Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Key of the Keplain (Secrets of the Witch World #1)

Title: The Key of the Keplain

Author: Andre Norton and Lyn McCornchie

Series: Secrets of the Witch World #1

Eleeri lives with her great-grandfather, the only relative who loved her. But when he dies, she chooses to flee into the wilderness rather than go back to an aunt and uncle who despise her. Following a map left by her great-grandfather, she finds herself in another world.  There she befriends the Keplain, an intelligent horse-like species most fear as servants of the Dark. But soon she has to choose between keeping her comfortable life or confronting the Dark to save one in its clutches.

I was in the mood for a comfort read, so I picked this up. And on that front, it’s fantastic. You can tell where the story’s going immediately, more or less guess how things will play out, so you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. This isn’t going to break any new ground but it offers a pretty solid journey.

Eleeri’s story is almost too contrived in some ways, though. In the beginning when hardly anyone has names, it can be harder to get into the flow of the story. When she first comes to the new world, a lot of the history is dumped in an extended conversation, most of which isn’t relevant to the current story. And the plot often has her thinking “I want” or “Wouldn’t it be nice if” just before something happens that answers that line of thought.  I also could’ve done with a bit less time in the final tower. Yes, Dark Lord lives in a black tower that crumbles when he’s vanquished (comfort read, like I said).

What I did really appreciate was the focus on Light and love and gradually building relationships. Eleeri might be stumbling into very fortunate coincidences, but she’s also got to work hard to keep herself in food and clothing and to win the trust of humans and Keplain. Even the romance is built slowly as she first begins to know him and only later realizes that the relationship has gone beyond friendship to something more.

So all in all, this one’s pretty easy to recommend to fans of Valdemar, as it treads a similar road, but those looking for a bit more complexity or drama may want to pass. I should also note that despite Goodreads listing this as part of a series, it’s very much a standalone book, and the sequel doesn’t look to have anything much to do with it. I rate this book Recommended.


The Heroic Legend of Arslan

Arslan has the questionable distinction of being the crown prince of the kingdom of Pars. A gentle person in a militant kingdom, he doesn’t really fit. Especially with a father known for his warrior prowess. When the kingdom falls through treachery, Arslan survives through the intervention of a committed follower. Now he must survive as a nation of invaders seeks to stamp him out. And does he even dare try to take back his throne?

This is available to watch on Funimation’s streaming site for free with ads, or without ads if you have a subscription.

One of the first things that stands out about The Heroic Legend of Arslan is the characters. The plot is an adaptation of an existing work done by the artist who drew Fullmetal Alchemist, and the character designs bear her distinctive style. Likewise, we’re  introduced to a huge ensemble, ranging from the nameless Lusitanian boy who challenges Arslan about slavery to the factions within the Pars royalty.

I have a hard time deciding who my favorite characters are. I quite enjoyed the tactician Narsus, whose clever plans do much to help Arslan’s tiny band succeed against vastly larger forces. Elam, a servant of Narsus and quiet warrior in his own right, was another. Elam convinces Narsus to let him go with on the basis of his cooking, as between a prince, a warrior, and a former-noble-turned-artist, none of them actually knows much about domestic chores like preparing dinner.

The story leans more towards historical fiction with a tiny dash of fantasy, taking as inspiration one of the Crusades and telling the story from the viewpoint of the son of the king of Persia. But it mostly picks up the flavor of these events and goes on to tell its own story.

The ending leaves things open enough that I hope another season is in the works. Arslan ties a few things up, but the greater story is still unfolding. All in all, this is an excellent show both for anime fans and those who may be new to the genre. I rate this Highly Recommended.

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times

Title: Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times

Author: Emma Trevayne

There are doorways, and doorways, and Jack Foster is about to discover the difference between the former and the latter. Jack lives in London—the son of a rich family, being groomed to take over the family business in metals. But in Londinium, a world a breath away from his own, the Lady wants him as her son. And what the Lady wants, she always gets . . .

This is a steampunk fantasy with a unique take on various bits of mythology. It’s packed with strange gadgets and stranger people, including mechanical faeries and a wind up girl. I particularly liked how the Gearwing fit into all of it. The steampunk elements merge seamlessly with magic.

The characters are equally compelling. Jack is a boy who likes gadgets, suddenly thrust into a world where gadgets have more life than he ever expected. But his gifts are subtle and barely present—he’s only The Chosen One because the Lady chose him. And being chosen by the Lady is as much a curse as a blessing.

She scowled, her face ugly for an instant. “Tell me, little Jack, is perfection too much to ask for?”

Oh yes, the Lady is the perfect blend of childlike joy and destructive malice, and she goes from one to the other in a blink.

Set against the Lady’s temperamental mood swings, we have Beth, the wind-up girl. The one who was built to be as close to perfection as possible, who even fools Jack until he finds her key and gives it a few turns. Beth is completely unflappable, and she has a whimsical side that often gets her into trouble.

I was also pleased with how the plot continued to surprise me. The story continued to set up expectations only to go sideways to them. I won’t talk about it in detail to avoid spoilers, but the ending was particularly satisfying. Jack has a heart and a conscience, but also uses his head, and he doesn’t take on a guilt trip for things that are ultimately the consequences of other people’s bad choices.

Overall this was a great read. The book tells a complete story, though I do wonder what kind of a reaction Jack will face as he continues his journey, so I wouldn’t be averse to a followup. I rate this book Recommended.

The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere #1)

Title: The Shadows

Author: Jacqueline West

Series: The Books of Elsewhere

Olive has spent her life in apartments. Beige, square, comfortable apartments. But when her parents jump on a cheaply-priced and fully-furnished home, she finds herself in a place stuffed full twisted corners and other people’s odds and ends. In particular, a number of paintings that conceal their own worlds. But the home also has its secrets . . .

The most I can say for this is that it just failed to grab me. Olive is a boring protagonist most notable for liking pink kitty cereal. Given that the main antagonist was a painter, I was expecting more out of Olive’s interest in art—or her gift of crayons to Morton—but in the end none of it matters. Morton, similarly, is just there, either to annoy Olive or to enable her plans to succeed. He has a more interesting backstory and more potential, but he doesn’t have a lot of agency.

The most interesting characters are the cats, particularly Harvey, who thinks he’s various characters from classic literature and even dresses up to play the parts. I liked all the cats, though. From the overly-formal Leopold who secretly enjoys a good head scratch to the disgruntled Horatio to the probably-deranged Harvey, these are the characters who stand out. It’s just a shame the book isn’t really about them.

Also, a minor note, but one that really bugged me: Olive mentions not turning off the lights as “the worst thing you could do,” because of the environment. This is puzzling. The WORST thing she can do is waste a few dollars’ worth of electricity? Apparently lying, cheating, stealing, killing, etc, are only sort-of bad, but leaving a light on is THE WORST.

Overall, other than the cats, nothing draws me to continue what is obviously a series. All the same, it isn’t bad, just run-of-the-mill. I rate this book Neutral.