Monthly Archives: April 2016


Title: Alchemy

Author: Margaret Mahy

Roland is a prefect, a popular guy, and a responsible son. Even he isn’t sure why he decided to shoplift a few minor items, but the deed allows one of his teachers, Mr. Hudson, to blackmail him into getting close to Jess, one of his classmates. Jess is a quiet kid, overlooked by everyone. Roland has no idea why Mr. Hudson cares so much. But as he gets drawn deeper into the mystery, he realizes there’s more to Jess than meets the eye—and more to himself than he ever thought.

This is mostly a literary story, with some trappings of fantasy. Roland is the cool kid who has it all together: looks, girlfriend, grades, and the respect of his mom (but not his little brothers). But he’s troubled by a reoccurring dream, a sense sometimes that the world is singing to him, and the notion sometimes that he might be falling apart.

I did like the descriptions of the singing world, but as a magic system it just sucks. There’s no rhyme or reason to what can be done with it, other than “whatever the plot needs to happen.” There’s no boundaries or restrictions on the power. Most of the book I thought it was just going to be a listening/seeing kind of thing, except then some characters actually do use it: one of them basically a vampire, one casting spells that distort time and space, one using telepathy, one manipulating physical objects. And so on. And nothing gets explained because it’s all just mysteries of the universe stuff. I don’t need the laws and rules spelled out, but it would be nice to get a better handle on what the limits of this is supposed to be.

I also wasn’t fond of the make-out sessions. It really didn’t add anything to the story and just put a bit to skim past.

Overall this isn’t all that great as a fantasy, but it might not be too bad as more of a lit novel about family and relationships. I rate this book Neutral.


To Hold the Bridge

Title: To Hold the Bridge

Author: Garth Nix

This is a collection of short stories from Garth Nix, some of which tie to novels and some of which are original (or have tie-ins to other established series, as the case may be). Overall it’s a pretty strong collection, and below were some of my favorites.

To Hold the Bridge – The story that gives the book its title is the Old Kingdom contribution for this book. But even if you’ve never read any of Nix’s Old Kingdom books, it’s still a winsome story. Morghan is hoping to join the Bridge Company, which is constructing what will become the great bridge leading across the river to the capital, mostly because he’s eager for the provided food and board. Although it wraps up well enough, it also makes me wish Morghan would get a novel, as I’d love to read more about him.

A Handful of Ashes – Mari is funding her college education in witchcraft though a servant’s position at her college, but not all of the high-born students like that tradition. I like the setting, and the little details in the magic and the college, which operates under various Bylaws. This is, like many other stories here, showcasing a world that teases a lot of depth.

The Heart of the City – France, in the time of Henri IV. A guard gets tangled up in magic and mayhem as a strange procession enters the city. Interesting magic system, which involves angels partnering with men, and I especially liked the end. It feels like a launching point for an alternate-history.

Holly and Iron – A retelling that blends a few different tales (saying which ones would spoil the surprise). Another interesting and completely different magic system, the holly magic of the Inglish and the iron magic of the Norman. And a shapeshifting squirrel. (That alone ought to sell the story.)

All in all, whether you’ve read Garth Nix before or not this is a great place to dig in. I rate this book Recommended.