Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Fog Diver

Title: The Fog Diver

Author: Joel Ross

Chess has lived his life above the Fog that covers the world. Only the highest mountaintops are safe from the roiling white cloud that kills any human who spends too long in its depths. Chess and his friends run a salvage crew, with Chess as the tetherboy who dives into the Fog to the world abandoned below, hoping to salvage something that will earn them enough money to leave Rooftop and travel to Port Oro. It’s a mission to save themselves and Mrs. E, who took them in. But Lord Kodac rules the Rooftop, and he has a particular interest in Chess, whose Fog-filled eye is Kodac’s doing . . .

I had a lot of fun with this, although the prose at times felt a bit too sparse. The details about Chess’s shyness with revealing his eye were spot on, but for whatever reason his conviction that Lord Kodac is his creator never struck me as hard. That aside, it was nice to see Chess isn’t the only one of his crew who’s more than a little special. And it’s not like anyone on the crew is one-dimensional. They all have a particular skill, but they go beyond that.

Much of the humor comes from the various ways Chess and the others have distorted the pop culture of today into things that don’t quite make sense to them or us. Like when Chess is talking about constellations, and mentions not only a bull but Oprah. Or the way whales as well as squarepants live in the ocean. I was particularly amused by his reaction to finding someone’s secret savings—and just what happens to cash these days. On the flip side, though, since most of the pop culture does apply to the current time period, it does feel a little odd that the intervening time between now and then produced nothing noteworthy enough to make it into the local slang or legends.

The world is interesting. Unlike a standard dystopia, this one makes a lot of sense to me. With most of the world blanketed in a substance that kills people, the remaining survivors are struggling with limited resources (land and food especially). Because of the elevation, and the fact that a lot of perfectly usable stuff still exists below the Fog, on the surface, a lot of society revolves around flying. So there’s a heavy steampunk flavor to it too, with balloons, zeppelins, and other various airships.

Overall, although this one doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, most of the larger questions about the world and even about Chess remain unresolved, so I’m hoping a sequel is in the works. I rate this book Recommended.

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Talking to Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #4)

Title: Talking to Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Daystar has lived all his life near the Enchanted Forest. But when a wizard comes after his mother, she sends him off into the forest with a sword, telling him only that he’ll figure out where to go and what to do. This doesn’t sound promising to Daystar, but he obeys. Along the way he meets a rude fire-witch, a young dragon, and several helpful but stubbornly uninformative friends. And wizards. Lots and lots of wizards, all of them after him or his companions. Can Daystar figure out what his mother wanted (and not get killed or enchanted) and defeat the wizards?

I never quite liked this one as much as the other three, although it’s still a good book. Maybe the shift to first-person when the rest of the series is told in third, or the fact that the reader should, going in, know so much more than Daystar about who he is and what he’s supposed to do that it isn’t funny. In fact, Daystar is SO ignorant about his own place in things that this would be a perfectly acceptable place to start a reader new to the series.

That being said, it is interesting to get a ground-level view of life in the Enchanted Forest, or what a typical quest might look like. Daystar has a sword with peculiar magic, but it doesn’t always work for him, or do what he expects. He has his wits and his etiquette, though, and etiquette goes a long way in a place like the Enchanted Forest. Shiara is blunt enough for the both of them, and what etiquette won’t get done, rudeness might.

Also due to the way the book is set up, the end is basically a long explanation of everything Daystar didn’t know but anyone who read the first three books would. But at least Antorell appears to be gone for good.

Overall, this book wraps up the plot begun in Calling on Dragons, and serves as a decent cap on the series. As said, it’s ironically also a good point to enter the series, since it’s so different from the previous. I rate this book Recommended.

Calling on Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #3)

Title: Calling on Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

When Morwen finds traces of wizards in the Enchanted Forest—evidence despite the impossibility that the wizards have somehow found a way around the restrictions King Mendanbar and Telemain set up—she knows something major has gone wrong. And how. With the wizards at least partially able to drain the Enchanted Forest again, Morwen, Cimerone, Telemain, and Kazul (along with two of Morwen’s cats and an enchanted rabbit named Killer) leave to hunt down the solution.

This book shifts to Morwen’s point of view, which allows for a lot more depth to her character, as well as a chance to hear what all her cats have to say. Morwen’s cats almost steal the spotlight—whether it’s the not-so-bright Fiddlesticks trying to help or the running commentary on the quest from Trouble and Scorn. And Morwen, Killer, and Kazul are the only ones who can understand the cats.

I also really like the understanding-if-exasperated relationship between Telemain and Morwen. The details of their history are never explored, but the way they interact in the present is a lot of fun. Morwen, far more than Cimorene or Mendanbar, can recognize Telemain’s genius for what it is, and her much deeper knowledge of magic allows for more insight into some of the magical problems that crop up along the way.

