This review was first published on my blog, Nine Pages.
I won a copy of The Secret of Blackwatch through Goodreads' giveaways.
Amber Cavalier SThis review was first published on my blog, Nine Pages.
I won a copy of The Secret of Blackwatch through Goodreads' giveaways.
Amber Cavalier Spiler understands the deep bond that can form between human and horse. In her new middle-grade series, Blackwatch Stables, the girls of Blackwatch can hear their horses’ voices in their heads. The girls of Blackwatch are descendents of families that have unusually deep bonds with the spirits of particular horses. The spirits of those horses always find their girls. The girls of Blackwatch are one of several stables whose riders have this unique bond with their horses. Then there is at least one rogue stable. When the heart of a rider with this bond to his horse turns cruel and hard, so does the horse, and these horses become dragons. I love the concept of horses with a connection to cruel riders becoming dragons. It explains so much of dragon-rider literature. First, that dragons can be ridden, also the nearness of many of these tales to “horse stories” (see Anne McCaffrey or Chris Paolini and compare to Walter Farley or Marguerite Henry, though admittedly the dragons in these tales can often be ridden for good), and last the question that I came across on the Internet: “Why are the bad guys’ horses always menacing and demonic too?”
The first book in the series, The Secret of Blackwatch, did not delve into the sort of depth that I would have liked either in creating rounded characters or explaining the magic with which the story is infused.
This book started a bit slowly. The protagonist, Maggie, has lost her mother, and her dad, wanting to see his daughter smile again, decides to give her both lessons and a pony. At auction, a dirty gray belligerently insists on Maggie’s attention in the pen. This is the pony that Maggie sends to Blackwatch. Maggie spends a lot of time learning the finicky rules of Ms. Cavalieri’s stable before the magic begins. Ms. Cavalieri runs her stable as a military encampment at war rather than a stable—which thanks to the fantastical elements of this story, it is. I attended a stable that was run more like summer camp year round except that we had fewer hands year round and were more responsible for mucking fields in the other seasons. Helmets were insisted upon as they should always be, but while proper riding boots and pants or chaps were recommended, we could get away with jeans and sneakers on occasion. Braids, jackets, shirts (not a uniform but just a button down with a high collar), and spotless ponies were for show days only. Tall boots were never worn. The girls of Blackwatch as consequence remind me of the girls who always looked down their noses at our stable, and so I think that I was prejudiced against them from the get-go, the girls didn’t really become rounded enough to earn reprieves. I’m intrigued more by the adult riders, who seem now to have more secrets. I fear Spiler fell victim as so many have done to the perils of school stories: a necessarily huge cast overwhelming of the author and making it difficult to give any character—let alone all of the characters—depth.
The dragon-riders who have retreated to a hollow mountain fortress are at war with the stables that still have horses instead of dragons. The reasons for this war are not explained, though I suspect that they are personal and have more to do with jealousy and broken hearts than any gainful objective. It is implied that Maggie’s mother and a parent of each of the girls in the stable have been killed in this war. Maggie and her friend Katie discover the parents’ horses penned in the mountain. Maggie is able to communicate with her mother’s horse, who presumably shares a soul with Maggie’s horse Bella. How this soul is passed is not explained. The horses are not of the same breed, but look similar, sharing markings and coloring. I would have assumed the soul would pass on death and was very surprised when Maggie discovered her mother’s horse alive.
Stylistically, at times, it was evident that this is both Spiler’s first novel and one that was self-published. The protagonist’s physical description and back-story were shoved mercilessly into the beginning and not worked into the text. Physical details were often not mentioned a second time, making them forgettable, and unsurprisingly, the horses were better described than the people. Spiler kept Maggie at a distance increased greatly by the use of Maggie’s father name, a detail that, though Maggie would obviously know, she would not likely use in thinking or speaking about him. Though Maggie was very clearly the only POV character and it was supposed to be Maggie’s story, I felt as if I never got to know Maggie. The narration seemed to brushed light fingers over “her gray matter but never took me into the squishy parts” as I just explained to a friend.
Through all of these rather common stumbles, I thought that the concepts of The Secret of Blackwatch were all good ones if I’d have liked them to be a bit better explained and executed. I hope future books will expound upon and make clear the purposes of this war. I hope we will learn more about the workings of this universe and magic. ...more
It was a long wait for The House of Hades, fourth in The Heroes of OlympuOriginally posted on my blog, Nine Pages.
