Hunt for Valamon was recommended to me by a friend, and it is the first novel I’ve ever read from Australian fantasy author D.K. Mok. I didn’t know much about the book when I picked it up so I had no idea what to expect, but I have to say, I came out of it feeling quite impressed.
Valamon is the oldest son of King Delmar but was never meant to inherit the throne, due to the fact most people consider him to be a simpleton. However, that doesn’t stop all hell from breaking loose when the prince is kidnapped, sparking a frantic search for a noble champion to help rescue him. They end up with Elhan, a spirited and strong young woman whose skills are unparalleled when it comes to the deadly arts of combat. Unfortunately, she’s also cursed and very likely insane.
As if that weren’t enough, accompanying Elhan on the quest to find Valamon is Seris, a humble priest and healer with absolutely no fighting or survival skills whatsoever. Oh, and he’s also hindered by a ton of ridiculous rules imposed on him by his religious order. Despite being polar opposites, Seris and Elhan must nonetheless learn to cooperate as they set out together for the wilderness, embarking on a long and unpredictable journey to bring home a lost prince and prevent a bloody war.
It’s probably safe to categorize this novel as epic fantasy, but I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how different it felt from most books in that subgenre. The language is perhaps the most obvious thing that sets it apart. At times the narrative will feel decidedly modern, and characters will frequently use phrases and terms common in our everyday parlance. It is completely at odds with the fantasy setting, but there’s also no doubt at all this was done intentionally. The stylistic choice might not be for everyone, that’s true; but it does mean a lot of opportunities for humor, more so than you would find in other high fantasy works. So if you like a funny side to your epic fantasy, this just might be the book for you.
The characters are another factor which makes this book so enjoyable. Seris and Elhan are the main focus of the story, of course. Friendship eventually blossoms between them, but their differences in the beginning are marked by clashes and thorny interactions, giving rise to no small number of amusing scenes. But Valamon, the kidnapped prince and objective of their quest, is also a point-of-view character whose perspective adds much to the tale. It is interesting to me that Valamon’s personality and demeanor, along with how others in the book see him, strongly suggests Asperger’s or a similar kind of autism spectrum disorder, and one of the major themes is how everyone feels he is unfit to rule when in reality, the troubled prince is actually much wiser and more perceptive than he lets on.
Other side characters include Valamon’s younger brother Falon, who is the one actually being groomed to rule, as well as Qara, the princes’ childhood playmate who grew up to become a royal confidante and protector. The so-called villains of the novel, the ones who stole Valamon away, also played a big role. The tension created by this balance in perspectives was a good way to show all sides of the conflict and make the book exciting. The story was reasonably well-paced and quite engaging.
The plot and dialogue could probably benefit from a bit of fine polishing, but otherwise I thought this was a fun read that offered quite a few surprises. Hunt for Valamon is refreshing and unique, highly recommended for fantasy readers looking for an adventurous journey. I had a lovely time with D.K. Mok’s humorous and down-to-earth style. It’s also worth mentioning that this was my first introduction Spence City Books and it is great being able to put both a new author and an independent publisher on my list to check out in the future....more
An Ember in the Ashes was a great read, and so far probably one of my favorite “mainstream” Young Adult books this year. I can definitely understand the excitement surrounding it, and the book might actually live up to all the attention. That said, the novel is not without its flaws, ultimately falling prey to the many pitfalls of its genre. For a debut, though? I thought it was fantastic.
The book takes place in the heart of the ruthless Martial Empire, following the strife filled lives of two young people. Laia is a simple Scholar girl, forced to join the Resistance after her brother Darin, the only family she has left, is arrested by the military. In order to free Darin, she agrees to go undercover to spy on the Commandant of the empire’s military academy. Then there’s Elias Veturius, one of best soldiers to ever graduate from that academy. Deep down though, he wants nothing more than to escape from the empire and leave its brutal traditions behind forever.
The empire’s Augurs, however, have a different plan in mind. It has been foreseen that without an heir, the current Martial emperor’s line will end this year. The next ruler of the greatest empire this world has ever seen is to be chosen amongst the finest crop of the academy’s latest graduates – which means Elias is to be thrown into a series of competitions that will test his resolve and push him to his limits. Meanwhile, Laia is tasked by the Resistance to find out more about the process, plunging her into the cruel and unrestrained world of the Trials, binding her fate to Elias’s forever.
The plot is quite intriguing to say the least, in spite of the fact that we start things off with what appears to be the two most foolish protagonists on the planet. Elias, who is about to attempt the riskiest decision of his life by deserting, can’t even seem to muster up the ability to at least look innocent. Then there’s Laia, who keeps berating herself over and over again for being such a useless, weak coward. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that when you say something enough times, you’ll actually start to believe it. Which is why, very quickly, Laia began to really get on my nerves.
But then the amount of character growth by the end of the book, at least for Elias, was astounding. Despite the book having two main protagonists, for me it was all about him. His chapters are more exciting, but more importantly, he has his beliefs plus the determination, strength and courage to stick by them. I’m also captivated by the relationships. A bizarre dynamic exists in Gens Veturius, with Elias’s grandfather General Quin as its patriarch, but it is his daughter, Elias’s mother, who holds the deadliest power. That’s because she’s also the military school’s Commandant. Yes, the very same one Laia was ordered to spy on.
As the Commandant, Keris Veturius is one of the best YA villains I’ve ever encountered. It’s rare that a bad guy actually becomes one of my favorite characters, but there’s a cold, well-crafted complexity to her that we don’t see a lot in this genre, and that immediately made her fascinating. Not only does she have total authority over all the Masks, she also possesses a disturbing tendency to just KNOW things. Her relationship with Elias is also a curious subject. There’s certainly no love lost between mother and son, and in fact the Commandant seems repulsed by Elias. The relationship between Elias and his grandfather Quin on the other hand appears warmer and more genial, and you really have to wonder just what on earth happened to make this family so screwed up like this. We get some hints at the end, but there’s definitely a much bigger story there, and I have a feeling that it might have something to do with the identity of Elias’s father.
I also really like the character of Helene, Elias’s oldest and closest friend at the academy. I really wish she had been a point-of-view character; somehow I think I would have had enjoyed seeing through her eyes more than Laia’s. I think the dynamics between Elias and Helene are also more interesting, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how their story played out, taking us along on an unpredictable ride full of twists and turns, wondering all the while how things are going to end for these two best friends. There are so much more I want to know about Helene, but unfortunately we don’t get a lot of information. No reason has been given yet as to why they only choose one woman per generation for the military school, for instance. But still, her relationship with Elias interests me, and I’m looking forward to see how that plot thread will resolve.
Now on to the novel’s weaknesses. For me, the big one was Laia. While Elias grew as a character, Laia continued to be infuriating as hell. She agrees to be a spy, jumping into this nigh impossible situation without any serious consideration, fueled only by her obnoxious bullheadedness. She makes a terrible spy too, by the way, and everyone knows this including herself. Yet she never actually makes the effort to find out how to be a better one, and if it weren’t for advice given to her by others she would have kept making the same mistakes again and again. The worst part is, she laments incessantly about how weak she thinks she is, and instead of making me sympathize with her, it just makes me angry. Through all this she never grows her own backbone, until literally the very last chapter when it’s too late for me to care. The rest of the book, it’s always her brother Darin’s voice in her head giving her encouragement instead of her own, Darin giving her a reason to take action instead of her own will. She shows very little growth in that sense, despite the brave face she tries to put on. Her chapters aren’t as interesting either, and mostly I just couldn’t wait until they were over so I could get back to Elias’s point of view.
Also, if I had to pick a few nits, firstly I wished the author had gone with different names for the world’s people rather than “Scholar” or “Martial”. It reminded me too much of Divergent, not exactly one of my favorite YA novels and certainly not a book I’d want to associate with this one. Secondly, there are some logical inconsistencies in the story (like if Blackcliff Academy was such a hotbed for Resistance spies, you’d think the military would have a better system in place to vet their slaves and servants. Of course, if they did, Laia’s incompetence would have never have gotten her through and there would be no story).
And thirdly, there is this bizarre love triangle. Actually, make that two love triangles. When the book started off with Elias and Helene, Laia and Keenan (another Resistance member), I was really hoping Sabaa Tahir would stay on this path with these two pairs and avoid having to resort to overused love geometrics. Alas, ultimately she decided to adhere to convention, and to my further dismay, instead of just having a single love triangle we end up with this two-girls-for-one-boy and two-boys-for-one-girl situation. A bit unnecessary, if you ask me.
So yes, there definitely are some punches you just have to roll with. But fortunately, they are small punches. The last few that I mentioned are insignificant to minor flaws, none of which are nearly as big as the issue I had with Laia’s character, which is probably the main reason I’m not embracing this book as wholeheartedly as I could be.
I really did enjoy this book though, and the fact that I’ve already written so much in this review is probably a good testament to how much I liked it. I found it quite addicting, especially Elias’s chapters and the terrible things he had to go through in the Trials. I admit, when I started the book I truly thought the results of the completion would be a foregone conclusion, but I was wrong – there are a lot of surprises and unexpected twists and turns in the search for the Martial’s new Emperor and Blood Shrike. With the way it ended, I can’t imagine there not being a sequel. Who knows what it’ll be and who knows when it’ll come out, but what I do know is that I’ll be checking it out for sure.
I’m always on the lookout for good Lovecraft-inspired horror, and so when I stumbled upon the description of Daryl Gregory’s new novel Harrison Squared I just knew I had to check it out.
When Harrison Harrison (nicknamed Harrison Squared by his scientist mother, because geek humor is the best kind of humor) was a toddler, his family’s boat was capsized by a giant tentacled sea monster. Officially, the authorities said that it was a sharp piece of metal that claimed Harrison’s leg, and that the storm was what drowned his father, but Harrison knew he did not imagine or hallucinate what he saw that terrible day.
Now sixteen years old, he travels cross-country with his mother to Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, a quiet seaside town where everything seems creepy as hell. His school is like a labyrinth out of myth, the teachers don’t seem to care whether he shows up to his classes or not, and the other students are like the Children of the Corn. The first night in town, his favorite comic book gets stolen by some weird fish-boy. Then tragedy hits when Harrison’s marine biologist mom goes missing at sea. Refusing to believe she’s dead, Harrison goes investigating. Pretty soon he’s gathered about him a group of unlikely allies to battle the nightmarish Scrimshander, an ancient Dunnsmouth legend come to life.
Why do I love the Lovecraftian subgenre so? For the atmosphere, of course. As a setting, Dunnsmouth perfectly embodies the rural, insular feel of Lovecraft country, belying the terrible secrets kept under wraps by its townsfolk. The horror featured in these stories tend to involve cosmicism and the occult, which is psychologically so much more effective. Daryl Gregory delivers all these aspects, combining both fantasy and horror elements in a neat little package. There’s no small amount of weirdness in the plot, which is usually something I can’t tolerate, but Gregory somehow renders it into a conceivable, real-world everyday kind of weird that his protagonist Harrison takes in stride…so I did as well.
The book will also do well with both adults and teens, striking the perfect balance for crossover appeal. On the surface, Harrison seems to be like a lot of other kids his age, struggling with a volatile temper and his desire to fit in at a new school. But gradually, the reader will learn that he’s also not your typical teenager. Harrison is very well written and convincing; his quiet resourcefulness both charmed and intrigued me, and I sympathized with his fear of the ocean and felt for him when his mom was reported lost at sea. So much of his life has been shaped by the boating accident when he was three years old, and unraveling the mysteries behind his character ended up being as much fun as keeping up with the story itself.
