Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Crown of Three (Crown of Three #1)

Title: The Crown of Three

Author: J. D. Rinehart

A thousand years of war have left the people of Toronia longing for peace. And a prophecy promises peace will come when three stars rise, and three children are born of King Brutan. The king is less fond of this prophecy, since it also predicts his death at their hands. So when the triplets are born, they are scattered and hidden. But now the time is coming that the three of them are drawing together at last . . .

This was interesting in the sense that it bucked a lot of what I was expecting. Evil king? Dead after a couple of chapters. So the book is a lot more about introducing the children and the powers they each possess, and leading them to each other and the probable throne. Until it all goes south in a most unexpected way.

I liked Tarlan and his bond with animals, as well as the three giant birds that help him out. He’s naive but not stupid, and much quicker than the other two at figuring out who should be trusted. I wasn’t nearly as fond of the other two siblings. Gulph starts well, but his character arc quickly becomes “listening when other people tell me what to do, even when I know it isn’t right.” Or doing very little. Elodie was even worse—I didn’t buy her character transformation and I question if she’ll actually be someone you’d want in charge of a country. I’m still not sure why Fessen, who has kept the rebel army alive in the face of violent opposition, thinks it’s a good idea for a girl who can’t even swing a sword to command his army, prophecy or no. All she really managed was to get a lot of them killed, but they’re fanatically loyal (mostly). It would make a lot more sense to allow her to direct the general goals and leave the specifics up to the people who actually know what they’re doing.

Overall I thought this had some good ideas, but I wasn’t sold on the execution. It’s a little odd that the siblings are instantly best friends when they didn’t even know they had siblings. I liked Samail better than Elodie (well, hopefully he’ll continue to accompany her). Still, I’ll probably read the sequel whenever it comes out, if only to see more of Tarlan and his birds. I rate this book Recommended.

The Nethergrim (Nethergrim #1)

Title: The Nethergrim

Author: Matthew Jobin

Edmund, the son of the innkeeper in the tiny village of Moorvale, has higher aspirations than waiting on tables and serving ale for the rest of his life. Too bad his father—who likes to remind him he stands to inherit the inn—doesn’t agree. But life won’t always be hard work and his small circle of friends, Katherine and Tom. Animals are disappearing. Children, too. Supernatural evils are once again rising up, and this time, Moorvale hasn’t got heroes like Tristan and Vithric to rally the villagers to defend themselves. Or have they? When the terror strikes too close to home, Edmund isn’t willing to just sit by . . .

This has a nice amount of depth and complexity, while not sacrificing a good plot. I was impressed by how well-drawn each character was. Edmund, with his love of books and magic, and his burning desire to be a wizard, or at least something more than an innkeeper. Geoffry, his royal pest of a younger brother (and let’s not even talk about Geoffry’s friends. I was surprised the plot managed to find a way to make me like them at all with how nasty they are in the beginning). Katherine, an only daughter who wishes she were a son, so that her father wouldn’t have to be shamed for teaching her the sword or her ashamed for learning it, and wanting more than to be a wife and mother in a town where no woman is anything but. Tom, a slave with an abusive master, but a possibly magical gift with animals.

I liked how complex the relationships were. Edmund likes Katherine a lot, but can’t quite get over his shyness to tell her so—and she clearly doesn’t see him as other than a friend (or is deliberately trying not to see it). Katherine with her own crush, who probably likes her back, but his family would never stand for the two of them to be wed, no matter how highly they think of her father. Or the way the social hierarchy is so rigid, and everyone knows their place, which makes some of the later scenes between the lord and his villagers so tense.

The magic system also had an intriguing setup, and a lot of potential. I particularly liked the conversation about how it’s not possible for a death spell to be mass-produced. The magic felt mysterious as well as workable.

I also liked the details. Edmund might be working at the inn, but that doesn’t exempt him from helping out with the harvest. Or how the villagers were required to practice longbow so they would be ready to fight if called upon. The images of the mountain path, and the stronghold, and what waited for them there were excellent, and it’s the little touches around the everyday life that builds up everyone into real people who stand to lose everything important to them.

