Opal Cowan has spent the last four years as a student at the Keep, training to be a magician, but so far the only thing she can do is channel magic inOpal Cowan has spent the last four years as a student at the Keep, training to be a magician, but so far the only thing she can do is channel magic into the glass animals she makes, enabling magicians to communicate with each other over long distances by using the animals. It's been a valuable service but her peer's snide remarks about her being a "one trick wonder" bite deep.
To her surprise, Opal is included on a mission with the Master Magician Zitoria to go to the Stormdancer clan. The Stormdancer's harvest the coastal storms, magically trapping them in special glass orbs which they then use to power their factories. Two orbs have broken, killing the Stormdancers. As a glass "expert", Opal has to figure out what went wrong before the next storm hits.
Their mission is hampered by a group with their own agenda, who want to break the Stormdancer clan's hold on storm energy and need Opal to craft their own orbs - and a Stormdancer to teach them how to trap the storms. Opal is kidnapped by them, but in escaping she discovers a powerful new ability with far-reaching consequences.
I love this cover. It's all win-win for me: the rich purple, the flowing lines of fabric, the sparkly orb and the layout. I've liked all the covers for Snyder's books, though this is the first one I've read. I have Poison Study which a lot of my friends enjoyed, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.
Storm Glass starts a new story in the same world, but there is some reflection on what happened in the Study trilogy and my understanding and enjoyment of this book was never hampered by not reading the first trilogy. Still, having read this one I'm excited about reading the Study books because the story sounds so thrilling!
There's lots to love and enjoy with Storm Glass, which might lead you to wonder why I've rated it as low as I have. I'll get to that. First, the positives.
It's a fast-paced, exciting story in a well-established world. Narrated by twenty-year-old Opal, she not only breathes life into the story but gives enough tantalising information about what happened to her in the Study books that make you really want to read them. I don't know how much she figured in the previous books, but it's always nice when minor characters from one series get a chance to take centre stage in another.
There's new and original magic here, with storm-filled orbs and Opal's ability with the glass spiders - don't want to give it away. It's rich with possibility, rather than restricted by rules like in some fantasy books.
The men in Opal's life - yummy Kade the Stormdancer, and over-protective, irksome but handsome Ulrick - are important in Opal's growing maturity and self-confidence, and also in the plot. Characters like them and Pazia, the mean girl at the magician-training school, aren't straight-forward and this adds to the realism that all fantasy needs. And the familiarity - for all that it's a fantasy book, it has a modern feel because of the prose, and doesn't bend many rules.
Which brings me to the other side of the coin. While Snyder wrote this (can't speak for her previous work) almost like a YA novel (and teenagers would really enjoy this one I think), the simplistic style and almost rushed pace meant I never really got to know the world, or, just as importantly, see it. Details are few and far between, landscapes and cityscapes are skimmed over, and I'm left with no idea of what this world actually looks like. While that should leave my imagination free to visualise it however I like, it doesn't actually work like that. The details and descriptions that are given should be enough, but don't build anything in my mind. It leaves me feeling deeply dissatisfied. I wanted to visit and share in the experience, but felt blind.
Some of the details were a bit confusing - like why would they detour to the Avibian Plains to get to Fulgor, when according to the map that would make for a longer trip? - and some connections that seemed obvious weren't put together by the characters, but mostly it was the prose itself that I struggled to make allowances for. I like the light touch of the YA style, which isn't over-burdened by too much description or abstract thought, but it's also a more conventional, less experimental style.
Every author has their own "voice", their own style, and like Picasso's paintings, once you know how to write "correctly" you can play around with the grammar to develop your own voice while keeping the equivalent of artistic proportions and perspective. I'm curious about reading Snyder's earlier work not just for the story, but also to see how her writing has changed and if it was better, before. There are too many awkward sentences, too many comma splices, that made me stumble and disrupted the flow. I hate to say it, but it read like a first attempt. If it wasn't for that, I would have rated it much higher, but I'll still be reading the next book, Sea Glass, when it comes out later this year....more
Averie, daughter of Aeberelle's military leader, goes by ship with her chaperone, Lady Selkirk, to dry, dusty Chiarrin, the latest conquest of AeberelAverie, daughter of Aeberelle's military leader, goes by ship with her chaperone, Lady Selkirk, to dry, dusty Chiarrin, the latest conquest of Aeberelle's empire, to be with her father and her fiancé, Colonel Morgan Stode. She's a happy, enthusiastic, curious eighteen-year-old, and her travelling companion, the Xantish lieutenant Ket Du'kai, intrigues her with his stories of his homeland, Xan'tai, long since invaded by Aeberelle and absorbed into its empire. At the same time, he unsettles her by making her rethink certain assumptions.
