The Priory of the Orange Tree is a labor of love. As a reader, I could sense so much passion and effort poured into this novel, it is no wonder Samantha Shannon decided to take a break from The Bone Season series in order to birth this one into the world. But let’s first just get this out of the way: clocking in at more than 800 pages, this book certainly measures up to the task, but it also contains all the strengths and weaknesses one might anticipate with such an ambitious undertaking, especially considering we are dealing with the author’s first foray into the epic fantasy genre.
The story begins with a prophecy: an ancient evil called the Nameless One, said to be trapped in its abyssal prison, will return to the world after a thousand years of peace. It is written that this evil takes the form of a fire-breathing dragon, which, together with the rest of its fiery brethren, will bring destruction to all of humankind. Because so much history has been lost to time, it is unclear where the Nameless One originated or how it came to be defeated and imprisoned in the first place, but in the West, it is long thought that their legendary hero Galien Berethnet was the one who wielded the sword that grievously wounded the beast. To this day, many in Virtudom, the nation founded by Berethnet, still believe that his ancestors hold the key to the Nameless One’s containment. Legend says that as long as a queen descended from the line of Berethnet sits on the throne, the world will be protected, and so it has been for countless centuries, power passed down to a single daughter in each generation. Currently, the latest in the line is Queen Sabran—young, unwed, and childless, so the pressure is on to arrange a betrothal and conceive a daughter in order to protect her realm.
But while the West despises all kinds of dragons, the nations to the East revere them—especially the water-dragons they believe to have been the true reason for the Nameless One’s downfall. As such, they are worshipped as gods, and some individuals even dedicate their entire lives training for the honor of one day getting to ride one. Tané is one of these dragonrider hopefuls, whom we get to meet at the beginning of this novel when she chances upon a Western interloper and fails to report him to the authorities, fearing that it would jeopardize her ambitions.
And finally in the South, an entirely different kind of belief system has sprung up around the dragons. Like the West, they have no love for the creatures, but they also don’t believe that it is the line of Berethnet responsible for holding the Nameless One at bay. Still, a Southern order of female mages, called the Priory, has dispatched one of their own to the court of Sabran Berethnet in order to keep an eye on things—just in case. This secret agent of the Priory is Ead Duryan, who has been able to stay closely by the queen’s side all this time by masquerading as one of her ladies-in-waiting. In her undercover role, she has discovered that Sabran is being targeted for assassination. Using her brand of forbidden magic to cast protections around the queen, Ead is determined to ferret out the conspirators before they can put an end to the Berethnet line and possibly bring about the end of the world.
Clearly inspired by the epic fantasy traditions established by authors like George R. R. Martin or Robin Hobb, Samantha Shannon tries her hand at a sprawling, world-spanning saga of myth, dragons, and political intrigue. Rich, riveting world-building compels the reader to stick around and explore further from the very first page. I also liked how this novel incorporated a few touches of real-world elements, drawing heavily from European history and theology for the belief system of Virtudom, for example, or the fact that Eastern attitudes towards water-dragons are a reflection of the way Asian cultures revered the mythological beasts, which they also believed were celestial in nature. This blend of the new and familiar, as well as the author’s grasp of the need of balance between the two, was impressive and masterful.
That said, it would be disingenuous to pretend every single page of this massive tome held my attention. With so much world-building and character development to establish, this story takes a long time to find its legs. Even then, it stumbles around awkwardly for some time, jerking the reader’s attention this way and that as this cumbersome multi-thread narrative struggles to get to where it needs to be. What finally sealed the deal for me was the focus on Sabran around a third of the way through the novel, because I thought she was the most interesting character. However, this meant that every time we shifted away from her, it would be uncertain once more whether the other POVs could hold my interest.
As much as I appreciated this being a standalone, a part of me also wonders if the story could have been better served as a series of two or three books. There’s enough content here for a trilogy, certainly, and multiple books could have helped this saga achieve its full impact, as there were some ideas in here that felt shallow and unrealized. It also might have stabilized the pacing, because the difference between the slow, measured way information was doled out in the first half of the novel versus the rushed pacing in some of the later sections was quite jarring.
Still, the main forces driving The Priory of the Orange Tree are compelling, especially once character motivations are revealed and they become the most important factors fueling the story’s many conflicts. This clashing of beliefs and warring ideologies between East, West, and South eventually comes to a head in a very big way. Just who will win out was a question that kept me glued to the pages and pushing hard towards the end, even through some of the more tedious, meandering sections.
All in all, The Priory of the Orange Tree is not a perfect novel, but quite honestly, I did not expect it to be. Although Samantha Shannon already has a few books under her belt, epic fantasy can be a tricky genre riddled with traps and pitfalls for even the most experienced authors. In spite of this, and even given the novel’s flaws, I think she did a marvelous job pulling it all together.
Audiobook Comments: I’ve never listened to an audiobook narrated by Liyah Summers, and a quick check on Audible shows The Priory of the Orange Tree is her only credit, as of this writing. I really hope she’ll be scoring more narrating gigs after this, because her performance was excellent. Even with such a long novel, Summers was able to keep her voices and accents consistent, and she brought the story much power and presence with her reading....more
There’s a good reason why there’s not an official summary for this fifth and final novel of the Heartstrikers series, and that the description you will find everywhere is a message to the reader from the author about how there’s no way to write a blurb for this book without spoiling all the others. That’s because it’s true. So much has happened over the course of this series, with events and revelations piled up on top of one another, that to single out any thread would be a risk to unravel and reveal more information than I want to give. So, if you’re reading this review, I’ll assume that you are at least caught up to this point in the series, and if you’re not, be aware that there are potential plot details for the previous four volumes.
Last Dragon Standing picks up right up from the events at the end of Dragon of a Different Color. But before the story starts up in earnest, readers are given a brief glimpse into the past with Bob, our favorite dragon seer, who is seen striking a bargain that will change the course of Heartstriker history forever. We are then zipped back to the present, catching up with all our key players who have all gathered around the Detroit Free Zone following the aftermath of what happened to Algonquin, the spirit of the Great Lakes. There have been happy reunions all around—with lovers, friends, family, and even enemies coming together again—and that also includes the return of a couple characters that everyone thought was dead. But the celebrations have barely begun, when a new threat comes looming on the horizon—quite literally.
As epic as this finale was though, I had some concerns. For one thing, I can see why now Rachel Aaron had to make this a five-book series to wrap things up. Don’t get me wrong, I think this final volume was absolutely required, but it irked me a little that so much of it was made up of nothing but talk. If I hadn’t been so invested in the story already, I think I would have been bored to tears, and even then, there were times where the amount of talk really tried my patience. Up to this point, each Heartstriker novel has been a lot of fun, full of action and witty banter. It saddens me that I can’t really say the same for Last Dragon Standing, because at least two thirds of it was filled with our characters doing nothing but just standing around, explaining the situation or discussing battle plans in a very dry, in-your-face tone. Not that this kind of information wasn’t important to the plot, but it still felt an awful lot like blatant info-dumping.
I also think that’s a clear sign of a book trying to do too much when you literally need to have a character chime in and explain what’s happening every single step of the way. In a sense, one of the series’ greatest strengths has become its biggest liability. I’ve always loved the incredible world-building in Heartstrikers and how every book has introduced new elements as well as bigger, badder, and more overwhelming threats for Julius and the gang to face. But now we’ve gotten to the point where the situation has ballooned into something barely manageable, and yet, we still have to tie everything together in one final volume that also happens to be the shortest book of the series.
Still, I don’t know if things could have turned out any differently. As I said before, Last Dragon Standing completes the author’s vision of Julius’ journey, bringing everything full circle back to where we began, in the DFZ. Only now, our nice dragon is no longer alone or quite so powerless. Everything has been building up to this point, and at the end of the day, getting a satisfying conclusion that addresses all questions and conflicts is probably worth putting up a few pacing issues, or having to soldier through some lengthy sections of dialogue. Also, the last quarter of the book was amazing, which went a long way in making up for the tedious talk at the beginning. It was an emotional rollercoaster, and despite feeling confident that Rachel Aaron would leave us all with a happy ending, I still got extremely nervous there for a little while.
Bottom line, as the finale of one of my favorite series, I wish Last Dragon Standing had been a little more fun to read. However, if you’ve been following the books thus far, you probably won’t be too bothered by the lack of action. While this one was mostly full of talk, all of it still went towards building up to the stunning climax. As befitting a series conclusion, the antagonist was an insurmountable threat requiring all our characters coming together to defeat, and that part of the battle was handled in a truly epic fashion. Everyone—and I do mean everyone—we’ve come to know and love in this series will have a part to play, and I really enjoyed the feel-good, fist-pumping energy in the final showdown. All in all, that ending makes this a must-read book in a must-read series, and Heartstrikers will always have a special place in my heart and on my shelves. I can’t wait to see what Rachel Aaron does next.
Audiobook Comments: Vikas Adam has become the voice of this series, and I think I’ll always know him for the incredible performances he has given for these books. He was so good that I’ll even miss his “Bob voice”, which is really saying something! I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Heartstrikers in audio; I’ve had just as much fun listening to this series as reading it, and both formats have been greatly entertaining and rewarding....more
When I first learned of Dragonshadow, I admit I was taken a bit by surprise. I honestly hadn’t expected a sequel to Heartstone, mainly because the first book did such a good job of being a faithful retelling of Pride and Prejudice, albeit set in a high fantasy setting. Things ended well for our protagonists Aliza Bentaine and Alastair Daired, and I thought that was the end of that.
But apparently, the author had more planned for her characters, and I suppose in this world full of magic and extraordinary monsters, I should have anticipated the possibility of more stories. Dragonshadow picks up not long after the end of Heartstone, which saw the dragonriders prevail over the monstrous forces at the Battle of North Fields. Aliza and Alastair are now married, enjoying the final few days of their honeymoon when an unexpected visit from a messenger arriving from the Castle Selwyn forces them to return home early. It appears that an unknown monster has been terrorizing the rural countryside, killing other preternatural creatures for their precious hearts. But now a young serving girl has gone missing, and everyone fears that the monster must have taken her too.
Reminded of the way her own little sister had been attacked and killed by a wild gryphon, Aliza’s heart immediately goes out to the people of Castle Selwyn, and she convinces Alastair to take the contract. Not content to remain at home, however, she also persuades him to let her come along. The journey will be long and arduous, taking them through dangerous territory infested with monsters, but Aliza knows in her heart this is something she must do, or else she will forever be left behind and shut out of the most important part of her husband’s life.
As unexpected as this sequel was, I am happy that we got it. After the first book, I think many readers, myself included, were keen to know more about this world beyond the Jane Austen elements. I wouldn’t say the story was one of Heartstone’s strong points, mainly because Elle Katharine White was working under so many constraints in order to follow the original plot of Pride and Prejudice so closely, though she more than made up for it with her incredible world-building. Hence, the more I thought about it, Dragonshadow seemed like the perfect opportunity for the author to further spread her wings and explore her characters and develop her storytelling more fully.
This moment, I’m pleased to say, was not wasted. With retellings you always run the risk of readers having preconceived notions of how your characters should think and act, using their familiarity with the original work as a template. However, Elle Katharine White immediately leapt to the task of making these characters her own. The attention is shifted to more serious matters, now that the honeymoon period is literally over. Every marriage comes with its own unique problems, and Aliza is trying to figure out her new role as a dragonrider’s wife, knowing she has certain traditions to uphold. However, she also has her own hopes and dreams for the future and is reluctant to let Alastair shoulder all his responsibilities without her, a thread of conflict that runs though much of this book. That said, their love for each other remains unshakeable, and romance still plays a prominent role in this book, only now it feels even deeper and more meaningful.
I was also glad to see this sequel expand the world that so enchanted me in Heartstone. There was much less focus on dragons and their lore in this one, sad to say, but this also gave the author a chance to show off other aspects of the setting, because there is so much more to this series. The story is a mix of mystery and drama, as Aliza and Alastair come in contact with all sorts of amazing fantastical creatures in their quest to discover who or what it is responsible for all the killings, and why the two of them might have become targets themselves. White puts our couple through plenty of challenges and ordeals, both physical and emotional. It’s heartbreaking, but also rewarding in the end to watch the characters support and pull each other through hard times.
If you liked Heartstone, I would highly recommend picking up Dragonshadow, especially if you enjoyed the general concept and wanted to see more. With this sequel, I felt the series has come into its own, moving beyond any restrictions a retelling would have placed on characters and plot. I felt that Elle Katharine White took full advantage of her new freedom to deeply explore Aliza and Alastair’s relationship, and fans of fantasy adventure and romance should find plenty to sink their teeth into with this one.
Audiobook Review: I was fortunate enough to also receive a listening copy of Dragonshadow in audio, which I enjoyed just as much as the print version. I wasn’t familiar with Billie Fulford-Brown as a narrator, though she sounded very familiar and had a distinct elegance to her voice that I felt was perfectly suited for Aliza. She did a wonderful job and brought an extra layer of dynamism to the experience.
If there’s one thing I can say about The Invisible Library series, it’s that I can count on the books being consistently solid and entertaining. That’s why I always look forward to picking up the next installment, and that was most definitely the case too with The Mortal Word.
In this fifth volume of the series, the war between the Fae and Dragon-kind is heating up. Attempts to broker a peace treaty are jeopardized when a high-level dragon is found stabbed to death, and naturally the dragons are quick to point the finger at their sworn enemies, the Fae. Our protagonist, the time-traveling, parallel-worlds-hopping, book-stealing Librarian agent Irene Winters, is thus tasked to get to the bottom of who committed the murder before the situation can devolve any further. Joining Irene on the investigation is also Vale, her talented detective friend, along with some backup from dragon prince and former Library apprentice Kai.