Gregory also rounds out the cast with several fantastic secondary characters, including Lydia, a fellow classmate from school; Lub, the half-human-half-fish boy; and last but not least, the most memorable of all for me was Harrison’s Aunt Selena who arrives in Dunnsmouth from New York City to take care of Harrison after his mom goes missing. Breezing into town in a flurry of silks and designer clothes, Sel was not at all what I expected, but it sure made me wish I had more relatives like her.
I had a great time with this book. It’s not a heart-pounding tale of horror, but rather a well-paced delectable mystery that’s also a fun adventure filled with lots of unexpected twists and turns, while exuding an eerie vibe. I enjoyed uncovering the secrets of Dunnsmouth with Harrison and his strange but really cool group of friends, and hopefully there will be some sort of follow-up to this book and that we won’t have long to wait for it....more
When I requested this book from NetGalley, this was in the description: “For readers of A Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games comes an epic new series.” I realize similar claims get thrown around a lot. Still, even in cases where I don’t agree, most of the time I can at least understand why a comparison to ______ might be made.
When it comes to this book though, I’m mystified. This is nothing like Game of Thrones OR The Hunger Games. Not even a little bit. I knew an ambitious declaration like that should have immediately put me on my guard, and I guess I really should have trusted my instincts. “Epic” is also debatable. While we have a story spanning the globe, from the highlands of rural Scotland to the bustling streets of Hong Kong, the scope of the narrative is actually quite limited. Most of what we get is personal drama revolving around just a handful of characters.
Needless to say, Seeker wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It always pains me to write a negative review, so rather than expound on all the things that didn’t work for me, I’ll just list and briefly talk about them.
- First, I’m not in the habit of DNFing. I read this whole book from beginning to end, but even now I would be hard-pressed to tell you what a Seeker is exactly, or even what they do, beyond the very generic fact that they should be “fighting evil”. That it’s never explained in detail just seems like a gross oversight to me. When most of the characters are Seekers and the ACTUAL TITLE of the book is Seeker, you’d think something like that would be at the forefront. Instead, there is very little to no “Seeking” going on in the book…or whatever it is that Seekers do.
- What exactly are the Dreads? I know they’re supposed to be witnesses, mediators or judges (Judge Dreads?) but how do they fit into this picture? Where do they come from and what is their history? How did they get involved with the Seekers? I. Have. Absolutely. No. Idea.
- Unsurprisingly, I found world-building to be sorely lacking, practically non-existent. You have to understand, I’m not asking for info-dumps or to have my hand being held through the whole book, but I do need a starting point, SOMETHING to anchor me. I felt like I was thrown into this world and the author just expects me to know everything and doesn’t see the need to provide any background information.
- The writing is simplistic and contrived. There are a couple chapters where things aren’t so bad, but most of the prose feels clumsy. The dialogue feels forced. There’s a lot of telling, and not enough showing. Many strange quirks in the writing, like poorly executed time jumps (I actually thought I missed a few pages) which probably relates back to the lack of world-building.
- Speaking of time jumps, just when exactly are we supposed to be? One moment it seems like we’re in medieval Scotland and the next, BOOM, we’re in present day (or futuristic?) Hong Kong. If you’re going to have your characters jump back and forth through portals, you should establish both time and place!
- The characters are pretty bland and unengaging. Quin is a far cry from the kickass heroine she’s meant to be; instead, it feels like her whole purpose is to be a trophy for the two boys who are in love with her. It was so frustrating to watch John and Shinobu fight over her like she’s a piece of meat. The plot thread that involves her losing her memory also makes me understand now why some readers hate amnesia storylines. So she spent more than a year essentially suppressing her own memories? And she’s suddenly a healer? All that “brutal training” she supposedly received didn’t seem to amount to much.
- The romantic side plot is unimaginative and I wasn’t convinced of any of the relationships. I think this is partly due to the awkward writing style, and unnatural dialogue (especially when the characters were discussing their feelings for each other, I couldn’t help but cringe).
- This probably comes as no surprise, but for most of the book, I felt like I had NO IDEA what was going on. More than a few times, I wondered to myself if my ARC was missing huge chunks of the story, as so much of it made no sense. I’m sure there’s a good overall premise in here somewhere, but it was not well executed. Instead, we are left with a whole lot of confusion.
In general I don’t like to DNF, and not only because I’m a completionist. Sometimes a book can be weak in the beginning, but then redeem itself with a strong conclusion. There have been times where I almost put down a book, only to end up absolutely loving it when I finish. I admit it doesn’t happen often, but now I’ve developed a habit where when book that don’t blow me away at first, I always hold out in the hopes that it will get better. But unfortunately, this just didn’t happen with Seeker.
I did hear that there is talk of a movie adaptation for the book. Thing is, I actually think the book would work better as a live action film with its exotic settings, bombastic action sequences, and young attract protagonists. It would make a great cinematic experience, but to achieve a similar awe-inspiring feeling, I’m afraid large swaths of the book would have to be more rigorously edited and perhaps rewritten. There are lots of interesting ideas in here, with an intriguing mix of science fiction and fantasy, and it’s really just a shame that the book falls short of its full potential. I will not be continuing this series, sadly....more
I didn’t expect to like this one so much. First of all, I haven’t read any of Gail Carriger’s other books save for Soulless which I found quite enjoyable, but ultimately the emphasis on Alexia and Maccon’s romance kept me from diving headfirst into the Parasol Protectorate. Then along came Prudence. Described as a new series featuring the adventures of Alexia’s daughter, this book sounded like a lot of fun. More importantly, it also looked different enough from the original series that I figured I might just give it a shot.
I’m so glad I did. Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama AKA “Rue” is definitely a force to be reckoned with! Like I said, I never got beyond the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series so this was my first introduction to this spirited young lady. I didn’t feel disadvantaged at all for not having read the original series; Carriger does a great job making sure that all her readers can hop aboard at this point and enjoy this book on an equal footing.
Witty, vivacious, and oh so much less prim and proper than her mother, I just couldn’t help but fall in love with Rue. She possesses an ability not unlike Alexia’s, being able to negate the effects of supernatural beings simply by making skin-to-skin contact with them, except she does this by temporarily stealing their powers. So for example, by touching a werewolf, she in turn becomes a werewolf, leaving her hapless victim mortal for the rest of the night or at least until Rue gets far enough away to snap the magical tether. Needless to say, high society has gotten quite used to the sight of Rue running around the city in wolf form wearing nothing but her bloomers, much to Alexia’s chagrin…which just goes to show how different Rue is from her mother.
Also, for much of Rue’s life she was raised away from her birth parents by her foster “second father”, the vampire Lord Akeldama. When trouble threatens to strike Dama’s tea interests in India, he tasks Rue with the mission to investigate, because as everyone knows, tea is SERIOUS BUSINESS. To help her complete her quest, Dama also gifts Rue with her very own dirigible, which our protagonist promptly dubs The Spotted Custard.
Oh God. Never have I wished this hard for illustrations in an adult novel. What I wouldn’t give to see a picture of Rue’s red-with-black-spotted dirigible, because Rue being Rue, of course the first thing she does is commission it to be painted like a gigantic ladybug. Oh, and due to some kink in its engineering, the ship also farts loudly upon liftoff.
Yeah, I just about fell out of my chair from laughing so hard.
Such preposterous, over-the-top situations are everywhere in this book, making this a very humorous read – another point Prudence has over Soulless, in my opinion. This fact makes the novel a regular comedy of errors, made even funnier by Rue’s traveling companions who are all delightful but just as hilariously incompetent at pulling off a mission of espionage. You have straight-laced Primrose who forces the entire expedition to depart early due to an unexpected fashion faux pas, the scholarly navigator Percy who fills up his stateroom with more books than the necessities for basic living, and the rakish Quesnel who is constantly distracting Rue with his good looks and casual flirtations. Can India survive the crew of The Spotted Custard? That’s the million dollar question indeed.
Another thing I really enjoyed is just the light smattering of romance, which in no way detracts from the main storyline. Something’s definitely brewing between Rue and Quesnel, but their relationship is secondary to the central plot which focuses on adventure. There’s no doubt that the exciting journey to India was what made this book such a joy to read, bolstered by Rue’s eccentric brand of diplomacy and the antics of her friends and crew.
I’m also happy that while many of the major characters of Parasol Protectorate are featured in this book, the author keeps their appearances limited. This is strictly Rue’s story, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that. Of course, if you’ve read the series featuring her parents you’ll have a better grasp on the lore and characters’ backgrounds, but I didn’t and I still had a blast. I actually liked Prudence a lot more than Soulless; after all, I didn’t get a jump on the rest of the books in Alexia’s series, but I’m very impatient now for the next book of Rue’s! I’m so glad that Carriger decided to focus on this character, and I can’t wait to follow Rue and her friends on their future adventures with The Spotted Custard....more
Son of the Shadows may be the second book of the Sevenwaters series, but it is not a direct sequel. Instead, the story follows the youngest daughter of Sorcha, the brave young woman in Daughter of the Forest who was set upon a quest to save her six older brothers from a terrible curse – and succeeded. Liadan proves to be just as resourceful as her mother when she is abducted by outlaws on the road, managing to maneuver her way out of the dilemma by offering her healing services to an injured member of the group. This is also how she meets the Painted Man, the leader of the band known to be a cold and heartless killer.
Despite it not being a direct sequel, it is still perhaps necessary to read Daughter of the Forest first before tackling Son of the Shadows. Threads from the first book’s story carry over to this one, and if you aren’t familiar with them it is easy to become confused or lost. In fact, as someone who jumped into this book right after reading the first one, I still feel like I’m missing something. The meddling Fae are back, reminding us that there is still a prophecy to be fulfilled and a darkness to vanquish. Sorcha may have set Sevenwaters on the right path, but it is up to Liadan to take up the mantle now and continue what her mother started. However, nothing really develops in the grander scheme of things; we don’t get to see the great evil rear its ugly head even once in this novel, and I’m not sure if the Fair Folk’s prophecy progresses that much at all.
For all that, Son of the Shadows was an enjoyable read, almost as much as Daughter of the Forest. It does lack a bit of the cohesion I found in the first book, which had a clear direction given how it was a very faithful retelling of a well-known fairy tale. Marillier plays around more with her characters and plot with this one, having freer reign to do as she pleases with the story. For one thing, the romance here is much heavier and more in the forefront. Liadan and the Painted Man fall swiftly for each other, whereas Sorcha’s relationship in the previous book was a much slower burn. The love story elements are more overt and in your face this time around and doesn’t come across as naturally, but it’s still very deep and full of passion.
Still, it’s an excellent follow up and a worthy addition to the saga of Sevenwaters, which looks to have more in store. It’s clear now that there’s a lot more to the narrative, and the effects aren’t going to be limited to just a few characters. Instead, multiple generations in the same bloodline will be touched forever. Son of the Shadows is different from the first book, but in a good way. And it doesn’t stray too far from the overall themes that I’ve come to appreciate about this series, mainly the fairy tale and mythological undertones to the setting and story. And of course, Marillier’s writing is beautiful as always.
This book is put together slightly less elegantly and doesn’t tread as lightly as its predecessor, but I still loved it....more
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”
A lot of times, it’s the books that initially fly under my radar which end up impressing me the most. This was the case with Karen Memory, whose description didn’t actually appeal to me at first. After all, as much as I love steampunk, I’ve read so much of the genre that admittedly I’ve gotten a lot pickier in recent years. It’s going to take more than just airships and clockwork gadgetry to entice me these days.
The moment I read the first paragraph though, I knew I was going to be in for a treat. It’s not even just the “Old West” feel of the setting (which I’m a sucker for and gets me every time) that caught my attention, but the distinct and down-to-earth voice of the narrator which immediately tugged at something in my heart. Right away, I knew I wanted to learn more about her. I wanted to get to know her and hear her story.