Averie is immediately captivated by Chiarrin and its capital, the port city of Chesza. While Lady Selkirk complains about the heat and the uncivilised ways of the locals, Averie embraces the culture, starts wearing the clothes of the region, and befriends a local girl and cloth trader, Jalessa, who teaches her about the ways of the city and its broken gods.
Things are strained between her and Morgan, though, as they start to realise how different their perspectives are. Averie can empathise with the Chiarrizi rebels who are causing problems for the Aeberelle army, even when they bomb the marketplace. She constantly questions the right for Aeberelle to be there, to invade and take over merely because the country is in an excellent spot for trading with and invading other countries. Morgan is more serious and pragmatic, and is invested whole-heartedly in the army. The role of military wife is beginning to look much less desirable to Averie.
Meanwhile, there is the very different and fascinating Ket Du'kai, to whom Averie feels increasingly drawn. As the city appears to settle down and accept its foreign rulers, Averie's life becomes more troubled - until everything culminates in one terrible night that will see her grow from silly girl to level-headed woman, and take charge of her own destiny.
I love the colours on this cover, the green and blue, and the hint of exotic. Perhaps it's the wallpaper in the background, but I'm reminded of peacocks and the British in India. Which is very apt, actually. Perhaps the most eye-catching thing, though, is the author's name - I love the books by Shinn I've read, so when I saw this I just had to have it. I wasn't disappointed either.
General Winston's Daughter joins a popular trend in books to identify women by their relationship to more successful or interesting men - The Time Traveler's Wife, The Pilot's Wife, The Shape-changer's Wife, The Abortionist's Daughter, The Memory-Keeper's Daughter are the ones that immediately spring to mind. They're slightly misleading, because we make those mental associations of woman + time traveller = woman is time traveller. Certainly sells well.
Of those, I've only read The Time Traveler's Wife and The Shape-changer's Wife, so I'm not sure about the others, but in those both the time traveller and his wife and the shape-changer and his wife are equally important to the story. In General Winston's Daughter, the General is a very minor character.
Shinn has shown before, with novels like Angel-seeker, how adept she is at incorporating our own history and current troubling events, as well as cultural and racial hatred, into her stories, making them timeless and perceptive. While General Winston's Daughter is easily linked to the old British Empire's colonialist expansion, it can just as easily refer to any other empire: French, Spanish, Roman, American. It is especially relevant as a critique against the still-persistent American desire for an empire and its invasion of countries like Iraq simply for their usefulness.
The beautiful thing about General Winston's Daughter is how it portrays both sides, how through Averie's open-minded and understanding perspective we can sympathise with the Chiarizzi who only want to be free and defend themselves against invaders. Since we are the dominant cultures in our own world, the Aebrians are familiar and accessible, their motivations clear and understandable. There is no easy solution to the clash of agendas, but the simple act of exploring the situation, its impact and consequences, is possibly more important than the resolution.
While the story is as confined as Averie, you get as much access and information about the land and its people as Averie does, which draws you closer to her. The tantalising glimpses of the culture and city are fascinating, with the meanings behind colour (blue and green mean you are engaged), the broken gods and the fierce, determined people.
Written in a style similar to books like Shinn's The Shape-changer's Wife and Patricia McKillop's Alphabet of Thorn, both intimate and distant, not omniscient nor directly the voice of the main character, General Winston's Daughter has that gentle touch of observing without disturbing. A vague story-teller is our medium, one that controls the story and how much is revealed, lending it an almost old-fashioned feel and adds to that colonial atmosphere.
