When choosing to write a posthumous sequel to a book that is arguably one of the finest examples of children’s literature to date, you must do so very carefully. Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, first published in 1908, laid the literary groundwork for novels such as Richard Adams’s Watership Down and even Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. So to say the undertaking of a sequel is an ambitious task would be an understatement (see William Horwood’s questionable addition to the Willows series). However, it seems that Jacqueline Kelly is all too familiar with a sequel’s potential to flop, or even worse, tarnish the name of the original and what she has created here moves deftly in familiar waters, riverbanks and streams.
Sequel well-done The very first page of Kelly’s Return to the Willows asks us, or rather implores us, to put down this copy immediately and, “ask our librarian for the first book so [we] won’t be entirely clueless”. Luckily for me I am no stranger to Grahame’s original tale as it was both a favorite of mine and of my children's. From here, we are swept along to the fire-lit burrows of this book’s inhabitants to the very studious and important laboratories of Cambridge as Mole, Toad, Water Rat and Badger take on a whole host of outrageous, often comical but wholly heartfelt adventures. At the start of the tale, Toad has a rather fortuitous head injury that jumbles enough bits in his brain to allow him to be a self-proclaimed genius. He heads off into the world of academia to write dissertations and theses on such distinguished topics of jam and toast. Coincidentally, this also happens to be the exact moment when his nephew, named Humphrey (for "Toad Number Two" doesn’t roll off the tongue so well), comes to visit. All manner of calamities ensue as he is left alone to watch over Toad Hall and the rest of the characters are left to deal with his misadventures.
Kelly’s narration is right on par with that of Grahame’s, even going as far as to invoke Grahame’s classic relative pronoun style of introduction, “In which Toad has…”, or, “In which the pair…” and it surprisingly doesn’t come off as contrived or forced. The rest of the text is perfectly dreamy and somber, and while no accent to the characters is ever specifically implied, one can’t help but give these creatures' voices an air of sophistication and knowledge.
Stunning art The art direction for Return is nothing short of stunning. As I read through the pages of the book my daughter and I were constantly getting lost at the adroit hands of master illustrator Clint Young. From the book’s very first images of Water Rat and Mole lazily sitting in a row boat to the warm glow of a candle at the book’s close, you know that you have been treated to some of the industry’s finest. Young is no stranger to the fantasy genre and has aided in the illustrations of many sci-fi projects, most recently taking the lead art direction for the MMORPG, Star Wars the Old Republic.
Why should you read this book? Ultimately, Return to the Willows is a great success for what it is trying to do. It goes without saying that no recreation will ever live up to the classic, but what Kelly has done here is certainly a great supplement to Grahame’s magnum opus. At the heart of the matter, this is a children’s book and I can certainly assure you that any child with a flair for fantasy and wonder will not turn the last page disappointed....more
Let The Right One In, also known by its American title Let Me In, is a vampire novel by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. Two film adaptations have been made since its release, the original Swedish film titled Let The Right One In and an American remake, Let Me In. Both films were critical and financial successes, and I enjoyed both of them.
Let The Right One In centers around the story of Oskar, a boy who is bullied by his classmates and spends his free time entertaining fantasies of killing his abusers. But Oskar’s life is changed when a strange girl named Eli moves into the apartment next to his and encourages him to fight back. Eli’s odd behavior begins to complicate their relationship as they grow close, and Oskar is soon forced to confront the reality that she isn’t human.
A vampire novel that actually feels like a vampire novel Vampire fiction has deviated into a multitude of interesting new directions in recent years, but Let The Right One In strikes a nearly perfect balance between traditional vampire mythology and original material. Whether you like Lindqvist’s take on vampires or not, it’s hard to deny that he writes a vampire novel that really feels like a vampire novel. He fully embraces the filth of vampirism—Eli never washes, wears clothes that she finds in the trash, and smells like rotting meat. Lindqvist doesn’t polish her description; Eli isn’t presented as attractive in any way, and it’s refreshing to read about a vampire that’s genuinely revolting.
The scenes that focus on the vampire attacks are some of the best in the novel. Lindqvist does a fantastic job of layering on dramatic tension when Eli preys on her victims; you can practically feel the beat of the victim’s heart, the hotness of their blood, the bite of Eli’s teeth. These scenes are gritty, tense and terrifying, and they work beautifully. They also create an extremely effective atmosphere when Lindqvist introduces us to the intricacies of Eli’s vampirism, lending a depth and realism to Eli’s flaws and weaknesses that would otherwise be missing.
Unlikeable (but realistic) characters Almost every character in Let The Right One In is despicable in one way or another. Oskar is unashamedly obsessed with the idea of slaughtering the boys who bully him (he even detachedly speculates early in the novel that he will grow up to be a serial killer), Eli kills innocent people and drinks their blood, and other characters are drunks, pedophiles, and murderers. No one is truly admirable or honorable, and it feels real. Lindqvist recognizes that all people are naturally corrupt or flawed in some way, and he does a remarkable job capturing this aspect of humanity.
An uneven format My only real complaint with Let The Right One In lies purely in Lindqvist’s presentation of his story. He follows the perspectives of numerous characters, occasionally interjecting a purely narrative segment to introduce a setting or set up an event. The narrative interjections are awkward, sparse enough that they feel out of place, and never really add anything to the story. Lindqvist also doesn’t feel the need to limit his viewpoints either; he skips around between well over a dozen characters, many of them so minor that they are given only a single scene; a viewpoint is even bestowed upon a squirrel for a page or so. Lindqvist changes viewpoints often, sometimes more than once per page, and this frequent skipping around between characters was jarring and kept me from really sinking into the story. I couldn’t quite understand the reasoning behind having so many viewpoints; it came across as lazy storytelling and eventually began to annoy me to the point where I was distracted from the actual story. The story could have been told just as effectively if Lindqvist had simply chosen a few major viewpoint characters and stuck with them throughout the entire novel.
Why should you read this book? Let The Right One In is a genuinely awesome vampire novel, and a must-read if you enjoy supernatural horror. It’s a brutal, chilling novel filled with moments that are disturbing, exciting, and sometimes even very sweet. Find a copy of Let The Right One In, and when you’re finished with the book, I recommend treating yourself to both film adaptations....more
The Windup Girl is the debut novel from author Paolo Bacigalupi and has won many awards, including the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus. It takes place in a future Bangkok and contains heavy elements of science fiction, dystopia, and biopunk, although it doesn’t land firmly in any of those genres. The story alternates between the perspectives of different characters (including Emiko, the titular windup girl) as Thailand is thrown into a tumultuous revolution, and follows them as they strive to achieve their own ends in the midst of a changing country.
A vivid setting Everything in The Windup Girl, from the characters to the plot and everything in between, works beautifully because Bacigalupi has created a stunningly vivid setting. It’s not a nice setting—his future Thailand is filthy and oppressive. The heat is thick and heavy, and the grime and grit of factory floors and open marketplaces practically spill off the page. Poverty is rampant and people are desperate, and it all feels extraordinarily real because of the little details that Bacigalupi strategically places throughout novel to flesh out The Windup Girl’s world. Bacigalupi has a true talent for creating setting and atmosphere, and he uses this talent as the foundation for everything else he writes. He expertly integrates his fictional elements into a world that has all the history and science to make it feel real, and as a result it genuinely feels like The Windup Girl is a look into our own future—and it’s terrifying.
Fascinating characters The Windup Girl tells more stories than just that of Emiko—Bacigalupi rotates between a few different viewpoint characters. While not all of these viewpoint characters are as developed as I would like, each of them is interesting in his or her own way, and each has a fascinating story that kept me engaged throughout the entire book. The stories of these characters begin to intertwine more and more as the book goes on, but they each remain distinct enough that they feel like separate arcs.
Creative concepts Bacigalupi presents a slew of intriguing ideas throughout The Windup Girl. He does an incredible job of lacing his story with small details—hints of past events, names of companies, and bits of cultural slang—that serve as a way of lending depth to its dystopian future. Bacigalupi also inserts fascinating characters and ideas that appear only briefly, which intrigued me enough to want to know more about the complexities of the world. Bacigalupi leaves his story open-ended enough to leave room for a potential sequel. Although The Windup Girl still brings enough of a resolution to its story that it feels like a complete work, I’d love to see a continuation of The Windup Girl’s story.
Why should you read this book? The Windup Girl deserves all the praise it has received. It’s an incredible book; from the vivid setting to the fascinating characters, Bacigalupi has created science fiction at its absolute best. Few authors can muster a debut novel as stunning as The Windup Girl, and if Bacigalupi continues to put out work of this caliber, he will undoubtedly be able to cement his place as one of the most talented authors working in genre fiction today....more
Heartless is the fourth book of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, alternatively known as the Alexia Terrabotti novels, following Soulless,Heartless is the fourth book of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, alternatively known as the Alexia Terrabotti novels, following Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless. Published by Orbit in June of 2011, Heartless picks up a few months after the third book left off.
Spoiler alert! Alexia, our not-so-delicate heroine without a soul, is now eight months pregnant, and back in the good graces of her husband, Lord Conal Maccoon of Woolsey, Alpha of the biggest and most powerful werewolf pack in Great Britain. While in London, an unsettled ghost appears to Alexia with a mangled message that seems to indicate a supernatural plot afoot to assassinate Queen Victoria. Alexia, crusader that she is, jumps on the case immediately and starts digging into past supernatural threats to the Queen and investigating a club of mad scientists. To do these, she enlists the help of her longtime friends, the vampire Lord Akeldama and Ivy Turnstell née Hisselpenny. All this while her sister Felicity is trying to genteelly run away from their parents by moving in with Alexia and joining the suffragette movement!
A little bit goes a long way My biggest sticking point in this book is that, for me, Alexia is increasingly hard to relate to. The four books of this series happen almost back to back. Heartless finishes at most a year after Soulless, the first book, begins. Having enough crazy things happen in one year to fill four books is a lot. Let’s elaborate that she got married and she's been pregnant through two books. During this time, her husband and family have both thrown her out and taken her back in again. She's done a high octane trip through France and Italy. She's been the target of countless assassination attempts. And that’s just the big bullet points version. I’m sorry, but at this point, she would not be capable of trying to prevent an assassination attempt on the Queen while eight months pregnant. Let’s not mention the more everyday things she's also dealing with, like pack politics.
Yes, Alexia is preternatural and not truly human. But in order to be a likable protagonist, she needs to stay relatable. Had I just had a year like hers, I’d be in the corner with a nervous breakdown and feel totally justified in it. Alexia slows down only because she just can’t walk that fast at the moment due to her pregnancy.
Always look on the bright side There are a lot of good things that still go on in this book. Carriger’s signature absurdities are back, and several side characters like Ivy get expanded roles. A chunk of back story for Conal, the Wolsey pack, and Alessandros is revealed, and it is very well done. While Alexia doesn’t do a lot of overt growth in this book, there’s a lot of character development for several smaller characters, including Ivy and the Lefouxs. This book is both smart and funny in a way that I’ve seen only Carriger pull off.
Why should you read this book? For the same reason I did: because you like Carriger’s first three novels and because Carriger’s work is whimsical, witty and fun. I would not advise picking this book up if you haven’t read at least the first two books, though. Carriger does not go back to give you a rough recap of what happened in previous books; she’s assuming that you’ve read her other works....more
Soulless, Gail Carriger’s debut novel, was published by Orbit in October of 2009. It has since become a four book series, with a fifth scheduled for March 2012. The Parasol Protectorate, or the Alexia Tarrabotti novels as they are alternatively known, are solid examples of steampunk mixed with more than a dash of a British style comedy of manners.
Let’s start with the introductions Soulless features the protagonist Miss Alexia Tarrabotti, who has several unfortunate characteristics. Her Italian father is dead, leaving her with her oh-so-English mother, stepfather and half-sisters in Victorian London. She also suffers from the rare condition of having no soul. She is therefore unfashionably pragmatic and has almost no artistic sentiments. On the upside, her preternatural state can cancel out the supernatural powers of werewolves and vampires if she comes into physical contact with them.