Like before, the plot skewers a few choice fairy tales (the farmer is particularly funny both for his unexpectedness and his contribution to the fairy tale economy), and a more serious plot takes the focus. The main difference this time, though, is that the series veers into darker territory about halfway through and hasn’t recovered by the ending. If the first two were light, fun reads, this one is more heartwrenching. And where the first two are standalone, this one has a pretty bad cliffhanger.

It isn’t a bad direction for the series, though it might throw off people who expected another mostly-happily-after ending. And some very¬† satisfying justice finds a few annoying characters. But this is definitely a book to read with the sequel in hand. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Searching for Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #2)

Title: Searching for Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Mendanbar, the King of the Enchanted Forest, has a problem. Well, that’s nothing new, but this time the problem involves dragons. And possibly wizards, but definitely dragons. Something is burning out large sections of the Enchanted Forest, and he found dragon scales at the site. But getting a straight answer out of Kazul, King of Dragons, is harder than he expected (the King being unexpectedly missing), and soon he and Cimorene, the dragon King’s Cook and Librarian, are hunting Kazul down.

Mendanbar is almost more of a favorite for me than Cimorene. Where she’s sharp and direct, he comes off as absent-minded, although really he’s just distracted by watching the flow of magic. Being King of the ENCHANTED Forest means dealing with a lot of magic anyway, so the job comes with a few perks, such as being able to see and deal with the magic in the forest. But it also means he’s completely tuned to the way the Enchanted Forest does things, and has a lot of trouble sensing, for example, how active his own magical sword likes to get.

And if Cimorene hates the typical princess, Mendanbar hates them even more, since he’s being pressured pick one to marry. Their mutual dislike for other royalty leads to a lot of amusing moments between the two of them, as they’re figuring out the other is anything but typical.

In addition, if Mendanbar isn’t enough of a treat (and I adore both his character and the way he uses magic; I realized on this rereading how much Mendanbar’s magic influenced how I WANT to see magic in a fantasy book—both sensible and mysterious), we have Telemain. Telemain is a magician, fascinated with learning all about magic, and chronically unable to express himself in short, understandable words (unless a dragon is asking, because they eat people). The obvious history Telemain has with Morwen only deepens the amusement.

Like the first book, this one has a wealth of fantasy tropes to cheerfully turn on their heads, alongside the more serious plot about what happened to Kazul. Mendanbar has much the same sensible outlook on these things that Cimorene does, although I get the sense he doesn’t hate tradition so much as finds it inconvenient.

Overall, this is just as much fun as the first (perhaps more so, if you prefer Mendanbar’s more easygoing nature). I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1)

Title: Dealing with Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Princess Cimorene hates being a princess. Everything she wants to do isn’t proper: fencing, Latin, cooking, juggling. So when her parents resolve to curb her impropriety with a marriage to a handsome (and not much else) prince, she’s finally had enough. On the advice of a frog, she sets off to places unknown, and eventually finds herself as the princess of the dragon Kazul. But the wizards are up to something, and Cimorene will need every resource she has to get to the bottom of things.

I always liked this book as a child, and recently revisited it via the audiobook from Listening Library (they do voices for the characters! It’s a very good audiobook). In an era where fairy tale tropes are increasingly being used and subverted, this book still stands head and shoulders above the rest (much like our too-tall Princess Cimorene). Cimorene is a very typical fantasy princess in a very typical fantasy kingdom, only without any unfortunate curses as baggage. But she’s got no ability to live life the way she wants to, and since what’s expected of her drives her mad, she eventually leaves it all behind.

I love the humor. From little digs at how fairy tales usually go (one of Cimorene’s etiquette lessons is how loudly she can scream when carried off by a giant, and at what times) to the natural humor as various strong-willed characters bounce off each other (Cimorene meeting the other princesses, for one), there’s always something to spark a laugh.

With all the parody, the plot could easily fall into the trap of just looking for the next trope to skewer. But there’s a more serious side as well, and I like how multiple characters investigate and ultimately uncover the wizards’ objectives. It actually adds to the humor in a lot of ways—just when Cimorene is at a vital juncture, another zany thing happens, and it’s easy to sympathize with her frustration.

And I really like the characters. Cimorene is strong and capable, but not all-powerful. She took fencing lessons, but aptly points out that it’s been four years since she was last allowed to practice, so her skills aren’t exactly sharp (and the one sword fight she’s in she won more thanks to the enchanted sword). The witch Morwen is a grouchy old woman who keeps a clean house and a lot of cats (and not a black one in the lot). Kazul advises and guides and is as much a friend as the master of the house, but it’s never in doubt that Kazul, not Cimorene, is the one in charge (forget all the books where the puny little human somehow gets the upper hand with the dragons: Cimorene thinks a LOT about being burnt or eaten by worked-up dragons). And I could go on.

