Orphan Wren is bff with the princess and doing well at the magic school, but she can't help but wonder if she has any family somewhere in the world. S...moreOrphan Wren is bff with the princess and doing well at the magic school, but she can't help but wonder if she has any family somewhere in the world. She sets out to find them, with Prince Connor at her side. Meanwhile, Princess Tess is having trouble adjusting to court life after growing up in the orphanage.
I actually liked this better than the first book, Wren to the Rescue. I think Smith trusted herself more, and let the personalities and dialog flow a little more naturally. The tinges of forced characterization are gone. The two plots come together well, without feeling like one was short-changed. And I really liked the development of Connor's skills, and that it doesn't feel like the book is forcing either him or Wren toward any one particular career. Generally someone is completely talented and interested in one subject, and it's obvious that they're meant to become a magician or writer or whatever--but Smith gives her characters a smattering of gifts and a wide range of interests, and they feel more realistic for it.
Definitely an enjoyable adventure--so much so that I extended my workout in order to finish it!(less)
The king's only son is kidnapped, and Beka Cooper and her partner Tunstall are charged with finding him. From the first, it's clear that this was an i...moreThe king's only son is kidnapped, and Beka Cooper and her partner Tunstall are charged with finding him. From the first, it's clear that this was an inside job, and as the case continues, more and more obstacles are thrown in the Dogs' way. They must battle through swamps, ambushes, and controlling nobles. But at least they've got help: Tunstall's lover, the lady knight Sabine, Cooper's scent-hound Achoo, her powerful friend Pounce, and a mage named Farmer.
This was my least favorite of the Cooper/Dog series, for two reasons. One, the characterization felt unnatural. (view spoiler)[From the way Beka reacted to her mother being abused by a man (ie: getting justice on him and then swearing never to be with anyone like that, thus nixing any possible romance with Rosto) and the way she reacted to her last two love interests (ie: staying independent and aloof, regardless of how much fun they had), AND given how much she hates Dogs being bad at their job, I just can't buy that she'd ever date an abusive Dog who was bad at his job, let alone STAY with him for any length of time, let alone plan on marrying him. It came out of nowhere, and it felt artificial. So did Tunstall's betrayal, which felt like authorial fiat. And so did Beka's romance with Farmer, which developed fast and heavy-handedly. (hide spoiler)] I liked Farmer, but I would have liked him a lot more if it Pierce hadn't made him so perfect in so many ways. Plus, I missed all of Beka's friends: Goodwin, Rosto, Tansy, Anika, Kora, Ersken, etc.
And two, the ending was a anti-climax mixed with unbelievable plot twists, which is a terrible combination. If I don't get climactic show downs, I want it to be because the author has decided to be realistic and gritty--not because the author wants to tie up all the loose ends as quickly as possible, with little imput from the main character. Instead, we got (view spoiler)[Tunstall's random betrayal, followed by him dying of cold in the night???, a battle that Beka&co note from a distance but don't even watch, followed by everyone returning to the city to find that Beka gets everything she ever dreamed of cuz why not, I guess. (hide spoiler)] And then the crowd starts chanting "mastiff" at Beka, which comes out of *nowhere*. No where has anyone called her mastiff before, and she's nothing like a mastiff in personality or performance. Apparently the crowd just randomly assigns dog nicknames to people, in unison. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Matthew Swift died choking on his own blood. Years later, he came back. But he didn't come back alone.
His struggle to understand his death, and the othe...moreMatthew Swift died choking on his own blood. Years later, he came back. But he didn't come back alone.
His struggle to understand his death, and the other magic users' struggle to come to terms with his new dual identity of blue electric angels and dead man, formed the basis for A Madness of Angels. After the cataclysmic events of the last few years, Swift deserves a nice long break--but alas, he's the last sorcerer left in London, and doom has come upon his city. The supernatural defenses of London are falling one after another, and no one knows why.
I read this all in one stretch into the wee hours of the morning, because I couldn't bear to put it down. The book moves at a frantic pace, jumping from a confrontation with a monster made of bathtub scum and grease to a club where the music is the beat of the owner's heart. The last book was an exploration of the boundaries of life; this one is a long, convoluted look at what it means to live in a city. The incredible complexity and interconnectedness of it, the tension between strangers, the meanings of neighborhoods, the effects of feeling anonymous and small--it's all wrapped up in the plot. The writing is at times almost psychedelic, dealing as it does with magic of the weird and wild kind. Swift's spells are a combination of twists on common sense and modern life: he uses traffic signals as binding spells, recites brand names as summoning spells, and captures spirits by in beer bottles (because you can drown anything at the bottom of a beer bottle). He'll cajole a key into fitting into a lock one moment, then smash his fist, crackling with electricity, into an alarm the next. He loves street food, wants to know everyone's names, gives all his money to beggars, tells anyone about magic who'll listen, refuses to kill his enemies--he's basically my favorite character ever. The other characters are equally intriguing (but I hesitate to name names, lest I spoil anything).
