A set of five entertaining, but wildly disparate short stories, Fourth Degree Freedom is a fun, short fRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
A set of five entertaining, but wildly disparate short stories, Fourth Degree Freedom is a fun, short foray into the literary talents of Libby Heily. I know Libby, we're blogger friends, but I try to be unbiased with anything I review - and this delightful twenty-five page work is more than worth reading. It's short, easy and quite engrossing to read and full of imagination.
Five different stories, ranging from the dystopic-feeling The Event to the fantasyish/paranormal-esque eponymous Fourth Degree Freedom, each were entirely fresh with a unique voice and feel. All were well-written, plotted, paced; I must admit I wished for more length with She Floats and The Event because they each had so intriguing a premise. The short story The Event in which the government sanctions a hunt for the elderly people by the young is one of the more creative avenues I've seen for a dystopic idea. It's both a chilling, and an interesting novella; my favorite of the collection.
My second favorite, and a close tie for absolute favoite, was Fourth Degree Freedom. I LOVED this story, and this idea. Essentially, radiation in the atmosphere has caused "30% of births" to be stricken with some degree of monstrosity. Pepper and Leah have a son, David, a monster of the fourth degree. This was the story I contemplated most of the five; in a world full of monsters, it is the parents in this story that seem the most monstrous.
The other three I've not waxed on specifically about (Thank You for Calling, The Last Six Miles, She Floats) are all unique and different tales. From a woman struggling to find hope and a better life to a woman determined to save her own life, each successive offers a glimpse into the very creative and fun mind of the author. ...more
This quickly shot to the top of this series for me. The fourth installment in this quick and easy, funRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
This quickly shot to the top of this series for me. The fourth installment in this quick and easy, fun and sexy series is by far the longest (despite fluctuating page counts, The Champion had the largest word count of all four novels), and most developed addition. In addition, this most recent novel actually takes place outside the established realm of New Europa's lands and waters; instead the action takes place in the heart of the enemy's desert. Jacob Kessler, the eponymous champion, is "the wrath of the most powerful King in the known world", King Edward XXII, is sent to the enemy's lands to assassinate the Sultan for the attack on the island of Kiris during the course of The Aviator. Discovering that all is not as it seems within the Sultanate of Ruman, Jacob is in for a hell of a surprise during the course of his all-important mission.
Unbeknownst to our hero Jacob, the dread Sultan Osman, a paranoid and hateful man, has been dead for years. Instead the part has been played cleverly by a concubine, a slave scared for her life named Nadira. One thing I like about this author so well is that she consistently places independent, strong female characters in positions of power or influence (Jia and her entire tribe from The Admiral, Gilda is the owner of a powerful corporation in The Aviator, etc.) Nadira, though very different from any character before, is an intelligent, determined and relatable protagonist. And I have to say, that was one plot twist I did not anticipate at all for this book. I rooted for Nadira the instant her backstory was revealed; she sold as a child to slavers from the open desert but refused to lose her spirit and fire. Nadira does not encompass many of the ideals one would expect from "an enemy" of New Europa; instead she is the most forward-thinking Sultan ever, and thus beloved by the entire kingdom.
Jacob, though not my utmost favorite, runs Tristan Satorin a close second for my favor. Jacob's a nicely conflicted man, with a compelling and interesting history. He's clearly dangerous and capable of great violence, but it is his humanity that draws me to him as a character. The interesting paradox of an assassin paired with the sensitivity of a lover, he draws attention whenever he appears. He's willing to stand up for what he believes in and loves (to the Duke of Sutton from The Aviator, no less!) at the detriment of himself. He's also pretty sexy - I'd have to rate his and Nadira's long-anticipated copulation and Nathan Lanchard/Gilda as having the hottest sex scenes so far this series.
The fantastic uptempo pacing, the action-packed scenes, the volatile chemistry between Jacob and Nadira all serve to keep one's eyes glued to the action, with pages flying by. There is an nice blend between the genres: it's not too steampunk-y (in fact I'd say that element of the story figured the least in this installment), and it's not too caught up in the romance and sex. I can truly appreciate the longer length; it allows for a fuller storyline and more depth/feeling for the characters involved. The setting, especially, flowers under the extra attention and truly came to life for the first time for me. I was also much more emotionally invested in the love of the two main characters; their romance was written particularly effectively and well. My favorite so far, with the happy mentions of previous players in this world (Ian Anderson has a pivotal role, as does the madcap Gilda Sinclair) I enjoyed this immensely. At only $.99 how can you pass this up?!...more
The Cousins' War series continues with the story of Elizabeth of York - granddaughter to Jacquetta Woodville, narrator of Lady of the Rivers (book three in the series), daughter of the protagonist from The White Queen (book one), daughter-in-law to the main character of The Red Queen (book two), and niece to Anne Neville, the focus of The Kingmaker's Daughter (which is book four). Though the series is not completely told in chronological order (which would consist of The Lady of the Rivers as the first, not third, entry), Gregory makes it easy to pick up Elizabeth's story and connect it to what has gone on in the novels that preceded her story.
Gregory is at her best when she writes adult historical fiction, and The White Princess is a strong, if repetitive and slowly-progressing, addition to her long-running series on what was then called the Cousins' War and is now termed The War of the Roses. Following Elizabeth from 1485 when she was the not-so-secret lover to the last Plantagenet King (and her uncle) Richard III to 1499 and the execution of her nephew by her Tudor husband, this detailed historical fiction fleshes out her character moderately well. It's a long book, and while some areas do drag in pace, Gregory gives voice to a woman who is long overlooked in favor of both her lover and then her husband. First person has been hit or miss for this author in the past, but she acquits herself well with the voice and narration of Elizabeth.
Those familiar with Gregory's style will find much the same to offer here in The White Princess. This is an author that knows what works for her, and sticks with it. There's no POV switching or too much subtlety, but there is minute detail and description that works well to foster atmosphere and a real sense of place for the audience. It's an interesting book, but it can be rather dry and slow-going, especially when it takes the author a bit of time to really get the plot moving a long and the characters interacting with one another in meangingful situations. Characters from the other novels play pivotal roles, especially the mothers of both Elizabeth and Henry, so while reading the prior novels isn't required, doing so would prove helpful in order to keep who is who and who wants what and who is against who, etc. straight.
Elizabeth, as the narrator and most defined character, is one of the better aspects to the novel. Her life is a complicated one due to her torn loyalties amongst the factions at her new husband's recently established court. England under Henry Tudor's nascent reign is a snarl of loyalties, families, alliances and betrayal; one that Elizabeth must navigate to help her family survive as losers in the winner's Court. She undergoes a constant tug-of-war between loyalty to the house of her husband and child and that of the house of her father and former lover. Though her relationship with her husband begins roughly (he killed her love, he rapes her to create Arthur), it grows into companionable friendship and creates real struggle for her as her own mother foments rebellion and plots to put another in Henry VII's place.
The White Princess can take turns into harsh territory, especially in regards to the treatment of women. Notably the first interactions between the future King and Queen can be hard to read. Henry, and his formidable mother, are shown in less than flattering light when first shown. It can be hard to grow to like him after the way he mistreats his intended, but Gregory succeeds in eventually portraying him as more than he appeared. Constantly wracked by suspicion and fear, her Henry VII is a complex and unpredictable man. You may not like him as a character, but you cannot deny that he is more than a one-dimensional character. Where she might lack in suspense and plotting, Gregory has proven her characterization is top-notch and lends well to creating interesting, well-defined versions of historical personages.
