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.(less)
I’ve actually not read the first book of the Brilliance Saga, but was reassured when told I could read A Better World without having to tackle Brilliance first. And that was absolutely correct. Not once did I feel lost or confused, thanks to a detailed recap of prior events in introduction chapters. As a new reader, that’s always appreciated (and I’m sure those familiar with the series might also find the reminders helpful, if it’s been a while since you read book one).
Taking place in the not-too-far future, this series is based on the premise that 1% of the population are born as “Brilliants”, individuals who possess special abilities allowing them to do some pretty amazing things. After 30 years, this has created a growing social chasm between these exceptional people and the vast majority who are “norms”. As with the case of most societies where such a divide occurs, you have dissension and a clashing of ideologies. And then you get the violence.
Fear has led the government to clamp down on brilliants, leading some of the extremist groups to fight back. A terrorist organization of brilliants called the Children of Darwin have shut down Cleveland, Tulsa, and Fresno, cutting off power and supplies to these cities. Nick Cooper, former anti-terrorism agent and a brilliant himself, has been called in by the president to help stop those responsible and to prevent a civil war.
Those who have read Brilliance would already be familiar with Cooper, though I was only meeting him for the first time. As a character, he makes a fascinating study. He’s a brilliant, but also a dedicated to hunting down abnorms involved in terrorist activity. The crimes perpetrated by the Children of Darwin go against everything he stands for, but the methods used by the government for controlling brilliants have also proven questionable, like taking Tier 1 children from their parents and placing them in “academies” which are nothing more than maximum security prison camps and brainwashing facilities. Cooper has realized that the situation isn’t black and white, and has already shifted alliances once. The questions and the indeterminate grey areas continue, and because things are never as they seem, you never know what’s going to happen next. Cooper, who has always believed in doing the right thing, is placed in one moral dilemma after another when he realizes he could be harming more people than he saves.
Even good intentions can lead to disastrous consequences, and I think it’s this theme which makes Cooper’s personality easier to take, separating him from the multitudes of do-gooder protagonists from a lot of other books. He came across initially as a rather self-righteous and naïve character, but by the end I could hardly fault him, as he goes through a rather rough time learning these difficult lessons. There were several tremendous game-changing developments I hardly saw coming, which just thickens the plot. As tensions between norms and abnorms continue to escalate, and the population in the besieged cities grow ever more desperate, I started to wonder if war really was inevitable. The ending will probably shock you as it did me.
There were only a couple issues that took away some of the impact, which I think bears mentioning. In the book, the government was able to mobilize 75,000 troops in a matter of hours to the rural plains of Wyoming, but then struggles to find enough manpower to shift and transport food to three mid-sized cities full of starving people even after a week? I don’t know if I buy that. Debating plausibility in a science fiction novel is probably a moot point, but the story still takes a hit in my eyes, mainly because the plight of Cleveland plays such a huge role. I also love the idea of brilliants, and the explanations for individual powers are pretty unique; in many of the cases, they are based on principles of science and physiology. A woman can become “invisible”, for example, moving unseen simply by being able to predict exactly when to move where no one will be looking. A man seemingly moves at super human speeds, but only because he perceives time differently than everyone else, experiencing each one second as slightly more than eleven. In contrast, I wasn’t entirely clear on the nature of Cooper’s own gift, which involves “reading intent”; perhaps it was better explained in the first book, but rather than a brilliant, he really just came across as a regular guy who was extraordinarily bright and perceptive.
Otherwise, I thought this was very enjoyable. While jumping on board mid-series might work with this book, it may not be possible for the next. A Better World does end on a pretty serious cliffhanger, and author Marcus Sakey sets us up for big things in book three. I can’t wait to see how things will resolve after that climactic ending.(less)
There are a number of sequels coming out this year with big shoes to fill, and not the least of them is Tower Lord which is the follow up to the sensation that was Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song. While this second installment might not pack the kind of punch its predecessor did, I nonetheless enjoyed the book immensely. It’s a very different novel than the first book, with a shift in style, focus, and character perspectives, and yet it still has all the elements that we epic fantasy fans live for.
In book one, we met Vaelin Al Sorna, a brother of the Sixth Order and one of the greatest warriors the world has ever known. Coming home from a bloody war, he has sworn to fight no more, instead focusing his efforts on seeking any of his relatives that still might live. Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by the new monarch, Vaelin has the noble yet perhaps naïve dream of living out his life in peace and quiet, for news of his exploits (and his crimes) have spread far and wide and those who know of his mysterious gift that guides him will not let him rest.
Anthony Ryan also adds several more point-of-view characters to the mix in Tower Lord, which I was glad to have been prepared for, as Vaelin no longer takes center stage. Instead, he shares the book with mainly three others: Reva, a young woman who begins this journey with hate for Vaelin in her heart and an unquenchable thirst for revenge; Princess Lyrna, sister to the new king and who possesses more strength and resolve than her brother ever would; and finally, Frentis, a familiar face from Blood Song, though he has been changed from his years of being held captive by the Untesh and being forced to fight in the slave pits.
Having been aware of this new format, with the chapters cycling through the character viewpoints, I had expected and prepared myself for the slower start. Indeed, with more characters to follow this time around, the author takes much more time to set the stage for the events in this book. And I have to confess it didn’t quite grab my attention right away. It was a pleasant journey through the first half of the novel to meet new faces or to catch up with old friends, but on the whole Tower Lord lacked a certain quality that made Blood Song the dangerously addictive and immersive read it was right off the bat.
However, I don’t think this makes Tower Lord a weak sequel. On the contrary, in fact. This second book is stronger than book one in many ways, not only because it expands the scope of the series by giving us multiple character perspectives and opening up the wider world, but it also showcases Ryan’s talents as a storyteller. He’s proven himself as an author who can write a very diverse and convincing cast of characters while maintaining a steady level of suspense and interest in all spheres of action, building intensity as he moves all the pieces into place for when things really start rolling.
Quite simply, Tower Lord is a totally different beast. And it’s just hard not to compare a sequel to what came before. It comes down to personal taste, and admittedly, Blood Song and I hit it off much faster. I had myself this experience with a couple other sequels this year; they were all excellent novels, but thematically they just worked slightly less for me. In this case, it’s hardly a surprise. Blood Song began with Vaelin Al Sorna as a young boy, entering the Sixth Order and a huge chunk of the book was dedicated to his training, the relationships he forged with his brothers, and his eventual rise to greatness. It was my favorite part of the novel. And come on, we all know how tough it is beat a good coming-of-age story.
The first book was absolutely a tough act to follow, I know. But all things considered, Tower Lord is a wonderful follow-up that might even appeal more to other readers, especially those who preferred the parts with “grown-up” Vaelin from the first book. I mentioned one of the things I liked about the “young” Vaelin’s chapters was his relationship with his fellow Sixth Order brothers, and it’s incredibly fascinating to see how those dynamics have changed over time. Brother Frentis was a huge surprise for me in this one. Thinking about all the terrible things that has been through and how they’ve affected him, it almost makes his story more interesting to me than Vaelin’s. I’m also impressed by Ryan’s female characters, and the energy and conviction he was able to put behind Reva and Lyrna, two women who are not afraid of setbacks and will fight for what they believe in.
In the end, it’s definitely the characters who made this such a great read. I absolutely adore the new additions. The characters make things happen, set things in motion, and while the first half of this book might have lagged a little, the same cannot be said about the second half, and the final quarter was pure action bliss. Does it take a bit of investment to get to this point? Yes. But totally worth it. Love the intricate magical elements and political entanglements that made the finale such an edge-of-your-seat ride. Anthony Ryan really tied things together and delivered.
I hope when we next meet Vaelin and whoever Ryan decides to let us be acquainted with next time (assuming he once again chooses this multiple POV character format) in the third book Queen of Fire, we’ll be able to jump right into the action. The slower build-up at the beginning held this book back a little, in my opinion, so I can’t say I enjoyed this book more or even as much as Blood Song, but the difference is very close. And I’m not disappointed at all. If you enjoyed the first book, there’s absolutely no reason at all not to pick this up and continue the epic journey.(less)
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.(less)
Ruin and Rising was good, but perhaps it was just good…enough? I sat on this review for several weeks trying to gather my thoughts about this book hoping to figure out exactly how I feel about it. And in the end, I finally realized why I was so conflicted. I liked this book – and heck, up to now this series has been one of my YA favorites – but as badly was I wanted this to be the grand finale, I just couldn’t convince myself to love it.