I love these books, and I can't wait to read the next one.(less)
Despite the generic YA cover, this isn't paint-by-numbers fantasy. This book was clearly written out of a deep appreciation for and knowledge of fanta...moreDespite the generic YA cover, this isn't paint-by-numbers fantasy. This book was clearly written out of a deep appreciation for and knowledge of fantasy tropes.
Nalia is a princess whose only real joys are old documents, languages, and her one friend, Kiernan. She's shy and clumsy, but she hopes to grow up to rule her country well. Then her parents summon her to their throne room and reveal that she isn't a princess at all. 16 years ago they paid her father for her, so that the real princess could remain in hiding, safe from a prophecied death. Now that the prophecy has been avoided, the real Nalia can be brought to court, and the false Nalia--truly named Sinda--will of course have to leave. Her former parents give her a small sack of gold and send her to live with her aunt, a woman she's never met. Her aunt, a poor woman who works hard and likes being solitary, isn't cruel but is not particularly pleased to be saddled with her late brother's useless daughter. Sinda has courtly accomplishments, but was so divorced from the ordinary world that she has to learn how to dress herself.
(view spoiler)[After miserable months at her aunt's, Sinda realizes that the uncomfortable feelings she's been having are her magic, long repressed by the court magicians' spell to make her resemble the princess. She returns to the city she grew up in and begins training her magic. She resumes her friendship with Kiernan and even strikes up a tenuous relationship with princess Nalia, who is having a hard time adjusting to life in the palace. But then, just when everything seems to be settling into a good new pattern, Sinda makes a terrifying discovery. The Princess Nalia isn't the real Princess Nalia, either. The real princess is still somewhere out there! (hide spoiler)]
I really liked this book. Sinda has a unique and likeable voice; I immediately related to her and wanted the best for her. And I loved the twists on prophecies about princesses--the plot is so clever, without being overcomplicated. I liked that no one (save perhaps SPOILER) is downright bad, but that entrenched power structures and privilege do a lot of damage, not all of it intended. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
After nearly a decade of exile, Inda returns to his homeland to warn them of a Venn invasion fleet. His old friends are thrilled to see him (not least...moreAfter nearly a decade of exile, Inda returns to his homeland to warn them of a Venn invasion fleet. His old friends are thrilled to see him (not least the King, Evred, whose love for him has never died), but chilled by his news. They are all-too aware that the kingdom cannot defend itself against the overwhelming forces of the Venn.
This is another great book in the Inda series. Smith did a lot of the heavy lifting part of world-building in Inda and The Fox, so this book can focus on the characters and their adventures. Inda himself remains the least interesting character (although seeing him through the eyes of his Malrovan childhood friends gives him an extra bit of spice); the background characters are unique and well-developed. And the battles themselves are well-described and bloody. I feared for the life of every character (well, except Evred and Inda), because Smith has shown herself willing to abruptly kill anyone off. She does so here, as well, and it fits. The pseudo-victory Inda manages to pull off comes at a terrible price, and Smith makes sure the reader does not forget it. But warning--much like the previous books in the series, this book ends leaving the reader wondering and wanting more. You'll want to get your hands on Treason's Shore as quickly as possible!(less)
I waited for this book to come out for at least a year, and when I finally got it (tonight!) I started reading it and didn't stop until it was done. I...moreI waited for this book to come out for at least a year, and when I finally got it (tonight!) I started reading it and didn't stop until it was done. It is insanely enthralling.
This is the first paragraph: "The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink." This is our introduction to Nick Ryves, a sixteen year old who has been on the run from magicians his entire life. He and his older brother Alan (with a crippled leg and a habit of caring about pitiful cases) have only themselves to depend on--their mother is mad, and their father was killed years ago. Desperate to free his family and his friends from demons and magicians both, Alan comes up with plan that could kill them all as easily as save them.
Nick has a fascinating POV, and the relationships between characters are believable and drawn with a deft touch. Brennan has a great ear for dialog, and uses humor to great affect. Every character has motivations, moralities, pasts and personalities--the depth therein never overwhelms the action, but makes it feel real, instead. The action scenes feel frantic and alive, and the twists and turns near the end...damn. Worth reading the entire book just for the showdown.(less)
Worried that her son George is hanging out with criminals, Mistress Cooper shares with him the journals of their long-gone ancestor, Beka Cooper. Cent...moreWorried that her son George is hanging out with criminals, Mistress Cooper shares with him the journals of their long-gone ancestor, Beka Cooper. Centuries before George became King of the Rogues, she was one of the Provost's Dogs: the city's watch, charged with keeping the peace. Like her descendant, Beka is tough, with a prodigious memory and fierce sense of loyalty. After years serving the Dogs as a runner, she's finally allowed to tag behind two well-respected veterans, Tunstall and Goodwin. She hero worships them, and it's hard for her to learn that not even they can solve even half the crimes they come in contact with, let along all of them.