This review contains MAJOR spoilers.
It was a long wait for The House of Hades, fourth in The Heroes of Olympus, the sequel series to Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. The third book, The Mark of Athena, left our heroes literally plunging to a fate worse than death, and it didn’t seem likely that a rescue was possible without death or the sacrifice of someone to that worse than death fate.
Given all that, I was pleasantly surprised by the comparatively happy ending of The House of Hades.
Frank’s and Jason’s characters are greatly built up in this latest novel, as is Percy’s. Riordan questions as he never has before the morality of the demigods’ way of life, killing to survive and drawing black-and-white battle lines, where all monsters are bad (Percy Jackson and the Olympians has previously questioned if all demigods are good). Tartarus’ description never failed to be appropriately terrifying and disgusting. Leo’s story is given a sharp plot twist, that I think has all of us cheering for him.
[The major spoilers begin here.](view spoiler)[ The big story around The House of Hades is likely to be Nico’s revealed sexual orientation. Riordan has said that Nico’s non-heterosexual orientation arose organically, that the character told him rather than Riordan telling Nico—and that’s as it should be; I’m pleased to hear it. Though I recognize that Rowling revealed Dumbledore’s sexual orientation because she was prompted by a fan’s question and because to do so showed her support for LGBT community and because it did not effect her plot, doing so did not effect the plot or explain any actions that otherwise seemed out-of-character (I would have believed—and do believe—that Dumbledore’s instinct would not have been to kill Grindelwald, even if he and Grindelwald had never loved one another, and I did not question why it took so long for Dumbledore to confront Grindelwald because it didn’t effect the present plotline). Revealing Nico’s sexual preference within the contexts of the plot, I am more open to hearing about it. It reveals more about Nico’s prickly hesitation to try to belong or to become close to anyone.
But Riordan did not continue (or has not yet continued) along the plot trail as far as I wanted him to do (for the sake of good storytelling not because it is pleasant).
I have a greater understanding of the term “head canon” than I perhaps ever had before. Nico’s distrust because of his sexual orientation and his fear that he will be rejected for it ought to be worse for him than for any other character who could reveal himself to be of a LGBT orientation because he is a child of World War II Europe. Had it been any other character with the exception of Hazel, they would have been children of the 1990s. Growing up and coming to realize that they were attracted to the same gendered characters, they might have feared bullying and social isolation, but in the 1930s and 1940s, had Nico not been whisked away to America and to the Lotus Hotel, he would have had to fear being dragged from his house and thrust into a crowded railcar. He’d have had to fear forced labor, unethical scientific experimentation, gas chambers…. And this is why Nico’s painful confession, dragged out of him against his will through taunting, necessity, magic, and a beating, hurt me so much.
In my head canon, Hades, being a god, knew and took Nico away from Europe and away from his half-brother, Adolf Hitler, because he couldn’t bear to have one son kill another and wanted to protect Nico—because Hades really has seemed to be a surprisingly compassionate and present parent.
Many people have also been lauding the burgeoning of new powers in Hazel and Piper, both sorcerous. While interested in the power to bend the Mist, I actually felt that very little was done with their characters this book. I think partially because Piper’s and Hazel’s new powers are of a similar vein, I had a difficult time keeping the two of them distinct from one another. Also, sorcery has often been viewed negatively in Greek mythology and within Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus, and while I don’t think it is Riordan’s intention to any way create negative associations for Piper or Hazel, I worry that I could academically argue that he has done so by making them both sorceresses in the vein of Circe, Medea, Pasiphaë (all villains in both Riordan’s series and most of mythological stories), and even Hecate, a minor goddess who had previously sided with the Titans.
I’m also very interested in the revelation that Greek and Roman may not be determined by birth, that a side can be chosen. I think that that will have a major effect on the whole of the plot—and probably Jason ought to have revealed what he has learned about the definition of Greek and Roman to Reyna before they parted ways again so that she could reveal it to the Greeks and Romans in America—though I totally understand why he did not. How does one casually tell a friend that one has decided to disown one’s race to identify with another race with which one’s birth race is currently at war? Will deciding to identify as a child of Greece rather Rome affect Jason’s powers or personality? I think not.