While trying to enjoy some tea undisturbed in a ducal library during an exceptionally dull ball, Miss Terrabotti is set upon by a starving vampire. Having no other recourse, she stakes him with her hair stick. Lord Conall Maccoon, a Scottish Alpha werewolf, is sent by Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s government to investigate. Unfortunately for Miss Terrabotti, her now permanently dead vampire is the latest in a string of supernatural disappearances in London. With Lord Maccoon’s grudging and sometimes unwitting help, she sets out to solve this mystery and clear her name.
And on to the particulars Carriger does a number of things very, very well. First and foremost, her wit is one of the best in the business. Her jokes, puns, and sense of the absurd are fresh, new, and highly entertaining. And really, what period in history is more absurd than late Victorian England? Carriger also deftly sews together several genres: fantasy, romance, mystery, and good British costume drama. I have little doubt that she could write in any one of these genres alone and be successful. The fact that she can do them effectively all at once is impressive. The whole mix works because this is also a consciously humorous book that doesn’t take itself or anything else seriously. Her prose is tight and clean, and the book has great pacing. I was inspired to keep reading, even while I paused to enjoy a particularly toothsome turn of phrase. I wanted to know what on earth this author and her characters were going to get up to next.
A few words of warning The only weakness in this book is worldbuilding. And there’s a very simple reason for this: Soulless was originally written as a stand-alone novel. The good people at Orbit know a good thing when they see it and asked Carriger to turn it into a series. While a stand-alone novel can afford not to delve into every corner of a world because the plot doesn’t require them to be explored, a series needs those little extras to build future plots in. At the end of Soulless, even though I knew there was a sequel forthcoming, I had no idea where it was going, or even what genre it was going to be based in. That’s not to say that Carriger’s worldbuilding is weak; it’s not. For a stand-alone novel, it’s very good; but while she expanded the book somewhat in order to have something to work with in sequels, there’s a lot that goes unexplained.
A possible limitation of Soulless is the vocabulary that Carriger uses. This is not a book that the average person is likely to be able to pick up and work their way through without a dictionary on hand. Now, I’ve found that people who read speculative fiction are really nothing like the average Joe, and so I expect that many will do all right. Who knows; if you like being exposed to new words and phrases, this may be the book for you. But if you aren’t adventuresome, I’d recommend you find your entertainment elsewhere.
Why should you read this book? First of all, if you like steampunk, Carriger’s work has become a cornerstone of the genre. Soulless is also a light, refreshing, and highly entertaining book in its own right. There’s never a dull moment, and it is by turns laugh out loud funny. I actually think this may be the funniest book I’ve ever read. This is a book to read when you need a fluffy and frothy piece of escapism. I should put on a caveat: don’t read this book when hungry. Miss Terrabotti is a great lover of food, and is always munching on some tasty morsel or perhaps drinking tea. I’m sure she prefers to do both at once, but only in a tastefully elegant manner. If you’re hungry, you’ll find yourself running to the kitchen in search of battenburg cake or treacle tart....more
The Night Circus is Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel. Published simultaneously in the US and the UK in September 2011, this book is a standalone novel. Morgenstern has also been the very lucky recipient of something almost unheard of for a debut author in the fantasy genre: a major publicity effort, complete with interviews at major media sources. And let me tell you, she deserves every bit of the attention.
The circus is coming… Celia is the daughter of Hector Bowen, a stage magician of the Victorian era. What his audience doesn’t know—and wouldn’t believe—is that what they think are masterful illusions are real magic. When his daughter is six, Hector summons an old friend, Alexander, and makes a wager that Celia, with her significant natural talent, will be a better magician than any student without natural talent that Alexander can teach. They bind Celia to a competition to take place in the nebulous future with Marco, the student Alexander takes to fulfill his side of the wager. There a few stipulations: neither can interfere with the other’s work (nor can they receive outside magical help), the competition will be in a public venue, they can’t quit and walk away, and only one can win.
As adults, Celia and Marco are inserted into the foundation of the Night Circus, which is designed to be a complete work of art and spectacle in true Wagnerian fashion. Within this space, and with the help of fellow builders and performers, Celia and Marco work their magic to create a venue to delight the masses that is like nothing else in the world. Perhaps inevitably, their competition moves into something more along the lines of collaboration, as the whole of the circus becomes more important than the individual parts both maintain.
The good… While Celia and Marco are the protagonists, the book moves deftly between not only their viewpoints, but the viewpoints of a few other characters as well. Morgenstern includes this movement between viewpoints with movements through time—a potential pitfall, but she pulls it off in beautiful fashion. The book itself actually takes places over about thirteen years on at least two continents. While the forward and backward movement caught me off guard initially, the transitions were smooth and I didn’t find it distracting. I just had to pay attention to the dates given at the beginning of each chapter. Morgenstern uses this to flesh out the world she has created. We see the circus both as it is being built and at its peak. The descriptions of setting are fantastic in every sense of the word. You can see the circus come to life in all of its black and white glory. If you let yourself, you can smell the caramel corn and hot cocoa at the concession stands. The characters are well constructed and three dimensional. By the end of the book, we care about what’s happening to each and every one of them, especially since there isn’t a traditional villain role. We have sympathy for everyone, wanting things to turn out well even when there may not be room for a traditional happy ending.
…and the bad. That’s not to say I loved everything about this book. It is, in essence, a love story. But the two lovers are rarely together, usually only for brief moments separated by years. While the dreamy feel of the book makes for lovely descriptions, for me it weakened the tension Morgenstern was trying to build as we reached the climax. The climax itself was rather short and unadorned. While it did wrap up neatly and cleanly, it didn’t leave me with the sense of accomplishment that I wanted.
Why should you read this book? I will admit that when I first looked at this book, I was rather skeptical. One of the things I love about the fantasy genre is that it is built so strongly on evoking emotion. The cover of the book, the way it was being marketed, and even the cover text felt very literary to me, and I’ve been disappointed in the past by literary fiction’s attempt at blending with fantasy. I picked it up anyway, and I’m glad I did. This book is incredibly well-written with a very dream-like quality. While approachable by readers who don’t follow fantasy, it will also appeal to those who do. In some ways, this book reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s recent work, and some of Jane Yolen’s. The prose is exceptional, easily on par with some of the masters of modern writing, and this is Morgenstern’s debut! Trust me, we are going to hear more about this book throughout the next year, and I can’t wait to see more of this author....more
Embassytown is a stand-alone science fiction novel by China Miéville. The story follows the first-person narrative of Avice, a woman living in the titular Embassytown on a planet populated by a sentient species humanity refers to as the Hosts. The Hosts speak by saying two distinct things at the same time (which humans are physically unable to do), and so humanity develops Ambassadors—two people able to speak as one—in order to communicate with them. The Hosts are continually working to expand their language, and so when Avice is a child, she is chosen to become a simile—a literal part of the way Hosts communicate. When she is older, this results in her becoming an integral part of a linguistic revolution that alters the Hosts’ culture forever.
A stunningly original premise Embassytown presents one of the most original premises I’ve ever encountered in literature. It plays off of this idea: as a result of the way their language works, the Hosts are unable to speak or even think something that is not true—until humanity introduces the concept of lying into their culture. The novel revolves around the idea of how language can be corrupted and manipulated, and how it can ultimately alter the essence of an entire culture. Unfortunately, this premise really is the novel’s greatest strength; in the actual execution of the plot, Miéville tries to create more story than there really is, which results in extremely haphazard pacing. In fact, the concept behind Embassytown would likely have worked beautifully as a short story; as a novel, however, there simply isn’t enough material to justify its length.
A thin plot The entire first half of Embassytown is purely explanation, backstory, and gradual worldbuilding as Miéville unveils his unique setting to the reader. It’s very smoothly told; Miéville skillfully lets information about his world trickle out so the reader is always learning something new and is continually in the process of piecing together the disparate elements they are given. However, this is also a very passive section of the book, and I expect many readers will struggle to stay engaged due to its lack of action and momentum. The story doesn’t actually start pushing forward until about halfway through the book and the pace subsequently picks up quite a bit after that, but even then there isn’t a great deal of substance to the plot. Embassytown is more idea-driven than event-driven, so don’t expect much in terms of plot.
Uninteresting characters The characters in Embassytown are almost completely devoid of personality. They populate the novel for the sole purpose of advancing the plot, and none of them warrant or earn emotional attachment. Even Avice, who narrates the novel from a first-person point of view, keeps herself as closed off from the reader as the other characters and never lets her personality show through. By the end of the novel, you still don’t really know who Avice is as a person. This really isn’t a huge issue in the novel because the story is focused more on exploring the concept and corruption of language rather than the arcs of individual characters, but this is something to note if you prefer stories that are more character-driven.
Why should you read this book? Despite uninteresting characters, a thin plot, and a first half that consists of nothing more than explanation, backstory, and worldbuilding, Embassytown does have one of the most fascinating story concepts I’ve ever encountered in a book. For me, at least, that alone made it worth reading.
There’s an audience out there who will enjoy this book; however, I don’t believe that audience is very large. There are a few general guidelines that will help determine if you might like Embassytown. First: If you’ve enjoyed Miéville’s other works, you’ll likely enjoy Embassytown. Second: If you’re interested in the concepts behind language and communication, you’ll likely enjoy this book. Finally: If you’re a fan of science fiction in general, you’ll likely enjoy this book to some extent, although it will probably vary significantly from person to person. If none of these categories describe you, you might not want to bother with Embassytown....more
The City & the City , a stand-alone novel by China Miéville, is a murder mystery given a unique twist through its setting. The City & the CityThe City & the City , a stand-alone novel by China Miéville, is a murder mystery given a unique twist through its setting. The City & the City takes place in two cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma—both of which occupy the same physical space. Each city, however, has its own distinct architecture, atmosphere, and culture. The residents of each city have one thing in common: they are essentially required by law to ignore each other through a process calling “unseeing” (which is exactly what it sounds like). The novel opens with Inspector Tyador Borlu investigating the death of an unknown woman in the city of Beszel, but while he searches for the killer he becomes embroiled in the complex—and secret—history of both cities.
The readers are on their own Miéville doesn’t bother introducing the reader to all the rules of his setting. He sets you in the story right from the first page and lets your understanding of the world build as the cities are explored throughout the book. The story can seem abrupt and frustrating at first because you’re placed into a unique setting complete with its own rules, slang, and politics, few of which are ever directly explained. Don’t let this deter you from sticking with the story, however. If you keep reading, you’ll be rewarded with an ever-increasing grasp on the nature of Beszel and Ul Qoma and how they interact with each other, even through the very end of the book. The City & the City is a journey of exploration, of trying to understand new and different places, for both the characters and the reader.
Sparse prose Miéville’s prose is so sparse in The City & the City that, until the reader adjusts to the style, it can be jarring for a significant portion of the book. Miéville omits every unnecessary word in this book, and his sentences—especially dialogue—can come across as fractured and broken. This isn’t detrimental to the story or reading experience; it is merely a different style of writing, and while it can take some time to adjust, it proves to work well in the context of the story.
The sparse language is also an aspect of the way the story is told. Inspector Borlu’s first-person narration limits itself strictly to analytical observation. He tells you what happens and provides his perspective on what is happening, but never lets you in on his personal feelings. As a result of this detachment, we never get to see who Inspector Borlu really is as a person. He is a very distant character, and both this and his heavily restrained narrative may be a reflection of his work as a detective. Either way, this lack of connection makes it difficult to become emotionally attached to Borlu; the stakes are never high on a personal level.