This is a series that just continues to grow. The White Princess ends with 10 years left in the reign of the fist Tudor king, and with a sixth book due out (The Last Rose), Gregory's novelization of the War of the Roses will continue - likely from another character's point of view. Fans of this author will find more to enjoy with her latest effort, and it stands as a rather solid entry in her bibliography. With a Starz tv show centered around this series, I only expect it to find a wider audience in the future, and have faith that the author can keep up at the same level....more
Excuse me if I am extremely a little fangirly right now. I just finished this whirlwind novel of adventRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Excuse me if I am extremely a little fangirly right now. I just finished this whirlwind novel of adventure, humor and mystery just minutes ago, and friends, I am impressed. And in dire need of a reread, just for fun. And, now, I am a stalwart fan of both India Black and the author behind this highly creative and immensely fun novel, Carol K. Carr. Reading this was easy, entertaining, and so very fun; this is one of those novels that grabs you from the very first page and never really lets go. Another of my done-in-one-sitting reads, India Black has set a high standard for the rest of the novels that will follow in this promising series from a talented author. I admit that I am not one for historical mysteries all that often - I usually stay more on the straight historical fiction side of the genre - but I will willingly make exceptions for any and all further India Black novels to come.
In such a fast-paced novel, with adventures and turnabouts and surprise revelations and secret pasts every other chapter, it is main character India that really makes the novel something really quite special. I truly enjoyed the fleshed-out secondary characters (French and Vincent are both, quite disparately charming fellows) and antagonists, but India is what makes this one of my best-of-2012 novels easily. India is a madam, among many, many other attributes (and vices). Skilled in multiple fields (I do enjoy a girl who can shoot a gun/defend herself/use her wits) and India does each and every one of those multiple times. She is the equal of her unofficial government counterpart, and her charm and humor had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. Smart, cunning and opportunistic, India is a fully-formed, distinct character, and one I related to quite easily - despite our very different backgrounds and attitudes. She bursts forth from the page with her witty comebacks and her handy way around a weapon. She is resourceful and wonderfully three-dimensional with her frank honesty, forthright attitudes - a heroine to remember in a sea of forgettable leads.
India is nicely complemented by her comrades-in-arms, the mysterious and charming French and the street urchin of questionable but useful talents, Vincent. The verbal and occasional real sparring between India and French is another highlight to this well-rounded novel. So often during my experience, I was tempted to update my status on GoodReads with a bon mot or a choice comment from either droll character. Their chemistry is palpable, their interactions full of authenticity, and though this is far from a romance novel, the attraction between the opposites works really well to add an extra layer of tension to a novel already brimming with it. French is a charismatic character, and one that kept me intrigued and very attentive through this all-too-short read of just under 300 pages. Not as open as India about his life, or even his name! - which is to be expected as she narrates the novel, often breaking the fourth wall to address her readers - but is still one that manages to hold his own against the formidable and crafty madam. Vincent adds a certain charm, if his role as a street smart urchin in a Victorian novel is somewhat formulaic, he does add to the novel another easily likeable and distinct character.
This is a mystery, but midway through the novel, that premise is readily concluded and then it's a madcap race of adventure through England and various hostage situations in a race against the agents of the tsar of Russia. India Black is by turns amusing, exciting, hilarious, and always full of constant surprises and upheavals. It's light and fun read and I can't stress enough how good of a time I had with this novel, from start to end. India Black is well worth a try if a feisty protagonist with a brain is high and a unique way around a retort are on your list of favorites. All the rest is an added bonus to a convoluted plot, populated with such vibrant characters.
(A copy of the novel was generously sent to me by the author to review. This in no way influenced my opinion. Because seriously: THIS BOOK IS AWESOME.)...more
India Black returns for a second outing - true to form, and full of the same humor and witRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
4.25 out of 5
India Black returns for a second outing - true to form, and full of the same humor and wit that made her so memorable and damned fun in the first novel. While I found this second in the series to be just slightly below the level of the first, India Black and the Widow of Windsor is still a highly entertaining, genuinely fun, and interesting new historical mystery. Here in round number two as a madam of espionage, India must once again go under covers (but not under the covers!damn and blast) with the charming but mysterious French as her ally in a fight to save the English Queen from angry, violent Scottish nationals. Full of the same voice, tone, and adventure as the first book in the seriers, fans from the original novel will find more of the same to love in this romp from talented author Carol K. Carr.
A strong followup to a wonderful first escapade, India Black and the Widow of Windsor is more focused on the mystery aspect of the plot, rather than the sheer adventure that took over the latter part of the first novel. While not a detriment to the novel as a whole, as the mystery is strongly constructed, hard to suss out, and full of red herrings to keep readers guessing, I missed the sheer audacity of the turns of events from the first novel. India lost none of her charm in the journey from book one to two, and her attempts to ferret out a spy within the castle of Balmoral are just as fun and witty as I had come to expect from the madam of many talents. My friend Audra compares her to a Victorian Bond Girl, and that is so appropriate it's ridiculous. Just as suave, if not as subtle, India is a joy to read during her travails to save Queen, Country, but herself above all. The plot may edge on the goofy side of things occasionally, but India herself is again the star of the show and with help from her alluring foil French, keeps India Black and the Widow of Windsor from falling victim to uneven sequel syndrome.
New, laugh-out-loud characters, old familiar faces, new villains and motives help to round out the 300+ novel with ease. I obviously could always do with more French on the page, but the new additions melded well with the frame and plot created for this. Like the first, though this is obviously India's vehicle, the secondary and tertiary characters are more than able to hold their own. I found the antagonists harder to suss out than in the first; I loved the interactions between India and the Marchioness; I loved the mentions of Disreali, the Queen, John Brown, etc. Weaving factual figures with such vivacity is one of Carr's many adept turns as the author of this inimitable series. The characters were and continue to be one of the many standouts of these books, and I love that each new novel has revealed more (if not much!) about the principal players.
India Black and the Widow of Windsor is a fine follow-up to its predecessor, if not quiiiite as much of an off-the-walls madcap adventure. Like before, the characters, the mystery, the adventures are top notch and finely tuned making for a fast, breezy read full of wit and humor. The wait for the e-short and the third book will surely kill me. India Black is not a heroine to forget and her most recent adventure with companions French and Vincent left often much about each character, all the while teasing with ever more hints about the pasts/presents? of the two very compatible adults. Not one to dole out immediate answers, Carol K. Carr sure knows how to dangle a hook and catch readers in her vivid imaginations and nuanced characters. I for one can't wait to see what else we learn about this daring duo in the forthcoming India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy. I can only hope it's as excellent as the first two so wonderfully crafted by this lawyer-turned-author. ...more
This is the type of book I am constantly looking for in the historical fiction genre, and rarely seem tRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
This is the type of book I am constantly looking for in the historical fiction genre, and rarely seem to stumble across; it's very engaging from the outset, it's lively to read with actualized characters in stead of cardboard historical cutouts, and it's mostly, somewhat accurate. Sophie Perinot may indeed be a first-time author, but you certainly wouldn't know that from reading her debut novel. The Sister Queens tells the captivating and contrasting stories of two proud sisters from Savoy and I was never bored reading about these two fascinating and strong women. This novel is an impressive and lengthy addition to the Tudor-heavy historical fiction genre, and miraculously, one that despite its nearly 530 page length, never bores. I personally read a lot of Tudor-era historical fiction, but this was just the right palate cleanser for all the Howards, Boleyns and Stuarts I usually see re-imagined. Thus, I may not have known as much about or been as familiar with the facts and history of the times the novel takes place during (1234-1255) going into this, but the characters were so vivid and alive that I felt compelled to research the actual personages upon finishing. Ms. Perinot's creation is indelibly her own, but I appreciate the factually-influenced way she presented both her story and her characters.
Marguerite and Eleanor are both sisters and, eventually, Queens, but it is the first bond more than anything that defines them the most. They are each others touchstone, especially once they are separated with Marguerite in France and Eleanor in England. Especially since each country viewed their foreign "Savoyard" Queens as less than appealing, their dependent relationship with the other is realistic and sympathetic. The Sister Queens interjects epistolary (fabricated) letters between the two before every chapter and each missive between the two reinforces just how close these women remained, though separated by years, wars, religion, distance. The POV shifts back and forth between the two, usually at the chapter breaks. While this could've been easily confusing, the "voices" of each respective Queen is very distinctive and identifiable. I didn't even really notice the use of present-tense for the first few chapters: I just felt that everything in the novel very immediate, in a good way. I could tell when I was reading Eleanor and when I was reading Marguerite before names/places popped up in their thoughts. The relationship between Marguerite and Eleanor, proud daughters of Savoy is the most compelling and emotional of the entire novel: unlike the relationships with their respective husbands, the relationship between the pair is as close to equals as the two can find in their lives. Their is an obvious amount of love between the two, but Perinot early on creatively slides in subtle hints of discord and strife that mar every sisterhood and that will eventually come to affect their bond.