As you would recall, Siege and Storm had the unmistakable feel of a second installment within a trilogy, with our protagonists experiencing a momentary setback. Last we saw Alina, she was in pretty bad shape, having lost her powers as the Sun Summoner. She and Mal have retreated underground with their allies, surrendering themselves to the power of the Apparat and his band of zealots who worship Alina as a Saint. But while Alina may be weakened, she is far from broken. Her mission remains the same: to capture and secure the third amplifier, the elusive firebird that would be her key to defeating the Darkling thus freeing Ravka from his iron grasp.
In truth, I had my reservations from the very beginning. The first couple of chapters almost drove me to return the book. Looking back, these were so clearly “transition” scenes that served no other purpose than to link book two with book three. As an antagonist, the Apparat was almost a non-entity, used to accomplish what was required, and then quickly forgotten. I just wanted this obligatory intro done and over with as quickly and painlessly as possible, and fortunately and unfortunately, it seemed Leigh Bardugo had the same idea. We always knew Alina’s goal was to hunt the firebird, and this brief little romp through the tunnels and caves felt like nothing more than a throwaway distraction.
Thankfully, we soon get back on the right track. We meet up with Nikolai, the outlaw prince of lovable arrogance and smart-assery, and now we can finally ask the really important questions. How are they going to go up against the Darkling? And what would a future Ravka look like if they succeed? Alina has some difficult decisions before her. What is she going to choose? Or rather, ugh, WHO is she going to choose?
In some ways, I feel validated. I still love YA, but not long ago, I told myself I can’t read them for their romances anymore. And I’m a much happier person for it. Enjoying a novel mainly for its story and characters is how I’ve come to approach YA, because if you rely on the outcome of a relationship to satisfy you, you’re bound to be disappointed. Time after time after time, predictability and tired clichés have ruined YA romances for me, and I’ve found it much easier now to just NOT CARE. It also helps that I’ve never really felt much connection to the men in Alina’s life. I’ve failed for three books to see the Darkling’s appeal. And Mal was ruined for me in Siege and Storm (you can’t get stinking drunk and kiss another girl and expect bygones to be bygones, Mal – you only get one chance with me). Nikolai was perhaps the most interesting and had the best personality out of everyone, and that told me right there he was obviously all wrong for Alina, so I never took his role as a suitor seriously.
I’m not going to say what happens, naturally. But I will say Bardugo took the “safe” route. Which was pretty much what I expected, so I’m actually not too upset with the ending. I’ve come to accept the status quo in YA fiction, and it hadn’t even occurred to me that this series could end any other way. It’s entirely possible I would have rated this book higher if it had been a bit bolder and strayed from conventions, but I’m also satisfied if not entirely blown away. And if this had been the author’s plan from the start, I applaud her for sticking to her guns and telling the story she wanted to tell. Everyone deserves their happily-ever-after, and Alina got the one perfect for her which is all that matters.
I’d still recommend this series. It became increasing more predictable as the story progressed with each installment, to the point where there were really no surprises left for me by book three, but it’s an entertaining trilogy as a whole. I wish it had ended with less tepidness considering the incredibly strong start that was Shadow and Bone, but I have to say it’s worth experiencing from beginning to end.(less)
Some books start off with a shaky opening but then end up getting better as the story gains momentum, but other times there are books like Unwept that go the opposite way. These books manage to capture my attention right off the bat and get me invested with an interesting premise, but then they stumble and lose me about halfway through. The magic fizzles out and I can’t get it back.
I have my inklings as to why this might have been the case with Unwept. Thing is, I love being teased with a bit of mystery. And this book did that very well, starting off by painting a baffling yet very intriguing picture. A girl named Ellis Harkington comes to herself in the middle of a train ride accompanied by a nurse and baby, but has no memory of how she got there or any of her life before this moment. She arrives at a remote seaside town named Gamin where everyone seems to know her better than she knows herself, but she can’t even recognize any of their faces. A group of young men and women called the Nightbirds — who claims to be a literary society – welcome her back into the fold with open arms, and yet for a literary society they don’t seem all that interested in books…
Then there are the nightmares. Ellis dreams of clouds of moths and visitations from a strange soldier with a paisley-shaped mark on his face. There’s also talk of terrible things happening all over town, like a devastating fire, missing people, and the discovery of mutilated bodies pointing to a ruthless killer on the loose. And why are there no children in town? There this real sense of unease and foreboding. The atmosphere is practically humming with anticipation. The stage is set for something great, and you know deep down in your gut that this book has got to be building up to something huge.
Well. It didn’t really happen. At least, not for me. You must understand, this book had me wrapped around its finger and I was completely under its control and prepared to fall head over heels in love with it. I cannot give enough praise to the first half of this novel; it was fantastically well written and constructed to give the reader a perfect foundation. I simply adored the first 150 pages or so. But not long after that, the plot started fraying at the edges.
Unfortunately, being plied with all that escalation with ultimately not much payoff has a way of making me feel a bit grumpy. I’m also disheartened by the lost potential of this story. The book could only maintain the suspense for so long before I started questioning where it was trying to go and what it was trying to say. I had the sneaking suspicion that I was being led on a wild goose chase. Not long after that, I finally had to admit to myself that I really had no idea what was going on. By the time some answers were forthcoming, I don’t know if I felt as invested or engaged in the outcome anymore. The revelations were certainly eye-opening, but it’s a classic case of “too little too late.” I just can’t decide if the disappointment hurt more or less because the story had such a strong and promising start.
Unwept is also the first book of a series, and – unsurprisingly, perhaps – it has the stamp of a “Book One” all over it. Don’t expect any satisfying or clear-cut answers. Instead of growing and expanding, the story seemed to shrink back in on itself. There is mystery at the beginning, and there will still be mystery at the end, and probably more blanks and question marks than you started out with. It’s hard to tell now, but I think I might have had a more positive reaction to the book if I had known to rein in my expectations a little.
In the end, I don’t think Unwept is a bad book. The sheer enjoyment I got out of the first part of it is a testament to that. It’s also such a quick read that if you’re even remotely interested in the description, I would say it is well worth your time, as the average reader can probably knock it out in one or two sittings. It has a fascinating premise, and I have no doubt it’ll work for a lot of readers. I just personally wish I been better prepared for its peculiar pacing.(less)
Cyberpunk is another one of those science fiction subgenres that have been more miss than hit with me in the past, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving more of it a try, hoping to find something that’s more my liking. So even after my inability to get into William Gibson’s Neuromancer – a book considered a seminal work in the cyberpunk field – I still decided to check out Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which has been described as leading in the next wave following in the footsteps of Gibson.
Indeed, in the classic cyberpunk tradition, the book has its setting in a near-future dystopian with elements of hard-boiled detective film noir and overall a very bleak worldview. The city of Pittsburgh is a pile of rubble and ash after its destruction by terrorists in a nuclear blast. Ten years later, survivor John Dominic Blaxton still mourns his wife and unborn child while most of the world has moved on. Our protagonist is a marginalized loner, addicted to drugs as much as he is addicted to his memories of his lost life by immersing himself in the Archive where he can relive moments with his wife in a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh.
Dominic’s work also involves investigating deaths recorded in the Archive for insurance companies. One day, while pursuing a claim, he becomes obsessed with the apparent murder of a young woman when he discovers that her records have been tampered with, evidence that someone is trying to cover up the circumstances of her death. His digging around doesn’t go unnoticed. Like many cyberpunk protagonists, John finds himself manipulated by higher forces and trapped into a situation where he has little control.
Thomas Sweterlitsch has created a future where technology runs rampant. Everyone has an adware implant in their head and access to information is near ubiquitous. People have become wholly dependent on the computer chips in their brains, and the result is a dehumanized society with a strong sense of disenchantment and nihilism. Feeds run continuously in an endless stream, with up-to-the-second news updates. Grisly details of accidents or crime scenes are made public at the speed of an eye blink, along with the darker secrets of the victims’ lives. The society eats up their sex tapes as voraciously as they revel in the graphic violence.
