"Yamaguchi Hiroyuki, who rested agura-style in front of a too warm kotatsu, enjoyed a cup of fragrant genmaicha with a plate of fresh kusamochi from a...more"Yamaguchi Hiroyuki, who rested agura-style in front of a too warm kotatsu, enjoyed a cup of fragrant genmaicha with a plate of fresh kusamochi from a wagashiya at Higashi-Bashi and took a secret sip of shirozake in between, while reading the less shocking parts of the shimbun to his wataire-clad okusan Miyuki, who was supposed to fold the last Hinamatsuri origami, but nervously fingered a fertility omamori from the neighborhood jinja instead. If she did not conceive this very month there was nothing left but harakiri. 'Shou ga nai', she wispered to herself with a soft sigh reminiscent of the maiko she once had been." Huh? No, this paragraph was certainly not extracted from Jay Kristoff's debut novel Stormdancer, but it could be, for I jumbled together a paragraph that made the same exaggerated use of japanese nouns in a slightly clumsy attempt to create a kind of asian atmosphere. I was really peeved by the vocabulary overload, which even had characters answering with "Hai" instead of simply "Yes", but in the end there were all in all more aspects in the story that I enjoyed, adored or felt comfortably familiar with than those I disliked. I will try to point out both and I will explain why I would in fact recommend to pick up the book along the way.
What I liked ... * First of all: The cover. No, not that bland one one by Tor. It reminds me too much of the cover of Takashi Matsuoka's Cloud of Sparrows. I mean the gorgeous red and black one that shows a griffin, lotus-poisoned air, a sexy, young-enough-looking heroine and even a nine-tailed-fox tattoo on her arm. I really appreciate it, when publishers invest in creating a cover that actually reflects the story in detail. . . . * The abundance of action and gore. * The author's decision not to shy away from including sex in his plot. A lot of writers do so to appease those strange people who continue to pretend that sex is something not belonging into a normal teenager's life – both fictional and real. That really drives me bonkers from time to time. How refreshing to see a heroine who does not treat losing her virginity like a matter of life and death. * Several strong and extremely likable female characters – even in previously unexpected places. * The initially fragile, but later indestructible, Eragon-Saphira-style, exclusive bond between the paranormally gifted kick-ass heroine and the rare, conflicted and highly intelligent mythical creature thrown into her company. Who would not love Yukiko's "taming" of the proud and bristling griffin Buuru and their later mutual come-what-may trust in each other? * That under the disguise of a brutal, slightly romantic, steampunk fantasy set in an alternative Japan a highly relevant, thought-provoking environmental fairytale is genially smuggled onto many reading lists, which reminds me on the one hand of Hayao Miyazaki's masterworks Nausicaä and Princess Mononoke in a very positive way and on the other hand presses a hand-mirror reflecting our own planet-destructing behavior against our greedy noses. I am going to elaborate: - In Princess Mononoke the fierce Lady Eboshi runs a settlement that produces coal from cut-down forest trees to melt ironsand, which is needed to create firearms. The firearms are meant to kill the giant animal-gods protecting the forest and its inhabitants from human exploitation. Lady Eboshi is willing to sacrifice the forest and the magical creatures living there in order for her country's economy to flourish. She actually cares for her workers, but she doesn't see the connection between the mysterious illness many of the men are inflicted with and the destruction of the woods. The imperial hunters want the deer-god's head and they will receive it. In Stormdancer the ruthless ruler and a fanatic group called the Guild have considerably "bettered" the country's economic and political standing by forcing the farmers to grow lotus on their fields, a plant that fuels the various high-tech steampunk machines, appliances, weapons and airships, leads to addiction when consumed in the form of tea or smoke and unfortunately permanently poisons the air around it and the soil it is grown in. To highlight his power the monarch sends out his recently idle hunters to catch the very last magical beast, that had been spotted in one of the rare regions still untouched by the destructive effect of lotus production. - The easily influenced population in want of lotus money reminded me in turn of the Valley-of-the-Wind people in Nausicaä, who eagerly burn down each trace of fungus that reaches their fields, have to wear breathing masks when leaving their wind-filled haven and hold the Omu, huge insects roaming the supposedly deadly fungus forests, responsible for the actually man-made