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
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
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 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
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
Back in my review of The Magicians, I wrote that you could have a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character and that I wouldn’t mind, just as long as you could give me a reason to care about him or her. While that’s still true, it does really help if your protagonist isn’t a whiny little ingrate and actually shows growth over the course of the novel. I really think that’s why The Magician King worked better for me than its predecessor. Like, a lot better. The ending of the first book gave me hope that I would enjoy the sequel more, and I did.
Things were looking up right from the start, with our story opening with a return to Fillory, the otherworldly realm from Quentin’s beloved childhood fantasy series that turned out to be a real place. He and his friends are now the kings and queens of this magical kingdom, but after a routine morning hunt goes wrong, Quentin and Julia decide to set off across the seas to the far reaches of Fillory to take care of certain matters. But their journey is interrupted by an unceremonious ejection from Fillory back to Earth and the mundane world. Thus begins an epic quest to find their way back, with the fate of all magic hanging in the balance.
I’ll admit it, the first book had its high points, but on the whole I wasn’t too enamored. The wonderful sections featuring Quentin at Brakebills aside, I thought most of the book was directionless and tedious, and I wasn’t impressed with the characters and their attitudes until almost the very end when they discover Fillory and set out to explore it. The thing is, I loved the spellbinding world of Fillory and its amazing denizens, as well as the incredible sights and sounds. When the final pages of The Magicians teased that we may be going back, I was very pleased. That’s one reason why The Magician King worked better for me; the fact that we got to be in Fillory right away was a huge plus.
The second reason is something I’ve already alluded to, that being Quentin has come a long way from the moody, self-absorbed and aimless young man he was in book one. He has grown up a lot between the two novels in my eyes, no doubt in part due to the traumatic events he experienced at the end of The Magicians. His concern for a young crew member and the neglected daughter of a diplomat really touched me; it’s not something I would have expected in a million years from the old Quentin. In this book, he is driven and finds it possible to become excited about the prospects of adventure again, and – shocker! – in the process he became someone I wanted to read more about.
The same could not be said for Julia, however. My one gripe about this novel are her chapters, which more or less alternated with the chapters focusing on the main story. Julia’s tale encompasses her own rise to the world of magic after failing her Brakebills entrance exam, which couldn’t have been more different than Quentin’s academically formal training. Her journey through the underground magical scene is actually quite interesting, though I was initially unsure how it all related to the book’s central premise. What bothered me wasn’t so much her story, but the fact that the role of annoyingly maudlin and dissatisfied character seemed to have been passed from Quentin to Julia, though we do see that she has had to go through a lot of suffering and very difficult times. I could also appreciate how the two lines of thought eventually came together, but felt that her “backstory” was a bit distracting at first.
All in all, however, I was pleasantly surprised by my positive reactions to this book. On the whole, this was a much deeper and complex novel, but also much more entertaining and engaging on multiple levels. I liked how a lot of the world was expanded, as well as the answers to a lot questions brought up by the first book. And that ending! I can’t believe my heart is actually aching for Quentin. It’s very rare for a sequel to grab me, especially since book one failed to do so, and it’s great whenever that happens. I’m really starting to see the appeal behind this series, and this second installment has really made it grow on me....more
You gotta hand it to Joe Abercrombie. Knocking it out of the park on his first venture into Young Adult territory could be seen as a fluke, but when he nails it again for a second time, it’s clearly a testament to his writing skills and versatility. This author is a master when it comes to storytelling, whether he’s writing for teens or adults.
Half the World is the follow-up-but-not-really-a-direct-sequel to Half a King, which introduced readers to the land of Gettland and a young prince with a crippled hand named Yarvi. A man grown now, Prince Yarvi has become Father Yarvi, a trusted minister to Gettland’s king, and is no longer the main focus; instead, that torch and its responsibilities have been passed on to sixteen-year-old Thorn Bathu, a girl with a fierce heart and a fighter’s spirit.
