Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Shadow Thieves (Chronus Chronicles #1)

Title: The Shadow Thieves

Author: Anne Ursu

Series: The Chronus Chronicles #1

Charlotte Mielswetzski wants to get out of her ordinary life. When her cousin comes over from England, when the kids at her school start getting sick, when the Greek legends she’s been studying suddenly become uncomfortably real . . . now she’s on an adventure.

I’m a little burned out by the many stories that retell Greek myths, but this one isn’t so bad. It focuses mostly on the Underworld, where one half-demon is plotting to overthrow Hades, and how his machinations draw both Charlotte and her cousin Zee into that scheme.

The storytelling voice talks directly to the reader, which makes me think it might be better as an audiobook, because it has the feel of someone reading a story to someone else. That made it hard for me to get lost in, because the voice kept reminding me I was reading.

I liked Charlotte, who is smart enough to see through a lot of the usual drama of her classmates, but who inadvertently sidelines herself from fitting in or making friends. Zee has some of that same perspective, though his willingness to go out and play soccer/football and to be friendly to people means he’s not quite as much of an outcast.

This was an okay read. I didn’t have any problems with it, though it isn’t going to be a favorite. I did have to roll my eyes at Hades’s decision at the end, because clearly he left a lot of room for future trouble. I rate this book Recommended.

The Ascension (The New Heroes #5)

Title: The Ascension

Author: Michael Carroll

Series: Quantum Prophecy/The New Heroes #5

They thought Krodin was gone. Burned up by Pyrokine’s ultimate sacrifice. But then reality shifts and nothing is the same anymore. The United States is under martial law—and has been for years. And Krodin is somehow in charge. Lance, Abby, and the rest of the superhumans need to unravel this mystery fast, and figure out how to put down Krodin for good.

I couldn’t make it through this one, due to the extreme totalitarian government going on, that looked like it was going to be in place throughout the book. I don’t like dystopias. And I couldn’t buy the timeframe (only fiveĀ  years?) and the sheer number of people who were quietly submitting without secretly rebelling. It was more, this America? Five years? And Krodin wouldn’t have time to go after everyone himself, which means his plans should’ve been more open to sabotage. Which is why I dislike dystopias—I start thinking of all the ways it would fall apart before it got that bad, or all the ways such a “total” hold is really very fragile, because people don’t like falling in line, especially not in a country where everyone involved would be able to remember something better.

Also, bringing Krodin back felt like cheating. I would’ve much preferred a new villain. Krodin’s abilities just don’t make him much fun to fight, either, since basically nothing is effective, which means even people with superpowers are going to need some deus ex machina rather than being able to work up to it with their own abilities.

So. I made it far enough in to tell I was disliking the experience and quit. I rate this book Neutral.

Swarm (Zeroes #2)

Title: Swarm

Author: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #2

Ethan and the rest of the Zeros have started testing how far their powers will stretch—in the guise of a nightclub (illegal, of course). But when the unexpected addition of MORE people with powers sends it crashing around their ears, they realize they’re not alone, and not everyone is interested in keeping quiet . . .

I tried, but ended up picking up the book for a chapter or two, putting it down again, and eventually quit when I realized I was actively reading other books to avoid going back to this one. It’s not bad, but the whole “nobody is really all that great, just different shades of horrible” started to grate on me worse and worse, and when people I would’ve really liked to see killed off weren’t (or at least, not by the time I quit), I figured it wasn’t worth pushing through what was becoming a slog. I put it down around halfway.

If you liked the first book, you may not be as put off by that as I was. The writing is fairly solid, and everyone’s trying to advance their powers (or in Ethan’s case, using what he’s been given . . . putting him as a recruiter did make me laugh).

Again, I dislike this for tone and the fact that nobody’s really anyone I want to root for rather than for poor writing. Your mileage may vary, but I’m done with this series. I rate this book Neutral.

Pure Magic (Black Dog #2)

Title: Pure Magic

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2

Justin is wandering on a road trip while mourning the recent death of his mother. But an unexpected encounter with stray black dogs propels him into a terrifying world he never envisioned. Dimilioc offers him shelter, but they also aren’t very willing to let him refuse.

Natividad is growing used to life at Dimilioc, but she’s still stubbornly independent. And when she’s told to stay at home for her own safety, the order doesn’t go over well at all. She knows they need her help. Dimilioc’s enemies are multiplying. But when she takes matters into her own hands, everything falls apart . . .