environmental catastrophe. Animal-loving Nausicaae finds out the truth, connects with the gentle Omus and deals with a steampunky, neighboring country threatening to invade the small paradise with their scifi airships. Oh, I can easily imagine Stormdancer turning into a Miyazaki animation film. The plot, the beast and the girl would be perfect. - But what is even more important – and worth a whole rating star for me – is the adaptability to our own present situation: The looming climate problem is evident, but it gets shoved again and again into a dusty backgroud corner to be dealt with later, because shortsightedly securing the immediate want and comfort and well-being of a handful of still thriving countries always gets prioritized. We destroy species after species and their habitats, we squirrel away radioactive time-bombs all over the planet, we make money at war, we figuratively design prettier breathing masks to avoid the stench of our own exhaust and we diplomatically close our eyes, when countries on the rise want to try their hands at high-impact beginners' mistakes, too. We do not import foreign slaves to do the dirty work in front of our doors like the Stormdancer's Emperor does, we prefer putting the factories themselves into far away countries, so we don't have to watch those people slaving away under unhealthy, inhuman conditions, and we can buy another cheap or not so cheap pair of of hip new jeans, while they have to decide between buying a daily bowl of rice or sending a kid to school. I am really grateful to Mr. Kristoff for writing a story that takes place in the midst of a barely stoppable destruction. The only other comparable example I have read so far was Firestorm by David Klass. Most young adult post-apocalyptic novels are – like the label says – set up in a time after an environmental collaps, after the wounded planet rebelled against being treated like something disposable. And usually the teenaged protagonists are handed the broken pieces and try to make the best of it: Living underwater, surviving a draught, contructing a dome ... They play the role of the innocent victim. We – like Yukiko – are not victims, we are doing the deed right now. * The "normal" fantasy plot parts. I had high expectations for the book to be completely different from everything else I have read, but it is certainly not. A lot of plot elements are very familiar, standard fare, really. But for those of us - like me - who usually enjoy high fantasy, that is not necessarily a bad thing. * The ending.
What I disliked ... * The above mentioned vocabulary overload. Glossary or no glossary, all the unnecessary Japanese made reading the first chapters at least extremely exhausting. In fact, it seemed to me like complete lists of traditional japanese weaponry and clothing were put next to the author's computer with the goal to cross off each of them eventually. A lot of concepts could have also been expressed by a simple English word and an unfamiliar, exotic vibe would still have been the outcome. A good example is in my opinion the fantasy debut City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster. The robes, the fans, the customs, the nomads ... everything was pretty visual, excitingly unfamiliar and special, but I couldn't pinpoint the setting to a single country. There were chinese, japanese and arabic elements and things I believe that were purely fiction. But no glossary and no inbuilt explanation was needed. I could understand it all. I hope that the final version of Stormdancer drops the occasional "Hai", uses plain English for things like jackets, trousers and knives and at least deletes American leanwords like sararimen (salary men). * The lack of world building in the midst of all the elaborate description. For example, I did not get a proper impression of the tree-house village (in comparison Yelena's first visit in the hidden jungle-city complete with floating bridges and braided furniture in Magic Study has burned itself into my memory), I was puzzled by ensuite bathrooms in the imperial palace, I would like to know more about the lotus business and how it facilitates warfare and I needed to dissect several scenes to finally understand Buuru's outer appearance. * Inconsistencies like love-interest Hiro, a green-eyed foreigner with a japanese name serving the nationalist, exclusive Guild and being a trusted servant of the Emperor in spite of obviously not being from "Shima". * The love triangle. * The very forseeable twists and turns on the way to the plot's climax. * The insignificance of Lady Aisha's role. She showed so much promise and surprise and then ... * The missing romance. There was lust and sex and a heroine lost in rather detached dreams of glowing green eyes, but there was nothing to make my heart flutter. I do not ask for an increase of boy-girl-scenes, but for those already there being more intense, more palatable.