It’s this brutal, emotionally numbing aspect of cyberpunk that makes it so hard for me to click with this genre. Strangely enough, I can handle most kinds of gritty, dark fantasy without issue, but these near-futures and the negative effect of technology on human society have a way of cutting too close for comfort. All everyone seems to care about anymore is pornography and violence, and it is so off-putting not to mention mentally draining. The themes of grief and loss are also at the forefront of this novel, which makes reading it a real struggle if you’re not feeling in the mood for something so despairing. It’s hard to watch Dominic go through life relying so heavily on the Archive; instead of helping, the technology has pretty much halted his healing all together, and he hangs on to his grief like his wife died yesterday instead of a decade ago.
This wasn’t a bad novel, however. I thought the world-building was fantastic and the mystery, hardboiled noir and crime thriller elements were done very well. This is a story about a man destroyed by tragedy and the events that ultimately pulled him out of his funk and allowed him to move on, but it is for the most part a very stark, very depressing and sometimes disturbing book. I don’t regret reading it and I would recommend this to cyberpunk fans, but consider holding off if you’re in the mood for something lighter.(less)
The Golden City is a book that may take a bit of patience to get into, but it ends up being well worth the time once the story gets going. It also stands out for being one of the more unique novels I’ve read this year, with its one-of-a-kind setting in an alternate Portugal around the turn of the 20th century and its rousing combination of subjects like dark magic and sea folk.
The book begins with an introduction to Oriana Paredes, a spy for her people called the sereia. As a member of a race of sea folk banned from the city by the ruling king, Oriana has been posing as a maid working undercover in a wealthy aristocratic household for two years, but has befriended the family’s lovely and vivacious daughter Isabel. When Isabel decides to elope to Paris, Oriana decides to help her make her escape by disguising themselves as simple servants. But before the young women could depart, they are abducted and left to die in an underwater trap. Saved by what she is, but at the same time forced to watch Isabel drown, Oriana is set on a course to uncover the mystery of a string of similar murders and seek justice for her human friend.
Ouch. I just want to say how surprised I was at how hard I took Isabel’s death. While it is revealed in the book’s description, I didn’t do much more than skim the back cover before I started reading and so the beginning was still quite a shock for me. But it was a good kind of surprise. In just a handful of pages, J. Kathleen Cheney has established a realistic friendship between the two girls and made me care for Isabel and the prospect of her grand romance. And in a blink, that life was taken away. It was a very effective and impactful (not to mention heartbreaking) way to start the book, and it only worked this well because the writing was so convincing. At this stage in the story, I still had only a vague sense of the bigger picture, but I understood the desire for vengeance as the driving force behind Oriana’s actions. I seized upon it, looking to it as the backbone of this novel, despite all the questions still buzzing away at the back of my mind.
For believe me, there were questions aplenty. While overall I enjoyed The Golden City, it did take me a while to immerse myself completely into it. Books that thrust me into the middle of situation tend to have me at a disadvantage. Admittedly, I will also sometimes overwhelm myself by asking too many questions. Possibly the biggest blank for me was Oriana’s role as a spy. The goals of her mission were never really clarified, and I wasn’t sure what kind of information she was supposed to be bringing back to her superiors. The “City Under the Sea”, which is a massive underwater art show featuring replicas of the aristocratic houses placed there by a mysterious artist, was also another source of confusion for me. A project that is so grand and ambitious even by today’s standards would have plenty of buzz and investigation into it, but it seemed like much of the city took its appearance for granted.
In fact, it is the replica of Isabel’s house in the City Under the Sea which should have been Oriana’s water grave, if she weren’t a sereia. After extracting herself from the death trap, she finds herself adrift in a city whose citizens would arrest or do worse to her if they discovered her true nature. That is until she crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira, a police consultant who has secrets of his own. Like Oriana, Duilio is looking into the disappearances of servants from wealthy households, but he is also the half human son of a Selkie (mythological creatures said to live as seals in the sea but shed their pelt to become humans on land) and is also in the midst of investigating certain crimes against his family.
Which leads me to the main reason why I’m glad I found a book like The Golden City – Sirens! Selkies! I am always on the lookout for good books about “sea people” that aren’t rife with The Little Mermaid clichés or that don’t simply portray creatures like sirens as malevolent seductresses. Cheney does a fantastic job providing Oriana with personality and purpose, and I love the cultural, historical and mythological details she has worked into her world.
In time, something more than a business partnership develops between Oriana and Duilio, but the romance is in no way distracting or overbearing. The romantic elements, like the mystery elements, are well blended and balanced. It won’t be enough for everyone, but it was perfect for me as someone who prefers a more subtle and natural approach to romance, and the author teases the relationship between her two characters just enough for me to remain invested in seeing how their feelings for each other will be resolved.
In sum, The Golden City may start off slowly, but the payoff will come. Somewhere along the way, it just clicked. And most of the answers I sought were answered by the end of the book. If an alternate historical with a dash of fantasy and mystery sounds like your thing, or if you’re intrigued by a story set in a unique place starring magical sea creatures as its main players, you may want to push this up to the top of your reading list. I’m looking forward to see what will happen in the next book of this series.(less)
The Expanse is probably my science fiction series right now, and I think Cibola Burn is the best installment yet.
Why, you ask? Well, unlike the previous books, which I felt started off slow but gradually built up to bigger and better action, Cibola Burn breaks this pattern and kicks things off right away with an explosive conflict you can’t ignore. The mysterious proto-molecule that somehow created a massive ring structure just outside the orbit of Uranus has turned out to be a gate leading to thousands of habitable planets on the other side. To the annoyance and chagrin of the corporation with the planetary exploration and harvesting rights, a ship of refugees have made it over and settled on the first of such new worlds, claiming it as their own and starting up their own mining operations.
Violence erupts when the company finally arrives to protect what they think of as their property, with the colonists pushing back. This is how the book starts out – literally with a bang. Protagonist James Holden, deemed as the best person to act as mediator in this conflict, is dropped into the middle of things before they can escalate and both sides end up killing each other. The whole situation is a lit powder keg waiting to explode and the atmosphere could not be more intense, and this is all just within the first handful of chapters. There’s none of that “slow climb to the apex”, which is how I described Abbadon’s Gate. Here, you get to the good stuff right off the bat.
But before you think all the action is front-loaded, rest assured that this is not the case. The tension continues to build and it’s safe to say that circumstances get worse for the characters (which translates to “More exciting!” for the reader) before they get better. Cibola Burn is part space colonization story and part space disaster thriller. For those reading this series who might be suffering from proto-molecule fatigue by now, the good news is that while the proto-molecule still plays a big role in the overall story, it takes a backseat to the more dramatic and more human events happening right there on the frontier planet. It’s wild and lawless territory out there, with neither side willing to relinquish control. With no real police force, no courts and no legal system, authority is determined by who has the greatest firepower, and when you’re in a region of space eighteen months from the closest civilization, that there pretty much spells a recipe for disaster.
Like all the previous books in the series, Cibola Burn is told from the perspective of a handful of point-of-view characters. The cast has expanded yet again, changing up all the key players except for Holden, who as the main protagonist has kept up a constant presence in all four books now. For the first time in this series, however, I became partial to his chapters. In books 1-3, I’d always felt that Holden’s character was eclipsed by more powerful and interesting personalities (in Leviathan Wakes, by Miller; in Caliban’s War, by Chrisjen Avasarala, my favorite potty-mouthed UN politician; and in Abbadon’s Gate, by Bull) and he’d never managed to capture my attention. That is, until now. What changed? It’s not like the other POV characters here were any less compelling. But somehow, Holden definitely came into his own in Cibola Burn. As someone who’s always so sure of his moral position, it’s a new experience to see him try to compromise for the sake of keeping the peace, and when the situation devolves, his leadership skills are put to the test.
In fact, all the POV characters – Holden, Basia, Havelock and Elvi — were enjoyable to read about in their own way. Compared to a relatively weaker cast in the last book, Cibola Burn was a much more engaging read for this reason. The only character I didn’t care for was Murtry – and not because he’s the villain. I notice the authors seem to have a tendency to paint the “bad guys” in this series as really BAD guys, all super evil psychopaths with terrible motives and inflexible attitudes. While it leaves little room for doubt who you should be rooting for, that doesn’t add much to the person or situation. Other characters who sometimes lack in depth is an occasional issue I encountered, but the baddies seem to have it the worst.
