Monthly Archives: November 2014

Storm Thief

Title: Storm Thief

Author: Chris Wooding

Rail and Moa are thieves in Orokos, a city plagued by probability storms. When the storms pass, anything and everything is subject to change. Both of them know it: Rail has to use a respirator now just to breathe, and Moa changed to being left-handed. People fear the storms as much as they fear the Revenants, the ghostlike beings who kill with a touch and possess dead bodies. But when Rail and Moa uncover an artifact, they end up on the run from everything.

I was intrigued by the description of the probability storms, and they did indeed end up being my favorite part of the book. There weren’t many changes shown, but the ones that were had an inventive streak: a girl now trapped to live inside pictures, Rail’s own condition of not being able to breathe, and a few alien-like mutations, including one with a very tenuous grasp on time. The setting, too, offered glimpses of the magical Fade technology mingled with a more humble and mundane kind of slums.

But I found myself underwhelmed by the rest of the story. Rail is a tough-as-nails ghetto thief who likes Moa and will do anything for her. Moa has an innocent faith in people and a hope for a better future. Vago is the childlike monster Moa befriends and Rail hates. And that’s pretty much it. Everyone is fairly one-dimensional, whether it’s main characters or secondary, and despite alien-ish species featuring heavily into the beginning, they aren’t even mentioned most of the rest of the book.

The ending felt like it was trying to make some kind of statement but never quite getting there. At least the story admits that the problem with utopias is human nature inevitably ruins them. And leaving Vago on that note felt odd: it’s a pretty good depiction of what I would call Hell, not Limbo.

Overall this isn’t a bad read, just one where the plot and characters felt like they fell short of what the world had to offer. I rate this book Neutral.

The Forbidden Library (The Forbidden Library #1)

Title: The Forbidden Library

Author: Django Wexler

Alice had a happy life with her father before the fairy invaded their kitchen. Suddenly her rational, understandable life has a new dimension, and she can’t be sure of anything anymore. Because if fairies are real, what else might be out there?

Quite a bit, it turns out. After she’s sent to live with her “uncle” Geryron, she stumbles across her own power: the ability to harness magic in books. To Read herself into books. And to capture what she finds there for her own purposes . . .

I was a little surprised after reading the inside cover to find out this is actually a historical fantasy, taking place in America shortly after the invention of electric lights. The period details are solid, though Alice spends little enough time in the outside world, heading almost immediately to Geryon’s house and its Forbidden Library.

The magic itself is fascinating. The core of it appears to be those passages in books that “jump out” to Readers, and such power is collected and refined to various uses. But the main thrust of the magic Alice actually learns comes with substantial moral dilemma: she can enter a prison-book, kill its inhabitant, and thereafter gain its occupant as a servant with the option to use its abilities as her own powers. Alice, having been raised by a kind father and possessing more heart than the typical Reader, is appalled at such a process, but for one reason or another ends up with a few servants of her own.

Which leads to my favorite part: the Swarm. These little kiwi-like birds are cute, deadly, and provide Alice with a range of interesting abilities. And regardless of her feelings about the whole “enslaving creatures to be my servants”, she’s going to need every advantage to simply get through this adventure alive.

The book is clearly setting up for a series, as Alice is only part of the way to her goal of figuring out what happened to her father by the end. I suspect Geryon will also get additional time, which he rather badly needs, as Alice is constantly being told negative things about him from others, but her few personal interactions with the man haven’t been much in line with what everyone says.

Overall this is an interesting read, with a horror-fantasy dimension and a lot of unexpected twists and turns. I rate this book Recommended.

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy #1)

Title: The False Prince

Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen

Sage is an orphan with a penchant for getting into trouble. Which is why his adoption comes as such a surprise–he was sure he was too much for anyone to want, and he likes it that way. But the man who bought him has other plans. Plans to involve him, or one of the other boys that were chosen, in a plot to overthrow the kingdom from within. . .

This was an engaging, quick read, even if the major plot points were obvious before I was all that far into the book. Three boys competing for a chance to play at being the prince? Great, except the fact that the book is in first person point of view is a dead giveaway which one will be chosen. And the big reveal is visible way too early by what isn’t said–lack of detail can be as telling as detail (being vague all the time about a specific topic either means lazy writing or that there’s something the author is trying to hide).

That said, the book certainly has its charm. Sage isn’t like the other boys bought for Conner’s schemes. He’s intelligent enough to spot what Conner intends, and horrified by the treason. But he also doesn’t have any real opportunity to escape, so he’s got to get by long enough to figure out how to slip away from Conner for good. So he fills the time by making trouble. Lots of trouble. For everything Conner does to try to break him, Sage has some retort that usually gets him into more trouble.

