Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Skeleth (Nethergrim #2)

Title: The Skeleth

Author: Matthew Jobin

Series: Nethergrim #2

Edmund may be the son of the village’s only innkeepers, but he was enough of a wizard to beat back the Nethergrim and rescue most of the children stolen. He knows, though, his puny knowledge is nowhere near enough. So when a wizard arrives with a visiting party of lords, he thinks he’s finally found a teacher . . .

Tom was hoping to escape the grasp of his former master, but that plan quickly goes awry when Tristan’s castle turns out to hold unpleasant surprises. Now hunted by man and monster, he’s got to step up and be a hero, because there’s no one else. . .

Katherine is shocked when the absence of her father strips her of everything she once enjoyed. Now a servant in the house of her lord, she struggles to find a place in her new life. But conspiracies are unfolding, threatening both lord and land . . .

I wanted to like this more than I did, because the first book was excellent. This one retains the solid use of detail and characterization, with very good worldbuilding, credible and dangerous villains (all except the older wizard woman, who never got enough backstory), and the bravery and resourcefulness of three teenagers willing to put everything on the line. It’s also got that rarer sense of generations, with the older gentleman like John Marshall and Tristan ¬†offering their perspectives.

The problem was that I spent most of the story incredibly frustrated at Edmund and Katherine. Tom’s sections were the only thing drawing me to actually finish the book. I think what I dislike about both of their roles is the same, although it manifests in different ways: they’re incredibly passive about what’s going on. Edmund’s temptation wasn’t as big a problem for me as the fact that he ignores several very clear warnings (the worst of which was when he finds a door with three different languages spelling out: “Do not open this door.” Guess what happens next). And he’s not even thinking very hard about them. He just lets himself get drawn along. Katherine’s warning should have given him a special reason to pause, since he ought to know exactly what she was talking about—but he’d rather believe the person he just met than the one he’s known his entire life.

Katherine is worse because I would just get so angry reading her segments. She’s pushed from a strong, independent young woman into someone browbeaten by Lady Isabeau’s petty tyranny (and only calls her out on it too near the end to make a difference). What’s baffling is both how quickly they press her into service, along with how ready they are to declare her father a traitor instead of, I don’t know, figuring that he might actually want to warn one of the original foes of the Nethergrim that said eldritch horror is back? Or sending some rider to Tristan to check? And Katherine doesn’t insist on verification, either, or try to verify it herself, nor does anything rebellious beyond run to the stables a few times to cry in Indigo’s shoulder. Harry’s behavior, at least, I expected, based on who he showed himself to be in the first book.

So that spoiled the otherwise strong writing for me. I can’t quite bring myself to rate it as low as possible because it did swing up at the end, but I don’t think I’ll ever read this again. I rate this book Neutral.

The Owl Keeper

Title: The Owl Keeper

Author: Christine Brodien-Jones

Max used to have a good life with his grandma, who taught him all about the silver owls and the prophecy that one day the Owl Keeper would overthrow the darkness with the help of a silver owl. But after his grandma dies, he contracts a strange disease that leaves him allergic to sunlight. Then the silver owl shows up. Max is infatuated with the owl, but the government is trying to exterminate them . . .

This book tries to blend fantasy with dystopia, and in my opinion usually fails. From the few dates given, we’re not quite 100 years out, yet some unexplained experiment with the weather split the moon in two (now THAT would have been a story) and generally devastated the natural seasonal cycles (this would make more sense if Earth’s rotation or orbit changed, not its weather). Due to the weather issues, the government is constructing huge domed cities for everyone to live in, thus abandoning the exterior world to the various disasters and monsters that have cropped up (or were created through genetic experiments).

On the other hand, we have a prophecy, glowing silver owls that can do magic, Destiny confirmed by birthmarks, an Absolute Darkness working for evil, etc.

Personally I think this should’ve stuck with the fantasy. It wouldn’t have been hard to turn most of the dystopian elements fantastic, whereas the dystopia really struggles with the fantasy.

For example, we are presumably on Earth (simply because nothing says otherwise), yet we have magical silver owls that have been around for hundreds of years, in addition to a prophecy that’s apparently well known enough that the government feels the need to rebroadcast slightly altered versions of it to trivialize it. The genetic mutations worked for me when it was Misshapens living in the forest or creatures who have presumably been under development for years . . . but then there is someone who materially transforms instantly after only one shot. Or how one bite of a loaded muffin is enough to paralyze normal brain function immediately, but can still be shaken off a very short time later. Or how falling asleep in conditions clearly conducive to freezing to death not only has them waking up without outside intervention, but without so much as frostbite to show for it.