Superbly written, General Winston's Daughter is an absolute gem. Well worth using in schools for the provoking issues it raises, incorporated so vividly with Averie's dying innocence and burgeoning maturity....more
There aren't many faeries left in the Oak. Since the Sundering, the only faery with any magic is the Queen, Amaryllis, and the old skills have been loThere aren't many faeries left in the Oak. Since the Sundering, the only faery with any magic is the Queen, Amaryllis, and the old skills have been lost. The Silence is killing off faeries, but no one knows what it is or what causes it.
When she was a young faery, Bryony was adventurous and yearned for the outdoors - a place she was never allowed to go. So she is shocked but excited to be apprenticed to Thorn, the Queen's Hunter, whose job it is to protect the Oak and hunt squirrels and other small animals for food.
She excels at her job and welcomes the dangers. Her handmade bone knives aren't good enough to defeat the crows that attack them, so she slips into the human's stone house to steal a silver craft knife. This is barely the beginning of Bryony's fascination with the humans.
With her apprenticeship finished and Thorn retired, Bryony takes a new name: Knife. She becomes increasingly obsessed in discovering what happened to the faeries' magic, why their creativity and artistry dried up, what causes the Silence, and why they are forever being warned away from humans.
Circumstances see a surprising friendship grow between Knife and the young human Paul, who lives in the stone house, and together they discover the truth - with enormous implications for their own friendship.
After a bit of a slow start, Spell Hunter eases you into a vivid world of faeries that borrows from folklore while adding new and interesting elements of its own creation. These faeries are selfish beings, who speak to each other only to issue chores or bargain. When they die they leave behind an egg from which hatches a new baby faery, which is given the name of its mother. As Paul points out, why then are faeries so female?
One of the things I liked about this story is that, while it has an English-like setting, it never actually says where it is set - it could be anywhere where oaks grow that has old manor houses dating from the 17th century. I liked it because it added to the fantastical, fairy tale, mystical quality - not bogged down by mundane, "real" details.
While Knife doesn't narrate herself, the story is told from her perspective alone, and a lot of her personality comes through in the way she perceives things around her. She makes a great protagonist, and her thought patterns and understandings are alien enough to be convincingly "faery". It's quite funny at times, the way she interprets human things.
By about halfway through, when the mystery really started to pick up, I became quite engrossed in this book and eager to see where it led. I wasn't disappointed, and while I get the moral of the ending, I admit I didn't like how it turned out.
This is a great book for younger readers, but a fun tale for older ones as well. ...more
Skilled thieves and occasional assassins, Royce and Hadrian take a job for a nobleman on short notice and are framed for the murder of the king of MelSkilled thieves and occasional assassins, Royce and Hadrian take a job for a nobleman on short notice and are framed for the murder of the king of Melengar, Amrath. Amrath leaves behind his first-born, Arista, and his only son and heir, Alric - who, at nineteen, is arrogant, demanding and pretty self-centred. Caught by the body of the murdered king, Royce and Hadrian end up chained to a dungeon wall, awaiting quartering and death in the morning.
Hope comes from unlikely quarters, in the form of Arista, who knows they're innocent but fears for her brother's life. Or so she tells them. And who are they to argue, when it means getting out of the palace alive? Only, they have to kidnap the prince and take him to a prison they've never heard of, to see a prisoner called Esrahaddon. Who will explain everything.
This is only the start of their adventures, as they dodge assassins, try to keep the impetuous young king alive, and make some money in the bargain. There's a deep plot afoot, one of religion and murder and empire-building. Royce and Hadrian want nothing to do with it, but the choice might not be theirs.
This was a light, engaging read with steady pacing and an uncomplicated plot. It can be read as a standalone, though it also sets up the bigger, over-arching plot-line that will drive the next five books. The prose isn't fancy, and while it could have used some closer proof-reading (especially for commas, but also the use of "sometime" etc. instead of "some time"), it's also smooth.
Royce and Hadrian are great characters, without whom the novel would be sadly dull. Their banter gave me a laugh, and even though I was disappointed that the character development (of all the characters) was noticeably shallow, what I did learn about them piqued my curiosity for more. I know I'll get to know them much better in the following books, but I need more character development than I do plot, and the first book in a series can suffer without it.
