The second book in the Chronicles of the Elantra. You really should read these in order. While each individual story is self-contained, the backgroundThe second book in the Chronicles of the Elantra. You really should read these in order. While each individual story is self-contained, the backgrounds of the characters and the events of the first book help make this one more understandable.
This book didn't move at quite the breakneck speed of the other, but was still highly enjoyable. The world building and characterization is outstanding. I very much enjoyed her delving into the Barrani, a race of beautiful and immortal beings. It gave them a depth and a difference... they aren't just psudo-elves, but a unique creation unto themselves. Very nice to see an author do that.
There are little writing things I could quibble about, but I didn't read this book as part of the master's program I'm in, but for the joy of reading it.
And it was quite a fun read. I can't wait to pick up the next one....more
What a fun book! I picked this up at the Writing Popular Fiction Masters residency at Seton Hill University this summer during a book-signing event foWhat a fun book! I picked this up at the Writing Popular Fiction Masters residency at Seton Hill University this summer during a book-signing event for graduates and mentors of the program. Shelley is one of the graduates of the Masters program and an all around nice person.
This is a young adult "Gossip Girls" type book with Christian bent. The Christian message is not overly thumpy (i.e., it does not hit you over the head), so if you're thinking "ugh! preachy!" it's not.
It's about staying true to your morals. And knowing who your true friends are, even when you're starstruck by the most handsome guy and you *just* want to be part of the in crowd.
Lissa Mansfield, the main character, is a brand new student at a posh boarding school in SanFran. The story chronicles part of her first term there and the ups and downs of trying to fit in, get the cute guy, and still remain true to her faith... even though she's a bit embarrassed by it.
I'll admit to being way older than the target audience, so some of the cultural references were lost on me, in my 30-somethingness, but I found myself caught up in the story, probably because I've been stupid in love, not listened to my friends because of it, and learned that it's not the best plan.
Basically... high school. Except this high school is way more fun than mine was!
I liked how Shelley presented the moral dilemmas of the story, Lissa's embarrassment of being openly Christian when it's really not cool to do so, and the perils of compromising your morals for something you really want.
In the end, it all works out. Mostly. But not without some pain, just like real life.
I was expecting a well-written book, but I didn't expect to get into it as much as I did! Brava Shelley!...more
**spoiler alert** I picked Readheart up at ConText 21, a speculative fiction convention in Ohio. It's published by Meadowhawk Press, a small press pub**spoiler alert** I picked Readheart up at ConText 21, a speculative fiction convention in Ohio. It's published by Meadowhawk Press, a small press publisher. I had a chance to meet both the author and the publisher.
It's Ms. Gamber's first published novel, I believe.
I enjoyed Readheart and there is no doubt that Ms. Gamber is a gifted storyteller. The book felt more YA than adult, and I think young people would take to the story (and it's eventual sequels, as it is the first in a series). It's a gentle story although it does contain death and imprisonment and grief and even rape... but its handled in a gentle way. I never found myself horribly worried for any of the good-guy characters. The story itself moves well, and most of the characters are interesting and believable.
However, I did have a few issues with the book.
The first is probably particular to me, and may not matter to a YA reader. There are 60 chapters in a 300 page book. I would just be getting into a section after a few pages, and BOOM. Chapter change. It broke the flow for me. That alone frustrated me the most. I don't like being tossed out of the story, and chapter changes make you pause and think before diving back in. But an entire book of short chapters one after another never allowed me to get deep enough into the story. I have nothing against short chapters, per-se, but I think they need to be used sparingly.
The other is that the bad-guy dragon, Blackclaw is a little too stereotypically bad. There doesn't seem to be a drop of good in him, that could make him a good guy if only he had chosen a different path... so he comes off as a typical brutish, power hungry evil guy... er dragon... who abuses his power, up to and including forcing himself on female dragons (The gloat gloat gloat, be mean to the underling... "Bring me a women!" syndrome.)
Contrast with the other bad-guy human, Jastin the dragon hunter, who *does* have something in him that could possibly make him good... the capacity to love... but it's buried under grief and a fatalistic attitude. Ms. Gamber did a wonderful job on Jastin, making him sympathetic while also making us not like him all that much.
There are also some scenes outside of the dragon's lands, part of the set-up for the series, that don't have much to do with the story in the novel. I could have skipped over them and still had a complete story. I think it *might* have worked better if we saw some hints of Jastin working for someone else, but only saw him return to his employer's castle at the end of the story to then discover that there is more to this than just his hatred of dragons. But that may be a difference in storytelling methods.