A further pleasant surprise is just who ends up with Edmund as he approaches said stronghold. This was not who I expected, and the combination of maturity and youth gives a great sense of balance—old memories revived and book knowledge come to life. The story of the past and present, both recent past and far-flung history, interweave.

The end more or less ties up, although clearly leaving the door wide open for a sequel. I hope it shows up soon. Solid writing plus excellent characters makes me eager to read more. I rate this book Recommended.

The Orphan Army (Nightsiders #1)

Title: The Orphan Army

Author: Jonathan Maberry

The alien Bugs have invaded humanity. With their giant Hive ships in safe in space, their drop ships deliver swarms of shocktroopers and worse to stomp out what bits of humanity survived the initial attacks. Milo Silk knows the history, of course. He was even alive back before, and can faintly remember what it was like before everything changed. But he’s fairly happy in his current life, as comfortable with the world as anyone can be—until he finds the wrecked ship. The pyramid. And his world turns upside down in a whole different way . . .

This was interesting, although more of a thriller than I had been expecting. The pace stays snappy throughout, and Milo is an interesting main character. He dreams, and frequently his dreams hint at things that happen in the world. Mostly they’re bad things, because it’s a hard world to live in, and he doesn’t give them a lot of thought (although he does write them down in a dream journal). I liked Milo’s voice, his thoughts, his decisions. I liked how he’s young, but he’s still capable (but not unrealistically).

It was even a pleasant surprise to find much more of the villain’s motivations laid out than I had anticipated. The method does leave me wondering if, perhaps, Milo is not more than most people suspect (Evangelyne and her cohorts may have something of a clue). And although the odds stacked against Milo appear truly insurmountable, the clever way he wins his victories here shows that it may not be all about who’s the strongest in the end.

Since this is the start of a series, I presume the actual Nightsiders will get more time later. Here it’s mostly about Evangelyne, and Milo finding out about her. Much of this book is more about worldbuilding: the general state of humanity, the swamp in Louisiana where Milo currently lives with a band of refugees, and some hints of the larger universe.

Overall this is a pretty quick read that was fun, although I wish I had another book or two on hand to flesh the plot out a bit more. I rate this book Recommended.

The Box and the Dragonfly (The Keepers #1)

Title: The Box and the Dragonfly

Author: Ted Sanders

When Horace wanders into the House of Answers, he can’t imagine the questions that visit will dredge up. For he finds himself in possession of a box with mysterious power, and also the focus of the sinister, not-quite-human Dr. Jericho. With the help of a girl with her own powerful dragonfly pendant, can they protect their talismans and themselves?

This is another one I didn’t finish. I tried. The concept was intriguing (although not quite what I had expected from the jacket description), and the writing was generally solid, so it took me a while to figure out why I was so unenthusiastic about reading it.

The biggest (and for me, fatal) flaw is the pacing. Something intriguing/exciting/dangerous happens, and then Horace goes home. Or he spends a chapter getting talked at with some details grudgingly doled out about his box or the overall situation. This is a hefty book for its age range, and it could’ve been cut in half (mostly by condensing and combining the talky bits). By the time I got to the part where Chloe insists on going back home before the next day, despite being warned very strongly against, I realized I didn’t care anymore. The tension and sense of danger had fallen flat so many times before that even knowing this one would blow up on them wasn’t enough to motivate me to keep going.

In a way, the story is structured very like its main character: logical, steady, organized, meticulously piecing bits together to build a bigger picture.