Determined to one day avenge her father, Thorn has been training for years to become a warrior of Gettland, only to fail on the day of her testing and be condemned to death for the accidental killing of a fellow student. When a young warrior named Brand speaks up on her behalf, Thorn is spared from execution only to be swept up along with Brand into an ambitious political plot devised by the cunning Father Yarvi, which sees the three of them and a ragtag crew embarking on an exciting but dangerous diplomatic mission across half the world.
For a society that worships a goddess referred to as Mother War, you would think they’d be more open and accepting of female warriors, but apparently not. It’s an uphill battle all the way for Thorn Bathu to prove herself to her teacher, her peers and even to her own mother, whom Thorn suspects had always wished for a daughter more into sewing and pretty dresses. But Thorn is who she is, and I can’t say I would have preferred it any other way. Not that kickass heroines are in short supply when it comes to the YA genre, but take any of the female protagonists in any of the more popular books in the genre these days, and I guarantee you Thorn will make every single one of them look like fluffy kittens. When I say Thorn is a tough girl, you definitely get a tough girl. That’s mainly because Abercrombie simply does not hold back when it comes to his characters; if he feels that a fight scene calls for his protagonist getting a knife through the cheek…well, she’s getting a knife through the cheek (“Ouch, sorry about that, Thorn, but it builds character!)
Not that Abercrombie is infallible. One thing to note is that there was not a full-blown romantic subplot in Half a King like there is in Half the World, and when it comes to writing a YA romance and a teenage girl’s perspective, he manages admirably though not without unintentional awkwardness. Scenes where Thorn is kicking ass and taking names seem to come naturally, but where her softer feelings for Brand are concerned (playing mental games of he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not, feeling jealous of other girls, appreciating the virtues of his well-toned backside, etc.) that’s when you sense that Abercrombie may be feeling a bit out of his comfort zone. It’s not too distracting; the moments where Thorn almost acts like a completely different person are more amusing than they are truly problematic. However, this does make Brand the more consistent character, and I sometimes found myself enjoying and looking forward to his chapters more than Thorn’s.
Story-wise, I also found the twists and turns in Half the World to be somewhat tamer and more predictable than in Half a King, though this might have something to do with the fact that we now know the character of Father Yarvi well enough to “expect the unexpected”. Nevertheless, I sailed through this novel loving every page of it, but the highlight was without a doubt the last few chapters that led up to and culminated in the stunning climax. For you see, fight scenes are a bit of a Joe Abercrombie specialty. Once the action starts, it’s impossible to tear your eyes away. The final showdown was one such sequence, with the suspense keeping you on the edge of seat until the moment of reckoning. As climaxes go, that was close to perfection. Before the ending, I was already pretty set on rating Half the World a solid 4 stars, but that one amazing scene alone made me bump it up to 4.5.
One thing is clear, though – the scene is now set for the next and final book of the trilogy. Seeing as how things have progressed so far, Half a War promises to be even more intense and exciting. I can’t wait. ...more
I’ve never actually read Robert Jackson Bennett before City of Stairs, despite owning several books by him (and I can see there’s my copies of The Troupe and American Elsewhere on my shelf right now, glaring down at me balefully as if to ask, “Why haven’t you read me yet?”) So though the name of the author is familiar to me, I really had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that this book’s description was tantalizing in its promise of an atmospheric, immersive fantasy world, with a touch of the otherworldly and bizarre. As it turns out, City of Stairs is all that and more, being a sophisticated and cerebral cocktail of a multitude of different genre elements, including magic, mystery, and philosophy.
Years ago, magic was lost in the central city of Bulikov, then known as the Seat of the World, when its Divinities were killed by a Saypuri hero known as the Kaj. Throwing off the yoke of the Continentals, the Kaj led the rebellion to victory, conquering their conquerors and passing the Worldly Regulations which outlawed the possession and use of divine objects and miracles, even the worshipping of the old gods. With the passing generations, Bulikov went from being a shining capital to just another colonial outpost of world’s new authority
The story begins with the murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui, the visiting Saypuri scholar who stationed himself in Bulikov to study and document the city’s history to the outrage of the locals who are prohibited from doing so themselves. Enter Shara Komayd, officially there as a lowly ambassador to smooth over matters, but she is not without her own secrets. A direct descendent of the great Kaj, Shara is really one of Saypur’s most accomplished spies, and she is determined to discover the truth behind the murder of the historian, who was also a very close personal friend.
