Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Flame of Olympus (Pegasus #1)

Title: The Flame of Olympus

Author: Kate O’Hearn

Series: Pegasus #1

When Olympus is invaded by four-armed creatures called Nirads, the Olympians find themselves losing the terrible battle. Few escape: Pegasus, along with the thief Paelen, enter the modern world, where Pegasus crashes onto the roof of an apartment complex. Emily finds him there. Fascinated by the winged horse, she enlists the help of a classmate, Joel, to help her care for him. But the Nirads haven’t given up, and secret government agencies are also interested in the mystery of a horse with wings . . .

The book strikes a good balance between Roman myths and modern day. There aren’t so many mythological references that readers will be overwhelmed, but enough that Olympus does feel like its own unique world. I really liked Paelen. Unlike Diana (and to a lesser extent, Pegasus), he’s not one I’ve seen overused in stories. And I like thieves. And his special ability is amazing and makes escaping through the air ducts actually make sense. Not to mention his way of dealing with being captured and holed up was also amusing.

I didn’t quite buy all of Joel’s mythical acumen. Why (other than for plot convenience) is he only interested in the Roman myths? Simply because he’s Italian? It would’ve been distracting from the main plot to introduce other mythologies, but I did wonder. Also the lack of cameras inside certain rooms was a little too neat. They wouldn’t even have to be saving the video, but the fact that no one at all could see inside a prison cell without going there was a bit hard to swallow.

Overall, though, it’s a solid and quick read. I’m a bit sick of the Roman/Greek pantheon, but the addition of Paelen (and Pegasus as his own character) helped a lot. The plot ties up some major points, but clearly leaves an opening for a sequel. And the cover is very pretty. I rate this book Recommended.

Juniper (Doran #2)

Title: Juniper

Author: Monica Furlong

Series: Doran #2

The only child of a king and queen, Ninnoc has been blessed with education as well as luxury. But the traces of power in her are calling her towards a different destiny than to inherit the throne. When she goes to train with her godmother, she hopes to learn the secrets of the doran. Instead, she’s mostly taught healing artes. Will her power be enough against the evil magic set against her father’s kingdom?

First of all, ignore the series number. I read this first because it’s listed as a prequel, and there’s nothing in the story that stops it from being read with no knowledge going in.

This is a more character-focused book. We follow Ninnoc (Juniper) as she traces back through her earliest memories to her young adulthood. It’s an interesting journey, but it can be rather slow for those more inclined to read action-focused plots.  Juniper herself is rather dreamy—I was amused at how Euny basically had to train her out of that.

My favorite character, though, was Gamal. Whereas Juniper’s problems are all fairly low-key for the majority of the book, Gamal’s stuck from the beginning with a mother who wants to make him over into her own creation. He’s set to learning to be a warrior from his youngest days, when he’s really more interested in being a musician. The tension between being an obedient son and following his heart’s desire is a more compelling story—especially when his mother decides to go all out in a bid for the throne.

Overall this was a decent read, though not one that particularly sticks with me. I’ll probably go on to read Wise Child eventually. I rate this book Recommended.

Shadow (Shadow & Dagger #1)

Title: Shadow

Author: Anne Logston

Series: Shadow & Dagger #1

Shadow is a thief who steals a little more than she bargained for when she enters the city of Allanmere. Somehow the little magical bracelet she pickpocketed is the lynchpin of a much larger mystery. She’ll need all her skills to figure out what’s going on before the fallout gets her killed.

This is a bit of an odd one. Shadow herself is almost perpetually happy, as she goes around stealing whatever she can get her hands on and settling herself for a time in this new place. As an elf, she’s naturally long-lived, and has had a lot of experience being a thief. She spends most of her time stealing, getting drunk, or getting high on dreamweed. And because elves are very rarely fertile, she also beds anyone who catches her fancy. (And although she mentions STDs at one point, thus showing they do exist in this world, she herself seems to have no concern about catching one, even though given her habits and her lifespan she surely must’ve bedded someone by this point who was infected with something.)