I liked the first book a great deal, but I think I like this one even better. The beginning with Justin had me intrigued where this might be going, and when I found out, I had to laugh. The Pure are always, always girls . . . but he’s Pure and very definitely male. Even Ezekiel is thrown off-balance. And Justin, of course, who never, ever suspected he might be anything but ordinary, is finding the extremely violent black dogs a very hard sell.

I like how similar Justin is to Natividad, and yet how different. I like how NICE the two of them are, which is unfortunately not a trait I see often in characters. They’re both strong-willed, independent, but still gentle, compassionate, encouraging. And they might not be the ones ripping off heads or tearing out spines, but they’ve still got a lot of fight in them (and Natividad, at least, is pushing her gift into territories Dimilioc has never seen—although there are also hints it may not all be good).

This book picks up some of the troubles from the first book and widens the world yet again, as we finally meet some of those other black dog houses. It helps give the sense of how Dimilioc is rather different even from its own. And since not everything wrapped up by the end of this story, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of certain characters in the future.

All in all, this is an excellent sequel that doesn’t lose any steam. If you haven’t read the first book, this one is probably still readable, but you’ll spoil yourself on a ton of things, so go back and read Black Dog first. I rate this book Recommended.

Black Dog Short Stories (Black Dog #1.5)

Title: Black Dog Short Stories

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #1.5

Natividad wants to go Christmas shopping, but not with Keziah.

Miguel plots how he can rid Dimilioc of the black dog who thinks humans are mere servants.

Thaddeus and Grayson are on a mission to clean up strays, but Thaddeus hits an unexpected crisis of conscience.

Ezekiel has been the executioner for Thos for years, but what happens when Thos gives an order he doesn’t want to obey?

The first three of these four short stories are a direct followup to the events of Black Dog, where the last one is a prequel. I liked all four of them, although the last is probably my favorite. Since these are short stories, there isn’t a lot I can say without spoiling things. If you like the world of Black Dog, these are well worth a read. If you skip from the first novel to the second without reading this, you’ll miss a bit of what happened in between, but nothing major.

I rate this book Recommended.

Black Dog (Black Dog #1)

Title: Black Dog

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #1

Natividad and her brothers are on the run after the death of their parents, heading north to the one place that might—or might not—offer enough protection for them to survive. Dimilioc is home to the black dog clan that exiled their father. Natividad hopes its Master can be convinced. But Dimilioc is not what any of them expects . . .

I don’t want to say too much and spoil this. It was not at all the story I expected, but I loved it. Black dogs are superficially similar to werewolves (although they have their own name, moon-bound, for those who only shift at the full moon), but they have a curious relationship with their demonic shadows. The shadows turn them into black dogs with blazing eyes and an endless appetite for violence and destruction. That propensity pushes at them even in human form, making them surly and aggressive, and very sensitive to the nuances of dog behaviors. I really like the depth to the culture. Alejandro, Natividad’s older brother, is a black dog and provides a good window into how they think, and the points from Navitidad and Miguel (her human brother) underlines how their natures are just fundamentally different from a regular human.

And as black dogs are intrinsically violent, the story can get messy very quickly. Which amused me to no end. These are not nice fights between civilized creatures, but rather savage butchery where the goal is to rip off the enemy’s head or rip out his spine so he can’t shift to shake off the wounds. In other words, if you’re looking for fluffy happy innocent shapeshifters, this is not your book.

I liked the characters a lot too. Natividad is no physical powerhouse like her brother Alejandro, but she’s got magic and bravery and cleverness. Miguel, too, is much more than just a hanger-on, despite being fully human. He becomes as indispensable as his siblings. And the black dogs of Dimilioc are fascinating. Violent, absolutely, but possibly also creatures that can be reasoned with. Except they ARE black dogs, and Natividad is still figuring out what they will and won’t tolerate.

Overall this is a fast-paced read that totally sidesteps traditional urban fantasies about werewolves. The characters are strong, the world is unique, and I absolutely want to see where we go from here. I rate this book Recommended.

07-Ghost (anime)

Title: 07-Ghost
Episodes: 1-25

Teito Klein is a sklave (military slave) of the Barsburg Empire. But when he stumbles across the man who killed the only father he remembers, he’s forced to flee. Sheltering in the sanctuary of the Church, which is a neutral zone, he struggles to figure out his own mind and heart, and tries to get the power for revenge.

It’s amazing to me that I can dislike the anime so much when I liked the manga a good deal. Part of the problem is the animation itself. The fights are poorly animated, with a lot of white blur effects used to hide the fact that nobody is moving or doing anything interesting. It also feels very badly paced. Fights aren’t the only time no one is doing much—most of the anime consists of two or three people standing around talking at each other. After the action-packed first episode, the series grinds almost to a halt as Teito spends most of his time thinking about things. The anime even throws in a few extra Kor to try to give Mikage time to build up as a character before things go haywire, but since those extra encounters do nothing for the plot, it doesn’t change much.