Meanwhile, the peace talks must go on. As a representative of the Library, Irene must oversee the meeting with the eye of a neutral mediator, as well as ensure that the process goes smoothly. However, someone is bent on disrupting the talks with poisoning and deadly sabotage attempts, causing even more trouble for Irene and her team. With the stakes so high, anything can happen now to tip the fragile balance between Order and Chaos, potentially threatening the fate of countless worlds connected to the great interdimensional Library.
Somewhat breaking with tradition, this installment does not involve much book stealing or hunting. Instead, granting Irene one of her long-held childhood dreams, Genevieve Cogman sends her protagonist sleuthing in an entertaining and wonderfully executed murder mystery plot. It was quite a treat to see Irene relish in this role, which includes plenty of new responsibilities requiring her to exercise different talents and skills. But it’s not all fun and games as our girl learns that with leadership also comes accountability and all the pressures that come along with it. Worse, her new position plunges her into the complicated world of Library politics, and more than once, Irene is forced to pit her own professional standards against her loyalties and natural instincts to follow orders.
By following a more traditional mystery plot, however, this book also features a more conventional storyline as well as a less elaborate and flamboyant setting. Compared to The Lost Plot, the previous novel which transported readers to a world reminiscent of the American Roaring Twenties complete with fedora-wearing, tommy gun-toting, jazz-listening gangsters, the worlds of The Mortal Word seemed downright tame. However, Cogman knows balance. The areas of character development and relationship dynamics are where this one shines. As a Vale fan, I was very happy with the prominent part he ended up playing in this novel. I was also pleased with the attention given to the bond between Irene and Kai, especially given the all the recent challenges they’ve been through together. I also loved how the story made more room for characters like Lord Silver, as well as some truly fascinating Fae figures like the countess or the princess.
All told, this was another exciting and fun-filled romp through the myriad worlds of The Invisible Library along with my favorite Librarian spy, and I particularly enjoyed the elements of mystery and intrigue that featured so strongly in The Mortal Word. The combination of humor, adventure and the constant pleasure of not knowing what to expect always makes picking up an installment of this series a special treat. Every book is a surprise, and I’m eager to find out where Genevieve Cogman will take her fans next....more
I enjoyed Tess of the Road more than I expected, but probably less than I had hoped. I wasn’t a big fan of Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina duology when I read it, but nevertheless felt optimistic about her new book because I have a love for “wanderlust” stories and the description of Tess as a “troublemaker” immediately piqued my interest.
To her credit, our protagonist was living up to that promise from the start. When she was a little girl, Tess was caught trying to stage a pretend marriage between her twin sister and cousin because she wanted to know where babies came from. Just a child’s innocent curiosity, perhaps—but it does foreshadow a lot more to come. Years pass, and all of Tess’s energies have turned towards helping her sister Jeanne find a good husband, having ruined her own prospects in the eyes of her family. Society now considers her “damaged goods”, and Tess is forced to hide her past like a shameful secret. Lashing out at Jeanne’s wedding, she winds up drinking too much and causing a scene, jeopardizing the entire marriage. Driven to her last nerve, her mother decides to send her to a convent, but before any arrangements could be made, Tess dons the disguise of a boy and runs away, taking to the road.
What follows is an almost episodic narrative that traces the ups and downs of Tess’s journey as she travels across the land, meeting new people and trying new experiences. It is also a deeply personal tale of self-discovery and coming to terms with one’s own past.
The problem, however, is the book’s structure, consisting of a present timeline with flashbacks inserted throughout, revealing the events which made Tess such a social pariah and why her own family holds her in such contempt. In truth, it is not hard to guess; as I said, there were plenty of hints provided in the early pages. But knowing exactly what happened makes Tess a more sympathetic character and easier to understand, and unfortunately, these important details are held back until late into the novel. In light of these revelations, Tess’s troubled personality is cast in a different light, but of course, by then it might be too late for readers who have already made up their minds about her character.
The “episodic” nature of Tess’s adventures also made the pacing feel uneven. Some parts of the story, especially in the middle of the novel, were slow and I had some difficulty trying to stay focused. Most of the time, I just found myself hoping for another flashback so that I could find out more about Tess’s past. To be fair, the book did pick up again near the end with the introduction of Josquin, though by then my attention had already been severely tested.
Finally, Tess of the Road is a very “mature” book, dealing with a lot of issues modern teens face today. Personally, this made the story a much more compelling read, though I fear these themes might lose a bit of their significance due to the fantasy context, or they could potentially become a mere distraction to those who rightfully just want a bit of escapism. In a way, some of the novel’s greatest strengths are also its biggest drawbacks, and the mixed response from the YA community now makes a lot more sense to me.
Despite some of my mixed feelings, I’m still very excited to read the sequel. The book ends on a high note just as things were becoming interesting, promising more excitement in Tess’s future. For better or worse, I don’t think the next volume will focus as much on our protagonist’s inner turmoil, considering how far she has come in this first book with regards to realizing her own self-worth. As long as Tess continues to travel and grow as a character though, I can definitely get behind a more adventurous and action-oriented sequel....more
It’s rare that I find myself at a loss for words about a book, and while I’m sure I can come up with any number of adjectives to describe Chandler Klang Smith’s The Sky Is Yours, I doubt even that would be sufficient to give the full picture of the novel. This is just one of those once-in-a-lifetime books with a story that is much bigger than the sum of its parts, and can’t be easily summarized or placed neatly into any one category. Here’s to giving it my best shot, though!
Imagine a city, at once high-tech and futuristic, but also burned-out and falling apart. This is Empire Island, where our story takes place. High above in the skies, a pair of dragons continually rain down fire upon the buildings and citizens, creating mass havoc. This has been going on for so many years that they have become a become a fixture on the landscape; those who could not bear the constant threat of destruction have long since fled the city, while those who chose to remain have learned to live with the new reality.
As such, Empire Island has become a place of dichotomies. Within its crumbling underbelly there lives a thriving world of danger and violence, where the gangs are effectively in control. Meanwhile, the rich and the famous live in decadence and luxury, safely shielded from the chaos and poverty in their own backyard. One of our main protagonists, Duncan Humphrey Ripple V, is a young man who belongs to this wealthy upper class. As the scion of one of the city’s oldest and most powerful families, he is also the star of a reality TV show called Late Capitalism’s Royalty, and just like the monarchies of old, his parents have decided that it is time for their pampered and foppish teenage son to be married. A betrothal is thus arranged between Ripple and the Baroness Swan Lenore Dahlberg—AKA Swanny—whose mother will stop at nothing to see her daughter become ruler of all of Empire Island.
But before he can formerly meet Swanny, Ripple ends up crashing his hover car into a landfill, where he meets a young feral woman who has been living among the trash. Her name is Abracadabra—Abby for short—and she has been waiting her whole life for her prince to drop from the skies. Ripple becomes quite taken with Abby too, and when he is eventually rescued by his family, he decides to bring her along.
More than this, I dare not say for fear of revealing anything else; The Sky Is Yours is one of those books where it’s best to go in with a blank slate, the better to be surprised by all its wonders and oddities. The imagination and creativity displayed here is off the charts. It’s almost overwhelming at first; at times it felt like I was thrown into a hyper-imaginative child’s dreams without a tether, with the amount of new sights and sounds you have to take in, but the world is so amazing that you can’t help but give it your full attention. The writing also made it easy to immerse myself; Chandler Klang Smith’s prose is incredibly polished and well put together considering this is her debut, and the story’s wry, humorous tones succeeded in drawing me deeper into the plot.
This book is also populated with a number of fascinating characters. Ripple is a spoiled, self-absorbed, and impudent brat with a terrible case of “affluenza”, and yet I enjoyed reading from his perspective despite his many flaws. I watched with a perverse satisfaction as he lost everything and had to bumble his way through life in a series of events that were packed with both tragedy and hilarity. Then there’s Swanny, who is a study in contrasts. Intelligent, proper, and well-read, she’s nevertheless capable of the most outrageous thoughts and acts. Swanny’s anger is something to behold, though her character does mellow out somewhat once she discovers that a bizarre condition she suffers from will end her life prematurely. And finally, we have Abby, a girl who has been living wild in junkyard, scavenging for her survival. Before Ripple crash-landed on her doorstep, Abby believed all people to be evil half-machines—clearly, she has been alone for a long time with only her pet vulture for a companion—and her naivete can be as irritating as it is endearing.
Needless to say, this book will not be for everyone. Its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, with the sheer weight of its creativity and uniqueness threatening to overwhelm or sidetrack the reader. Sometimes I felt like I was reading an epic fantasy complete with noble houses, dragons, and a sprawling quest line involving an orphan’s search for her true parents; at other times it felt like I was lost in a futuristic sci-fi dystopian not unlike Blade Runner, and the dissonance caused by this might prove jarring for some. Though I enjoyed the first and last sections of the novel immensely, I also felt the middle part of the story faltered by focusing on too many threads and meandering a little off-track. And finally, some readers might find the characters too off-putting. Ripple, Swanny, and Abby are all products of their environment and upbringing, and their flaws are the results of their individual circumstances. However, because they are also a part of this strange and unfamiliar world, some of their more eccentric or extreme personality traits can make them difficult to connect with.
If you’re seeking something fresh and completely out of this world though, look no further because The Sky Is Yours is the book you’ve been waiting for. I really enjoyed it for the most part, despite some of the plot’s more confounding and meandering moments, but readers with an interest in genre mash-ups and exploring strange new worlds should find Chandler Klang Smith’s debut irresistible and satisfying....more
A good YA high fantasy is hard to find these days, which was why I became drawn to The Last Namsara as soon as I read its description. Featuring a world of magic, dragons, and rich mythology, the story follows Asha the Iskari, a princess of the realm and also its most fierce and deadly dragon slayer. But Asha also has a dark secret, her past shrouded in pain and misery. Even as a child, she’d loved the ancient stories of the Old Ones, but naïve to the danger behind their power, she inadvertently brought fire down upon her city, killing thousands. Believing it to be the only way she can atone for her sins, Asha has vowed to help her father kill Kozu, the oldest dragon. With the creature’s death, the Old Ways will be destroyed once and for all, and Asha will also be free of her arranged marriage to Jarek, the leader of the king’s armies.
It may all sound relatively straightforward and uncomplicated, but the lore and history woven into this narrative is anything but. The world of The Last Namsara is steeped in the ancient tradition of storytelling, and alongside Asha’s perspective, readers are treated to snippets of richly imagined legends and myths. Without a doubt, this was the element of the novel I loved most; from the stories that tell of the creation of the universe to the scandalous tales of corruption or forbidden love in the halls of the palace, I always looked forward to these interludes, which surprised me. Usually I am highly critical of these types of flashbacks (or any kind of break that would distract from the main plot in general), but I have to say the transitions here were done so beautifully and seamlessly that I hardly minded at all.
Of course, there’s also an interesting twist. Society was vastly different just a few generations ago, before Asha’s grandmother outlawed the old stories during her reign, declaring foreigners to be the enemies of her kingdom and dragons to be traitors to the crown. A kind of magic fell upon the land, so that even telling the old tales would make one waste away and die. For some reason though, Asha is unaffected, and thank goodness for that, because without her as our guide, taking us through her stories and teaching us more about her world, I don’t think this book would have been half so enjoyable.
Then there are the dragons, which certainly aren’t just there for show. Dragons are important in The Last Namsara, and they are also intimately and inextricably linked to the world-building. We see plenty of them in this book as the story delves into their complex history and relationship with our characters. They are powerful and ferocious, but they are also intelligent and have their own individual personalities. They even speak and enjoy listening to the stories of humans, making the dragon characters a joy to read about.
In terms of the writing, I only found out this was Kristen Ciccarelli’s debut after I finished reading. For a first novel, it’s actually very solid, if just a tad uneven in its pacing. This being such a common issue among new authors though, I no longer really find this to be a major fault. In Ciccarelli’s case, her strength is her imagination and this is apparent in the myths she creates, which is why I felt the first half of the novel was stronger than the second half, with most of the background-establishing stories clustered near the beginning. As the plot progressed, the need for these stories dropped off and we didn’t get as many of them later on in the story, which in turn took away some of the magic that initially drew me in. As alluded to before, it’s the world-building that makes this book stand out, so the story admittedly feels rather average whenever the author’s focus shifts to something else.
Still, overall I thought The Last Namsara was a good read, and it might even have been great with just a little extra polish and attention paid to the plot and characters to make them feel less generic compared to the excellent world-building. I think the potential is there for the series to grow into something more though, and I definitely want to be there when it happens, so I’ll be watching for the sequel. ...more
Golden Age and Other Stories is a charming little anthology that is sure to please fans of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire, though if you are just getting started on the series or are hoping to sample some of the stories here before diving into the main books, this will not be the most ideal entry point. For that, I highly urge you to simply pick up His Majesty’s Dragon, one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. While I don’t think you have to complete the series to appreciate this collection (I myself have only read the first six of the nine volumes), having some basic knowledge of the world to start will definitely help you out a lot.
This anthology also features an interesting format, consisting of six short stories which are then followed by about two dozen snippets termed “Drabbles”. All of them are accompanied by a piece of fan art upon which these tales are based, so not only are you getting plenty of dragon-y goodness with this collection, you’ll also be receiving a generous helping of gorgeous eye candy.
But how do the stories themselves stack up, you ask? Well, as with most collections, the offerings here are somewhat unbalanced, hitting both highs and lows. I don’t mind admitting that I was largely unimpressed with the first few stories or any of the Drabbles at the end, but sandwiched between them are several amazing gems that are so good that I would say they are worth the price of admission alone.