Still, if that’s my only complaint, and it’s a minor one at that, this book is clear a winner in my eyes. Like I said, I found this to be the most exciting and powerful book so far. When a strange planet that no one understands turns against colony and corporation alike, the notion of people putting aside their differences to help each other survive becomes a central theme, and all the while the clock is ticking. It’s really no surprise that the series is heading to TV, being the perfect mix of science fiction chills-and-thrills with the passion and weight of human drama. Fans of The Expanse will eat this book right up. And if you haven’t started this series yet, what are you waiting for?(less)
Behold, the Young Adult sequel. This is where the real test is for me. First books of a series have the advantage of being new and shiny, and I can usually be won over by the prospect of exploring a brand new world full of fresh and interesting ideas. Second books admittedly have to work a little harder, not only because my expectations are higher now, but also because so many sequel plots invariably end up falling into a very predictable pattern.
So how does Crown of Midnight stack up? Well, in a nutshell, I can’t say it wowed me, and I probably liked it less than the first book. That being said though, I think it’s better than a lot of YA sequels, and despite the shameless rehashing of some of the same tired old tropes, there were still a couple of big surprises that kept the story entertaining.
The bottom line is, I am so done with YA romances. Girl meets boy, and if by book two they haven’t fallen in love already, this is where they will do so. Then invariably, boy will go and do something incredibly dumb – the result of a momentary lapse of judgment or just a gross failure of miscommunication – which causes girl to go ballistic on boy, throwing the entire future of their relationship in question, thereby also keeping the tension of a possible love triangle alive for just teensy bit longer. I can effortlessly name a handful of YA series that follow this pattern just off the top of my head, so I wasn’t surprised to see Crown of Midnight follow suit. Overused formulas suck. They have turned the romantic aspect into the weakest part the book. Nothing kills my enthusiasm and interest in the characters faster. And unfortunately, the book spends way too much time trying to shove the drama of Celaena and Chaol’s relationship down my throat. Maybe I’m just a bitter, jaded curmudgeon, but I just can’t find it in myself to care about such an artificial pairing.
But that’s my rant and the last of the negativity you’ll hear from me. Apart from my issues with the romance, Crown of Midnight was actually a pretty good book. Celaena has won the contest and become the king’s Champion and assassin, but instead of carrying out the king’s orders, she finds increasingly more ways to secretly fight back against his evil will, letting her intended victims go instead (ever notice how YA assassin characters actually do very little killing?) It was a relatively slow plod through the first half of the book, but once you get past this stage with its many clichés and run-of-the-mill romance, things will start to pick up.
I have to say, the plot elements in the later parts saved this book for me. The structure of the story remains somewhat predictable, but it always impresses me to see all the amazing things a writer can do while staying within a certain framework. The second half of the Crown of Midnight becomes a lot more bold and daring, which are certainly qualities I admire in a YA novel. There were a couple of unexpected developments, darker places I didn’t think the book would go. Once the pesky romance was out of the way, you started to get a lot less fluff and a lot more substance. Sarah J. Maas seriously ups her game, building up her world by weaving history and lore and magic into the story, dialing up the intrigue and mystery.
So all right then, sign me up for the third book. Despite a shaky start to this sequel, Maas has built something worthy of continuing with here, and has done some incredible things with her main character. I probably won’t hold my breath for the romantic aspect to improve, but thank goodness there’s so much more to like about this story. It’s definitely going places (literally!) and I look forward to visiting a new setting in the next installment as well as seeing the outcomes of several massive revelations.(less)
Jarra has carried out a successful rescue mission, saved lives at the risk of losing her own, and received the Earth Star and the highest honor of the Artemis medal. But still our protagonist finds herself defined by her disability.
I’d been eagerly waiting to read this book ever since I read Earth Girl. Earth Star is the sequel, picking up right where the first book left off. Things have pretty much returned to normal after the events of the unprecedented solar storm that put the New York dig site and Jarra in the spotlight. The whole world knows she’s Handicapped now, that she is among one in a thousand born with an immune system disorder that confines her to earth. But while most of her classmates have come to terms with learning her secret, not everyone has been so accepting of Jarra.
I continue to enjoy this series for its ability to engage as well as its departures from the usual YA conventions. Unsurprisingly, these books probably won’t be for everyone, though I do wish more people knew about them. Not only is there an important message, I also love the universe Janet Edwards has created, and here she expands the idea further by throwing humanity a curveball – the possibility of aliens on Earth’s doorstep. When the military discovers a strange sphere in orbit, the planet goes into high alert and Jarra is drafted to help.
You would think that the arrival of an extraterrestrial presence might bring humankind together, but that isn’t the case. The book continues the theme of showing how deep-rooted bigotry and intolerance can be, even though Jarra has proven herself to be as capable as any Norm time and time again. The prejudice against the Handicapped has been ingrained in this society for generations, and Earth has become a second-class planet, with those who have the immune disorder somehow seen as less than human.
But there is hope yet. There are plenty of those who don’t share those close-minded views. Jarra and her boyfriend Fian have gotten much closer since the first book; the two have pledged their commitment to each other and Fian continues to be Jarra’s strongest and most loyal supporter. But like I said, we aren’t going to be treated to the same old tropes here, so Jarra and Fian’s relationship also has a completely different dynamic than your typical YA novel. I wouldn’t recommend going into these books expecting a strong romance plot. It’s just not that kind of book, and I’m cool with that. Still, that doesn’t mean that it is completely devoid of romantic tension. A private person by nature, Jarra still struggles with opening up to Fian, and Fian comes across as almost insecure in his desperation to get through to her. His role feels slightly diminished here, but then I suppose the force of Jarra’s personality has a way of overshadowing those around her.
For make no mistake, these books are all about Jarra’s journey, her own exceptional fight against adversity, from without and within. But I also like the fact she is not painted as the invincible hero. Reviewers including myself have noted in the first book that her character seems to be an expert at everything and know all the answers. In spite of that, I see now that she has her fears and doubts. The message is clear: as a Handicapped, Jarra is nevertheless able to do everything that a Norm can do, but it works both ways. She’s also just as liable to fall victim to her own anxieties and lose confidence in herself, just like everyone else. After all, she’s only human. Like all of us. (less)
Half a King is marketed as a Young Adult novel so I’m also going to label it as such, but doing so also feels wrong somehow. It’s not just because it is so different and unconventional compared to what we may think of as “mainstream” YA out there, but I also think adult fantasy readers or those familiar with Joe Abercrombie’s gritty adult fantasy novels will no doubt feel right at home reading this too. Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Joe Abercrombie and YA? Now THIS I have to see,” well, yes, yes you do. As a fan of his work, I was very curious to see how his first venture into YA fiction would work out, and I have to say I’m quite astounded and impressed with the results.
The book follows Yarvi, a young prince born with a crippled hand. In a warrior society that values fighting prowess, this disability has limited him and led him to be treated with disdain his whole life. When his father and older brother are unexpectedly killed in an enemy ambush, Yarvi has no choice but to inherit the throne, but he barely has the chance to warm the seat before he is betrayed and left for dead. His fight for survival sees him sold into slavery, taken on the high seas and far away from home, but Yarvi knows he will not give up until he gets his revenge.
As ever, character development is Abercrombie’s strong suit, and everyone you meet is a constantly evolving tapestry, realistically woven with hardly any black-and-whites. Despite the YA nature of the novel, we don’t see a sacrifice in the quality of the characters or storytelling. Yarvi feels like the genuine product of his history and upbringing as the forgotten royal son, dismissed for a failure and never being able to become anyone important. Those sentiments have rubbed off on Yarvi himself, who has a tendency towards self-doubt and is prone to question his own worth. He’s no prince charming, and what use does he have for pride and honor? The only constants that keep him alive are his anger and sharp wit. It makes for some very interesting decisions on his part.
Also belying the familiar tale of the betrayed prince seeking to retake his stolen throne is a much more complicated story packed with unexpected twists and turns. It may have been fine-tuned for a younger audience, but the plot loses none of its subtlety. The problem with a lot of YA novels today involve the overuse of tired old tropes, and thank goodness Abercrombie decided to forgo pretty much all of them. You can never predict for a certainty where he will go with a story, and since I’ve enjoyed his crafty, clever writing in style in a lot of his adult books, I’m really glad to see it here in Half a King as well. You never know what tiny little detail can come back later on in the book and haunt you, so don’t even blink!