First, let’s talk about the world-building, which is in a word: phenomenal. Admittedly, I wasn’t really convinced I was going to like this book from its first 50 pages or so. The story was slow to take off, but in truth, this had a lot to do with the author’s meticulous efforts to plunge the reader into the intricacies of his setting. Bennett has created many layers of context for this world and has left no stone unturned when it comes to achieving the effect of a living, breathing, working society with the kind of history that Bulikov’s people have endured. Everything from politics to religion has been touched upon, giving us a clear idea of the mood of the city.
The plot didn’t gain momentum until around after the first third of the book, but I can’t say I ever lost interest in reading, being completely captivated by the complexity of the world. Before the Kaj, the six Divinities of the Continentals each had their own worshippers, living by the rules and ideologies of the god they followed. After the Divinities were killed, Bulikov was also devastated by an event known as the Blink, causing chunks of the city to disappear or warp and resulting in a section filled with giant staircases that went nowhere, but which gave the book its title. There’s a lot of history here, not to mention the magic and the miracles described in this novel, which are just so creative and unique.
I also adored the characters. I have a feeling Shara’s companion, the unforgettable and indomitable Sigrud will be a clear fan favorite for many after reading this novel. However, I have to say the soft spot in my heart must go to Turyin Mulaghesh, the soldier turned governor who after years of dealing with the problems and instabilities and Bulikov just wants to be transferred to a quiet little coastal outpost where she can settle down and spend her days lying on the beach – ambitions be damned. But don’t let that fool you, for she is a force to be reckoned with. I love how this novel features two strong, spirited and over 30 women at the forefront, and they are just two of the many great characters in this refreshingly diverse cast.
It was hard to stop, once the story got going. The initial murder mystery deepens into shady political dealings and conspiracy, which ultimately leads to an incredible climax and final showdown that unfortunately was over far too quickly and neatly. But what an experience it was. And yet, City of Stairs is also about so much more than just the thrills and suspense. Bennett dives into some heavy topics here, exploring the significance of religion, attitudes regarding sexuality, and the ramifications of persecution and oppression.
Like I said, this was my first taste of Robert Jackson Bennett’s writing, and I am impressed. This really is an excellent novel, and it deserves to be a hit this year. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised to hear there will be a sequel, since this book is the sort that would open doors to many great and interesting possibilities, and its world simply begs to be further explored. Highly recommended. This is an enjoyable fantasy that also makes you think....more
The Godless caught me off guard a bit, as it ended up not being the kind of book I was expecting at all. Mainly, it doesn’t read like it was meant to have a traditional story plot, and I don’t doubt that could be the reason for the many reviews I’ve seen describing it as confusing or difficult to summarize. Books like these are generally not my cup of tea, but The Godless did manage to hold me rapt with its epic world and fascinating mythology.
Thousands of years ago, the gods warred. After their conflict, the dead or dying ended up scattered across the world, becoming part of the forests, mountains, and other features of the land. Since then, men and women have awakened with strange and spectacular powers that are derived from the fallen gods’ bodies. The Godless takes place mostly in Mirea, a city built by a massive stone wall that spans a mountain range which houses the body of one of these gods, Ger.
The book follows the lives of several characters: Ayae, the young apprentice of a cartographer who discovers she is “cursed” after emerging completely unharmed from the flames that devoured her shop; Bueralan, an exiled baron who leads a team of mercenaries hired by Mirea to sabotage Leera, a neighboring enemy kingdom; and Zaifyr, a mysterious, centuries-old mystic who teaches and advises Ayae after the emergence of her powers.
The Godless is indeed a bit difficult to describe, as I found it overall heavy on ideas and history while coming in on the lighter side when it came to plot and character development. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even though books like this aren’t typically my taste, they are chockfull of potential if written well. To its credit, The Godless did keep me interested, but it didn’t have the momentum I desired. While the concepts of the gods and the individuals with special powers are nothing short of extraordinary, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the story, a lack of a unifying thread tying it all together which would have made this one a truly engaging read.