An unfulfilling ending While the novel begins as a murder investigation, it slowly transitions its focus to the nature of the titular cities and the politics and conspiracies that lie behind their parallel existence. A number of interesting ideas are explored as the novel progresses, which led me to expect a lot from the ending. Unfortunately, these ideas never really amounted to anything. Questions are answered and plot threads are resolved, but the surprising twists and exciting climaxes I was expecting and looking forward to never happened. The ending is abrupt and unfulfilling, making the experience of reading the book feel like undertaking a truly fascinating journey that simply stops and falls flat before it reaches its “true” destination.
Why should you read this book? The City & the City really doesn’t have much going for it in terms of entertainment value. It isn’t a particularly exciting book, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re just looking for a fun read. However, the unique setting is really fascinating to explore and makes the book worth checking out if you’re at all interested in speculative fiction....more
This review contains minor spoilers for Mr. Monster
I Don’t Want To Kill You is the final entry in the John Cleaver trilogy by Dan Wells, following I Am Not A Serial Killer and Mr. Monster, and it brings the series to a thrilling conclusion.
Having finally come to terms with the darkness inside him that he calls ‘Mr. Monster,’ teenage sociopath John Cleaver makes it his personal mission to hunt down and destroy demons as I Don’t Want To Kill You continues his story. This time, John has made the first move and invited a demon to his hometown of Clayton—but he soon realizes that taking the fight to them hasn’t given him the upper hand.
A strong conclusion I Don’t Want To Kill You doesn’t bring a lot of new material to the series, and as a result there isn’t a lot to be said about it, but it’s the book’s execution that makes it the standout entry in the trilogy. Structurally, Wells takes the same approach with I Don’t Want To Kill You that he took with Mr. Monster; he sacrifices the immediacy and intensity of I Am Not A Serial Killer in favor of a slower build, concentrating both on developing the characters and layering on the tension. What makes it different from Mr. Monster is that this time it works. Even though the story pulls together slowly, Wells manages to keep the reader engaged throughout the entire novel.
An intriguing premise The final pages of Mr. Monster gave the reader a very clear expectation for I Don’t Want To Kill You, and this book works because it delivers on that promise from the very beginning. The story is direct, focused, and doesn’t waste time getting to the point. This hooks the reader in right from the start, and Wells has created a seductive story that kept me constantly guessing, rethinking my guesses, and most importantly, itching to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next. I thought I had the book figured out at one point, but Wells still managed to completely subvert my expectations in a way that never felt cheap or unsatisfying. He has constructed a story that works on every level and executes it masterfully from beginning to end. Everything clicks together in this book in a way that it never did in either of the previous two.
A natural progression While I Don’t Want To Kill You follows the same basic plot as its predecessors, Wells does expand on certain elements and themes from the previous books, all of which help make this final entry feel like a new story despite its repetitive plot. John’s conflict with his internal darkness has all but disappeared in this book, but this feels like a logical continuation from the second book rather than a major element that Wells simply tossed aside in favor of new ideas. Instead, the new struggles that John explores fall perfectly in place in the story; he is challenged by both the way other people see him and the way he sees himself. He must bring into question everything that he has done thus far in the series and find a way to fit into society while still being himself. This is perhaps the greatest success of the series as a whole: Wells takes a single character and forces him to grow across all three books without ever losing sight of who he is at the core. By this final book he has become a very different person from the John Cleaver we saw at the beginning of I Am Not A Serial Killer, but he remains true to his character right to the very end.
Why should you read this book? If you’ve already read I Am Not A Serial Killer and Mr. Monster (and if not, why haven’t you?), you’re likely already planning on picking up I Don’t Want To Kill You. Rest assured: this is easily the strongest book in the trilogy, and an extraordinary conclusion to a fantastic series. Everything that worked well in the first two books works again, and everything that didn’t work has been fixed. Wells has taken everything up a notch in I Don’t Want To Kill You, and the results are stunning. I am eagerly anticipating his future work....more
On October 1, 2011, Death Drop will burst onto the scene, leaving a trail of genre bending destruction in its wake. This explosive debut novel by SeanOn October 1, 2011, Death Drop will burst onto the scene, leaving a trail of genre bending destruction in its wake. This explosive debut novel by Sean Allen is the first book set in The D-Evolution series.
Humans are dead. That’s right, they were completely wiped out 400,000 years ago; however, the universe is still populated by a myriad assortment of sentient life. That life is threatened by the Durax, a heinous race whose bodies are weak, but whose mind-controlling abilities have enabled them to conquer, destroy and enslave all who cross their path. Fortunately, all is not lost. A group of rebels known as The Dissension has a serum enabling them to withstand the Durax’s telepathic assaults. Or at least they did. The serum is no longer safe and the Dissension is slowly losing their rebellion to the Durax.
Dezmara Stryker has heard the stories of humans, and it seems that somehow she is one, possibly the last one. She is willing to go to any lengths to keep that fact hidden. Smuggling comes easy to Dezmara and is the perfect front as she searches for information on other humans. She has quickly become the best smuggler around, gaining a solid reputation, but that reputation comes with a cost… recognition.
A double-cross leaves a top Dissension soldier dead, and Dezmara is the prime suspect. When multiple enemies start pursuing Dezmara, she is forced to muster every last ounce of her intellect, strength and skills to avoid being killed. Death Drop starts with a BANG and ends with a BOOM!
It’s a jungle out there Death Drop has many different races; each one is described in such detail that it felt like watching anime in my brain. Many are molded after Earth animals and have a variety of awesome talents. It’s clear these races have been culturally immersed for a very long time. Almost all have been terrorized in some way by the Durax. Many are enslaved; some, transformed into crazed super soldiers, have taken advantage of the turmoil and formed immense criminal empires or joined forces with the Durax; and a brave few stand in rebellion. The rest are just trying to survive, if they haven’t already been completely wiped out.
Dezmara is a heroine with a quick wit and insane skills. She’s River Tam on steroids (well, at least with an awesome flight suit, helmet and weaponry). Every scene involving this high octane smuggler was heart-pounding fun. I enjoyed her encounters with the various denizens of the universe, although the accent of Luv, her mechanic, got pretty annoying. (I liked him, but I often wished he would lose his tongue.) I absolutely loved her guard cat, Diodojo.
Other characters were equally impressive. From the grizzled war veteran with the powers of Ice to the murderous, soul stealing enemy General, the various characters had distinctive personalities, striking physical descriptions and amazing abilities.
I might need a neck brace Every turn of the page brings about a new twist, intense space battle, or a fantastic new location. The plot develops quickly and the action zips through the pages. Dezmara, who I feel is the most interesting of the characters, doesn’t even show up until a fifth of the way through, but the setup is so good you’ll hardly notice. Once she enters the story, prepare for some serious whiplash. The double-crosses, unexpected twists and mysteries characters continue to the last page.
During many chapters, Allen’s narrative wanders into alternating point of view. This is not my usual preference in novels, but due to the fast-paced nature of the story, it adds to the feel that this is more like a movie or comic book than a novel, which I believe was his intention.
BOOM! KAPOW! CLACK CLACK CLACK! Death Drop is heavy on the action and almost every page includes some onomatopoeic sound effects. This is another example of Death Drop’s comic book qualities. I’ve seen this used often in graphic novels and comics, but much more sparingly (if at all) in science fiction and fantasy novels. Thankfully, Allen’s use of onomatopoeia enhances the quirky feel of Death Drop and was another distinguishing facet of his style.
I will advise that many scenes have detailed descriptions of gore and heavy doses of R-rated language. It fits with the style of the book, but is not advised for those under 18.
Why should you read this book? Sean Allen clearly had fun writing this book and I had fun reading it. There’s plenty of high tech gadgetry, cool spaceships, magnetic shields and vast space colonies for the science fiction buff. The fantasy enthusiast will enjoy the multitude of beings that inhabit the Death Drop universe. The ability to move rocks, shape shift, control minds or capture the souls of those they have killed are just a few of the powers presenting a magical touch. There’s something for everyone in this book. The style is different from my typical fare and it won’t suit everyone, but if you’re adventurous, why not give it a go? If you’re still not sure, check out the awesome character art and download 280 pages free (yes, free) at The D-Evolution. Is it anime? Is it a graphic novel? Is it Space Opera? … no, it’s Death Drop....more
Mr. Monster, the sequel to the supernatural YA thriller I Am Not a Serial Killer, is the second book in the John Cleaver trilogy by Dan Wells. Following closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, Mr. Monster sticks to the tone and style of the first book while also raising the stakes and continuing to flesh out the characters.
Mr. Monster continues the story of teenage sociopath John Cleaver as he begins to truly take on the responsibilities and risks of adolescence, all while combating his own sociopathic nature that he tries so hard to keep in check—a part of himself that he refers to as ‘Mr. Monster.’ When bodies once again begin to show up in his hometown of Clayton, John becomes determined to hunt the killer down, and in the process is forced into direct conflict with Mr. Monster.
Developed characters The characters in Mr. Monster are significantly more developed than they were in I Am Not a Serial Killer, and this lends the book a depth that its predecessor never had. The story once again focuses on John Cleaver, and stays true to his character from the first book, but John is also forced to mature as the ongoing conflict with his own dark nature intensifies and is brought to the forefront. In addition, we are introduced to aspects of John that we never saw before, giving him the roundness that he needed to become a fully three-dimensional character.
Characters that were only seen briefly in the first book are also given time to grow into more complete people. Getting to know characters who merely populated the background of I Am Not a Serial Killer is a fascinating experience, giving the town of Clayton a vastly more human feel as well as adding a lot of depth to the book as a whole.
Stronger prose Wells has matured as a writer since his debut, and it clearly shows in Mr. Monster. This is most prominent in John’s narration; Wells has grown more comfortable with the character, and his voice feels significantly more natural than it did in I Am Not a Serial Killer as Wells gains a better grasp of John’s individuality. The dark humor is sharper and more effective, and John really begins to stand out as a person as he begins to take on an increasingly adult role in his life. We get to see that he has much greater range of strengths and weaknesses than those we saw in the first book.
With Mr. Monster, Wells also proves to have a very solid grasp on writing effective dialogue. The way the teenager characters speak is extraordinarily realistic, but never to the point where it becomes annoying. In addition, some of my favorite scenes in the book worked so well for me simply because the dialogue between certain characters felt so fluid and natural that it gave their interactions a genuine spark of realism that I haven’t encountered very often in literature.
A slower pace The flaw in Mr. Monster that I found most inhibiting to the book as a whole was its slow pace. Unlike the first book, which drew most its strength from its breakneck speed, Mr. Monster moves forward almost sluggishly for most of its duration, with only the last hundred pages or so picking up on the intensity that served its predecessor so well. Wells spends a significant amount of time reiterating the events of the first book, and this quickly grows repetitive and tiresome. The story seems to be lacking in direction for most of the book, and while Wells does take this time to build tension and develop his characters, he draws it out far too long and easily could have accomplished this goal in fewer pages.
Why should you read this book? Mr. Monster is a strong sequel to I Am Not a Serial Killer, and definitely worth reading if you enjoyed the first book. Wells has strengthened as a writer and has taken great care to flesh out his characters. While the book does suffer from a slower pace that causes it to drag in a way that I Am Not a Serial Killer never did, it’s worth reading simply to spend time with the fascinating and fully developed characters that Wells has created....more
This review contains minor spoilers for The Nameless Day.
The Wounded Hawk is the second installment in Sara Douglass’s epic historical fantasy trilogy, The Crucible. The winner of Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2001, this impressive novel is much more than just a placefiller leading up to the trilogy conclusion, The Crippled Angel.
Many of the major plot developments in the series take place here, as well as substantial world building and further characterisation of each of the many participants in the dangerous game playing out between various factions both earthly and celestial. This is where the series really comes into its own as Douglass takes her readers on a gripping journey, dazzling in its scope and encompassing countless unexpected twists and turns.