Best yet, while it is the first book of a series, it can most definitely be read as a standalone with no cliffhangers or glaring unresolved conflicts. Clearly, there are many more places we can go with the characters and ideas in this novel, but here we have a complete, self-contained story. Again, THANK YOU.
In sum, this feels like a young adult book. But it also feels like a Joe Abercrombie book. Take the best of both worlds, like the easy, engaging and action-packed fast pace of the former and the elegant writing style of the latter, and you have Half a King, which is Full of Awesome. I would recommend it in general, but also especially for readers who have always struggled with the YA category, or who might be suffering burnout from the same old, same old. I frequently find myself in this camp. While I love YA, sometimes all the love triangles and cliffhangers can take its toll, and a book like Half a King is the perfect cure to invigorate my interest and make the genre exciting again.(less)
The Leopard was a really tough book to rate and as I sit down to write this review, I find myself waffling back and forth on my thoughts. For one thing, I did not expect the unconventional structure, effectively dividing the novel into two separate parts. Because The Leopard is also the first installment of a duology, with the bulk of the story still left untold in book two, it’s also hard to decide how I really feel based on what happened here alone.
After the prologue, we are introduced to Deyandara, a bastard tribal princess who suddenly becomes her mother’s sole heir when everyone else in the family was murdered. But before this news even has the chance to settle, Deyandara is made messenger to the goddess Catairanach, who sends her on a quest to seek out the assassin known as the Leopard. Said assassin, whose true name is Ahjvar, is a cursed man who only wants to die, taking his burden to the grave. However, Deyandara’s message from the goddess changes all that. If he accepts her mission to kill the mad prophet known as the Voice of Marakand, Catairanach promises to free him from his curse. Along with his companion the escaped slave Ghu, Ahj sets off to perform this one final task.
Then we reach Part Two of the novel, which features a whole cast of different characters, apparently bringing back some of the familiar faces for those who have read Blackdog, an earlier novel based in K.V. Johansen’s world of the Marakand. We don’t get to see much (or anything) of Deyandara, Ahjvar or Ghu again. I don’t even know what more I can say beyond that, since Part Two also really lost me, and I found myself struggling through the rest of the novel. The truth is, while I ate up Part One, I practically had to force myself through Part Two, and almost had to throw in the towel. I spent most of the time trying to care about Moth, Mikki, and the other new characters, but never quite managed.
Though it is not necessary to read Blackdog first before tackling The Leopard, I wonder if I would have enjoyed this second part more if I had. At the very least, I think I would have felt more of a connection to the characters, this group of mysterious shapeshifters and otherworldly beings whose convoluted activities only seem to have a tenuous link to the storyline I read in Part One. In Part Two we see that Ahj’s activities have resulted in some rather strong ripples, but I still found it hard to stay focused since all the while Ahjvar, Deyandara and Ghu remained ever present in the back of my mind. It wasn’t long until I realized I wish I could have been reading about them instead.
This book won’t be for everyone; because of the vast difference in my feelings for the two different story lines, I still wonder if it is for me. Johansen’s style also takes getting used to. She clearly loves detail, but it’s a double-edged sword. The wonderful descriptions that made Part One such a vivid and scintillating experience also made Part Two feel lagging and tedious – though no doubt this has a lot to do with how effectively each story line captured my attention. My love of the setting was a constant, however; I’m a big fan of sword and sorcery set in Middle Eastern and Eastern influenced worlds, and Johansen’s writing is perfect for bringing this environment to life.
The world of Marakand really is quite lovely, and I enjoy its people, cultures and magic. But it wasn’t enough, because ultimately the main issue I had with this book was its structure. It’s one thing to weave two different storylines in tandem, it’s quite another to place a very distinct split in the middle of a novel. I put a lot of stock in characters and I’m usually extremely averse to the idea of drastic changes in players or perspective, so I don’t think this book worked for me – but it might for you.(less)
Self-absorbed, annoying, moody, smug, dissatisfied, spoiled, fake, maudlin, insecure, aimless, whiny, stupid, pampered, emo, vain, egotistical, small-minded, excessive, inconsiderate, thankless, pretentious, snobby, entitled, mercurial, immature, depressed, hypocritical, mean-spirited, cynical, clueless – just a small sample of the words I could use to describe the characters in this book.
No, The Magicians isn’t going to your big smiling ball of sunshine no matter how many Harry Potter comparisons you see slapped on it. Instead, you have a book featuring a much darker, grittier and almost satirical aura, a “New Adult” urban fantasy about letting the unhappiness of wanting something you can never have consume you. We follow disillusioned Quentin Coldwater, a high school student who never really grew out of his love for a series of novels he read as a kid about the adventures of five siblings in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, what can the real world offer him?
Imagine how he feels then, when he discovers that magic is real. And not only is it real, Quentin himself is a promising young magician, accepted into very secret and highly exclusive Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in upstate New York. It should have changed everything. Quentin should have been ecstatic.
But he is not. But of course he’s not. Magic isn’t going to make Quentin happy. Neither is finding out that Fillory actually exists. It’s a sad moment when the realization hits. There’s really no cure for what ails Quentin, except one thing and one thing only: a few years of life experience and a whole lot of growing up. Well, that or maybe a swift and forceful kick in the seat of his pants.
Thing is though, you can write a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character. I don’t mind. Not even if your character is an insufferably whiny little ingrate. You just have to give me a reason – any reason – to make me care about what happens to him. That’s not too much to ask, is it? My issue with this novel wasn’t so much with the mopey protagonist than it was with the directionless storytelling. In fact, I was quite excited for the first part of this book. I couldn’t get enough of the magical school idea the author’s jabs and funny references to Harry Potter and other humorous injections. That there was no sign of a main conflict didn’t bother me at this point either, as I was relishing the setting and enjoying myself too much.
Around the midway point was when the book started to lose me, coinciding with Quentin’s graduation and life after Brakebills. Until then I never really bothered asking where the story was going, and hadn’t felt the need to – but eventually there was a creeping sense that giving Quentin and his magician friends “real life” problems like relationship hang ups and dismal prospects for the future just wasn’t going cut it. Like, dudes, I get that y’all are bored with life. But I’m bored with you too now. Sorry. Worse yet, there is absolutely no development in their characters or personalities (unless you count decline as growth) and that’s absolutely mind boggling when you consider how a person’s time at college should have been the most formative years. I don’t know anyone who left college the same person they were when they arrived.
Admittedly, the final handful of chapters about the discovery and exploration of Fillory had their charm. Possibly enough to salvage my feelings for this book for a solid rating. And I suppose the conclusion, while incomplete and flinging the doors wide open for a new adventure, also manages to offer a sense of closure and satisfaction in its own unique way.
This book isn’t bad, apart from the pacing issues. The ending gives me hope for Quentin, and the promise of more Fillory makes me feel very optimistic about the next book.(less)
This is the second novel I’ve read by Gail Z. Martin and I have to say, her books have a way of wrapping around the reader like a well-loved, comfortable sweater. Prior to Deadly Curiosities, I’ve read the first book of her Ascendant Kingdoms series Ice Forged, and as traditional fantasies go, it wasn’t groundbreaking but still offered enough new with the old to give me that nice, warm fuzzy feeling. Similarly, I felt good about being in familiar urban fantasy territory with her new book Deadly Curiosities, at the same time delighting in some of the things that made it unique.
The book stars Cassidy Kincaide, owner of an upscale antique/curio store called Trifles & Folly in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Being able to touch an object and know its history is a special psychic gift that runs in her family – an ability that comes in handy in her line of work. It’s the perfect front for Cassidy and the Alliance’s real work: to seek out supernatural and possibly dangerous items and weed them out of the general public before they can harm anyone. However, when reports that a number of mundane antiques are suddenly turning into “Spookies”, it’s up to Cassidy and her coworkers to find out what dark force is changing all these previously harmless things into haunted objects.
Without a doubt, the highlight of this book for me was the setting. No joke, I wanted to drop everything right there and then and move to Charleston. I have read urban fantasies set in a number of different places, from big cities to sleepy towns, and very few have made me feel a pull this intense. Martin captured the atmosphere perfectly, combining the fictional paranormal elements with the rich history and culture of the city, as well as the hospitality and charm of its people. I wanted to shop the antique shops, visit the museums, stay at the bed and breakfasts, even do the nighttime ghost tours and the whole shebang. Well, minus the evil demons, of course.