The 1st person diary style in which the story is told is a little clunky, but it serves its purpose. The action scenes maintain their immediacy, and Beka's personality comes through loud and clear.
Magic is real, and the people who use it are dicks.
Wizards have been engaged in a bloody battle for supremacy for generations, and they don't care wh...moreMagic is real, and the people who use it are dicks.
Wizards have been engaged in a bloody battle for supremacy for generations, and they don't care who they destroy in the process. In The Warrior Heir, young Jack finds out that he has magic and that the wizards plan to use him as a pawn in their latest scheme. With help from the few wizard rebels, he manages to badly damage the wizards' power over the other magic guilds. In the second book, The Wizard Heir, the growing band of rebels continue their fight to create an egalitarian magic society while keeping the non-magic users safe. But in The Dragon Heir the wizards forge an uneasy alliance amongst themselves, and their combined power may be enough to destroy the haven of Trinity and all who have worked so hard to create it. The rebels' only chance to survive is to harness the power of the Dragon Stone. But the secrets of how to use the stone have been lost for centuries, and they're running out of time...
Sounds awesome, right? After all this build up, The Dragon Heir should be the apex of excitement and epic adventure! And yet--it's actually kinda boring. There are so many characters, and they all get more than their fair share of inner monologues about their personal problems. Even though this is the final battle, Chima introduces all manner of extraneous characters and extra plot points, then forgets about half of them. It's an unfocused mess of a book, and the climax is an unsatisfying deus-ex-machina.
The world building is subpar (I'm still bothered by the fact that we never see any hint that there's a broader world out there--it's all either western Europe or America. If both sides are in such dire straits, how come they never thought of seeking out help elsewhere?) and the plot is inconsistent. Chima isn't great at creating novel, memorable characters, either--I literally could not remember which male teen was which. That said, when Chima focuses on Seph, Jack or Madison, the story comes alive. And Chima is one of the few ya novelists who doesn't do gender essentialism. I loved that the male and female warriors are described using the same language (none of that half-hearted bullshit about how the dude is so strong and brawny and the lady is "lithe" or "slender"--they both hack people to death with swords and have got the incredible fore-arms to prove it). The characters have a wide range of motivations, abilities, and goals, irrespective of gender. It's sad how excited I am to find a fantasy book without that set of stereotypes.
Overall, I'd recommend this series, but with the caveat that the last book doesn't live up to what came before it.(less)
Chloe just wants to grow up and direct movies, but the periodic horrific hallucinations she suffers from makes leading a normal, easy life improbable....moreChloe just wants to grow up and direct movies, but the periodic horrific hallucinations she suffers from makes leading a normal, easy life improbable. After freaking out at school, Chloe is forced into a home for teens with psychological issues. At Lyle House, Chloe tries her hardest to get better--but no matter how many meds she takes, she can still hear voices from the empty basement. After talking to a few of the other teens, she begins to wonder if maybe she's supernatural, not schizophrenic.
It's an engaging adventure, but low-key enough that the characters have enough time to have nuanced conversations about the stigma associated with mental illness and the impacts of classism and racism on their lives--never in heavy-handed ways, and always in a tone that feels natural. The plot to the Summoning is good, but the real stand-out aspect of this novel is the characterization. Chloe is a realistic, believable heroine, with a specific personality and interests of her own. The minor characters are equally well-realized. They feel like people in their own right, with their own families and causes, rather than simply background noise. I'm excited to read the next book in the series, just to see more of these characters. (less)
At age 15, Harper Connelly was struck by lightning. She survived, but it left her with a bad leg--and the ability to sense the dead. Since then, she a...moreAt age 15, Harper Connelly was struck by lightning. She survived, but it left her with a bad leg--and the ability to sense the dead. Since then, she and her step-brother Tolliver have traveled the country, solving murders and finding bodies. The closely observed details of their odd life and relationship are the strongest part of the series. Harper and Tolliver are each other's best friends and (as of the third book in the series) lovers. Harris neither ignores nor glamorizes their codependence. Over the years they've worked out systems to keep them sane and healthy (crates of secondhand books in the trunk, daily runs, which chain restaurants are the cheapest and healthiest), but if separated, each is at a loss. And although they just want to make a living, Harper has a strong sense of morality to go with her supernatural power, and so she keeps getting sucked into solving the murders she discovers. The mysteries themselves are always interesting, but also sordid and grim.