And there are several moments where he comes to some good realizations—like learning how his feast with some orphans caused them to go hungry for the next week because he’d fed them the entire week’s allotment of food in one night. There’s almost a sense that although he can’t control his mouth, he’s learning something from his actions.

The ending wraps up well, though I can see there is a sequel. Still, the story will stand alone. Sage’s strong personality drives the book quite well, and it will be interesting to see where future adventures takes him (though I do hope the suggested love triangle is avoided). I rate this book Recommended.

Elantris

Title: Elantris

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Elantris was the city of the gods. The silver-skinned, white-haired Elantrians were a unique people drawn at random from the surrounding nation: anyone struck by the Shaod woke up the next morning as an Elantrian. But ten years ago, everything changed. Elantris changed from a city of wonders to a city of nightmares, and the Shaod is now a sentence of living death.

Raoden is the crown prince—but when the Shaod takes him, he is citizen of no city but Elantris. Sarene was his betrothed wife—now a widow without ever having met her husband. Hrathen is a religious leader sent to Arelon to convert the city before his leaders overthrow it by force and put every heathen to the sword. As their lives intertwine, the foundations of the kingdom will be shaken.

I am a bit sorry to be so late to the party—I have owned this book for several years but it wasn’t until I read Rithmatist that I was reminded to hunt down other works by Sanderson. Elantris was spectacular. The novelty of the city itself, the random nature of the chosen, and the way such a blessing could become such a terrible curse made for an interesting backdrop to the more traditional story of a weak kingdom with a stubborn king and a lot of trouble brewing.

The sheer depth of the world was a treat. The magic system was more the mystery of what the magic was and how it worked, and figuring out what broke everything ten years ago. I also enjoyed the detail about the various religious sects, their theologies, and debates. I love how the purists keep getting annoyed when sects like the Jeskeri Mysteries are continually confused with their mainstream religion (and no one else cares enough to remember the difference), or how Serene keeps Hrathen on his toes by asking all the wrong questions at the right times.

And the characters were just as strong as the worldbuilding. Raoden’s fall into a defiant optimism as a way to stave off hopeless despair. Galladon’s gallows humor (“[He] will stay like this forever. That is, after all, the typical length of eternal damnation.”). Serene’s determination not to be sidelined or trampled underfoot by a monarch who thinks women are useless and stupid. Hrathen’s struggle to win himself as much as the city to the faith he has spent his life serving. Hrathen in particular surprised me. He could so easily have been a stock character, stoic and villainous, but he has hidden depths that come to light as the story progresses. And the end was so utterly perfect for him.

All in all, though it took me several hours to pick through this one, it’s definitely a novel I would go back to again. There’s so much to like, and I’m sure I’ll notice even more the next time I go through. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Candy Shop War (The Candy Shop War #1)

Title: The Candy Shop War

Author: Brandon Mull

Nate and his family have just moved to Colson, little suspecting the quiet town holds immense secrets. Magicians live here, powerful people in search of a treasure. And when Nate and his new friends Pigeon, Summer, and Trevor find the new Sweet Tooth Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe, they’re suddenly in the middle of it. Now the race is on to find the treasure, and who gets there first will make all the difference . . .

The beautiful cover is what drew me to the book, and the description sounded intriguing. Magical candy? Great! But actually reading the book was a little disappointing. Despite the title, there is only one candy shop for half the book (you don’t even find out about the ice cream man until pretty far in), and no indication that candy (or anything edible, for that matter) is the main way to use magic, thus making the “war” rather long in coming.

I do give props for the way the plot twists around on itself, so the kids are never quite sure who’s the good guy and who’s not (and it didn’t take them nearly as long as I feared to figure out Mrs. White, either). Once there is an actual power struggle going on, the struggle gets a lot more intense and the action gets a lot better. And it was just hard to root for the kids when I as a reader know they’re doing the wrong thing for the wrong side, so once they start standing up for good they got a lot more sympathetic.

The other thing that left the book feeling rather flat for me was the characters. Nate, Trevor, Summer, and Pigeon are excellently drawn, but they never really change. The character I was most interested in, John Dart, shows up in the prologue and then disappears for most of the book. I found myself several times wishing the whole story had belonged to John and not just the prologue. John has no magic himself, but is tasked with hunting down powerful magicians as a sort of policeman. But he’s also under a curse that anything he does to another person is reflected back at him (he’s cut when he cuts them, and killed if he kills them, etc). It’s a much more interesting dilemma than four kids who only have to worry about parents (who get drugged by white fudge into not caring about anything), cops (ditto on the fudge), and bullies (the only real point of tension once both sides have magical candy).

