Monthly Archives: July 2017

Brokedown Palace

Title: Brokedown Palace

Author: Steven Brust

Four brothers live in a crumbling Palace. When Miklós, the youngest, butts heads with his eldest brother László, he finds himself walking straight into myths. But though he journey all the way to Faerie, his heart and his destiny are with his home. Only Miklós seems willing to admit the Palace is rotting. Yet he has no idea what he’s supposed to do about it.

This was an odd book. I liked the way it balances between myth and fact, often muddling the two so much that it’s not clear where any lines ought to be drawn. The Palace is both itself and a symbol of many things, primarily the old, broken, and decaying. I liked the Palace, too. The little details about various things going wrong is almost comical in places, because the King is so determined to just keep on with his everyday life he can ignore gaping holes in the floor.

The complex relationships between the four brothers is also more of a literary bent. The story doesn’t follow events as much as the twists and turns of those relationships, as Miklós tries to escape László, then re-integrate into some kind of family (which is troublesome because he and his eldest brother have polar opposite views on some critical things, and both of them aren’t willing to give any ground). There are also two women, one that László takes as a whore and one he intends to wed, who are themselves set against each other as foils.

The problem for me is that all this literary stuff isn’t nearly as interesting as even my least favorite Vlad Taltos book. This book isn’t often funny, or full of action, and the nods to the wider world it shares with the Vlad books are either incidental or rather subtle (for instance, Brigitta’s end very obscurely ties to a familiar character, but it took out-of-book author confirmation to say for sure as the reference could have also referred to just about anything).

Overall, this will probably appeal more to those who like diving into complex family relationships and spotting various bits of symbolism. For myself, I don’t think I’m going to read it again, but I don’t mind having read it once. I rate this book Neutral.

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The Secret Country (The Eidolon Chronicles #1)

Title: The Secret Country

Author: Jane Johnson

Series: The Eidolon Chronicles #1

Ben’s plans to get himself a pair of Mongolian Fighting Fish only last as long as it takes him to save up the money. At the pet store, a cat insists on being taken home instead—and since Ben has never heard a talking cat, he gives in. Little did he suspect he had encountered the fringes of something much bigger. Another world exists alongside our own. A world of magic. A world in trouble. A world that needs Ben to help it . . .

This was a bit too young and straightforward for my tastes, but it was still a decent story. There’s no complexity to the villains or the heroes: once you’ve met someone, you can easily tell which side that person is on. (Amusingly, the only exception is Ben’s sister, but she’s not a major part of the story.)

I did like the variety of mythological creatures. There are dragons, of course, but also selkies and dryads and Gabriel’s Hounds. I particularly liked the twists in how the selkie was presented. That made much more sense than the whole sealskin thing.

I also liked that the whole destiny card doesn’t give Ben a free pass. He’s still himself, with his only real ability apparently being able to talk to magical creatures, which is something a lot of people share.

On the other hand, Ben doesn’t do a whole lot either. Mostly he’s enabling or directing others to do most of the work. I would hope a future book would involve more of his own deeds and not just the help of his friends.

All in all this sets up for a series, but the story wraps up well enough in the first book to have something that feels like an ending. I doubt I’ll continue just because it feels a little younger than the stuff I enjoy, but it isn’t a bad book. I rate this book Neutral.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1)

Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan. Unlike the stories, he’s not expecting a grand destiny or secret power to claim him. He knows where he is, who he is, and what his future is likely to hold. Then an aunt he never suspected he had shows up to claim him—and he encounters creatures of a darkness beyond this world who would destroy him . . .

This was fun on so many levels.

First, it’s incredibly self-aware of the various genre tropes that tend to crop up in books like these, and there are often little winks skewering concepts even while embracing some of them. Orphaned children discovering secret societies and great power—where have we heard that before? Right. But the fact that the story knows well enough where it’s going, and where others have gone, to poke fun at things lends an air of amusement to the whole thing. Even when it’s uncovering the fact that most of the secret world is really nasty and populated with extremely competent and deadly people who exist to stamp out the really nasty bits.

“Right,” Denizen said. “I thought this place was actually haunted or something.”
“Oh, not at all,” Darcie said brightly. “It’s just in constant danger of falling into the dark end of the universe.”
She frowned. “That’s not better, is it?”

