Monthly Archives: September 2014

Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle (Landon Snow #1)

Title: Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle

Author: R. K. Mortenson

Landon Snow is a logical 11-year-old who likes it when things have reasons. Which is why it’s so upsetting when his grandfather has an accident the night before his birthday. While he’s struggling to deal with the lack of reason behind the accident, Landon stumbles across a secret passage, then a mystery in the library. His attempt to read the Book of Meanings catapults him to another world where nothing makes much sense at all.

Ultimately I think this book tried to work on several levels, and that was why it failed. It begins strongly, with Landon and his family going to visit his grandparents. Landon’s distress over the accident leads to his questions about whether life has meaning—an ambitious direction for any book. I had an “ah-hah!” moment halfway through, when the meaningless adventure in a nameless fantasy land seemed to be a contrast to the story’s overall idea of meaning, but any deeper reading of the plot still fails to excuse the fact that Landon spends the entire adventure hardly thinking about meaning at all.

Most of the journey is Landon running from one place to another. Random things happen. Landon then goes to a different set of random things. With the Auctor’s Riddle repeated a half-dozen times or more at the start, I expected to see something along the lines of Landon discovering the vast diversity of life or the complexity of the life cycle, as he is being asked to answer if mere chance could explain how neatly the world’s species fit together. Or at least have an actual adventure, rather than simply reacting to everything by running away or getting captured.

There is no attempt to cohesively explain where he went or why things worked out the way they did, other than a hint that at least some of it may have been a dream. The Odds take the biggest section of the journey, and once it’s revealed they actually ARE odds (think 3-to-1 or one-in-a-hundred) they go away again, with nothing said about the evil that came and changed their forest. Or what the Odds actually are to this world, or what they do.

I agree with the answer to the riddle, but I don’t see that Landon deserved to get it. He never thinks about God at all, only a few religious things like saying grace. It’s hard to see how he concluded that was the answer other than handwaving it off as his religious upbringing must have taught him that sometime off-page.

Overall I think this had a good idea but poor direction. The insanity that was the middle nearly drove me to put down the book, and I certainly won’t be reading it again. I rate this book Not Recommended

The Magic Thief: Home (Magic Thief #4)

Title: The Magic Thief: Home

Author: Sarah Prineas

Home isn’t quite home anymore. Conn is having a difficult time adjusting to Wellmet: Rowan wants him to be the ducal magister, the other wizards are convinced he’s stealing their locus stones, and someone has a word out on him in Twilight. But all Conn wants to care about is the magic. Ever since he made a place for Arhionvar in the city rather than driving it away, Wellmet’s magic and Arhionvar have been mixing strangely. Conn wants to settle it—he may be the only one who can. But that means finding the the time and space to do what he must. . .

I am very glad this turned out to be four books, not three. The third book ends so very well, but the characters aren’t DONE. This, finally, settles some of the things Conn has been wrestling with since the very beginning of the first book: who is he? Where does he belong? What is his home? The questions take on a special significance now, now that everyone but him has his own place, and Conn is left feeling too much a gutterboy for the palace, too civilized for Twilight, too disrespectable for the mages. Neverly, who has never cared what the other mages think, even agrees it’s best for Conn not to stay at Heartsease after a particular event.

And this is also an interesting time of growing up for Conn as well. He’s always been used to doing things alone, even after Neverly rescued him from the streets. He’s somewhat reluctantly had help in the previous three books doing whatever he was wanting to do, but for the first time he’s truly doing things alone. It causes him to realize how much trouble he can get into without someone at his back, and that he doesn’t care to be the loner anymore.

I still think the third book is the highlight of the series, but without this one it would be incomplete. The important questions are answered, some loose threads from clear back to the first book finally tie up, and it has that satisfying sense of resolution combined with an open future. I would love to see another set of stories in this world, perhaps when Conn is older, but for now this is an excellent finale. I rate this book Recommended.

The Magic Thief: Found (Magic Thief #3)

Title: The Magic Thief: Found

Author: Sarah Prineas

Conn knows the city of Wellmet is in danger. He’s met the evil magic Arhionvar and fought it off once. Arhionvar has already moved against Wellmet to weaken it, and if he and the other wizards can’t figure out a way to shore up Wellmet’s magic soon, Arhionvar will win any contest. But the wizards haven’t even believed Conn that Wellmet’s magic is alive, much less that something like Arhionvar could even exist. And Conn is technically not even allowed to be in Wellmet anymore. Determined to do something, Conn goes hunting again for a locus magicalicus. But what he finds will be more than he expected . . .

Conn is getting desperate for a locus stone, and his attempt to find one—as usual—doesn’t work out the way he expects. And it doesn’t just go wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong in front of the whole city. Which means it’s a good thing Conn’s going traveling again.

I doubt it’s a spoiler to say, since it’s on the cover, but dragons do show up in this book, which was a nice surprise. Conn’s known about dragons since the first volume, but only from the painting that was in his room, and Neverly told him they were extinct. Now he gets to see them firsthand, and I love what the story does with them. The book offers a unique take on what they are which not only fits perfectly in with the story but continues to tease with mystery.