But all in all, those are really minor points. The story is quite enjoyable, and I'm glad I picked it up....more
**spoiler alert** I picked this book up at first because of the title. It's a damn good title. Makes me want to know more.
And there's my love of peopl**spoiler alert** I picked this book up at first because of the title. It's a damn good title. Makes me want to know more.
And there's my love of people doing interesting things with high fantasy tropes. This is essentially a book about a typical high/epic-fantasy type world... it's got humans and elves and dwarves and other fantasy-type races and beings... but set forward in time from what you typically see in high/epic fantasy. That is, it ain't the middle ages. They have gunpowder technology. No combustible engines, yet, though.
It's a first novel, too. I like picking up new authors, just from the standpoint of seeing what others break into the genre with. There's also a bit of Pay it Forward, too, in that I want someone to pull *me* off the shelf as a new author some day.
This is not a stand-alone novel, as it ends, more or less, with a cliff-hanger. However, it is the only book in the series (trilogy?) out so far.
Overall, I liked this book. It is a different take on fantasy, and had good pacing and tension. I wasn't entirely surprised that Evans's agent is Donald Maass, since every single chapter (and they're not long) ends with a cliff-hanger. It's kind of an interesting study in how to get people to turn the next page.
The chapters are also short, which annoyed me to start, as I like to read longer chunks of text without breaks, but after a while, I found myself reading them like I eat potato chips. I'd only meant to read three chapters, and then find I've read seven. So, maybe that works.
The main character, Konowa, and Iron Elf, is likable enough, despite the fact that he really seems to dislike himself for much of the book, and it's not until he really gets back into commanding a regiment that he stops being so broody. Mind you, he has his reasons... he's an outcast among the elves... most of them are what you would think of a typical elves--love nature, live in trees, commune with the forest-- but Konowa, and others like him, are tainted. Born with a black-tipped ear, they aren't able to commune with nature like their untainted brethren. They've been touched by the Shadow Monarch, an evil Elf Witch. And he was thrown out of the army because he killed the viceroy of the Empress. So, doubly outcast. And he's been living in a forest for a year. So, yeah, he's cranky.
While I like Konowa, I really didn't get much sense of character growth in this book. Mind you, it's the first in a series, so there's a lot of potential for growth and I suspect Konowa will have to grow up and get over himself at some point to go forward.
Unfortunately, many of the minor characters that interested me more... Alwyn, a private in the army, and the dwarf Yimt make an interesting and sometimes comical duo. Alwyn also grows a lot in the book. The Imperial scribe Rallie is an enigmatic woman who seems to have a greater role in events than she *should*.
The female main character Visyna, an elfkyna witch (the elfkynan aren't elves in the same way the American Indians aren't Indian) seems under developed and underutilized as a character. She and Konowa are supposed to have feelings for each other, but the amount of time they actually spend together for those feelings to develop is... minimal. So it felt more like lust and infatuation than anything more.
There are characters who are entirely flat. The pompous prince who really is an idiot despite all his book learning, the arrogant new viceroy (soon-to-be-evil) who is really in it for himself and hates the natives, the arrogant Iron Elf who hates Konowa... they pretty much end the book exactly as they started it, with the exception of the viceroy, who becomes evil. But you could see that coming from MILES away.
Part of this issue with flat and uninteresting characters, I think, is that there are too many POVs in the story. It's written in third person limited, and for the most part, it is from Konowa and Alwyn's POV. I liked that, because you got to see things from the officer's POV and the POV of the grunts. But it slips off into other POVs too. Visyna's, the soon-to-be evil viceroy of the area, a squirrel who is really an elf, etc. For the most part, Evans does a good job staying in the POV he starts a scene in, but there was one occasion he head-hops between Visyna and Rallie and I had to stop and reread the section when it happened, because it got confusing.
It's not that long a book. Less POV and perhaps less focal characters would have been better. But for all that I'm griping about it, it worked well enough in that the story kept moving. Action kept happening.
The thing that really drove me up an elven tree and back down was this: We know *instantly* that the Shadow Monarch is dark and evil because she speaks in a different font.
Seriously. Go to the Amazon preview and look at the excerpt. Dark Evil Font. That and when the characters referenced Her, She was always Capitalized. Gah.