In the past I’ve also noticed that authors who go from writing epic fantasy to urban fantasy often stumble with pacing. There is definitely less of an issue with Deadly Curiosities. However, I did feel that sections in the middle lagged a bit, and several characters central to the strike team at the end were introduced much later than I would have preferred. Still, this was probably my one and only complaint. On the whole, this was a great story and I especially enjoyed the first part of the novel, which hooked right away with the introduction to the central premise. I also love the smooth, natural and modern voices of Cassidy and the crew. Gail Z. Martin is a natural at writing urban fantasy; you would think she’s been doing this right from the start.
One interesting thing to note though, is that unlike every other urban fantasy series out there, there is a conspicuous lack of a romantic side plot for our protagonist. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the individual reader. Those who like a bit of romance with their UF might be disappointed, while others who are neutral or don’t mind something different might find it refreshing. Personally, I don’t think you can force a love story; it either works or it doesn’t. I would rather read an urban fantasy sans romance than one with a romance awkwardly shoehorned in just for the sake of having one, so I say good for Martin! (But for a second, I did get worried – I thought perhaps Cassidy would end up falling for Sorren, her silent business partner at Trifles & Folly. He’s also a 500-year-old vampire. So in this case, I guess you can say I was doubly glad it did not happen. The world has enough vampire romances.)
I am, however, a little tempted to hunt down Gail Z. Martin’s other Deadly Curiosity Adventure stories, from her series that spans over 500 years starring Sorren. That’s what a good book does – make you want more. I do hope she has plans to continue expanding Cassidy’s story as well, because this was a lot of fun. I would return to Charleston and Trifies & Folly in a heartbeat. (less)
This book is an interesting look into our not too distant future, perhaps one that is more plausible than we think. Mobile devices have already led to wearables, miniature electronic devices that act as an extension of our minds and bodies. Implants, therefore, are just the next logical step. Called “boosts”, these implants are processors that integrate with the “wet brains” in our heads, allowing us to do incredible things such as record memories for posterity, visit a virtual ballgame while your physical body is lounging in your living room, or even fire up an app to improve the taste of the food you’re eating.
But what happens when so much of the human experience is controlled by a computer, which in turn could be controlled by another person, a corporation, or even a government? In this downright Orwellian scenario envisioned by Stephen Baker, China has become the world leader in this boost technology, though Chinese implants are not subject to the same strict privacy laws as the chips negotiated for use in America. Yet, just days before a national upgrade, US software developer Ralf Alvare notices something troubling in the incoming update – an open gate which would render American chips as vulnerable to surveillance and invasive manipulation as the Chinese chips.
I found myself enjoying the premise of the novel, especially since the issue relating to the regulation of personal information is a pretty hot topic right now, as it pertains to laws regarding the collection, storage or use by governments and other organizations. The themes become even more relevant, considering our society’s love for new and shiny gadgets, and technological advances don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. The Boost can be viewed as a cautionary tale, perhaps – a warning of what might come to be if we let ourselves relinquish control to our obsession with new tech.
Baker does a good job making his scenario fascinating and believable. In a world where most people are “boosted”, things like telephones, newspapers and even street signs have become relics of bygone era. Even more interesting to note is the attitude towards those who have opted against the implant. Known as “wild”, these people who solely rely on their wet brains to do their thinking and experiencing aren’t looked upon with disdain so much as pity. But really, who should be pitying whom? That was the question I kept asking. In almost all the cases where a boosted character has lost their access to their chip, they become lost, despondent and miserable. Having depended on their implants for so long, they cannot even do simple math in their heads or remember the most basic information. While I don’t recommend being a Luddite, it’s hard to miss the message about the dangers of relying too much on technology. You never know when you’ll be without it, or if it’ll be compromised.
Admittedly, I went into this novel expecting a high-octane techno-thriller, but I was wrong about that. It was probably never meant to be one, though I think I would have liked it more if it had been written in that style. Instead, I found the book lacking a bit in suspense and dramatic intensity, and the pacing also faltered in places due in part to constant insertions of back stories and exposition. In the end, I think I found the novel’s concepts to be way more exciting than the actual plot.
Still, The Boost was an entertaining read. The energy levels were just a couple notches shy of where I would have liked them to be, but otherwise I enjoyed this book. It could change the way you look at technology, and if at first the idea of a boost in your head sounds like a good idea, you might want to think again. (less)
I was introduced to the world of Midnight Thief late last year when author Livia Blackburne offered me a review copy of the prequel novella, Poison Dance. After reading it I came to two conclusions. First, Ms. Blackburne obviously puts a lot of care and effort into her writing, and knows how to tell a great story. And second, if what I saw in her novella was any indication, the actual book is going to be awesome.
In Midnight Thief, we get to meet a couple of brand new protagonists: Kyra, the thief who barely manages to eke out a living by stealing or doing the odd job, and Tristam of Brancel, the newly promoted Palace Knight (or glorified Palace Guard, depending on how you look at it). If you’ve read Poison Dance, some familiar faces turn up too, like James, now leader of the Assassin’s Guild, who approaches Kyra with a lucrative offer. All she has to do is train with the guild, run a few errands, and he promises her that she will never lack for anything again.
Meanwhile, trade in Forge is disrupted as a clan of vicious raiders begin targeting the caravans to and from the city. These Demon Riders and their wild cats keep young Tristam and his fellow knights busy on patrol as gradually the attacks grow bolder and closer to Forge. On one fateful raid, Tristam and Kyra’s paths cross and their lives become irrevocably intertwined. Thief and Knight must join forces and learn to work together if they’re going to uncover a greater conspiracy rotting at the heart of Forge.
Though classified as Young Adult, the book feels like it could be aimed at younger readers, perhaps closer to upper Middle Grade. There is a strong thread of romance, but it isn’t a big part of the novel, nor does it come into play until much later. Tristam doesn’t even make his first appearance until after a handful of Kyra’s chapters, and it also surprised me how long it took for them to finally meet face-to-face for the first time. This struck me as an oddity, until I realized I didn’t actually mind. It’s nice to see a YA novel once in a while that doesn’t follow the formula, and we were able to get to know Kyra and Tristam a lot better individually without the overbearing pressure to thrust the two of them into a relationship right away.
The story was also in line with my thoughts on the target audience -- straightforward and suitably complex, if a bit predictable at times (there were a lot of not-too-subtle hints at Kyra’s “startling secret” about her past, for one). In spite of this, I still found this book greatly enjoyable and entertaining; the plot may not have held any unseen surprises for me, but the characters sure did. The dynamics were so intricate and layered that I never could determine which faction were the “good guys” or the “bad”, because nothing was ever so simple or black and white. In the end, I just gave up trying to put a label on anybody’s motivations and ultimately settled for rooting for Kyra. I liked her, and no matter what I knew I wanted to see things end up well for our talented young thief.
Which reminds me, if you haven’t read Poison Dance yet, I do highly recommend making the effort to pick it up first before tackling this novel. It’s not required, but it’s a short read and won’t take up much of your time. More importantly, the novella will help you see a certain character in Midnight Thief in a whole different light, and perhaps make him a lot more sympathetic in your eyes. It definitely served to enhance my experience.
If you’re looking for a good medieval era inspired YA fantasy and don’t mind a narrative that skews a tad towards younger readers, I would recommend this novel. It’s fun, adventurous, and strong on character development. (less)
Let’s face it, there’s really no such thing as a bad Dresden Files book – but some are better than others. For me, this series reached its peak round book 5 or 6. I loved Death Masks and Blood Rites, and though everything since has been very enjoyable, there are still times I get nostalgic for the days where Harry’s life was a lot simpler. Well, relatively simpler. The point is, each installment has added another layer of complexity and drama, until each book became a tangle of White Council politics, vampire mischief and Fae court shenanigans, and basically if you haven’t been following the series you wouldn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell of figuring out what’s going on if you’d only jumped on board at this point.
I understand it had to happen. Change is a good thing, especially when it comes to a long running urban fantasy series, otherwise things would get old quick. But gone are the days when we used to get fun things like cases that send Harry to a horror film festival, or like, to the set of a porno flick. After about ten books, the inevitable bloat happened. The series was in need of a reset button, or at least a way to start tying things together.