The Wounded Hawk begins a few months after the events of The Nameless Day, with Thomas Neville having narrowly escaped serious reprimand for casting aside his vows to the church, and continuing his search for the mysterious casket that holds the key to wiping the demons off the face of the earth. Although he now shelters under the protection of his childhood friend Hal (Henry) of Bolingbroke, and his powerful father John of Gaunt, Neville has many enemies both known and unknown to him. Some seek to prevent the success of his quest while others act upon their own, more personal vendettas. Furthermore, the war between England and France continues, while beneath society’s surface stirs civil unrest, sowing the seeds of rebellion amongst noblemen and peasants alike.
Superb writing Once again Douglass showcases her remarkable talents for genre blending and combining multiple narratives while maintaining pace and keeping the reader interested. Innumerable subplots simultaneously unfold in various locations throughout Europe, yet all interweave and their various repercussions significantly impact the story as a whole. Her prose flows effortlessly and contains just the right amount of description to absorb the reader in the sights and sounds of this alternate fourteenth century without becoming tedious or excessive.
Dynamic characterisation Throughout The Wounded Hawk, Douglass does an excellent job of developing and offering further insight into the characters we met in the previous novel while introducing many more into the fray. Our perceptions of certain characters are challenged as they reveal further motives and ambitions and develop in response to the events that unfold around them. A cold-hearted political player may reveal a softer, more human side, while a previously irreproachable character may act ruthlessly when their interests are threatened. Even the most despicable characters are, more often than not, a product of their environment and just as prone to manipulation by their peers.
Alliances can change in a heartbeat and almost no one is really who they seem. Neville, the protagonist who so irked readers in the first book, begins to show some redeeming qualities as he is torn between what he has always believed is right and what is now revealed to him.
Heightened action The Wounded Hawk outdoes its predecessor tenfold when it comes to action and pacing. What’s more, it does this without neglecting other elements such as world building and charater development. Various schemes and promises, the foundations of which were laid in The Nameless Day, finally come into fruition in The Wounded Hawk. Battles are waged throughout England and France alike, countless plots unfold, and civil dissatisfaction within the English peasantry reaches breaking point. Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that this novel only builds upon previously constructed narratives. Many exciting new developments are introduced to be resolved either within this novel or in the trilogy’s epic conclusion.
Gritty and confronting The Crucible trilogy, in essence, is an extremely bold and gritty work of fantasy that doesn’t balk at the thought of gore or attempt to shirk possible controversy. The Wounded Hawk does contain a number of particularly confronting scenes and depictions of graphic violence, some of which are sexual in nature. Those who are averse to such content may want to give this one a miss. For those who are not deterred, most of these scenes are not merely gratuitous, but serve a purpose within the greater context of the story and aim to provoke thought in the reader. For instance an elaborate and rather shocking deception takes place in the course of the story that, while serving its distinct purpose, causes substantial hurt to various individuals. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but do the ends really justify the means in this case? Or could a better way to the same goal have been found? One should also be aware that Douglass presents a unique reimagining of Christian mythos throughout the series that may be considered sacreligious or offensive to some readers. While some religious icons are portrayed in a sympathetic, though unconventional, light, many others come across far more negatively.
Why should you read this book? This brilliant and daring example of character driven historical fantasy more than fulfills the promises of the previous book. It is an engrossing, well-plotted, and thought provoking novel with an interesting premise that is relatively unique in the fantasy genre. Even if you were unsure about The Nameless Day, The Wounded Hawk is definitely worth a look and has previously converted many critics of the series. If you have enjoyed The Crucible trilogy so far, I would strongly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of this as soon as possible. It may also be wise to grab a copy of the third installment, The Crippled Angel, while you’re at it, as once you start reading you may find yourself not wanting to stop or endure a tortourously suspenseful wait to find out what happens next....more
A young adult thriller with strong supernatural elements, I Am Not A Serial Killer is the first book in the John Cleaver Trilogy and the debut novel of author Dan Wells, one of the authors on the popular podcast Writing Excuses.
I Am Not A Serial Killer tells the story of fifteen-year-old John Cleaver, a teenage boy that has an obsession with serial killers and sociopathic tendencies that he keeps in check with a strict list of rules. But when a grisly string of murders begin in his small town of Clayton and the bodies begin to show up in the mortuary where John works with his mom and aunt, he is soon desperate to learn everything he can about the mysterious killer at the risk of releasing his own darker side.
An authentic atmosphere As a reader living in a town not much larger than the book’s setting of Clayton, the atmosphere that Wells created felt extraordinarily authentic to me. He perfectly captures the feel of living in an area where everyone knows everyone, and capitalizes on this brilliantly by creating a sense of claustrophobia as the killings escalate and the town begins to degenerate into chaos. The book plays not only on the fear that the next person to be slaughtered on the street might be someone you know, but also the very real possibility that the killer is living in your very neighborhood—perhaps across the street, or even next door. Wells makes full use of this charged atmosphere to ratchet up the tension with every chapter, and the suspense tightens around the story like a noose as the reader burns through the second half of the book.
An engaging protagonist Part of what makes John Cleaver such a fascinating protagonist is that he is fully aware of his flaws. Unlike characters who are inhibited by weaknesses they are unable to recognize, John knows exactly what his problems are. His struggles stem from his inability to overcome them. He knows that he is unable to empathize with others, but he simply cannot make himself feel the emotions he wants to. He knows that he incapable of carrying on a proper conversation, but he still can never find the right thing to say.
Wells isn’t afraid to let John act in ways that are true to his character either. He threatens to kill one of his peers, brandishes a knife at his mother, and even stalks the girl he likes and has fantasies of killing her. These are the moments when John is truly himself, but the reader can’t help but sympathize with him because he tries so hard to resist these impulses. This makes him an extraordinarily engaging character because we know he desperately wants to be normal, but also that he is happiest when he is hurting others. An effective dual conflict is created here: the external conflict presented by the serial killer, and the internal conflict presented by John’s own darker nature. Wells uses both as complements to each other and as a method to keep the pressure on for the entire length of the story.
A supernatural edge I know some readers were taken by surprise by the sudden supernatural twist that turns the story around about a hundred pages in, but Wells isn’t trying to subvert the reader’s expectations. In fact, he uses John’s narration to make it clear early in the book that the story will have a supernatural element. I was initially of the opinion that the book would have been more effective without this supernatural edge, but Wells handles this aspect of the story so deftly and with such effectiveness that I quickly reversed my opinion. He skillfully integrates the supernatural element into the existing story and even uses it as a vehicle for subtle but powerful themes regarding the nature of death.
A forced resolution Unfortunately, the novel falters in its final chapters. The climax and conclusion of the novel gave me the impression that Wells had written himself into a corner and didn’t know how to bring the story to a natural ending. It felt extremely rushed and seemed like Wells was simply marking items off a checklist to fulfill his requirements for a proper ending. The characters’ actions felt forced and disingenuous, as if they were simply going through the motions rather than staying faithful to the personalities that Wells so carefully crafted over the course of the novel. It’s a pity that the book had to go out on this note, but it’s a rather minor quibble in the overall story.
Why should you read this book? I Am Not A Serial Killer is a book best read in one sitting to make the most of its fast pace and strong narrative momentum. If you have a free day to sit down and read, are looking for something fast, fun, and entertaining, and don’t mind a strong supernatural edge to an otherwise straight-up thriller, this debut novel from Dan Wells is a fantastic choice....more
Vampire Academy is the first book in the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. This is a young adult paranormal romance book quite like The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer.
Now, I’m not a young adult and I’m actually not all that much into paranormal romance, but I was convinced to read these books because of the high average rating it has on Goodreads. It has a rating of 4.26/5 with nearly 40,000 votes. To me, that means a book should be really good.
The super secret society of Moroi and Dhampirs Rose Hathaway, the main character and a novice (guardian in training), and Vasilisa “Lissa” Dragomir, a Royal Moroi, ran away from St. Vladimir’s Academy. After two years living out in the Strigoi-infested world, they were “captured” and brought back by the school’s Guardian’s. There are three kinds of creatures in the world of the Vampire Academy: Moroi, living vampires that can wield elemental magic; Strigoi, dead and immortal vampires that are incredibly fast and strong; and the Dhampir, a human and Moroi hybrid, stronger and more hardy than the Moroi. Dhampirs are trained to be Guardians of Moroi as they were seriously threatened to be wiped out by the Strigoi. Of course, the human world is totally oblivious to the secret society of the Moroi and – even if they are killing off humans by the dozens – the Strigoi.
Lissa and Rose had been in a car crash shortly before they left. Everyone in the car, Lissa’s family, died, except for Rose and herself. After the crash, a psychic bond between Rose and Lissa formed. Usually, Moroi specialize in one of the elements, but somehow, Lissa hadn’t. However, they quickly find out that she had actually specialized in an element previously unknown to the Moroi. This element forged their bond and gave Lissa the ability to heal, even if they were clinically dead. The downside? If she continued to use it, she would go utterly insane.
A bratty 17 year old Rose is a highly impulsive, arrogant adolescent. She hates her Guardian mother, who abandoned Rose after her birth and left her to be raised at the Academy. Rose is convinced of her own desirability – according to her, most guys in the school “want” her. She is a huge flirt and her latest interest is in Dimitri, an older Guardian and her mentor. This is the first male she’s come across that doesn’t give in to her immediately and it frustrates her to no end. “Frustration” is a core word here; never have I seen so many “exasperated sighs” in one book. Rose throws an enormous amount of temper tantrums, by which many people are all too impressed. She knows how to nearly always get her way, simply by batting her eyelashes and pursing her lips.
Honestly, there were so many clichés in this book that I nearly got used to the corniness. Richelle Mead tried awfully hard to convince her readers that Rose is the coolest character ever, and in my opinion, she tried too hard. Perhaps it’s because I am not a “young adult”, but I had a very hard time relating to Rose. At many times I thought that Rose’s reactions, or the reactions of those around her, were not at all natural. Instead, they felt forced and fake. Mead often went for the “cool” reaction (or action), whereas that is not the way the human psyche works most of the time. Rose’s wittiness mostly feels feigned and annoying. And I didn’t even mention the “Lissa’s life before mine forever” thing that Rose has.
A light, slightly entertaining read I finished Vampire Academy in less than three days, during one of my busiest weeks this year. I had passed the halfway point before I knew it and felt I had barely read anything at all. I finished the second book a few days later. This, dear readers, is the plus side of this book and these series. They are utterly brainless. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to think while reading these books. They are light, incredibly easy books to read (that includes language as well as plot). If you, like me, are having a tough week, writing essays on very intellectual topics, read this on the side to relax and clear your mind.
Why you should read this book? The amount of temper tantrums, cliché one-liners and dialogue will most likely annoy you, if you’re anything like me. As I said, if you want to relax during a busy week and clear your mind, this book is perfect. But if you enjoy a book that leaves you thinking and is (even somewhat) challenging? Definitely skip this one....more
Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov is the first book translated into English from The Chronicles of Siala trilogy, an award winning series in Russia. The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, who also translated the popular Night Watch series.
Shadow Harold is a master thief in the great city of Avendoom. He’s done his best to remain in the shadows; however, after one particularly difficult heist, Harold is given a choice — assist a group of heroes in a desperate quest to impede the Nameless One’s forces or rot away in prison. It sounds like a simple decision, but Harold has never wanted to be a hero. Now, along with an Elfin princess, the king’s goblin court jester, and a group of brave and fearless soldiers, Harold is about to embark on the greatest commission of his life.
To retrieve a powerful item of magic, this diverse group must learn to trust each other while traveling through perilous lands and into the underground tombs of Hrad Spein, a place of great power and the home of unspeakable terrors. Success could mean preventing the Nameless One and his minions from attacking Avendome and eliminating humankind and their allies forever. Harold may hold the key to saving the world in his hand, but he would rather toss it into a deep abyss and go back to picking pockets.