There's tension and suspense, created by never knowing exactly who you can trust. For characters that are decidedly two-dimensional, it's interesting that they often have more than one face. While the prince did grow, it was less shown and more told, which was a shame.
The lack of character development was the biggest disappointment. It borrows heavily from generic, formulaic fantasy and brings little that is new. The setting is classic medieval-European-esque, populated by knights and kings and the common folk - though at least the story wasn't dominated by the aristocracy, like in A Game of Thrones: I like the "common touch". The thieves are great but frankly, Lynn Flewellyn did it better by far. There is also a somewhat jarringly modern court-room drama towards the end that surprised me, though I'm not so bent on formula that I actually minded it.
What I did mind was, on page 252 (yes I remember the page!), a paragraph telling us that we should use our knees and thighs to guide a horse!! It had me fuming for a while. Usually I read just a brief description, but this was an entire, deliberate passage. It's a natural instinct, when learning to ride, to grip with your thighs and knees, it gives you a sense of security, like you're not going to fall off. But you can't control the horse doing this, and you will rub the skin off your knees until they bleed - I know because it happened to me when I was learning to ride. Once you get the confidence to keep your seat, you realise just how cumbersome your knees really were - and how sore your thighs were getting. You only need to use your calves and your heels. Your knees shouldn't even touch the saddle - and with the saddle between your leg and the horse, there's no way it can even feel you squeezing.
I did have trouble getting a copy though, which I read for a Goodreads book club - I recommend going through the author or his wife, because I went through some American bookseller linked on Amazon and it took them weeks (I think they forgot about me), and I ended up paying more than the listed Canadian price, plus shipping. So I felt a bit ripped off. If you're on Goodreads, you can get a discount.
Even though I prefer my fantasy to have more depth and characterisation, there was plenty to enjoy here and if I can find a reliable seller, I would like to continue reading this series....more
Max Frei is a loner in the world, a bit of a chain-smoking bum who's tried fitting in and being normal but doesn't have the heart for it. Only in hisMax Frei is a loner in the world, a bit of a chain-smoking bum who's tried fitting in and being normal but doesn't have the heart for it. Only in his dreams is he truly alive. In his dreams, things seem so real that he acts upon them in waking life: if he meets a beautiful new woman in his dreams, he'll break up with his real-life girlfriend. He can quote from books he's read only in his dreams, and visit other places.
One such place he visits regularly is a strange city where the streets are paved in mosaics and the people wear colourful clothes and turbans. It's here he meets Sir Juffin Hully, who recognises in Max something more than he is in his own world: a magician. Juffin offers Max a job and a home far away from his own, in the city of Echo in the Unified Kingdom.
Crossing between worlds is easy enough, and Max loves his new home as he never loved the place where he was born. Concocting a story about his origins to hide the truth, Juffin introduces Max to his colleagues of the Minor Secret Investigative Force at the House by the Bridge and gradually teaches Max some magic, odd bits of history, and how to brew kamra, the stand-in drink for tea and coffee of which the citizens of the Unified Kingdom imbibe in large quantities.
Max is launched into this crazy, upbeat world where, if you can't afford to pay for your dinner, the king will happily pick up the tab, and where even dead Grand Magicians cause mayhem. The only thing from his own world that he misses are the cigarettes, but even that small dent in his new-found happiness can be overcome.
There are, I believe, ten novels in the series, which have been doing well in Europe for some time now. This is the first time it's been translated into English. Max Frei, aside from being the narrator of the series, is also the pseudonym of Russian novelist Svetlana Martynchik. As part of the zaniness of this novel, it makes perfect sense that Max Frei would be the "author".
I'm completely torn as to how to rate this or even to talk about it. There were plenty of times throughout the story when I was confused and a bit annoyed; yet it was also highly original, very fun, quite humorous and definitely quirky - all of which I enjoyed. Let's go over the downside first.
From the very beginning, it wasn't an easy book to read. This isn't due to the language but more the style of the prose. What I mean is, the prose isn't difficult to read - it's almost simplistically written - but it's confusing to follow. I think it would be perfectly clear on a second reading, but you'd have to get through a first reading to even reach that stage, so it's not terribly helpful. Part of the problem is that Max doesn't always explain things very well, if at all. I can't figure out who his audience is for this story of his adventurous life, but he vacillates between assuming your prior knowledge to assuming your absolute ignorance. Even when he does try to explain things, I constantly felt that I wasn't on his wavelength and was left feeling more confused, rather than less.
