Monthly Archives: June 2016

Vero Rising (The Ether #1)

Title: Vero Rising

Author: Laurice E. Molinari

Series: The Ether #1

Vero has always wanted to fly, and that desire has gotten him in trouble over the years. But for all his longings, it still comes as a surprise when he finds out he’s actually a guardian angel, living with a human family to learn more about humanity. Now his ordinary life can be interrupted at any time in order to pull him into training with other guardian angels-to-be in a mysterious realm called the Ether. But angels aren’t the only supernatural forces at work. Another, evil force is determined to ruin them and everything they would protect . . .

I usually avoid books that have anything to do with angels, despite my love of reading about winged people or people able to fly, because I can’t stand how messed up the theology gets in most of those stories. This is not one of them. Although I was initially leery of the concept, that quickly turned to delight as I saw how deftly faith and fantasy wove together. The theology is pretty solid, and better yet, this isn’t a story tripping over some ham-handed message. It’s a story about an unusual boy struggling to live up to a destiny weirder than any he’d imagined. I loved that Vero lives out his faith–sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes with effort, and sometimes failing altogether–as a part of who he is. And his adventures challenge him to grow in many ways, not just in his faith.

So with that out of the way . . . I liked Vero. Things come a little too easily to him on Earth, but the complications he deals with keep him from using his abilities to their full extent (the hurdles race was particularly amusing). He really wants to do well (and show off), but at the same time, he’s got angels ready to prevent him from blowing his cover. And they get very creative with their methods. I also found it interesting that many of the challenges he surmounts during his training come as a result of his own prayers. Vero himself doesn’t seem to notice it, and his companions attribute it to him as well, but I liked how he wasn’t empowered to do anything until he’d actually prayed. In the same vein, his failures stem in subtle and obvious ways from his reliance on himself, or giving in to fear.

The other guardian angels-in-training were an interesting bunch. I was so happy to be wrong about Greer, and after Vero she’s actually the one who interests me the most. Although some of the others have surprising mortal lives, hers is the only one where her trials seem to have twisted her a bit and left her hard and bitter. So she’s an unusual force for good, to say the least. And I do hope she finds real happiness along with realizing her goal to succeed.

I loved the twist at the end. It’s such a fitting surprise as Vero discovers just who he’s been sent to help protect. And how his own assumptions and emotions nearly wrecked his chance. And the reminder that his thoughts and God’s thoughts are not the same, and as he sees just a bit from that other point of view, the sight changes him.

Also a minor note, but I adore the cover art. The feathers, the glove, the hilt of the sword . . . I’m a sucker for really nice cover art. I might’ve bought the book even if I hadn’t liked the story just to have the cover on my shelf.

Overall this is an excellent example of a story that encompasses and illustrates faith without getting lost in a message, because it’s just as focused on having fun. Although this volume wraps up some things well enough, it’s also clearly setting up for a larger story to come. I rate this book Recommended.

Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Momotaro #1)

Title: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters

Author: Margaret Dilloway

Series: Momotaro #1

Xander is, as far as he knows, normal. Which is why it comes as such a surprise to him when his father hands him a comic he supposedly drew (but doesn’t remember) and tries to explain he’s a descendant of the legendary Momotaro, the Peach Boy of Japanese mythology. Momotaro was an artist/warrior, and Xander . . . well, he draws. And he programs. But he’s going to have to figure out the rest of it fast, because he’s the only one available to stand up against the terrible oni bent on destroying the world and his family.

I had somewhat mixed feelings about this. I liked the spin on the Momotaro story, especially how the thread of the three companions (dog, pheasant, and monkey) works itself out. Especially the pheasant. I liked the Japanese myths and how they worked into the story, too. The oni come in many sizes and types, both friendly and not, and although some like the kappa or kitsune may be familiar, others are likely to be new. And I liked how Xander’s everyday life starts to blend and then totally collapses into this island of myths.

Peyton’s role in the story was both surprising and satisfying. He’s Xander’s childhood friend, despite them being opposites in most ways, and even though he doesn’t seem to have a place in Xander’s grand destiny as the descendant of Momotaro, he pledges to help in any way possible when Xander has to go after his father. And then the story twists a bit, and Peyton finds out he might have more of a role than he suspected. He’s the one who learns more than expected on the journey, and who shows he’s a different person by the end.