The characters themselves are well-formed with very complete backstories, but their personalities seemed muted somehow. I felt no particular affinity towards any of them, and despite the time spent with each character, I regarded them from an emotional distance. The Godless also isn’t something I would call fast-paced or a page-turner, though it does have its moments at the beginning and towards the end. There’s a lot of detail to take in in between, meant to be absorbed and savored, so I wasn’t surprised this one ended up being a slower read.
I think I went into this expecting something akin to a heroic fantasy, but that wasn’t how it played out, and it was through no fault of the book or the author. By design, the narrative seemed more interested in emphasizing the complex philosophy and theological ideas, the political history between Miera and Leera, as well as the lore and mythology behind the gods’ war and the Cursed.
It’s a compelling read, and there’s no denying that. This first book is a great introduction to a series with a boatload of potential. Still, while I enjoyed reading about the world of The Godless with its diverse peoples and cultures, its rich history and politics, my own priority would be characters and story. But obviously, we all have different tastes. If the sort of world building I described in the above paragraph is something you enjoy, then this book would be perfect for you....more
It’s been a while since I’ve read a satisfying maritime fantasy. “I wish you luck, love, and adventure,” says a character to the protagonist in the beginning of this novel, and incidentally that’s exactly what we get. Starring a princess masquerading as a young man, along with pirates, magic, a secret map and untold treasures, perhaps the “adventure” part is what we get the most of all in this story that takes place mostly on the high seas.
Princess Clarice is the daughter of the Duke of Swansgaarde, the eldest of twelve girls (I know…YIKES!) and one boy. While the arrival of a son and heir apparent was a much celebrated event, this left the family with a dilemma – they cannot possibly secure the futures of Clarice and her eleven sisters, as that many royal dowries would surely bankrupt the already small and modest Duchy. The girls, therefore, were raised from an early age to be able and independent, preparing for the day they would be expected to make their way into the world and find their own fortunes.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that a book really wants you to get into the action right away. These books tend not to weave the world’s history into the story and instead the authors push everything you need to know right up front. Readers of House of the Four Winds might find its prologue and the first couple of chapters to be exposition-heavy, outlining the Duchy of Swansgaarde’s circumstances and thus also explaining Clarice’s fighting prowess and motivations for traveling on her own to see the world. Granted, it’s not the most subtle way relaying the information, but it’s efficient and fast, and looking back, the introduction gave the book an almost fairy tale-like “Once upon a time…” quality, which was actually quite nice.
Then we get to the meat of the story, an action-adventure tale with a bit of romance thrown in. As the first princess to seek her fortune, Clarice has decided to play to her strengths as a sword fighter, and intends to hone her skills in the New World across the ocean. Disguising herself as a young nobleman named Clarence Swann, she is charmed by the charismatic and handsome navigator Dominick Moryet and books passage on his ship the Asesino, sailing under Captain Samuel Sprunt who is said to be extraordinarily lucky. There might have been more to Sprunt’s “luck”, however, as the unfortunate crew come to discover when tensions mount and an uprising becomes inevitable.
If your fancies run towards the nautical, then you’ll be in for a treat. Your journey will start with the down-and-dirty details of everyday ship living, as well as meeting the various crew members and officers, all of this seen through Clarice/Clarence’s eyes so it is all very natural and relevant to the young princess’ learning. The authors make it a fascinating experience and the story only gets better as the events unfold, leading to a mutiny and the discovery of a hidden island controlled by pirates and an evil enchantress. Pirates, of course, are always a fan favorite. The plot is also kept fun and lighthearted with the protagonist’s efforts to keep her disguise a secret, even as she begins to fall for the winsome Dominick. Mistrust between the factions aboard the ship keep the story interesting, not to mention the possibility of the crew of Asesino turning privateer themselves.