Or bits like:

Three. Three near-death experiences. Was that a lot? How did they ever get anything done?

The horror and the humor work really well together. I can’t really read horror unless it’s screamingly funny, because something about the darkness sharpens the jokes. I loved the Tenebrae and the various bits of it that Denizen encounters. I loved the power and the Cost, and the deeper implications of it may be unstated for now but like Denizen is warned early on, there’s clearly a limit to what they can do.

“Rescue you,” Denizen said again in the same annoyed tone. “I’m here to save you from the Clockwork Three. Not”—he kicked some files out of the way—“that I’m expecting a thank-you or anything. With the kind of day I’ve been having, I expect you’ll try to kill me when I free you. Everyone else has. It won’t even be difficult. I’ve had about”—he half slid down another drift of folders, barely catching himself from pitching headlong into the circle—“ten minutes’ training since this whole debacle started.”


And the characters are so good. I liked Simon a lot, and how he proves so unexpectedly resourceful. I like his friendship with Denizen and how the two of them compliment each other. I loved Denizen’s caution, skepticism, sarcasm, and attachment to having things familiar and predictable. All of the Order that he meets is awesome in his or her own way.

It’s also well-written at a sentence level. The language is often playful, often beautiful. But the book isn’t so in love with turning a phrase that it doesn’t read swiftly. I chewed through it in one day but I think I’m going to read it again, to better appreciate the little details.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see how Denizen’s last choices change things going forward, and what happens with certain other characters I liked quite a bit. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Boy Who Knew Everything (Piper McCloud #2)

Title: The Boy Who Knew Everything

Author: Victoria Forester

Series: Piper McCloud #2

Conrad and Piper have escaped the school that held them prisoner and tried to force them to be normal. But life in the outside world can’t exactly go back to the way it used to be. Conrad has no family anymore—or none he can trust. So Piper offers hers, and for a little while, the two of them start building a home where they can use their extraordinary gifts. But an ugly mystery has been lurking, and Conrad and Piper have been destined to confront it . . .

I really enjoyed The Girl Who Could Fly, and it’s taken me far too long to actually sit down and read this. It’s equal parts hilarity and heartbreak. Conrad is far too smart to live a dull and ordinary life, but he’s also susceptible to the usual human ailments of loneliness and a hunger for love. Piper has plenty of heart, which makes her a perfect partner, but Conrad gets most of the narrative here.

And it’s so quotable. I have to skip the quotes that spoil too much, but I LOVED these:

Conrad stiffened and made no move to come closer. “Uh, Dad, you just tried to kill me, so I’m not really feeling this whole father-son thing at the moment.”

Another favorite:

“It takes talent to lose the President of the United States. Sorry, dude, can’t help you with that one.”

Conrad might be much better at head knowledge, but I love how he’s able to cut right through certain attempts at emotional manipulation and put the situation in plain language. He knows what has to be done, once he understands the situation. And in the end, he has a lot more courage than anyone except perhaps Piper expects of him.

The end leaves enough open that there’s a potential for another book, but it also wraps things up well enough that if it ended here I wouldn’t feel too sorry. (I suspect Conrad, though, is the only person capable of figuring out a way around the villain in question, and it would be interesting to see him succeed and actually kill that person.)

Overall this was a lot of fun. I’d recommend reading The Girl Who Could Fly first to get a proper background to some of the characters and the general situation, and then dive into this. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Quest to the Uncharted Lands (Solace #3)

Title: The Quest to the Uncharted Lands

Author: Jaleigh Johnson

Series: Solace #3

For the first time, the Merrow and Dragonfly kingdoms have a cooperative mission launching to explore the uncharted lands over the mountains. Stella Glass really wants to be on the ship, but since the crew is tightly restricted, she has no choice but to stow away. Then she runs into a boy who introduces unexpected complications to her journey, and a saboteur who wants the whole expedition to fail . . .

Like the other two Solace books, this one stands alone, although it has a few nods to some events that happened in Mark of the Dragonfly and The Secrets of Solace.