I also find it amusing that we’re talking about a box that can see the future and a pendant that allows its user to walk through solid objects, but many characters get very vocal about not calling it “magic.” Not to mention a quill pen and ink that changes based on who’s writing and a variety of other things that really, really look like what most of us would call magic. It just brings to mind the quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

And the plot also tries a little too hard to tell Horace to be himself and do what he wants. He’s twelve. Figuring out what you want is great, but right and wrong should probably factor in somewhere along the line too. Well, it’s not so much that there were defined actions that were wrong as much as Horace being treated as extraordinarily special by everyone when he does very little to validate that. Chloe would actually fit that better than he does, as her ability to walk through things effectively requires her to put herself in harm’s way if she’s using her power at all. Horace . . . spies on the future to let Chloe know if her reckless actions will doom her or not. What’s frustrating is that the adults keep clearly favoring Horace because his box is supposedly more powerful than her dragonfly, even after she proves hers isn’t a low-grade ability.

So overall, I think a few things would’ve helped this for me. One, cut out the requirement for Horace to go home to his normal family life every single night and let him have an adventure (or compress said adventure into a day or two so he could conceivably be gone that long without raising suspicions). Two, cut down and consolidate the multiple scenes where Horace is just sitting down and getting talked at. This would allow more space for Horace to actually do things. And third, stop having everyone treat Horace like he’s amazing (even Harry Potter had people who hated him). I rate this book Neutral.

The Year of Our War (Fourlands #1)

Title: The Year of Our War

Author: Steph Swainston

No summary of the plot, because I didn’t finish. I hardly managed to get through more than the first 50 pages, and that was a slog.

So, reasons. The opening is the worst I’ve read in a long time. We begin with our protagonist buying a newspaper in the first sentence. Which he then reads for the next page. This is info-dump at a wince-worthy level (and to make matters worse, the article he’s reading isn’t even interesting). Why not start in the middle of—or at least closer to—the battle that happens shortly after? Most of what the article tried to convey would have come across fine, and it would have been a lot more dynamic.

The setup of the world, with immortals and mortals, with a constant war of humanity against giant insects, with those who have wings and those who do not (though not everyone with wings can fly) should be interesting. Well, the bugs were interesting. The other huge problem I had was that after a fair chunk of pages I still hadn’t met a single character I actually sympathized with.

The main character can fly. (This is the reason I picked up the book at all.) Except I can’t find anything else to like about him. He’s mostly aloof from the mortals with only the barest sympathy for one on his deathbed, in debt and addicted to drugs (and shows all the desperation of an addict looking for a hit when someone has the audacity to hide his stash), and cheated on his wife (I didn’t get far enough to tell if this was ongoing or a one-time thing, though at least it appears he hasn’t seen the mistress in a while). Basically it feels like the only way the plot wants you to sympathize with him is because he’s the point of view character—I had a hard time seeing anything about the man that didn’t make me hope he would crash and burn. Presumably (hopefully) he changes for the better over the course of the book but I couldn’t stomach him long enough to get there.

This might have been helped if any of the secondary characters were sympathetic, but the immortals didn’t have a lot to recommend them either, and the only mortal given any depth at all dies very quickly.

So overall this is not a book I would ever touch again. I rate this book Not Recommended.

Winter Turning (Wings of Fire #7)

Title: Winter Turning

Author: Tui T. Sutherland

Winter is proud to be an IceWing—though his family is constantly disappointed in how he’s not as good as his sister, Icicle, or his brother, Hailstorm. It gets even worse when Hailstorm is captured (also Winter’s fault). Now that Winter knows Hailstorm is still alive, and that there might be a chance to rescue him, he’ll stop at nothing to get his brother back. If only he didn’t have to put up with the other dragons of his winglet, who insist on calling him “friend” . . .

I’m continually impressed at how well Tui T. Sutherland draws her characters. This second set of dragonets is markedly different from the original five, but if anything I think I like them more. This particular volume is told from Winter’s point of view. Winter is complex: on the one hand, he’s cold and stuck-up, but seeing things from his point of view really highlights his insecurities and how he’s starting to like the others. And how much he hates liking the others because that’s not a proper IceWing thing to feel. And how he feels like a failure as an IceWing, anyway, but he’s going to try his best to be a good one.

I love what develops between Winter and Hailstorm, particularly with how the end mirrors the beginning in some surprising ways. And what happened to poor Hailstorm (ouch).

