Monthly Archives: October 2015

Arthur and the Minimoys

Title: Arthur and the Minimoys

Author: Luc Besson

Arthur’s grandfather has gone missing four years ago. Arthur lives with his grandmother, mostly happy, except for wishing his parents would stop their job-hunting to come live with him again. As an evil plot emerges to take away his grandmother’s land, he turns to the Minimoys, a tiny people inches tall, to warn them of the impending disaster and seek the rubies he suspects must be hidden with them.

This was a disorienting read. Arthur is supposed to be ten, but he often feels younger than that as he’s careening around playing with his toys. That wouldn’t be a problem, though. The bigger problem is that the plot seems determined to give a ten-year-old boy a plot better suited to a young adult novel.

He falls in love with a girl based on looking at her picture. This attitude doesn’t change despite the fact that she’s an enormous jerk to him the ONE DAY they are together—he’s head over heels for her. Then he ends up in a bar getting drunk, depressed because she went and danced with someone else. But when she’s threatened, his heroism rises up and he battles hordes of henchmen . . .

. . . Yeah.

The crazy pocketknife Betameche has is about the only saving grace. Some of the madcap actually works, especially when he’s involved. But the plot’s very jerky even when it isn’t swinging into way-too-old territory (and did I mention there’s a scene with Arthur’s grandmother flirting with a police officer? Not what you’d exactly expect out of Grandma, honestly).

In short, this is a waste of time. For a good action novel featuring very tiny people, try something like Puddlejumpers by Mark Jean. I rate this book Not Recommended.

Sword-Dancer (Tiger and Del #1)

Title: Sword-Dancer

Author: Jennifer Roberson

Series: Tiger and Del #1

Sandtiger (Tiger) has been a sword-dancer for more years than he cares to remember. A sword for hire, he roams the South taking on what jobs he can find in order to make a living. Then she walks into his life: Del, the Nothern woman who claims to be a sword-dancer as well (which Tiger doubts, because, well, she’s a woman). Intrigued, Tiger convinces her to hire him to get her across the desert, where she’s hoping to find the trail of a brother she lost years ago to slavers. But things never go as planned . . .

I suppose the story wasn’t too bad, but it just had way too much sex in it (not detailed, thankfully, but still). Tiger shows admirable restraint with Del, but he’s not above bedding anything else that looks good enough. Del’s story boils down to rape and revenge, and one of Tiger’s worst moments in the book is when he believes he’s going to be castrated.

So if you like action stories very liberally doused in that kind of thing, be my guest. For me, this is one reason I prefer kids books—it just gets really old to read about someone perpetually lustful who has no qualms about satisfying it wherever he can.

Overall, I rate this story Neutral.

Nine Princes in Amber (Chronicles of Amber #1)

Title: Nine Princes in Amber

Author: Roger Zelazny

Series: Chronicles of Amber #1

He wakes after an accident, with only lingering memories of the trauma and none at all from before . . . And memories, what flickers he recovers, paint a strange picture.

Corwin is one of nine brothers (and several sisters) of Amber, the only real world, of which all others are Shadows. But his various talents have come up against the might of his siblings—particularly his brother Eric. All of them want the throne of Amber. Only one of them will get it. Corwin aims to be that one.

This is a terse, tight book, which reads quickly. The prose is economical, with short descriptions and pointed dialogue, so in some aspects it’s very much like a thriller. The fantastic gradually seeps in round the edges. I like how the story doesn’t feel the need to explain everything, either. Corwin has a few intriguing hints about his family that he deliberately leaves hanging.

That said, it was kind of hard to root for Corwin once he started remembering, and especially once he got his full memory back. The royal siblings have a very dysfunctional family, Corwin most definitely included, so it was more like rooting for the least-bad of the bunch. Especially near the end, when his brushes of compassion drown under avenging himself against Eric, I didn’t want to see Corwin on the throne even though I wanted Eric off it.

It’s still a fun read, and a pretty short one, especially if you like anti-hero protagonists. I rate this book Recommended.

Star Lord

Title: Star Lord

Author: Louise Lawrence

Rhys lives with his mother, sister, and grandfather in their grandfather’s tiny house in the countryside of Wales. In the shadow of the mountains, Rhys has discovered a new sort of life from the one his mother tried to make in the city. But things change when something crashes into the side of the mountain. And now Rhys is faced with something unbelievable, something the government wants very badly . . .