To begin, we have the first tale called “Volly Gets a Cow”, a short humorous piece that nevertheless left me feeling lukewarm towards it. One thing I did like though, was how this was one of the few stories in here that featured Temeraire displaying a deep font of patience as he tries to reign in one of his dragon friends, the playful and distracted Volly who only has eyes for a delicious yummy cow.
Next up is a story called “Planting Season”, which fortunately I enjoyed a lot better than the first. It stars a dragon in the Americas named John Wampanoag, who has fallen into a sort of mediator role between the Native Americans and the European settlers in the aftermath of the Revolution. Offering his services as a courier, John has a talent for making negotiations and a sharp mind for getting the best deal out of a trade. I liked how this one offered another view of the world from a different context, accomplishing just what a side story should do.
Then comes another dip, I’m afraid, in “Dawn of Battle”, a story starring a young Jane Roland that gives a bit about her background. To my disappointment, of the six full tales in this collection, I thought this was probably the least memorable, though if you’re a big fan of her character then this one may impact you a lot more.
Now comes the good stuff: The title story “Golden Age” is a reimagining of Laurence’s first meeting with his dragon. This alternate version has Temeraire’s egg washing up ashore on a desert island following a shipwreck. After hatching and falling in with a group of feral dragons, the lot of them decide to turn to a life of piracy, and their subsequent looting and plundering prompts Laurence to investigate and bring them to justice. Do I really need to spell out why this story was so awesome? PIRATE DRAGONS! Not to mention there’s also a heart-pounding encounter at sea involving dragons and a kraken, which hopefully shouldn’t be a spoiler considering how the image depicting this scene is plastered all over the cover.
After all the action, a more emotional, quiet tale is told next in “Succession”, a story about Temeraire’s mother. After laying twin eggs, Qian has to make a difficult decision in order to prevent a rivalry between the princes in the Chinese imperial family. This one really tugged on my heartstrings, reading about a nervous parent fretting for the precarious wellbeing of her growing child, only to find out about a second dragonlet. Something that should have been a blessing becomes the source of even more heartbreak in this beautiful story about motherhood and sacrifice, and I think fans of the series will also enjoy the little insights we get into Temeraire’s origins.
Without a doubt though, the crowning glory of this collection is “Dragons and Decorum”, and yes, the title should clue you in on the story’s inspiration, even without the mention of Elizabeth Bennet as the main protagonist. In this lovely, delightful mashup featuring a blend of the worlds of Temeraire and Jane Austen, Elizabeth is sent to the Aerial Corps as a young girl to become a dragon rider, returning home a few years later as Captain Bennett accompanied by her gabby Longwing named Wollstonecraft. Similar to the novel Heartstone by Elle Katharine White, this is a re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice with dragons, but what I loved about this story is that Elizabeth is the dragon rider instead of Mr. Darcy. It’s also quite a close retelling, though I did wish the story had ran a little longer because it was so cute and endearing. Novik also shows what a versatile writer she is, perfectly channeling Austen and the Regency-era style.
And finally, we come to the Drabbles, a series of 100-word paragraph-long stories which I honestly could have done without. Like a collection of random notes or passages clipped out of a book, I can see writing them being a fun little exercise for Novik and pairing them with pieces of fan art was also a very unique and cool idea, but for the most part none of them made much of an impression.
So, is Golden Age and Other Stories worth reading? If you’re a fan of Temeraire, the answer is absolutely yes. While the early stories and the ending Drabbles may be on the underwhelming side, I wouldn’t let that discourage you from seeking the real treasure found in the intervening pages. I would even go as far as to say standouts such as “Golden Age”, “Succession”, and “Dragons and Decorum” are must-reads, and happily, these three stories make up the bulk of this book. The world of Temeraire is rich and marvelous, and a collection like this reminds me that there’s always something more to discover....more
Ah, I love the Heartstrikers! I don’t know why it took me so long to read this book. Maybe it’s because I initially thought it was going to be the final installment and I just didn’t want the series to end! But A Dragon of a Different Color is in fact the penultimate volume, and I’m glad I finally got to read it. The story picks right up from the end of the previous book, so as always, the standard caveat applies for all my sequel reviews: spoilers for the previous books are possible, so avert thine eyes if you’re not caught up to the end of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished yet.
Once again, we meet up with our protagonist Julius, the youngest and nicest dragon of the Heartstriker family. To stop his clan from literally killing itself, Julius had set out to change the way things worked—by overthrowing his tyrannical mother, Bethesda, and forming an elected council so that none of them would have to resort to bloody violence ever again. But in accomplishing his goals, Julius has also lost so much. As the book opens, we see him mourning for the death of a dear friend. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, his grief is soon compounded by another shocking revelation about his siblings Bob and Amelia. Julius can’t bring himself to believe that Bob, the Heartstriker seer and the brother who has always been so kind to him, would commit such an unthinkable act, but the evidence doesn’t lie. It also means there are now even fewer people our protagonist can trust.
Meanwhile, the powerful spirit of the lake Algonquin is stirring, and unfortunately, in the midst of all these changes, the Heartstrikers are in no state to defend themselves. It also appears that their weakness has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese dragons and their Golden Emperor, who are now seizing this opportunity to invade Heartstriker territory. But is everything truly as it seems? Julius soon learns why the Golden Emperor is so powerful and how he has reigned for so long. But the Golden Emperor has his secrets too, and clearing the air may be the Heartstrikers’ only chance to come out of this catastrophe in one piece.
With so much happening in this book, it’s no wonder that there was never a dull moment and the pacing remained energetic and non-stop throughout. The narrative mainly bounced between two different threads, the first being the dramatic events occurring at Heartstriker Mountain, where Julius has his confrontation with the Golden Emperor, and the second being a more metaphysical subplot involving the afterlife and discovering what happened to the world’s magic all those centuries ago. Algonquin, who has thus far been a powerful force in the background, also gets a bigger role in this book and readers are even provided a glimpse into the events from her point of view.
But for me, the highlight of this novel was everything that unfolded at Heartstriker Mountain. As fascinating as it was to learn about the history of the Merlins and magic, it couldn’t hold a candle to the emotions and action being tossed all around at Bethesda’s former stronghold. Julius puts his diplomatic talents to good use, and shows how being “nice” doesn’t necessarily have to mean being a doormat. Undoubtedly, the traumatic events of the previous novel must have taught him some lessons, because I loved how he has developed more of a backbone in this one, pushing back when the situation calls for it.
But of course, in other respects, Julius is not quite so quick on the uptake. By the end of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, I think most readers have already figured out the big secret involving his sister Chelsie, given all the obvious hints. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably been impatiently waiting for the moment Julius the Oblivious finally gets it, and this book will be immensely satisfying for you. Chelsie has become one of my favorite characters, which is really incredible if you think about how she began this series as a kind of bogeyman figure for Julius, as the clan enforcer everyone feared. Now I just can’t get enough of her, and it delighted me to see her open up in some downright touching and tear-jerking moments in this novel.
To be honest, aside from some of the more mystical elements got in the way of the flow sometimes, and the fact we also didn’t get to see as much of the rest of the Heartstriker family like Justin, there really weren’t too many flaws with this book. Besides, I believe that the strengths more than made up for these minor weaknesses. Everything is shaping up quite nicely for an epic finale. As sad as I am that the next book will indeed be the concluding volume, I’m making a promise to myself that this time I won’t wait as long to read it.
Audiobook Comments: I’ve gone back and forth between the audio and print for this series and personally I find both formats to be equally enjoyable. After reading the print edition of the previous book, returning to Vikas Adam’s narration was a nice change of pace. I enjoyed his performance (except his Bob still sounds way too goofy for my liking, even if it’s all part of his character) and his huge range of accents and voices means he’s fantastic at making each individual’s personality stand out....more
Pride and Prejudice retellings and other Austenesque-inspired stories have traditionally been hit-or-miss with me, but there was something about Heartstone that drew me to it right away. Might it have been the dragons? Okay yeah, it was the dragons.
While I’ll be the first to admit I’m no aficionado on the works of Jane Austen, I am familiar enough with Pride and Prejudice to know that Heartstone is actually a pretty faithful rendition of the original, in some places following the plot so closely that I was surprised the author took such a direct route. The story follows Aliza Bentaine, the second of five daughters in a family living at Merybourne Manor. Their home has been set upon by monsters as of late, and six months ago tragedy struck as Aliza’s youngest sister was attacked and killed by one of the wild gryphons that have invaded the surrounding woods. This has led to the arrival of a band of Riders who have come to Merybourne to eradicate the creatures, and among them are the warriors Master Brysney and Master Daired.
Excited to have two noble bachelors visit the household, Aliza’s mother quickly ensures that her daughters would be present at the party to receive the Riders, and her hopes are answered as Brysney takes an immediate liking to Anjey, the eldest. Aliza herself, however, is unimpressed by Daired, whom she finds rude, arrogant, and standoffish. It also didn’t help that due to a hilarious misunderstanding, Daired started off their introductions by kicking Aliza’s good friend Tobble the hobgoblin clear across the yard. But in order to be polite to their guests, Aliza makes an effort to get to know the Riders and help them hunt the gryphon hordes in any way she can, even befriending Daired’s majestic mount, the dragon Akarra.
The publisher blurb for this book describes it as Elle Katharine White infusing Austen’s classic with her own brand of magic, and I find that wholly accurate. If you know your Pride and Prejudice, many of the major plot points in Heartstone won’t come as much of a surprise, i.e. just as Elizabeth and Darcy manage to find common ground and eventually fall in love, Aliza and Daired also come to an understanding with each other and gradually a romance blossoms between them. With the exception of the ending, I wouldn’t say that the strength of Heartstone is in its story since most of the plot closely mirrors the original, but what really shines is the world-building. White doesn’t stop at populating her book with all sorts of extraordinary creatures from hobgoblins and wyverns to lamias and lindworms, for she has also fleshed out the world with a vibrant culture that’s entirely of her own imagination. I loved how this world had its own history and religion, and even the dragons had their own set of traditions. One of the elements I most appreciated about this book was the fact that White did not set out to copy Austen’s style or reproduce the Regency period, because I doubt that would have worked as well for me.
Still, just when you think you’ve taken this book’s measure, the author does have a couple surprises hidden up her sleeve, waiting for the perfect time to spring them on the unsuspecting reader. I had briefly mentioned the ending, which definitely deserves more attention. For one thing, you most certainly won’t find anything like it in the original, and in a way I’m really glad this is where White decided to go “off-script” because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this book so much. Pride and Prejudice retelling or not, when a story features wyvern and dragon-riding warriors, I think it’s a safe bet that most readers would expect a battle scene or two to see them in action, and in this regard, I’m pleased to say Heartstone did not disappoint. That epic ending capped off what was for the most part a relatively tame and faithful retelling, and it was exactly what the book needed because I don’t think things could have wrapped up more perfectly.
In sum, Heartstone is described as a Pride and Prejudice retelling with fantasy elements, and for better or worse, that is exactly what you get—as in, right up until the grand finale, the plot matches up with the original almost perfectly, down to the similarity in character names, which at times can feel a bit disconcerting. That said though, I thought the decision to depart from the Regency style and language made this book a lot more readable and engaging, and the author’s own additions to the world are wonderfully original and well integrated. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, I think you’ll also find that the world-building elements are a key highlight along with the story’s superb ending, and despite its strength of being a rather close retelling, there’s no denying Heartstone was at its best when it was doing its own thing, delving into the fantastical. All told it was a delightful experience that felt comfortably familiar and fresh all at once, and I highly recommend it....more
It is with a heavy heart that I bid adieu to another one of my favorite series, but I am also glad that at long last I got to see all the ideas come to fruition in this fifth and final novel of Marie Brennan’s wholly unique Memoirs of Lady Trent. After all, Within the Sanctuary of Wings is everything a fan could want in a finale—a book that ends on a high note of hope and happiness while also deftly tying all the overall series themes and plot threads together.
Furthermore, I’m sure those who have been along for the ride since A Natural History of Dragons will be glad to know that the details behind Isabella’s most infamous scientific discovery—an event that has been teased for the first four books—will finally be revealed. Without a doubt, the answers were worth waiting for. I guarantee that the revelations in this book will change everything you think you know about this series.
The adventure, however, begins rather quietly. While attending a lecture on Draconean linguistics delivered by her husband, Isabella’s attention is unexpectedly pulled away by a Yelangnese stranger with an urgent matter to discuss with her. The man, whose name is Thu, reports that he has discovered the corpse of a new type of dragon while scouting with his fellow rebels in the mountains of the Mrtyahaima. As expected though, the remoteness of the location and its unforgiving conditions do little to faze the headstrong Isabella, who immediately works on putting together an expedition to Yelang so that her team can investigate Thu’s claims.
Unfortunately, their road is plagued with obstacles. There is only a tiny window time in which they must reach the Mrtyahaima mountains before the monsoon season brings heaps of snow upon the peaks. Then there are the political complications. The region is unstable with different tribes chafing under the Yelangnese rule, and it’s not like Isabella is exactly welcome in Yelang either, after the way she offended their government on one of her past adventures. Worst of all, there’s no guarantee that she will find evidence of a new dragon species. Weeks of planning and risk-taking could end up being all for naught.
But of course, our characters find something. And obviously I won’t spoil what it is here, but it’s something HUGE.
Without revealing anything though, I will admit that the twist caught me off guard—likely what it was meant to do, but it also left me with some mixed feelings. I’ve made no secret that one of my favorite aspects of this series are the dragons and the way they are handled—not as mythological beings or exceptional creatures with special abilities or powers as most fantasy novels depict them. In contrast, Brennan’s dragons are part of the natural world, a key theme which has provided the driving force behind all these books. I found this approach refreshingly original. I also loved the science and the learning, and most of all I loved Isabella’s quest to find out as much as she can about how dragons fit into the natural order of the world. Within the Sanctuary of Wings does not really change any of this, and for that I am glad. But at the same time (and apologies for being deliberately vague on this), this installment did also manage to drop a bombshell which introduced a completely new element into my understanding of this series.