Divided into long chapters that each present a different adventure or mystery to be solved, another small thing that bothered me was that I couldn't tell where it was going. There's no over-arching plot, as is typical, which does enhance the "memoir" quality that the author was possibly striving for - but it also leaves me a bit adrift and without much incentive to read on. Never really noticed that before, until it was gone. I happen to find reading about other worlds - like HP - incredibly fun even without an over-arching plot, but it does add excitement and tension and has you gagging for the next book, if done well.
There are still some details that I don't understand, like the bit about Max briefly turning into a vampire, and what could possibly be some inconsistencies. But I really want to move on to the positives.
The book has been aimed at fans of Sergei Lukyanenko (Night Watch series) and Susanna Clark, but I have to add one of my own: Harry Potter. It's like an adult version of the HP world, with ludicrous titles for things (Order of the Watery Crow, which Max always chuckles at, and his colleague Lonli-Lokli's official title: He Who Snuffs Out Unnecessary Lives, for example) and some crazy, barely edible delicacies. And all the magic, of course, which seems to be made up as it goes along. Which means you never know what this crazy world is going to throw at you next.
The tone is light-hearted and silly and nonsensical, which perfectly suits the world and makes it feel more real - but not quite what I was expecting from looking at the cover. The story, the world, its characters, don't take themselves too seriously, Max least of all, and that does lessen any real sense of danger, which would have created a nice balance. The Stranger is what it is and you pretty much just have to go along for the ride and not worry too much - a bit like Max, really. And it is a fascinating world. I just wish it had a bit more darkness to it, and some kind of connecting plotline, to motivate me to read on. At 544 pages it's modestly long for a fantasy novel, but took me a lot longer to read than it should have. It could also do with some tighter proof-reading - always a pet peeve of mine!
Overall, it was enjoyable, if perplexing and confusing at times. It'd make a great TV show....more
This is one of those books I came to reluctantly (for a book club here on Goodreads) and found myself pleasantly surprised by - a bit like the cover,This is one of those books I came to reluctantly (for a book club here on Goodreads) and found myself pleasantly surprised by - a bit like the cover, really, which I hated at first and then slowly came to appreciate, especially as you start noticing all the little details in it that correspond so artfully to the story, in particular the city of towers built into the cliff, which you can hopefully see in the background.
Nepenthe is an orphan, found as a baby at the edge of the cliff outside the royal palace and adopted, like many other orphans, by the Royal Librarians. Growing up in the underbelly of the palace amongst books and languages as a gifted transcriber, Nepenthe is content and happy with her life, and wonders little about her heritage. A chance meeting with a handsome young wizard-in-training from the Floating School, Bourne, brings a book written in a language of thorns into her hands - a book that speaks to her and her alone.
As their friendship blossoms into young love, Bourne becomes concerned by how obsessed Nepenthe is with translating the thorns. Yet he does what he can to help her understand the story they tell, a story of Axis and Kane, figures of myth and legend long past. The thorns reveal a version of their story that not only has never been heard of before, but is full of contradictions and misplaced time that discredit its veracity. Still, Nepenthe is possessed of a drive to finish translating it.
When the king of the Twelve Crowns dies and his young and dreamy daughter, Tessera, becomes Queen, the threat of civil war stirs the ancient sorceress Vevay to keep a close watch on the realm. When she receives the cryptic message to beware the thorns, it takes Tessera to explore her newly awakened magical gift to uncover the truth, but it might be too late.
After a slow start, the story picks up and tells a memorable, age-old tale of devotion, war, magic, love and human foible with some new quirks. The story of Axis, the mighty warlord who conquered the known and unknown world, and his cousin, mistress and mighty sorceress, Kane, who ensured success at every conquest, is told as a parallel story, leading inexorably closer to the truth and the climax at the same time as the "present" story - the twist of time is handled deftly and smoothly. I'm not convinced of the logistics of Axis' empire, but it's not really the point of the story.