Eleanor is the younger, covetous and more strident of the two, and my personal favorite of the novel. She is a woman very concerned with "fairness" and what's right, at least what's right according to her - character traits that will cause her unforeseen problems with both her husband and sister later in life. While I liked the personal evolution that both women undertake during the events of the book, I felt that Eleanor was more personally identifiable for me as a reader. Marguerite, especially as her marriage and happiness in that marriage, waned was more trouble for me to invest within. Perinot's deft foreshadowing on the troublesome piety of Louis IX sets the scene for Marguerite's woes early, but I only cared when she finally took some happiness for herself, rather than sit and pine and wait for her husband to extend some to her. Eleanor grows from an imperious, headstrong girl mostly concerned with what she possesses and controls into a gracious, intelligent queen that is both capable of reigning solely (unheard of at that time in history) and tampering her less-able King and husband's governing impulses. While neither husband-King of either sister could be rightly termed a "good" king (Henry is very ignorant of the feelings of the populace/Barons that control his country, Louis IX abandons his France for the Holy Land for SEVEN YEARS), both women show their ability to step up and make hard decisions when the menfolk can't seem to get the job done right.
While Eleanor was my self-professed favorite character, I do love a good villain. Blanche of Castile comprises that role for the bulk of the novel for Marguerite, and the "Dragon of Castile" made a malicious and well-mannered antagonist. The tête-à-têtes between Blanche and her daughter-in-law show a different side to the usually meek and accepting Marguerite; the first hints of future independence are shown clearly in her lack of deference to the dowager Queen. While later duties of antagonism were ably handled by her bumbling and ascetic son, Blanche commands attention even when not on the page. Her tussles with her daughter in love over her son/Marguerite's husband illustrate perfectly how alone and powerless Marguerite was in France. Not for her was her sister Eleanor's life of mutual love and respect, which itself was far from typical of the Royal couples of the day. Because of Blanche, Marguerite is a nonentity at the court of which she is Queen. This disparate use of power and control contrasts tidily with the life of Eleanor who schemes and manipulates her own court outright. The difference between the sisters is that Eleanor makes things happen, whereas (view spoiler)[until Jean (hide spoiler)] Marguerite is content to sit and wait for things to fall her way
One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Sister Queens is that no matter how convoluted the relationship, how twisted the tale, how unfamiliar the person at Court, Sophie Perinot never talks down to her readers. The tone of condescion from other historical fiction writers is absent entirely from these pages. Events are explained precisely and meticulously, nobles are referred to by their various names without reference to their every title or land (no "Lord Edward Sudbury, 2nd Earl of Westchester-on-the-Green, a Stuart and son of Lord......" type business before a character speaks/etc,) with a clear belief and respect that her readers can ably follow along.
I do wish that more had been shown of Eleanor's "toute seule" reign over England while her husband King Henry III was away. As Eleanor was my favorite and a very capable governor, a view of her directly in charge would've made a good contrast to the usual role she was forced to take. Elanor repeatedly maneuvers her husband into the Royal decisions and decrees which she deems correct before the regency, so a view into her own government would've been interesting to read. I'm also disappointed by the time that the novels ends at - 1255 - when both women have decades of still-tumultuous life ahead of them (Marguerite dies in 1295, Eleanor in 1291). I can't complain about the cut-off point too much or loudly because there is a lot of novel in what is provided (all 500 pages of Court intrigue, betrayals, war, love, uprisings) but I just want more. I want more about these two and their complicated, engrossing relationship from this author specifically.
With her debut novel, Sophie Perinot brings to life, once again, two fascinating woman about whom not much is concretely known. Perinot's Eleanor and Marguerite are not just historical figures reimagined and operating upon the page: they are vibrant, strong, flawed and above all: fascinating and refreshing to read for the entire 528 page length of the book. This is a book that makes me want to read more in the same vein: I've pre-ordered another novel just because it focuses on the four daughters of Savoy who would all marry Kings. This is a book that makes me want another from the author immediately. This is a book that I would love to see spun into a sequel completing the years of the lives of the two main characters. This was a wonderful read and one of my favorites so far this year. Move over Tudors, I think I have a new historical royal family obsession.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It's easily apparent from the very start of this deceptively good novel that Ironskin is a story looselRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
It's easily apparent from the very start of this deceptively good novel that Ironskin is a story loosely based on Charlotte Brontë's beloved classic Jane Eyre. Fortunately for me, I have never read the original, and that's one of the reasons I think I was free to enjoy this supernaturalized version as much as I did. I had no predispositions or favorites or even opinions going in - Connolly was free to do whatever she wanted with any of the characters, or with the plot, and it all worked out amazingly for me. Ironskin was a creative outlet of steam (really more fey-)punk, that managed to be both entertaining, and full of surprises. A few twists were expected, but Tina Connolly managed to pull the rug out from under my feet more than once before this short-ish novel was over. With a solidly built world, and a strong protagonist who changes and develops as the pages progress, I found a lot to recommend about this novel.
A debut novel, Ironskin comes loaded with great characters, a compelling storyline, and with a unique, new interpretation of steampunk. The ideas and fey-punk (bluepacks, etc.) that Connolly has envisioned for her alternate world of fey, dwarvven, and more work well for the frame of the plot, but are not truly steampunk. There's more of a supernatural feel to Ironskin as well - from Rochart to his daughter, magic is alive and unwell at Silver Birch. Despite its clear homages to Jane Eyre that even a reader almost wholly unfamiliar with that story could pick out, this is a fantasy tale obviously flavored with Connolly's original spin on the Victorian genre of literature. The well-handled themes of love, betrayal, acceptance, and atonement are subtly interwoven into the storyline of protagonist and governess Jane's attempts to reconcile a fey-talented child into a fey-hating world.
The characters took a bit longer to gel than the rest of the novel. I was easily enraptured by Connolly's lovely and often very visual writing to the benefit of the atmosphere, but her characters were a different story. With a slower-paced novel like this one, it's more difficult to get a grip on personalities, ambitions, and more. Jane, for the fiirst hundred or so pages, can be hard to empathize with, or relate to. She wasn't as astute as could be hoped for, but in the end, her journey to self-realization makes up for it. Thankfully with this author and engaging novel, the time spent building Jane, Dorie, and Rochart into distinct beings all payout in the end. The romance between the two adults is many things: expected, tumultuous, well-handled, and slow-building. No headlong rush into instalove here! The conflicts and complications that frequently spring up between Rochart and his damaged employee are part and parcel to the up-and-down relationship the two endure as they struggle to trust one another and protect Dorie. There isn't a ton of chemistry between the two for the first 200 pages, but Connolly manages to rectify that in time with some chance meetings and subtle conversations to build their relationship into something more believable than it started out as.
With the Gothic edge one would expect of something based on a Brontë sisters work, the world and technology of Ironskin is one of the most alluring concepts; both interesting and creepy. The unsettling setting, the unknown details of Jane's life at Silver Birch, the tension between the ironskins and the rest of the populace and more make for an encompassing, suspense-filled atmosphere. Ironskin is a well-written novel where the slightly creepy ambiance is as much of a part of the novel as the plot itself or the characters that grow from outlines into fully fleshed and three-dimensional people. The world, full of history and war and curses is a complex and imaginative more. Connolly is thankfully one of those few authors that don't inundate their audience with all the details immediately in an infodump, but one that parses out small, pertinent pieces of information slowly as the novel progresses along, creating an informative, large worldview of the time and place Jane lives in.