As well, there were a few minor issues with pacing. First, compared to the previous books, this one started more slowly, and even the harrowing journey through the snow and ice did little to give the intro an energy boost. Second, this was also a very Isabella-centric story, resulting in less appearances by some of my other favorite characters like Tom and Suhail. Third, while lots of fascinating things happened throughout, a large chunk of the middle was characterized by inaction which, to be fair, couldn’t be helped given the way certain events played out. Finally, the ending wrapped things up way too conveniently for my tastes, but at that point I understood the need for a quick and satisfying resolution.
Still, despite my quibbles, this was once again another riveting book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent sequence. It has been an absolute joy to be with Isabella as she evolved throughout the series, as well as watching her relationships grow. Sometimes, if I allow myself to get really immersed, I even start thinking of this alternate world as my own, and I have to credit the author’s incredible writing skills. These books have a way of drawing me in, making it easy for me to believe I am actually reading an account of an old woman’s youth and rise to fame as a world renowned dragon researcher. I cheered Isabella on as she fought to pursue her dream of becoming a scientist, bucking social conventions at a time when men still dominated academia. It was hard not to shed a tear by the time I got to the very last page, so moved was I to see how far our protagonist has come.
Within the Sanctuary of Wings is truly Lady Trent’s greatest adventure, closing this outstanding pentalogy with style. It is a wonderful, gratifying conclusion to an overall excellent series that I just can’t recommend enough....more
Chasing Embers is an urban fantasy that seems to have a little bit of everything. There are dragons, magical spirits and mages, the Fae, and even a generous helping of ancient Egyptian mythology. The strange thing is though, even with so much going on in this novel, I actually find myself with very little to say about it. The story was a fun romp, but I enjoyed it on a very “surface” level without forming many deep attachments to its people, places, or events. That said, being the first book of a series, it has strong potential and room to grow.
The story stars Ben Garston, who’s no ordinary UF hero. For one thing, he is a dragon (which I don’t think is a spoiler, since it’s revealed almost right off the bat, not to mention it is blatantly hinted at in the synopsis and on the cover). Centuries old, “Red Ben” now walks the streets in human form, bound by a pact that was made long ago between all the magical creatures of the world. To prevent widespread chaos and fear, Ben and others like him had to agree to hide their existence and live among the mortals as one of them. In turn, guardian knights will protect them and ensure that the pact remains unbroken.
However, the peace is about to be shattered. Recent events make Ben suspect that his protections are no longer in place, and already there have been a couple attempts made on his life. But Ben has more than himself to worry about. From years of hiding in plain sight among the humans, he has come to learn to look like them, live like them, and even care for them. Even knowing from the start that their relationship is doomed to fail, Ben has nonetheless fallen in love with a mortal, a young woman named Rose. It is in his nature to protect those he treasures, even though he can never tell Rose who he is—or what he really is—and all those unspoken truths have strained things between them. Now an old enemy has resurfaced to hunt Ben, and worse, they know all his secrets.
I enjoyed Chasing Embers; I really did. I thought it had a lot to offer UF fans, including a unique twist on the paranormal creatures that usually populate this genre. James Bennett deftly combines fantasy with real world elements, sometimes blurring the lines between mythological lore and history. I particularly enjoyed the story of Ben’s origin, which touches upon so many aspects of his character (both as a dragon as as a “human”). While heartbreaking, the details of these past events also make it easier to understand his complicated relationship with Rose, and reveal much about the tragedy that sparked an old rivalry. In fact, I actually thought a lot of the flashbacks and past sequences were done very well, going against the norm of how I usually feel about nonlinear storytelling.
But while I could list many more things that I thought were interesting or cool about this book, there was also this nagging sense of distance between myself and the plot and characters, that try as I might, I could not shake. It’s a dissonance that’s hard to explain, but we often use the term “bring something to life” to describe how an author can not only create something interesting but also make them exciting and easy for readers to feel passionate about. Part of my problem was that I never managed to reach this point with Ben or the world of Chasing Embers. I’m not sure why, since on the whole I found the book well-written and put-together. A few forced metaphors aside (how does one grin widely enough to “fill a car park”, exactly?) I also thought Bennett’s prose was complex and rich but also easy on the eyes. Still, something prevented me from feeling fully invested. In the end, perhaps it simply boils down to having too much to absorb in a very short time. There is, after all, a lot going on in this book.
The good news though, is that Chasing Embers has established a strong foundation for future books in this series. Now that most of the world-building, history and background of the lore has been covered, hopefully the sequel won’t be as bogged down and will be freer to delve deeper into the characters and expand on plot development. If I sound like I’m placing some high expectations on the next book, the truth is that most urban fantasy series take a time to build, and it’s not uncommon for one to take more than one installment to hook me. This might be the case here. Chasing Embers gave me a good taste of what’s to come, piquing my interest even it did not sweep me off my feet, but I am definitely curious to see what else Bennett has in store....more
I’ll admit, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth year for me when it comes to fiction and humor. Excitement over highly anticipated satire and parodic works have mostly fizzled after finding out they are in fact not what I had in mind. Undeterred though, I decided to leap next into The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold, intrigued by its “Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hobbit” tagline and hoping against hope that I’ll finally get the fantasy comedy I’ve been searching for.
The premise sounded promising enough, featuring a tale about an unlikely band of adventurers who’ve gotten it into their addled heads to rob a dragon. Before everything in his world turned upside down, Will Fallows was just another unassuming farm boy from a poor little village (literally called, The Village…the people are too downtrodden to be inspired) in Kondorra Valley, doing his best to make ends meet. However, each year the rising taxes demanded by the Dragon Consortium makes it that much harder to do, until one day, the moment that Will has been dreading all his life finally comes. With no warning at all, the dragon lord Mattrax’s soldiers show up at his door to seize his farm.
Left with nothing to his name, Will suddenly finds himself in the company of two traveling mercenaries, the skilled fighter Lette and her partner the eight-foot-tall lizard man Balur. After recruiting the help of a magically gifted university scholar named Quirk and an old drunkard named Firkin, the five of them conspire together to hatch up a plan to get revenge on Mattrax, the dragon who has been the cause of so much pain and suffering to the humans of the valley. It’s a totally crazy, stupid idea, one that Will knows has almost no chance of success. If they fail, they’ll bring doom upon all the people of Kondorra, and possibly to the world beyond. But if they can somehow pull this off? They’ll all be rewarded with riches beyond their imagination. The promise of gold beckons, and who knows, maybe this time fortune might actually favor the foolish.
Main reasons to check out this book: 1) if you think you’ll enjoy an epic fantasy seen through a modern humorous lens, and 2) if you’re like me and have a fondness for a good heist story. Many times throughout this one, I was reminded of Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic series, which contains a similar amount of humor, action, snappy dialogue, and creative solutions to unusual problems. Jon Hollins takes the zaniness further though, often putting his characters in ludicrous situations whenever things go wrong—and things actually do go wrong a lot in this story, despite our heroes’ careful planning (or rather, what they naively believe passes for careful planning). But hey, who wants to read about a heist that goes off without a hitch anyway? In this quirky tale, it’s the infighting and the unforeseen circumstances that makes things so entertaining.
Now for the reasons why you might want to take a pass on this book. If you like full immersion into a world, then this would not be for you. The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold is unabashedly tongue-in-cheek, with exaggerated characters and situations. It’s all done very cleverly, but it’ll be tough to get on board if you already that know fantasy comedy isn’t your cup of tea. Hollins is generous with the use of anachronisms, pop culture references and modern slang, but mind you, these are features, not defects. One only has to take a glimpse at the chapter titles to see what I mean, with hilarious headings like “We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat”, “What’s in the Box?”, “Hubris is a Dish Best Served Charbroiled”, “Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell”, “The Inevitable Cliffhanger Chapter” and many, many more such examples. It’s meant to be pure fun, and pure fun is what you get. It’s also relatively light fare, which is to be expected. For humor fiction, the book might have run a little longer than I was happy with, but that’s really my biggest criticism, which is in no way a deal breaker in the greater scheme of things. For the most part Hollins does manage to keep the story moving along at a quick pace.
Audiobook Comments: I was also fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to listen to the audiobook edition, and it confirmed one of my long-held suspicions: humor works splendidly well in audio format! Narrator John Banks with his smooth accent and deep tones seemed like an odd choice of reader for this book at first, but I quickly came around. In fact, I think his serious, earnest style only emphasized the humor. More importantly, his performance also moderated some of the more absurd situations for me, whereas if I’d actually been reading the words on a page, I think I might have rolled my eyes at the same scenes. He’s also great with voices, and even his exaggerated ones for characters like Balur or Firkin somehow sounded completely natural and in keeping with their personalities. Overall, I would highly recommend this audiobook.
Bottom line: The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold is clever, adventurous and entertaining. If you’re looking for a light read with a fun plot and interesting characters, you won’t be disappointed....more
Sometimes a second book is required for me to get a feel for a series, and this is certainly one of those cases. When the Heavens Fall was a novel that gave me mixed feelings, because while it didn’t exactly sweep me off my feet, I did genuinely enjoy it for the new and refreshing sword-and-sorcery fantasy that it was. In any event, it made me curious to tackle the sequel, Dragon Hunters, to see how the chronicle will continue.
What I found caught me by surprise. As it turned out, this novel is rather unlike the first one; not only do the stories differ in tone and style, Dragon Hunters also follows a brand new cast of characters and takes place in a different setting. But in spite, or perhaps because, of this huge departure, I liked the book. I liked it a lot.
One does not often find that subsequent volumes in an epic fantasy series can be read as standalones, but I believe this can be done here. Lore-wise, the plot of Dragon Hunters has strong ties to When the Heavens Fall, but other than that, we’re looking at a whole new ballgame. The story first begins in the period leading up to Dragon Day, an annual event celebrated by the raising of the Dragon Gate. A sea dragon would be allowed to pass into the Sabian Sea, where it will be subsequently hunted by the gathered water-mages who collectively make up a ruling body called the Storm Lords.
One of them, the powerful Emira Imerle Polivar is being pressured to relinquish her reign, though she is not about to step down quietly. Conspiring with the Chameleon priesthood, she arranges for two of their members to infiltrate the heavily guarded citadel and sabotage the Dragon Gate. Ruining the ceremony would deal a humiliating blow to the Storm Lords, which is exactly what Imerle wants. However, it appears that others have been targeting the Storm Lords too, as evidenced by the deadly assassins on the hunt, using the confusion sowed by the conspiracies and chaos to their mysterious benefactor’s advantage.
Considering my reading preferences, it’s probably no surprise that I found getting into this second volume was much easier and faster compared to the first. After all, I love my maritime fantasy, and I also love dragons. In Dragon Hunters, Marc Turner masterfully spins an exciting and cohesive tale of nautical adventure featuring these majestic leviathans, and it captured my imagination from the start. Unlike the first book, which saw four disparate characters come together in their shared quest to find a stolen object, the unifying theme of this sequel is not of a search, but of a hunt. That little difference alone gives this story a much more animated and thrilling sense of urgency.
For one thing, all the characters here are working against the clock. Karmel and Veran, the two Chameleon agents tasked to sabotage the Dragon Gate, are on a heist-like mission trying to complete their objective while struggling with mistrust and hidden agendas within their priesthood. Then there’s Kempis Parr, a city watchman hot on the trail of an assassin who has always managed to stay one step ahead of him, slipping from his grasp each time he draws close. And finally, there’s the grand dragon hunt itself. The plot to ruin Dragon Day notwithstanding, you didn’t think we’d get a book called Dragon Hunters without some dragon hunting action, did you? If dragons are what you want, then you definitely won’t be disappointed. Turner’s dragons are marine monsters, vicious predators that will give the Storm Lord ships a run for their money. While I found When the Heavens Fall to be a slower novel that took nearly until the midway point to pick up speed, clearly I had none of those problems here.
Compared to its predecessor, Dragon Hunters isn’t just like a whole different book, it IS a whole different book. For this reason, I have a feeling that opinions on it will vary wildly. For me personally though, it is an example of a sequel that beats out the previous book when it comes to pacing and scope. Overall, I feel that the story has a more “blockbuster” vibe to it, by which I mean its reach is considerably more epic, encompassing the lives of a greater number of characters and resulting in far more serious ramifications for the world—in other words, not a bad deal at all.
All told, Dragon Hunters was a great book and hooked me where the first one didn’t. I’m glad I gave this sequel a go, because in terms of my excitement level for this series, I know that I’m no longer sitting on the fence: I desperately need to get my hands on the next installment! Marc Turner has completely sold me on his excellent world building and characters, and I can’t wait to see what’s next in Red Tide, The Chronicle of the Exile part three....more
Just when you think things can’t get any crazier, Rachel Aaron doubles down on the dramatic tensions by throwing us onto the emotional rollercoaster that is No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. If you aren’t caught up to this series yet, first of all, what are you waiting for? And second, the usual caveat applies for all my sequel reviews: there are potentially spoilery details ahead for the previous two books—nothing too much beyond what’s already revealed in the book’s description, but it’s something to keep in mind just in case you’d prefer to approach Nice Dragons Finish Last or One Good Dragon Deserves Another with completely fresh eyes.