Peppered with the usual Riordan humor and plenty of “Perceabeth” moments, this was a well-paced novel, still not as breakneck as The Percy Jackson series, but more quickly paced than The Mark of Athena. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Edited from a review originally published on my blog, Nine Pages. The original includes links.
It took me almost 11 months to finish Diane Duane’s TheEdited from a review originally published on my blog, Nine Pages. The original includes links.
It took me almost 11 months to finish Diane Duane’s The Door Into Fire, first in The Tale of the Five series. I found a reference to this adult series by Duane on her blog, Out of Ambit, and not more than a few days later, found the first two books in a local used bookstore. It seemed fated and being already a big fan of Duane’s middle-grade/teen series, Young Wizards, and being more an adult than teen myself now, I thought I had better try the series.
I knew very little about these books before I bought them, only what that blog post and the covers revealed. First let me mention that there are several covers, and that if I’d even seen one of them, the Methuen/Magnet Books (UK) cover, I’d have run so far in the other direction.... As it was, I found the cover above, with nothing to deter me and everything to recommend the book: a good-looking man in Medieval-type clothes on a bright chestnut horse trailing fire and Duane’s name. Neither cover really works well for me as an indicator of the story inside, but I’m very glad to say that about the one in the link. I don’t want anyone to run in the opposite direction purely because they find that cover.
Within three months, I got about 70% of the way through the novel… and then I don’t know what happened. I don’t think that whatever happened was the fault of the plot. Looking back, that seems to be a pretty exciting part of the book, battling dark spirits from another dimension and holding them back with only a net of magic.
It might have had to do more with the characters, to whom I didn’t particularly connect at any point during the book. I want to be able to diagnose why. I haven’t yet been able to fully, but here are a few thoughts:
1) The characters around Freelorn are complete mysteries even after I close the book—and I can only remember the name of one of his party—a woman who is the heroine of the sequel book. Maybe Duane hadn’t learned how to handle a larger cast yet. I’m researching now and I think that this is Duane’s first book, coming even before her Star Trek novelizations.
2) I like to expect sex rather than be surprised by it. Even so I’m very particular and am still a fan of scenes that fade to black or are at least inexplicit. From the blog and the cover blurb, I wouldn’t have thought that these books had much to do with romance, let alone with the consummation of any romantic feelings.
What scenes there were here were inexplicit, but there were several romantic entanglements, heterosexual, homosexual, with a goddess, with an elemental. While I respect Duane’s openness and boldness in choosing to write about such relationship, especially knowing Duane from her Young Wizards series, which is steeped in Christian mythology and in which Duane scoffs at the perceived necessity of a sexual relationship to drive plot or sales, these relationships were unexpected.
That unwanted surprise created distance between me and the characters, like a broken trust.
I did like that Duane focused on the complications of these relationships rather than on the sexual acts. I also liked what she did with sexual relations in regards to the religion of the world.
The religion that Duane invents for this world is very thought provoking.
The deity here is a woman (there are some wonderful feminist undertones in this book--especially considering that the book has a male protagonist whose primary romantic partner is also male)—a pansexual woman, who has intercourse with several of the heroes and our heroine simultaneously at one point in the story and gives the main protagonist—Herewiss—a drug to allow him to see as She sees. She is in search of Her best and fullest Self by helping mankind to be their best selves.
The religion and the novel are about self-discovery and -acceptance. That self-acceptance and –discovery manifests very physically for Herewiss in the unlocking of his Flame—or magical energy—to which he has had but limited access (though what he has been able to do with this limited access is rather astounding, so he ought to be a true force to be reckoned with—a hurricane where all who oppose him are but gnats—when he obtains full access; that’s a frightening idea, and I hope that Duane plays with that truly overwhelming power through the series).
The astoundingly beautiful language and the complex and scientific conceptualizations of magic are here as well as in the Young Wizards series. Because that is a lot of what I love of the Young Wizards series, it seems worth mentioning. I have several passages marked that I particularly enjoyed. All those, as I look back on it, are descriptions of the magic that Duane has invented for this world.
It’s not a story I regret. It’s one that I’d like to try again and read over a shorter period of time. If that changes my opinion, I will let you all know....more