I wasn’t as fond of Xander. The contrast is meant to be rather sharp between who he is and who his esteemed ancestor was, and really, it wasn’t the non-athleticism that bothered me. It’s more that Peyton has a better character arc than he does. Xander gains a few powers, but he doesn’t really change. I have hopes that future adventures would push him farther. His computer abilities, for instance, don’t make much of a difference at all.

Overall this wasn’t a bad read, just one that wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped it would be going in. Some little details, like the clear MineCraft clone, annoyed me but kids might find it cool. I rate this book Recommended.

The Feverbird’s Claw

Title: The Feverbird’s Claw

Author: Jane Kurtz

Moralin has learned to fight, despite this being against the traditions. But on the eve of the rite of her initiation into full adulthood, she takes a foolish risk and falls into the hands of her tribe’s enemies. Now, captured and brought back with them, she turns her mind to escape and how she might return home.

Both the official summary (and mine) don’t do a great job of summing up what this book is about. In my case, because I’m still not entirely sure where it was going or what it was trying to do. I liked the way what gods mean and what humans interpret are often at odds, and that revolutions don’t always take big flashy battles or people dying. I liked that Moralin grows a bit of a heart despite how fiercely she tries to hold on to hatred.

And…. that’s pretty much all I liked. The book begins with someone trying to kill Moralin—why? This is not really explained nor brought up again (although it’s highly likely the incident when she was a child was also an attempted murder, though the reasons she was assaulted as well as the reason she was spared are left entirely unsaid). I can construct an explanation that fits the details, but without any supporting evidence, I can also explain it all as random coincidences.

Then Moralin is captured by a tribe she despises and that her city is probably at war with (it’s a little hard to tell, since it seems like the city isn’t actively hunting them down, nor they actively attacking the city). But apart from the initial kidnapping, this does not proceed in a manner that makes any sense. She isn’t forced to work, or presented with marriage candidates, or even forcibly married to anyone. Her kidnappers basically let her mooch off them until she decides to participate in the life of the tribe, as well as allowing her to decide what she’s going to do with them. This is especially puzzling because the orphan girl who watches her is not presented with any of the options she, a mere kidnapped enemy, is afforded.

Then we have a long escape sequence in which no one cares she’s leaving and the only enemy is the harsh wild. Followed by a baffling trade sequence in which the bead she carries allows her to bargain for a life when she was, moments ago, a prisoner again.

Really, it all feels like there’s some cultural subtext that ought to have been present but wasn’t, some prophecies that were apparently uttered completely off page, and an ending that was searching for some kind of story but didn’t quite find it. I rate this book Not Recommended.

Agatha H and the Airship City (Girl Genius #1)

Title: Agatha H and the Airship City

Author: Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio

Series: Girl Genius #1

Europa has slowly consolidated (somewhat peacefully) under the rule of one Baron, one man who is intent on either recruiting or wiping out those Sparks whose mad science is apt to tear the world apart. For Agatha, the Baron has little to do with her life, until the day he makes a surprise visit to the university where she works as an assistant. Now her life is in shambles, the Baron has (rather politely) kidnapped her, and she’s preparing to do whatever it takes to get herself out . . .

This is based on the webcomic Girl Genius. I realized this about a chapter in, read some of the comic to compare, and decided that on the whole I much prefer the novelization, as it lends more context to the story.

The world is an interesting one, which gleefully takes mad scientists, Transylvanian horrors, and steampunk and mashes them into an entertaining milieu. A gift (curse?) called the Spark is responsible for the types of science that drives ordinary engineers insane, and can bend the usual laws of physics. This has, of course, resulted in Sparks being perpetually at war with one another, because someone will get the bright idea to conquer his neighbors using, say, lobsters, and then invents something that will carry it out.

It was fairly easy to see where certain pieces of the plot are going. The Heterodyne Boys mentioned in the beginning, and such a big part of the mythology, have their connection to Agatha spoiled by the book’s title. On the other hand, some things are less clear, like whether the Baron is actually wrong to contain Sparks who would otherwise wreck havoc on the world.

The best part, for me, is the Emperor of Cats. His whole introduction is a riot, as is how he takes Agatha’s sarcastic suggestion of fealty utterly seriously. I also adored the scene where Agatha is grilling Gil about how many weapons of mass destruction he’s cooked up (none), and what that says about him as a ruler-to-be and a Spark.