Also, where the homosexual subtext in the manga could be subtle, the anime isn’t even trying to hide it. Every small significant encounter is overplayed. I still think that the series isn’t helped by trying to make pretty much every relationship a romantic one. It downplays what could be a more interesting web of different types of relationships, like Frau treating Teito more like a mentor to a student (which he is, most of the time, and then something will happen that reminds me Frau is probably almost twice Teito’s age).

I suppose this didn’t bother me in the manga as much because I’m used to reading books, and the walls of text were laying down interesting history, worldbuilding, or mysteries to keep me engaged. In a television show format, though, it didn’t work nearly as well (although maybe some of that could have been alleviated through better shot framing and more dynamic scenes). Furthermore, the anime cuts off right after the bishop exam—which means most of the backstory and action, as well as the most interesting revelations, happens afterwards.

I did enjoy hearing the Raggs Requiem put to music, although that’s the only part of this show I can see myself going back to. It’s actually quite a nice song, and if you only read the manga, I’d encourage you to give it a listen. A version with lyrics is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhcpDInNl0U

All in all, I’m mostly disappointed in this adaptation. Given where it cuts off, plot-wise, it can’t offer any real resolution to the partial story it was trying to build, and Ayanami, although still an evil villain, feels pretty incompetent overall, as his role is mostly just to sit and look menacing. If you’re at all curious about the story in 07-Ghost, check out the manga. I rate this Not Recommended.

Goldenhand (Abhorsen #5)

Title: Goldenhand

Author: Garth Nix

Series: Abhorsen #5

When an urgent telegram sends Lirael across the Wall, she’s not expecting to run into Nicholas Sayre, or a highly-dangerous Free Magic creature. Nick said no to her, to the Old Kingdom, after they defeated Orannis several months back, choosing instead to live in Ancelstierre. Now that Nick’s changed his mind, she can’t stop thinking about him, or the wild blend of magic inside him that might be a catastrophe waiting to happen. But they may not have time to figure anything out, because a new threat is lurking . . .

This would get five stars just for Nick, but the rest of the story is quite compelling too. I like seeing an older Sabriel and Touchstone, finally in their own home (although their attempt to take a vacation ends as amusingly as one might expect). I liked Ferin, and her hard, bold ways. She makes a good contrast to Lirael, especially near the end. I liked seeing Lireal grown up in her role as Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and how that changes her relationship with the people she grew up with. (Now I’m really wanting to re-read the original trilogy to get caught up with all these people again.)

But, Nick. I love what the story does with him, and although I wish more neat stuff related to his power had come out, it’s impossible for me not to like him as a character. He’s still got a bit of his old self-assurance and charm, but he’s been humbled a lot, both from being taken over by Orannis and because he’s finally in the Old Kingdom and realizing that what the Old Kingdom lacks in mechanical technology it makes up for in magic. He’s also falling head-over-heels for Lireal (and the feeling is mutual), but he keeps getting caught in the awkwardness of new love and the much funnier awkwardness of being a total cultural outsider (the clothes bit had me laughing so hard). One minute he can be suave and then he’ll say something that totally kills the mood, or some accident will happen. And then, of course, he who did not believe at all in magic is trying to come to grips with the various flavors of it. (The bit with the bespelled sword was also amazingly funny.)

I love the worldbuilding, and the way that the characters come out through what they do. They’re all so real, so human, and the world itself is fantastic. Nick’s so new to the Old Kingdom that even the familiar bits like the Paperwings feel fresh (his reaction to riding in a plane made out of paper is great). It’s been years since Sabriel first came out, but the stories feel solid and interconnected, pulling bits from each other and shaping them in new ways. This book will work best if you’ve read most of the previous material, especially Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case, but I think there are enough light reminders of previous plot points to adequately clue in new readers.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier that Garth Nix is returning to the Old Kingdom once again, and this is a very solid followup to Abhorsen (chronologically, although Clariel was published later, it’s a prequel to Sabriel). Although everything more or less ties up, I would still love more books to come. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Time Stoppers (Time Stoppers #1)

Title: Time Stoppers

Author: Carrie Jones

Series: Time Stoppers #1

Annie Nobody is tired of being shuffled from foster home to foster home. She just wants a place where she can belong, a family that won’t throw her out, and possibly a dog. Or a rabbit. Some creature who can understand her the way humans can’t. But when she finally finds a place better than she’d ever dreamed, she has to face the horror that she’s been called upon to stand up and fight to save it . . .