Her minions also spoke in an evil font, just a different evil font. It ruined the surprise on a plot twist too. Visyna speaks to the Star they are seeking. Only you know it's a ruse from the get-go because... it speaks in an evil font. *bangs head against desk* It's not foreshadowing if it drops on your head with the weight of an anvil.
I have nothing against creepy evil beings. I just would rather that their creepy evilness be shown to me some other way than having them speak in an evil font. Have what they say be evil and chilling. Have the character hear them as evil and chilling, but how the heck am I supposed to read an Evil Font? In my case, I read it like I READ SOMEONE TYPING IN ALL CAPS. So the Shadow Monarch really seemed more like a bad spammer than a creepy evil elf witch. It took a lot for me to overcome that and I might have given up on the book completely had I not picked it for a genre read (for the Masters of Writing Popular fiction program I'm in at Seton Hill U).
The author is a historian who edits military history books, and you sense that he knows his military stuff, as most of the book takes place while a regiment is on march. The details felt right, especially in the battle scenes.
One of the other things I liked about this book was the almost background conversation it had with me about colonialism. The Empire has colonized the Elfkynan lands... nominally to bring "civilization" to the barbaric people. It felt a bit like Colonial India, in many ways. There's a side current of the Empire also being an evil force that the natives want to get out from under, but also Visyna reacts badly to her more unrefined country men, so at the same time, there's a sense that the country, for better or worse, has been changed. Even if it casts out the Empire, it can never go back to where it was. I don't know if that was intentional, but I do hope it's a theme Evans plays with in future novels.
I have no issues with the world building. There are unanswered question, but given that this is first in a series, I expect that. I also don't need (or indeed want) everything explained to me about the world. These people aren't tourists in their own world. That's a good thing.
I do have to say that all in all, it is a good first book. It could have been tighter, but I know that comes with practice. I'll probably pick up the next one, to see what happens, but I might wait for the paperback. I think it will greatly depend on the amount of Evil Font in the next book....more
**spoiler alert** This is the second of my genre readings this term for the Masters in Writing Popular Fiction program I'm in.
Interestingly, when I st**spoiler alert** This is the second of my genre readings this term for the Masters in Writing Popular Fiction program I'm in.
Interestingly, when I started this book, I mentally gave it a four out of five. When I got to the middle, I revised to 3 out of 5, but by the time I got to the end, I was back up to 4 out of 5. Overall, I think the whole Trilogy gets a 4.5 out of 5 from me.
First the annoying: The largest issue I had was with the quotes Sanderson uses at the beginning of each chapter. In the first book, it was excerpts from a log book the characters found that detailed the journey of the first Hero of Ages. In the second book, it was quotes from a metal plate that the characters found that detailed how the quest for the Well of Ascension went very very wrong. In this book, it's the recording of the thoughts of the character who becomes the Hero of Ages.
What that character records is very world-buildy. Almost too much. It's more or less a scientific study of the world, what happened with the Lord Ruler (who was killed in book 1) and how the magic system works. It tells. A lot. In fact, it tells some things before the characters are shown finding out the same thing. It also pretty much let me know who the Hero of Ages was, since Sanderson is a good enough writer that you can figure out which characters are speaking by how they speak. So, a bit spoiled by the before-chapter quotes, and a bit bounced out by all the world-building stuff.
Because I'm sensitive to such things now, I was also pulled out of the story by the number of times Elend Venture sighs. At one point, Elend and Vin go to a ball in the city they have under siege, and I swear Elend (who is an Emperor at this point) sighs through the whole thing. Sigh. Sigh Sigh.
Sazed wanders about being consumed by the loss of his love and ends up going though all of the religions he has studied as a Keeper (more or less a secret society of people who kept information alive that the Lord Ruler tried to suppress) and deciding if any are true. He's lost his faith and tries to gain it back through logic and reason. Unfortunately, there's almost too much of his "woe, I've lost my faith" going on. It crossed over, at least for me, from feeling bad for the character into wanting to smack him a few times. Kind of like Elend's sighing all the time.
The book drags the the middle. It's a lot of slogging about in ash and though there *should* be tension, what with an army sitting siege outside a town, it doesn't carry through, especially when either Elend of Sazed are POV characters. This changes dramatically at the end, though.
Now, the good: An improvement over the middle book is that Elend (when he's not sighing or tromping though ash, but being an active leader) and another character, Spook, become the charismatic characters that you want to root for, just like Kelsier was in the first book of the series.