Our protagonist Karen Memery turns out to a young “seamstress” (a euphemism those around her parts use for prostitute) working for Madame Damnable at one of Rapid City’s more upscale establishments. It’s late 19th century and the Pacific Northwest is at the height of another gold rush; like any frontier town that’s sprouted up around the mining industry, life is rough and the folks even rougher. Working girls like Karen at the Hôtel Mon Cherie know that the best way to survive is to stick together and look after one another, but not everyone is so fortunate to have an employer like Madame Damnable or friends to watch their back.
The calm is shattered one night when two young women arrive at the Mon Cherie seeking help and protection. This is how Karen first meets and falls in love with Priya, a prostitute who managed to escape the horrific conditions of a rival brothel, but not without its mean and nasty proprietor Peter Bantle in hot pursuit. Thwarted, Bantle vows to make Madame Damnable and her girls’ lives a living hell, and with what appears to be mind-control device in his possession, he might be more dangerous than anyone believed. When the flogged and bloody corpses of women start appearing around town, one begins to wonder if all of this is connected somehow. A new lawman rides into town with his Comanche partner on the tail of a vicious serial killer, and together with Karen and the friends, this ragtag but resourceful crew is determined to get to the bottom of this conspiracy.
At times, Karen Memory did feel very much like my perfect book. It is imaginative steampunk that feels fresh and full of life, served up as a rich blend of mystery, suspense, action and romance. The end result is difficult to describe, but delightfully easy to enjoy. As I said before, I have a weakness for westerns and stories that take place during the expansion into the western frontier, so I was charmed at once by Rapid City, resplendently brought to life by Elizabeth Bear’s evocative and vivid descriptions. Despite a healthy dose of fantastical steampunk, we never lose sight of the distinctive characteristics or nuances of this particular era.
Karen herself is an amazing one-of-a-kind character, telling her story with a candidness that I found very charming. The narrative style won’t be for everyone, riddled with its colloquialisms and informal jargon, but it worked surprisingly well for me. It made Karen feel so real — I could practically hear her voice and imagine her mannerisms in my head. I’ll say this — whoever is narrating the audiobook will have her work cut out for her, as it’ll be hard to top what’s already written on paper. Usually prose littered with slang and grammatical errors, whether they’re intentional or not, would drive me nuts (especially my personal pet peeve, “would of” instead of “would’ve”, which Karen repeatedly commits). That I was able to overlook them in this case says a lot.
No doubt the book would not have been the same without Karen’s unique voice, but the other ladies at the Hôtel Mon Cherie surely deserve a mention too. This entire cast of brave and capable kickass women will rock your world and fill you with admiration. After Karen, I’m especially taken with the character of Madame, inspired by the real Mother Damnable, Mary Ann Conklin who ran Seattle’s first hotel and high-class brothel. For a certainty, this novel features no shortage of spirited women will go to great lengths for those they love and what they believe in, and will not back down without a fight.
Karen Memory is a book about a lot of things – solving a mystery, hunting a merciless killer, saving the city from evil, and all the spectacular drama that comes along with such activities. But at its heart, the book is also about forging friendships, growing up, and chasing one’s dreams. Behind the rollicking adventure is also a softer, more introspective side to the story that will surely resonate with a lot of readers.
Final verdict? I would definitely recommend this. It’s actually my first book by Elizabeth Bear, but regardless of whether you’re a long-time fan of the author or relatively new to her work like me, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Check it out....more
This is the rating I usually give to Young Adult novels that are pretty much your run-of-the-mill fare, but for all their conventionality and clichés, I still had a decent to good time reading. A lot of YA seems to be falling into this category for me lately. Being typical of its kind isn’t always a bad thing, though. At the very least, I know what I’m expecting. And while it’s true that The Young Elites probably didn’t exceed those expectations, it did meet them, and for that it gets my kudos.
The book is filled with familiar tropes, though to Marie Lu’s credit, she attempts to put a unique spin on some of them. A decade ago, an illness swept through the kingdom of Kennetra, killing many it infected. A lot of those children who survived were marked forever by distinctive scars and other features. Protagonist Adelina Amouteru, for example, had her once black hair turn silver, and physicians also had to remove her left eye in order to save her life. These youngsters who also came away with magical powers were labeled the “Malfetto”, and today they are persecuted and looked upon with contempt by much of the main population.
As one of the marked, Adelina’s status makes her undesirable for marriage, leading her cruel and unfeeling father to try and sell her off to become some nobleman’s mistress. After finding out about the plot, Adelina attempts to run away, only to wind up manifesting her powers and accidentally killing her father in a horrific accident. And so, we begin the book with our protagonist locked up in prison, awaiting her execution. Before she makes it up to the block, however, Adelina is snatched out of the Inquisitors’ grasp by a group of vigilantes known as the Young Elites, so called because their members are all like her – marked Malfettos who are empowered with special magical abilities.
It feels like we’ve seen this story many times before. A young woman is a part of an oppressed group because the rest of the world does not understand and are frightened of their powers. She gets taken in by others like her and is forced to prove herself to them. The main leader – a guy, naturally – is ultimately impressed by her force of will and decides to mentor her, becoming a love interest along the way too, of course. In this case, it is the mysterious and broody Enzo Valenciano, whose stone-cold heart starts thawing the moment Adelina comes along. Then throw in the beautiful Raffaele to drum up some of those tense emotional moments, though it is interesting to note that his relationship with Adelina never truly ventures into the romantic sphere.
Still, while much of the premise is well-traveled territory, there are actually a few major surprises. I for one was a bit caught off guard by the darkness of this story, but in the best way possible. It’s quite something to encounter a heroine who is not your average goody-two-shoes, and in fact, Adelina has a mean streak to her which makes her more frightening than anyone in this novel, even the villain. It came out occasionally and I was delighted whenever it happened, because these parts were always written so well.
Lu perfectly balances Adelina’s struggle to do the right thing with the cruel, dark and ugly blackness that lurks within her character, and also manages to convey the resulting guilt and doubt. There was always this suspense hanging over me, of wondering just when Adelina will snap because her roiling emotions are like a tightly drawn bowstring and there’s only so much abuse and pushing around a personality like hers can take. I love how we have a heroine that’s so complex, and likewise the story presents a lot of grey areas for readers to consider.
The ending is perhaps the strongest part of the book. It puts all the focus on Adelina, and she’s the only one who matters now, which is the way things should be. The moment of truth is at hand, and it’s anyone’s guess what she will do next. It’s tempting to wish for the obvious path, which is that she will do the noble thing, but I also confess that I’d be thrilled if she just up and decided to go completely dark side on everyone – and I wouldn’t even blame her for it. The fact that it could realistically go either way is a testament to Lu’s writing talents and her ability to develop her main character. The epilogue is also intriguing, and sets up a likely scenario for book two. Even though I can predict where the story might be going, I’m looking forward to it.
This was my first book by Marie Lu, and while I might not have been swept off my feet, it was still a very good experience. At the time I wasn’t really looking for a YA novel to blow me away, just something quick and fun to read in between some heavier adult fantasy novels, and The Young Elites delivered, and managed to throw in a couple surprises too. I’ll most likely pick up the sequel....more
I found this book surprisingly enjoyable…or perhaps that ought not to be so surprising. After all, I loved The Spirit Thief and the rollicking sci-fi Paradox trilogy that the author wrote under her pen name Rachel Bach. Still, combining dragons, magic, dystopia, humor and urban fantasy? Seemed just a tad ambitious. But boy, does Aaron pull it off with flying colors. I think Nice Dragons Finish Last may be my favorite book from her yet. I also had the pleasure of listening to the audio version of this book and it was fantastic.
Meet Julius, the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan. He isn’t a pushover so much as he’s just downright terrible at being a dragon. He’s nice, considerate, has no designs on taking over the world, all of which makes him an absolute failure in his mother’s eyes. After twenty-four years of watching Julius hide out in his room in the mountain, Bethesda the Heartstriker has finally had it. Sealing him in his human form, the dragon matriarch banishes her son to the Detroit Free Zone.
Built on the ruins of old Detroit, the DFZ is set apart from the rest of the country, having been annexed by the spirit Algonquin, Lady of the Great Lakes. It is home to modern mages, lesser spirits and all manner of magical creatures. Unfortunately, it’s also got a strict no dragons policy. Trapped in hostile territory with only the clothes on his back, Julius is going to have to prove himself to his mother if he wants any chance of getting his true form back. His only source of help comes in the form of Marci, an exiled human mage who is dealing with her own hefty set of problems.
First of all, I called this one an urban fantasy, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Rachel Aaron puts a fun, fresh twist on the genre, infusing her setting with science fiction, post-apocalyptic and dystopic elements as well as a touch of mythology. It’s a fascinating mix. Magic exists in the world now, thanks to a meteor striking the earth in 2035. Algonquin awakens from the resulting shockwave, causing great tidal waves to rise, which was how Detroit was flooded and destroyed. The DFZ rises from its ruins, thriving unchecked on an economy system based on free enterprise and bounty hunting.
I also love rooting for the underdog, and Julius is an underdog all right, being the runt of Bethesda’s latest clutch. While his siblings are out doing great things, Julius prefers to avoid the rest of his family by shutting himself in his room playing computer games and earning an impressive collection of online degrees. It’s hard not to feel for him; if Julian were human, he’d actually be quite a catch! Good looking, sweet, kind, educated, and being just this side of geeky enough for me. Bah, too bad he had to be born to a clan of merciless, cutthroat dragons who can’t appreciate his finer points.
No worries though, because I’m on Team Julius all the way. Also in his corner you’ll find Marci the runaway thaumaturgic mage, as well as – surprise, surprise – Julius’s brother Justin. Marci’s a great character; she’s got an awkward personality but also a shrewd mind, which creates an interesting dynamic with our protagonist. I loved Justin too. He’s Julius’s complete opposite, but it’s hard not to be touched by his brotherly love and concern. I even got a kick out of Julian’s less benevolent family members like Chelsie the Heartstriker assassin and Bob the mercurial Seer. Did I also mention Bethesda names her children by assigning each clutch by letter in order of the alphabet, so that all the dragonlings in her first clutch would have names starting with A, those in the second clutch would have names starting with B, and so on? The Heartstriker clan is full of quirks, and I loved them all.
Rachel Aaron has an incredible imagination, and I think this book, more than any of her others, let her go wild with it. The audio version really did an amazing job bringing this book and all of her ideas to life, the narrator Vikas Adam making this one a really fun listen. I haven’t listened to any of his other performances, but this was a great first experience. Adam can do a wonderful range of voices, even though I have to say a couple of them didn’t quite “fit”, like Bob whom he made sound like a stoned surfer dude, and at times his female voices can be hilariously awkward. You can tell he had a good time reading the book too though, because his narration is animated and he does wonderful effects like hissing for when Bethesda is annoyed, or groaning when Justin is exasperated with Julius. Little touches like that can make the listening experience more memorable.
All in all, I’m really impressed with how well this book came together. Maybe it’s because urban fantasy is more to my tastes, but I think I liked this one even more than Aaron’s Paradox trilogy, and I did love those Devi Morris books. Julius is just such a lovable character though, and the story is so fun and easy to get into, it’s hard to stop once you start. Highly recommended if you’re looking for an entertaining feel-good book....more
I don’t know what it is, but something about this book totally appealed to me. One would think I’d have had enough of elves and dwarves and orcs by now, but then I tried to remember the last time I read a Young Adult novel set in a world like this, and it actually made me realized just how refreshingly different it is from the sort of YA I’ve been reading lately. It’s free of a lot of the usual tropes, anyway. Plus, something about the storytelling just gives off this down-to-earth and easygoing vibe. It feels like the author wrote this book from his heart, to have fun, not to hit up all the items on some imaginary checklist of what makes a YA novel successful. In fact, I read somewhere that The Novice began life as a personal NaNoWriMo project, and that doesn’t surprise me at all.