Jamie is terrified of his father and his grandmother. He’s small and weak and shy, nothing at all like them. Even his unexpected rescue from them leaves him in a tenuous place: only those with magic can stay in this magical town, and Jamie has no magic. But he can’t go back. He wouldn’t survive going back, because his grandmother is actually a troll, and she’s hungry for fresh meat . . .

This was an okay story, perhaps aimed at a bit younger of an age range than I generally enjoy. There’s a somewhat heavy-handed sense of message, although it’s mostly the message that bullies are bad and you should stand up to them. I was hoping Jamie would get some kind of power of his own as well, but maybe next book.

I never really liked Eva, the dwarf girl with an extremely loud mouth and brash personality. Her self-aggrandizement just rubbed me the wrong way, especially when she insisted on taking the credit for things other people accomplished. Bloom was right to call her trollish. On the other hand, it was interesting to see Bloom, who may be magic but still struggles with figuring out who he’s supposed to be, as there are no other elves to really show him what that looks like.

All in all this was a decent read, although nothing much stood out to me one way or the other. Older readers may be a bit put off by how exaggerated most things are, but younger ones will probably like it just fine. I rate this book Recommended.

07-Ghost (manga)

Title: 07-Ghost
Volumes: 1-17 (Complete)

Ten years ago, war broke out between the Barsburg Empire and the Raggs kingdom. Teito Klein, orphaned by this event, had been pressed into service as a battle sklave for Barsburg, which made him less than popular at the military academy he attends. However, one other boy, Mikage, persists in being his friend, which leads to trouble for both of them when Teito unexpectedly runs across someone from his dimmest memories . . .

It’s hard to give a decent summary of this, because so much of the story revolves around who Teito is, what he does (and doesn’t) remember and why, and how those memories influence him to make the journey he ultimately takes. I liked it a lot as a fantasy. There’s a lot to be said for a story that spans 17 volumes but knows from the beginning where it wants to go, and doesn’t detour at all along the way. As a story, the focus on playing up possibly-romantic relationships between guys unfortunately takes away from some of the more complex relationships that are trying to develop.

I liked the layers of mystery. Teito hasn’t forgotten his origins because he was very young (about four) when everything happened, but also because his memories were deliberately locked away from him. Even that young, what he knew was dangerous. Even now, remembering the wrong thing at the wrong time could ruin everything.

And the world itself has layers. On the purely human level, the Barsburg Empire has all but wiped out the kingdom of Raggs, and they’re eager to move in on what remains. But a large part of the story is also about spiritual matters. The King of Heaven allows every soul to choose three wishes for which to live its life, and once those three are fulfilled, the soul returns to him. However, evil forces offer to grant those wishes in exchange for the soul—and they are working to lay the foundation for the return of Verloren, the god of death. Seven “ghosts” were assigned from heaven to help keep Verloren imprisoned, and Verloren’s body and soul were separately sealed. But he’s working out a plan for revival.

In the beginning, when everything is just starting to unfold, it can feel a bit random. Ayanami remains a good villain, but the Black Hawks in his group struggle to feel meaningful for a long time. I liked how Mikage—and his admonition to Teito against revenge—form a key part of Teito’s struggle, up to the very end. Teito dearly wants to honor his best friend’s wishes, but at the same time, he’s human. He wants justice for all the evil that Ayanami inflicted, as well as revenge for all the pain and suffering.

I don’t really care for the hinting at homosexual relationships in the story (especially with Frau, because he’s got to be twice Teito’s age), but as the hints stay relatively subtle it didn’t subtract much from the story for me.

The ending is really good. It had a bit more epilogue than I expected, which was nice, and it tied everything up in a surprising yet satisfying way. Which is even better considering the major twist that happened not long before that which subverted a lot of my expectations for how the series was going to turn out. I liked how characters that could have been one-offs like some of the Oaks turn into crucial players. I liked the history of the seven ghosts and how Teito has to untangle some of the things that went drastically wrong for each of them.

Overall this is a pretty good fantasy that takes a few volumes to really dig in. It’s not somethingĀ  I would consider top-tier like Fullmetal Alchemist or Kekkaishi, but it does a good job building a solid story with a number of surprises. I rate this series Recommended.

(Apologies for the glut of posts. I’ve been watching/reading some things over the past season but I don’t like to review them until I’m finished, as I would prefer to look at the overall story than just one episode or a few chapters of manga.)