For readers who have been following Julius Heartstriker on this wild, twisting journey since the very beginning though, they’re going to be so proud of our little nice dragon after this book. The youngest Heartstriker of J-Clutch is finally coming into his own. But even after gaining the power to overthrow his mother the great dragon Bethesda, our protagonist still has much more to do. He’s about to introduce a concept that no other dragon in the history of their species has ever contemplated before: Democracy. Refusing to kill Bethesda, Julius decides to put forth the idea of a new ruling Council instead, splitting the power of the Heartstriker into three. With Julius and his mother occupying two of the Council positions, that means only one more seat remains open, and whoever fills it will be decided by vote.
Queue the insanity. Because the rules stipulate that no further major decisions can be made until the Council is whole, both Bethesda and Julius have their own reasons for wanting the election to proceed quickly. However, only the latter has the greater good of the clan in mind, while the former simply wants to get her old power back. Bethesda is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to keep the Council from even happening, backing her own candidate for the coveted seat, and her supporters are also not above trying to kill Julius outright in order to gain her favor. To protect him, his older sister Chelsie is running herself ragged all over the mountain trying to keep the clan from tearing itself apart. Meanwhile, Heartstrikers from all over the country are flocking to the vote, and tensions are high with so many dragons crammed into one place. As they’re busy bickering away though, Algonquin, the ancient spirit of the lakes has declared war on all dragons, and they’re all sitting ducks as long as the last Council seat remains empty. Time is running out, but Julius doesn’t want a quick fix. He has only one chance to change the fate of his clan, and true to form, he wants to do it the right, honest, and good way.
Even after all that, we’re only just scratching the surface. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished follows a lot of other plot threads, beyond the major one surrounding the Council election. One of these threads are hinted at by that gorgeous cover art, which of course features Chelsie Heartstriker in all her glory. Julius’ scary big sister plays a huge role in this book, and I think her fans are going to be very happy with all the big reveals about her past. There’s a particularly big bombshell that Julius is a little too guileless and innocent to figure out, but for me, it was like WHOOOOAAAAAA.
All of our other favorite characters also return, and then some. I love Marci even more with each book, and she and Julius are just so adorable that I want to melt into sappy puddle every time I read about them thinking of each other. As Julius makes strides in achieving his own potential, so does Marci; she’s set to become one of the most important mages in the world since the great meteor strike that brought magic back to the planet, thanks to her spirit companion, a spectral cat named Ghost. As much as I enjoyed reading about Marci and Julius’ relationship, I had even more fun discovering more about the bond between Marci and Ghost. I’ve always said the world-building is incredible in this series, and Rachel Aaron expands upon it with each book. In the last installment, we learned the true nature of Ghost, but he’s still a big enigma in many ways and this book offers up another key piece of information in the understanding of the series’ magical lore. There’s a reason why everyone wants this ghostly cat, including the UN and Algonquin herself, making Marci’s storyline just as exciting as Julius’.
And of course, how could it be a true Heartstrikers sequel without the rest of the family? Bob, Amelia, and Justin are back, along with Chelsie. But for the first time ever though, we’re also given a good look at just how truly massive the Heartstriker clan is. Feathers fly as the entire family, more than one hundred members strong, are gathered at the mountain. There’s a lot of dragon politics. We’re introduced to the plight of F-Clutch. There are plenty of those who don’t believe in Julius’ vision. Our protagonist pretty much spends this entire book trying to convince his many siblings that killing is wrong, and it’s almost painful at times to watch him try to sell his non-violent approach to those that you know will never come to his side. In several places, Julius’ naiveté made me want to throttle him, to scream at him to “Stick up for yourself!” or that “They deserve it!” Even with killing off the table, without the threat of some kind of punishment, aggressive and manipulative dragons will always try to game the system, and it baffled me that Julius never thought to address that problem. Even with all his blind spots though, I had to admire his conviction. It’s as the title says, no good dragon goes unpunished, and Julius takes a lot of abuse in this book, but he sticks to his guns through even the worst of it. Respect.
All told, this novel is simply excellent, and it’s another incredible installment in the Heartstrikers series. I felt that it was a very different book than One Good Dragon Deserves Another, which featured more action and adventure on a grander scale, whereas this focused more on dragon politics and family ties. This might make the book feel slower, but I personally felt the tradeoff was worth it for the more substantial and meaningful look into the characters’ relationships, not to mention the focus on weightier themes. The author has said that the next book will probably be the final Heartstrikers novel, which makes me sad that the series will be coming to a close but I’m also excited to find out how everything will wrap up. This one ended with a real shocker, and I can’t wait to see what happens next....more
I’d wanted to read The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power for a long, long time—I’d say pretty much from the moment I first read its description and glimpsed that stunningly gorgeous cover. For one thing, the fact that my love for dragons can only be matched by my love for seafaring fantasy definitely helped turn this book into instant catnip for my senses. Needless to say, my expectations were ultra-high going in. And I just really want to let that be known, in the hopes that maybe my mixed feelings at the end can be better understood.
We begin The Dragon Round with an introduction to the crew of the Comber, a merchant ship captained by Captain Jeryon, one of this story’s main characters. Like most experienced skippers, Jeryon got to be where he is by playing it smart and playing it by the book. His priority is to get his cargo to its destination, avoiding any and all trouble if possible, and so when trouble comes in the form of a dragon in the sky, Jeryon’s first instinct is to leave the creature be, hoping that it will ignore the Comber and go happily on its way. However, some of his crew members disagree, eyeing the dragon for its parts as extra prizes to bring home.
Unsurprisingly, the ensuing encounter with the dragon ends in disaster. Jeryon is overthrown by his mutinous crew and given “the captain’s chance”: to be cast off in a small boat with no rudder, no sails, and no provisions—simply left to the mercy of the seas. For taking Jeryon’s side, the ship’s healer Everlyn also receives the same fate. The two of them end up marooned on a desert island, with no way to escape. Fortunately, the island is abundant with food and water, and can sustain them for a long time, but with the desire for revenge still in his heart, Jeryon is not willing to give up so easily.
One day, Jeryon and Everlyn are exploring when they suddenly come across a dragon nest and witness something no human has ever seen before—a baby dragon hatching from its egg. The two of them decide to raise the tiny female dragonling, which they dub “Gray”, hoping that someday she will eventually grow large enough to carry them off the island. At least, that was the original plan, until Everylyn realizes that Jeryon has a lot more in mind.
To tell the truth, I’m really torn on how to feel about this book. I certainly loved the maritime aspect, and I also have this soft spot for desert island stories—Castaway, Robinson Crusoe, The Blue Lagoon, you name it. I can understand why some people might find them boring, but I’ve always found the survival element of them exciting. I thought the first half of this book was incredibly well done, captivating me with that explosive opening scene featuring the battle between the dragon and the Comber. Then came the on board tensions as Jeryon and Everlyn were sentenced to their cruel fate, their subsequent struggle to stay alive while floating adrift on the open ocean, and finally their arrival to the island where they learned how to build shelter and hunt for food. The two characters carried the story nicely, and I enjoyed their easy relationship and banter as they adjusted to their new reality. Things only got better when they essentially became parents to a baby dragon. Even from the start, Everlyn was the more doting one, treating Gray like a beloved pet. In contrast, Jeryon took to training Gray with a strong hand, because in his mind the dragon is also a deadly weapon.
I also adore revenge stories, and Jeryon is undoubtedly a character deserving of justice. What I found interesting though, is how my perception of him changed over time. I notice that a lot of revenge stories typically work by drumming up sympathy for the aggrieved, so that the reader can connect with their cause and cheer them on. The Dragon Round is different in that respect, showing how a thirst for vengeance can in fact twist a character to the point where they become altogether off-putting and distasteful.
I think this is where things started becoming shaky for me. Thing is, I didn’t actually mind Jeryon’s transformation from an upright captain with sense of honor to a deplorable bloodthirsty vigilante, but I do wish we had been with him for more of that process.
For you see, the second half of the book felt completely different from the first. Just as Jeryon begins his mission to hunt down all his past crew members who betrayed him, the story abruptly switches tack, taking us back on land where the plot also shifts its focus to the power struggles and political conspiracies happening within Hanosh. Not only do we see a change in setting, the narrative also changes a whole new set of character perspectives. Jeryon and Gray are relegated to the background, becoming incidental characters, and poor Everlyn feels almost entirely forgotten.
In a lot of ways, The Dragon Round felt like two books in one because its two halves are just so different. I definitely enjoyed the first half a lot more than the second, and it’s a shame that the excitement and wonder from the beginning didn’t carry through to the end, or I would have enjoyed this novel a lot more. There’s no denying some of the fantastic ideas here, but I just couldn’t embrace the book’s overall structure.
Overall, I had a good time with The Dragon Round, though a part of me also feels it could have been so much more. Still, if nothing else, the first half of the book made everything worth it, with Power proving himself as an excellent wordsmith and talented world-builder. I would be curious to see where his writing takes him next....more
A departure from his Raven’s Shadow trilogy, Anthony Ryan’s latest novel The Waking Fire is the start of a new series featuring a compelling blend of fantasy, adventure, and intrigue. And if there was one thing I learned from reading Queen of Fire, it’s that Ryan has a talent for writing amazing scenes of battle on the high seas—which are also plentiful in this new book. Then, there are the dragons. Oh, we mustn’t forget the dragons.
In this fascinating new world of The Draconis Memoria, no other commodity is prized above what the people call “product”, a deceptively innocuous term for something in fact truly magical and amazing: Dragon’s blood. By itself, product is unremarkable—volatile and dangerous, even—save for the powers it bestows to a very small slice of the population known as the blood-blessed, those rare men and women who are literally one in a thousand. Their abilities that manifest are so advantageous and formidable, that entire industries have been dedicated to the harvesting of dragon blood, either from hunting the creatures or taking it from those kept in captivity. Unfortunately though, over-exploitation has depleted their numbers in the wild, and those in the Ironship Syndicate who have noticed this weakening have real fears that the ensuing shortage of product will lead to war with their neighbors in the Corvantine Empire.
However, a group in the Syndicate has been clandestinely following up on the whispers of a rare breed of drake. Ancient texts tell of the White, a dragon that is supposed to be far more powerful than the commonplace Reds, Greens, Blacks and Blues. By all accounts, the white dragon is a myth—but there are those who believe with all their hearts that it exists and would do whatever it takes to get their hands on its blood, a treasure worth beyond anything imagined.
The Waking Fire tells a story of how three disparate characters find themselves on a quest to seek this elusive creature of legend. First there’s Claydon Torcreek, who is not just your run-of-the-mill slippery thief. That’s because Clay is also a blood-blessed, albeit unregistered, using his powers to give himself an advantage over his fellow criminals and scoundrels. Then one day, he gets arrested and pressed into his Uncle Braddon’s service. As it happens, Braddon is about to embark on a journey which would require someone of Clay’s talents. Next up is Corrick Hilemore, an officer newly assigned to an ironship, whose captain is in the early stages of testing out a faster, more powerful engine. As a character, Hilemore didn’t really stand out for me, and it was also a while before we saw his sections relate to the overall story. Still, I have to say his chapters were undoubtedly some of the most exciting (see earlier comment about amazing ship battles!) filled with encounters with pirates and with Corvantine enemy forces. But by far my favorite character was probably Lizanne Lethridge, a spy and assassin tasked by her superior to gather intelligence which would help in the hunt for the white drake. Lizanne embodies everything I love about female spy characters—disciplined and efficient, but also smart and independent enough to not blindly follow orders when her gut instinct tells her something isn’t right.
I also enjoyed Anthony Ryan’s dragons, even though they are more incidental than anything, for it is their blood that is the focus on this story. The power that a blood-blessed can summon upon consuming product will depend on the type of dragon the blood came from. A useful maxim to remember is “Blue for the mind, Green for the body, Red for the fire, Black for the push.” The idea of a “gifted” section of the populace being able to gain a variety of physical and mental enhancements or abilities from chugging certain kinds of substances is definitely not new (for instance, Brandon Sanderson’s magic system in Mistborn immediately comes to mind) but I liked how Ryan incorporated the dragon mythos, and he made it conceivable that uncanny powers can be derived from the essence of these magical creatures.
The plot pacing is a bit uneven, but to be fair that’s not something uncommon for a lot of these big epic fantasy novels. I liked that the book hooked me in straight away, the first ten or so pages of the prologue introducing a riddle which sets the tone for the rest of the story. The three character perspectives are well-balanced and explores multiple facets of the story in depth as well as a great deal of what’s happening around the world. If you enjoy fantasy quest narratives and all that comes along with them, then you should also have a great time following Clay, Lizanne and Hilemore on their individual trials and challenges. As with any long journey, the three of them will experience exciting adventures but also plenty of downtime to regroup and recuperate. Always though, the plot presses forward with its intrigues and character development. By the time the book ended, I was practically screaming at that cliffhanger.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. I was left with a couple thoughts when I finished. First of all, Anthony Ryan has seriously upped his game. The Waking Fire is proof that his debut trilogy Raven’s Shadow was just a taste of more to come from that brilliant mind of his. And the second thought on my mind of course was: WHEN WILL WE GET THE SEQUEL? I’m definitely on board with this new series!...more
Todd Lockwood is one talented guy. Not only is he a professional illustrator and a painter of beautiful dragons, with his art gracing a number of science fiction and fantasy covers, apparently he’s one hell of an author too. For years I’ve been an admirer of his work as an artist, so when it was announced that DAW was going to be publishing his debut novel my interest was immediately piqued, especially when I found out that his book is about—what else?—dragons!
And so we have The Summer Dragon, first book of the Evertide saga. In a world where dragons are used as mounts in war, Maia and her family are breeders who supply the army with young dragonlings. For as long as she can remember though, Maia has wanted a dragon of her own to love and train and ride, but as Brood Day draws nearer it seems once again the army will be demanding their entire stock this year. A new threat is emerging, and it has already destroyed another one of the Dragonry’s most productive aeries. To fight the enemy, the army is going to need every single dragon they can get their hands on.