The story follows Fletcher, an orphan raised by a village blacksmith after he was found as a baby abandoned in the snow. One day, on the cusp of Fletcher’s sixteenth birthday, a chance encounter with a veteran soldier at the market left him in possession of an old scroll. And like all curious teenage boys, Fletcher just couldn’t resist reading it, and in doing so he unleashes a demon from the Ether. But it’s not as ominous as it sounds! The demon – a cute little imp-like creature that shoots fire – is a Salamander that quickly bonds to Fletcher and becomes his loyal companion.
However, Fletcher’s summoning of the demon does reveal him to be a mage. And with the war going on with the orcs, the army needs all the summoners they can get their hands on, noble-born or commoner; elf, dwarf or human. On the run for a crime he didn’t commit, that’s how Fletcher ends up at the Adept Military Academy, a school that teaches young summoners and prepares them to become full-fledged battlemages before sending them to the frontlines. Fletcher learns to control his demon familiar – whom he names Ignatius – alongside the new friends he meets, but also has to contend with the snotty noble children who try to undermine him at every turn. As the war effort becomes increasingly more desperate, the Academy holds a competition to weed out the brightest and the best for leadership positions, and even first-years like Fletcher are included. Fletcher wants to win, and not just because he wants to teach the nobles a lesson. There are shady dealings afoot; political plots and conspiracies abound, and Fletcher knows he can make a difference for the better, if only he can overcome the challenges of the trials and best his opponents to win a position of command.
A quick look at Taran Matharu’s author page tells us that his passion for reading began at a very young age, and it probably wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out he was a fan of Harry Potter as a child. If that’s the case, the influence is pretty strong. I also see shades of influence from other literary sources, like Lord of the Rings, and the use of mana to summon demon companions of varying species and power levels also reminds me of role-playing video games and even Pokemon. Taken by themselves, the ideas are familiar and derived from what we’ve seen before, but taken as a whole, they actually come together here to form something quite new and interesting, not to mention also a whole lot of fun.
Like I said, Taran Matharu’s approach is very straightforward and uncomplicated; it doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing his vision to adhere to a fixed set of conventions, nor does it feel like he’s out to subvert any norms. At the heart of it, I just see an author telling a story about characters that he obviously cares a lot about. For that, I can overlook some of the novel’s weaknesses, such as the simplistic writing style and on several occasions where it felt somewhat skewed towards younger audiences like Middle Grade. The writing is perhaps my only big issue I had with this novel, which I felt could use a fair bit more polishing, but this is not an area I’m overly concerned with when I read YA.
Plus, there’s a lot to like too. I found the different kinds of demons and their little quirks charming, plus the Demonology treatise found at the end of the book was a nice touch. I liked reading about the magic school environment and the interactions Fletcher has with his fellow students, especially his relationship with the dwarf Othello and the elf Sylva. The tournament at the end definitely made for an entertaining closer as well, though I also can’t wait to finally step out of the academy setting into big wide world. Thus far we’ve not seen much of the ongoing war with the orcs, and I hope we’ll get a chance to get out to the front. Well, after the cliffhanger at the end of this book gets resolved, of course. Just in case you can’t tell, yes, I’m looking forward to the next book....more
Stories of the Raksura is a delightful romp into Martha Wells’ world of the Raksura – even if you have not read the main series. I have been meaning to get to her Books of the Raksura for a long time now but still haven’t found the opportunity yet, so I was very happy to get my hands on this collection.
Of course, I had the usual concerns: How much do I need to know before jumping in? Am I going to be able to follow along with the short stories in here without getting lost? I shouldn’t have worried. As it turns out, this collection actually serves pretty well as an introduction to Wells’ wildly imaginative universe and the fantastical beings that live in it.
The Falling World
“The Falling World” is the first novella found in this anthology. For those like me who were unfamiliar with the race of fantasy creatures called the Raksura, you get a quick and intense crash course in this tale. Raksura are shapeshifters that look a bit to me like a form of bird-people, though their societies more closely resemble those of hive insects. A ruling queen is at the top, followed by lesser queens. Queens mate with fertile males called Consorts to produce royal clutches composed of Queens, Consorts and Warriors (infertile males and females that defend the colony). Together, these three types make up the Aeriat. They are winged and capable of flight.
Then there are the Arbora, who have no wings but are capable climbers. They are made up of Teachers that oversee the nurseries and train the young, Hunters who provide food for the colony, Soldiers who guard the colony, and Mentors who are seers with magical abilities enabling them to perform tasks such as foreseeing the future or healing the sick and wounded.
It can be a bit daunting at first, but all this information is adequately provided and easy to pick up as the story progresses. In “The Falling World”, a sister Queen called Jade travels with her entourage to another colony to negotiate trade, leaving her consort Moon behind at court. But then the diplomatic convoy fails to reach their destination, and an expedition is launched by Moon along with a party of warriors and hunters to try to discover what happened to them. However, what the rescuers find in the end might prove too dangerous and difficult for them to handle.
The story is simple and straightforward: one group sets out to find another. What amazed me though, was the amount of lore and world building Wells managed to inject into this novella. I was blown away by the information here about Raksuran culture, physiology, and social hierarchy. And the great thing is, none of it was really forced. I never once felt like I was taken aside and given and info dump; instead, all the information flowed naturally just from the normal course of storytelling. I’m sure as a new reader there’s lots I’m missing still, but the amount of knowledge I gleaned here of the Raksura and their world was just superb.
Perhaps it is also a good thing that the story itself is not overly complicated. On top of the information about Raksuran culture, there are a lot of characters to meet, many names to learn. The naming convention might take some getting used to, and you probably won’t remember who’s who all the time, but this particular story for me was mostly about getting to know this fantasy world and the Raksura, and I had a good time with it.
The Tale of Indigo and Cloud
“The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” is the second novella found in this collection. It is more of a historical narrative, exploring the legend behind the origins of Indigo Cloud court. A long time ago, a sister Queen called Indigo stole a consort named Cloud away from another Raksuran court, angering the hot-tempered queen who was Cloud’s mate, leading to a conflict that could mean all-out war between the two colonies.
This was an interesting story, which read a bit like a mythological scenario. That’s not too surprising, given its unique nature. It is a tale about the Indigo Cloud court’s queens of old, long before the key character Moon joined the colony’s ranks. It reveals more information about the way Raksuran society works, or rather how easily it could also fall apart. There’s a bit of politics and a bit of romance, the kind of perfect mix you’d want to find in an ancient legend.
There’s not much else I can think to say about this novella, but it’s probably my favorite of the two in this book. I really enjoyed the story and the lesson it imparted, as well as the overall vibe.
The Forest Boy
Next comes this short story, which tells of Moon as an injured fledgling taken in by a kind-hearted family in a nearby village, who are all unaware of his Raksuran background and shapeshifting abilities.
“The Forest Boy” is a nice bonus, giving the reader more insight into this central character.
The final short story tells of Chime, one of the warriors who accompanied Jade on her diplomatic mission back in the first novella in this collection, “The Falling World”. Chime’s situation is interesting in that he didn’t actually start off as a warrior. He was born a mentor, who then changed forms. That’s huge.
A switch from mentor to warrior, as you recall, also means a switch from Arbora to Aeriat. Wingless to winged. Fertile to infertile. Quite the life-changing event. “Adaptation” is exactly what it sounds like: Chime’s struggle to come to terms with this drastic transformation.
Despite being so short, this is probably my second favorite piece in this collection. It’s a powerful tale in its own right, not only because of the emotional and physical obstacles that Chime has to overcome, but also because of what his transformation might ultimately mean for the colony. It’s a great read, and in the end I am left to wonder what fate might hold in store for the entire Indigo Cloud court. It’s a bit ominous and unsettling.
The Raksura are one of the most original fantasy races I’ve ever encountered in fantasy fiction. I was genuinely compelled by everything about them. Despite them being so different biologically and culturally, the depth of their personalities and motivations make them feel very human. The novellas and short stories in this collection show that they have to deal with the same complex emotions we do, such as love, hate, guilt, etc. Their issues and conflicts like politics, gender and societal roles are also realistic and relatable.
All told, this is a great collection filled with all kinds of goodness like magic, rich worlds, and fascinating characters. I can’t believe how invested I am, as someone who hasn’t even read the Books of the Raksura main series. After reading this, I’m going to have to try hitting them sooner rather than later. Hopefully there will also be more of these short tales collected in future anthologies, because I would definitely be interested in reading them....more
It’s Great Britain versus the United States in this paranormal historical novel about the search for immortality. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his widow Mary Todd Lincoln is determined to never let anyone experience her grief again, forming the impetus behind the Eterna Project, a secret group of scientists and researchers tasked to find a cure for death.
Across the ocean, Queen Victoria creates special division in charge of investigating all matters of the supernatural and paranormal, codenaming it “Omega”. Hungry for everlasting power and expansion, the queen appoints Harold Spire of the Metropolitan Police to head up Omega, charging him to find the ruined Eterna laboratory in New York, where she is convinced someone has survived with a sample of the immortality compound. Meanwhile, American Clara Templeton is also searching for Eterna. Grieving for her lover who worked on the secret project and died in the catastrophe that destroyed the laboratory, she will do her best not to let the any of the research fall into British hands.
The book is an interesting blend of genres with a unique premise, though it may take quite a bit of investment to get into the meat of the story. It’s up to the reader to get caught up, since we’re essentially dropped into the wake of the destruction of the Eterna laboratory and deaths of all the scientists and researchers. But perhaps most bewildering of all is the prologue which introduces readers to the character of Clara as a young girl, being confided in by Mary Todd Lincoln after the assassination of the president. Thus we learn that Clara possesses special abilities, ones that allow her to commune with the dead, but that she also a mystic of sorts who recalls all the memories of her past lives.
Even after finishing this novel, I’m still unclear as to the significance of Clara’s abilities in the bigger scheme of things. They don’t benefit her in any clear way, and certainly not on the Eterna project as she isn’t even directly connected with the work. They don’t even come in handy when it comes to communicating with her dead lover, since she blocks everything out. As far as I can tell, her psychic talents are there to make her stand out and be more interesting than she really is. The truth is, Clara is aloof, uninspiring and devoid of much personality, and unfortunately her powers actually don’t do much to improve things. In fact, I think they make an even bigger mess of her character. Whether her abilities will come into play later on in the series, only time will tell.
On the British side, we have Harold Spire and Omega. I found Spire to be a much more developed character than Clara, and more sympathetic due to his tragic past and the unusual relationship he has with his father. There are also more interesting characters in Omega; secret agents and spies and circus performers, oh my. My only criticism is that, while assigned the job of tracking down Eterna, the plot ends up spending more time focusing on Spire as he investigates another seemingly unconnected case. This robs the story of a lot of the suspense, especially if you were anticipating a tension-filled “arms race” type competition between the British and Americans from the novel’s description, with the two nations scrabbling to be the first to find the secret to immortality. This is not that kind of book, which was somewhat disappointing, though I ultimately didn’t mind the new direction.
The Eterna Files ended up being an enjoyable read, if at times disorganized and convoluted. In the jumble of themes and ideas and plot points, I can glean the overall picture and take a good guess where author Leanna Renee Hieber is taking the story, even though the narrative stumbles in the pacing and is slow in pulling it all together. Once everything resolves, however, it’s a lot more compelling....more
Marshall Ryan Maresca introduces us to the world of Maradaine with his new novel The Thorn of Dentonhill, transporting us to a vibrant and diverse city where powerful mages, university students, assassins and street gangs all call home. Our protagonist is Veranix Calbert, a magic student by day and vigilante by night. When the sun goes down, Veranix ventures out into the streets, disrupting the local drug trade in the hopes of bringing down the notorious crime boss Fenmere, the man who killed Veranix’s father and destroyed his mother’s mind.