All in all, a fantastic book that is great for a laugh and still holds a good plot. The years haven’t dulled my enjoyment of this at all. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Eternity’s Wheel (InterWorld #3)

Title: Eternity’s Wheel

Author: Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

Joey Harker has seen the end of the Altiverse. FrostNight is coming. He—inadvertently—helped get it started. But he refuses to give up. Armed with a tenuous plan that’s more luck and hope than a real chance, he starts to gather Walkers to himself. Because what else can they do but fight, even against an unstoppable wave that’s rewriting reality?

I liked this book immensely, and I also had some pretty big problems with it. The first InterWorld book took a bunch of awesomely bizarre concepts and melded them together in amazing ways. And in that respect, the third one still holds up decently. The wave, the time paradoxes, Hue (who will always be a favorite), and even the way Joey resolves the whole mess I enjoyed a lot. There’s still some good humor and some great action scenes.

What was less fun was watching the plot trip over itself in a few key areas. Like the second book, the third appears to be going for shock value at having various characters die—only since those characters are STILL, by and large, only defined by what happened in the first book (one notable exception) it’s hard to really care. I was in fact quite angry at the one, as I was pleasantly surprised to see him pop up again, only for him to die a few pages later.

So the characters were the biggest problem I had. Once again there’s rather a large amount of exposition to catch up readers unfamiliar with the previous books, but a much smaller amount of character-building in the present time, which again makes it really hard to care about the people who keep getting killed off.

The relationship between Joey and the Old Man was visible in the second book, although still open to some doubt (since everyone at InterWorld is, after all, some form of Joey Harker) but the third resolves it exactly the way I was expecting. It does leave some rather puzzling gaps, though. What exactly did Hue do when he was “helping Joey heal” at the end (the implication is that Joey thus gains some powers, but never specified what). And the Omega designation by the Time Walker implies one thing, but the note Joey scribbles on the photo implies the opposite.

I still had a lot of fun with this book, and I would still advise readers who liked the first book to finish out the series. But be aware the second and third books aren’t up to the same quality as the first. Still, they’re also short enough that it won’t take long to punch through, and there’s still plenty to enjoy. I rate this book Recommended.

The Silver Dream (InterWorld #2)

Title: The Silver Dream

Author: Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

Joey Harker has more or less settled in at InterWorld, the organization made up of alternate-world versions of himself. Because Joey has the power to Walk between worlds (and so do many of his alternates), InterWorld fights both the technology-oriented Binary and the magic-oriented HEX who want to use his powers to conquer the worlds. All of them. And hopefully InterWorld can save a few more Joey Harkers along the way.

But all that Joey thought he knew is upended by a strange girl that can do what shouldn’t be possible. Only Joey can walk through worlds—who is she, that she has the same (or a very similar) ability? And to make matters worse, InterWorld itself is headed for major trouble, and Joey might be the cause more than the solution . . .

I should’ve re-read InterWorld again before reading this; despite the very helpful notes in the beginning about the various alternates, it isn’t the same as remembering their personalities. InterWorld is a complicated book to get into for a variety of reasons—and the bizarre complexities make it so much fun. Lots of books and movies exist about running into another version of yourself—but five hundred of them? And running the gamut from cyborgs to basically normal to winged people?

And even with all of the other versions of himself (including female versions), Joey is still on the fringes. He’s gotten a better relationship with his team, but it’s still tenuous. I particularly liked the description about why there aren’t any romantic relationships on base (it would be really weird to be dating what’s basically you from another Earth)—and it does make Joey’s “girlfriend” Acacia stick out.

Like the first book, this one has spades of interdimensional adventure. And in a delightful twist, a new type of power as well! I won’t spoil it except to say I enjoy how well the jumping-between-things bits is written. And I really want Hue to get more time in the third book, because Hue is awesome.

The only thing I didn’t totally buy was Acacia’s quick relationship with Joey. Her log entry early on helps set up why she’s acting the way she is, but Joey feels like he crushes pretty hard on her and then stays that way around her, more or less. It would’ve been nice to get some focus on some of his other relationships too, although the plot doesn’t leave a ton of room for it. Much of what does happen hinges on remembering people from the first book (some introduction is given, so you’re not totally lost, but it definitely loses the emotional punch).

Overall this is still a crazy, delightful ride. Given where it ends, though, you’d really be better off getting this and the third book together and reading them one right after the other. Because that ending is one of those “YOU DID NOT JUST STOP THERE.” I rate this book Recommended.