This is one of those fantasy tales that delves only into the most pertinent details, leaving the edges fuzzy and dreamlike. It certainly adds a mystical, mythical quality, though I'm one of those readers who likes to know, and chafes a bit at being guided through a fantasy world by an author who only lets you see what they want you to see. So at times, the story felt vaguely disappointing, and I wasn't sure for the first few chapters where it was going, but overall it was a pleasure to read. ...more
Infamous and bloodthirsty, teenage pirate Emer is all set to leave her days plundering the Spanish in the Caribbean behind and sail off with her long-Infamous and bloodthirsty, teenage pirate Emer is all set to leave her days plundering the Spanish in the Caribbean behind and sail off with her long-lost and new-found love, Seanie, and their treasure for Ireland, when she is killed by an old enemy and cursed to live the life of a hundred dogs.
A hundred dogs and about three hundred years later, Emer is reborn in 1972 as Saffron Adams - with all her memories intact, memories of being Emer and of being numerous dogs all over the world. The last child of five born to alcoholic and depressive parents living in Pennsylvania, she wants only to get through school, grab a shovel and head back to Jamaica to dig up her treasure. While she waits she imagines all the colourful ways she can flog, dismember and otherwise torture the people in her life who annoy the crap out of her, in true Emer style.
The Dust of 100 Dogs is told from three perspectives and two timelines: Saffron's first person narration in her present (leading up to 1990); Emer growing up in Ireland in the 1650s, escaping Cromwell, fleeing Paris and ending up captain of an impressive pirate fleet in the Caribbean; and the mildly insane Fred Livingstone, an ageing but still wealthy real estate broker living in Jamaica with his much-abused dog Rusty - also in Saffron's present. All three narratives navigate towards each other to reach a conclusion that's 100 dogs in the making.
Emer and Saffron are wonderful characters, leading different lives, never quite the same person and yet similar enough in ways, both living through tumultuous times and with difficult people. Through it all she - they? - narrates with dark irony, a measure of contempt and a swig of childish enthusiasm. While she's not entirely loveable or even, at times, likeable, she's still charismatic, interesting (never dull), and sympathetic. By the end of the novel I really cared about Saffron. Both Emer and Saffron present different social issues: Emer of girls and women sold like chattel to men, slaving their lives away in some cases and never taken seriously enough; and Saffron of parents who have grand dreams for their children, pressuring them to live the lives they never could, pinning all their hopes on them and then being upset when they rebel. Both Emer and Saffron speak for a great many teenagers, especially but not exclusively girls, as they try to stand up for themselves. So it's not hard to cheer Emer on as she kills a would-be rapist with a rock, or storms a ship's deck with a cutlass in hand.
Livingstone was another well-drawn, cleverly crafted character. At first, when he suddenly turns up in the story, I wasn't sure why he was there, but I trusted King that there was a good reason - and there is. He was a mix of brutish fear and cowardly ego, and perversity as he ogles the girls on the beach and imagines conversations in his head where he flirts with them and invites them to dinner. He's a sad man driven to quick rages and you can only feel terribly sorry for poor Rusty the doberman.
Speaking of dogs, interspersed throughout the novel are six dog facts that cleverly reinforce, mirror or complement whatever part of the story they interrupt. You can tell that King is a dog person, and her insights into the nature of dogs - from Saffron's perspective, and she's had a lot of experience! - are great for dog lovers and people, like me, who would like a dog one day but don't really understand them or know what to do with them.
After a bit of a slow start while you get your footing with Saffron's dry, unloving narration (she does have some familial feeling but, knowing exactly where she's come from, she never really sees herself as their daughter or part of their family, which is a bit sad really), the story really picks up as it weaves through time and adventures and gets quite exciting. A wonderful tale of adventure on the high seas (I love that phrase!) and teenage impatience; young love and loss and sheer determination....more
The Accidental Sorcerer is set in a magical fantasy world that closely resembles our own if you were to take several different periods and mash them aThe Accidental Sorcerer is set in a magical fantasy world that closely resembles our own if you were to take several different periods and mash them altogether. Some people look like British tax agents, others like Elizabethan nobles. Some are dressed in flamboyant, brightly-coloured polka-dot pantaloons and ridiculous shirts, while others dress like bluestockings from the 20s. It's lots of fun. Technologically, it's also mixed: there're automobiles for driving, and magical portals for long-distance travel; carriages pulled by horses, and crystal balls for communicating. There's a touch of Harry Potter silliness and irreverence, some political knee-capping, and a deep dark sordid plot. Perhaps I should just start at the beginning?