I am afraid, this is getting unbearably long. Anyway, I am very grateful for the chance to read the book pre-publication and I recommend it in spite of the above mentioned obstacles, which might scare away a considerable number of potential fans before the story's lotus fumes have begun to lure them in.(less)
The first volume in this series, The Girl in the Steel Corset, had been so much fun. It was kind of ridiculous, vapid, action-laden, a bit trashy and...moreThe first volume in this series, The Girl in the Steel Corset, had been so much fun. It was kind of ridiculous, vapid, action-laden, a bit trashy and inhabited by superhero-comic-like characters, but unquestionably fun. A perfect guilty-pleasure-combination of steampunk, fast action, mystery and bodice-ripping "light" (It seemed to me as if the "ripping" scenes had been "ripped" out of the novel to turn the soppy romance into something young-adult-appropriate - whatever that is).
At a first glance the sequel - including cover and title - does not stray very far from the former, successful recipe. There are the same old supernatural, monetarily independent teens clinging to the same old love-triangles and I-should-not-confess-my-feelings-resolves, displaying the same old sets of faults and and playing around with fantastically steampunky devices (i.e. armor, mobile phones, weapons and transportation objects) that one of them constructs in the course of one night from thin air if they are needed to facilitate or liven up the otherwise thin plot.
There are tiny variations, though, which caused the pudding to taste stale and unbearably boring to me: The even stronger focus on the romantic problems and multiple inner monologues of the tormented parties and the lack of danger and pepper and mystery. Around the middle of the story I grew antsy, because nothing really riveting happened, because of the repetitions and because the characters proved themselves to be pretty see-through and black-and-white (view spoiler)[Am I right? Amazing Mei Xing is of the evil sort and in the end Jasper loves "Miss" Emily and Emily still loves both Jasper and Sam ... and perhaps an army of other supernatural hunks, too? (hide spoiler)].
I never would have thought I would consider not finishing this book. Yet, here I am, burying the file in a dusty folder in the depths of my Kindle and shifting the writer into the blind spot of my consciousness: As it is I do not see sense in trying one of her future works.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
When I decided to put Cold Magic aside, after 67% of very little pleasure and a lot of struggle, I felt pretty angry and offended. Angry, because read...moreWhen I decided to put Cold Magic aside, after 67% of very little pleasure and a lot of struggle, I felt pretty angry and offended. Angry, because reading these 360 pages took a huge effort and did not dole out the tiniest reward. Offended, because the book, written by an author with quite some published writing to show as a proof for her skills, made me question my ability to focus, my ability to absorb and understand what I read and - for a short, shocking minute – the functionality of my Kindle’s page-turning buttons. I think I would have met the same experience with more detachment had I bought a glowingly praised debut cheaply at Smashwords. Probably I would not have stayed as long on board of the shipwreck, but I would have said with conviction: It’s not me. It’s the book. It’s unreadable, but it shows room for improvement. But how can I say that about a book which has 1.800 ratings that produce an average of 3.8 out of 5? How can I say that about a book that makes others buy the sequels for good money? You see my dilemma. But I refuse to take the blame. I rather dance the Cha-Cha with my fury as a partner. And because I do not want to appear as someone impersonating Rumpelstiltskin without a plausible cause, I am going to breathe in and breathe out and defend my sanity.
I used to say that to me an enjoyable story begins and ends with likable, complex characters and a believable setting. To my own astonishment I have to step back from that opinion now. For I liked paranormally gifted Catherine "Cat" Hassi Baharal, her cousin Bee, enemy and love interest Andevai Diarisso Haranwy, a powerful cold mage (view spoiler)[and Cat’s newfound brother the easy-going, shapeshifting ladies’ man Roderic (hide spoiler)]. And I admit that there are a lot of great ideas thrown into the world mix: A very alternative, slightly steampunky version of Europe, magicians, whose presence kills fire, a parallel spirit world, sabertoothed werecats, dragons, feathered lizard-like trolls. The combination should unquestionably trump superhuman jerks pursuing brainless, insta-love-seeking girls in front of a cardboard backdrop any day. It does not. For Cold Magic is not a story. It is a mess that needs to be chucked or rewritten from scratch.