One night, Veranix intercepts a delivery in progress, absconding with a major shipment worth forty thousand crowns. But instead of finding the mother lode of drugs in the satchel, he finds…a cloak and a coil of rope?! What’s so special about these mundane objects, and what could Fenmere want with them? What follows is a highly entertaining tale of mystery and adventure as we learn more about circumstances behind this botched trade.
There’s also the intriguing details when it comes to Veranix’s double life. The idea of an average everyman moonlighting as a crime-fighter/vigilante certainly isn’t a new one, but the novel feels unique nonetheless, thanks to the author bringing his own fresh twist to the story. For example, it turns out that Veranix isn’t just your typical mage-in-training, and his tragic history and his family ties to the street gangs make him an irresistible hero.
One of the key strengths here are the characters. At times, even the indomitable Veranix is outshined by the supporting cast, with his friend and roommate Delmin standing out as one of my favorites. Another character who ended up growing on me is Veranix’s cousin Colin, street captain of the Rose Street Princes. This also brings me to how much I loved Maresca’s portrayal of the different street gangs, painting most of them as a lovable bunch of guys rather than just your typical two-bit delinquents. Above all else, the Princes are family and united against the “true” bad guys, who are Fenmere and his buddies at the top. It’s really refreshing to see support within a gang rather than the usual power-struggles.
I also love the world Maresca has created. It’s surprisingly rich, featuring a long and complex history and populated by many cultures. Other than a couple of awkward information dumps near the beginning of the novel, most of the world-building is revealed to us organically over the course of the story. In retrospect, I find it quite impressive that the author was able to work in so much information without overwhelming the reader or distracting from the plot.
Maresca brings the whole package, complete and well-constructed. If you’re looking for something fun and adventurous for your next fantasy read, look no further than The Thorn of Dentonhill, an incredible start to a new series, from an author who is clearly on his way to great things. I liked its balance between drama and action, and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of world building and character development. I’m looking forward to seeing more!...more
Author E.L. Tettensor has been on my radar ever since reading her excellent debut Darkwalker and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to find out in the summer of 2014 that she will be returning to the world of Nicolas Lenoir with a fresh new sequel featuring the eponymous detective.
Having been given a new lease on life following his harrowing encounter with the grim spirit Darkwalker, Lenoir is back to work with a renewed energy. But his resolve is tested almost right away when a disturbing new case sets the entire Kennian police force on alert. A deadly new disease is ravaging the city, inflicting fever, vomiting, and massive internal and external hemorrhaging on its victims. The symptoms and mortality rates are bad enough, but then comes irrefutable evidence that the plague was ruthlessly unleashed on purpose. But by whom?
In this incredible follow-up, Lenoir and his partner Sergeant Bran Kody are racing against time on the trail to find a mass murderer in the midst of widespread fear and panic. City resources are stretched to the limits and still more people are dying by the day, and it’s a whirlwind of suspense as all those trying to hold things together find themselves torn between finding the culprit, or finding a cure.
I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be back in this world reading about these characters, especially since they’ve grown so much since the first book. Inspector Lenoir is a no longer the jaded curmudgeon he once was, and now that his apathy has lifted we can finally see his brilliance shine. That’s not to say his personality has done a complete one-eighty; he is still the fastidious detective with a tongue as sharp as his mind. And as Sergeant Kody is so often reminded, the inspector is not given to coddling himself or anyone else. However, that has not stopped the two men from becoming closer as a unique working relationship develops between them. Kody’s character is also explored a lot more in this installment, with his perspective given plenty of page time. The sergeant starts coming into his own, taking the lead on some parts of the investigation and standing up to Lenoir he feels are important. It’s good to see these two evolve together, as it’s clear they can learn so much from each other.
The world of this series is as rich and evocative as ever, even in the grip of a deadly disease. It’s interesting to note that the fantasy elements are not as strong in this book as it was in the first. Aside from the involvement of Adali healing, Master of Plagues is relatively light on magic and the paranormal. In spite of this, I think this makes the novel even more engaging. For one thing, it would be impossible to read this story without pondering its parallels to current events, in light of the Ebola outbreak in Africa and the fear that it sparked across the globe in 2014. Not only are the symptoms of Kennian’s plague disconcertingly similar to those of Ebola, social effects like mass hysteria and the discrimination against a specific group of people are also themes that will ring all too familiar. It’s not surprising, since Tettensor has stated that she draws a lot of her inspiration from the real world and her own experiences living and working in Burundi. The basis for the fictional Adali culture, for example, has some of its roots in the pastorialist societies of northeast Africa and elsewhere on the continent.
All told, Master of Plagues is another deftly written novel, a worthy sequel that is every bit as good as its predecessor. Both books have gotten 5 stars from me, and I don’t have to tell you how rare that is. But that’s what I like to see! Like Darkwalker, this book takes the reader on a delectable journey to get to bottom of a grand mystery, and there are plenty of plot twists and surprises along the way to keep you on your toes. Nicolas Lenoir is a character that has quickly grown on me, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll get up to next....more
I was never a really good student of history. But my family background being Chinese, I’ve always been taught to embrace my heritage. I grew up listening and adoring the history and legendary tales of Ancient China told to me by my parents and grandparents, who have learned these things themselves when they were children. My great uncle was also fond of watching old Wuxia operas and historical dramas, and he used to record these and leave the tapes at our house for the curious and unsuspecting adolescent me to find. They were…interesting.
It might seem like I’m zipping off on a tangent here, but really, I’m trying my best to explain why I loved this book so much. I read The Grace of Kings with a strange mixture of emotions I’ve never experienced before while reading anything else in my life. It was part giddiness at the familiarity of the topic; the fall of the Qin Dynasty and the subsequent rise of the Han Dynasty being such an important and tumultuous period in China’s classical age, it was instantly recognizable that this interregnum was what Ken Liu was basing his story on. I was like, “Oh, I think I know the story or legend that inspired this scene/character/event, etc.” pretty much every few chapters.
I was also very moved, and I struggle to find the words to explain this. In essence, seeing what the author has done here – taking these snippets of legends and tales from history that I’ve grown up with and incorporating into this novel, forming this wondrous piece of literature – at times it was too much to take. Many of the side stories in The Grace of Kings had the feel and atmosphere of the old anecdotes my elders shared with me when I was younger. At times I got so sentimental that I was nearly moved to tears. It’s also a beautiful book. Anyway, personal aside over. I don’t usually get sappy in my reviews, but I just don’t know how else to describe how much reading this novel affected me. I saw Ken Liu take a historical narrative that I know and love, and transform it into this gorgeous work of art.
While The Grace of Kings is a combination of East Asian sources with Western elements, that’s only just the beginning. It’s also a blend of storytelling traditions from various other cultures and historical eras along with elements from epic fantasy, mythology, and even a bit of steampunk action with airships and war kites and airborne duels thrown in. The novel’s themes speak to the human condition, exploring the corrupting force of absolute power and the chaos that inevitably follows great change, but the original and poignant execution by Liu gives it all a fresh and new perspective.
Indeed, the novel is different from a lot of today’s mainstream fantasy. Expressive modes of storytelling aside, a lot of the nuances can also be attributed to the writing style. It took a long time for me to read The Grace of Kings, for as fervently as I would have liked to devour this book, it just can’t be rushed. In this sense, Liu’s writing reminds me a lot of Guy Gavriel Kay, another author of historical fantasy whose work I greatly admire and respect. Like Kay again, Liu’s evocative prose feels almost like poetry, meant to be savored. In between the major perspectives like those of Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu, Liu also inserts mini-narratives from those around the main characters. A pantheon of gods stand witness to a group of people whose lives have been touched by the two leaders, and by the events surrounding the uprising against the emperor. War is never insignificant or simple; its effects are felt far and wide by everyone, from all walks of life. Each person has a tale to tell.
This collection of narratives therefore makes the widespread conflict feel more realistic, though one downside is that it puts a distance between the reader and the events of the story, making some of scenes featuring significant developments like major victories and defeats feel muted and less impactful. On the other hand, being able to follow a vast network of characters also greatly opens up the world.
That said, the up-close-and-personal relationships are important to the story too. Mata Zyndu appears to be based on the warlord Xiang Yu while Kuni Garu is loosely modeled after Liu Bang, both prominent historical figures during the insurgency in the late Qin Dynasty. Both characters have similar goals during the revolution to overthrow a brutal reign (a friend of mine has playfully compared this to Game of Thrones, calling it “Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon: The Early Years”), but then later on they come to blows. The story immediately picked up for me after the two of them meet, and it just took off from there.
Ken Liu deftly chronicles the relationship between Kuni and Mata, contrasting them and emphasizing their ideological differences from the beginning, despite their easy friendship. Things don’t slow down even after the overthrow of Erishi, Emperor Mapidéré’s weak heir. Honorable, ruthless Mata is often at odds with the fun-loving and merciful Kuni, and the conflict finally boils over in the mayhem that follows. After all, there are many ways to wage a war, with honor and guile being two sides of the same coin. Just when you think things are winding down, the true excitement begins. My favorite character doesn’t even make her first appearance until around the three-quarters mark: Gin Mazoti, who was an orphan born to a prostitute and survived a rough childhood on the streets to become the greatest military strategist the world has ever seen. Gin stormed onto the page amidst the chaos, and I fell in love with her character immediately. I could probably write a whole page about how awesome she is, but there are certain things best left to surprise.
The greatest stories are those that stir both the heart and mind, and The Grace of Kings is one of those rare novels that accomplishes this feat magnificently. Ken Liu gives readers a lot more than just a story about epic battles, friendship and betrayal, compassion and cruelty; he also inspires. After reading this book I wanted to dig deeper into the historical period that the story was based on, to give myself more context to the tales and legends I’ve always heard about. Highly recommended for epic fantasy fans looking to venture beyond traditional boundaries, and for all readers who love being immersed in incredible breathtaking worlds....more
I have so much to say about this novella, but to make a long story short: The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a gorgeously written novel, both haunting and whimsical at once if such a thing is possible, and an incredibly detailed exploration into one of the Kingkiller Chronicle series’ most fascinating and mysterious characters. And yet for all of that, I was disappointed and left feeling unsatisfied.
As a lot of reviewers and even the author himself have pointed out already, this book isn’t going to be for everyone. Rothfuss warns readers that without the context of the first two books of the series, you’re going to feel pretty lost. I’d carry that further to say that heck, even if you have read The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, you might feel pretty lost. On the one hand, I really appreciate Rothfuss’s caveat – that this book is going to be strange, different, and not going to do things that a classic story is supposed to do – and I admire him a lot for being straight up with us. But on the other hand, I wish he hadn’t plastered both his foreword and endnote with all these “warnings” and “apologies”. This is why I often skip author content like this. I’m not going to deny that getting hit first thing with a line like “You might not want to buy this book” might have biased me somewhat against it right off the bat. It grated me a little, because you’d figure something like that should be my prerogative to decide for myself.
But anyway, that’s beside the point. For this review, I’m not going to attempt a description or summary of plot summary, because to be truthful, there really isn’t one. All you have to know is that the book is about Auri, a secondary character from the main Kingkiller Chronicle series. I’ll admit, she’s not my favorite, but I don’t think that had any effect on the experience at all. What did affect me was the story and its plodding pace and its total lack of variation. Auri’s unique way of viewing even the most mundane objects around her as special and magical was fun at the beginning, but like all magic, it starts to wear off after a while with nothing else to drive things along. It’s a silent and lonely world that, while not completely devoid of color or life, gets tedious.