So the science is falling over because it’s acting more like magic. The setting is also prone to annoying conveniences like a Frozen Zone being within walking distance of a more normally temperate town. Nothing was offered to explain this other than the weather related experiment from way back when.

I can forgive a shoddy setting for excellent characters. These aren’t. Rose introduces herself by being obnoxious and a liar, and the only reason I can think for Max bothering is because he has no one but the even-more-depressing housekeeper to talk to. Regardless, the fact that she’s such a liar makes it hard for me to swallow that she’s telling the truth later, just because she says she is (Max conveniently can’t verify anything that comes out of her mouth). So when she eventually starts to have problems, I found myself less than sympathetic.

Max is better, but not by much. He suffers from extreme stupidity. I can roll my eyes and move past the fact that he never once suspected his sinister guardian was working against him, but when he has the opportunity to throw away the device he now KNOWS is bad for him . . . and takes it WITH HIM . . . The plot doesn’t even try to explain that. Max just thinks he has no idea why he’s doing it. I don’t either. It’s a really poor way to build dramatic tension in the following scene so someone can fight him for it and threaten to stab him with it all over again.

I’m not even sure if the ending was meant to tie things up or lead into a sequel, as it could read either way. I don’t care, as I have zero desire to pick up another book. The worldbuilding has too many inconsistencies and the characters make me want to throw the book at the wall. I rate this book Not Recommended.

Zeroes (Zeroes #1)

Title: Zeroes

Author: Scott Westerfeld / Margo Lanagan / Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #1

Scam’s big mouth is always getting him into trouble. He’s got a power that can help him say whatever is needed to get what he wants—but he doesn’t know what he’s going to say until it’s already been said. So when he hitches a ride home with the wrong guy, he ends up on the bad side of drug dealers, bank robbers, and mobsters. And even Scam’s big mouth isn’t enough to talk his way out. Problem: will his former friends forgive him enough to come to his rescue?

This is a different take on the whole superhero subgenre. The powers themselves are fascinating (and I LOVE the nicknames!). Ethan (Scam) can be the ultimate con artist. Nate (Glorious Leader—no, really!) can focus a group on a goal. Riley (Flicker) is blind, but can use other people’s eyes to see. Chizara (Crash) can destroy any high-tech device. Thibault (Anonymous) has to work very hard to make anyone notice him at ALL, and they’ll forget him immediately. And Kelsie, the daughter of the bank robber, can nudge the emotions of a crowd.

Really, you can’t go wrong with a book that has a character everyone calls Glorious Leader only half-ironically. (The ringtones the various kids have for his number is also hysterical.)

The powers mostly remain a mystery, although one Nate has been trying to solve for ages. I do hope he gets farther in future books, as the crowd-based mechanics is an interesting twist: only Ethan/Scam works best one-on-one. I’d love to know if he really is the same as the rest of them, or if he may be, as Nate once suspected, a different species.

The morality is mostly shades of grey. Chizara is the only one of them concerned with using her powers for good and not just for their own sake; Nate in particular was interesting to watch, as his power is influence, and he has a very amoral stance on just about everything that happens. So he’ll urge the group towards what he thinks is best, rather than try to build them up as potential heros. And he wants to be a politician . . .

Overall this is a great read, although people who find Ethan/Scam really annoying might be turned off at first, since much of the beginning is from his perspective. I’m going to have to hunt down the second book now. I rate this book Recommended.

The Secrets of Solace (World of Solace #2)

Title: The Secrets of Solace

Author: Jaleigh Johnson

Series: World of Solace #2

Lina, an apprentice Archivist, has an insatiable curiosity. That was how she found the crack in the caves that led to a cavern with a buried airship. That was how she found Fredrick, a refugee with secrets she isn’t supposed to know. And that was how she ended up in the middle of an adventure far bigger than just her and her fellow Archivists . . .

I really enjoyed Mark of the Dragonfly, and I wish I had re-read it before reading this. The Secrets of Solace jumps to a different place, with a different protagonist, but continues many of the global events from the first book (mostly the war between the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonfly Territories). But if you’ve never read the first book, that’s just fine—there’s enough context for this book.