The humor is, as usual, spot-on. Winter makes a particularly funny lead because he’s so earnest in his insistence that these are NOT his “friends” and he does NOT like non-IceWings and why won’t they just let him go off and hunt for Hailstorm by himself? And then he still humbles himself to listen to reason from Qibli or puts himself out to help them, because it’s the right thing to do, and gets all flustered whenever anyone tries to thank him for it.

I also like the additional details about the history of the various tribes (mostly the NightWing/IceWing rivalry in this one), which helps flesh out the past a bit more. And in the other direction, it’s equally interesting to see how the hard-won peace is working out for everyone. The conclusion to The Brightest Night was in some ways a happily-ever-after ending, but these books help to underscore that it really is more than just winning a battle or a throne to end a war.

All in all, it’s almost a shame I read this so close to publication, because now I have to wait for the next one. And that will be rather annoying, because there were some really juicy teases at the very end leading into the next book . . . I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Griffin’s Flight (The Fallen Moon #2)

Title: The Griffin’s Flight

Author: K. J. Taylor

Arren has escaped with his life—more or less—and the man-eating griffin he named Skandar, but his troubles are far from over. Surviving out in the wild isn’t easy. Doubly so when he has to avoid all human contact for fear someone will recognize him as the murderer of Lord Rannagon. He has only one thought: get North, where a Northerner like himself might be able to blend in. But then he meets Skade, a woman who offers him hope that there might be a way to cure the half-life he’s living. If the both of them can survive long enough to find it.

I’m kind of on the fence about this one. The plot was generally more interesting than the first book, because Arren goes through ups as well as downs, victories as well as losses. There are certainly a number of twists, and places where things go from bad to worse, only to have a last-minute save. And I very much liked that Arren finds that death is not so easily cured, and that what he has in terms of a life is the best deal he’s going to get.

But. The characterization, mostly with Arren, felt all over the place. First he’s shaken about the murders he’s committed, and torn up about the people he has to kill to defend himself or escape. This meshes with the previous book. Then the story backs over itself and says no, he felt nothing. Then it backs up farther and says no, he enjoyed it. Look, I don’t really care which one it is, but be consistent, okay? If he felt bad about the first one, felt numb for the next couple, and then started to enjoy it, that’s okay too. Just don’t keep recasting the same murder with radically different emotions.

And it’s not just the murders. In the first book Arren is an honest man in a crooked world, but this book retcons him to have been as crooked as everyone around him—why? It’s almost a throwaway two paragraphs, and it’s not necessary to explain why he’s doing what he’s doing now, because now is more about survival.

And what was going on with that ending? Arren is playing at something, but despite being the main point of view character throughout, there’s no hint at what he intends, or why he’s gone and done what looks like another betrayal on Skandar again.

Or take Skandar’s magic. In the first book, the description clearly shows it is power in Skandar, coming from Skandar, that brings Arren back to his half-life. The fact that the second book wants to add some additional power doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that the way it’s done makes it seem like Skandar’s real power is something different and he had nothing to do with the resurrection. Fine, but then why was Skandar feeling the pull of magic in the Arena well before Arren actually died, then? And the way the magic is described back then is consistent with the way griffin magic is described in this book, too. Retconning this actually makes the first book make less sense.

Erian was another puzzle. It feels like the plot wants us to see things from his point of view, but then there are some huge gaps, especially near the end. Arren’s attack on Guard’s Post happens well before the end, but Erian apparently doesn’t hear about it, or at least we don’t get to see his reaction to it, which is strange given all the times we’re shown his vehemence around Arren when Arren is nowhere to be found. It feels like we should’ve had one scene, at least, where he gets the news, to show how his newfound home and position might be threatened by Arren’s presence, or how he might almost throw it away himself to go after Arren.

I mostly liked Skade, though I wish her introduction wasn’t a scene of her trying to kill herself. I liked her odd looks and sharp manner, and the way she, like Skandar, knows little of the human world. I like how she provides a counterpoint to Arren and Skandar and some new dimensions to the tension between them.