For me, Changes was that reset button. And Ghost Story and Cold Days did the tying up. These books marked an important transition for the series, one that I felt was needed and that this handful of novels achieved quite well. However, it wasn’t until Skin Game that I felt that we were finally taking the first real step in this new direction. I have not enjoyed a Dresden Files book this much in a while, and I’m convinced now that the series has regained its feet at last. Sure, we still have the White Council politics, vampire mischief, Fae Court shenanigans, and what have you, but once more we’re back to having a very tightly focused story around a single EPIC situation – it’s heist time, baby!
Ever since he took on the mantle of the Winter Knight, Harry’s life has taken some pretty dark turns. Mab still has him bent over a barrel, but that hasn’t stopped him from fighting back, looking for ways to push the limits of her authority. So when the Queen of the Winter court orders him to aid the big bad Nicodemus and his gang of fallen angels, Harry finds himself in quite a jam. The Denarians want to break into Hades’ vault and steal the Holy Grail, and Harry’s service to Mab requires him to help, but who’s to say Nicodemus will honor his bargain and keep from killing them all after the job is done? And that’s assuming the job CAN be done.
Ah, I love heist stories. It’s a bit of a niche topic in fantasy, but it gets me excited every time. And everyone knows that a good heist story needs a posse, so of course we have a wonderful cast of characters with us on this particular adventure. Some old friends come along for the ride, as well as a few new faces. Among this team of talented individuals, we have the thief Anna Valmont, the rogue warlock Hannah Ascher, the wizard mercenary Binder, a shapeshifter named Goodman Grey, and even a forest creature called a Genoskwa. And of course, Harry, Karrin Murphy, and Michael Carpenter. They are led by the nefarious Nicodemus and his daughter Deirdre. As a result, we have a good mixture of humor and easygoing camaraderie with savage, violent action. Whenever the Denarians get involved, you also know we’ll get our fair share of treachery, deceit, and unexpected twists and turns.
The other great thing about this series is the continued development of Harry’s character. He’s a far cry from the simple wizard he used to be; along with this series, his role has ballooned into epic proportions, albeit he is still very humble and self-deprecating about it. For this reason, I loved a couple of the conversations he has with Michael in this novel. For all his denials, we know Harry is special, but he’s been beating himself up over the last fifteen books and it’s time someone really put it into perspective. Jim Butcher really does a stellar job with these heart-to-heart talks.
Also, completely unrelated but just have to say this – boy, can the man can write one HELL of a sex scene. In the end, the circumstances aren’t really what you think and Harry might have to wait a little longer in the love department, but still. Wowzas.
This book was just pure fun, harkening back to the days when I could enjoy a good Harry story without having it spin out of control into half a dozen different directions. For the first time in years, I finished a Dresden Files book without feeling mentally exhausted. Finally, the next stage for this series has become fully realized right here in Skin Game, I’m hoping the trend will continue into the next book Peace Talks and beyond. (less)
I don’t DNF books. I’m sure that is in large part due to my obsessive completionist nature. I’m still trying to learn to let go, because as everyone so wisely says, life is too short for books you don’t enjoy. But I just can’t help it. And here’s what I think is another reason for my perseverance: Hope. HOPE that the book will get better, HOPE that the story will eventually pick up, HOPE that I’ll finally be able to connect with the characters. After all, it’s happened before. There’s a good handful of books in my 4 or 5 star pile including a couple on my Favorites shelf that I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of experiencing, if I’d gone with the instinct to put them down. Sometimes, my stubbornness pays off.
A lot of the times though, it doesn’t. The Forever Watch was one such book. I had high hopes for it, because even though it got off to a slow start, the ideas and world building it in were phenomenal and when the story started picking up around the 10% mark I thought to myself, “Helloooo, now we’re cooking with gas!”
But just as suddenly as things picked up, they slowed way down again. It happened again around the halfway point. And again around 75%. Every time I thought I was finally getting somewhere with this book, the story would plunge me right back into the usual meandering, aimless pace.
It was disappointing. And even more so because of the incredible foundation laid out for us in the first part of the novel. The planet Earth has died and been abandoned, so our story takes place on a generational ship called the Noah, traveling on a centuries-long journey towards Canaan, humanity’s new hope for a home. The society on the Noah is strictly regulated with highly advanced technology, with programs like forced retirements, mandatory breeding duty for women, and designated Keepers to raise children. Everyone is highly specialized for their roles on the ship, and certain individuals are gifted with powers or implants, giving them abilities like telekinesis or super strength. Every angle of this highly intriguing dystopian society felt impressively detailed and well thought out.
But even though the world building was simply amazing, The Forever Watch faltered for me in other areas. Hana Dempsey, the novel’s main character has just completed her breeding duties, waking up from a nine-months-long induced sleep. Breeders are placed in this state for the whole duration of their pregnancy and never get to see their babies, but while Hana was aware of this, what she did not expect is the secret loss she feels now, yearning for the child she would never know. At first, I thought the narrative would continue exploring this heartbreaking thread, but then it switches tack, introducing Leonard Barrens, with whom Hana has a very special relationship. A police officer running an investigation into the violent death of his mentor, Barrens turns to her for help, and just like that the matter of her baby was relegated to the background, and doesn’t come back again until much later in the book. It was a bit maddening.
Still, I can never resist a good murder mystery and a hunt for a serial killer, in this case dubbed “Mincemeat”. But The Forever Watch isn’t your usual murder mystery either, since it doesn’t have that same dramatic tension. Granted, the book had a few surprises that hooked me in, but otherwise the plot could barely hold my attention from all the scientific jargon and unnecessary exposition which was all white noise distracting me from the main story. I felt no connection to either Hana or Barrens whose personalities were as sterile and rigid as their social environment – which might have been by design, but either way it did nothing for me. Consequently, I also didn’t care much for their romantic relationship.
The Forever Watch therefore gets high marks from me for innovation and world building, but unfortunately I am not too fond of the story or its execution. There were some great moments, but they were few and far between, not enough to generate any sustained momentum. Admittedly, the revelation at the end about Mincemeat and how everything was linked together was pretty mind-blowing, but because I place so much importance on storytelling and character development, the inconsistent pacing and my ambivalence towards Hana and Barrens ultimately made me less excited about the final outcome. I think other readers may find lots to like about this book, but in the end it just wasn’t for me. (less)
I confess, I’m not very good when it comes to pulling information out of book descriptions. But all I know is, when I first heard about The Girl with All The Gifts, it piqued my interest right away. Here you have a story about a bright young girl named Melanie, who for some reason everyone seems deathly afraid of. Being held at gun-point while being strapped into a wheelchair just to go to class? Judging by level of paranoia with which she’s treated, you’d think little Melanie was Hannibal Lecter. The book jacket may be a little scarce on details, but there’s definitely something strange going on.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised me when this book turned out to be Horror, and yet it did. Finding out about the genre, however, just made me even more excited to read it. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, OH HELLO, THEY DO!
By now, I gather it’s pretty safe to explain why I had myself a personal little freak-out when it hit me just what I was in for with this story. After all, the revelation comes very early on in the novel and is hardly a spoiler, not to mention the book has been out in the UK for months now and the cat is out of the bag. But avert your eyes now if you would prefer to know absolutely ZIP about the book going in. Anyway, my excitement levels exploded when I realized that The Girl with All The Gifts…has zombies.
And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. What makes this a great zombie book – a great book, PERIOD – is the science. Ah, gotta love science. Like I always say, if you want to see some scary stuff, look no further than Mother Nature. Heck, some of the most frightening, bone-chilling things I’ve ever seen in film aren’t in horror movies, but are in those dang Planet Earth documentaries. Who could forget the “Jungles” episode and the importance of fungi as illustrated by the life cycle of Ophiocordyceps unilatertalis? Oh, the sheer horror of watching the parasite take over an ant’s brain before the fruiting body explodes out of the back of its victim’s head, all while Sir David Attenborough goes on calmly narrating in those smooth, dulcet tones. That sequence was beyond traumatizing – but also fascinating. I remember being obsessed with the idea, thinking to myself, holy crap, someone pleeeeease write a zombie book based around this!