I refuse to spoil the ending, but it is my favorite part of the entire series so far. Conn’s way out of his twisted-up mess is spectacular. The imagery, the emotion, the events—yes, yes, yes. I know I’m in love when immediately after finishing a book the first thing I want to do is re-read it.

I am extremely glad there is a book 4, as this one leaves me wanting another adventure quite badly. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Magic Thief: Lost (Magic Thief #2)

Title: The Magic Thief: Lost

Author: Sarah Prineas

Conn has been set adrift. Since the loss of his locus magicalicus, the stone that lets wizards communicate with magic, he hasn’t been accepted as a wizard by the wizards of Wellmet. But he can’t go back to being a thief, either. He starts experimenting with pyrotechnics, hoping the explosions will allow him a brief window to communicate once more with the magic—knowing pyrotechnics have been outlawed and were the reason Neverly himself was once banished.

I love Conn. He’s smart and a very skilled thief, but he can’t seem to stop himself from getting into trouble. Trouble with the authorities, trouble with the magic, trouble with other nations . . . And despite being able to open locked doors, he’s also dealing with people who know enough to take away his lockpicks.

The uneasy relationships Conn has with everyone add a wonderful depth to the tension. Rowan, the duchess’s daughter, is possibly the only person who sees him as a friend. The duchess, the guards, and especially Kerrn, captain of the guards, dislike him enough to want him locked up on principle. The wizards hate Conn’s ideas about magic being alive, and even Neverly isn’t taking Conn’s side when it comes to pyrotechnics. And even in Twilight, the poor side of the city where Conn grew up, there are minions suspicious that Conn has designs on becoming the next Underlord.

I particularly like how the title resounds with multiple implications throughout the book. The first book, The Magic Thief, did this as well—Conn wasn’t just a thief who stole Neverly’s locus stone, he eventually stole the whole city’s magic back from those who would have captured it. In this one, the theme is loss. Conn’s convictions and methods drive him to a place where he loses everything and then some. Yet as heartwrenching as some of the losses are, he continues to find hope.

Overall this series just keeps getting better. I did miss Keeston, whom I thought would have a larger role in things but barely gets mentioned. But then again, Conn has been effectively cut off from every social class, and Keeston isn’t like Rowan who would flout the rules just to talk to him. I’m very much looking forward to more. I rate this book Recommended.

Puddlejumpers

Title: Puddlejumpers

Author: Mark Jean, Christopher C. Carlson

Ernie Banks has always been a mystery. Left on an orphanage steps one Christmas morning by a truck driver, he has no idea the remarkable story that brought him to this place. For Ernie was meant for a destiny. At least, the Puddlejumpers think so. These tiny creatures have been waiting for their Rainmaker and will do everything in their power to see the prophecy fulfilled.

This book was a treat on several levels. First, the prose is strong and evocative—it’s been a while since I’ve read something where the language impressed me this much. So much character and drama cram into such little snippets of scene.

Second, the Puddlejumpers offer the welcome surprise of a non-human race that doesn’t speak English. And they do speak their own language. It gets many lines of dialogue, which gives a good feel for how it sounds, and there’s even a spot where some of the grammar gets expanded a little. I really enjoyed how much depth this gives them; they have their own expressions which start to become familiar as the book goes on.

Third, I enjoyed the plot. While many elements of the story will be familiar, the solid writing brought the characters to life and made it their own story. Ernie is particularly sad to me because he’s twice lost a place where he was loved and treasured, to end up in a place where his relationship with the world is mostly antagonistic. Here, too, though, the story avoids the easy way out of making Mrs. McGinty nothing but a villain. She’s certainly unlikeable, but her thoughts and motivations get enough light that she is understandable, and she’s a world away from the Troggs.

Finally, the story manages in certain points to transcend the fantastic and go into the mythic, which turns it from merely a good fantasy to something that has a lot more depth for me. MotherEarth was a lot of fun. Some of the scenes near the end also touched on the larger-than-life experience.

There’s only a little that I wish might have been done a bit differently. Ernie’s journey as the Rainmaker is good, but I was fully expecting him to need and use his human size and shape to do what the Puddlejumpers could not. The fact that he needs neither of these (and it’s actually a hindrance) came as a surprise. So it leaves the puzzling loose end of why him at all? How did he get drafted into a Puddlejumper prophecy? What did he have that they didn’t?

Overall, though, that wasn’t enough to spoil the book for me. I rate this book Recommended.

Spellfall

Title: Spellfall

Author: Katherine Roberts

I feel cheated by the back cover.

Nowhere did the description indicate the first half of this book reads more like a slasher horror film. Natalie has an encounter with a strange man who takes far too much interest in her, who later comes back with a group of people, physically overpowers her, drugs her, kidnaps her, and locks her up in his home in the wilderness where no one can find them. And then proceeds to subject her to not only casual brutality but things that are supposed to be torturous to her (and magically aren’t because he made a miscalculation).