I liked her upbeat demeanor, but I found her constant thefts hard to believe. She’s stealing (and spending) thousands—a level at which one might reasonably expect the offended parties to start hunting her down. But none of her marks really exists in the story except as a ready source of money, nor does the story really care about the probable consequences of redistributing such vast amounts of wealth in such a short timeframe.

The mystery works well enough, but I didn’t really care for the conclusion. I was hoping for some better reason why a bracelet that could open any lock would be important. Instead it’s just a tangle of human rivalries, where the most interesting bits of magic are more or less tangential. Read if you want, but I rate this book Neutral.

The Mark of the Cat (Hynkkel #1)

Title: The Mark of the Cat

Author: Andre Norton

Series: Hynkkel #1

Hynkkel is no warrior, though he comes from a House of warriors—to the eternal disappointment of his father. So while his strong and skilled brother gains all the honor, Hynkkel is little better than a servant. When his father finally allows him to solo (a wilderness survival test that bestows the status of an adult), he encounters some of his world’s largest predators, the sand cats. But rather than perish beneath their claws, he strikes up a friendship . . .

This is an interesting bit of worldbuilding. Hynkkel lives in a very dry land, so most of the terrain is desert or similarly inhospitable. There’s a prologue that sets up some very basic information about how the world works, though if you skip it much of that information does come eventually in the story. In some ways it feels a bit shallow, as there are very few species which occupy this place (I think there are more strains of algae than types of creatures), and the existence of so many sand cats without similarly large herds of prey animals also strains the credulity a bit.  But it does make for a different kind of world, hot and dry and harsh, where life must be chiseled from an unforgiving land.

The story is told in first person, but switches between Hynkkel and Allitta. Irritatingly, nothing marks these transitions other than a scene break—often the switch occurs within the same chapter, which was jarring the first time especially because Allitta doesn’t narrate until quite a ways into the story, so I had no idea the point of view was going to change. I liked Hynkkel better anyway. Allitta’s sections mostly serve to introduce a few additional pieces of information and show how certain forces are manipulating Hynkkel’s path.

The only other real problem is that as the story winds to its obvious conclusion, it isn’t really done yet. And the sequel is hard to find (and based on the reviews, may not be entirely worth tracking down either). It doesn’t even leave off in a wonderful place, either: Hynkkel has achieved more than he ever set out to do, but the social circles now around him are mostly wanting to see him dead. Not to mention the never-seen mysterious magic-worker who has been sending hordes of rats against the land hasn’t even surfaced, much less been stopped.

It leaves me with rather mixed feelings about the book. I enjoyed it well enough, but the lack of an actual ending is really annoying. And the reader will probably have guessed Hynkkel’s destiny fairly early in the book, which makes some of the late middle a slog. Read it if the setting sounds interesting, because the plot’s rather standard fare. I rate this book Neutral.

Let the Wind Rise (Sky Fall #3)

Title: Let the Wind Rise

Author: Shannon Messenger

Series: Sky Fall #3

Audra has been captured, and Vane is determined to save her. To ask forgiveness for sending her right into Raiden’s clutches. Even if Vane is physically incapable of violence, he figures there has to be a way for him to kill Raiden. Isn’t there?

Audra is determined to break free—so Vane won’t come after her and Gus. She has Aston’s hints about how he escaped, and the Westerly breeze that won’t abandon her. But while Raiden believes she has something he needs, he has no such restraints around Gus.

And we finally get to see the inside of Raiden’s fortress! And quite a few surprises there. Some interesting insights into Raiden’s character, too, which work well at drawing out more of a mystery around who he is and what he wants. Vane’s commentary brings a lot of laughs to what would otherwise be a very bleak place—him getting a uniform was one of the best spots.

I’m still mad about one particular character, though. This person was one of my favorite characters and . . . Well. Hard to say too much without spoilers.

I did like what happens with the winds, though. Vane is still learning the full extent of what a wind is capable of, and some of the special effects are really neat. And I love what happened to Raiden. The lack of detail provided just means more to imagine. . . Also a hugely ironic way of getting through his super-armor.