I like how human all of the major characters are. Lina is bright, cheerful, and curious. But she doesn’t plan ahead at all, doesn’t think through possibilities, and not one but several of her otherwise-credible schemes goes hugely awry. Despite good intentions, she can’t correct for variables she doesn’t understand or anticipate. Fredrick balances her well. He’s more cautious, has a lot more experience outside the caves, and, most crucially, has a strong relationship with the family he left behind. His connectedness highlights her isolation. I liked what happened with Simon, too. I suspected it might go that way, and was glad Lina couldn’t just relegate him to a stock villain, but she has to confront that he’s a real person with real feelings as well.

The overall plot is a bit weak because of who the traitor turned out to be, but the action is solid and Lina and Fredrick’s character journeys makes up for it. I adore the airship. For all the ways this world is similar to ours, there are distinct differences, and not just in the meteor fields or the chamelins.

This book could be read alone, although I do hope there is more to come. I rate this book Recommended.

The Martian

Title: The Martain

Author: Andy Weir

Mark Watney used to be the least important astronaut on the third manned mission to Mars. Then, through a series of accidents, he became the only astronaut on Mars, with no one who knows he’s alive and no way to contact NASA. It’ll be four years before the next mission, and the food won’t last nearly that long (assuming the other environmental hazards or some mechanical failure doesn’t kill him first). But Mark’s too stubborn to just give up . . .

I’m probably not the first review you’ve read talking about this book. For good reason! Like classic survival-adventure stories like Swiss Family Robinson, The Martian presents an uncaring world (well, actively hostile in his case) against a man determined to survive. Mark doesn’t wallow in his predicament but mans up and confronts every problem head-on.

And boy, are there a lot of problems.

I still think my favorite twist was what happened when he tried to make water. Well, more like what happened after. Assuming 100% in chemistry is a dangerous business . . .

Mark’s ongoing commentary about his situation is another high point. He’s not just practical, he’s funny. He’s usually got some jab at for Mars, the situation, or himself, whenever he comes up against some new wrinkle.

All in all, this was a lot of fun, and I’m interested in seeing the movie to see some of these scenes up on the big screen. I rate this book Recommended.

Night Runner (Night Runner #1)

Title: Night Runner

Author: Max Turner

Series: Night Runner #1

Zach has lived in a mental ward since the death of his father. He’s mostly there because he has a lot of unusual health problems that leave him unable to function well in the normal world—like an allergy to sunlight. But he doesn’t mind his sheltered life . . . and has no idea why strangers keep barging into it, insisting he’s in danger and has to escape. Something dangerous stalks the night. Something inhuman. Something that knows him . . .

It will be fairly obvious to readers even marginally familiar with the genre that Zach’s “symptoms” are really traits of vampirism. That said, I really like where the book goes with it. Zach is in many ways not much more mature than the second-grader who was first admitted to the mental ward. He has a refreshing innocence, combined with moments of blunt honesty about what he sees in himself.

I fed like a predator. And I had no remorse. None.

I look back at this moment with a mixture of sadness and something else. Understanding, maybe. Or acceptance. I’m a vampire. Sometimes I wish I could live on tofu and alfalfa sprouts, but I can’t. And I understand I’m not consistent. I don’t always act the same way. I’m a nice guy as often as I can be. As my Uncle Maximillian said, I have a choice. And I choose to be good. Until I get hungry. Then I’m something that is less than good. Then I’m a killer.

The story has a few expected twists, and a few nice surprises (especially the end). It’s also clearly the setup for a series, so it will be interesting to see how Zach’s actions at the end echo into future books. I rate this book Recommended.


Title: Glint

Author: Ann Coburn

Everyone likes Ellie’s little brother Danny. He’s such a happy, friendly kid. So when he mysteriously disappears, her life veers into a hard quest to find him again, to prove her father innocent as well as restore the life they used to have.

Argent enjoys watching dragons hatch, even though her village bears the creatures no love. Dragons radiate enough heat to engulf anything near them in flames, and when Argent witnesses a baby being kidnapped, her village is more interested in destroying the distraught mother than trying to find the baby. So she sets off on a quest to help the dragon family.

This didn’t work out much like I had expected, and although I suppose that’s good, it made for somewhat frustrating reading. I kept expecting the two stories to cross over, when really the only connection between them is that Danny appears to be hallucinating Argent, and the two journeys have a somewhat parallel structure. So really you have two separate novels told in alternating chapters. One is a fiction story about a girl trying to find her kidnapped brother, and one is a fantasy about a girl trying to find a kidnapped dragon.