Overall, this is a very mixed bag. In some ways it improves on the first book, and in others it’s worse. But given the randomness of the characters, and the way some key things were revised to be other than what they were well set up to be in the first book, I can’t give this any more than a Neutral.


Title: Ferals

Author: Jacob Grey

Caw lives in the park with the crows—birds he speaks to, and understands. He’s never thought too much about his ability. When Caw steps in to help a girl named Lydia, he’s thrust into the center of a nefarious plan. He meets others who can understand various creatures, good and evil. In a war he never imagined, he’ll have to find out the truth behind the Spinning Man who terrorized the city eight years ago. And all of his power will be put to the test . . .

This was excellent. The descriptions are precise and fluid, painting the city, the characters, and the action in brief strokes that convey a wealth of meaning. Nothing bogs down the action, and there’s plenty to go around. I also hugely appreciated the deft touch in drawing out characters.

Here’s a short snippet to give a taste: “Since then many crows had come and gone. Sharpy. Pluck. One-legged Dover. Inkspot, with her taste for coffee. Only one crow had remained at his side since that night eight years ago—mute, blind, white-feathered Milky. Glum had been a nest-mate for five years, Screech for three. One with nothing useful to say, one with nothing cheerful, and one with nothing to say at all.”

The crows themselves (mostly Glum and Screech) can be quite humorous, too. Their banter, plus the fact that only Caw can understand it, is frequently good for a laugh.

I liked Caw a lot. He’s in a hard spot, living a hard life, but it’s all he’s really known and he’s used to it. He doesn’t complain. He finds a lot of freedom in his own way of life, and I particularly liked his decision at the end regarding his future. He has no concept of hygiene or manners, mostly because his only companions have been crows since a young age. This leads to a number of very interesting interactions with more normal members of society.

I like Lydia, too. She’s stubborn, bold, and resourceful, and even though she can’t talk to crows she’s not about to be left out of the action. Her determination to do right by Caw, though, doesn’t always work out the way she thinks it will. And in the end she’s willing to give him the freedom to be who he needs to be, even though she would prefer he decide differently.

The magic in this book feels just right. The only nitpick I had was that the way it’s passed down seems to make it hard to propagate and easy to go extinct, so it seems there should be fewer ferals (not that I’d vote for less critter action). But Caw learning about his abilities and the extent of them was intriguing, as was the glimpses of what others can do. And the book ends with a tantalizing promise of more to come . . .

Also, props to the artist of the English hardcover. The cover was what first caught my eye, and I love the dynamic pose, the unique angle on the crows in flight, the way Caw is obscured by wings, and the hints of a city. I will probably get this in hardcover, especially if the cover art changes for the softcover.

All in all, this was a quick, fun, and a very solid start to what I hope is a series (the ending certainly implies there will be another book). At least one more volume, I hope. But the end still resolves quite a lot, so although I will eagerly be waiting for the next adventure, this one doesn’t have a horrible cliffhanger. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Dark Griffin (The Fallen Moon #1)

Title: The Dark Griffin

Author: K. J. Taylor

The black griffin had nothing, not even a name, when he was cast out on his own. Against all the odds, he survived, grew, thrived. But his territory bordered that of the humans, and humans disliked the wild griffins.

Arren had everything, especially considering he was a Northman, a people best known for being slaves. But he had a griffin, Eluna, and that meant the opportunity to be more than any Northman ever was. Even if he couldn’t get any respect thanks to his heritage.

But when their paths cross, both the griffin and the man will lose everything. As Arren’s life spirals farther out of control, he becomes consumed by only one thought: revenge.

Perhaps the cover gives too much away. I enjoyed this a lot, but given that the cover shows Arren flying with a griffin that obviously isn’t Eluna, it manages to spoil something that doesn’t happen until almost the end of the book. That being said, it was still a good fantasy novel for the first bit. I liked the black griffin’s side better than Arren’s side, but the human perspective is needed to show off the city, its griffiners, the prejudices against Northmen, and set up some of the political dynamics that ruin Arren’s life.