Like most of the fantasy readers out here I am bored by long monologues meant to introduce the unfamiliar, fictional world and its inhabitants. I also find books that treat the reader like an old acquaintance, who is already in the know, pretty difficult. When I was reading Cold Magic I came to the point at which I desperately wished for the arrival of an enormous info dump to finally get me on track or for a scattering of some new and helpful puzzle pieces to add to my inner picture. Both wishes remained unfulfilled. In almost each chapter the same incomprehensible, unstructured information about the last millennium's world politics, the wars, the Hassi Baharal family, their niche in the world as spies, messengers, sailors, wandering scientists, sociologists and whatnot was repeated in different words, sometimes even by different means, like in a letter or as a part of a diary. But each repetition remained lacking, vague and foggy. If I were a drug user, I would surely have double-checked my dose. Instead I checked myself for lack of sleep, for symptoms of a beginning cold and for symptoms of beginning dementia. I hated these self-directed doubts, really hated them. And I have no reasonable explanation for the novel’s lack of structure. Maybe the author taught a beginners' creative writing class, threw the same keywords at each of the participants, had them write her heroine’s background, liked all results equally well and promised to use them all at some point of her next book? That cannot be, can it? But strange ideas like that flitted through my brains and messed with my sanity.
The aspects that made me look closer at my Kindle’s buttons were repetitions in the plot. I know that a normal road-trip plot contains some routine essentials: Scenery, clothes, food, sleeping arrangements. But a narrator could cut them short, if nothing important is to be conveyed by elaborating on them. For example, in each of the inns the carriage stops at the heroine is greeted by a detached, but matronly person and is then waited on by a red-haired, silent, young girl who brushes her long, black hair and praises it. Eventually I stopped reading in order to find out whether I really had made reading process or whether my Kindle had jumped to a scene I had covered some time before. My Kindle worked just fine. The book didn’t. And, as far as I know, there was no surprise reason presented later - like a flame-tressed wonder girl who could portal from inn to inn. Accordingly it is just senseless almost-cut-and-paste to emphasize how boring and monotonous a cross-country-trip can be? Or is it sloppiness?
In addition to those repetitions there is a lot of redundant rambling and straying from the straight, narrative path. Little Cat-Riding-Hood stops to pick flowers and chat with random wolves whenever she pleases, while the baffled reader stands aside nervously clutching grandmother’s lunch basket.
So, no. It’s not me, who is damaged. It’s the book. I am sure. And I believe that every reader who did not experience my discomfort has just been graced with a superhuman ability to effortlessly combine scattered puzzle pieces, find the odd herb among the weeds and straighten tangled stories in the back of her mind. Contented readers, you have my full admiration. Ordinary readers, you now have my warning. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
1. Ann Aguirre: Wild Magic: Tunnels, restrictive parents, powers and fairies. Something like that: 3 stars (...moreMy rating of the stories I've read so far:
1. Ann Aguirre: Wild Magic: Tunnels, restrictive parents, powers and fairies. Something like that: 3 stars (read 2011). 2. Dru Pagliassotti: Code of Blood: Crime in Venice. Boooring : 2 stars (read 2011). 3. Jaclyn Dolamore: The Airship Gemini: ... is the only remotely steampunkish element in the 'story', which could also take place on the Titanic or the Oriental Express. Siamesic freak-show twins who are forced by their handler to let a fame-hungry magician separate them are saved by a vampiric love interest. Duh. 1 star (read May 2013). 4. Lesley Livingston: Rude Mechanicals: A 19-years-old, London-based theatre director falls in love with a steampunky actrobot starring as Shakespeare's Juliet. As boring, forgettable and incomplete as it came across, it has unquestionably been squeezed out by its creator to fill the designated spot in the anthology. 2 stars. (read October 2013) 5. Maria V. Snyder: Under Amber Skies: "Under Amber Skies" has been the most enjoyable story in this collection so far. It is situated in an alternative World War II Poland in a village on the Baltic coast. The heroine's father is an inventor whose wondrous machines (like kitchen tools and agricultural vehicles) are secretly powered by amber stones. The heroine's mother is a tough patriot who wishes her husband would concentrate on designing new weapons able to destroy the Nazis, who employ metal owls to spy out the enemy. When her father disappears and her mother grows more and more fanatic, the heroine and the boy she is not allowed to love become a target and have to use their wit ... and a special wrist-watch ... to survive. 4 stars (read October 2013)(less)