Ambitious and impressive, Ironskin wraps up the main plotline/mystery neatly and succinctly in those 302 pages. With a few open-ended plotlines obviously leading up the next book in this series, Connolly is a writer who knows how to hook her readers. I certainly eagerly awaiting to see what new struggles and battles Jane will encounter as well as gaining more knowledge about the Great War that lead up to the current conflict. With a strong ending, an intriguing and original interpretation of a beloved classic, realistic characters with human (and otherwise..) flaws, and mysteries a plenty, Ironskin is a rewarding and fun read.
Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing me with an ARC for the book tour!...more
Another solidly impressive journey into the life of Marie Antoinette, Grey again proves, with her second novel in a planned trilogy, that she is a skilled writer, able to evoke time, place, and characters with equal vivacity. Beginning two weeks after the first novel, Becoming Marie Antoinette, ended, Grey immediately relaunches herself and the reader into an opulent, turbulent world with her title character more prominent than ever in French society. In this detailed, rich novel, full of eye-popping descriptions of everything from le Petite Trianon to the poufs that adorn Marie's head, both the narrative and the letters from the Queen to her family at home in Austria all serve to form a comprehensive picture of life in Louis XIV's France. Formerly the Dauphine, transitioning now into the role of the Queen of France, Marie finds herself with prestige, but little actual power. Iconic, but politically impotent, bereft of the love and attention she desperately craves, Grey provides ample reasons (that actually work!) for the reasons behind the monarch's spendthrift ways. Much like the evolution she underwent in the first book, this well-rendered version of Marie Antoinette is far from stagnant, but makes choices, for good or ill, that will drastically affect the people and country she governs.
The Marie so carefully cultivated by the author is much more than the villianess that most of history remembers her as. Spoiled, yes. A glutton for fine things? Yes. But evil, intent on harming the common folk and abusing them? No. The vivid woman shown here in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is a more mature, more intelligent version of the girl she used to be and Grey takes care to paint her protagonist as realistically as possible. For all that Queen Marie is remembered and vilified as a one-sided caricature of vice, selfishness, and greed, Grey shows a multitude of other facets of her personality. Kind, lonely, funny, maternal, the author is deft in her portrayal in all the facets of this fascinating woman from the good to the bad. Her Marie Antoinette is always not wholly sympathetic ("For what is money, with happiness at stake?"), but she is often understandable in her opinions and attitudes. With her well-meaning but often oblivious husband Louis balancing an already-taxed treasury with the wants, demands, and rights of the people he rules by divine right, Marie and her coterie of noble ladies find themselves skewered by cartoonists, and resented for the life of grand palaces and sumptuous gowns they use once and discard, despite the Queen's good intentions.
Louis plays a larger role in the second novel than he did in the first; the King is much more directly involved with the plotline of this novel than the previous. More peripheral in the introduction of the series, here in part two, now, married and reigning as King, this Louis indulges his wife's flights of fancy, and spending as a concession to make up for the lack of intimacy and input he offers her in their private life. With the Queens of France traditionally have prestige but no real governing power, Louis is very Gallic and rigid in his role, a devoted adherent to the traditions his wife so dislikes. Louis is a good foil for his spendthrift femme; often shown trying to reign in the out-of-control treasury, his royal brother's profligate attitudes about women and coin, to little or no avail. He is not developed as Marie, but he is shown in realistic views - and Grey even tries to rectify his reasons for a lack of a royal heir (for seven years after marriage!) with a possible, plausible medical condition. His (unknown?) rival for Marie's affections in the Swedish Count of Axel von Fersen adds even more intensity and tension to a novel thick with conflict. Though there is a love-triangle of sorts in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, Juliet Grey is able to pull it off with aplomb, without making it halt the plot's momentum or the characters involved tiresome. Each man appeals to a different side of the complicated Queen, and though she may be more her father's daughter than she thought to be, Marie's attractions to both came off as authentic - as did her actions.
For the most part, I thought that first-person POV was an excellent choice to showcase the plot and varied characters of this story. It allows for a closer view of Marie and how she works internally, and reading Marie's well-intentioned inner monologue helps to firmly create the three-dimensional version of the character. It is easy for feel for the entitled Queen, even as she haplessly carries herself and her friends toward a grisly end. With factions all around her vying for favor (Polignac vs. Lamballe, etc) even among her dearest friends, Marie Antoinette is a commodity, a property, to be used and controlled for position, power, and money. Her narration helps humanize her and separate this version from the historical, as even her own family-in-law undermines her with the people. The only places the narrative stumbled for me were the thankfully rare occasions that abruptly jumped to third-person narration - like Emperor Joseph's meeting with du Barry, or Jeanne de Lamotte's cunning deception of the Grand Almoner, Rohan. A nice flow, and even pacing across long periods of time, coincide with the well-chosen point-of-view, and all add up to a thoroughly enjoyable, eminently readable historical fiction novel.
Juliet Grey ably paints a vivid, frenzied look at Marie's troubled, occasionally vapid existence of self-interest and whim. Between the constraint of etiquette steeped in outlandish traditions and little privacy that she found so oppressive, and Marie's subsequent alienation of certain powerful nobles, and with the French-monarchy-supported American Revolution giving the French people new ideas, wants and seeding deep doubts about the right of divine rule, the foreshadowing is subtly woven into the novel and reminds readers of the royal family's ultimate fate while still leaving them wanting more. A fully realized scenario of the French country and economy as it stood in Louis XIV's reign, the atmosphere of Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow grows ever bleaker and more ominous with her chapter. It's a hard to put down book, but one that is easy to involve yourself with the goings-on even as that fateful day in October looms ever closer.
Juliet Grey delivers a solid, engrossing, completely entertaining sequel. One that is filled with fleshed-out versions of the historical personages known so well, even into the modern age. Not mere stereotypes or villains, but real, plausible renderings of people who have left a mark on history. What Becoming Marie Antoinette started, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow ably continues - a tradition of well-written, thoroughly detailed, engrossing historical fiction novels centered on one of the most interesting times and people in history. I personally cannot wait to see how this talented author will chose to recreate the last years of Marie Antoinette's life, and the fall of the Bourbon dynasty to the French Revolution with the trilogy's conclusion, The Last October Sky. ...more
I liked this way more than anticipated. Both Edie and this book won't be for everyone, but for me, it was all that Premediated failed to be and more.I liked this way more than anticipated. Both Edie and this book won't be for everyone, but for me, it was all that Premediated failed to be and more. Creepy, different, subversive. More, please....more
Decent, if not the most logical book I've ever read. Stalls a bit in the midsection, but concludes with a solid finale. I am kinda "ehhhh" about thisDecent, if not the most logical book I've ever read. Stalls a bit in the midsection, but concludes with a solid finale. I am kinda "ehhhh" about this novel - I will have to think on it a few days before I render a final verdict and review....more
#1. Do you like strong, flawed and inherent compelling female narrators?
#2. Do you enjoy reading new twists and interpretations of old fairytales?
#3. Does historical fiction with excellent place-as-character (for both Versailles and Venice) appeal to your reading tastes?
#4. Do you like a little magic subtly interwoven into your historical fiction?
#5. Have you read and enjoyed similar books like Kill Me Softly, Strands of Bronze and Gold, or The Brides of Rollrock Island?
#6. Are you attracted to novels with romance, but ones that don't focus solely on the love connections of the main characters?
#7. Are you constantly looking for a novel with length that will keep you engaged and curious from start to end?
#8. Has it been a while since you've had the chance to read a fresh and original story?
If you answered yes to the above questions - and really, I can't imagine why you would say no - then Bitter Greens is a book for you. An interesting and unique mashup of fairytale lore, court politics, and thwarted love, this captivating and darkly fascinating look at three intriguing and multi-faceted women is unlike any other book I've come across. I put it down when I reluctantly finished, and I immediately wanted to start it all over again; to spend more time in this world, and with these distinctive characters. This is an author with talent, and one that can clearly and easily spin an engrossing and compulsively readable story. This is my first Kate Forsyth novel, but you can bet it will not be my last.