Déjà vu Featuring elves, ogres, dwarves, and gnomes, an impossible quest to retrieve a magical item, a reluctant thief, and the nameless evil doers poised to strike, Shadow Prowler uses every fantasy cliché in the genre. I prefer the unexpected, so at first glance I was hesitant to pick this one up, but when I heard the series was an award winner in Russia, I decided to give it a go (plus I won a free copy — thank you, Tor). I was impressed with Pehov’s clever re-imagining of familiar motifs. From the descriptions and origins of each race to the exciting world around them, Pehov has a unique vision. Pehov’s writing really shines in the characters, starting with the narrator, Harold.
Out of the shadows The majority of the story is narrated by Harold, a Master thief who has done well keeping himself out of trouble. He is confident and witty and prefers to avoid direct conflict, instead relying on his street smarts or simply hiding in the shadows to stay alive.
The world around him is vast and full of life, but there are no info dumps in this book. We learn things as Harold does and take for granted what he already knows. When Harold utters a phrase like “may a h’san’kor devour my dear departed granny”, you’ll laugh as if this were an everyday saying here in the real world. The narration pulled me in completely. I felt like I was listening to Harold tell his tales at the pub over a mug of ale. He even occasionally refers to himself in the third person, which threw me off at first, but it’s clearly a personality quirk and adds even more depth to this already well-conceived character.
There are a few instances where the narrative switches to a third person viewpoint. These scenes are creatively inserted into the story and seamlessly drive the narrative forward. They contain some of the best writing in the book, giving a glimpse into the depth of Pehov’s world and providing a clear example of why this author is an award winner.
Thanks for the support Every hero needs support, especially one as unaccustomed to heroism as Harold. Harold interacts with a broad assortment of friends and foes. From Harold’s portly mentor, a thief-turned-priest, to an oft injured would-be assassin, every character Harold meets in Avendoom sparkles with life.
Pehov did an excellent job of giving me a feeling of connectedness with Harold. As he discovered more about each member of his group, I did too. A great example are The Wilds Hearts: they start off as a jumbled group, but as the story progresses, they grow and change, each one taking on a unique personality as Harold gets to know them. (Props to Pehov for writing the hippest goblin jester in fantasy. Kli-Kli was awesome!)
Action packed At times Shadow Prowler felt like the novelization of a video game. During one quest Harold stops at a Dwarven owned shop and picks out a number of items — 12 bolts of ice, 12 of fire, a magic bottle, a rare chocobo egg — well, not the last one, but you get the point.
The combat was thrilling and the conflict filled with tension. One brawl in an inn called The Knife and Axe had me ducking for cover. Pehov’s action was superbly written. Whether a brief chase through the streets, an epic battle between vast armies, or an assassination attempt in a dark alley, each moment had my heart thumping.
Monotonous magic Shadow Prowler includes two types of magic. The wizards practice a fast yet inaccurate magic, while the shamans practice a slow, ritualistic magic. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but both require a depth of understanding that is slowly disappearing from the world. Pehov succeeds in transforming an archaic design and reviving it with his unique vision; however, the magic lacked the same feeling of distinctness found in other aspects of the novel. Hopefully this will be more fleshed out in the next installment.
Why should you read this book? At first glance Shadow Prowler doesn’t seem to be anything unique; however, Pehov reshapes the common tropes of the fantasy genre and creates an experience that feels original. Harold is a wonderful narrator who won me over quickly and the story surges at a breakneck pace. The ending was exciting and left me eager to receive my copy of the next installment of the trilogy, Shadow Chaser.
With an epic quest, enjoyable characters, plenty of action, and unexpected twists, I would highly recommend Shadow Prowler....more
Boneshaker, the first book in Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century, won the 2010 Locus Award in the Best Science Fiction Novel category and was nominated for the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Boneshaker takes place in an alternate history version of Seattle. It‘s the 1880s and the Civil War still rages; combat dirigibles fly over a dark, shattered country and the city of Seattle has been sealed by an enormous wall after being polluted by a mysterious gas that kills and then reanimates its victims. The gas was released during a test run of inventor Leviticus Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine (The Boneshaker). Many believed Blue had more nefarious motives for his test run. Sixteen years have passed and his headstrong teenage son Ezekiel (Zeke) Wilkes sets out alone into the dangerous city to clear his dead father’s name. Blue’s widow Briar blames herself for their son’s foolhardy quest and sets out to find Zeke.
Genre Blending I have an appreciation for authors who surprise me, and Priest did just that. With elements of steampunk, fantasy, science fiction, alternate history and horror, Boneshaker flawlessly blends multiple genres. I was impressed with the intense action, sinister scientists, imaginative weapons and gadgets, thrilling twists, and flesh eating zombies. I know you’re thinking “Zombies … again … yikes!”, but the “rotters” are an obstacle in the story not a focus.
Mother and Son Boneshaker’s focus is the relationship between the two protagonists, Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke. These characters aren’t complex, their motivations and development being standard fair; however, they are enjoyable and their various adventures entertaining.
Briar and Zeke have the typical communication issues that plague most parent/teenager relationships, yet theirs is strained to the max by a family history that has become mythos in their impoverished neighborhood. Zeke is determined to learn the secrets that Briar has kept from him since birth. His quest leads him into the walled section of the city where the air is as perilous as the reanimated dead and those who live inside are about as trustworthy as a politician during an election campaign. Briar sets out to rescue her son and get him out before he is killed. The viewpoint switches from mother to son as they interact with an array of eccentric characters and discover long-dead secrets that will change each of them forever.
Rejoice, all ye alternate history buffs Priest has created an interesting and plausible alternate history. Her setting (Civil War-era United States) refreshingly defies the usual milieu of Victorian-era Europe. The events are believable and the technology exciting and fun. Boneshaker focuses primarily on the world seen through the eyes of Briar and Zeke; however, it is made quite clear that there is a more intricately developed world beyond the walls of zombie-infested Seattle.
So why should you read this book? Boneshaker isn’t going to challenge you, but the fascinating mix of genres ensures a pleasurable read for anyone who is looking for a book full of fast-paced adventure and quirky characters. With all the awards and nominations, I expected more from it, but it’s exciting and playful with a setting that begs for further exploration. Thankfully, Priest has since released Clementine and Dreadnought. Each is set in the same Clockwork Century world and although some elements and characters overlap, they are all stand-alone novels. I look forward to reading both....more
In Once Upon Stilettos, the second book in the Enchanted series by Shanna Swendson, Katie Chandler and MSI, Inc. deal with the aftermath of the final conflict in Enchanted, Inc. as new problems keep arising. When it appears that espionage in Research & Development was an inside job, suspicion and accusations explode throughout MSI. The CEO assigns Katie to track down the traitor, which she must do while handling an unexpected visit from her parents and struggling with her fading immunity.
Character development for good or ill Katie develops more as a character throughout this book. We learn a lot more of her background when her parents visit for Thanksgiving, and we get to know her personality better as she interacts with her coworkers and roommates. As Katie deals, often poorly, with new challenges, her actions and motivations are believable, but I don’t like Katie as much in this volume of the series. When I found myself wanting to shake her every few pages, it was harder to sympathize with the problems she experienced as a result of her decisions.
Fortunately, my wish from Enchanted, Inc. comes true in Once Upon Stilettos: the interesting minor characters get further development as well, and many of them are delightful. Unfortunately, we don’t see as much of one of my favorite side characters, Sam the security gargoyle, but we do get further background on nearly the entire supporting cast, including Katie’s wizard crush Owen, other coworkers, her roommates from Texas, and even her parents. We also get to know our recurring villain, Idris, a little better as he harasses Katie.
Further romance Speaking of Owen, as Katie’s crush deepens, I find myself more understanding of her fascination with him. In Enchanted, Inc., he was just shy and cute, but he develops into a more rounded and very lovable character who puts me in mind of a magical Mr. Darcy. I certainly understand and approve of her attraction to him.
However, I don’t approve of her decisions involving him. As Enchanted, Inc. ends, we see hints of a relationship developing with a different man, and as Once Upon Stilettos opens, Katie is actively pursuing this relationship while still daydreaming longingly about Owen. It isn’t fair to the other man and it isn’t fair to Katie for her to date him when she clearly has feelings for someone else.
Weaker plot In terms of story, Once Upon Stilettos felt weaker to me than Enchanted, Inc. Katie spent a lot of time running in circles, the pace is slower, and the mundane encroaches on the fantastic. It felt like the main plot of this book could have simply been summarized as a prologue to the next book, but then we would have missed out on all the character development.
That’s not to say this book is not worth reading. Though this book is the weaker link between Enchanted, Inc. and Damsel Under Stress, I still enjoyed it for its own merit and the many delightful moments it had. The humorously disastrous dates continue, Katie runs into her old boss Mimi and her fiancee, MSI develops a “Secret Santa” program to boost morale, and there is even a nod to my favorite old fairy tale, Cinderella. Questions are answered and more questions raised. An observant reader may be able to recall a tidbit from Enchanted, Inc. which, combined with a few sly hints dropped in Once Upon Stilettos, holds the key to one of the big revelations.
Why should you read this book? Despite the slower plot, this volume was written well with an engaging voice, skillful foreshadowing, and surprising yet inevitable twists. While I did find the overall story in this sequel less compelling than Enchanted, Inc., this was still a good installment in a wonderful series. If you loved Katie, Owen, Rod, and the rest as much as I did, you’ll certainly enjoy this book....more
Lord Sunday is the final book in a seven day saga, The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix. As Arthur Penhaligon finally reaches the seventh demense of the House in order to truly inherit the Architect’s powers, he will have to conquer not only a grand war of immeasurable scale but also the final trustee to the Will, Lord Sunday. Will Arthur be able to save the House, his family, his friends Suzy Blue and Leaf, and all of creation?
Quick-paced and crazy I’ve read Garth Nix before, but something about this saga just brings out Nix’s creative and random side. This can be both good and bad. On the bright side, this brings the story a great deal of excitement, momentum, and flair. The House itself is vast, so of course Nix can introduce anything he wants; however, using random events to progress the storyline grows dull after a few chapters. Certainly maybe only a quarter of the randomness introduced played a key role in the whole scheme of things. The rest of it was just silliness. I grew tired of finding pointless characters that went nowhere, introduced only for their silly quirks or unique demeanor to stand out among throngs of generic characters.
I also disliked that, by the end of the book, very little character development had taken place at all, as if he had spent all of Arthur’s growth in the first few chapters. And as for Suzy Blue and Leaf, their development is mostly ignored. Despite all of this, Nix’s use of crazy randomness and unpredictability still gives the book a driven “What the heck can happen next?!” kind of feel that does make the book an enjoyable read. If a kajillion bad guys pop out of nowhere, who cares? It’s exciting, and that’s what counts.
A journey of simplicity It’s well known that Nix writes for a young audience (I read most of his work in middle school!). Like authors for young adults tend to do, Nix uses certain flavorful words, stock characters, simplistic writing methods, and, above all, the most fantastically predictable plotline ever regarding the fate of the world. I don’t mean to spoil the ending: maybe Arthur wins, maybe he doesn’t. The problem here is that because of this simplicity, the story as a whole just lacks the punch it could have had. The Keys to the Kingdom books are quite short, and so I admit that packing so much information and story into these little novels is difficult, but for the fantasy genre, the ending of Lord Sunday lacks proper weight. In fact, due to the randomness driving the simplistic, momentum-based plot, the whole of the rising action is rendered inconsequential. This book may be a thrill for younger teens but an older reader will quickly find this book below their ability.
Imagination is key Despite my ravings about the negative effects of randomness, this book is truly an imaginative work. Everything you read will interest you, shock you, or cause you to marvel. This book is the biggest and grandest of the saga, and the War between the Forces of the Architect, the Piper, and Lord Sunday is something to look forward to if you are ready for the final instalment. Nix flexes his author’s muscles to bring out his biggest guns, his craziest creations, and his most stunning twists in order to make us readers grasp the power of raw imagination.