My only issue with this book involves certain aspects of the writing, especially when we are reading about significant events that I feel should hold more weight and suspense. In my opinion, these scenes weren’t very well executed. Deaths of important characters were glossed over unceremoniously. Fight scenes were cut-and-dried without much sense of urgency. And of course, the prime example was the critical and inevitable moment when Clarice’s identity is revealed to Dominick, and the result was a fizzle at best. There was no outrage and no shock of betrayal, and even if Dominick were the most understanding person in the world, I would not have expected his response to be “OMG I LOVE YOU TOO!” Things tied up just a little bit too neatly. Considering how Clarice kept the truth of her identity from the whole crew for pretty much the whole book, with everyone believing she was a man this whole time, I would have expected a more realistic reaction.
These tiny quibbles aside, The House of the Four Winds is a fine tale of swashbuckling adventure. The story is to be taken lightly and enjoyed at face value, and the book is the boisterous seafaring romp it was meant to be. As another bonus, it wraps up nicely with satisfying ending. This conclusion along with the series name of One Dozen Daughters leads me to wonder if future books will focus on Clarice’s sisters’ individual journeys instead, rather than continue with Clarice herself. If that turns out to be the case, then there’s no telling the places this series can go; the possibilities are exciting and endless. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing more....more
It always pains me to write a negative review, especially for a book I had high hopes for and had looked forward to so immensely. As mythical or legendary creatures go, harpies don’t get near enough attention in fantasy, and I was very excited to see a novel feature them with such prominence and with a background that sounded so incredibly fascinating and unique. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy this book. I try to look at the big picture when reviewing, taking into account both story and writing, and there were too many issues with both that prevented me from getting into it.
The first thing I noticed was the very awkward and clipped writing style. A lot of telling and very little showing, laying out the character’s every single thought and action. There’s a clear message of environmentalism, but it’s delivered with the elegance and subtlety of a sledgehammer. Sometimes I would come across phrasing or word choice that is just plain odd, especially in dialogue. I couldn’t help but recall a piece of writing advice I once read, suggesting that writers should read their dialogue out loud to see how it comes across. Does it sound natural? Is it something you can picture a real person saying? A lot of the conversations in this book don’t pass this test, sounding very forced and scripted.
I was also distracted by too many discrepancies and questions that nagged at the back of my mind about the story. The book takes place on the planet Dora, following a young woman named Kari whose life was saved by a golden male harpy when she was a child. Ever since that day, Kari has been obsessed with harpies, particularly with her special golden named Shail, whose coloring is an extremely rare form of the half-bird, half-mortal species. Her father sends her to earth for ten years out of concern for her, hoping she would forget the harpy, but of course she doesn’t. Kari returns to Dora feeling bitter and angry, and more in love with Shail than ever.
I’ll be honest. When they were finally reunited, I was more confused than happy. Was I supposed to see Shail as an animal or a person? Kari treated him like a pet more than anything, giving him pats on the head and even calling him “Good boy”. I was at a complete loss as to what to make of their relationship, because calling it a romance felt horribly wrong on so many levels. The writing didn’t help this, describing their lovemaking as more animalistic (not in the good way), biological and Darwinian, completely devoid of emotion or passion. It’s also unclear at the beginning whether or not Kari truly fell in love with Shail, or indeed he had cast his “harpy spell” on her; if the latter, clearly there are disturbing implications, especially since he makes his first sexual advance on her out of instinctual desperation and while she was half “caught” in his magic. To be fair, a lot of this was semi-explained later on in the novel, but it still made me very uncomfortable and the relationship didn’t sit right with me at all.
Also, about two thirds of the way through the book are not one but two very graphic and violent rape scenes. Major trigger warnings should come with this novel. It’s an adult book with many adult themes, and while I don’t shock easily, I was a bit unprepared and blindsided. The mature and graphic content caused my brain to struggle with the dissonance caused by the relatively simplistic style of storytelling, and nothing in the description indicated that the book could take such dark, violent turns. Readers be forewarned, these are some very distressing scenes.