That is why when the mythical Summer Dragon suddenly appears to her and her brother Darian in the woods one day, Maia believes with all her heart that this is a sign that her luck is going to change. She was correct, as it turns out…though perhaps not in the way she expected. Determined to prove to everyone—herself included—that the appearance of the Summer Dragon means something greater for her future, Maia decides to risk it all and take matters into her own hands. She will get her dragon, or die trying.
At its heart, The Summer Dragon displays many characteristics of your classic girl/boy with her/his loyal companion creature story, but nevertheless I was beyond impressed. Lockwood’s writing style feels very smooth and polished, making it wonderfully easy to get into. It’s hard to believe this is his first novel, since he takes to storytelling like he’s been doing it for years. The plot is balanced with lots of action, intrigue, and even some gut-wrenching family drama, and of course we mustn’t forget all the dragon-y goodness.
No doubt dragons are extremely valuable in this world, but while the some in the army may regard them as nothing more than useful mounts during times of war, others recognize the importance of these creatures in all other areas of life. Dragons are deeply ingrained in this culture, featuring prominently in the mythology and religion. For example, the Summer Dragon is seen as a manifestation of one of the great aspects, and the sighting of any of these High Dragons is said to be a sign of great changes to come. People form deep bonds with dragons, and for breeders, they’re more than just a livelihood; they are friends and family.
Clearly, Lockwood has shown he can write dragons as well as he draws them. And speaking of which, he has also included about a dozen illustrations in this novel, each one gorgeously rendered and insanely detailed. That’s already enough for me to recommend picking up the hardcover to admire the artwork in all its glory; for me, it’s like an extra bonus to an already fantastic story. The Summer Dragon has the added benefit of feeling like the perfect coming-of-age tale that I think will appeal to adults and young adults alike. The story hooked me immediately, with a conflict that is straightforward but intriguing. Themes like friendship and family are explored in unique ways, and the action and adventure keeps the story moving at a quick and absorbing pace. Maia is a great protagonist, supported by a vibrant cast of characters who each have their own motivations and secrets, so that you can never really know for sure what might happen. Plus, who can say no to the dragons? Their personalities are absolutely enchanting, and I see them as the stars of this novel in their own right.
The Evertide is now poised to become another one of my favorite fantasy series featuring dragons, putting it up there alongside Marie Brennan’s Memoir by Lady Trent. I’m looking forward to the next installment with great excitement! If you enjoy fantasy and adventure and dragons, you definitely won’t want to miss this....more
It’s really interesting to me how the Daniel Blackland trilogy has evolved over the three books, and reading Dragon Coast made me want to cheer because we were going back to the series’ heist story beginnings. I am a total sucker for caper stories, so not surprisingly I loved the first book California Bones. On the other hand, the second book Pacific Fire took a different direction, and was more like a coming-of-age tale that explored the characters’ histories and relationships. To me, what’s great is that this third book felt like a combination of both, tying up loose ends to bring it all home. Throw in a fire-breathing dragon, and I really can’t ask for more than that.
Right away, Dragon Coast resolves a few questions left open at the end of the last book, so if you haven’t read Pacific Fire yet, you probably should first. This review won’t be revealing spoilers beyond what’s available in the publisher description, but they might be unavoidable anyway because each book builds on the previous one, and I would not recommend reading either of the sequels as stand alones. The focus returns to Daniel in this book, though Sam still plays a big role. A golem made from the magical essence of the late Hierarch, Sam was taken in by Daniel as an adopted son. Together they’ve been on the run for a long time, until things came to a head with a Pacific firedrake, a magical creature constructed by Daniel’s half-brother Paul.
Everyone thought Sam was lost when he was consumed by the firedrake, but it turns out the boy’s consciousness is still alive and aware inside the dragon, albeit in magical form. This leaves Daniel and his friends with a bit of a dilemma. They cannot kill the firedrake without losing Sam, even while the huge creature rampages across Southern California turning huge swathes of it into fiery ruin. Daniel comes up with a plan: he will find a way to subdue the dragon, then use a magical substance called the axis mundi to draw out Sam’s essence, before replacing it in a new constructed golem body. Great plan, except for one problem – axis mundi is one of the rarest substances on earth. To get it, Daniel will have to pose as Paul—whom he killed—to sneak into the kingdom of Northern California, win a promotion to become the Lord High Osteomancer, then steal a piece of axis mundi on the ceremonial jeweled scepter of the Northern Hierarch herself as she uses it to confirm his position.
It’s like stealing the crown jewels…meets Face/Off. I love it.
I’ll also say this about Daniel: the man never does anything by halves, even when it comes to planning the riskiest, most impossible of heists. However, this time he’s going into the enemy’s lair without the usual caper crew, with only Moth by his side as his bodyguard. He sends his Cassandra, his go-to safe-cracker, with Gabriel the water mage and Max the hound to track down the firedrake. Meanwhile, Sam is stuck in the belly of the beast, so to speak. We as readers are treated to a somewhat abstract concept of the boy’s consciousness trapped within the half-organic, half-mechanical insides of the dragon. The team is split into those three main threads that make up the story.
For obvious reasons, the most compelling of these was Daniel’s sections. It’s intense and exciting watching him pose as Paul, working against the clock to achieve his goals while also struggling to familiarize himself with all the intricate customs of the Northern Kingdom in order to pass as his dead half-brother. Of all the supporting characters, Moth also shines in Dragon Coast as the muscle and the brains of this operation, taking over some of Daniel’s duties as mastermind to gather intelligence. Next up was Cassandra, Gabriel, and Max’s sections, which featured a bit of sleuthing and espionage, adding intrigue to the equation. Finally, even though Sam is my favorite character, unfortunately his sections were the weakest in my eyes. This has a lot to do with my own preferences; I just don’t do well with abstract conceptualizations and I also felt those bizarre glimpses inside the dragon were less relevant to the story and seemed more like dream-like interludes.
This isn’t a very long book, which means there’s a lot happening in a relatively small number of pages. It’s great because there is absolutely no slowing down, and Greg Van Eekhout’s writing has a very cinematic quality that helps the story drive you ever forward between these three separate plot threads, so one thing you can count on is snappy pacing and a quick read.
On the flip side though, this also means there’s little opportunity to delve deeper into anything else. Our time with Daniel in Northern California feels far too brief and there’s not much to his challenge to become Lord High Osteomancer. Remember in Face/Off, when John Travolta’s character with Nic Cage’s face finds himself in his nemesis’ hideout, meets his lover and his child, and realizes then that even the bad guys have their lives, their loves, and their families? I sense this book going for the same kind of deep, heartfelt revelation but it never quite manages, simply because there was so little time to know everyone in Daniel’s — or rather, Paul’s — life. Dragon Coast should have been a more emotional story, exploring the painful side of one’s self and past, but realistically, the novel was just too short to be effective with that.
Still, this series has long established itself to be more fun and adventurous than weighty and profound, though it has a deep and very complex magic system and some pretty dark themes, what with osteomancers cannibalizing each other for their powers and all that. The world-building remains one of my favorite aspects, and I love how each book has given us more osteomancy as well as the author’s strange and dystopian version of a flooded and divided California. If you’ve enjoyed the previous books, Dragon Coast is not to be missed. It wraps up the series with a bang, and gives satisfying answers to a lot of character conflicts and plot questions besides. And if you’ve always been curious about these books, now is the best time to check out the whole completed trilogy. It’s one I highly recommend....more
If you’re not reading this series yet, you should be! My love for it just grows and grows, and indeed I think In the Labyrinth of Drakes may be my favorite Memoir by Lady Trent installment yet! So many questions that I had are finally answered, and there are plenty of other major reveals (but don’t worry, I won’t say what they are here) for readers who have been following our protagonist on her adventures. I promise you, this is one book you do not want to miss. This is an important volume that covers the events that vaulted Isabella, Lady Trent into fame, and it is a must-read.
Author Marie Brennan has written that there will be five books in all in this series, but instead of winding down at book four, Isabella’s story is simply building up even more momentum. Past installments have brought us to the inhospitable mountains of Vystrana, the sweltering jungles of Mouleen, and upon the high seas to the tropical islands of Keonga. Naturally, In the Labyrinth of Drakes is another opportunity to visit another all new biome on the quest for more dragons and more science! This time, Isabella is heading into the scorching deserts of Akhia, hoping to study the golden drakes that live there.
But as usual, the situation is a lot more complicated. Isabella has long been snubbed by the scientific community because of her sex, and her much coveted post to Akhia with her colleague Tom Wilker was only secured after a hard won battle with the Royal Scirling Army, their new employers. Tensions have been fomenting between Scirland and Yelang for the last few years, with both nations racing to unlock the secrets of dragon breeding so they can harvest the beasts’ bones for materials to build airships and other war machines. However, large dragons do not thrive in captivity, and both breeding and egg hatching programs have failed over and over again because of the lack of knowledge in the subject. In this volume of her memoirs, Isabella recounts the research challenges that she faced during her time in Akhia, and how danger also threatened behind every corner as shadowy factions learn about her secret work and attempt to destroy her.
My fascination with this series continues unabated because reading every page is a reminder of my love for the natural sciences and why I went on to study Biology and Anthropology. As a girl, one of my biggest heroes was Jane Goodall, and her decades of research and fieldwork with the chimpanzees in the wild have been a major inspiration. While Memoir by Lady Trent takes place in another time and in a fictional world with dragons, I find that the stories in these books about Isabella’s passion for learning and discovery affect me in much the same way.
For me, Isabella has also become one of the most powerful and interesting feminist icons in fantasy fiction due to her role in championing her gender in her world through addressing problems and fighting back—with knowledge! Her most effective and awesome weapon is her intelligence, along with her determination and ability to achieve more than anyone in her field so that she can no longer be ignored. The greatest obstacle comes in this latest volume, because of the nature of her assignment in Akhia. As I’ve mentioned before, the best thing about this series is that every time Isabella travels to a new location, you don’t just get the dragons—you get the entire culture of the place as well! Akhia has some very strict customs when it comes to the role of women, which Isabella has to deal with on top of her Scirling employers’ old school attitudes regarding her presence among the all-male army.
I also liked how this book threw me right into the action, not to mention the dragons get a lot more page time compared to the previous books. Early in the series, “Not enough dragons!” was a common complaint I saw, but it’s definitely not an issue here. The question of breeding the desert drakes is the central problem in this novel, but there’s also the mystery and threat behind who is sabotaging the dragon research. The antagonist also comes in the form of nature, which is a recurring theme in this series. The merciless desert setting comes to life in this one; Brennan describes this forbidding environment in such exquisite detail, you can practically feel the sand in your underwear or your skin blistering beneath the sun’s dry heat. There’s one particular scene with a sandstorm that left me open-mouthed in awe and terror.
And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the romance. Suhail is back! I wanted to pump my fists in the air but ended up refraining, if nothing else because that would mean dropping the book and interrupting my reading. However, Suhail’s return does mean you cannot tackle this book on its own without having read The Voyage of the Basilisk (I would recommend starting from the beginning of the series anyway), since his relationship with Isabella would feel way too sudden if you weren’t familiar with everything they experienced together in the previous book. Their romance actually went further than I thought it would, but it was also a very welcome development. I so enjoy the chemistry between them, but don’t expect anything in Isabella’s love life to follow conventions! Remember, this is the woman who was initially attracted to her first husband because of his impressive library, so you can imagine the courtship between her and Suhail would be based on love but also much, much more! But you’ll just have to read to find out…
I think I’ve gushed enough about this book for now, but trust me when I say I could go on and on. I just love this series! Marie Brennan gives Isabella a voice that is so fresh and authentic that this is one of the few fantasy series that truly makes me feel like I am transported to another world. I highly, highly recommended these books; it is an experience like no other....more
Boy is a Mage, brought up on lessons about the power of illusions, taught that reality is a sham and that people are shadows – and oh, no matter what you do, do NOT trust those lying, stinking Mechanics.
Girl is a Mechanic, a master of logic and equations who prides herself on the fact that no machine is beyond her abilities to fix, and of course, Mechanics are just so much better than those useless Mages.
Then boy meets girl. Everything changes. Alain and Mari come together after their caravan is destroyed by bandits, only managing to survive the treacherous journey back to civilization with each other’s help. They begin to discover just how much their Guild elders have kept from them, secrets and misconceptions that have been keeping the Mage-Mechanical rivalry alive for all these hundreds of years.
Then the power of Foresight unexpectedly comes to Alain. He learns something that Mari doesn’t know – that she is in fact the prophesied chosen one who will unite the two great guilds and save the world. As the two are sent to Dorcastle amidst rumors of uncontrolled dragons and sabotage, Alain can hardly begin to describe the way he feels for Mari, but he does know staying away from her as his masters had ordered is not an option.
The Dragons of Dorcastle is a sweet little story about the serendipitous partnership between two people from different divides, who end up realizing they were wrong about everything they thought they knew about the other. I’d never read anything by John G. Hemry AKA Jack Campbell before, though I do know a bit about his military sci-fi Lost Fleet series, which I can’t imagine can be any more different than this book, a Young Adult-ish fantasy and steampunk romance.
Surprisingly though, this was very good. A little standard, perhaps, and playing a bit too safe when it comes to ideas. However, seeing as this book was originally written to be an audiobook exclusive for Audible Studios, it wouldn’t surprise me if a fun and practical story like this – intended to appeal to a wider and more general audience – was a conscious decision. And it was probably the right decision; I can see it being the perfect choice for anyone in the mood for an entertaining and light read looking to pass the time, though it’s possible that diehard genre readers may be left unsatisfied.
