After spending so long trying to stay out of - or escape - the Inviernos and their blood sorcerers, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, only living...moreAfter spending so long trying to stay out of - or escape - the Inviernos and their blood sorcerers, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, only living bearer of a Godstone, finds herself journeying across the desert sands and into the heart of Invierno country, to their capital city, Umbra de Deus. Betrayed by a man in her own court, her personal guard and the leader of the Royal Guards, Hector, has been taken prisoner and carried off to Invierne for the sole purpose of making Elisa follow. And she does, she must, for he is not only one of her most loyal supporters, he is also the man she loves.
Hector's a clever man, and being taken captive, trussed up and beaten doesn't stop him from finding ways to incite resentment among his Joyan captors, or from reducing their number or slowing them down. He knows Elisa so well, he knows she's close behind, and he's ready for her when she catches up along with her lady-in-waiting, Mara, the assassin Belén, and the failed Invierno sorcerer, Storm.
Freeing Hector is only the beginning, though. Elisa intends to resolve the ongoing conflict with Invierne one way or another, so that she can then turn her attention to solving the treachery in Joya d'Arena, where members of her own ruling council have taken over the capital city and the castle. Storm's oblique comments over the past months have raised questions for her, especially concerning the truth of her people's own history and arrival on this planet.
More pressing still: Why does Invierne want her so badly? Why must she come willingly? And what is the truth behind the Godstones? Only in the heart of enemy country can Elisa discover the truth, but can she escape with her life - and still be queen to her own people?
The third and final book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy is just as strong as its predecessors, just as exciting and gripping, just as infused with gentle humour and vigorous plotting, and just as well developed. And even better: this one comes with a map! Ah it makes all the difference, really, not to mention the plain fact that I love maps in books.
While Elisa's personal growth isn't as noticeable in this outing, seeing as she's already achieved so much and matured so much previously, but it does build upon it. I mentioned briefly in my review of the second book, The Crown of Embers, that there was a curious colonial, superior attitude shown by Elisa towards Invierne and its people, and this still remains a niggling issue for me. Mainly, I'm not sure how deliberate it is. Certainly, throughout all three books, the sense of superiority among the Joyans is always present, and the more we learn about the Invierne's and what happened to them when Elisa's people arrived, the clearer the distinction becomes, the more solid the coloniser-colonised parallel is. I guess I was expecting something to come out of it, because it was the most interesting part of the whole plot for me. It's a story line I've always been interested in, and this Fantasy trilogy was such a good vehicle for exploring it. It's just that it didn't go anywhere, it wasn't grabbed hold of and it didn't change anything.
Which makes me wonder whether a second series will come out of this one, a new story set in the same world which will dig into it more. Elisa's story merely establishes a truth, but goes nowhere with it. The focus remains on Elisa in a more personal, immediate way, and her immediate problems. Or is this the difference between Young Adult and Adult Fantasy? I definitely do not want to hear that you can only explore complex themes like this in adult fantasy. To merely touch upon it like this, is not good enough. Because surely the whole plot, all that world-building, was leading to this, this truth beneath the propaganda? I was disappointed that it was revealed and then...nothing. It didn't make Elisa see things differently, or even feel sympathetic (as I did). In that moment, she felt more a product of Earth than of her own place. It affected my admiration of her.
Yet it didn't really change my enjoyment of the story as a whole. It's exciting, adventurous, intriguing fantasy, and aside from the fact that it's written in ineffective present tense instead of past tense, which would have suited it much better, it's well-written and well-developed. There are a few minor surprises, plot-wise, along the way, but it does in general follow a fairly well laid-out and predictable path. But Elisa is such a strong character, and the story and its characters overall are nicely filled out with shades of grey, that they easily make up for any other flaws. The romance is handled nicely: it feels genuine, between Elisa and Hector, but it doesn't take over the story. Everything about the book, and the trilogy as a whole, is just so bloody enjoyable. It just makes such good reading that I was disappointed when it ended and it was all over. For now. I truly hope Carson writes more set in this world, because it's clear we've only just scratched the surface and there's so much going on here than we've yet learned about - we don't yet know the real truth behind the Godstones, for instance.