Then there was a twist near the end which automatically raised my interest in the sequel quite a bit. And I’m really hoping Arren doesn’t find a way out of it. For one, that seems a kind of hard thing to recover from, so what he’s already got is way better than the alternative. For another, I suspect it will raise his battle potential tremendously and allow for some awesome fight scenes to come.

In that respect, most of this book is setup for what happens near the end, which presumably is the launching point for the rest of the series. Arren’s life goes steadily downhill, punctuated only briefly by the love of his friends. Although it’s a good insight into how relentless abuse can twist up even a nice man into a monster, it was a little hard to read because I wanted Arren to get justice sooner.

I fully expect both sets of offspring—man and griffin—will have a large role to play in the future (and I have a pretty good idea who the female is that talked the black griffin into having her), but I do hope it’s more than just a more personalized set of enemies to set against the two.

This is a darker book. I liked how the themes of prejudice were explored, showing that even someone who isn’t originally inclined to violence, like Arren (though he may have more of that heredity than he expects) can get pushed off the edge with enough pressure, thus in a way confirming his own stereotype. And how someone outside, like Flell, has such a terrible grasp on the whole situation, even though she’s seeing a lot of the same things he is, but not seeing the same significance behind them. But on the flip side, the whole Arren-being-humiliated thing just kept happening—I certainly wasn’t expecting most of the book to be about that. The overall story could have been stronger if he’d gotten together with the black griffin sooner.

I also liked how the griffins were handled. They can do magic, which appears to be related to the color of the griffin, and I hope future books showcase more powers. And they’re not just griffin-shaped-people, but actual creatures, with their own set of instincts and behaviors that can sometimes cause a lot of problems when living with a species that they might otherwise consider prey. Eluna and the smuggler, for example, is perfect. A nice, sweet griffin with much affection for Arren not only kills a man but outright starts eating him.

I felt like the plot fell apart a little towards the end, when everything got crazy (really, Arren? I was expecting him to get framed, not for him to actually do something that stupid). But all in all I enjoyed it. It feels a bit like an origin story so far, setting up Arren and the black griffin for presumably a much greater future conflict. Oh, and don’t read the jacket description for the second book until you’ve read the first book or you’ll spoil one of the best parts. I rate this book Recommended.

The Gate of Gods (The Fall of Ile-Rien #3)

Title: The Gate of Gods

Author: Martha Wells

Tremaine has already done far more for the Ile-Rien war effort than she ever expected: discovering other worlds and finding the Gardier who are bombing Ile-Rien are world-hoppers, hunting down the Gardier where she finds them, and even marrying Ilias to secure an alliance between Ile-Rien and the native Syprians, whose world the Gardier are using as a staging ground for their attacks. But when talk turns to freeing the locked-down city of Lodun, she’s at a loss. This is more a job for the sorcerers. But nothing goes as planned, and soon Tremaine and her friends are caught once again in the machinations of enemies on every side.

This is a bit of a hard book to summarize, since much of the plot is focused on character, and on unraveling the way the world-gates work so the Rien can (eventually) free Lodun. Actually Lodun is just a set of bookends on most of the plot, as it’s mentioned early on and then by time it comes up again I’d quite forgotten that was the reason all of this started.

Like the rest of the series, this is well-written, although for some reason the plot just never grabbed me as much as other books I’ve read by Wells. Tremaine remains an interesting character: ruthless with her enemies and herself, but falling in love with the man she married. The subtle character details are excellent. And I still really enjoy Giliead and Ilias’s brotherly relationship. The cultural distinctions between the Rien, the Syprians, and the Aelin are shown instead of told.

Overall this was a good cap on the series. The mysteries resolve in a somewhat surprising fashion, a few villains like Ixion get long-awaited comeuppance, and there aren’t any loose ends. If you’ve read the previous two books, I’d recommend this one, but I certainly wouldn’t start here if you haven’t, as much of the conflict and drama grows organically out of everything that happened in the first two books.