Without hesitation, Kate Forsyth's newest novel is my favorite novel of 2013. It may be only March, but with 60 books under my belt, this was far and away the standout of the group. It's beautiful, sad, creative and compelling. Bitter Greens is so much more than just a simple, historical fiction retelling of Rapunzel's well-known and often-told fairytale. It's a story about love and power, about destiny and desire, and about what lengths a woman will go to to fight for her love, and to find her freedom. With her three capable main narrators, either in first person or third, Kate Forsyth brings this novel, these characters and the various locations to life. A vibrant read on all counts, Bitter Greens is sprawling, ambitious and impressive. It more than succeeds where it tries for something different and manages to breathe some fresh air into historical fiction.
All three women the novel focuses on in turn have passion, determination, and talent. Their lives are complex, and their characterization three-dimensional - not even neglecting the villain/anti-hero of the piece. Though their lives span different eras and troubles, there are parallels between the stories of all three. Each want something they cannot have; one thirsts for perfection and power, one for love and an independent life, and one for family and freedom. But despite their various wishes, each story meshes well with her compatriots. For each, life is full of unexpected twists and surprises - and those, usually out of their control. One is doomed by the choices of her parents; another by the capriciousness of a spoiled King; and another by the harsh retribution of a vicious nobleman. In each disparate arc, the loves and lives desired by Charlotte/Margherita/Selena are lost in favor of power, revenge, or dark magic. I couldn't pick a favorite from the three of them - all of them are compelling and interesting, and all of their stories demand attention.
The court of Versailles and the water-world of Venice are the most described locations (the homes of Charlotte and Margherita respectively), and they are exquisitely well-rendered. Set in the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King, for Charlotte's tale, Versailles, and occasionally Paris, create the perfect backdrops for her story of religious, romantic and independence struggles. Romantic, oppressive, and opulent, Charlotte's frustrated endeavors to control her own life in the time of a divine despot provide a nice dichotomy to the supreme will Louis exerted over his people, and his court in particular. Venice is another supremely romantic city, and one that lends itself well to the beautiful but deceptive stories of the other two characters. There is more than meets the eye to the tales of these characters, as the settings chosen more than illustrate.
Clocking in at a respectable five hundred pages, Bitter Greens has some heft to it. Thankfully, Forsyth has the capability to keep interest high and the pace moving along. I was never bored, and I never wanted to put the novel down once I had cracked the cover. This is a book I finished in one day, though I kept trying to extend the time I spent with it. I would put it down, only to mull over the plotlines in my head until I had to pick it back up again to see where Kate Forsyth was going to take her characters. There were a couple twists that came into play later in the story, and though I called one, the other was a genuine and believable surprise.
Sadly, this seems to be a rather hard novel to get a hold of. So far, I've only found available copies for sale on FishPond - no listings on Barnes and Noble or Amazon. However, if there was a book worth that steep $30 price, this is it. If more copies become available, I plan to do a giveaway. But you can rest assured my own copy is never leaving my house. I'll need it for the several rereads I plan to do in the near future....more
Full disclosure: I am GoodReads/Twitter friends with Victoria and she sent me this novel in exchange foRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Full disclosure: I am GoodReads/Twitter friends with Victoria and she sent me this novel in exchange for a review. However much I like her (and that is very much!), this did not affect my impression of the novel nor my review for it.
Witchstruck is the addicting and fast-paced tale of Meg Lytton, a burgeoning witch of substantial ability during one of the worst times and places to be such a one -- 1554 England, under the super Catholic reign of Queen Mary I. A lively jaunt into an alternate history of Old Blighty, complete with several famous historical characters and cameos (John Dee! Philip of Spain!), this first-in-a-series and detailed read is sure to sate the appetites of Tudorphiles of all ages. Fans looking for a new, fresh spin on a favorite era have no further to look than this "magick" infused offering from Victoria Lamb. Supernatural historical fiction is fast emerging as a favorite genre of mine, and this one particularly will be very memorable long after I've read more.
There's a lot to love in these nearly 370 pages of magick, witchfinders, *really* forbidden love, and betrayal. Protagonist and narrator Meg is one of those things. She is a great main character from the get-go; her presentation is nicely developed and well rounded throughout the duration of the novel. Meg grows, learns, and her characterization is deftly handled. This is a girl who manages to be smart, fallible, realistic, and proactive. Meg may stumble and make (big! calamitous!) mistakes, but one thing you cannot accuse this headstrong witch of being is passive. I love a heroine who can (and like here) does rescue herself, and Meg is frequently the hero of the novel.
I love when historical fiction authors aren't afraid to mix things up and bring new ideas to the fore. Count Victoria Lamb among those not afraid to veer off the beaten path. Not only is there a moderate magic aspect to Witchstruck, other areas are just as unique, and engaging, as well. I've read very few Tudor-set novels that have a non-English (Irish/Scottish don't count!) love interest, but this is one of them! While I do think that Alejandro (a Spanish priest-in-training no less!) and Meg's connection felt a bit premature and rushed the first quarter, each character grows quite naturally into their very forbidden and illicit attraction to one another. I appreciate how sparingly the romance aspect is used in the novel - it's clear plot point between Meg and Alejandro, but it doesn't choke or overwhelm up the real storyline of the novel in unwanted angst and melodrama.
Alejandro, Meg, and especially Elizabeth, the future Queen, in her not-often-enough appearances, all spring to life under Lamb's talented pen. These are well-rendered versions of historical and fictional characters, ones that made me care about them and invest in their story early on. A diverse and distinctive cast are one of the best things about Witchstruck, the fast pacing, the unforeseen twists and turns -- all add up to a very readable and very engrossing novel. I did feel that certain ideas and phrases were a bit repetitive, but Victoria Lamb moves her plot forward quickly, with a dab hand for evoking a realistic, easily-imagined setting for her characters to inhabit.
This was one novel that I wished was even longer! I could've happily kept reading Witchstruck for another 100, 150, 200 pages. It's just so readable - I was done with Meg and her story much faster than I was ready for. What is there is more than enough to satisfy readers - the ending shown felt entirely appropriate and concluded the main plotline of book one in the series, despite the open-ended nature of how things fell out. Cliffhanger or no, I would've NEED book two quite desperately now. The wait for the anticipated sequel is far too long - the touch of foreshadowing (the rat?! MD?!) just added more impetus to my need to see what happens next for Meg and Elizabeth at Court.
I read a lot of Tudor historical fiction - that era/family is one of my long-standing historical passions - and this is a neat and well-handled addition to my "best of" pile. While some books pick sides and favorites (Mary or Elizabeth), this one will continue to stand out among the others for its seamless incorporation of the supernatural, slight as though that may be, and for the strong, active, and well-rounded heroine. Witchstruck is undoubtedly a promising first addition to the series Victoria Lamb is cooking up and I'm eagerly awaiting the events of round two. ...more
Wake of the Bloody Angel is the best Eddie LaCrosse novel to date - hands down, no questions asked. I nRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Wake of the Bloody Angel is the best Eddie LaCrosse novel to date - hands down, no questions asked. I never guessed the outcome, never saw the twists coming, never wanted to put this down. The end came way too fast - this is another gem by Alex Bledsoe that reads so easily and so well, it's remarkably easy to get caught up in the world, story, and mystery at work here. After the minor stumble with Dark Jenny's execution and resolution, Eddie is back and better than ever here in the fourth installment in this fun and thoroughly entertaining series. Though less fantastical, for the most part, than the previous two in the sequence, Wake of the Bloody Angel is no less awesome, twisted, awful, creative or funny. Interweaving Eddie's life with a new mystery and with pirates and ex-pirates, this is a winner from the first chapter. From new revelations about old character staples to new spins on pirates and privateers, Alex Bledsoe once again proves that no one can mix such different genres as ably as he can - and does.