I liked that Stella has such a strong relationship with her parents, and her parents are good, loving parents whose care for her drives a lot of her conflicts. She can’t bear the thought of being separated from them, or possibly losing them to an unknown fate, so she determines to stow away to be reunited with them come what may in the new lands. I also liked that she’s not stupid when that affection is used against her by the villain.

Cyrus was my favorite, though. He’s secretive but not dishonest, and as Stella uncovers more of his secrets, she finds out a few things about adventures and how to react to new discoveries. I liked both who he was and what he was, and how he and Stella push each other to their best.

Overall this was an excellent addition to the Solace books, and I would love to see more. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Granblue Fantasy (Anime)

Title: Granblue Fantasy

Episodes: 1-13

Gran longs to travel the skies, following the path of his father, an adventurer who found a legendary island—or so claims his letter. The man himself never returned. Enter Lyria, a mysterious girl who falls from the sky escaping the Empire. In helping her, Gran ties their fates together, and the two of them set off on the adventure Gran has always wanted.

This isn’t going to be for everyone, but anyone who likes older JPRGs about amnesiac heroines and kind heroes is going to feel right at home. Personally, I loved it. The style is very reminiscent of a game, but it doesn’t often get bogged down in callbacks to its game. For example, some extra characters show up for the final battle in episode 12 that are almost certainly game characters, but there’s no need to know about them to appreciate a few hard-hitting nameless characters who want to spice up the final battle.

The cast is good, too. Katalina is a lieutenant in the Empire who helped Lyria escape. She’s a strong and capable woman, but doesn’t begrudge her need of others to help her with the impossible task of protecting Lyria from the rest of the Empire. I liked Rackam too. He’s a more technical guy who likes airships, but isn’t all that interested in anything more complicated than an engine problem until the Empire drags him into the whole mess. The only one I didn’t care for as much was Io, but that was more because I found her voice annoying in Japanese.

The story in these first twelve episodes doesn’t wrap much up. It’s more a gather-the-crew series of missions that drops a bit of backstory or worldbuilding here or there. I do hope the series continues (I believe a second season is likely, although I don’t see an official announcement yet.) Episode 13 is completely skippable, although possibly fun if you wanted to see a beach episode featuring the female player character Djeeta instead of Gran (it’s mostly an excuse to get all the female characters in swimsuits).

All in all, I think the first episode or two should be a good indication of whether or not you’d like the series. I enjoyed it and am hoping there will be more episodes in the future, long enough to get to the island and whatever final boss will reveal itself. I rate this show Recommended.

Nick of Time

Title: Nick of Time

Author: Julianne Q. Johnson

Nick is tired of his life. Day in and day out, he’s constantly confronted with people in need. Lost children, fires, heart attack victims—so many needs, and it never ends. Even when he tries to stay home and take a day off, trouble finds him. But life might be taking a turn for the better when he helps out a neighbor in need. She thinks they might be able to find the root of his “curse” and fix it once and for all . . .

I loved this. I like superhero stories in general, and this one is a surprisingly unique take. Nick isn’t extraordinary. He’s taken classes in martial arts and first aid because he keeps running into people with severe issues. It’s a reaction, not a drive to be a hero. And yet he is a hero, because he chooses to step in, time and again, even when this puts him inside burning houses or in front of people with guns.

He’d just really like a day off.

It’s a lot of fun to watch his “curse” in action, and how his family and friends have adapted (or not) to what’s going on in his life. It’s funny to see how heroism has basically destroyed his dating life, since he can’t hold to anything like a schedule. I also liked having a somewhat older protagonist, in his mid-30s, who has a bit more experience with life in general.

I didn’t care for the prologue/interlude as much, as I was initially puzzled at why the book I was reading started like a typical fantasy and not the modern-day superhero-who-isn’t story I was expecting from the back cover summary. I think that information might have been better as just part of the present-day narrative. I also thought it wrapped up a little fast, and a little too neatly (the curse-givers were a bit too reasonable once all the facts were on the table, for beings that don’t really care about morality at all). But it was nice to get an ending, which makes this a standalone book.

Overall this was an excellent read and one I’m sure to come back to, especially the beginning. The contrast between watching Nick save people and his own depressive attitude towards the whole thing can get really funny. I rate this book Highly Recommended.