So overall I’m on the fence about this one. The story isn’t bad (it nicely avoids being predictable, while still keeping the ending plausible), but it would probably appeal more to kids than older readers. Tentatively Recommended, mostly because John Dart is awesome (and if there’s ever an adult series starring him I am totally reading it).

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1)

Title: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Joel wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists are the chosen, the ones who can draw lines in chalk and bring them to life. They are also the warriors who fight wild chalklings, little chalk monsters which can attack and kill humans. But Joel’s chalk lines will never be more than ordinary. Still, when someone begins targeting Rithmatists, Joel gets pulled into the mystery, along with a remedial Rithmatist student named Melody.

I really enjoyed this book. The setting is both alternate history and steampunk, which means even the familiar elements become strange. North America is an archipelago, Asia conquered Europe, Aztecs still have a great deal of power in South America, to name a few. And I find it amusing that the most dangerous place in the United Isles is the Tower at Nebrask. The steampunk elements in some respects get less attention than the political elements, which I thought worked well, as it’s clear the steamworks are a normal part of Joel’s life.

The magic system is unique, and the dangers intriguing. Here’s where the illustrations make the book much better than it could be otherwise. Before every chapter, some illustration diagrams a concept or defense. Even though the prose will describe them, it’s helpful to have a visual—and it’s often amusing when battles between chalklings are taking place, and little unicorns or scribble monsters are fighting next to the paragraphs. Much of Rithmatism is based on geometry, with an emphasis on drawing precise angles or lines. But the actual execution of Rithmatism is more like a game of Age of Empires, where each side builds walls and units and tries to break through the other person’s defenses.

Joel is sympathetic, but realistic. His obsession with being a Rithmatist can make him intolerable to be around, he doesn’t have much regard for other people, and he’s a slacker in class because he figures he’ll just do well on his exams. Interestingly, most of his negative character qualities actually get challenged, and he does start to come around. Melody is less nuanced and a little annoying herself, but they play well off of each other. And her pictures of unicorns kept making me laugh.

I thought the big reveal came a little fast, especially with what happened afterwards. There’s certainly a lot of room for going even deeper into Rithmatics in future books—and there had better be a sequel with the way it ended. I’m particularly interested to see if anyone makes the connection between the chalkings that attacked the students and the chalkings at the Tower of Nebrask, and what that means about Nebrask.

Overall, this is a book I couldn’t stop reading, and I can’t wait for future installments. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Murder of Crows (The Others #2)

Title: Murder of Crows

Author: Anne Bishop

Drugs that affect both humans and Others have appeared on the street—drugs to drive one insane with aggression, or to render one passive and vulnerable. To the Others, this is not a threat to take lightly. And Meg Corbyn, blood prophet, is having dreams and visions of dead crows. Black feathers in the snow. A danger that approaches. Something that has more connections to her than she wants to realize . . .

I’m not a huge fan of drug stories, but this one is about so much more than the investigation to determine what the drugs are (fairly easy, since Simon got a good hint at the end of the previous book) to why they’re being distributed to how to stop them. That said, the drug story does allow the police to be heavily involved in this novel, and not just in the “we’re going to visit the coffee shop every day” way they were present in the last book. No, this time around, their role is a lot bigger, and the Others have hung an ultimatum on their job performance: find the distributor or the Midwest is going to be de-populated of humanity. (Actually, you can’t fault the Others’ logic—if everyone is dead, the distributor is therefore dead. Therefore the problem is solved, with typical Other efficiency.)

As with the first book, the characters are the main attraction. I actually liked Simon and Meg’s relationship better in the first book, as now that they’re both confused about how they stand with each other, there isn’t quite as much humor. But there’s still plenty of hijinks with everyday life, whether it’s Meg trying to explain that the people-shaped dog cookies are not people flavored, or the way Simon figures out Meg isn’t a fan of scary movies, or the various reactions the visiting Others have to the local humans (exploding fluffballs!).

I did miss Sam, who doesn’t get nearly enough time in the story. I liked how despite the “threat” of humans who want to move against the Others, the main threat is still primarily against the Others in the Courtyard and not the Others as a whole. Humanity is so severely out-gunned in this fight; it’s nice to see the usual formula flipped so the shifters aren’t the ones fighting for survival. I also liked how the villain only hinted at in the first book gets more or less revealed (and some definite justice).

There are plenty of open questions that the third book will likely address, but I’ll be reading it mostly for the laughs and the people whose lives weave through the pages. I rate this book Recommended.