So, right away I’m wondering who the target audience is supposed to be. The cover shows a girl with a tree and something magic, a dog/wolf, and a unicorn. This doesn’t exactly feel like the kind of book I was reading. How about a dark forest, an empty chair, and a set of shackles? The first half would take a very mature reader in the estimated age range. There are, indeed, unicorns. They stab people. Natalie gets to watch firsthand someone getting gored. (And then he doesn’t even die properly until later, because ZOMBIES . . . what were we reading again?)

The second thing that bothered me incredibly about this book was its depiction of alcoholism. Natalie’s dad is alcoholic to the tune of 78 bottles of beer a week (sometimes more), yet when Natalie vanishes, he stops drinking? When the whole reason he’s drinking in the first place is because he can’t deal with the loss of her mother? Not to mention the fact that he not only has the magical ability to overcome the chemical addiction to alcohol his body has sustained, he also has the magical ability to overcome its complete withdrawal with no side effects whatsoever. I have been around alcoholics going off less severe addictions than that. Some of them shake, many of them smoke or drown themselves with coffee, and when confronted with any sort of hardship it’s all they can do (and often more than they can do) not to go back to the bottle.

Compounding the incredulity is the way her father acts while drunk. Although Natalie, her stepmom, and even her stepbrother are afraid of him, he actually restrains himself from hitting them—while drunk—because someone is watching. And although they’re supposedly afraid of him, he only has to be off the bottle for a few days before they’re relieved he’s quit and acting normally around him again. Natalie herself is ludicrously brave around Hawk, considering he does a thousand times more than her father is shown to do and yet she’s supposed to be too afraid to even backtalk her father. Merlin, actually, is a much better picture of that kind of relationship. He’s timid, won’t disobey his father despite his father’s abuse, and struggles with worthlessness (not something Natalie finds hard, which is odd because no one seems to care that much about her except Jo).

And then there’s the really disturbing fact that Natalie’s mother has, from her spirit state, used magic to nudge Natalie’s stepmom into marrying her father, despite the fact that her father was already a drunkard. As though the marriage would fix him (hint: it doesn’t…. at least that much was right). Nor does Natalie’s mom show any sign of regretting turning someone else’s life into hell.

From the second half onwards (after Natalie’s escape from the cabin) it does try to read more like a fantasy adventure, but the good guys are even more frustrating than the bad guys. They torture people, too, and lock people in little rooms, only we’re supposed to be okay with them overall because they’re living in the magical land and they just really want what’s best for the trees. To be fair, Natalie is no fan of their methods, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s nothing to admire about either side.

The end gets ridiculous again and goes back to the horror-slasher-fic vibe from the beginning. Natalie is forced to watch her wolf/dog being eaten alive by a hawk to complete the obscene ritual she neatly escaped in the beginning (no mention is made of how much of a giant dog this hawk was supposed to ingest to effect the spell…. this is just handwaved away). Hawk, who was already fooled once by her fake subservience which allowed her escape, somehow blindly believes her the second time when she pulls the exact same trick. Then Natalie gets splashed with a poison so toxic it’s giving her immediate symptoms, but it only takes a week to recover once she finally gets to a hospital, and there is no lasting ill effect.

So… there’s really no reason I would ever tell someone to read this book. The plot holes are gaping and the overall tone is quite frustrating. I rate this book Not Recommended.

The Magic Thief (Magic Thief #1)

Title: The Magic Thief

Author: Sarah Prineas

Conn got more than he bargained for when he tried to steal a wizard’s locus magicalicus, the stone that allows a wizard to work magic. But the botched theft leads to an apprenticeship with Neverly, a place where he’s warm and well-fed and learning about magic. Neverly came back to Wellmet to investigate a decline in the levels of magic, and before long Conn is wrapped up in the mystery as well.

Connwaer tells most of the story in his own voice, and his character shines through the narrative and the details, and most interestingly, what he chooses not to say. Here is someone that, despite living on the streets, still has enough self-confidence to turn down Neverly’s initial offer in order to get what he really wants. And he and Neverly play well off each other. Both of them are stubborn as well as smart, though Neverly is so wrapped up in his own momentum he fails to see a lot of what Conn picks up.

The journal interludes give the opportunity to peer into Neverly’s head, which helps since Conn’s story would be less engaging without a lot of the detail only Neverly can provide. And Neverly’s writings show his rationale behind actions that may otherwise seem cold and cruel.

I ended up liking Keeston a lot more than I thought I would, too. Conn’s rivalry with the older boy is tempered greatly by his insight into the true nature of Keeston’s character. And in the end Keeston isn’t reduced to a bully or a sneak, he’s a person.

Overall this is a strong story with engaging characters. I can’t quite buy that Conn is only twelve (he reads more like 16 to me), but that’s the only wrinkle in an otherwise excellent novel. I rate this book Recommended.