I liked the dragon story better, but there was a lot more that could have been done if it had been its own story. Because it’s splitting time with another tale, some of the things I was really interested in seeing more of didn’t get a lot of time. Lukos, for example, explains the process of shapechanging to Argent and pretty much says he thinks she’s capable of it, but she (perhaps understandably) shoves the idea away and wants nothing to do with it. I kept hoping the plot would circle back to that and make it happen, but it never did. Also, the worldbuilding in general could have used more fleshing out. The dragons get most of the focus, but a few other creatures come up near the end and I would’ve liked to see a bit more of them, too. Or at least seen some detail in the towns and the people that make this different from all the other fantasies set in a pre-industrial time.

Overall this isn’t bad, but the split storyline can be frustrating because they have so little to do with each other. I rate this story Neutral.

The Magician of Hoad

Title: The Magician of Hoad

Author: Margaret Mahy

Heriot Tarbas is the odd one out in his farming family. Prone to fits, both of pain and of vision, he occupies a place on the periphery of his extended family, but he remains relatively happy thanks to the land itself. He enjoys being a farmer. Which is why he tries to run when one particular vision draws the attention of the king’s court. He doesn’t want to be a magician for the king, reading minds and performing magical entertainments. But the Magician has a role, just like the King and the Hero, in the land of Hoad . . . and he’s sure being at court isn’t it.

This one surprised me. I nearly didn’t read it because I hadn’t cared for Alchemy, but this one did a lot better building a fantasy, in addition to having strong characters. I liked the eye to detail both in the farm and drawing out the land. Hoad is both a place and more than a place: the King, the Hero, and the Magician all seem to have ties to some greater magic of the land. And I really liked the vastness and mystery of the magic. Where in Alchemy it was more of a free-for-all, this feels more fitted to the universe.

I particularly liked the exploration of sanity. Heriot and the third Prince are both considered mad by their families—and there are good reasons for it. With Heriot especially, being a Magician could be said to have left him in tune with a reality others can’t perceive, except he usually comes off as somewhat insane. On the other hand, we have other characters who are decidedly sane who have gone so far down their own paths that it turns into insanity. Where that line is drawn, and where each person is, isn’t always clear.

Only two things bugged me, one really minor and one major. The minor point: for about one paragraph, Heriot turns to drink. I had really hoped for more from him. On the other hand, this did take pretty much one paragraph to both come up and resolve, so it wasn’t like the story let him wallow in it. The more major problem is that Heriot’s pretty clear on how much he doesn’t care for the whole “court magician” role, but he never actually tries to run away. The story spans so many years it’s rather surprising he doesn’t make the attempt (in fact, the only time he does leave, it’s not exactly under his own power). He knows his power isn’t being used appropriately. He knows his self is fragmented and needs to be whole. But he doesn’t actually do much about either of those. That said, at least he comes around by the end, even though I was wanting him to do something much, much earlier in the narrative.

Overall, I enjoyed this, and will definitely have to read it again to pull some of the better quotes from it. I rate this book Recommended.

Spirit Gate (Crossroads #1)

Title: Spirit Gate

Author: Kate Elliot

Series: Crossroads #1

I’m not going to attempt a summary because I couldn’t force myself to finish. Besides, the main reason I quit reading was because 75 pages in, basically nothing had happened yet.

I wanted to like this, and gave it a good shot. But the glacial pacing killed my interest, and I wasn’t overly fond of any of the characters either. Marit has way too much page time for being a minor character (and the way the book starts I had initially assumed she would be the main character). Joss’s main concerns are getting drunk or laid (and how often the story is going there in the first few chapters reminds me of yet another reason I don’t usually care for adult books. Even though it never gets explicit—can’t we have someone with an INTERESTING hobby/obsession for once?). Mai didn’t seem too bad, but Ti, her cousin, is so childish and annoying that was a good enough reason to quit rather than plug away hoping it got better.

The depth of detail is very good, in one sense: it’s easy to get a picture of the world. I like the reeves, and the way their partnership works. The eagles are basically eagles, and the flying contraption pictured on the cover makes a lot more sense than most renditions I’ve seen of flying on a bird. Unfortunately, it’s a world where relatively normal life is happening for an extended period of time. Joss is sent to guard a caravan of merchants—and nothing happens. Dark things happen to the side, or in the background, but Joss is concerned mainly with doing his everyday duties in his everyday manner, and . . . I lost interest. After what he discovered with the Guardians, I had been hoping he’d actually go off and do more about it (I suppose he does, but it’s explained away in about two sentences of backstory).

So this may be a wonderful book for people with more patience, but I prefer more movement in the plot. Not Recommended.