This was fairly well written, but I don’t really like relentlessly depressing stories. Rhys’s family is poor, and nobody seems to get along except for Rhys and his grandfather. And then when the alien boy does show up, the mood sours further because people have different ideas what to do about him.

In terms of actual plot, most of it is people arguing with each other, some of the rest is the family trying to put off the government, and the last bit is stuff that happens on the mountain. The chapters are short and terse. So, a fast read, but not one I enjoyed overmuch.

Overall this wasn’t something I cared for. There’s no real problem with the book; it’s more a matter of taste. I rate this book Neutral.

Laws of Magic #1-6

I’ve been rereading my way through the Laws of Magic series by Michael Pryor, and I’m reminded all over again why I love these books so much. Full reviews have been posted at Goodreads and you can read them there, but some brief thoughts below.

1. Blaze of Glory – We start a bit weaker on the plot, mostly because the ultimate villain has so little to do with the overall story the big reveal doesn’t have the emotional punch it could. That said, the dialogue is packed with humor, and I can’t go more than a couple of pages without laughing. George and Aubrey play particularly well off each other, because George knows Aubrey better than Aubrey knows himself, in some ways.

2. Heart of Gold – Here it’s almost the reverse of the first book. The plot is tangled but fast, and the humor is toned down a tad, but it’s still funny. I’m particularly fond of how Aubrey’s mistake in signing up for a drama means that while he’s trying to avert wars, solve a national crisis, stop zombies, and find a cure for his own impending death, he’s also getting harassed for missing play practice.

3. Word of Honor – This is the best of both the first two books combined. Now we get to see more tricky plots from the villain without flagging in the humor. This book also has a touch of horror near the end that works well to define what a monster Aubrey has set himself against.

4. Time of Trial – The first half of this book is probably my least favorite part of the series. Not because it’s badly written, but because Aubrey is getting knocked around so badly, and his appealing overconfidence is souring into gross misjudgements. That being said, the second half swings back into stride, and this book also has some of my favorite spells in the series, with Aubrey disarming some interesting magic. (The reaction he gets in the fifth book to the last one in particular always makes me laugh).

5. Moment of Truth – The war that’s been so long building up finally explodes. Aubrey gets to see events from a very different perspective, since he’s co-opted by the Intelligence Division rather than the regular army, an approach that works well as it allows him to hare off on some really entertaining missions without the oversight of military command. The end is particularly brilliant—Aubrey’s sacrifice for the greater good was unusual, but very compelling.

6. Hour of Need – As a finale to an excellent series, it does everything right. The war grows, the villain’s plans within plans within plans begin to show themselves, Aubrey is in his element as a magician plotting through fiendishly difficult problems . . . Another one of my favorite spells in the series is in this book (Aubrey’s trick in no-man’s-land). And there’s also the touching way George, Caroline, and Sophie have grown into a team around him, knowing his weaknesses and ready to cover for him.

On an overall level, it’s a lot of fun to see how Hugo von Stralick works his way through the series. A Holmland spy, an intelligence operative from the other side, his motives are many and never straightforward. Most of the time he’s helpful or at least not outright harmful, but then there are times his personal agendas run contrary to Aubrey’s.

Similarly, the only reason Aubrey’s genius works as well as it does is because he’s pitted against Tremaine. Aubrey consistently feels like an underdog when set against Tremaine’s superior knowledge, power, and utter lack of scruples. Where most magicians in the book are unimportant and overshadowed by Aubrey, Tremaine makes even Aubrey look like a child toying with forces he doesn’t understand.

I can’t recommend this series highly enough. It crosses several genres well, grounds itself in the historical detail but blending in magic and steampunk, has a great magic system, complex characters, and a tight plot. One of these days I’ll read with a notebook at hand to jot down the most quotable exchanges, as there are so many bits that always leave me laughing.

Beneath the Vaulted Hills (River Into Darkness #1)

Title: Beneath the Vaulted Hills

Author: Sean Russel

Series: The River Into Darkness #1

Eldrich is the last mage, and when he dies, magic will die with him. Eldrich himself is determined to see this come to pass, but others aren’t so sanguine. A shadowy organization gambles everything on the results of their auguries, while more ordinary men seek to uncover the secrets of the mages. But mages are much like a force of nature: unknowable and unstoppable . . .