What a potent mixture: - An alternative history setting that has the human states and kingdoms huddled around the equator since the repelled-by-warmth...moreWhat a potent mixture: - An alternative history setting that has the human states and kingdoms huddled around the equator since the repelled-by-warmth vampire (homo nosferatii) clans crawled out of their hidden spots to initiate the Great Killing in 1870, leaving only enough human prey alive to keep as cattle herds. - Steampunk elements like pneumatic sailboats cruising the skies that somehow underline both the excotic atmosphere of the strange British-Egyptian-Persian Empire and the war-and-power-crazy American States, who have dropped a little farther south on the globe (Who doesn't hate Senator Clark with all her heart? do I ask). - Gruesome horror scenes provided by cold-blooded, underestimated, zombie-like vampire clans who can fly by changing their bodies' density and who swoop down onto their human cattle leaving the streets of former Europe littered with mountains of decaying flesh and carpets of crunched bones. - Action, action, action: A fearless, faceless vampire hunter, a brave princess skilled in martial arts, armies, vampires ambushes, traitors ... - Dangerous politics, weak kings, cunning planners, advisers who are to be trusted or not to be trusted, a vampires prince with a craving to be human and a vampire prince with a craving to rule the world. - Predudices, conceit, sibling love, hope, the essence of being human. - Subtly changing points of view. - A but later started sweet, sparkling and heart-warming Beauty-and-the-Beast-worthy impossible romance between a dashing, idealistic, vulnerable hero with an aching heart and a strong-willed and lovely heroine, which even includes a library (of fifteen volumes). - An ending of the sort which ties most of the lose strands but wets your mouth for more adventures to come.
What did I think? I thoroughly enjoyed it and I thought "What a potent mixture!" Didn't I say that already? Recommended!
Note: Although the date on the cover says "It's now 2010" this is no science fiction story set in the future. Apart from the steampunk elements the alternative history novel could be set still in the Victorian Era.(less)
The third installment of my very favorite fairy and steampunk series featuring my favorite cat ever and the cutest Gremlin alive ... I loved The Iron...moreThe third installment of my very favorite fairy and steampunk series featuring my favorite cat ever and the cutest Gremlin alive ... I loved The Iron King and just liked The Iron Daughter. The typical consequence following the law of paranormal trilogies would be that I tolerated The Iron Queen - for old times' sake. But no - I got to be surprised (although I sometimes feel so unsurprisable): In most parts I liked The Iron Queen almost as much as The Iron King and in some parts (i.e. the number of Grimalkin dialogues, the multiple, fantastic steampunk elements, the Puck-and-Ash-banter and Meghan's personal growth) I think it even surpassed it in my eyes.
Before reading The Iron Queen my guess about The Iron Knight/Ash's story was that we would be told some ancient story about his former self wooing Ariella or losing his soul or growing a heart or battling his brothers, but now I am pretty positive that Julie Kagawa is going to treat us with a narration of what happens after The Iron Queen - in Ash's point of view. I cross my fingers that I am right. There has to be a way.
And please, Mrs. Kagawa, write some awsome new series on the side, won't you? I bet it will relax you in the evenings after hours of tweaking Ash's musings and Puck's teasings.
Ohhh ... and I forgot: TBR Pile Reduction Challenge 2011, Book #8 (challenger = Jessica)(less)
"What fascinated me was that perfect mixture of a kind of Wonderland feeling (including Grimalkin and even a mermaid!!), dry humour, steampunky fairyt...more"What fascinated me was that perfect mixture of a kind of Wonderland feeling (including Grimalkin and even a mermaid!!), dry humour, steampunky fairytale elements, vivid descriptions, a classic faerie world, real-life problems, an absolutely likable heroine and a romantic coating." (From my comment on Kim's review) (less)
The prison Incarceron reminds me a lot of HAL, the space ship's board computer of Kubrick's "Space Odyssey": Both are fitted out with artificial intel...moreThe prison Incarceron reminds me a lot of HAL, the space ship's board computer of Kubrick's "Space Odyssey": Both are fitted out with artificial intelligence and go rogue.