I also liked Vane’s resolution to the problem of who ought to be king/queen of the sylphs. It makes so much sense it’s amusing no one thought of it earlier.

If you enjoyed the first two books, then this one brings a strong finish. If you haven’t read them, do: they’re a pretty important foundation for everything happening here.  I rate this book Recommended.

The Books of Umber (Audiobooks)

Vacation is usually when I listen to audiobooks, and this time around I had the pleasure of hearing Happenstance Found and its sequel Dragon Games as audiobooks. My thoughts on the story haven’t changed a bit. You can see my reviews for Happenstance Found and Dragon Games for more details there.

I do want to mention that Richard Poe does an amazing job as a narrator. His reading style, pacing, and tone bring the story to life. In the biography it says he’s a professional actor, and it shows. Often I could tell which character was speaking based on the way the words were read—Happenstance’s hesitancy, Umber’s exuberance, Oates’s deep-voiced gruffness. I would highly recommend these audiobooks.

Now if only my library had the third . . . I’ll just have to read my copy in paper since the second book is a rather bad place to stop.

Sky Bounce

Title: Sky Bounce

Author: Deanna Miller

Hesper, a winged Alula, is not supposed to know someone like Tristan, the Boytaur. The female Alulas hold themselves strictly separate from the male Mantaurs, but Hesper has made friends with one. When Hesper stumbles across something she shouldn’t have seen, she is sent to the human planes. Tristan vows to follow her, but crossing planes has its own hazards.

I wish I didn’t have to wince writing out that description. Boytaur? Mantaur? Just . . . no. They should’ve had a name like Alula, something that could hint at species without being so clunky. The racial division is also a gender division, and the revelation partway through of how they manage to propagate was also rather strained.

That said, this was otherwise what I had expected: a light fantasy/romance between a winged girl and a centaur, spread out between multiple parallel planes of existence. Traveling between the planes has its cost, and isn’t something done lightly.

The overall dilemma works better between Hesper and Tristan than the threat of things that blend the various planes. The big picture stuff tends to be vague and has a similarly vague conclusion, but the tension between the two of them against the world plays out pretty well.

Overall this is not a bad read, but it’s hard to get past some things like the naming conventions. I rate this book Neutral.

Un Lun Dun

Title: Un Lun Dun

Author: China Miéville

Zanna’s life is getting weird. Strange people are seeking her out, animals aren’t behaving normally around her, and even ordinary objects are taking on a disturbing kind of life. Then Zanna accidentally pulls herself and a friend through to an alternate version of London—Un Lun Dun—where nothing is normal anymore. And Zanna’s somehow expected to save it from a formless menace that’s already been hunting her down . . .

I wanted to like this, but I don’t care for the writing style at all and ended up quitting midway.

The book excels at being weird. Especially once Zanna gets to Un Lun Dun, the story whisks from one unusual thing to the next. I can’t fault it for a lack of imagination—that’s clearly the main selling point of the book.

The problem is the characters.

The story reads like a sketch rather than a story. Here’s a girl whose sole feature of interest is that she wants to go by Zanna instead of Suzanna. Her friends are even less fleshed out. The bus conductor gets more history than the two main characters. The plot tends to present a bit of dialogue or action, then skip to the next little bit, with just enough detail to present the world without really digging in. This is worse in the real London as Un Lun Dun gets more attention. But even in the new world, the details are presented without a lot of fleshing out, and only a few things here or there get a longer glance.

If the writing style and flat characterization doesn’t bother you, then have fun with the weird things that pop up all over. For myself, I need a better plot and better characters to get engaged. Not Recommended.

Plain Kate

Title: Plain Kate

Author: Erin Bow

Kate Carver, the woodcarver’s daughter, has been carving since she was able to hold a knife. But her skill brings suspicion, and after her father dies, she’s left to depend on the fickle generosity of her small town. Then a stranger appears who offers to give her heart’s desire in exchange for her shadow—a man who won’t take no for an answer.