If I could wish for one thing, though, one thing, it would be the scrapping of present tense. Yes, it is that ineffective here, and just not used properly, or correctly, so that it ends up holding the story back rather than propelling it forward. It would be so much stronger if written in simple past tense. So much. You know that expression, Why reinvent the wheel? That's what I'd like to say to all these writers - especially YA - who are dabbling with present tense these days. It's turning into a real pet peeve of mine. It's just, it's such a restrictive tense, it really confines your writing and doesn't allow for any flexibility or artistry or flair. It's an exceptionally difficult tense to write in, and if it's not done well - or correctly - it just spoils things. I keep going on about it in discussing the Fire and Thorns trilogy because I loved this story so much, and it would have been almost perfect if it had just been written in past tense. There, rant done, I'll say no more.(less)
Gwen is seventeen and just about to start her final year of school in Oregon, after moving to the state from San Francisco with her veterinarian paren...moreGwen is seventeen and just about to start her final year of school in Oregon, after moving to the state from San Francisco with her veterinarian parents who are trying to escape the extreme upheavals of climate change. On her way to school, though, Gwen realises she's being followed by a strange man. He pursues her and in a panic, Gwen tumbles down a cliff to the wild Pacific Ocean below - and finds herself on her hands and knees on top of the water rather than fighting for her life beneath it.
The stranger introduces himself as Kian and tells a strange and incredible tale that Gwen slowly but reluctantly finds herself believing. He tells her that she is the reincarnation of a magician who was sent forward in time through magic, that she must unlock her memories of her previous life in order to unlock her magic. He tells her that she and six others were sent forward in time to battle three bad magicians who steal the magic from those who, like Gwen, inherited it naturally. And he tells her that all the natural disasters, the tsunamis and hurricanes and earthquakes, are a direct result from these powerful magicians' attempts to take over the North American continent. To defeat them, Kian was sent forward in time to find the good magicians, help them reach their powers, and fight the bad magicians. If they don't regain control of their magic, the bad magicians will steal it from them - along with their souls.
So begins a journey unlike any Gwen could have imagined: crossing the country to New York City to find more of her group, and from there to England where their search brings them face-to-face with their enemies and puts their very lives - and souls - in danger. Can this small group of teens gain control of their magic before it's taken from them?
Lives of Magic is, in many ways, fairly standard fantasy. I should really call it "urban fantasy" since it's set in our world rather than a make-believe one, but that sub-genre has been overrun with detective mystery stories so I felt it would be a bit misleading now. When I started reading this, I was rather confused into thinking that Kian came from one of those fantasy worlds; it was a while before I understood that he was from the past. Mostly because he is very vague about who he is and where he's from - at one time I entertained the notion that he was from Atlantis, a mythological place from our own world's history. It really wasn't clear (though it does say it on the back cover, which I hadn't read in a while) that Gwen's past self and Kian were all from ancient England, celtic Britannia.
In truth, it was just one of many such confusions for me as I was reading this. It's the kind of book that I read with a frown on my face, most of the time. There just seemed to be too many plot-holes that may (or may not) have been easily explained by the author, but just weren't. Gwen conveniently took too many things at face value, while not questioning some very obvious problems and holes in Kian's story. It wasn't enough to make the whole story cave in for me, but it was enough to create potholes everywhere for me to stumble in. It wasn't a smooth read, is what I'm trying to say. The pacing was good, and if the plot makes sense to you I'm sure it must read smoothly. But for me it was a very bumpy ride.
That aside (and it is a big thing), there were elements to the story that I did enjoy. I liked the kind of magic Leiderman employed, though we don't learn all that much about it here. I quite liked Gwen - not all the time, and she was very much an adolescent the way she could carry on (realistic but annoying to read) - and there were layers to the other characters that made them interesting. I was very curious about the ancient world they'd all come from, which is pieced together through unlocked memories - like visions and dreams - that Gwen has, but there's still a lot to learn. I didn't really "get" the bad magicians: the world-building to create a stable foundation of understanding was a bit rocky and patchy; without a strong foundation, it's hard to buy into the rest of the story as it plays out. The ending is mostly predictable, but the details were unknowns and kept it from being stale or boring. Gwen comes a long way over the course of the story and takes a leadership role, and I can see her becoming a strong, though still flawed, character (it's always nice for a heroine to have flaws - makes her both more interesting and more realistic, more human).