Incarceron takes place in the future. 160 years ago a king decided that cutting off mankind from its strive after one technological improvement after the next would end greed, war and the slow crumbling of society. So he forbid time and progress and switched everything back to an era long passed: An age, when people traveled on horseback and did without electricity. But the same new old era also contains computer generated old-looking trees and fake spiderwebs - and rich people have found ways to hide electric cables in the staff rooms and lush bathrooms behind secret panels. Following the so-called "Protocol" completely is only obligatory if you are lower class.
A second step towards a violence and crime-free world was the construction of the self-regulating, autonomous prison Incarceron, where all criminal, dangerous, politically extreme and mentally ill people were sent off to - together with 70 volunteers to guard them. The fact that after closing the doors nobody could enter and nobody could leave played into the hands of Incarceron itself: Nobody could hinder it to turn the planned paradise into a hell serving it's own strange taste in amusement. Not even the learned volunteers.
In the real world nobody knows about the unpleasant development of the former experiment. Nobody but the Warden, who has got the only key to the prison.
The story follows Claudia, the present Warden's daughter, who has been promised to the unfit Crown Prince to be his future bride, on the "Outside" and gang member Finn, who woke up inside the prison at the age of fifteen without a proper memory, on the "Inside". He claims not to be one of the prison's recycled products, but to be imported from the real world - where he wants to return to.
Also lined up are a handful of interesting side-characters including Claudia's tutor Jared, the ice-cold and scheming Warden and the evil Queen on the one side, and Keiro, Finn's oathbrother and two other travel-mates (Gildas and Attia) on the other side.
The story kept my attention all of the time. I liked Finn a lot and Claudia a little less. In fact, she was sometimes quite annoying, which can be explained by her upbringing as the next puppet on the throne. But I always wanted to know what happened next - even to her.
The plot ends with a cliff-hanger. But the sequel Sapphique is already available.(less)
I loved-loved it. Better than the first volume and in spite of an abundance of elements that usually irk me endlessly: An unsolvable love-triangle (vi...moreI loved-loved it. Better than the first volume and in spite of an abundance of elements that usually irk me endlessly: An unsolvable love-triangle (view spoiler)[I do think Tessa loves Will more, but it is clear, that she does not favor Jem only out of pity. She is attracted to him and genuinely likes him. I hope the author will not conveniently kill off Jem in one of the sequels, but how will she solve this? I need volume three now... (hide spoiler)], the uncomfortable dance around a private secret of one of the protagonists that is responsible for all kinds of pain and misunderstanding and the complete turn-around of one of the characters the reader has started to grow fond of - just to list a few. But never mind. Everything was truely pefect. I feel happy and am still bathing in that warm-stomached after-reading-bliss.
One more thing: Reading a book you really adore and unexpectedly fall in love with makes you be able to see other books you just enjoyed in perspective: After turning the last page I ran straight to my bookshelf, unceremoneously ripped out 13 books I had planned to keep and threw them on my swapping-pile. I love those moments in which I can feel the distinction between 'love' and 'like'. ["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The first 300 pages I would have rated 4-5 stars, the last 70 or 80 only 3. [downgraded in hindsight from 4 stars to only 3 five months later, because...moreThe first 300 pages I would have rated 4-5 stars, the last 70 or 80 only 3. [downgraded in hindsight from 4 stars to only 3 five months later, because the book faded so quickly from my mind.] Maybe I'll have the time to write a proper review later on, but I quickly state my reasons for the downgrading now: - The solving of the crime was quite unorganized, zickzacky and holey. I had the impression as if the author had to bridge a big gap between the wonderful first three quarters of the plot and the kind of end she wanted to reach, but her fingers weren't able to tie the bow properly. The lictors and the icarii run here and run there and make some far-fetched guesses, which somehow turn to be right. With some firm prodding by a good editor this could have been avoided. - The romance started slowly and awkwardly - which I immensely liked, but it stagnated at some point. I didn't expect multiple unhibited couplings while soaring through steampunk soot on metal wings, but gradually loosening the valves - so to speak - to hint at where things are going would have pleased me more than the chaste pecks which are repeatedly exchanged here and there. Altogether recommended! Fresh, sooty ideas, likable tough heroine and a cute moody hero. (less)