This is a very hard story to read, but the good bits are very good. Mostly it’s hard because of the awful things that happen to some undeserving people, and the story doesn’t glorify the awfulness but it isn’t shying away from it either. Suspicion of witchcraft can get you killed, or worse. Kate has had to live all her life with people doubting her skill, but when she loses her shadow, even those she thought were friends turn against her. Nor is Kate the only one affected badly by such fear-driven madness. There’s a scene near the middle that was very hard for me to read for the brutality of it (violence, mostly, for those wondering about sexual content).

But, if that doesn’t deter you, the surrounding story is solid. Kate hardly recognizes it herself, but she suffers from desperate loneliness, particularly after her father dies. Which makes her relationship with Taggle, a cat she raises from very early kittenhood, so sweet. The deal that costs Kate her shadow gains Taggle a voice. Taggle is so quintessentially cat. He’s supremely self-confident, has a very direct outlook on life, and—when confronting a man who has killed many people and is ruining the lives of many more—finds the worst thing about the whole ordeal that he has had wet paws for months. He has some amazing lines.

“We’re not talking about you.”
The cat’s inner eyelids had been sliding closed. He lifted one, lizardlike. “We’re not? Why not?”

“Give me another reason,” Taggle said, flicking his ears. “Give me a cat’s reason. Keep in mind that we do not,” he harrumphed, “run into burning buildings going ‘bark, bark.'”

Pretty much every time he opens his mouth I want to quote him….

So, much is lost by the end, but it does still end on a bittersweet note. If the hard things don’t turn you away, then this can be a good time. I rate this book Recommended.

Heir to the Sky

Title: Heir to the Sky

Author: Amanda Sun

Kali is the only child of the Monarch of the floating islands of Ashra. She daydreams often about the earth below, which no one has visited for hundreds of years, because of the monsters. The Phoenix had raised Ashra above the land for safety, and so Kali can only dream, and prepare herself for her betrothal and her upcoming responsibility to rule. Then she falls over the edge—and somehow survives. Suddenly everything she knows or thought she knew will be challenged in a fight for survival . . .

This book crams so many of my favorite ideas into one little volume. Floating islands, fantastic monsters (and the daring few who hunt them), and most especially the winged people. The setting bursts with vivid detail, painting a wild landscape both alien and familiar. I particularly liked the kinds of creatures that show up, from the well-known mythological nods to original creations. And I wish there had been more of the Benu, as I would’ve liked to see far more of their culture and their history.

I liked Griffin a lot too. He’s bold, capable, confident, but not overbearing, and helpful to a fault. And the other survivors are also good, though Griffin gets the most time on page. Kali grew up in an extremely sheltered world, in more ways than one. Griffin was named for his first kill, which he made as a small child against the monster who had slain his parents and was about to finish his sister off as well. The contrast between the two works well.

So why not rate this higher? Mostly because there are a number of things around the end that don’t add up (and one trope that I’m getting really sick of seeing). First, the trope: I would’ve preferred Kali to be correct rather than Griffin when it came to the Phoenix. I was fairly certain in the first pages when the Phoenix was introduced how this was going to end up, and that’s exactly how it played out.

Aside from that, though, there are a few things that just don’t make sense. A prophecy is mentioned in the last few pages, without ever spelling out what the prophecy actually is (and I suspect Kali ends up fulfilling it accidentally, but there’s no way to be sure). The whole rebellion plot has a very confusing resolution. Kali herself wonders: why those lies, specifically, when the instigators are condemning themselves? And the ending is almost unrealistically upbeat, considering the vast majority of people are going to die because of it, and therefore won’t see things in nearly the same light as Kali does. (Though it would be interesting to see if the addition of engineers, specifically, would make a difference. Griffin mentions one of the chief problems is the lack of people with skills other than hunting, who might have known how to build towns able to stand up against the monsters.)

So overall I like the story, though not as much as I would’ve liked to have liked it. Kali takes forever to catch on to a few things that are rather obvious, and some pieces of history remain unknown that might’ve been interesting additions to the plot (mostly about the Benu. How did they survive before the islands? How did anyone survive long enough to get to the islands? Why aren’t there more traces?) But it was still a good read. I rate this book Recommended.