More action-packed than the last adventure, Eddie ventures once again out of his familiar territory and onto the high seas. Tackling a cold case from twenty years back, complete with a new dangerous, female companion to watch his back, Eddie finds himself in uncharted waters, chasing a ghost and a legend. Noticeably Eddie does less actual detecting here in than in the first three novels, so the slowly uncovered mystery takes an occasional backseat to some amusing tertiary and secondary characters. I really enjoyed the introduction to the characters of Jane Argo and Suhonen - they have more life and fire to them than some of the series' past background cast. Wake of the Bloody Angel is another light, fast read, but the action and sea battles shown are really top notch. The fights and swordplay are at their best here; they popped off the page and had me anxious for my favorites and eager to see how it worked out, all at the same time.
This is a prime example how of amusing, charming and rousing these novels can be and almost always are for the duration. Though this is rather tongue-in-cheek (and quite humorously cynical) rollicking pirate story, Bledsoe is not afraid, and often tend sto go to darker places with his story. Family abandonment, rape, animal abuse, obsession, the murder of children - all are part and parcel to the easily envisioned world crafted and shown. Three hundred and fifty pages have rarely ever seemed so short - I could've kept sailing with Jane, Eddie, Clift, and Dorsal for a hundred more. This novel, easily the best of the series so far, plays to the strengths of both Eddie, and the author. Eddie continues to grow, but happily, so do the other, familiar characters of Eddie's life. While the whole 'lookalike women' idea has been plundered (ha) quite often by the author (seriously, nearly novel so far has one set. The Sword-Edged Blonde: Cathy/Liz. Dark Jenny: Jennifer/Jenny. And here: Barbara/Angelina. But I digress), it's used in a new way for this fourth novel that doesn't feel too reminiscent of past territory.
Wake of the Bloody Angel is a damn good time - a fast, funny, imaginative, involving read populated with one of my favorite PIs. A fast-paced plot, intriguingly flawed characters, pirates and monsters, and a unique blend of genres and ideas all serve to further entrench me as a die-hard fan. Characters previously left undeveloped are fleshed out (and used as a nod to a popular song), Eddie experiences all manner of new antagonists (Cherish and Abigail being huge hits with me!), and even ghosts pop in to keep the supernatural element firmly in play. Unlike any of the previous three, Wake of the Bloody Angel is sure to keep the fans eager for more. I know I am not alone in eagerly anticipating a fifth Eddie LaCrosse novel - it honestly can't come fast enough.
Many, many thanks to TLC for providing me this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review....more
The Sword-Edged Blonde does something new and interesting - it merges two genres I love - fantasy and mRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
The Sword-Edged Blonde does something new and interesting - it merges two genres I love - fantasy and mystery - and spins them together in a highly fun and unique way. With a main character like investigator Eddie LaCrosse, who manages to inject a bit of wry, world-weary humor into a dark toned and murder-filled novel, there's a lot to enjoy in this first of a newish series. Both the fantasy aspects and the 'whodunit' more than hold up under the pressure of three hundred pages of revenge, fallen Goddess, and surprise revelations. Neatly and engrossingly told, this debut novel is hard to put down as the reader and Eddie race to figure out what happened to both Prince Pridiri and Epona Gray.
I'm a big fan of the way Alex Bledsoe writes about this alternate but familiar world, filled with 'sword jockeys', exiled nobility, and magic. Though I had never heard of him before Audra's wonderful review of this exact book, he steadily impressed me with his original storytelling ability and talent for crafting concrete, realistic, and flawed characters. Bledsoe also has an adept way of setting the scene - from the first sentence of the novel ("Spring came down hard that year. And I do mean hard, like the fist of some drunken pike poker with too much fury and not enough ale, whose wife just left him for some wandering minstrel and whose commanding officer absconded with his pay."), the voice of protagonist Eddie is uniquely his own and captivating, as is the imagined world he lives in. Consider me a fan of this author just after this first novel - I can only hope the rest of this semi-medieval fantasy series lives up to the standard of The Sword-Edged Blonde.
Main character Eddie is my favorite part of this slightly supernatural mix of mystery and fantasy. He's presented as a wholly flawed man with a dark and mysterious past all his own. Though the focus of the novel is more on unraveling the twisty web of political intrigue and revenge around Arentia's royal family, the tidbits that sneak out about Eddie's personal history added ever more depth to the hard-bitten and snarky man. I also loved his sense of humor from the outset. ("Okay. I'd found a clue. But it told me nothing. Actually, it took away some certainties, so it was more of an anti-clue. Eddie LaCrosse, reverse investigator." and "Always pay the insurance" - Eddie's version of the double tap.) If hardboiled, noir detective types are something you enjoy reading about, don't let the slight fantastical elements of The Sword-Edged Blonde scare you away. Lies, vendettas, secrets, twists, turns, and murder - all are part and parcel in this able and talented swordsman's daily excursions.
I vastly enjoyed the world Bledsoe has crafted. With obvious nods to the genres he melds so well, there is a bit of exposition to get through in the first hundred or so pages before the story really takes off. I'm not one to nitpick fantasy exposition as long as it's done as well as it is here. It/the flashbacks to Eddie's former life didn't choke up the storyline, but managed to actually add to the complete feel of the story/world created. I loved the infusion of Celtic and Welsh mythologies - fantasy as a genre tends to stick to mining the same ground for inspiration of gods and goddesses, and it's always refreshing to read a new take on the same old same old. The mystery element gets a bit muddled when the odd, remote character of Epona is introduced, but Bledsoe happily manages to clear it up with ease soon after.
I do have a few caveats, despite how thoroughly I got sucked into Eddie's story and world. I got a bit tired of how many women were blonde and attractive in this novel - there were so many mentioned that I lost count. There are many token women characters and none of them are characterized to the same degree as Eddie - which bothered me more and more as the trend continued throughout the novel. I also have slight issues with just who the woman appearing to Eddie at the end is, because it can come across a bit like women are replaceable versions of one another in this world. It's a minor complaint, but I wasn't happy with how that particular plotline was executed.
The Sword-Edged Blonde boasts a well-crafted mystery, a likeable if gruff and imperfect lead, a solid plot, and several truly unexpected twists and revelations. While the females of this world could do with some time and work, it is main character Eddie who commands attention and keeps the fun coming. There's tons more good than bad to be found in this first novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience with The Sword-Edged Blonde. It's a "tongue in cheek" look at sword noir, and it works well across the board; inventive, fun, if superficial. I am a fan, and upon finishing, I was eager and excited to see what this author has cooked up for the second novel in the series, Burn Me Deadly.
Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending me this novel!...more
These books have been an unexpected treat so far. The mix of medieval-lite fantasy and hardboiled noirRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
These books have been an unexpected treat so far. The mix of medieval-lite fantasy and hardboiled noir detective is a surprising and unique one, but one that Alex Bledsoe manages to meld together seamlessly. Strong in both the fantasy aspects - more prevalent here than in the first - and the twisty mystery, this is an author that can and does manage to surprise you as a reader. Much like the first one, I was kept guessing until the final pages and Eddie's big reveal. Compared to Jim Butcher's Dresden series in terms of tone, if not execution, the Eddie LaCrosse novels are inventive, fun, and a lot of that is down to how thoroughly awesome Eddie himself is. I find these novels to be more violent than Butcher's (though not really gorey - just full of typical fantasy world distasteful things.) He's a charming bastard, and one I find myself enjoying more and more as the books and pages go on and more is revealed about this smart, caustic mercenary turned sword jockey.