This is the fourth book in the series, and it mostly deals with Harper and Tolliver's twisted family. This book made me realize that Harris is a much more skillful writer than I realized; she'd laid hints throughout the series, and one extra clue is all it takes to make them go off like a chain reaction. Finally, Harper recieves answers--some to questions she didn't even realize she needed to ask. (less)
Princess Teressa has been trying for years to make up for spending her childhood undercover in an orphanage. She works unceasingly to be a good prince...morePrincess Teressa has been trying for years to make up for spending her childhood undercover in an orphanage. She works unceasingly to be a good princess, despite repeated kidnap attempts and sneering relations. But then King Andreus's soldiers attack, (view spoiler)[killing her parents and (hide spoiler)] leaving her on the run. Teressa has to reclaim her kingdom from Andreus, while proving to her power-hungry relatives that she can rule. It's a tall order, but Teressa is smart and self-possessed, and she has a great group of friends. While she fights on the battlefield and for social rank, Tyron, Prince Connor and Wren quest to find a spell to defeat King Andreus.
Teressa is a great character, and this book contains her ruminations and realizations in regards to physical strength, physical discomforts, and being royalty. Hereditary rule of a feudal society is a hard thing to reconcile with a thoughtful and ethical mind, and Teressa struggles with her newfound leadership. Meanwhile, she also wrestles with her newfound attraction to (view spoiler)[ Prince Connor. He is her mother's younger half-brother, making him her UNCLE. I just couldn't bring myself to root for a romance between a man and his niece, so that whole subplot fell flat for me (hide spoiler)].
These books are a lot of fun, mostly due to their well-developed characters and interesting world-building. The plots themselves are a little simplistic, particularly in regards to how the main villain is dealt with. Time and time again, he slips away. And even after he kills multiple friends and relatives of the main characters, their idea of attacking him is to tie knots in his clothes. (I am not joking. Wren sneaks into his castle to get a magic book and, finding his rooms unguarded, decides the best idea is to short-sheet his bed and tangle up his clothes. Wren is a teenager at this point, so she reads as distrubingly short-sighted and immature instead of wacky and light-hearted.) But this is partly what I like about the books so much--as in the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, the characters are troubled by the prospect of killing. They seek ways around it, through compromise, weather magic, and illusory defenses. I'm glad they don't immediately resort to murder to solve their problems, but I don't think Smith has yet figured out a reasonable and responsible way to deal with villains like Andreus.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Jack heads to Hollywood to create a trilogy of movies about himself. Little Boy Blue plunges deep into the heart of the Adversary's empire. And in Fab...moreJack heads to Hollywood to create a trilogy of movies about himself. Little Boy Blue plunges deep into the heart of the Adversary's empire. And in Fabletown, Mowgli is set on Bigby's trail, to track down the Big Bad Wolf and bring him home.
It's a fun story, but there wasn't any character development here. Jack's story was a cute, self-contained one, although I'm sure his surge in popularity in the Mundy world will have consequences. Little Boy Blue's should have been a nail-biter, but there was never any intensity to his adventure. I mean, he's on a suicide mission to assassinate the man who destroyed the lives of everyone he knows, had him tortured, and rules his homeland with an iron fist--and yet, he just makes little quips. I will say that I'm a bit fascinated with the Adversary's Empire, and his lieutenant, the fearsome Snow Queen.(less)
Centuries before the events of The Amulet of Samarkand, the irreverrent djinni Bartimaeus was enslaved to a magician serving King Solomon. He involves...moreCenturies before the events of The Amulet of Samarkand, the irreverrent djinni Bartimaeus was enslaved to a magician serving King Solomon. He involves himself in a young warrior's quest to assassinate the king, but on the moment of their victory they realize that there are far greater threats than Solomon.
It's such a pleasure to read about Bartimaeus again. He's so wonderfully sarcastic, untrustworthy, and secretly just a little good-hearted. His footnotes alone would make me love this book, but the plot is a fast-paced adventurous romp, with just enough darkness to be scary, so it's all great fun. It is far, far more light-hearted than the series, and for that I am grateful. It's an enjoyable prequel to the depressing dystopic series that will someday succeed it.(less)
If you've never before read a modern retelling of a fairy tale or legend, or if you've never really thought about Christianity, paganism, or in fact f...moreIf you've never before read a modern retelling of a fairy tale or legend, or if you've never really thought about Christianity, paganism, or in fact feminism, then this book might intrigue you. (less)
The first, and one of the very few, books that has ever reconciled me to Arthurian myth. After slogging through hideous Victorian sentimental priggish...moreThe first, and one of the very few, books that has ever reconciled me to Arthurian myth. After slogging through hideous Victorian sentimental priggishness everywhere else, this is a breath of fresh and magical air into a tired story. (less)