I guess I’m just the kind of reader that the author’s warning “The truth is, it probably just wasn’t for you” describes. And that’s totally okay. I’m into characters, and even though this whole novella pretty much boils down an incredibly detailed account into a week of Auri’s life as she makes her way through the ancient and labyrinthine halls of the Underthing, it didn’t work for me. I had originally thought it would, based on some of Auri’s feelings and behaviors that I can certainly relate to. As someone who has struggled with obsessive-compulsiveness and the resulting endless sleepless nights, some of the descriptions of the abject fear, anger, and anxiety Auri experiences when she feels something is not where it belongs or “out of sync” rings uncomfortably true for me. While I suppose I might count as “slightly broken”, sorry, but this still just wasn’t my cup of tea.
That said, there’s just no way I can write this book off, simply because there’s a so much else to like. The writing was probably worth it alone. It’s exquisite, probably the best I’ve seen from Rothfuss to date. I might not have enjoyed the particular style of storytelling, but if bringing out this side of the author’s writing was the result, then who am I to complain that much, really?
To sum it up, this book reads very much like a love letter to Auri. We know that Rothfuss has a soft spot for her, so I see it as a pet project of sorts. If Auri is a character that intrigued you in the main series, you will find this novella very enlightening. Even as someone who didn’t really care for her, the writing and atmosphere in here took my breath away. Despite wishing I had enjoyed it more, personally speaking I didn’t think this was a waste of my time. The book has its merits, and no doubt has an audience. The opinions will range all over for this one, I’m sure. Whether or not you’ll enjoy it isn’t a question I can answer, though; either you’ll like it or you won’t. Regardless, I’m grateful to the author for sharing this one with us....more
I’m disappointed to say the least. Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls was a trilogy I read a few years ago, and while it might not rank up there as one of my favorite Young Adult series of all time, it had its moments. One of the highlights was the supporting character of Isabel Culpeper who was a bit of a queen bee, plus she’s angry and bitter to boot. And yet, I found her to be a lot more interesting than the very blah protagonist of Grace Brisbane, and I was rather fond of Isabel. I was also intrigued when I found out she would be starring in her own book Sinner along with Cole St. Clair, the rock star/werewolf with whom she started a budding romance towards the end of the Mercy Falls trilogy.
Sinner begins in California, where Isabel has started her new life, going to school preparing to be a doctor while working part time at a clothing designer’s store. Cole on the other hand is trying to make a comeback to the music scene after being rehabilitated from a life of booze and drugs, by — ugh! — agreeing to be the focus of a godforsaken reality TV show, of all things. When he arrives in LA, the first thing he does is look up Isabel, hoping to rekindle what they had from their days back in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
There’s really not much else to say about the plot. The story zips along at the speed of molasses, and for the longest time I tried to figure out what the conflict was, only to resign myself to the fact that there really isn’t one. Cole does his reality TV show thing while acting like a prima donna, and Isabel goes about her daily life putting up with his crap.
To be fair, Sinner ended up being a completely different book than I expected it to be. First of all, it probably falls more into the New Adult category instead of YA, following the characters like Isabel in their post-high school life, and werewolves or not, the themes are more contemporary rather than related to speculative fiction. It has very few paranormal elements compared to the Mercy Falls trilogy, so few that I was just barely able to label this one a fantasy.
My main issue, however, wasn’t the lack of fantasy elements or the fact that there was hardly any story. My problem was the vacuous, insufferable prat that was Cole St. Clair.
For the love of God, I don’t remember him being so annoying in the original trilogy. A big pet peeve of mine is bad boys who try oh so very hard to be a bad boy. Let’s face it, if Cole hadn’t gotten lucky and become a rock star, he would have ended up living in a cardboard box in some alley, offering to take your verbal abuse for chance at a bit of change. And who knows, he still might end up that way. He’s already washed up at this young age, reduced to dancing-bear status on an insipid reality TV show.
The sad part is, I still really like Isabel’s character, which made it doubly hard to watch her fall for this joker when all I wanted to do was scream at her to run, run away! Get as far away as you can from this idiot because God forbid if you end up marrying him he’ll end up a worthless thirty-five-year-old has-been, having pissed away his royalties on cars and parties, with no aspirations other than to be a professional layabout because working for an honest living is just sooooo lame. He’d probably let his looks and physique go too, because exercise and taking good care of one’s health is something, like, everybody does! And we all know Cole’s just too cool to go along with everyone else!
I feel kind of bad for being snarky, but it just makes me so ANGRY. I think this was my problem with the Wolves of Mercy Falls series as well. The trilogy started well enough, but things went downhill in the last book Forever when the characters suddenly developed these horribly bratty and angsty attitudes. To a certain extent you have to expect a fair dose of youthful naiveté in YA, but this whole “OMG I hate everyone and everything!” and “Adults are stupid morons and I totally know better than all of them!” kind of thinking gets a bit old, especially in Sinner when we’ve supposedly left high school far behind. Frankly, Cole’s behavior towards his parents made me sick, especially considering how by all accounts they are perfectly good, sensible people. The worst thing Cole can think of to happen to him is if he became his dad, because apparently, Cole thinks being a responsible contributor to society is boring. Go figure.
As a novel, it saddens me to say this, especially since according to her foreword it sounds like a pretty important book for the author, but Sinner felt kind of pointless. For me, it was also 300-ish pages of teeth-grinding aggravation, thanks to the big, cuddly ball of phony that was Cole. Read this if you’re fan of the Mercy Falls books because you’ll probably want to see what happened to two of the more important side characters from the trilogy. That’s what I told myself I wanted to do, and I don’t regret reading this because at least I got to follow up with Isabel, but unfortunately not even her chapters could make up for her co-star....more
When I finished Storm Siren, I was speechless. If I am correct about what the ending implies, I just could not believe the story had the audacity and boldness to say, “Oh YES indeedy, I am going to go there!” And honestly, it’s refreshing whenever a Young Adult novel surprises me. I like unpredictability especially when it comes to my YA, and weird as this may sound, I admit I do get a little thrill in my heart whenever I get completely blindsided.
It was, however, a journey to get to that point. One of the reasons why I think Storm Siren will be a very successful book is because it mixes the familiar with the new. Yes, we have some unexpected plot twists and bombshells, an incredible world with a rich magic system, and a heroine with a unique superpower. But balanced with this is also a novel that feels distinctly like it belongs in this genre, with archetypal characters and the usual tropes of YA. Despite this, I believe YA readers will feel comfortable with it and love it for what it is.
The book opens with our protagonist, a seventeen-year-old Elemental girl named Nym, facing her fifteenth sell as a slave. An unfortunate incident triggers her storm-summoning powers while she is on the auction block, resulting in chaos and panic. After passing out, Nym wakes up inexplicably in a luxurious bedroom in a mansion, and is informed that she has been purchased by Adora, the rich and influential noblewoman and court advisor to the king of Faelen.
Throughout this entire novel, we are told that Nym is special. This is practically thrust into our faces the entire time, from the fact that she shouldn’t even exist, since Elementals are all supposed to be only born male, to her role as the only person who can save Faelen in the war against the neighboring kingdom of Bron. But Nym isn’t the perfect savior either. She’s reluctant to use her powers even in defense of her friends due to her inability to control the storm. She has also already caused no small number of deaths in her life, albeit accidentally, and hates the idea of killing more people even if they are the enemy.
Storm Siren features a great story, encompassing a lot of political intrigue and epic battles. The story itself is definitely a winner. But that isn’t to say it couldn’t have been stronger, and perhaps it is a credit to the book and author that my only issue was that I always felt like wanting more.
I mentioned the world and the magic earlier in this review, for example. When Nym is sent to train with a tutor to hone her Elemental abilities, her classmate as it were is a boy named Colin who is a Terrene, someone from his land who can manipulate the earth and stone. Terrenes are also always born as twins, with one twin having abilities and the other not. Apparently, there are even more “brands” of magic users in this world, each with their own specific types of powers and presumably interesting facts about their backgrounds. I mean, this stuff is great! It’s world-building gold. Unfortunately, we just don’t get to learn much about them at all. This is possibly due to limitations like book length or the fact the author couldn’t work those details into the plot, but I sometimes also felt like she may have been trying to put too much into her story.
I also think more emphasis could have been placed on supporting characters. We only have a total of about five characters we really get to know, and I found Breck and Eogan interesting but a few others were quite superficial, like Adora the classic cold villain or Colin with the heart of gold and a personality of a golden retriever puppy. I thought some of the other characters of the court, like the king and a couple of visiting nobles and a princess could have been developed more as well, since relatively they weren’t given much attention but they all had pivotal roles to play by the end of the novel. It would have given the politics and the brewing war between the different kingdoms that extra oomph, and perhaps made things less confusing.
Like I said, I wanted more – but I’m also the kind of person who constantly asks questions when I’m reading, especially when it comes to a book’s world and lore. Did I need all this information to enjoy the story? No, the story itself is solid, even though I felt more world building could have enhanced it. Just when I thought for sure I had everything nailed down, just when I figured it was all going to end the same neat and tidy way that all YA books do, the last few chapters with the final showdown threw me for a loop. I learned that Mary Weber is someone who is not afraid to do things with her characters, even if it means shock and heartbreak to the reader. And I just have to admire and raise my glass to that.
The issues I mentioned notwithstanding, I did have a good time with this book. It started out like the YA novel it’s meant to be – feels like YA, reads like YA – but then went and gave me a surprise at the end. So ultimately I got exactly what I expected, plus a bit more as a bonus! 3.5 to 4 stars from me....more
Age of Iron ended up surprising me in many delightful ways, but what I didn’t expect at all was how addicting it was. It simply grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. It’s dark, brutal, violent and gritty, and yet I was completely immersed in its harsh, war-torn world.
We begin the story with an introduction to Dug Sealskinner, a mercenary on his way to join up with King Zadar’s grand army at Maidun Castle, hoping for a way to earn some steady coin. But then he is waylaid at Barton, a town that gets attacked and annihilated by the very same people Dug had wished to join. In the aftermath, he meets up with a strange young girl named Spring, and together they encounter Lowa Flynn, formerly one of Zadar’s favored fighters who now finds herself on the run and seeking revenge on the king for her murdered band of warrior women.
King Zadar is a tyrant like no other with his twisted sense of how the world should be. His betrayal of Lowa and failure to capture her has earned him a dangerous enemy, but his killing and pillaging across the country has also made him the target of a young druid named Ragnall, who too seeks to make his way to Maidun to rescue his kidnapped fiancée. Ragnall and his mentor Drustan end up joining with our trio, and together the five make up a rather motley party of unlikely adventurers, all with a common foe.
Very little is known about life in Iron Age Britain; that the book began with this fact and a “this is what really happened” kind of statement in its foreword made me wonder what I’ll be in for. Large swaths of the book filled with history lessons, perhaps? But no, while we do indeed get a torrent of rich, scintillating details about the world, all of it no doubt painstakingly researched and cross checked and checked again by the author, none of it felt blatant or overtly shoved down my throat.
In fact, Watson placed storytelling and characters first, which is what I think made the book’s pacing so successful. He gave backstories to even the more minor characters, in a way that didn’t bog down the story but instead enhanced it, as every detail seems purposely placed to provide insight into the people and life at the time. The plot is also constantly driving forward, and there aren’t many places where it loses steam. History clearly has a role in this book, but the ultimate goal here is epic adventure, and we certainly don’t sacrifice storytelling or momentum.
It also wouldn’t feel complete without a bit of magic, which brings us to the druids. I admit I was very much drawn to the mention of them in the book’s description, as I’ve always been interested in the subject. And the druids of Age of Iron are fascinating indeed. There are all kinds of druids – healers, soothsayers, magicians, some who are benevolent and others who are bloodthirsty and depraved. This latter sort of druid seems to get the most attention, in the form of Felix, the druid who serves King Zadar. As cruel and wicked Zadar is, Felix makes him look like a snuffling choir boy. Some of the druid’s deeds are hard to read about, described in all its gruesome, gory details, and Watson doesn’t spare his readers one bit in this area.