An immediate sequel that could easily work just as well as a standalone, Burn Me Deadly is just as immersive and hard to put down as its predecessor, The Sword-Edged Blonde. Entertaining and original, this homage to the classic Kiss Me Deadly reads both quickly and well. The detailed, complete world shown in the first book is further built upon and expanded. Eddie's voice is the exact same as in the first - hard but still likeable in all his faults, mistakes and errors with a twisty mystery to unravel. His hard-edged charm works through his tough-guy exterior more and more and the same tone, vice, and overall feel I had for Eddie before comes through in spades. Building on the hints and foundations of book one, everything from the world he lives in to Eddie's own personal history is detailed more. Alex Bledsoe's talent as an author is clearly growing steadily, and as it does, so does his characterization of this quasi-anti-hero protagonist.
This is not your typical fantasy novel. I wouldn't classify it as high or low fantasy, because it rally does mix both the fantasy aspects and the mystery elements to a highly original degree. Before this series, I'd never thought to combine them, nor would I have expected them to be so fun if I had. The plot of Burn Me Deadly has its infusion of fantasy (a dragon cult, patronized by royalty) and noir (one that is sponsored by a crime lord/smuggler), and boasts an elaborate setup. This sequel just feels more fantasy-esque than the first - it's still heavy on the whodunit, but peppered with more fantasy tropes. The mystery took a little longer to really heat up (hahaha) than it did for book one, but the ending payout is just as rewarding. This is a fast-paced read, one without the time-line jumps that could be a bit confusing in the first novel. It's a tad simpler, but no less involving or entertaining.
If you're looking for a fresh take on fantasy or mystery-genre, this noir sword-and-sorcery novel (and series) is exactly what you need to try. Burn Me Deadly is equal parts funny, dramatic, and filled with the same humor and danger that I came to expect from The Sword-Edged Blonde. With a clear writing style, an even hand at pacing and creating tension, and ability to craft a good mystery, Alex Bledsoe proves that his success with book one was anything but a fluke. I especially loved how the ending wrapped up and tied so neatly into book one (a great way to tie everything thus far together), and I finished eager to continue my adventures with Eddie. Burn Me Deadly may be my favorite of the series, but there are still two more (so far) adventures to go on and mysteries to unravel in this easily-envisioned world with this charismatic narrator. Sign me up.
Many thanks to the kind people at TLC Book Tours for sending me this novel in exchange for a fair and unbiased review....more
looks a lot like Dave Grohl has a lot of imagination a tendency to pull no punches the ability to craft a viable, complex, interesting world breaks my brain with every book he has written
Last year, Jay burst onto the scene with his steampunkian fantasy of an almost-Japan (here called the Shima Imperium) with his debut novel, Stormdancer. The hype began early, built over months of anticipation, and swelled to immense proportions before the book dropped. And when it did, Jay delivered -- Stormdancer was a tour de force of fantasy, steampunk, kickass characters, and rebellion. Immense in scope, in creativity, and filled with unforgettable writing, and complex, realistic characters, it exceeded my expectations in every way -- and they were HIGH.
I am here to tell you that Kinslayer, book two in this Lotus War series, is even better. You want more death, destruction, struggle? You got it, in spades. The scale is bigger, the stakes are higher, and this is an author that can, and does, improve on his already-impressive first book. If you liked what Kristoff had to offer in Stormdancer - chainsaw katanas, a fresh and inventive take on steampunk technology, an incredibly well-drawn world, betrayals, secrets, conspiracies, rebellion, action aplenty - then you'll love what he serves up for round two. The Lotus War is a story told on a grand scale and one that doesn't shy away from making readers flinch.
While in book one we were told, "the lotus must bloom", now the rebels have modified it to the more ominous, "the lotus must burn." This is a darker book. The lines have clearly been drawn and a civil war is on the brink. Yukiko wrestles with her role, with what she has done, and with what she will do. People die. People you like will die. People you like will surprise you -- and not always in a good way. The risks that Jay Kristoff takes with his plotting and characters more than pay off. He creates suspense with ease as well a genuine fear that no one -- and nothing -- is truly safe with Shima on the brink. He writes with a clear eye for the visual and a lot of the action scenes read cinematically. The detail is dense, the worldbuilding intricate and complete, and it all serves to create an Empire that feels dangerously real and frighteningly familiar.
Kinslayer is epic. It's an epic story with several major plotlines across an empire; there's Yukiko and Buruu going about doing what they do (no spoilers!), there's the Kagé stronghold in the mountains, and there are the subversives hiding in Kigen city, waiting for a chance to hit back at the authorities. Widening the focus of the story allows for more prominent characters than just Yukiko and the antagonist of the soon-to-be-Emperor/Yukiko's former lover, Tora Hiro. Both Yukiko and Hiro play important parts, but they are mostly removed from the main action - Hiro through the dense administration system surrounding a clan Daimyo, and Yukiko through her own struggles to rectify what has happened to her life in the previous novel. Buruu remains a key participant in Yukiko's storyline, and remains one of the best animal characters to ever grace a page. However, even he is full of surprises as the hundreds of pages race by.
We've met Michi before as a minor character, but here in Kinslayer, she gets the time and pages to shine. Her storyline is taut, full of deception and suspense. While Yukiko has spearheaded the fight against the Guild and the Emperor, Michi is in the trenches (credit for that line goes to the lovely Christina at Reader of Fictions!) fighting however and whoever it takes to win. She emerges as a major player and easily surpassed Yukiko in my affections, due to her pragmatic and bad ass approach. Hana, another newcomer with more to her than meets the eye, also more than proves her worth. Between her characterization and Michi's, it's obvious there is more than one strong, dangerous woman in Shima. Yukiko may be the Arashi-no-odoriko, but these two women are capable, smart, cunning, and each play pivotal parts in all that plays out in the pages. While most of my appreciation, character-wise, is for these two newish characters, older and more familiar faces continue to operate in various functions. Akihito, Kin, Kaori, etc. all are prominent and important, but do lack the liveliness of Michi and Hana's storylines.
Though there are clearly the good guys and the bad guys, Kristoff creates a cast that is not black and white. Yukiko is the heroine, but not everything she does is heroic, or even right. The Kagé are the good side, compared the power-hungry Guild and the omnivorous Empire, but not all of its members are truly good people. Similarly, the people that surround Hiro, the book's clear antagonist and foil for Yukiko, are not all evil power despots. The shades of grey that the author imbues into his characters make them all more realistic, more complex, and thus, interesting. Clearly the most sympathy will lie with the Kagé and their struggle to topple a corrupt government, but I appreciated how deftly Kristoff handled the creation the characters on all sides of the conflict. I always say I want a complex antagonist over a one-dimensional psychopath, and that a conflicted heroine is better than a perfect paragon, and I am proved right by the layers each of these two key characters possess. I may not like either of them too much, but I can understand where both are coming from and what they hope to gain.
The worldbuilding is truly some of the best I have ever read in the fantasy genre. It's on par with series that have taken twice as many volumes to create their version of Earth. In just two books, Jay Kristoff has created a viable, deadly, believable world. He has shown how a once-prosperous country can find itself on the verge of failure. From the mythology to the government, there is more than enough detail to flesh out the culture of the Shima Imperium to a reader's satisfaction. No stone has gone unturned, no idea unexplored. New cultures are shown, and new ideas are explored. Above all, Kinslayer never stagnates or dawdles. While the steampunk technology is less featured here (exception: Earthcrusher, clockwork arm!), it retains its originality, usefulness, and flair. Jay proves that less is more and doesn't oversaturate his plotline with nifty gadgets and chainsaw katanas. This isn't a version of steampunk featured on dirigibles and tea -- this is steampunk focused on war, domination, and destruction. And it. is. AWESOME.
Kinslayer is a book with everything you could hope for in steampunk fantasy with arashitora and sea dragons. It's packed to the brim with action, drama, and suspense. It takes characters we know and changes them, makes them evolve and hopefully grow. It proves that in war, no one is safe and anyone can betray you. It shows all sides of a conflict and doesn't flinch from murdering off favorite, beloved characters. It's a brash, loud, completely fun read. It's dense, and detailed, and still the pages fly by. If you want originality, or an inventive fantasy, or a book that combines dire straits with a dash of humor, or all of the above, this is the book you want to read. This is one of my favorite books of EVER, and I will be rereading it for years to come.