But hey, here be dragons. Well, okay, maybe not exactly. I don’t actually hold this against the book, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyhow that I find the title a bit misleading. There’s some dragon activity for sure, though it doesn’t come until very late in the book, and relatively briefly. Relating this to my thoughts above, I can’t help but to think the name was another clever move to boost appeal. Granted, the story does present a rather intriguing mystery about the dragons at the end, so even though they aren’t the center of attention, we are left with some major dragon-related questions to ponder and there’s no doubt they will play a bigger role in the next book.
Perhaps the novel’s greatest strength is its focus the characters. Most of the book is spent developing the relationship between Alain and Mari, even when the two aren’t even in the same scene. We’re in their heads all the time, experiencing their thoughts and emotions as contemplate the other. The narrative does an especially good job with Alain, whose capacity for emotions has been all but stripped by the Mage guild. The way I looked at the situation, it’s actually a lot like reading about Spock falling in love. That is to say, it’s no easy feat. The author deserves my admiration for pulling it off.
Let’s face it, too: I’m a sucker for Forbidden Love. Despite being YA and the style of prose leaning towards younger audiences, I really enjoyed the delightful romance blooming between Alain and Mari. It’s a relationship I find more “cute” than “passionate”, but nonetheless it worked surprisingly well for me.
In the end, The Dragons of Dorcastle is not a terribly original or noteworthy book, but I really liked it. Its down-to-earth style, entertainment value, and wonderful characters made it very hard for me to resist its charms. All told, a very good book to just curl up and relax with....more
I had to wait at least a day after finishing One Good Dragon Deserves Another to write my review, lest I just end up gushing incoherently like a madwoman. That’s because this book was simply amazing. Not only did it manage to be even better than the first book – a magnificent achievement in itself, considering how awesome Nice Dragons Finish Last was and how much I already loved it to pieces – it’s also now vying for the top spot in my list of best books read in 2015.
This sequel takes place not long after the events of book one. Our protagonist Julius, the youngest and nicest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, is feeling happier than he’s ever been in his entire life. Working out of the Detroit Free Zone as a magical pest control specialist with the help of his friend and mage partner Marci, it feels oh so good to be finally free of his tyrant mother and all his cutthroat siblings. But unfortunately for Julius, this respite doesn’t last; before long he’s sucked back into the dragon-eat-dragon world of Bethesda the Heartstriker, and used as a political pawn in a war against a rival clan.
If you think your family is dysfunctional, you should see Julius’. To Bethesda, who values strength and ruthlessness, her youngest son is a total failure of a dragon and she never misses a chance to let him know exactly how she feels. If it weren’t for the efforts of his more forgiving siblings, she would have made a snack out of Julius years ago. But for all that, Bethesda is still his mother, and Julius only wants the best for his clan. When Estella, dragon seer and head of The Three Sisters starts laying an obvious trap for the leader of the Heartstrikers, Julius becomes frustrated that Bethesda’s pride is blinding her to all dangers.
It took only the first chapter to remind me instantly of how astonishingly unique, creative, and addictive this world is. That said, it’s Rachel Aaron so I would have expected nothing less. Everything I’ve read by her thus far from The Spirit Thief to the Paradox sci-fi trilogy she published under her name Rachel Bach have all been bursting at the seams with original and intriguing ideas. But she’s outdone even herself with these Heartstriker books.
My first instincts is to call this Urban Fantasy, but that’s just a small slice of the big picture. There’s also a post-apocalyptic component with traces of mythical lore combined with sci-fi elements. Throw in magic, dragons, and a healthy dose of humor (I laughed out loud so many times – HARD), and that’s still just barely scratching the surface. Not many authors can set out to do something this ambitious and deliver it with such finesse and aplomb. It goes without saying that world-building was fantastic in this book, giving Aaron plenty of opportunities to expand upon the way magic works here, and also answer plenty of questions about dragon history.
And then there are the characters. Where do I even begin? Being the stars of the show, it probably comes as no surprise that I absolutely adored both Julius and Marci. Julius is as lovable as ever and Marci totally steals the show in this book by kicking so much magical ass. But I was also excited when I saw the many familiar faces returning for this sequel. Oh my goodness, Justin! And Bob! Even Chelsie, who is now my new hero, and Ghost, who may have single-handedly turned me into a cat person overnight. Even the villains are superb in this series, from Estella the North Star to the spirit baddies like Algonquin and her top dragon hunter Vann Jeger.
Of course, no character discussion is complete without also a nod to Julius’s big sister Amelia, introduced in this book as the heir to Heartstriker. As part of A-clutch, this makes her one of the oldest and most powerful dragons in the clan, second only to Bethesda herself. She’s also nothing like I expected. It’s not my place to spoil Amelia’s big debut so I’ll leave it at that, but suffice to say it wouldn’t surprise me if after this book she ends up with a pretty sizeable fan club. Like every character in these novels, she is compelling and memorable – a good thing too, considering Julius’ huge family and the number of siblings that play a part in his story.
As an avid Urban Fantasy reader, I just fell in love with this book. Perhaps it’ll come as no surprise that the story has all the action, comedy and thrills you would expect; after all, I’m addicted to this genre precisely because it is so consistently fun and entertaining. But if you want originality and truly stellar storytelling as well? Then there is no contest – this series stands out way above the rest.
What’s even more impressive is that these books are self-published, a personal project by Rachel Aaron. I sincerely wish her the best on her endeavors, because this series deserves all the attention and praise I can give. One Good Dragon Deserves Another blew me away with a plot that just kept on giving and giving, taking me on a wild ride through several arcs that nonetheless fit together so well, with surprising revelations aplenty and underdog heroes to root for every step of the way. Highly, highly recommended!...more
The bulk of this story takes place years after the first book, following the lives of osteomancer Daniel Blackland and his adopted son Sam, the golem created from the essence of the late Hierarch. The two have stayed under the radar for the last ten years, constantly staying on the move in order to keep Sam out of the wrong hands. That is until one day, word reaches them that some very bad people are attempting to build the ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction — a real, live, honest-to-goodness Pacific firedrake.
The premise behind these novels has got to be one of the most original and creative I’ve ever encountered in an urban fantasy series. The magic system of osteomancy – wizards who ingest creature bones and other body parts to absorb their essence and gain their power — is as cool as it is disturbing. I’m also a sucker for heist stories, which is why I loved the first book. However, this sequel, while also featuring a caper aspect, is more of character study and coming-of-age tale centered around Sam. Daniel on the other hand is still a major presence in the story, but it does feel like at times he is taking a step back to let the character of Sam shine.
In my eyes, the classic heist plot of California Bones still gives the first book the edge, but admittedly not by much; Pacific Fire is just as fun and full of thrills as its predecessor, and I do appreciate the differences in the two books’ structure because it definitely made things more interesting....more
Dragon Heart has a delectable premise, touting a princess, a dragon, and a castle by the sea. Its cover and description also suggests a traditional epic fantasy, but with an author who is a renowned historical fiction novelist at the helm, you just know there will be more to it than that. Indeed, the book definitely turned out a lot different than I expected, though perhaps not in the way I would have liked. I wish I could give it a more positive review, but the truth is, after a strong start the story quickly lost its steam.
This novel actually centers upon the lives of five siblings, though for most of the beginning we are led to believe that youngest daughter Tirza would be the main protagonist. Mute and simple Tirza is in truth a lot more than she seems, but the royal family has sent her away to a monastery nonetheless, where she can be hidden away and forgotten. Outside her world though, things are changing. The Empire of the east grows more powerful every day, and under a new treaty, Tirza’s mother the widow Queen Marioza must marry one of the emperor’s brothers.
The book begins with Tirza’s twin brother Jeon arriving at the monastery to fetch her for the wedding. But as the two siblings return home by sea, their ship is attacked by an enormous red dragon. Tirza ends up being taken by the dragon and is then held captive in its secret lagoon. To her amazement, she discovers that the beast understands her when she talks to it in her strange language of growls and screeches. Forming an attachment, the dragon vows to hunt down and recapture her if she ever slips its grasp, though Tirza is undeterred and one day manages to escape, fleeing back to her family at Castle Ocean.
All this happens in the first chapter, and alas, it was probably the most interesting chapter in the book. The dragon appears early, which was a high point for me, but it was just too good to last. After this, you won’t see the creature again for a good long time, and even then the nature of its bond with Tirza is never quite explored. Their relationship baffles me. Is it friendship or Stockholm syndrome? How is it that the two of them are able to communicate? Where did the deeper connection between them come from? Truth be told though, probably the less said about that overtly sexual scene involving Tirza and the dragon tongue-bath, the better.
Once we get back to Castle Ocean, there were some elements that I liked. We are introduced to the rest of Tirza’s family, starting with Queen Marioza, who is clearly a force to be reckoned with. The emperor has already tried to make her marry one of his brothers, whom she promptly put in the grave. Unfortunately, this next suitor isn’t going to be so easy to get rid of, but her children trust that she will find a way. In addition to the twins Tirza and Jeon, there are also second and third daughters Casea and Mervaly as well as oldest son and heir Luka. Each one of the royal children end up playing a role in the ensuing political storm, which had its moments.
Problem was, I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and didn’t really care about any of them. Quite simply, there were just too many to keep track of and not enough time to truly get to know anyone. In addition to the royal family, we also occasionally got the points-of-view of an imperial soldier named Pal Dawd as well as a village girl named Amillee. It was too much and too fast, almost like Holland was trying to cram all the dynamics and complexities of Game of Thrones into this tiny package which comes in at just under 300 pages. While certainly ambitious, this tale regrettably falls quite short of its mark.
Most tellingly, the thing that most frustrated me about this book was how it left me cold. Whether they affect me positively or negatively, most stories usually leave me with a sense of resolution or fulfillment. On the other hand, after reading Dragon Heart my mind drew a complete blank. I didn’t even wholly dislike this novel, but I can’t give it more than a middling rating. I definitely felt like there was so much the book could have achieved. Unfortunately for me, it just never quite got there....more
I found this book surprisingly enjoyable…or perhaps that ought not to be so surprising. After all, I loved The Spirit Thief and the rollicking sci-fi Paradox trilogy that the author wrote under her pen name Rachel Bach. Still, combining dragons, magic, dystopia, humor and urban fantasy? Seemed just a tad ambitious. But boy, does Aaron pull it off with flying colors. I think Nice Dragons Finish Last may be my favorite book from her yet. I also had the pleasure of listening to the audio version of this book and it was fantastic.
Meet Julius, the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan. He isn’t a pushover so much as he’s just downright terrible at being a dragon. He’s nice, considerate, has no designs on taking over the world, all of which makes him an absolute failure in his mother’s eyes. After twenty-four years of watching Julius hide out in his room in the mountain, Bethesda the Heartstriker has finally had it. Sealing him in his human form, the dragon matriarch banishes her son to the Detroit Free Zone.
Built on the ruins of old Detroit, the DFZ is set apart from the rest of the country, having been annexed by the spirit Algonquin, Lady of the Great Lakes. It is home to modern mages, lesser spirits and all manner of magical creatures. Unfortunately, it’s also got a strict no dragons policy. Trapped in hostile territory with only the clothes on his back, Julius is going to have to prove himself to his mother if he wants any chance of getting his true form back. His only source of help comes in the form of Marci, an exiled human mage who is dealing with her own hefty set of problems.
First of all, I called this one an urban fantasy, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Rachel Aaron puts a fun, fresh twist on the genre, infusing her setting with science fiction, post-apocalyptic and dystopic elements as well as a touch of mythology. It’s a fascinating mix. Magic exists in the world now, thanks to a meteor striking the earth in 2035. Algonquin awakens from the resulting shockwave, causing great tidal waves to rise, which was how Detroit was flooded and destroyed. The DFZ rises from its ruins, thriving unchecked on an economy system based on free enterprise and bounty hunting.
I also love rooting for the underdog, and Julius is an underdog all right, being the runt of Bethesda’s latest clutch. While his siblings are out doing great things, Julius prefers to avoid the rest of his family by shutting himself in his room playing computer games and earning an impressive collection of online degrees. It’s hard not to feel for him; if Julian were human, he’d actually be quite a catch! Good looking, sweet, kind, educated, and being just this side of geeky enough for me. Bah, too bad he had to be born to a clan of merciless, cutthroat dragons who can’t appreciate his finer points.
No worries though, because I’m on Team Julius all the way. Also in his corner you’ll find Marci the runaway thaumaturgic mage, as well as – surprise, surprise – Julius’s brother Justin. Marci’s a great character; she’s got an awkward personality but also a shrewd mind, which creates an interesting dynamic with our protagonist. I loved Justin too. He’s Julius’s complete opposite, but it’s hard not to be touched by his brotherly love and concern. I even got a kick out of Julian’s less benevolent family members like Chelsie the Heartstriker assassin and Bob the mercurial Seer. Did I also mention Bethesda names her children by assigning each clutch by letter in order of the alphabet, so that all the dragonlings in her first clutch would have names starting with A, those in the second clutch would have names starting with B, and so on? The Heartstriker clan is full of quirks, and I loved them all.
Rachel Aaron has an incredible imagination, and I think this book, more than any of her others, let her go wild with it. The audio version really did an amazing job bringing this book and all of her ideas to life, the narrator Vikas Adam making this one a really fun listen. I haven’t listened to any of his other performances, but this was a great first experience. Adam can do a wonderful range of voices, even though I have to say a couple of them didn’t quite “fit”, like Bob whom he made sound like a stoned surfer dude, and at times his female voices can be hilariously awkward. You can tell he had a good time reading the book too though, because his narration is animated and he does wonderful effects like hissing for when Bethesda is annoyed, or groaning when Justin is exasperated with Julius. Little touches like that can make the listening experience more memorable.