Well, even though the video game The Last of Us might have done it first, M.R. Carey ended up granting me my wish. And he does it in such a spectacular way, wrapping this fantastic idea around a story filled with mystery, action, and lots of gut-wrenching heartbreak. The Girl with All The Gifts is everything I look for in a zombie book – tight, energetic pacing with all the savagery, suspense and tension – but it’s also so much more. For me, this book is the next step in zombie fiction, delivering on the survival and post-apocalyptic elements we all know and love, while pushing the envelope with new ideas and deep characterization.
Due to its nature, it’s not surprising that the zombie-apocalypse survival subgenre tends to feature ruthlessness and characters with hard hearts who show no pity. But seeing the themes of mercy and compassion enter into the equation here is a nice change of pace. A lot of this is due to Melanie. If you also guessed from the description that there’s something different about her character, you’d be correct. Melanie is definitely a special little girl, and she’s part of what makes this book such an exceptional, atypical zombie novel and such a joy for me to read.
Even though I can probably go on for another couple pages about why I loved this book, I really don’t want to give too much away. There are lots of surprises, including an unpredictable ending that truly stunned me. I loved this book to pieces. Haunting, powerful and poignant, The Girl with All The Gifts is a novel I would recommend highly and without reservation. (less)
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.(less)
A little bit like Lord of the Flies meets The Breakfast Club meets The Mist, Monument 14 is about a group of children holed up in a superstore after a freak hailstorm causes a chemical leak from the nearby weapons manufacturing site, leading to contamination of the whole town.
On the surface, this book seemed like it had a lot of potential. Books featuring kids in stressful, survival situations always seem more chilling and disturbing to me than books starring their adult counterparts. Children, after all, are the picture of ultimate innocence; in an ideal world we wish to protect them from all the troubles and anxieties of adulthood. Even most adults would be ill-prepared to handle a sudden disaster, so I can’t even imagine how much worse the burden of responsibility would be to a teenager. Without strong guidance and a lack of organization, it’s not surprising how quickly a group situation can devolve.
The kids in this book range from ages 5 to 17, all stranded passengers from a couple of school buses that were wrecked by the severe storm. Naturally, a hierarchy of leadership develops, with the older teens taking care of the young’uns. The dynamics are made more interesting by the differences not only in the characters’ ages, but also in their personalities, backgrounds and upbringing. Unfortunately, this does mean that almost everyone is pigeonholed into rather predictable and clichéd stereotypes. Main protagonist and narrator Dean is the “booker”, a quiet and somewhat awkward late-bloomer who has long harbored a secret love for Astrid, the popular and perfect hot girl. Astrid however is the girlfriend of Jake, the football jock. Among the high-schoolers, there’s also the bully/bad boy Brayden, the solemn and live-by-the-book Boy Scout Niko, who happens to have a thing for the kind and motherly Josie. The roles are cast, and the stage is set for some serious teenage drama.
The younger kids actually proved more intriguing and to have more well-rounded personalities. A couple of them genuinely surprised me, displaying a level of maturity and problem solving skills that even surpassed some of the teenagers’. In fact, I think one of the book’s main weaknesses is its gradual divergence from the “we’re all in this together” theme towards a greater emphasis on the relationships and soap-opera aspects of the older kids. The story was a lot more engaging at the beginning when the whole group dealt with the challenges of surviving together, addressing issues like mob mentality, who should be in charge, and how to explain the situation to the elementary children who are frightened and don’t understand why they can’t go home. Once the focus shifted to become more about “who’s crushing on whom”, the book became more typical and less special in my eyes.
While I loved the premise, another strike against this book is the whole reason why Dean and the other kids are trapped in the superstore. The explanation given – that the chemical leak is a gas causing different reactions based on the exposed victim’s blood type – is a bit weak and unconvincing. Victims with O-type blood will become mindless violent savages, while another type would break out in boils and blisters, while yet another type would experience no outward signs but may suffer infertility and reproductive difficulties, etc. Leaving aside how such an absurd model of symptoms made me want to bash my head against the wall, the theory of the chemical disaster did not feel that well thought out. It felt like the author needed a reason to put the kids in this particular jam, and seized upon the first idea to come to mind without fleshing it out, giving it more logic or detail. Perhaps that’s why the book also threw in the extreme weather and a massive disaster on the east coast, just to make the situation bigger and severe than it is.
As expected, Monument 14 also left off on a cliffhanger (these days, I’d be shocked if a YA novel didn’t). Still, it’s a strong start, with a great idea to work with, and just a tad wobbly on the execution. I haven’t decided if I want to continue with the series yet. Looks like it’ll be another short, quick read, so if the opportunity arises, I may take it. (less)
I was very excited when I first heard about Trudi Canavan’s Thief’s Magic, and doubly more so when I discovered it was going to be an introduction to a brand new universe we’ve never seen before. I’m not completely unfamiliar with the author’s work, having read The Magician’s Guild, book one of her Black Magician trilogy, but knowing that she has two series and a couple more novellas based in that world of Kyralia which I haven’t even yet come close to finishing, I was glad to have a fresh start in Millennium’s Rule.
Magic and magic users seem to feature strongly in Canavan’s books, and that’s no exception here. At the beginning of this novel we meet Tyen, a young archaeology student (though calling what he and his professor and fellow students do “Archaelogy” might be a bit of stretch…they’re more like tomb robbers) who discovers a sentient book while excavating an ancient tomb. The book can read the minds of anyone who makes physical contact, communicating through text appearing on the pages. Calling herself Vella, the book claims to have once been a sorcerer-woman, until she was transformed into her current form by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. She has been gathering and storing information through the ages ever since. Sensing bad things to come if Vella were to ever fall into the wrong hands, Tyen decides to keep her to himself for now, but as we all know, a secret this big is always bound to come out sooner or later.
Meanwhile in another world, a dyer’s daughter named Rielle harbors a secret of her own. From a young age, she has had the ability to sense magic – and hence the potential to use it. However, Rielle’s society could not be any more different from Tyen’s, where magic is used freely (and some might say TOO freely) to power their fantastical machines. Instead, the priests of Rielle’s world teach that to use magic is the equivalent to stealing from the Angels themselves. Anyone caught committing this crime is published severely then cast out from the city to live out the rest of their lives in a prison. Rielle is therefore all too happy to just keep her head down, hoping to also to do what her family wants of her and find a prospective husband. But then she meets and falls in love with a local artist named Izare, which is patently NOT what her parents had in mind. Oh, hello, Forbidden Love.
What do these two plot lines have to do with each other? Very little, actually. Reading Thief’s Magic felt essentially like reading two-books-in-one. The novel’s structure can be a little jarring if you’re not expecting it. We first start with Part I which follows Tyen’s story, and several chapters after that Part II begins with Rielle’s. The novel continues like this, alternating back and forth between their narratives. Actually getting the hang of this perspective-jumping isn’t all that difficult, but Canavan likes to tease, and she seems to have this knack for choosing the most suspenseful moments to make the switch between characters. Often, I would find myself pulled away into Rielle’s story just as I was getting completely drawn into Tyen’s, or vice versa. This format was both simultaneously addicting and frustrating, though I have to admit I kind of liked it.
When it comes down to it, I’m just completely hooked by these two characters and their respective worlds. Both Tyen and Rielle are written very well, even though occasionally their naiveté would grate on my nerves. However, their decisions – misguided as they are sometimes – always led to interesting things happening. I’m fascinated by the differences in their cultures and how each of them view magic. I love that their own personal conflicts take them on completely disparate adventures, so that the individual challenges they face differ profoundly as well. I’m especially intrigued by Rielle and her struggles in a society where unauthorized use of magic is treated as the greatest sin, where women like her have very little choice and practically no future when they are discovered to possess magical abilities.
I don’t know if Tyen and Rielle’s paths will ever cross, though something tells me that they will – but that particularly story is not for this book to tell. At this point, I feel I’ve been given enough information to formulate a tenuous theory on how the two characters’ worlds are linked, but for the most part we don’t get too many answers on that front. I really enjoyed following both story lines, but if you’re the kind of reader who prefers self-contained story arcs or at least some closure at the end of a novel, you won’t really find it here. It’s a factor to think about, though I already know I will be picking up the next book in spite of it. Thief’s Magic may have all the hallmarks of a “Book One”, but Canavan has crafted a very fine beginning (technically, TWO very fine beginnings) and I want to find out what happens to both Tyen and Rielle. (less)