Finally, perhaps one of the biggest factors preventing my enjoyment of this book was Kari herself, who plays a disappointingly passive role in what is supposed to be her story. She’s a self-proclaimed recluse and standoffish, and a self-absorbed snob to boot, which by itself wouldn’t be so bad if she also wasn’t so weak of character. In the last half of the book, her involvement in resolving the conflict was practically nil, shrinking in on herself and relying on others to take charge and solve the problem. The concept of harpies in this book is underdeveloped and not very convincing, but (and minor spoiler here) what rankled me most about them is the idea that female harpies lose their minds out of grief if their mates die, and they either die themselves soon afterwards from despair or committing suicide. As someone who prefers strong, proactive female characters in my fantasy, both this aspect of harpies and Kari’s helplessness and utter lack of drive really bothered me.
I ended up finishing this book, and I don’t regret that, but I really wish I had liked it better. Ultimately, there were too many issues with the story and writing, and even a trivial detail like the fact I couldn’t stop picturing Shail as Brad Pitt (the author dedicated the book to the actor for providing the inspiration for Shail, and her bio on her website actually states all of her protagonists resemble a young Brad Pitt) compounded to make me rate the book the way I did. I wanted badly to like this book, but in the end it wasn’t for me....more
Many will probably read Sword of the Bright Lady and think what a peculiar world our protagonist Christopher Sinclair has landed in, with all these funny magical rules and strange way of doing things. On the other hand, if you’re a gamer, then you just might see things a bit differently, and a lot of the elements will have that persistent, familiar ring.
As already pointed out by many reviewers, the world of this book feels reminiscent of a video game. For example, gaining ranks and becoming more powerful by defeating your enemies, then plundering their bodies for loot is like the foundation of any role-playing game. Fortifying your base, allocating your resources, and delegating responsibilities to your minions while arming your fighters and supplying your crafters to make sure they churn out raw materials and products for the war effort also happens to be essential for strategy games. And the golden rule of battles and duels in Sword of the Bright Lady – that is, fight and deplete your opponent’s tael before they deplete yours – sounds extraordinary like the tongue-in-cheek “advice” I used to tell my raid group back when I was leading 25-mans in World of Warcraft: “Let’s all try and get the boss’ hit points to zero before he gets our hit points to zero, please.”
There are many more examples like this, and as the author had confirmed in a comment on another blogger’s review that he had intended to write a book exploring what it would feel like to be an actual person in the games we play, I had a lot of fun spotting the similarities and wondering what aspects might actually be subtle references to gaming. The concept itself is REALLY cool. The book begins with Christopher waking up in a strange, new world with no memory of how he got there. How many game narrative start off just like that? He gets drafted into an eternal war (as an online gamer, a war that goes on forever was one of those “AHA!” moments for me, because we all know in an MMO you can never truly “win”) by serving as a priest of the Bright Lady, joining the ranks of her followers who can heal wounds by using their magic and, for the right price, resurrect the dead (another “AHA!”) But then, drawn by the opportunity to return home to his own world, Christopher goes and pledges himself to the god of war, which sets off a series of unpredictable and violent events.
By all rights, I should have fallen in love with Sword of the Bright Lady. After all, I usually find myself drawn to any story with a gaming angle, no matter how tenuous the link. However, in the end “love” might be too powerful a word to describe how I felt about the book, though I did have fun and enjoyed reading it quite a bit. There were just a few things that added up to keep me from embracing this one completely.
Firstly, something about Christopher just doesn’t sit right with me. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on how a person would react when waking up to an unfamiliar world surrounded by strangers, still, Christopher’s behavior and many of his decisions and actions just didn’t seem realistic or normal to me. And while he clearly didn’t know about all the ways of this new place, he did seem to know quite a lot – perhaps too much to be believable. And though I was aware of the nature of this fantasy world, the people took to Christopher’s new ideas and projects much too easily, with not much fuss or resistance at all, which also didn’t feel very believable to me.