This is a debut, as well as the first in a trilogy, so there's plenty of room for the author's style to strengthen and become smoother, and for the story to gain flesh and depth. It's a fairly straight-forward premise that somehow seemed complicated and confusing while I was reading it, and I feel that that's down to the writer. It's a pretty good teen fantasy, but for me I couldn't get past the contrivances, the plot-holes, the loads of questions that I couldn't believe Gwen wasn't asking. So I'm conflicted, a bit disappointed, and not invested enough to continue reading the trilogy.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book. (less)
Based on the character of the 11th Doctor as played by Matt Smith, Jenny T Colgan has brought the Time Lord to life in this well-written, authentic an...moreBased on the character of the 11th Doctor as played by Matt Smith, Jenny T Colgan has brought the Time Lord to life in this well-written, authentic and tightly-paced historical science fiction story.
On a Viking ship headed to Iceland, Henrik - a farm boy given the chance to fulfil his dream of being a Viking warrior - helps guard their most precious cargo: Freydis, daughter of the Duke of Trondheim, who has sent her off to marry the King of Iceland, Gissar Polvaderson. Gissar is old, fat and extremely ugly, and Freydis is not going quietly. But suddenly, she is the least of any Viking's worries: when within sight of land - a weather-exposed Scottish island - a great tentacle of fire bursts from the sea and sets the ship alight. Men fall overboard and are quickly caught by the flames before they hit the water. Utter destruction seems imminent, and only Henrik remembers to release Freydis from her locked storage closet.
On the island, the Doctor has arrived by TARDIS and made his way to the small village near the coast, which is deserted. Everyone has rushed down to the beach to watch the Viking ship approach, bringing their deadliest enemies with it. When the inexplicable fire reaches out like an arm to the ship, no one is moved to help - except the Doctor.
Bringing the poor singed survivors to the hostile islanders, the Doctor encourages everyone to get along while he promises to help them solve the mystery and get rid of the threat. But this is no ordinary fire, and it has a purpose, a desperate, desperate purpose. Can the Doctor figure it out and solve it before more lives are lost?
While I grew up watching Doctor Who on the telly - the ABC used to show it every weekday at 6pm during the season, back in the day when a single storyline took 6 half-hour episodes to tell - this is the first time I've read any Doctor Who fanfiction. (I'm not, in fact, a reader of fanfiction in general, and don't seek it out.) Nevertheless, I was excited to have the chance to try it, and while it was both better than I'd expected and also not quite as good as I would have liked, it was certainly hugely entertaining.
Fans of the contemporary Doctor Who series will surely recognise the eleventh Doctor; Colgan has done a superb job of capturing the nuances and body language, the quiet loneliness tinged with hopeful sadness, the vague dithering punctuated by moments of piercing clarity, the classic eccentricities that mark all the incarnations of the Doctor: fripperies of attire, for example, and a preference for hot tea or some similar foodstuff. The character of the Doctor comes across at once as approachable and knowable, and yet also utterly alien. She was able to bring the reader as close to him as you possibly can, while still retaining that sense of mystery and higher thought, of the gulf of utter loneliness - all of which is made more tangible if you come with some prior understanding of the Doctor's character. Colgan does not expound on a lot of backstory. Alongside his more melancholy side is his trademark humour, which Colgan captures perfectly:
Two men brought forward Corc's boat. It was incredibly small, made of tightly stitched animal skins stretched taut over a frame of bowed wood, with two light paddles. It didn't look seaworthy for a Sunday duck pond, never mind the wild North Atlantic. The Doctor coughed politely. 'Well! Isn't she just lovely! Great!' He took the boat from the men with thanks. It hardly weighed anything. 'OK, let me just go... with this boat... and sort everything out... Who needs a TARDIS, I am perfectly happy not bothering the local ecosystem and causing mass panic... perfectly.' He reached the water's edge, took off his shoes and dipped in a toe. 'It is rather parky, isn't it? I remember this from yesterday.' He put the boat down on the bobbing waves. It immediately capsized. 'Ha! So funny when they do that, isn't it.' [p.79]
True also to the formula, while the Doctor arrives on the island alone, he manages to acquire a couple of temporary assistants: Henrik and Freydis. These two have their own side story going, with a backstory about Henrik surviving a plunge under the ice as a boy and becoming the Miracle Boy who came back to life. Freydis is arrogant and superior with a firm belief in the Gods' plans for her; she matures considerably over the course of the book, and a romance - of the tender, innocent variety Doctor Who is known for - blossoms between them.