Why should you read this book? When it comes to an epic adventure, Garth Nix doesn’t mess around. Saving the entirety of creation is some serious business! Yet Lord Sunday is just a bunch of crazy shenanigans, unpredictable happenings, and simply awesome battles. If you like the epic, the magical, the mysterious, the imaginative, or the just plain fun, then Lord Sunday would be a great read you....more
Brenna Yovanoff debuts on the dark side of YA with The Replacement. This standalone tale of sacrifice and secrets follows Mackie Doyle, a changeling left in the crib of a human child. Sixteen years have passed since the real Malcolm Doyle was taken, and Mackie is slowly dying in the human world, having increasingly violent reactions to iron, blood, and consecrated ground. His deteriorating condition and the theft of a classmate’s baby sister drive him to seek answers from the mysterious beings living beneath the town of Gentry. Mackie’s fate rests in the balance of his two worlds, but everything he knows is about to topple.
To start, I loved the angle. More often than not, changeling stories depict how far a loved one will go to get their own child back. What happens when the changeling is the focus of the story? What if the family acknowledges the replacement, accepts him into the family, and loves him in spite of it? How does the changeling feel when he realizes what he is?
The characters, aboveground In many ways, Mackie is a typical teenager. He checks out girls, plays music, and is obsessed with fitting in. Granted, his desire to blend in is based partly in survival; too much attention is a death sentence for his kind. At the same time, his worsening symptoms mean he can’t survive in the home he’s known. There’s a lot of pain in that realization, and it pushes Mackie from his passive position, forcing him to actively participate in his life.
While Mackie’s narrative voice is compelling, I also grew attached to his family and friends. Yovanoff surrounds her protagonist with fully fleshed-out people—protective parents, an unwavering sister, a charismatic best friend, mischievous twin inventors, and a wounded love interest—who transcend their generic descriptions. They keep his secrets and put their lives on the line, convincing both Mackie and the reader that he is someone worth saving. Their fierce affection is what grounds Mackie aboveground, the real reason he so desperately wants to be human.
The setting, background The town of Gentry is a place with a gruesome history. Its secrets are twisted into the lives of its inhabitants, though some are more aware of the influence than others. This backstory is unraveled slowly, dragged out of characters who would prefer to stay silent. At the heart of the town’s implicit pact is a question about knowledge and responsibility, but it never feels like a heavy-handed “issue.”
Yovanoff writes each part of her novel with the same light touch. Her prose is artistically unobtrusive—flowing but not lyrical, clever but not too cute. As if to offset this restraint, the physical book is gorgeously ornamented. The book jacket and inside design interact harmoniously, referencing the text and feeding the reading experience.
The mythology, grounded The backbone of The Replacement is the changeling mythology, so it follows that Yovanoff has done her research. She crafts Gentry’s Unseelie underbelly with care, populating it with eerie figures and their customs and politics. There are some nasty creatures crawling around in the darkness, but just as many of the underground dwellers are charming.
A particularly well-done aspect is the literal faerie band. Music is deeply embedded in faerie lore, but Yovanoff makes it fit in a modern context. Her descriptions are evocative, giving music the visceral power it has in person yet rarely receives in writing.
Why should you read this book? If you like your tales more faerie than fairy and more Grimm than Disney, this creepy bildungsroman is for you. The Replacement adds a great masculine voice to YA in Mackie—a reluctant hero but a hero nonetheless. You should definitely spend some time getting to know him and discovering what’s lurking beneath the town of Gentry....more
The second installment of the Seven Realms quartet, The Exiled Queen speeds up the sleepy plodding of the first book (The Demon King), and kickstarts a much pacier story with plot twists aplenty. Thankfully, it also retains the deep character development and attention that made The Demon King such a good offering of “slice-of-life” fantasy.
Our characters are on the move, each and every one of them, and their separate paths lead to a single place: the Academies, known as Mystwerk House for wizards and Oden’s Ford for soldiers. The full cast from Han Alister and his bitter rival Micah Bayar, to Raisa ana’Marianna and her childhood friend-cum-bodyguard, Amon, find themselves all in one central location. And there the stories merge, shaping the plot and driving it forwards, sideways, and sometimes around corners unseen without a mirror.
Han’s been forced into a bargain he’d rather refuse by the Clans, the very people he sought to trust. Raisa’s banished herself into protective exile, her identity a secret from all around her save her bodyguard, who’s now more closely linked to her than she could imagine—yet still not close enough for the princess’s tastes.
Class is in session Despite the main cast having enrolled at what is essentially either a magic or military school, this is no Hogwarts set up. Mystwerk House trains natural-born wizards, and somehow Han’s found himself there: finally free of the cuffs that sealed his power, clamped onto his wrists by the very people who removed them. But Han attends Mystwerk House at a price: the Clans agree to sponsor Han at school only on the condition that Han returns to them once his training is complete. With little choice and less inclination, Han’s hands are tied and off he goes to train his magic, accompanied by his long-time friend Dancer.
Soldier girl Raisa ana’Marianna might not be the strongest lass, or the tallest—or the prettiest since she lopped off her hair (she’ll never let her fellow soldiers do that again)—but she’s got balls, for a girl. Raisa has no plans to return to the palace, avoiding it as one might a nest of vipers. That’s all the crown princess sees when she looks to the royal court of her homeland: machinations and intrigues develop and spawn in secret, whilst political power shifts dangerously, beginning to resemble a time when the world was once broken. A pivotal piece in the power game, Raisa is safe from no one. Should anyone find her at Oden’s Ford, and should Amon not be able to protect her, whoever holds Raisa in hand could well control the next few moves on the board.
Baying for attention Handed a much more sizeable role this time are the Bayar twins, children of the High Wizard, Gavan Bayar (who is presently worming his way into the Queen’s fancy). Micah and Fiona were introduced in The Demon King, where Micah received more stage-time than his sister. Desperate to steer Raisa towards his own subtle plans, Micah has spent the summer searching for his would-be betrothed, the runaway princess. However, when term begins, Micah is obliged to attend Mystwerk House. Little does he know that the princess is soldiering at nearby Oden’s Ford, just out of his reach. For now.
Fiona, on the other hand, has her own games in mind, and upon meeting Han, also a first-year, she quickly includes him and his power in her schemes—even if that means going against her own brother. Of course, Fiona doesn’t wish Micah ill, but neither does she support their father’s plans to make him king at Raisa’s side. After all, what’s the harm in a new queen in a queendom in need?
Young as they are, barely seventeen, the Bayar twins’ machinations might just outplay the defter games of their father. Micah and Fiona might also outplay each other.
A deeper game Not everything at the Academies is happy lessons and drilling in the yard; at the very places where Raisa and Han believe they’re safe, danger lurks close enough to hear it breathing in the dark. Whilst Raisa must do all she can to remain hidden as herself, ever posing as Rebecca Morley, Han finds himself in the tutelage of two wizards, both flaunting better, brighter power than his own, and invariably better and brighter futures than what the Clans have offered Han. Unable to refuse one wizard, and unable to identify another—who only appears in dreams—Han’s options aren’t as open as he first thinks.
Farther afield, back in Fellsmarch, the Queen is quiet: with Gavan Bayar close, and his game playing out differently than he expected, Gavan begins to set his sights on Raisa’s sister, petitioning to make her the Queen’s heiress in Raisa’s stead, supported by the claim that Raisa’s running away was contrary to the interests of the queendom. A single letter from her mother is all Raisa receives in return for her correspondence, and the letter serves only to confuse the princess further as to whom she can and cannot trust.
In this game of power, influence, and magics—both natural and intrinsic—Raisa, like Han, would do better to trust only a few honest friends.
Not so sleepy, but still not awake Although the plodding pace of The Demon King has been nudged to a slow trot in The Exiled Queen, there is still little action or clear development of a real, influential plot. The synopses for both books claimed dark, dangerous powers and spoke of the title-cited “demon king.” There is still little sight of this great wizard, and whilst it could be suggested that this second novel—and the two final novels to follow—chart his rise to the power that his birthright suggests, this answer falls short and something is still lacking.
Why should I read this book? Nevertheless, The Exiled Queen is an excellent and enjoyable read. The series has solidified itself in this second installment as being a story about growing up. Much like Harry and his friends come of age in the Harry Potter series, the same can be said of our friends from Fellsmarch.
Whilst the plot lacks the punch of more epic fantasy settings and stories, this doesn’t do The Exiled Queen enough of an injustice that it matters. The story is fun, better paced than The Demon King, and, overall, better delivered. The character development—the best part of the series so far—continues strongly, and by the end of the book, the cast has matured considerably. They have struck out into the world against all the rules, which sets up The Gray Wolf Throne to be an exciting and different style of novel, considering what we’ve seen of the Seven Realms series thus far....more
Although The Demon King isn’t strictly Chima’s debut, it feels like a debut novel, as Chima’s previous fantasy novels were set in our world. The leap from the low fantasy Heir series to the Seven Realms quartet makes this her first foray into a medieval-esque fantasy setting. The Demon King opens the quartet, followed by The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, and an unnamed fourth novel.
The Demon King takes the reader to the Seven Realms, the queendom of Fellsmarch, and the Clan-inhabited Spirit Mountains where Wizards are banned. The Clans, with their gentle, subtle magic, are at constant odds with the Wizards of the realm, whose deft, dynamic power almost broke the world in the hands of a dangerous and reckless wizard. The Wizards—advisors to the queen in the shape of the Wizard Council—loathe the intervention of the camps in queendom affairs. Nonetheless, a fragile peace exists throughout the Fells and beyond, to Oden’s Ford, the military training school, and Mystwerk House, the magic school.
There is peace, that is, until machinations from within the palace and council spill across the realm, spreading to the Spirit Mountains and filtering into the city and beyond. But there is never only one selfish scheme at play; the Clans also harbor secrets that could change the course of magic and power.
Amidst the chaos stand two people, worlds apart, distanced by more than just status.
Ragged “Cuffs” Han “Cuffs” Alister is a streetlord gone good, or he would be if his past would leave him in peace. At just sixteen, Han’s reputation precedes him; he’s feared throughout the city and, despite quitting his gang, he knows neither his old friends nor old enemies will let him leave the rough trade that easily. And to make matters worse, members of a rival gang start turning up dead. Something strange is going down in the city, and Han’ll be damned if he takes the blame.
With a mother and little sister to care for, Han is tempted to return to his old ways when money runs dry and Mari starts getting sick. If he could, he’d pawn the silver braces he’s worn since he can remember—but they won’t come off, and his mother refuses to speak of them. Instead, Han takes solace in the Spirit Mountains, making odd money here and there from jobs that trickle in, preferring the company of his Clan friends Fire Dancer and Digging Bird to the gritty existence awaiting him in the city.
Demonai Princess Fathered from a Demonai Clan royal in an arranged marriage, Raisa ana’Marianna has always been different: she’s hot-headed, determined, and not at all the blushing flower her mother—Queen Marianna, monarch of the Fells— is content to be.
Determined to become a good queen, Raisa accepts she has a lot to learn, but refuses to believe the palace, pampered and cushioned, is where this education will blossom. Raisa wants to live, to learn and to become a strong queen. However, with the natural tensions between the Clans in the Spirit Mountains and the Council of Wizards, Raisa herself is a tool for continued peace, as well as an asset towards tipping the scales of power. Raisa will soon realize she is a very powerful piece in a very dangerous game of magic, power and lies.
A gentle introduction While the title and the blurb hint that there will be the appearance of a “demon king” the likes of which once broke the world, this installment of the Seven Realms series grossly disappoints. The revelation of the Demon King’s identity is too late in the book for it to feel as though it was given any significance at all, and readers might feel as though the story progresses with little attention to that side of the plot. It’s easy to forget when reading through that there is a great power lurking, and a man with the potential to wield it. The story revolves entirely around Han and Raisa and the relationships they forge with the supporting cast on either side.