I guess here’s where I should mention that no one is safe in this book – men, women, children and animals are all subjected to some horrific, violent fates, and it can get quite graphic – disturbingly so. If you’re squeamish or turned off about that kind of stuff, here’s a caveat: you might want to stay far away.
And yet, Age of Iron isn’t all doom and gloom, and blood and guts. There is humor, and there are inherently good people in this book. However, none of them are so black-and-white as that either. Characters like Dug, Lowa, Spring, and Ragnall serve as good counterpoints to the depravity and viciousness of people like Zadar and Felix, but our so-called heroes aren’t without their weaknesses. They may endear themselves to you, make you laugh or make you root for them, but be prepared to despise them sometimes too, because in the end they are also flawed people and simply trying to survive a world trying to do them in. I was all the more impressed by the well-roundedness of these characters, and whether you love them or hate them, I thought they were all very developed and well written.
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the next book. Age of Iron is one hell of a novel. The polish and skill in the writing makes it hard to believe it’s his fictional debut, but you can bet Angus Watson’s got my full attention. I’ll definitely be watching for his future works as well as the progress of this series with great interest....more
The Falcon Throne introduces readers to a kingdom torn apart by a centuries-long feud between two neighboring duchies, Harcia and Clemen – all because of a conflict that happened long ago. In the distant past, two stubborn and power-hungry royal brothers fought for rule, and the resulting rift caused the land to split into the two dukedoms. Now Harcia and Clemen are on the brink of war again with the tensions threatening to boil over, fueled by the lofty ambitions of men on both sides.
Okay, so follow along with me here: in Clemen, the tyrant Duke Harald is feared and hated by his nobles, and inevitably a rebellion led by his bastard-born cousin Ederic and backed by Ederic’s foster lord Humbert swiftly puts an end to Harald’s reign of terror. Believed to be among the casualties is Harald’s infant son and heir Liam, but in fact the child was whisked away to safety by his nursemaid, who intends to raise the boy until he is old enough to take back his stolen throne. Meanwhile over in Harcia, Duke Aimery has two living sons, his hot-tempered heir Balfre as well as the younger and more level-headed Grefin. Balfre has dreams of being the supreme ruler of a reunited kingdom, which would require bringing Clemen back into Harcia’s fold by brute force if necessary. Aimery, recognizing his heir’s dangerous ambitions, would like nothing more than to have his favorite son Grefin succeed him, but you can also be sure Balfre isn’t going to let anything – not even his own father and brother – stand in his way.
First I just want to put it out there that The Falcon Throne is my first book by Karen Miller, but from what I’ve heard about her previous work, I can’t say this is what I expected. I’ve seen reviews of her other books, especially her Godspeaker Trilogy, that have intrigued me with their discussion of controversial characters and bold subject matters. Readers seemed to either love or hate those books, but at least they sounded very different and intriguing. I think I’d expected The Falcon Throne to go in a similar direction, but that didn’t quite happen. Despite the twisty plotlines involving court intrigue, lordly politics, and the unpredictable consequence of shenanigans by pathological schemers, the story and themes aren’t really groundbreaking or anything to write home about.
And yet, I really enjoyed this book in spite of myself. Looking at the fantasy genre, I’ve noticed that in recent years the classic elves and dwarves seem to have been largely replaced by squabbling noble houses and psychopathic royalty. With Game of Thrones fever taking the world by storm, I suppose it’s really not that surprising to see writers hoping to ride on the coattails of its success by emulating its style or concepts. I don’t know if this was Miller’s intent, but I definitely sensed some of those vibes while reading this. Nothing wrong with that, though! Not especially with her obvious talent for writing fully-realized characters and intense sequences.
However, as much enjoyment as I got out of this book, Miller doesn’t quite push things over to mind-blowing territory. Don’t get me wrong, the story was certainly addictive – enough to make getting through 670-ish pages of this ARC not feel like a chore at all. I am still surprised at the speed I gobbled up this book. But like any lengthy epic, it has its ups and downs. The characters are great, but I was largely unaffected by any significant events that happened to them, and even unexpected character deaths didn’t always have the desired impact. Here and there were also several patches with borderline information overload that I was tempted to skim, but I have to make it clear that for the most part, these rare hiccups in the story were made up for by the wonderfully executed dialogue between characters and action-filled fight scenes.
In case you’re still wondering about the validity of the comparisons of this book to Game of Thrones, I would say those descriptions are pretty apt. It’s certainly in the same vein. Still, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I always hesitate to compare anything to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire…simply because nothing out there is like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Certain series like that or Harry Potter are just so big they defy comparison. But quite honestly, it wouldn’t be fair to The Falcon Throne to make that comparison either. Without a doubt, this book can stand on its own. Some of its themes might ring familiar to avid readers of epic fantasy, but I’ll be the first in line to admit I can’t resist these kinds of stories, and Karen Miller brings her own unique and elegant touch to The Falcon Throne....more
This book would be perfect for readers looking for a well-balanced blend of fantasy with a historical fiction-type setting, overlaid with a story laced with a heavy dose of the kind of chaste, slow-burn romance one might find in a traditional Regency novel.
Graham Marshall – Gray to family and friends – finds himself out of favor at Merlin College when a midnight errand goes terribly wrong, landing himself and a couple friends in the infirmary while another boy loses his life. Disgraced, Gray is sent away to the summer home of the arrogant and unpleasant Professor Appius Callendar until such time the college can decide his fate. It’s there that Gray has the pleasure of meeting the professor’s middle daughter Sophie, who for some reason Professor Callendar seems to neglect and disdain. There’s certainly no love lost between father and daughter.
Even though he was told none of the Callendar girls were born with any magical talent, Gray senses something strange about Sophie. Because proper women studying magical theory is considered scandalous in their society, Sophie has been secretly learning it herself from the books in her father’s library. She’s delighted to meet Gray, finding him very different from the pretentious and foppish young men her father usually invites home from the college, and is grateful when he offers to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. The two of them strike up a friendship, and so when astounding revelations are revealed about Sophie’s past, Gray is wrapped up in the whirlwind of events. And here he was, thinking his life was complicated!
From page one, I was drawn in by the gorgeous writing. Admittedly, it can be somewhat difficult to get used to. Clunky and awkward in some places, it’s not exactly what I would call easy on the eyes, with a style and tone suited to the historical era. But it’s extremely effective when it comes to setting the mood, and once you adapt to it, the reading goes much faster and smoother.
The novel’s greatest strength is the characterization. Gray and Sophie take center stage, and the whole book is told through their perspectives, which alternate back and forth – a lot. Again, it can be distracting, at least initially. The author jumps between Sophie and Gray whenever it suits her, so that sometimes you can get a few paragraphs of Gray’s point of view and then abruptly we would switch to Sophie as she picks up the narrative. Regular readers of romance are probably used to this, but it was something else I had to adjust to at the beginning.
After getting the hang of things, it was easier for me to simply sit back and soak in the story. It bears emphasizing again that the characters are just great in this; because the relationship between Gray and Sophie are so integral to the story, it makes sense to establish and build upon them early, and that’s what we get here. Before Gray and Sophie can get to know each other intimately, the reader has to get to know them as individuals, which makes their eventual coming together that much more satisfying. As I mentioned before, theirs is a slow-burn romance (the kind where everyone around them can see what’s going on before the two can even admit it to themselves) so if you’re looking for instant gratification, this is not the book you’re looking for. We’re also not talking fiery passion or red hot love scenes here, keeping things clean and proper with good manners!
The heavy focus on G+S notwithstanding, that’s not to say the other characters were forgotten or underdeveloped. In fact, my favorite character was a supporting character, Joanna Callendar, who probably has more personality in her little finger than her sister Sophie had in her whole body. Sad to say, as much as I liked Sophie, she was an idealized character, a special snowflake that came across just a little too perfect in a lot of ways, and that makes her less interesting than the spunky, lippy and slightly insolent Joanna.
By the same token, plot is probably not this novel’s strong suit. A lost princess, a prophecy foretelling the return of “The One” and the pivotal role they play in the fate of a monarch and the kingdom…it’s a little clichéd, perhaps, but it’s also not a negative if you go in knowing what to expect. This book is obviously more interested in telling Gray and Sophie’s story, it makes its intention loud and clear right from the start, and so a lighter, less original plot is something I could overlook.
Bottom line: The Midnight Queen is a very beautiful, very atmospheric novel about young love, slow-going at times, making it feel like very little happens while the author develops the two characters. You can probably predict the outcome of the story with no effort at all, but the emotional payoff is worth it if you stick around and give the book a chance to let Gray and Sophie to resolve their feelings for each other. Recommended for fantasy lovers who want romance, but who also won’t mind the slower, sweet-and-tender but also more subtle approach....more
I practically binge read this series, which is unusual for me. But truly, it is a rare pleasure indeed when subsequent books in a series just get better and better. I’ve had such a change of heart about this trilogy from the first book to the last book, that I am actually floored with amazement. I certainly don’t take back my thoughts in my review of The Magicians – I liked the book but I also had some very real issues with it and those still stand – but by God, it’s hard to believe how The Magician King and now The Magician’s Land have managed to completely revive this series for me.
We’re at the third and final book at this point, so it’s going to be hard to summarize it without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say, protagonist Quentin Coldwater has been through a lot since finding out the magical world of Fillory from his beloved childhood fantasy novels is actually real. He has been its king, explored the farthest reaches of its borders, been ejected unceremoniously from the realm by its god, but through it all Quentin has always had his magic. We return to Brakebills College where he takes on a position as a junior faculty member, but when that falls through, Quentin’s going to need to find another way to make money and make it real fast, especially for the plans he has in mind.
For you see, Quentin has never truly forgotten Alice, whose fate still haunts him daily. She was my favorite character in The Magicians, and to my dismay, I thought we had heard the last of her by the end of that book. So yes, it was invigorating to discover that her story might not be over yet. When it comes to the first book, saying that Quentin had an attitude problem is a massive understatement; I believe I wrote that the only cure for his malaise was a few years of growing up and possibly a swift kick to the seat of his pants – except what happened to Alice was more like a knife through his heart. What happened to Alice defined and transformed his character, so I was also happy to see things come full circle.
The book also has two very distinct parts. In the first half, we have an exciting heist which, departing from convention, doesn’t go well at all – but everyone who knows me know how much I love a good heist story. And trust me, you wouldn’t want to miss how spectacularly disastrous it goes for Quentin and his partners in crime. The action and the dry humor in this book is ramped up to a whole other level, which is something readers have always loved about this series.
The second part of this novel focuses on Quentin and his old friends’ quest to save Fillory. Like all good things, it must come to an end, but not if the old Brakebills gang has anything to say about it. The Magician’s Land was at times thrilling, at others touching, but always it was full of wild magic and fantastic imagination. My only complaint? The link between the two story threads was tenuous at best and the transition between them was very abrupt (whatever happened to the others involved with the heist? “Betsy” got a throwaway mention at best towards the end of the book, and I wouldn’t have minded more Stoppard, I liked him a lot!) but despite this, I have to say the story never faltered in engaging me and holding my attention.
In essence, The Magician’s Land achieved something that all series-enders should strive for. Not only does Grossman tie everything together, he does it in a way that makes you think back to the earlier books and it suddenly occurs to you: Oh, so THAT’S what he was setting up for. The first book The Magicians was a coming-of-age tale which felt rather aimless at times, if I’m to be honest. But somewhere between its last hundred pages and the first hundred pages of the book two, I think the series finally found its direction. From then on out the story took off, straight and steady, and as a result, this last book is marked by a certain cohesiveness that makes sense – that just feels right.