My only worry is how Jay Kristoff will manage to top this.
--And when I can get a copy of the third book. ...more
That was a creepy, awesome, often quite funny, read. I would say I am surprised but I've talked to Karina before (and in all honesty, she sent me a coThat was a creepy, awesome, often quite funny, read. I would say I am surprised but I've talked to Karina before (and in all honesty, she sent me a copy to read) and I know she is made of awesome and win. It's heartening to see that her talent backs up my impression of her. The Devil's Metal is an original, diverting, winner. Well done and I can't wait to see where the author takes this new series? duology? from here.
Released in the centennial year for the publication of Tarzan of the ApesWant to win a copy of Jane?! Head over to my blog to enter (US/Canada only)!
Released in the centennial year for the publication of Tarzan of the Apes original publication and endorsed by Edgar Rice Burroughs' estate, Jane is an involving, detailed, engrossing, and yet, original retelling of a well-loved and widely known story. Robin Maxwell is my first exposure to actually reading the mythos of the Tarzan world (watching the 1999 Disney animated movie clearly does not count), and her updated version, while clearly paying homage to the source material, is indelibly her own. Jane is a novel rife with adventure, credible characters, excitement, betrayals, and revelations. An engaging read from the get-go, the spotlight on protagonist and narrator Jane makes for a fast but highly enjoyable read for those all too-short 320 pages. I had planned to read Burroughs' original version, but now I wonder if that one will hold up as well in my opinion as what Maxwell has recreated here.
As the title character and first-person narrator for the eponymous novel, Jane will either make or break this novel for readers. I, for one, unabashedly loved her. Her voice is strong and clear; I identified with and rooted for this intelligent and unique woman as she grapples with society's unforgiving attitudes, as she grows and learns about herself, Africa, and what she wants from her life. I loved Jane's strident attitudes, her analytical approach to any and all situations, her unflinching convictions and stalwart self-esteem. She's an unconventional woman for her time but not so much as to be entirely anachronistic for the era and setting the novel takes place during. She may eventually want a man, but unlike her society peers, she definitely doesn't need one. While her views and opinions can approach the unrealistic, the sincere motivations at the heart of Jane's actions ring true and keep her character from sticking out as improbable. An aspiring paleoanthropologist, the beginning flashbacks illustrate clearly how committed and devoted Jane is to her field and establish a more than credible reason for her journey to Africa and the events that transpire there.
The growing dynamic between Tarzan and his more "civilized" mate evolves maturely and with aplomb under less than ideal circumstances. Tarzan himself is a bit romanticized (both by Burroughs and by Maxwell here) - and the romance between him and Jane does provide a lot of internal debate for the title character - but he is realistic and engaging in his distant role. His relationship with Jane is complicated and hard-won, but it is a real partnership of equals, unlike what she could have expected back in her "civilized" home country. Theirs is a true give and take - each teaches the other essential skills for living in their respective worlds. Their interactions are a bit simpler and overcome more easily than I had expected (the language barrier most noticeably) but it doesn't jar too much. Under Maxwell's able hand as storyteller, the bits and pieces of Tarzan's tragic history and life are teased out into the more action packed events evenly and keep the sentimentality on par with the action and excitement of life as The Wild Ape Man.
The vibrant setting of Africa is one of the very best aspects of the novel. The place-as-character is superb here. It's really topnotch - from the port town of Libreville to the boat trip down the Mbele Ogowe River to the Great Bower, every scene and setting pops from the page with a burst of color. As one character so aptly said to Jane early on: "You do not live in Africa, my dear. Africa lives in you." Under Robin Maxwell's pen and talent, I certainly felt like I was seeing the jungles, forests, villages myself. This is a creative author with an obvious ability to set and describe a scene; her talent for place as character is one of the more prominent things I will take away from reading Jane. I haven't read many other historical novels set on this particular continent, but upon, reluctantly, concluding this one, I can't imagine I will wait long to search out another. Maxwell touches upon so many issues of that plagued continent - colonization by European powers, the deforestation of jungles for trade routes, King Leopold of Belgium's genocide of 10 million natives - that some areas do feel slightly shortchanged, but all serve to create an even bigger, more authentic view of Africa and its problems.
This is a book that started out good, one that easily progressed past my initial lukewarm feelings due a bit of an infodump and into "great" territory, and one that ends with a bang (and a hint at a possibility for more down the line?!). A clear departure both from its source material and the sanitized Disney version, Jane is no wilting violet but a strong protagonist with great depth and characterization, more than able to carry the weight of the novel on her own. A great read and reinvention of one of the most beloved stories, Jane is a credit to both Edgar Rice Burroughs' original tale and to Robin Maxwell's immense individual talent. With characters crafted so well, with vibrant settings and a plot that moves at a brisk and involving pace, this is a novel retelling that will stand out and stand the test of time equally well. Highly recommended and highly enjoyable -- those on the lookout for a new era/setting in historical fiction need look no further than Jane....more
This started a bit sloe for me, and I was never as involved or engaged as I would have liked, but it was an interesting, fresh take on Lincoln's assasThis started a bit sloe for me, and I was never as involved or engaged as I would have liked, but it was an interesting, fresh take on Lincoln's assassination. Review to come....more
All admissions forward: I was sent this book by the author, whom I consider a friend. This did not and does not affect my review.
It's been a real pleasure to watch Libby's growth as an author over the last two years. Having read and greatly enjoyed her short story collection back in 2011, I was anxious to see what she would come up with for her first her full-length novel. I can honestly say that I was not disappointed with the end result; Tough Girl is a clever, heart-wrenching novel with adult themes and ideas, but one that will hold appeal for a wide audience. If you enjoy honest, and occasionally harsh, views on struggles like mental illness, neglect and poverty, this is is your book. If you enjoy novels with strong and determined female protagonists, this is your book. If you enjoy unique fantasy and alternate worlds and places, this is your book.
This may get a bit spoilery, though I am going to try my best not to do. It's just hard to review a book with such a tricky plot without letting on about a few minor details. So: be warned.
Tough Girl is the story of Reggie, an eleven year old girl whom fate has not dealt the kindest of hands. From being bullied at school to neglected at home, Reggie's story is a sad, but not had to envision struggle every day. Thankfully for our heroine, Reggie is also smart, resourceful, resilient, and her own best friend. Escaping into various fantasy worlds with a tough-talking, militaristic alter-ego named Tough Girl, Reggie copes with her problems in a unique and compelling way. Like I said before, Reggie's mom, Mona, neglects her young daughter, leading to Reggie's disconnect from her real life in almost-slumlike building they live in, The Apartments. Reggie's story is a sobering one, and a lot of what she sees and goes through can be tough to read. Libby Heily is an author unafraid to examine the rougher side of life, and it's all to the benefit of the novel. For all its desperation, Reggie's story comes to life with ease.
Obviously in the grip of an unnamed and untreated mental illness, Mona forgets about her daughter for days on end, including the important task of feeding a growing girl. A lot of Reggie's narration and thoughts center around food - either getting it or eating it. I find it remarkably telling that even in Reggie's longest-running fantasy with TG, as she is called, is set on a planet named Girth. Bullied, hungry and alone, even in Reggie's dreams food is the most important part of her day. Her other struggles with classmates like Tara or even bratchild extraordinaire Jacob are painful and sadly quite real to life and carry additional weight to the storyline. There's a lot going on in Tough Girl, be it real or imaginary, and in the end, Heily manages to tie it all together with ease.
I did feel that the end was a bit abrupt. I would've like a little more time with the denoument - just to see it all play out visually. I liked the ending for what it was -it was fitting and believable, but just a very fast turnaround from the pacing of the first 240 pages. This is a shorter novel, but it still packs a punch. Another bonus is the price - it's only $2.99 to join Reggie and her alter-ego in the respective struggles. I was and still am very impressed with Libby Heily's imagination and am excited to see how she will grow and where she will go with her talent after this. ...more