Han’s story is that of his struggle to escape his rough past, as he grows closer to his friend Dancer, while eluding blame for murder and dodging persistent wizards. Raisa’s story explores her growing confidence in herself and her thirst for a real, worldly education. Disguised, she heads out into the city with her bodyguard and childhood friend, Amon. Trouble ensues when she and Han cross paths.
A sleepy adventure All said, not much actually happens in The Demon King: the world is explored, characters are built, and machinations from all sides are set in motion by the end (some only at the very end). There are murders, dangers, and secrets and yet the plot seems very sleepy. It feels very “young adult.” Not necessarily a negative point, but the YA-crossover style does the novel few favors in helping it deliver a gripping story.
The story is good, but not enough happens. Too little of the book is spent gripping the reader and far too much spent literally following Han around from the city to the mountains. It feels like Kvothe’s (The Name of the Wind) time in Tarbean delivered badly: where Patrick Rothfuss had the skill to keep the reader entertained merely with his writing, Chima doesn’t quite pass the bar, and where Kvothe’s day-to-day struggle in the city is entertaining, Han’s simply isn’t.
Why should you read this book? Readers who appreciate most fantasy should give this a try. The Demon King succeeds in drawing you into the lives of the characters, and if you like reading a good story with decent writing and a “slice-of-life” approach, then give Han and Raisa a try....more
Chris Evans’ debut novel A Darkness Forged in Fire, the first installment in the Iron Elves Trilogy, shows off Evans’s passion for military history anChris Evans’ debut novel A Darkness Forged in Fire, the first installment in the Iron Elves Trilogy, shows off Evans’s passion for military history and fantasy as he joins the two in a gritty, imaginative marriage where army life and Napoleonic era tactics coexist with fantasy staples. The trilogy continues with The Light of Burning Shadows and will be completed by Ashes of a Black Frost, due for release in summer 2011.
As the story begins in A Darkness Forged in Fire, Konowa Swift Dragon has led his regiment into shame and exile; he murdered a Viceroy and now the honor of the Iron Elves is as bloodied as his hands. A shamed regiment—stripped of everything, including their leader—the once glorious elves are but a stain on the Calahrian Empire’s colors. Konowa, court-marshaled and banished, has had plenty of time to dwell on his predicament as he wanders the dense forests he despises so fervently with only his loyal bengar, Jir, to keep him sane.
But with a darkness on the horizon blacker than Konowa’s mood, the former commander is wrenched from his misery and thrust back into the fray. With a new draft of soldiers to fill his beloved Iron Elves—and not a single elf amongst them—Konowa must face not only the rising elf-witch, the Shadow Monarch, as she vies for domination, but also himself. Deep in the forest, Konowa is ordered to find the scattered original Iron Elves, under the constant scrutiny of an inexperienced, adventure-seeking Prince Tykkin. Charged not only with defeating the rising evil with which his destiny intertwines but also restoring order throughout the Empire, Konowa will soon realize that his black ear-tip—the Shadow Monarch’s mark on her chosen soldiers—cannot be forgotten, and his fate cannot be escaped.
For the Empire While it is the grander scheme of the Shadow Monarch that underpins the series thus far, without the innovative and insightful details into the Iron Elves as a living, breathing branch of the Imperial army, the notion of a powerful sorceress bent on world destruction would come across as too clichéd. Instead, the Calahrian Empire’s struggle to maintain order as it strives to promote its own brand of progress—as important as defeating the Shadow Monarch—coupled with the raw mechanics of a regiment on the move, actively fighting the forces of the elf-witch while dealing with its own problems brought by injury, death and obligation, present the old cliché in brand new colors: the colors of the Imperial army. Everything is in the name of the Queen, whether Konowa and his men like it or not.
Dwarves need not apply A regiment smells, and A Darkness Forged in Fire captures this scent in every page. The soldiers of the Iron Elves are diverse and it is through them that the regiment is given life: a religious zealot, a single grudge-bearing elf of the original Iron Elves, a sly trouble-maker, and a mismatched pair whose camaraderie invites the reader deeper into the unit.
Sworn into the Iron Elves are Yimt, a veteran dwarf whose stories will make your hair curl, and Alwyn, a reluctant, bespectacled young man whose eyesight is as bad as Yimt’s manners and whose courage is often shaken but never shattered. Together, Alwyn and Yimt—the only dwarf in the unit, sworn in by cheek alone—pull the reader to the level of the soldiers, away from the lofty, tense world in which Konowa—at the side of the prince—exists in the unit. Evans offers a real taste of what life in the cursed Iron Elves is like through the friendship of Alwyn and Yimt.
Green magic As a counterpart to the grit of the Iron Elves, the reader is given a view of those opposed to the Empire, though not as the Iron Elves’ adversaries, but as companions and allies. Visyna Tekoy—high-born noble from Elfkyna, sent to drag Konowa from exile—wields a gentle magic and even gentler respect for nature that clashes with Konowa’s strong detestation of the forests of his birth, despite the seeds of turbulent romance planted between the two. Another female seeks to balance out the thick macho cast—or would, if she weren’t brasher than most of the men combined. Rallie, official reporter for the Queen, is a cigar-smoking old crone, who, while she is more than she first seems, remains a constant oracle, doling out guidance and advice to Konowa and to the unit. She delivers both wit and wisdom as she sketches her way through trouble, chain-smoking all the while. Although brash, Rallie’s subtle gentility and mysterious powers make her a close confidant for Visyna’s gripes about Konowa and the Empire.
Marching narrative The style is straightforward without droning on, and while details about the setting are presented, they’re not as important to Evans as the plot. The setting is explained as the story progresses, and little time is devoted to the background of the situation. Enough is divulged and explained meticulously to allow the reader to continue happily and immerse themselves in the world, although readers expecting a military-standard, encompassing description of the Empire’s rise will find themselves disappointed.
Keep it moving The weakest point of the book is movement, especially during battles; it appears at times that Evans has completely forgotten to move his characters as they fight. This is especially true of the final battle of the book, where it seems Konowa and another officer observe the fight from stationary places, like cardboard cut outs, when in fact, the narrative and dialogue suggest they actively participate. Furthermore, the descriptions of the elf-witch’s magic and its effects, especially during battles, bring down the overall excellence of the book, as sometimes it is just too difficult to grasp precisely what is transpiring, and the reader needs to understand the narrative to understand the resulting situation.
Why should you read this book? A Darkness Forged in Fire is a different take on commonplace fantasy elements, combining both sorcery and military conquest with classic sword-clashing and a struggle to save the world from death and darkness. It is a vivid and gripping debut by an imaginative writer whose strengths far outweigh his weaknesses, and whose original, vibrant characters bring the world to life in place. If you’re a fan of elves, but fancy something grittier, something different, then give Konowa and his Iron Elves a try.
Anthony Huso’s debut novel, The Last Page, is the first book of a duology. With its mixture of fantasy, steampunk, and horror elements, I expected to breeze through it in a matter of days. It took longer than I anticipated, but I felt rewarded for my patience.
The story centers on young Caliph Howl, a student trying his best to avoid graduating and returning to the Duchy of Stonehold where he is to become the High King. Caliph meets Sena, a sensual witch and heir to the Shradnae Witchocracy leadership, and they share an exciting romance. Sena and Caliph eventually graduate and leave to pursue separate agendas. Caliph returns to Isca, capitol city of the Duchy, where he begins his reluctant reign as High King. He learns alarming government secrets, is faced with a pending civil war, and finds himself at the center of political maneuvering. Meanwhile, Sena sets out on her search for the mysterious Cisrym Ta, a book whose pages possess powers unknown.
When the two lovers reunite, they must balance the complexities of their relationship, contend with the scheming of those around them, and face the deadly consequences of their individual pursuits.
The High King and the sexy witch I would like to officially add Sena to my response in the discussion on The Ranting Forums of “Which Fantasy character would you date?” She is independent, strong, and sexy, but also struggles to understand her feelings for Caliph and questions her loyalties to the Witchocracy. Each of these issues is compounded by her tireless search for the meaning of the Cisrym Ta.
Although reluctant at first, Caliph adjusts surprisingly well to being High King. I had some trouble following Caliph’s storyline. It started off slower and at times he was overshadowed by other more interesting characters (spymaster Zane Vhortghast in particular), though scenes in which Caliph and Sena interacted are enjoyable and well written – and thankfully, occur frequently.
Crepuscular spiral staircase I enjoy the thrill of discovering a new word. Unfortunately, with The Last Page, that thrill became a distraction. While Huso is an excellent author with unique descriptions and metaphors, I found myself constantly diverted by the sheer number of words I didn’t know. At first I would stop, grab my dictionary, and look them up, but when I did, I realized that much of what he was trying to say just didn’t make sense (“crepuscular spiral staircase” – say what?). Eventually, I decided to just read through. Huso’s fondness for obscure words and mixed metaphors hindered my comprehension of the story.
What the @$%^? For all the effort and inventiveness Huso put into finding arcane words, the dialogue was overflowing with expletives. The F-bomb was dropped more often than necessary by almost every character, sometimes even when speaking with the High King! This often made the characters seem crass. The use of vulgarity in certain situations is understandable and necessary for realism, but there were times when it felt excessive. Huso even created some of his own expletives, like “Yella bryun” (mother’s sh**).
Dreadnoughts, holomorphy, chemostatic swords … oh my Huso’s world is a blending of genres. Sprawling cities, blood magic, hideous creatures, chemical weapons, living meat: every page blossomed with the unexpected. His world was dark and fiendishly surprising. There were times when the world wasn’t as fleshed out as is common in most fantasy, though eventually I came to enjoy the lack of hand holding.
Why should you read this book? The Last Page is a book that is best read knowing what to expect. I appreciated that Huso did not dump heaps of information into my lap; however, there were times when his lack of clear explanation, coupled with his excessive use of obscure words, made The Last Page a slow read at the start. The pace picked up significantly in the second half and new life was breathed into the book. Huso has woven together an interesting new genre-bending fantasy that will reward the patient reader (and those with voluminous vocabularies). I was glad I stuck with it....more
The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first installment in Scott Lynch’s The Gentleman Bastard Sequence. Set in the city-state of Camorr, this novel follows the actions of the criminal underground, specifically the secretive Gentlemen Bastards gang and their charismatic leader, Locke Lamora.
The Gentlemen Bastards defy Camorr’s longstanding truce between thieves and nobles, stealing anything and everything from the richest of the rich in long, elaborate cons. The gang usually avoids other members of the underground, but when fellow thieves start being murdered by the mysterious Grey King, Locke and the Gentlemen Bastards are dragged into a battle over control of Camorr’s underground that threatens to tear them apart.
A Refreshing Protagonist Without a doubt, Locke is an intriguing, endearing, complex, and, most of all, refreshing protagonist. With a mixture of swashbuckling charm, vulgarity, and unwavering loyalty, Scott Lynch delivers to us a new kind of leading man for fantasy in the character of Locke Lamora. There are no stubborn farm boys-turned-sorcerers or dark, brooding noblemen here. Locke’s only claim to fame seems to be—as the title of the book would suggest—lying. Locke is simultaneously good and bad, devoted until the very end to his friends, but conducting nefarious business all the while.
While Locke is certainly a refreshing character to get to know, there are few other characters who truly share the stage. Locke receives ample development over the course of this first installment, though it is to the detriment of the other characters. We are given some history of the other Gentlemen Bastards, but with nearly all of the viewpoints centered on Locke’s character, there is little time to get to know the supporting cast.
Beautiful Writing and Literary Devices The Lies of Locke Lamora is a very well-written debut novel. At first I was surprised by the amount of exposition included in the novel, feeling almost as if I was back in English Lit class, but Lynch’s effortless writing style and engaging language made a convert of me about a third of the way in. I am especially a fan of the disjointed timeline, where the main chapters about the current events would be followed by interludes detailing Locke’s childhood and education at the hands of his mentor and the other young Gentlemen Bastards. This provides the reader with more insight into Locke’s character, as well as smaller details of the world itself. While there are what could be considered ‘info dumps’ throughout the book, I didn’t mind because they are written so well.