The actual plot is interesting and with such high stakes - people die in this story - there's considerable tension. The truth of the fire is intriguing and a problem not easily solved, and you're never really sure what the Doctor is doing or thinking until the last moment.
While Colgan shows an ability to write good, well-researched historical fiction and brings to life the community, culture and individuals of the period and setting, the pace did at times become a little slow - little lulls before the storm, so to speak. I didn't mind except that when the pace drops, so does the momentum. There were several facets to the story: Vikings, more Vikings, Henrik's story, Freydis' coming-of-age, the chief's son Eoric, villagers Brogan and her partner, Braan, the fire, and little Luag, the chief's other son, who is adorably sweet. There's plenty going on here, and yet it did lose some oomph somewhere around the halfway-to-three-quarters mark. I was surprised at the number of typos and other glitches in the text - including a sentence that abruptly ends before it's finished - but these don't detract from the strength of the story. The ending was good, and overall Dark Horizons was an entertaining, thoughtful, satisfying and mostly exciting novel that successfully brought to life the eleventh Doctor.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via TLC Book Tours.(less)
When Katie Greene's mother dies and leaves her only child an orphan, she is sent to live with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, instead of with her grandpa...moreWhen Katie Greene's mother dies and leaves her only child an orphan, she is sent to live with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, instead of with her grandparents in Canada, her preferred choice. Her aunt is an English teacher living alone, and encourages Katie to embrace the language and culture and have some fun. Katie learns the language to attend school but sees it as a waiting period, while her grandparents wait to see if her grandfather's cancer is in remission and the paperwork goes through for her to live with them instead.
At school, it feels like Katie is committing one faux pas after another. When she goes back to the school building to change her indoor slippers for her shoes, she finds herself eavesdropping on the dramatic breakup between Myu and her boyfriend, the school Kendo champion, Tomohiro Yuu. Katie isn't sure what is worse: seeing the callous way Tomohiro is treating Myu, who thinks he cheated on her and got another girl pregnant, or catching the hidden feeling on Tomo's face beneath his smirking facade. In that glimpse she can see that the boy is pretending he doesn't care about Myu, but she has no idea why. When Myu brandishes the sketchbook at Tomo as proof and then flings it to the floor, the pages scatter and one lands by Katie's feet behind the sliding door. She picks it up and sees a drawing of a girl sitting on a park bench, the rounded bump of a pregnant belly visible under her top. What shocks Katie to her core is when the girl in the drawing turns her head and glares at Katie.
It is only the beginning - the start of Katie's fascination and suspicions about Tomo, which lead to an odd friendship between them where animosity was before, and then something deeper and sweeter. But it is also the beginning of a new path in Katie's life, as she learns about the kami, a word that means both "paper" and "god" in Japanese, and what that means to Tomo and his ability to bring ink drawings to life - a gift that goes haywire when Katie is around.
What is Katie to the kami? Why is the ink drawn to her, like she's a magnetic force? Can she help Tomo control this power and help protect him from the yakuza, who see his ability to draw money and weapons that actually fire a boon to their cause. But the biggest question of all: can she leave Japan behind and continue on with her other life, now that she knows about kami and has fallen for Tomo? Even if staying together means danger and worse? The months ahead are full of unexpected excitement and danger and one very beautiful, tormented, talented boy for Katie Greene.