Gerald Dunwoody is a Third Grade (re: "rate") Wizard trying to hold down his fourth job, now working as an inspector for the Ottosland government's Department of Thaumaturgy. A visit to a world-class staff factory called Stuttley's, where they make "superior" staffs for First Grade wizards, leads to utter disaster: the factory blows up and Gerald can't convince anyone that he used a First Grade staff to minimise the damage. Now he's lost his job.
In an attempt to lay low, he answers a desperate job ad for a Court Wizard in New Ottosland - a small country in the middle of the Kallarapi desert. Along with his talking bird Reg, he portals to New Ottosland and meets drab, frumpy Melissande, princess and Prime Minister; her loopy, butterfly-obsessed younger brother Rupert (he of the flamboyant trousers); and her older brother the king, Lional the Forty-third (all the kings are called Lional).
Being as unimpressive as he is, Gerald is about to lose the position before he's even started, and in desperation conducts a very rare, very difficult Level Twelve Transmogrification by turning Lional's cat into a lion. Little does he know, but this spells his doom: Lional is far from the vain, superior man he presents himself as, and his new lion has given him a wicked idea in which Gerald - or his now impressive magical gift - play a starring role. By the time Gerald realises how far gone Lional is, it's too late to save himself.
This book brings to mind - loosely - the humorous novels of Pratchett etc., and I think that's what Mills was going for. It's also quite dark at times, and serious, which creates a nice balance. The humour doesn't always hit its mark, mostly because there are a few very grating characters who are supposed to by funny in their acerbic rants, but are just irritating. There were some times when I chuckled, though.
The problem is the characters. While I'm all for inconsequential protagonists who are worse than ordinary, who aren't all that bright, who walk blindly into traps they can't extricate themselves from, who never seem to ask the right questions - well, they can work, and it's even more realistic, but they can also be incredibly annoying. Gerald was such a protagonist. I had high hopes for him, but he was just too disappointing, and very frustrating. I still liked him though.
Even worse than Gerald was Melissande, who was vocal, quick to anger, stupidly stubborn, argumentative, and brought out the worst in Reg - when those two got going at each other, the insults flying, it is sometimes funny but more often wearying. Melissande was not likeable, and I don't get that Monk would like her after such a short and unflattering meeting.
On the up side, Lional was wonderfully despicable, truly terrifying, and wholly unpredictable. I was genuinely scared of him. Incidentally, some of the really funny moments are connected to him, which is quite a gift. I also loved Zazoor, the Kallarapi sultan, who turned out to be the only "normal", rational, calm and possibly wise person in the entire book.
While the characters (some of them) were what brought this novel down for me, there was plenty to enjoy as well. It has a steady pacing and doesn't contain any needless exposition. It's light on descriptive pose passages, but tells you what you need to know to get a nice picture in your head that you can embellish yourself. I have to say though, that one of the things that nagged me was: why didn't Gerald just transmogrify the animal back to its original state? If that's not possible, that's fine, but the characters should have thrown the idea around to satisfy the reader. Because it seemed like such a simple solution to the big climax, and instead Gerald seems to make things even more complicated than they already were. Other than that, it made sense most of the time.
A fun, light read with darker undertones, set in a convincingly real and fantastical world, The Accidental Sorcerer is the first book in a new series which promises to launch Gerald into yet more life-threatening, easily-bungled situations which will change him - it's unlikely that he'll stay so naive for long....more
Aeriel was bought at the slave markets as a baby and raised alongside her young mistress, Eoduin, the beautiful daughter of the town syndic. Now nearlAeriel was bought at the slave markets as a baby and raised alongside her young mistress, Eoduin, the beautiful daughter of the town syndic. Now nearly a woman grown, she accompanies Eoduin in the climb up the mountain to collect hornbloom nectar for Eoduin's cousin's wedding - the tradition being that you are not married until the bride and groom have shared the bridal cup, and the bride's cousin must collect it on the day.
