Violence: A fair amount scattered throughout; blood, death, torture, but lacking grisly detail Sex: None
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James and his wife Linda are scientists at the famous biotech company GeneFirm, where they've engineered a gene therapy that will eradicate cancer as...moreJames and his wife Linda are scientists at the famous biotech company GeneFirm, where they've engineered a gene therapy that will eradicate cancer as we know it. But the world's population may not get the chance to enjoy a cancer-free future when a supervirus outbreak begins--a virus that no one survives.
Pat is paid a visit by agents of The Department of Homeland Health Care (HHC) to inform him that his BMI over 30 has qualified him for a mandatory "health retreat" where he will learn to curb his caloric intake as well as explore the benefits of regular exercise. The retreat ends up being as horrific as he expects; but the ray of light is the exotic co-ed Modest, who's inherited her mother's gene-manipulated pink hair and cat eyes.
Joshua Alan Parry starts VIRUS THIRTEEN at a sprint, and the story's pace ramps up as we're carried along as James tries to discover what's really going on, as Pat tries to survive the rigors of the retreat, as the HHC agents go about their job--all clear up to the explosive ending. But despite the pace, the "thriller" label, and the mere 310 page length, I took forever to read this book. Here's why:
I just didn't care.
Maybe it was the flat characters. James--even though he's the main character--wasn't more than a superficial supposedly brilliant scientist with a beautiful wife and smart kids. Pat was the fat guy who...wait, I'm not sure what his purpose was in this book other than to show how horrible the new government bureaucracy is. There's the HHC agents Mac and Marnoy who provide an odd sort of comic relief. There are various other characters we slip into the minds of. All shallow.
Maybe it was the omniscient PoV narrative that flitted between characters within the scene. At first it was okay, but the last couple of chapters caused a severe case of whiplash. The prose was easy enough on the eyes, but the descriptions were clumsy, including the awkward cliched metaphors.
Maybe it was the simple plot and predictable ending. The science is interesting at a basic level, but it never really fleshes out beyond the idea. Not to mention the inconsistencies and flaws in the narrative (brain surgery but walking and having sex the next day; etc), so many things are left unexplained. Maybe I didn't care because it was all these things together that made this story forgettable.
Recommended Age: 15+ Language: Scattered throughout Violence: Some blood and death, but not gruesome Sex: Referenced and brief scenes
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Captured as a slave while a child, Laura escapes and finds a new life in the home of a mountain healer and midwife. Clever and industrious, Laura lear...moreCaptured as a slave while a child, Laura escapes and finds a new life in the home of a mountain healer and midwife. Clever and industrious, Laura learns her new profession so well that her adoptive mother, Crescia, sends her to Solerno's famed medical school so she can become a physician and bring her worldly learning back to the midwife's humble cottage.
Laura works hard to be accepted among her male peers--this is thirteenth century Italy, after all, so that's no easy task--but her medical brilliance is impossible to ignore. However, having lived a sheltered life with Crescia, Laura finds herself unprepared when she falls in love with another student, and makes a choice that changes the rest of her life.
SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE is a retelling of the Rapunzel story, but there's no magic. In fact, SOLD treats the fairytale as though it symbolizes the everyday human experience. Let me explain, and even though you know the Rapunzel story, I'll try not to spoil Robins' retelling for you.
Told via the women (and a little by a man), SOLD is the story of women's experience with love, motherhood, profession, and heartache. Laura's family was killed by slavers, but with Crescia's help she overcomes her fears. Not that Laura is weak, she is far from it; in fact she can be rather single-minded, to her detriment. Agnesa is the young, innocent bride of a favorable union of mercer houses. She looks up to the educated medica Laura, and seeks her friendship and medical advice in conceiving a much-wanted child. Beita is Laura's young adopted daughter, willing to please, but also curious about the world around her. Her mother wants her to be accepted into the medical school, but as Beita grows to womanhood she comes to understand that her shortcomings may disappoint her mother.
With the limitations of a short book and three distinct PoV characters it was hard to get very deep into their personalities; even if what we were shown was interesting, it still felt like only an introduction. Still, I liked Laura, Agnesa, and Bieta (and token PoV male Tibalt), I only wished there were more.
The setting was well-done, and it was easy to visualize the hills above Solerno, the city itself, and the people who lived there. The dialogue, details of everyday life, and even the people themselves added to the story that made the era come alive for me. The pacing was steady, and even though it doesn't move particularly fast, I found myself quickly engrossed in the story. SOLD is an easy book to read, Robins' prose is flawless and carries the story from scene to scene with grace and beauty.
Despite the quality of the writing, the novel isn't perfect. Rapunzel is not an easy story to work around, but Robins does her best to make sense of what the fairytale could have meant underneath the drama of long hair, a maiden in the tower, a handsome prince, and an ugly witch. Some readers may be disappointed by the story's simplicity, no magic, and lack of feeling like a fairytale. Despite the inherent tragedy of Rapunzel's story, the retelling has a sweet tone, and ultimately the theme is one of love and forgiveness.
Recommended Age: 17+ Language: None Violence: Some peril and death, but relatively mild Sex: Since there are three different love stories sex is referenced fairly frequently; there is one graphic scene and other less-detailed scenes; rape is referenced
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