I was very keen to read this when I heard it was a fantasy novel set in modern-day Japan, because after I finished uni I lived and worked in Japan for about three years (until early 2005), and I love reading stories set there (especially by Japanese authors). Often when I'm reading YA books from America, they have some Spanish in them, which I know nothing of and can barely pronounce. And when I read adult novels, I often come across French words and sentences or expressions, which I can sometimes figure out, sometimes not, and my pronunciation is atrocious. I always feel left out, like I'm missing nuances and cultural references and so on, and not getting the full impact of the story because of it. So as I was reading Ink, I was absolute in love with my ability to pronounce all the Japanese words (I'm terrible at learning languages and have forgotten much that I did learn while there, but the one thing I was really good at was pronunciation! Japanese is actually quite easy to pronounce once you learn the very simple rules), and I was able to recognise and understand a lot of the words and expressions. After always feeling left out as I mentioned above, I had a kind of heady rush of exhilaration - that sensation of being included, of being "in" on the joke, so to speak. The cultural references were all familiar to me, I "got" all the details and their importance, socially-speaking, and yet there were still some things new to me that meant I could learn from it. It's clear that Amanda Sun has spent considerable time in Japan and has a far greater ability with the language than I ever did!
There were other aspects of the novel that I really liked. I liked Katie, most of the time - she sometimes slipped into whiny-YA-heroine mode for no apparent reason, it didn't even seem to really gel with her character - and she came across as a bit, well, a bit aggressive or bull-headed at times. And she existed in a sort of vacuum: we learn nothing about who she was prior to coming to Japan, what kind of person she was, what her interests are, so there's no contrast or real understanding of her character. Yet I really liked watching her adapt and even embrace living in Japan. She went way out of her comfort zone and was richly rewarded.
I took my black chopsticks and lifted the leftover croquettes from my bentou into my mouth. The taste of peanut-butter sandwiches had drifted away with my old life. I wondered who I was then, when I couldn't speak or read or eat, totally immobilized by the change in my world. Vines were entangling the hole in my heart, buds sprouting on the outskirts. There was still a void, a pocket of emptiness. But around it, my heart was blooming.
I enjoyed the Japanese characters too, though they weren't as well fleshed out, especially Katie's friends at school, Yuki and Tanaka. They were sadly one-dimensional, Katie's "token" friends. Tomohiro was a much more vivid character, which is just as well because in many ways, he carries the story. The other key male characters were Tomo's friend and yakuza wannabe, Ishikawa; and Jun, a boy Katie meets on the subway who turns up at other times just when she needs the help. There's was always something a bit suspicious about Jun, and the revelations at the end worked well with the impression of his character I'd already built in my mind.
While the pacing was good and there wasn't an overload of exposition - explaining Japanese elements, for instance - to bog it down (explanations were given when needed, and were slipped in quite naturally I thought), there were weaknesses to the story. The fantasy side of the premise and plot, which had initially appealed to me, failed to really excite me in the end. It just didn't really go anywhere. Once Katie learns about the kami and what Tomo can actually do, she doesn't really learn anything new about it, and so the fantasy element stagnated a bit. There is some exciting and dangerous scenes, but they somehow lacked the desired impact. And while I enjoyed the character of Tomo and there were moments when he felt real and vibrant to me, overall the connection between him and Katie lacked the kind of chemistry you'd want to feel when you get two characters in their situation. There's tension, but also a great deal of distance. Perhaps the tricky part is maintaining his Japanese-ness while satisfying a non-Japanese audience. Romance Japanese-style isn't like romance, Western-style.
This is going to be a bit of a hard sell to a white Western audience, I think, and that will be a shame, because there's a lot of potential here, a lot of exciting new ideas, and some great writing. Some of Tomohiro's drawings are shown in the book and there's some flip-page animation which you can't get the full benefit of when reading this on an e-reader as I did: I'm going to have to pick this up in a bookshop and check out the illustrations in person. Bottom line? Absolutely give this a go. It's genuine and different and has moments of excellence, and it just might be different enough to win you over. Or maybe not - it could be that I'm more in love with the Japanese setting than anything else, and that has distracted me from its larger flaws. It didn't wholly satisfy me in the end, but I am curious about where the story is going from here.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley.(less)