This segues perfectly into my second point, which is that the whole premise of this novel feeling like it’s hovering in this awkward place between trying to convey the realism and authenticity of this world but at the same time negating a lot of that by throwing in some pretty outlandish situations that make the story feel almost satirical. The book feels like it wants it both ways, which is a difficult balance to strike. I’m not sure I liked this “in between” feeling, and in fact if Christopher’s experience is meant to be a parody of sorts of what it might feel like to be a person in a video game – which is quite an ingenious and unique idea – I’d actually have liked to see the author carry that premise even further.
To sum it all up, I think there are a couple of missed opportunities to make this book stand out more, which for me is the only factor holding it back from being a truly excellent read. But I can’t deny there are some fascinating ideas in here, and overall it’s a very strong novel from author M.C. Planck....more
I am glad we’ve not heard the last of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire, even if Jorg’s chapter of the saga has concluded. As far as endings go, that was a necessary and felicitous curtain call, even though I couldn’t be happier with the way things played out. But of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve had enough of this brilliant dark world.
Regarding his latest novel, Mark Lawrence has stated that what did not want to do was give us Jorg Ancrath again but in new clothes. Well, Mr. Lawrence, you can rest easy about that. I don’t think anyone can mistake that wicked, tortured young psychopath we first met in Prince of Thorns with his new protagonist in Prince of Fools.
Courage is overrated, as a character like the glib but glorious Prince Jalan can attest. A self-confessed liar, coward and cheat, our main character is also a bit of a rakish playboy, with an easy charm to him that makes him instantly endearing, for all his foibles. See? Nothing like Jorg. But the two of them are contemporaries, if you are wondering where The Red Queen’s War fits in relation to the original trilogy. As such, I don’t think fans of The Broken Empire will find much of a problem settling in. We even get to meet Jorg and his Brothers, albeit very briefly, in an unforgettable scene. Despite the mostly new faces though, Mark Lawrence has no trouble convincing me I am back in the haunted, post-apocalyptic milieu with which I first fell in love. As strange as it sounds, given the kind of place we're talking about, it was a bit like coming back home.
But while the writing style and setting may be instantly recognizable, we have a story here that is altogether very different. And yet, even the slippery Prince Jal can’t avoid running afoul of the dark sorcery that is rife in the Broken Empire. Finding his fate magically bound to that of an escaped slave named Snorri ver Snaggason, the two strike up a partnership in order to try to break the spell. We had an inkling of the Broken Empire’s vastness back in Jorg’s story arc, and here we are given the chance to explore even further as Jal and the Norseman’s journey takes them to the frigid and icebound north, towards Snorri’s homeland.
The two encounter many dangers along the way, including necromancy and other unseen malevolent forces. There is no escaping the Dead King, whose plans run far deeper than anyone can expect. Nightmarish beings called the Unborn are raised and fed by the stolen potential of lost infants, sent to carry out his bidding. Gruesome, disturbing elements such as these serve to push Prince of Fools into Horror territory.
And yet there is also a glimmer of optimism, a thread of light that I can easily pick out amidst the doom and gloom, making me feel that this book is actually “less grimdark” than the original trilogy. Prince Jalan, who assures us he has little ambition – beyond getting drunk, winning bets and seducing women – is really more of a hero than he gives himself credit for. I see a young man who wants to be more than just “that prince who is tenth in line for the throne”, even if he doesn’t care to admit that to himself.
The idea of the unlikely hero is not a new one, certainly, but the difference is Mark Lawrence actually makes me believe that Jalan has it in him. Jal’s growing friendship with Snorri also brings to light a hidden side of him, and vice versa; I think the two of them play off each other perfectly. The story displays the classic quest narrative, one that is very character driven. Forced to work together, the relationship dynamics between this pair of disparate and conflicting personalities is what makes this dark adventure shine.
There is no doubt this is a Mark Lawrence novel – pick it up and you will immediately see the hallmarks of his storytelling and writing style which made The Broken Empire trilogy such a incredibly addictive read, replete with his darkly droll humor and very quotable dialogue. Fans won’t be disappointed. But rest assured Prince of Fools is also a one-of-a-kind tale featuring a very different protagonist. Jal has immense potential, and if this is what Lawrence can achieve with his character in just one book, I can’t wait to see what’s next....more