But when they reach the mountaintop, the Darkangel flies down, all pale luminescent beauty and a dozen black wings, and snatches Eoduin, carrying her off to make her his bride. No one in the town believes Aeriel - the Darkangel is just a story, after all - and some even accuse her of causing her mistress' death. Knowing that Eoduin's father means to sell her, she goes back to the mountain, hoping the Darkangel comes again so that she can kill him.
When he comes, the Darkangel is too strong and beautiful to kill, as cruel and selfish as he is. Instead he takes Aeriel back to his home, an abandoned palace carved out of the side of a mountain, to spin clothes for his thirteen brides. His brides are all indistinguishable, fragile wraiths, their hearts cut out, their blood drunk, their souls collected into little vials that hang from a necklace around the Darkangel's neck.
When the Darkangel has acquired his fourteenth wife in a year's time and collected her soul, Aeriel learns, he will take all the souls to his mother, a water witch, and become a full-fledged vampyre with his six brothers. Together the vampyres will carve up the world and rule absolute. Only Aeriel can stop him, but to do so she will have to escape the palace and find the starhorse, one of the wardens of the land created by the Ancients, those who first arrived and made the air and atmosphere, the plants and animals, before sealing themselves inside their domes, forgotten in all but name.
Even though the vampyre is a monster who must be stopped, Aeriel doesn't want to kill him, doesn't want his beauty and majesty to leave the world. But time is running out, and the stakes are high. Soon Aeriel will have to make the hardest decision of her life in order to prevent the vampyres from taking over the world.
The prose of this book reminded me of Alphabet of Thorn: they both have that fairy-tale quality, a slight distance between voice and character even though, especially here, you only get one perspective (Aeriel's). I don't know if there's a word for it, and it's hard to describe. It creates a certain tone, a kind of mythological or biblical tone, a flavour that works especially well with Fantasy and works very well here.
Aside from the sad fact that there was at least one typo on almost every single page (surely, Little, Brown & Co, when a book has been out for more than two decades, you'd have plenty of time to fix these glaring mistakes?), it's well written, with a controlled, measured pace that only adds to that fairy-tale quality. Aeriel is a sweet girl, the Darkangel an almost sulky, petulant teen who whines about how ugly his wives are in one breath, and threatens to strangle Aeriel in the next. He does have charisma, and even though Aeriel is in his thrall you can understand why she'd want to save him.
The other main character in the story is a duarough, a little man called Talb who turns to stone if he's caught in the sun. He lives in the caves beneath the palace and helps Aeriel against the Darkangel. Every fairy-tale needs a fairy godmother! and Talb fits that role. There is the Lorelei, the water-witch who steals little boys and turns them into vampyres, and a quest story that's pure Fantasy. Then we have Narnia-inspired beasts: magnificent talking animals who guard their part of the land with wisdom and fierce pride; and a dash of science fiction in the story of the Ancients. There's plenty going on here but it never loses its quiet, patient tone or measured pacing. Despite the variety of characters, the plot is simple and straight-forward, with no real surprises.
The only part I found lacking, which undermined the story, was Aeriel's love for the Darkangel. Even though she qualifies it as love "in a way", I thought she pitied him, felt compassion for him, and believed in the "spark of good" that still lay in him - maybe that is love "in a way", but there was so little interaction between the two that it was hard to see how she could develop these feelings for him, good girl or no. I don't like it when stories take emotions like these for granted, and don't spend time on developing them for the reader - it smacks of mere convenience for the plot's sake.
I never really understood the measures of time - Solstar is both "daylight" and the sun? I think the world might be a moon - they refer to Oceanus, a planet they guide by, which might actually be Earth. They say "day-month" and I was never sure if they actually meant months or not. It was so confusing it was distracting because I was trying to figure it out. An author's note would have been helpful....more
I read this years ago after borrowing it from a friend and today I found it in a secondhand bookshop. I don't remember it in detail so I don't think iI read this years ago after borrowing it from a friend and today I found it in a secondhand bookshop. I don't remember it in detail so I don't think it's fair to give it a rating; I'd like to read it again first....more