I liked several things about this book very much, but I’m on the fence about the book as a whole.

First, the worldbuilding is excellent. It took a bit to get me into it, since we start in the middle of things, and the supporting detail, like the levels of technology and so on, take a while to emerge. This is a world that has just invented cannon, where the intellectual elite compete to join a society of peers, where nobles are made or ruined at the king’s whim. The prose is beautiful, and the method of telling is as important as what’s being told. People talking to each other, exchanging stories, is most of what happens in the book, and the trick is figuring out what is truth or lies, and how much remains unsaid.

Second, the cast of characters, although large, is well-drawn. Erasmus was easily my favorite, and I was happy to see him move to a more central position by the end of the book. A member of the society, famous for his knowledge of grapes and grapevines, intense, focused, oblivious to the world around him—a man of secrets, who had once lived in the very home of the mage Eldrich, though he never speaks of that time. Perhaps a man with some small (or not so small?) measure of talent for the magical arts. If anything, I wish the plot had focused more on him and his journey, and less on everyone else even tangentially involved in this mess.

Because the giant downside is that this feels like the slow exploration into the lives of these people. The central mystery for most of the book isn’t what the back cover would indicate (except maybe for the shadow organization). Most of these people are living their own smaller lives, with their own concerns, gradually swept into a larger concern . . . that doesn’t go much of anywhere. And the ending doesn’t even have the decency to confirm without a doubt who survived.

I just wish it felt like there was more of a plot here. Eldrich versus the shadow organization is the most compelling piece, but it gets the smallest part of the whole. Both sides are exceedingly sparse with the information given. I thought for sure once everyone was in the hall at the end, some new mystery or magic would come to light, but instead it turned into a simple quest for survival (and with a most dissatisfying way of getting out, mind…. nothing to do with the alter, the door, or the crypt).

So I’m not sure I want to go on and read the second book, since the reviews I’m seeing indicate it also ends in a rather ambiguous fashion. And I like plot. I like movement and things happening, and this book has a lot of slowly boiling mystery. Good characters and layers of intrigue, though. Overall I have to rate this book Neutral, though I’m sure some people will enjoy it more than I do.

The Lost Island of Tamarind

Title: The Lost Island of Tamarind

Author: Nadia Aguiar

Maya has been traveling with her marine biologist parents on their boat, the Pamela Jane, for as long as she can remember. It used to be fun, living out on the ocean, but these days she’d much rather stay on land, where she can make friends. But when a storm strands Maya, her younger brother Simon, and their baby sister Penny on a remote island, the children have to fend for themselves. And Tamarind is no ordinary island, but one with hints of magic and mystery . . .

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. What drew me in initially was the very solid, grounded, realistic writing. The prose does a very good job painting Maya, Simon, and Penny as three ordinary kids thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, that’s also what eventually drove me to ragequit the book. Kids stranded on magical island? Sounds awesome! Except what happens is almost exactly what you might expect: the kids really struggle to make it alone, get help from several kindly people (and even a few not-so-kindly), meander around a bit looking for their parents, and so on. I was hoping for a little more fantastical adventuring and daring-do.

And this isn’t helped by the way Maya consistently takes the low road. Rather than earning things or making things, she’s constantly stealing them. Even for the people who likely would help, she doesn’t ask. The most aggravating example is when she justifies playing with an older man’s love for his estranged niece to manipulate him into helping her find her parents.

This is compounded by the fact that the rest of the story really isn’t that interesting either, because the interesting things get buried in that dreaded realism. For example, Maya and Simon hear about a dreaded lady who rides a jaguar and kidnaps children. This plays out how one might expect, for the first part. But after meeting her, she fades into a menacing part of the background, because the kids sit locked up in a cage that they don’t even seem to be trying that hard to get out of. No fights. No adventure. Not even participating in being captured the way the other kids were. And then a random airplane rescues them (and all I could think here was, this island magically ruins devices. How is this plane still able to fly?).

So overall I guess this story is going to depend on what you want to get out of it. If you’re looking for a kids-cast-away-on-a-magical-island adventure, you might want to check those expectations at the door (and then go read something like Seabourne that does more to make this an adventure). If you’re looking for a more realistic take where the kids are kids and are pretty helpless alone, then this probably won’t annoy you as much as it did me. I rate this book Neutral.