Vin and Elend's relationship finally feels real. There is a real love and understanding between the characters that fell flat in the previous books.
While many of the characters have already gone through their growing arcs, Spook had not, and he grows in leaps and bounds in this book, as does the Kandra (a kind of changeling being) TenSoon. I found the sections of the books from these two POVs moved at a much better pace in the middle than the others.
Sanderson does an excellent job of making things worse and worse for his characters. Even though I found the middle of the book hard to slog though, you do get a sense that the characters are also finding everything hard to slog through... the ash piled up to their chest, the mists that sicken and kill, their plans thwarted at every turn.
We also discover that the evil Lord Ruler wasn't actually so evil after all. He just gained the power of a god and screwed up royally at first. But then he tried to set things right as best he could and also tried to set things up so that the world had a chance of surviving should he die.
Good does not necessarily overcome evil, as neither Preservation nor Ruin can actually be thought of as good or evil. They're natural forces. The Lord Ruler taking Preservation's power nearly resulted in the destruction of the world... and evil outcome. He set it as right as he could, but the result was an oppressive, dark world. However, freeing Ruin only made things worse. Ruin does come very close to being evil, especially when his personified form gloats and delights in destruction. But even then, you get the sense that it is just reveling in its own nature.
Certainly many of the Lord Ruler's actions in creating the creatures he created is evil. Steel inquisitors, for instance, are created by driving metal spikes though one person (thus killing them) into another, to transfer the powers of one to the other.
But the heroes of the book, Vin and Elend, are also consummate killers, as are all Mistborn. However, they also desire to preserve, to save themselves and their people.
The whole trilogy is about the lack of balance between two forces, Ruin and Preservation. Preservation wanted to create life and gave a bit of himself to do so, thus tipping the worldly balance between it and Ruin toward Ruin. Ruin, of course, is entropy and only wishes to destroy. Preservation used much of its power to trap Ruin to keep it from destroying the world.
Vin freed Ruin and Preservation is not strong enough to oppose him. Thus the fight isn't so much about people vs. people, but people trying to survive the end of the world and fight against a personified version of entropy.
In the end, the Hero of Ages must take both the power of Ruin and Preservation to balance the forces and set the world aright. So, no all prevailing Good, but a god who controls both the powers of Ruin and Preservation. A god who is powerful, but not omniscient, who still has some mortal foibles.
When the first book came out, the marketing suggested that Sanderson was tipping fantasy tropes on their head, but really, he hasn't. It *is* the Hero's Journey, complete with Hero perceiving both the divine and mortal worlds (since he was mortal and became a god) and returning to grant a boon to mankind (in the form of a fixed world, free of the mistakes and "fixes" the Lord Ruler imposed). Its just that Sanderson does a fantastic job at misdirection. The Hero isn't who you think it is and much of the backstory to the world remains hidden until the last book.
He's also good at weaving seemingly unimportant details and quirks throughout the trilogy and making them into important plot points in the end, so you get this sense of wonder of "Wow, he hinted at all of this from the beginning!" It all leads to an ending that is satisfying and makes sense.
But because I got my undergraduate degree from CMU, deconstruction center of the universe, I can't help but also look at the writer and his personal influences. It wasn't evident in the first book, but by the second book, I got the creeping sense of Sanderson's religious views influencing the plot. It's not wrong or bad, but it also kind of ended up being a kind of spoiler for the third. Sanderson is a member of the Church of the Later Day Saints (Mormons), so the outcome of one of the characters becoming god was more of a "Oh, yeah ok." thing with me rather than a big walloping ending. It's kind of like Aslan rising from the dead. It makes *sense* given his worldview. So does the little bit he dropped in that suggests that Ruin and Preservation are just shards of some larger cosmic power.
What I took away from this novel, in terms of my own writing, is how to more subtlety weave in quirks that lead to important plot points, the utter importance of not having your characters bobble-head too much (or in this case sigh).
As always, Sanderson's magic system is fabulous. Studying how he develops his systems and their limitations and consequences is a great way to learn how to build your own systems. And while they popped me out of the story, the before-chapter quotes are a great study in world-building.
And, I have to say, he's a nice, personable guy. I went to a book signing last year, and they more or less had to kick us all out because he was willing to stay as long as he could to interact with his fans and answer questions. His website has a wealth of information about his books, including annotations of each chapter. If nothing else, it's a look into the mind of one writer and how and why he did what he did to his characters....more