An Intriguing Setting Part of what makes the writing in this novel so enjoyable is the care given to describing the setting. Like many talented authors, Lynch brings Camorr to life as its own character in the novel. Camorr bears striking resemblance to a late-medieval era Venice, except with its own magical twist—the remnants of the Eldren race, long disappeared from the world, form the bridges which connect the islands of Camorr and, incidentally, the threads of Locke’s story. Each section of the city is described eloquently as it comes to feature in the story, giving the reader the impression of a very real and varied city-scape.
Almost as a result of this complexity, however, I found myself craving a map in order to situate in my mind where the islands are in relation to one another. Since my book was lacking one, I searched the author’s website and found exactly what I was looking for: a detailed depiction of Camorr.
Where is the fantasy? While the inclusion of the long-gone race of the Eldren could have potentially elevated this story, there is precious little mention of it. Compounded with the relative lack of information about the magic system used by the Bondsmagi, there were times when this felt like a fantasy novel without the fantasy. While Locke and his gang are interesting characters, they are ultimately a band of thieves that could be present in any world, not just that of Camorr.
Why you should read this book The Lies of Locke Lamora is an engrossing story that will please most casual readers of the fantasy genre. Those who absolutely love multiple viewpoints or an in-depth magic system may be disappointed. Otherwise, the endearing nature of Locke’s character, the exceptional writing and the promise of what is to come in the future installments are reason enough to pick up this book....more
Kraken is a strange and ambitious urban fantasy novel by the celebrated British author China Miéville, author of Perdido Street Station and The City & The City. It seems to combine the best (and worst) elements of H. P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, and Franz Kafka.
Museum curator and Londoner Billy Harrow discovers that the Darwin Centre’s prize specimen Architeuthis dux—giant squid—has gone missing, tank and all, with nary a drop of evidence to propel conventional police work. Soon, Billy finds himself a fish out of water in a London he only thought he knew, a London filled with animal cults, otaku wizards, gruesome demonic henchmen, and organized magical familiars on strike from the status quo. Together with the redoubtable modern paladin Dane and a handful of London’s magic users, whose loyalties seem to shift with the tides, Billy seeks to find and protect the Architeuthis from warring magical factions who want it to star in at least one apocalypse.
Why modernity and not Victoriana? One question I asked over and over again as I paged my way through this book was, Why does this story taken place in the modern day, rather than, say, the Victorian or Edwardian periods? The late 19th and early 20th Centuries combined to form an era of dramatic scientific advancement that also intermingled relatively freely with mysticism—as entirely appropriate a setting here as it was in H. P. Lovecraft’s day. Miéville has even splashed about in the steampunk pool, so it’s not as though he’s unfamiliar with the idea. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Miéville has given us something different in Kraken.
That’s not entirely bad; with Kraken, Miéville does a strong and credible job reconciling ancient prophecies and eldritch magic with all the trappings of modernity, akin to Neil Gaiman’s accomplishment with American Gods. In one memorable instance, a wizard crafts a real, working Star Trek phaser out of a collectible, and in another, a character uses “underground” Internet forums to search for her missing boyfriend. Text messaging and enchanted iPods are present and accounted for by name—aspects of daily life that many urban fantasy authors gloss over or conveniently forget.
Drowning in its own stylishness As Kraken blends the old and the new, Miéville’s writing style does likewise. Throughout much of the book, Miéville’s wordplay is novel and inventive, lending Kraken a very modern, or even post-modern, feel that suits its setting. Miéville uses chatspeak and British slang to good effect—in the latter case, those outside the United Kingdom or unfamiliar with BBC programming may find themselves scratching their heads. Likewise, in a world where a tentacled god-beast could save or destroy the word, describing the Architeuthis as “an absurdly massive tentacled sepia event” gives the thing weight and majesty. Here, Miéville proves himself a true wordsmith who has not only mastered his language but tamed it for use towards his own ends. One gets the sense that he thoroughly enjoyed penning each and every word of this novel.
However, reading Kraken is not always smooth sailing. Despite the eloquence, Kraken‘s pacing is wildly uneven. Parts of the book genuinely plod, while others seemingly race excitedly towards nothing; in this, Miéville channels Kafka or the less endearing qualities of Lovecraft. Happily, these doldrums mostly trouble the first half; the second half clips along at a more even pace. While it is clear Miéville enjoyed his world-building, sections of the book could have been trimmed down to form a tighter, more compelling read.
Why should you read this book? Fans of the urban fantasy genre who are tired of the usual vampires-and-werewolves set and fans of Neil Gaiman’s prose work may find themselves drinking deeply from Kraken. However, readers who focus on urban fantasy for the romance and sexiness often present in the subgenre will find themselves high and dry here. Worshipers at the various altars of H. P. Lovecraft fandom will almost certainly find satisfaction here, but they’ll have to wade through similarly murky narrative to get it....more
Gene Wolfe’s The Sorcerer’s House is a mystery, a thriller, and a fairytale. Baxter Dunn is about as honest as can be expected of an ex-con, and at the beginning he is just trying to start a new life for himself. Despite his twin brother’s refusal to help him get back on his feet, Baxter quickly acquires a house and some great big tracts of land. If you can believe him, both acquisitions were unintentional.
To Baxter’s surprise, the house included several additional features. Boys break into the house in the night, then disappear, leaving only mysterious implements behind. There are creatures chained in rooms he has never seen before and cannot locate again. And a visitor leaves behind severed limbs for another resident of the house, despite the fact that Baxter lives alone- at least by day.
A modern fairytale Though not marketed as such, this recent novel by Gene Wolfe is a modern fairytale of the best breed – one without all the noisome explanations that weigh down many such stories. The most delicious aspect of the fey is how it remains inexplicable, no matter how much of it you see. Gene Wolfe is uniquely suited to write such a book as many of his works keep his readers in the dark as to the mechanisms by which their worlds operate. In some cases, this is frustrating – here it’s delightful.
To keep us in the dark this time, the novel is entirely comprised of the characters’ letters. Not only do these letters expose us to each character’s prejudices, but they also open us up to exploitation by the characters. If the characters are not honest to each other, we are none the wiser unless they recant.
One arguable weakness of this strategy is that there is an occasional sense of deus ex machina, particularly at the climax. We have no idea what powers are at work, and thus when the powers all come into play, the fact that the outcome is favorable seems suspect. Frankly, though, magic is complicated: if I understood magic, I’d probably read academic journals on economics for entertainment instead of fantasy.
A thriller The pacing of the book is a touch off. At the beginning the plot is almost painfully slow. Supernatural events are thrown into a slush of mundane activities but have no real impact. The only important consequence of the mysterious housebreakers is that the broken window must be fixed again. Also, the epistolary format lacks the adrenaline of a traditional narrative. Our narrators have had time to absorb what has happened to them before they put it in print. Shocking revelations for the reader do not seem to create the same emotion in the characters in many cases, which makes empathy difficult.
On the other hand, once the novel gets rolling, it really rolls. Better still, the characters act believably – or at least the human ones do. The characters with some supernatural background do the inexplicable, but that is only to be expected, and they throw a wrench into mortal plans.
The posse Speaking of characters, the protagonist very quickly collects quite the cast of supporting characters. With few exceptions, these supporting characters tend to be shallow enough that I managed to confuse two rather major characters almost half way through the book. To some extent, this is part of the mystery. A recurring theme in the tale is the question of perception, and whether those who appear trustworthy can be trusted. As such there are characters whose motivations we may not know.
Obviously a deeper picture of those characters would only heighten the suspense at discovering their true natures, but I’ll allow some leniency there. The epistolary format makes it reasonable, if not forgivable, for the narrator to focus on his suspicions and major events rather than tidbits which might give the reader further insight. Unfortunately, even if those characters whose motives are in doubt are excluded, we are left with a number of one dimensional actors. Though not strictly stock characters, they can be easily summed up. The spirit guide. The second overzealous butler (you’ll see). And so on. Shocking things happen to and in the vicinity of these characters, but they frequently fail to react meaningfully to even the most stressful situations.
A mystery When viewed as a mystery, this novel is truly masterful. The reader is given a perfect mix of clues and red herrings, alongside things that only the protagonist could bring to light. If I had to do a tally of who figured out what first between myself and the narrator, I’m not sure who would win.
The greatest thing here is that we’re not only concerned with finding the murderer, but also with all the aspects of the mysterious house and its connections to the narrator and events. In the end, these plot lines don’t connect in any logical fashion except for the fact that the narrator binds them, but such is life. Of course, we never find out the answers to everything, and the book does lack closure to a great extent. Just enough curiosity is left unsated to gnaw at the back of your mind for a few days after finishing.
Why should you read this book? You should read this book when you miss the fairytales of your childhood, where you never learned how the witch captured the princess in the first place. Trustworthy narrators are for those who lack the mental fortitude to question everything they read, and Gene Wolfe’s minimalist style makes you feel like four-fifths of the other books on your shelf are fluff....more
This is Jon Sprunk’s debut novel, and it’s a dark read. This book may look small, but once you begin, it is apparent that this is an intelligent read. I should note right away that if you aren’t a blood-splatter and guts type of person, you might want either to brace yourself or skip it. Sprunk truly does give a blow-by-blow, or should I say a blade-by-blade, account. There are a few twists in this story I wasn’t expecting, but I got caught up in this assassin’s tale.
Vibrant Action I’ll admit it now: I love a good action sequence. Sprunk delivers that in spades throughout this tale. What makes this an intelligent read is the action is not only there because Caim, our unsung-not-by-choice hero, is an assassin by trade and it is expected, but also because it propels the story; it serves as a complement, not a hindrance. There is a seamless transition between the action scenes and the story, and the level of detail puts any diehard action lover in the middle of the fight sequences. You’ll flinch and hold your breath wanting Caim to survive. They say detail is everything, and Sprunk delivers just that; although action is often difficult to translate to paper, Sprunk’s action scenes are alive.
The Women Caim has two women and yes, they are a handful. Kit: loyal, beautiful, and insightful… and a guardian spirit. Yes, a spirit. She is the comic relief and the practical character of this dynamic duo. She’s an intriguing character you’ll come to appreciate, and you’ll want to know more about her, as well. Kit is as loyal to Caim as need be, but when she is annoyed, she will disappear until she has calmed down enough to return. This is both a blessing and curse in Caim’s mind.
Josephine: this is no wallflower high brow lady, she’s tough. You’ll love how she is portrayed in this story. You get to see how her mind works as you follow her on a treacherous journey with Caim. While that is happening, you become invested in her story line, and with her, the stakes become very high. You’ll love the relationship that develops between her and her would-be hero.
Symbolism and Meaning As the title implies, shadows are a part of this story, and there is a lot of meaning in them. What is beyond the shadow? Is there anything beyond the darkness? This and other questions are raised. It isn’t forced upon you, but Sprunk inspires you to think about the underbelly of things in this world where politics and religion collide. There is more to what you see with the naked eye. Caim is your guide into this world and he is the light, but you’ll have to read the book to discover what he sees within the shadows.
The Wait This is a good book, and if you read it you’ll not be disappointed. However, even though the chapters are short, it takes a while to get to the meat of the story. The intricate weaving of the tale of how Caim and Josephine were brought together and put on their path makes getting to the heart of the story difficult. I say it’s worth the wait because once you get there, you are there with Caim, Kit, and Josephine to the end.
Why should you read this book? As a debut novel, it’s really good. Caim and his partners, Kit and Josephine, are the best. It’s a dark fantasy with a great story, and it’s full of action. The twists and the action will keep you glued to the story, and you will become invested with this rich group of characters. And like most good dark stories, the villain isn’t always whom you expect… or maybe it is?...more