Overall this is a fun, fast read that leaves a whole lot open for a sequel. I rate this book Recommended.

Soundless

Title: Soundless

Author: Rachelle Mead

Fei lives in a mountain village with only three real positions: artist, miner, or beggar. Their isolation means the village survives by sending metals down a zip line in exchange for food. The artists serve as the village’s record-keepers and newsmen, describing what has happened in elegant calligraphy and illustrations. Everyone in the village is deaf, but some are beginning to go blind, and although the situation worries many, their location makes it impossible to get help or information. Then Fei wakes up one day with the ability to hear . . .

I liked the way this explores a number of different things. Fei, as someone who has been deaf her entire life, has no idea how to handle these strange sensations that are suddenly bombarding her. She and the rest of the village communicate entirely in sign language, and have for so long that no one has any knowledge of spoken language. I liked the little things Fei notices as an artist, and how she is forever dreaming of painting, and how she finds a bit of a match for that in Li Wei and his carving. And I especially liked how the ending managed to pull everything together.

The romance was there. I was glad it didn’t really try to push a love triangle angle, even though Fei is engaged to someone with a not-so-great personality, though it’s clear she’s in love with Li Wei. But I don’t read books for the romantic parts anyway, so I mostly skimmed those scenes. I did like Li Wei—brave enough to challenge the unknown despite the very real risk of death, but kind and considerate as well. And he’s able to put aside his own desires to do what’s necessary without smothering those desires or losing them.

Overall, this had some fun surprises, and some good characters. I rate this book Recommended.

The Swarm Descends (Ferals #2)

Title: The Swarm Descends

Author: Jacob Grey

Series: Ferals #2

Caw isn’t looking for trouble when the stone finds him. He’s just intending to pay a little visit to the house he grew up in, to search out any memories of his family. But the stone does find him, and this relic of the crows is going to be even more troublesome than the Crow’s Beak sword he carries. Because someone else knows about the stone, too, and wants it badly enough to do anything in her power to get it . . .

Although the plot is somewhat similar to the first book, this is still an excellent adventure. Caw and his crows are a strong team, but he is still young, still relatively powerless, and he’s facing off against someone who doesn’t have to work from the shadows as much as the Spider Man did.

I still love the crows. Since Milky is now gone, a new crow named Shimmer replaced him. Shimmer’s daredevil antics—and Screech’s crush on her—are a lot of fun, and Glum is his usual cheery self. But Caw is struggling with what it is to have human friends, too, whether they’re ferals or not, and what that means, and what responsibilities he has. Since he hasn’t grown up with people, he’s still extremely socially awkward, in addition to lacking basic education.

The end wraps up well, mostly. There’s one big question mark and although I hope it resolves well, I appreciate that it might not. Things are bound to get even more interesting in the days ahead, though. I hope the next book gets here quickly. I rate this book Recommended.

The Lost Compass (The Fog Diver #2)

Title: The Lost Compass

Author: Joel Ross

Series: The Fog Diver #2

Safe in Port Oro at least, Chess and his crew start to dream of a new life. But the cogs of Port Oro are looking for the Compass that will lower the Fog, and they want Chess to help them find it. Unfortunately, Lord Kodoc is also looking for the Compass, and he will stop at nothing to find it first . . .

This continues right after The Fog Diver left off, with a short prologue to help orient readers who might not have read (or just forgot) the events of the first book.

The only thing that bothered me was the convenience of both the story of the Compass as well as the stories of tick-tocks. And it wouldn’t have taken a lot to make it more believable: a sentence about finding the Compass information on a scrap of paper scavaged from below, or a tetherkid who had heard the tick-tocks and bailed early. As it is, the characters themselves are confused at why this information is known, but it gets shrugged off.

Otherwise, though, it was a great ride. The interactions between the kids shows how they’re a family as well as a team. Chess is more than just the tetherboy—he’s the storyteller. And I liked how they realize that getting out of the junkyard is about more than just physical location, but modes of thought.

And if you enjoyed the way various common idioms, cultural icons, and everyday life got mangled in the first book, there’s plenty more in this one.

The ending resolves a few things, and leaves an opening for more. This could be the cap to a solid duology, or it could be a connecting point on a longer series. I would be fine with either. I think this is a strong place to tie up, but I would also be curious how the rest of the world has dealt with Fog, and what the repercussions will be given what happened at the end.

I rate this book Recommended.