And Quentin. Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. If it is possible to feel proud of a fictional character, it is the feeling I get for him after reading this book. What a far cry from when I wanted to wring his spoiled, whiny neck and throttle the life out of him in The Magicians. He grew up. He grew up a lot. He became someone I liked and admired, and as infuriatingly annoying as he was in the first book, I don’t know if I would have appreciated his growth and character development this much if he hadn’t been so unappealing to begin with. He was a shallow, self-absorbed child who ultimately became an adult worthy of his magical gifts, and it is a testament to the author’s pacing and writing style that it was a journey that didn’t feel forced or contrived.
My final thoughts: I may have stumbled a bit with the first book of this series, but the way I see it, it’s always better to read a series that gets stronger than to read one that goes downhill after book one. And so, I tentatively recommend the first book The Magicians; after all, it’s one of the most polarizing books I’ve ever read. It seemed as many readers loved it as hated it, while some others like me fell somewhere in between. But I felt a lot more positive towards the series with The Magician King, and as the last book of the trilogy, The Magician’s Land was a solid finale. My thoughts on book one aside, I think the trilogy as a whole is fantastic and absolutely worth experiencing. What an adventure it has been....more
Erin Lindsey is also E.L. Tettensor, author of the mystery-fantasy Darkwalker that I enjoyed so much last year. So needless to say, I was really excited to read her new novel The Bloodbound, a sword and sorcery adventure with a more romantic bent.
The book introduces readers to Alix Black, a soldier and scout in the king’s host. I always enjoy it when I come across fantasy stories that feature both men and women fighters, and seeing someone like Alix, who is a noblewoman of a sort, in the army is doubly refreshing. Despite being one of the Greater Houses, the power and influence of the Blacks have waned over the years, leaving only Alix and her older brother Rig. Alix has left the life of luxury behind, trading in her gowns and lavish balls for leathers and her blood blade, swearing her service to King Erik.
But what she didn’t expect was actually becoming Erik’s bodyguard. When the king is betrayed on the battlefield by his own brother Prince Tomald, Alix rescues Erik and is named his protector. Leaving her comrades in the scouts behind, Alix becomes Erik’s personal guard but also a trusted confidante as the two grow closer. Complicating matters is Alix’s relationship with her former fellow scout and more-than-just-a-friend Liam, but what is a loyal soldier to do when her sovereign ruler requires her protection and the fate of their entire kingdom rests on the outcome of a brutal war?
While The Bloodbound might not be breaking new ground, it has all the ingredients for a winning fantasy novel. It has a strong female protagonist, who is deadly capable without being a cutting, embittered warrior. No damsels in distress here; we see a gender role reversal from the norm, with Alix doing her fair share of the rescuing, saving Erik’s kingly hide time and time again. There’s also an intriguing, fast-paced plot involving a traitorous royal brother and an invading foreign army. The world building is also rich but subtle, with plenty of the magic, history and politics of the book’s world getting through to the reader without ever becoming overbearing. And then, of course, there’s the romance.
I’ll admit, I had my reservations when I first encountered the love triangle. Torn between Erik and Liam who have both expressed their true feelings to her, Alix knows that eventually she will have to choose between them. But love is not as important as duty when you’re a king, a noblewoman, or even a common soldier who may be more than he appears. Meanwhile, a usurper threatens to take the throne and an attacking enemy force has the dark magical power to do great evil, so the Alix-Liam-Erik situation is further muddled by political need.
While I knew going in that The Bloodbound would have strong emphasis on romance, the love triangle still threw me off a little. Considered a staple of the Young Adult novel, at first I wasn’t sure how I felt to see it in my adult epic fantasy. However, after pondering the matter, I realized that even though love triangles are a common trope, my problems that stem from them have nothing to do with the love triangles themselves, but actually how they are written. Erin Lindsey ends up avoiding a lot of the common pitfalls, opting to forego the angst and melodrama, sparing me a lot of frustration and eye-rolling. Without the drawn-out dramatics of your typical love triangle, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit. The romance is almost in perfect balance with the rest of the novel, and doesn’t distract too much from the overall bigger story.
All in all, this makes The Bloodbound a very special book. It mixes the modern with the classic, with the result being an epic fantasy type novel that would also be very easy to get into for fans of YA romance or Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance. An engaging love story is something I feel is missing in a lot of epic fantasy, so this book worked very well for me. It gives equal weight to both the romance and the fantasy world-building elements.
All told, this is a very well-written novel that I believe has wide appeal as well as the potential to connect with many kinds of readers. It can be read as a standalone, with a satisfying story and no cliffhangers, though it does keep the door open for future possibilities. I love the author’s style: simple and elegant, which is how I like it. No matter what name she writes under, I’m a fan....more
Book lovers rejoice, here’s a series written just for us. Do you get a tingly, magical feeling when you walk into libraries and see all those glorious books? As a kid, did you ever wish that the fictional worlds within your books were real?
The Mad Apprentice and its predecessor The Forbidden Library gave me those same giddy feelings as I read them, proving that Middle Grade novels aren’t just for children. Whether you’re thirteen or thirty, I think bibliophiles will find plenty to love in these books, and Django Wexler’s writing style makes it very easy to just dive right in.
And speaking of diving right in, book two sees us catching up with our protagonist Alice, the young Reader with the ability to jump inside books. Through her mentor the enigmatic Uncle Geryon, Alice learns that there are more people like them out there, a whole cabal of ancient Readers who guard their secrets jealously, and that their entire community exists precariously upon a foundation of mistrust and circumspection.
The fragile peace is suddenly shattered with the death of one of the older Readers, and suspicion falls upon his young apprentice. Uncle Geryon sends Alice to help capture the boy and bring him to justice, but what should have been a simple assignment quickly goes downhill as she and her companions are lured into a labyrinth ruled by a sinister creature calling itself Torment. But Alice can’t give up; escaping the labyrinth and defeating Torment may be the only chance she has at finding the truth about her missing father.
This series continues to fascinate me. The Mad Apprentice is once again filled to the brim with strange new worlds and all kinds of fantastical creatures. Alice reunites with Isaac and makes the acquaintance of four other fellow Reader apprentices, each armed with their own special abilities gained from the mastery of a unique creature inside a prison book. Alice herself begins the novel by defeating a rampaging dinosaur, obtaining its power of speed and super strength. This book also introduces the idea of Reader masters “priming” their apprentices for certain roles by choosing the creatures they fight, so that will in turn determine the kinds of abilities their pupils will acquire. This just begs the question, do you think there might be fierce competition between apprentices for certain prison books, if the creature within possesses a particularly desirable power? This is why I love this series, the possibilities are endless!
The theme continues to be a lovely combination of light and dark, the bizarre and the wonderful. The story may be targeted for a middle grade audience, but readers of all ages should be able to appreciate the underlying messages and cheer for a strong young heroine who will not back down in the face of adversity. Alice is a born leader, taking charge of the group even though she neither the oldest nor the most experienced. She knows what she wants and will do anything to get it, but she also won’t sacrifice her beliefs in what is right to get ahead. It’s a dog eat dog world when it comes to Readers, which makes Alice’s kindness a quirk of sorts. Friendships are important to her, as are the creatures that are bound to her. If she can get a creature in a prison book to submit to her without killing it, or minimize the pain her creatures feel while borrowing their powers, she will do her best to make it so. Knowing this makes the ending of this novel so much more poignant, because once you get to know Alice’s character, it’s clear that she doesn’t make her final decision at the end lightly.
I still think the first book, The Forbidden Library, has a slight edge over this sequel mainly because there was more in terms of story. The Mad Apprentice is a fun and action-filled adventure, but doesn’t do a lot when it comes to forwarding the plot of the overall series, at least not until the very end. Hardly a deal-breaker though, and I’m sure children reading this will hardly mind as they’ll be too busy being thrilled by the sights and sounds of the labyrinth and getting to know the fascinating new characters. There will be beautiful illustrations gracing the pages of the book too, which my ARC did not have, so I’m excited to see the final images when the finished version comes out.
I loved this book and thought it was an impressive sequel to The Forbidden Library. Can’t wait for the third installment!...more
Few subsequent installments in a Young Adult series have lived up to the bar set by their first books, so color me impressed by the way Heir of Fire has managed to do this while at the same time helping me get over the bad taste that Crown of Midnight left in my mouth.
This is going to be a difficult review to write without stomping all over spoiler territory for the previous books, but I’ll do my best not to divulge anything beyond what’s already in the book’s description. So much has happened in the series since the beginning. We last left Celaena on a ship bound for Wendlyn, sent there by her former lover and captain of the King’s Guard Chaol Westfall. Significant events as of late have also marked Wendlyn as her destination for answers to her past, and a way to thwart the King of Adarlan’s nefarious plans.
Not only has Heir of Fire sparked my enthusiasm to follow Celaena on her adventures again, it’s also now my favorite book of this series. I noted as well that this third book was remarkably light on relationship drama and all that bullshit. Coincidence? Probably not. The incessant shoving of an unimaginative, hackneyed romantic side-plot down my throat in Crown of Midnight was what almost made me lose my patience with that last book. It’s a welcome change to be somewhat free of that stuff this time around, and I’m glad Heir of Fire switched gears to focus on more action and rigorous story-development.
Of course, there were a few close calls with Rowan Whitethorn, introduced here as the warrior tasked by the Fae-Queen Maeve to train and guide Celaena to control her magic, but Celaena thankfully manages to remember that the remains of her poor and battered broken heart still technically belongs to someone else. I honestly thought Rowan would be yet another blip in the long line of male-mentors-to-YA-female-protagonists, but rescued from being labeled as yet another possible love interest (boring!), he actually ends up becoming a formidable mentor, ally, and friend to Celaena (much more interesting!) Getting to that point was also quite the journey, their interactions punctuated by ups and downs, but then some of the strongest and most loyal partnerships are forged in this manner.
Back in Adarlan we also have a couple storylines threaded with mystery and intrigue, as Chaol does some sleuthing and uncovers several important revelations about Aedion, the newly arrived general at the royal court. Meanwhile, Prince Dorian struggles with his own secret, one that could cost him his life if his father the king ever found out about it. He strikes up a friendship and later a romance with a palace healer who tries to help him. It would cheapen the experience to give way any more detail than that, but suffice to say, both Chaol and Dorian’s storylines ended up converging in a shocking, gut wrenching climax that seriously knocked me for a loop. Looks like things in this series has started moving away from the predictable throwaway elements, and is instead focusing on working in bolder and weightier developments that might actually cause major ripples further down the road.
It also wouldn’t be right to talk about this book without mentioning the Manon Blackbeak, another character who makes her first appearance in Heir of Fire. The King of Adarlan’s latest plans for domination involve Manon and her people, the wyvern-riding witches. Vicious, bloodthirsty and completely determined to prove herself as the most capable Wing Leader, Manon became an instant favorite, despite her role thus far as an accessory to a tyrant. I loved the side story in here of how she ended up with her wyvern – kind of like How to Train Your Dragon, except considerably less heartwarming and with 500% more brutality. But the bond between rider and mount is well-written and convincing, and the circumstances behind how Manon actually ended up with her wyvern made for an amazing sequence, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the book.
This one’s much longer book than its two predecessors, but almost everything in the story was important, with hardly any dithering around. It’s a step up from both Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, dealing with heavier and more developed themes. We also go deeper into each character, with the new players like Rowan, Aedion and Manon getting the introductions they deserve, and even familiar characters like Celaena, Chaol and Dorian getting much love and attention from the author when it comes to building up their stories and personalities. So whaddya know, looks like a series can indeed mature with time and subsequent novels, and Heir of Fire is exemplary....more