All in all, I’m really impressed with how well this book came together. Maybe it’s because urban fantasy is more to my tastes, but I think I liked this one even more than Aaron’s Paradox trilogy, and I did love those Devi Morris books. Julius is just such a lovable character though, and the story is so fun and easy to get into, it’s hard to stop once you start. Highly recommended if you’re looking for an entertaining feel-good book....more
Kristi Charish is an author after my own heart. First, her book Owl and the Japanese Circus stars Alix “Owl” Hiboux, a former archaeologist turned international antiquities thief. Having been an Archaeology student myself, I can’t in good conscience say I endorse the character’s tomb raiding and thieving ways, but heck, anything to do with archaeology will inevitably will catch my attention – and consider me on board with Owl’s whole “Indiana Jane” persona! Second, much of the novel takes place in fabulous Las Vegas, one of my favorite cities in the world. And third, Owl is a hardcore gamer and lover of RPGs, and it greatly intrigues me that her favorite online game World Quest might be more than it seems…
It doesn’t end there. There’s a lot more here that urban fantasy readers will really get a kick out of, from vampires and naga and nympths to more exotic supernaturals like Kami spirits. Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon masquerading as a human that first summons Owl to his lavish Japanese Circus Casino in Vegas to make her an offer she can’t refuse – retrieve a priceless artifact for him, and in return he’ll help Owl take care of a pack of vampires that have been dogging her steps for months and making her life a living hell.
Of course, things are never so simple. And this is why Owl hates working supernatural jobs. Together with her best friend Nadya and the charismatic and hunky ex-mercenary Rynn, Owl stumbles into one disastrous problem after another in the course of her world-wide treasure hunt, and it’s going to take all her wits to simply stay alive.
Thing is, Owl may have the brains, but her problem solving abilities are often hindered by her temper, impatience, and a trigger-happy mouth that has the unfortunate tendency to spout foul insults at anyone – friends and enemies alike – when she feels they have her up against a wall. As a result, Owl feels a lot less idealized when compared to a lot of her urban fantasy heroine counterparts, making her come across more flawed, real and human. That said, I doubt it’ll be easy to get through the book without feeling multiple urges to throttle her for being so foolhardy and bullheaded, or for not thinking things through and always charging head-first into danger without a plan. Still, while it might take a while for Owl to grow on you, her spunky personality also makes this one a fast-paced, energizing read.
The story is also a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the plot constantly moving from one action scene to the next, thundering along like a runaway freight train. There are a lot of moments where you have to suspend your disbelief, but nothing so extreme that it prevented me from enjoying myself. Also, as is the case with a lot of debut novels, there’s a rawness to the storytelling, some plot inconsistencies that cropped up every now and then (like, given the dangerous nature of the scroll Owl was tasked to find and the fact Mr. Kurasawa knew all about it, why would he even seek to find a translation?) and some minor contradictions (early on in the novel, Owl mentions looking forward about getting plenty of time to sleep on the plane, but later when on board, admits that she can’t ever sleep on planes) but since I read the advanced copy, I imagine many of these hiccups will be ironed out in the final.
All told, this is a great start to what looks to be a very different kind of urban fantasy. I’d like to see more of the archaeology and gaming angle, and I’m definitely interested in continuing Owl’s future adventures if the books keep up with the heavy action and fun. ...more
I was a bit taken aback by the tepid to cool reviews I’ve been seeing for this one. Not that my own review is all that glowing, I realize, but while Talon probably won’t rank among my favorite Young Adult novels read this year, I had a lot of fun with it. By all means not a bad book. Surprisingly, most of the disappointment appears to be from fans of Julie Kagawa’s other series. I’ve never read anything else by her though, so there’s really nothing for me to compare this to.
But let’s move on to what the book is about. Talon is about dragons…but also not really. If you’re looking for a novel featuring these magnificent creatures in all their winged and scaly fire-breathing glory, you’re not going to find much of that here. What you have instead is a small group of dragonkind who spend most of their time in human form, hoping to infiltrate our society and one day take over the world again. A secret faction of dragon slayers called the Order of St. George is determined not to let that happen, and their members continue to hunt dragons like they have for time immemorial.
The book begins as two young dragon siblings, Ember and Dante Hill travel to California in their human forms to begin training for their future positions to serve their home base of Talon. Ember is fascinated with humankind, and wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer living out the full teenager experience – beaches, arcades, ice cream parlors, the whole shebang. Her brother Dante on the other hand is a lot more disciplined, and does not like it one bit when a rogue dragon shows up in their territory, distracting Ember from her training. Meanwhile, St. George has received the rumors of new dragon recruits in the area, and the young soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian and his partner are tasked to hunt these Talon agents down and kill them.
Encouraged to mingle and blend in with other teenagers, Ember and Dante spend most of this book as humans. But unlike other books with shape-shifting dragons (like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for example, which I thought did a really good job developing the culture and world of the draconic characters), it’s difficult to think of the dragons here as anything but human. This is what I meant when I cautioned not to think of Talon too much as a “dragon” book. Despite a few scenes of Ember thinking as a dragon and being a dragon – and they are quite few and far between – the author often seems to put her human persona before her draconic one. Plus, the setting is modern and urban. Ember’s life revolves around surfing, parties, friends and boys. Very little is known about the dragon home of Talon and Kagawa doesn’t really get into it. For those craving a bit more fantasy and world building, I can see how that could cause some frustration.
As such, this ends up being your rather typical contemporary young adult novel with a light fantasy twist, complete with love triangle and just a dash of forbidden love. Despite being exactly what I expected, it was undeniably entertaining.
After reading this, however, I admit to being skeptical of Kagawa’s writing. It’s obvious that she can spin a good yarn, but there were some plot elements that were so illogical and downright silly, it can be difficult to take these characters seriously. First of all, if you can take any form and you’re trying to covertly infiltrate and gain influence in human society, I would not do it as a teenager. Good luck gathering any useful information to bring back to your overlords, unless they’re interested in how your airheaded friend thinks so-and-so is so totally gorgeous and has nice abs. Talon is also so bad at this undercover secret agent stuff, I’m not surprised St. George managed to narrow their search down to Ember and Dante and their group of beach bum friends in like all of two seconds. You’re a dragon spy, and you’re seriously going to stick with Ember for your name? You might as well paint a target on your back and wear a big sign that says “I’M THE DRAGON!” and hang it around your neck. The Order of St. George doesn’t seem that much more competent either. At one point, Garret admits to his partner that he is getting too close to Ember and recommends stepping back from the mission. Instead of allowing Garret to do so, what does his partner do but tell him to take advantage of this new development to go even deeper into the case. Um, no! As soon as one of your soldiers gets emotionally involved and becomes compromised like that, you pull them the hell out. A lot of the problems that St. George experience near the end, they brought most of them on themselves.
These little moments aside, not much else detracted from the experience. Yes, the story is pretty standard but ended up being more interesting than the description made it sound, and it held my attention to the end, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of YA. The next book, predictably called Rogue, looks like it will delve deeper into the both the secret Order of St. George and the dragon organization Talon, so hopefully readers get the world building we want there....more
In the interest of full disclosure, I majored in Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology so these books are like super-strength catnip to me. Written in the form of a memoir by the venerable Lady Trent, these novels are adventurous tales about our protagonist when she was a younger woman, but just as importantly they also explore her lifetime of scientific study and research. As such, I find this series extremely hard to resist. Ethnographic narratives? My heart goes all a-flutter. Taxonomy and biodiversity? Help, I swoon! Throw in dragons to complete the trifecta, and stick a fork in me, I’m done.
Voyage of the Basilisk picks up a few years after the events of the last book, and once again Isabella is making preparations to leave Scirland in order to continue her scientific study of dragons. There will be several major differences about this particular expedition, however. Isabella will be leading it, for one; no longer accompanied by her old associate and benefactor Lord Hilford, the majority of all decisions will be falling on her shoulders. Isabella has also decided to bring along her son Jake, who is now old enough to travel. And finally, this upcoming expedition will be her longest and most ambitious one yet: two years aboard the Basilisk, a royal survey ship hired to sail her and her party around the world in order to study all manner of dragonkin.
Dragons are of course what Isabella desires to see the most. But as we’ve already seen in the previous two installments, everywhere Isabella travels, her adventures also put her in contact with the local population. In many cases, she ends up living with them and immersed in their culture. These books are as much about dragons as they are about the world Isabella lives in, which I find is one of the most unique aspects about this series. Unlike a lot of other books featuring dragons, the ones in here are not intrinsically magical or preternatural. They, along with the native flora, fauna, and even native peoples in their habitat are all part of the natural living system. For that reason, I’ve told people before not to read this series solely for the dragons, and instead read it for the whole package.
As much as I enjoyed this book, it was not what I’d expected at all. From the description and cover, I immediately thought “Maritime/Nautical Fantasy”. In truth, though Isabella does spend the majority of this book traveling on the high seas, the main story doesn’t really start until halfway when the Basilisk gets shipwrecked in the tropics and the characters find themselves as guests of the local islanders. In contrast, the first half is decidedly lighter on plot as Isabella flits from one place to next, searching for dragons to observe. The overall pacing follows a similar pattern of the first two books, where the beginning was mostly made up of a series of short anecdotes, with the meat of story coming much later. Fans of the previous novels therefore should find Voyage of the Basilisk familiar and to their liking.
Just as Isabella’s dragons evolve, so does her character development. As her confidence in her knowledge and skills increases, she starts taking on greater challenges. Leading the expedition is the first step. This book also sees her having the courage to formulate her own scientific hypotheses, as well as the courage to admit when they’re wrong.
For the first time in this series, Isabella’s son Jake is also a major character. Isabella knows her maternal instincts have never been strong, not something easy for her to admit. But as Jake grows, her feelings toward motherhood begin changing and she starts to see her son as a young man with his own hopes and dreams, and not just a reminder of her late husband. This side plot really touched me, recalling Isabella’s guilt over putting her research ahead of her family in previous book, and comparing that to her relationship with Jake now. I like how amidst the adventure and the science in these books, there’s always an emotional side to the story.
This novel builds significantly on the previous books. First of all, Isabella’s voyage on the Basilisk expanded the scope of the world tremendously, from the luscious jungles of Coyahuac to the volcanic islands of Keonga. We encounter many new species of dragons, including sea serpents, fire lizards, feathered drakes, and more. Aside from Jake, new characters include Aekinitos, the eccentric captain of the Basilisk, and Suhail, an archaeologist specializing in ancient draconic ruins. Isabella befriends the latter and then becomes quite taken with him, and their dynamic is so wonderful that I really hope we’ll see him again someday.
I really love this series, and my fondness only grows with every new adventure. I rarely make such a deep connection to a main character, but three books later, “Lady Trent” feels incredibly real for me. There’s so much about her past that has yet to be revealed, and I can’t wait for the next installment of this series. More expeditions, more science, and of course more dragons!...more
The Supernatural Protection & Investigations bureau, known as SPI, is back again to battle the next great threat that’s putting Manhattan in peril. This time it’s All Hallows’ Eve and someone has just pulled off the biggest jewel heist in history, using a trio of harpies to steal a cluster of seven cursed diamonds from a museum exhibit. Problem is, the diamonds belong to a powerful dragon, and now he’s PISSED. Even worse, the seven gems are said to have magical properties, and in the right mage’s hands, their effects can have deadly repercussions for the thousands of supernaturals living in the tristate area.
Anyway, dragons are awesome and all, but I feel like there’s a huge missed opportunity here not titling this book The GORGON Conspiracy. This series is really unique in that it has featured an unconventional paranormal baddie in both books so far, each time drawing inspiration from literature and mythology. In the first book, it was Grendel creatures. In this one, it’s Gorgons. So, yeah, when’s the last time you read an urban fantasy featuring Gorgons? No, I can’t recall either. As protagonist Makenna Fraser and her partner Ian desperately chase down leads, more suspects are being found paralyzed and turned into stone. SPI has until midnight to get to the bottom of the mystery, or a whole bunch of their vampire and werewolf friends are going to die.
I was really looking forward to this book, because I really enjoyed The Grendel Affair. The X-Files meets Men in Black angle is probably my favorite aspect of the series, featuring an organization tasked to keep track of the paranormal creatures of the world, making sure that the unsuspecting public is safe from them and vice versa. The Dragon Conspiracy continues in this vein, which was great; however, I also didn’t think it was as good as the first book, for one major reason: the main character.
Thing is, I like how Makenna Fraser isn’t your usual snarky kickass urban fantasy female lead. I like that she’s your average everyday normal southern gal in the big city, maybe a little awkward and charmingly clumsy. But there has to be a balance too. Her role in this book was smaller, and I would even go as far as to call her passive. Not exactly a quality you look for in a protagonist. She was definitely much more involved in the previous novel. This time around, though? There wasn’t much to distinguish her, apart from her inaction. She seemed more like an observer than an actual player in this story, and I also didn’t feel like I learned anything new about her character.
Furthermore, the budding romance between Ian and Makenna appears to have come to a screeching halt, with no explanation as to why beyond the usual pretext of “We work together so we shouldn’t date each other”. Not that this is a bad thing; sometimes not having a romance to bog down the story can actually be seen as a positive. Besides, Makenna has prospects elsewhere. I just wish there was a better reason given for the sudden change in their relationship, and I confess part of me is a little miffed because I predicted in my review of the first book that the two of them will be very good together, and it turns out I was completely off base.
Still, I am enjoying this series. I just love the new takes on unconventional paranormal/mythological creatures, and that’s what sets the SPI Files apart. So far, the stories in both books have been snappy and entertaining, and with a bit more energy and spirit, I think this series has the potential to become something even more. Hopefully we’ll see the author flesh out the characters and give more depth to Makenna in the next installment. Count me in for book three....more