Monthly Archives: May 2018

Talons of Power (Wings of Fire #9)

Title: Talons of Power

Author: Tui T. Sutherland

Series: Wings of Fire #9

Darkstalker has returned from his two-millennium sleep. Turtle is certain this is a disaster, but he’s having trouble convincing other dragons. Darkstalker can be charming, but more importantly, he’s an animus, mind-reader, and can see the future. Turtle tries to recruit allies of his own and gather proof that his suspicions are well-founded.

This is probably the weakest book of the series so far, because it’s entirely setup for the next one (and that ending looks really bad for certain dragons). Turtle’s struggle is with how useless he feels, and how much he wants to blend into the background. This is a combination of poor physical abilities, wanting to hide his magic, and a traumatic event when he was younger that resulted in the deaths of his unborn sisters. But as an animus, and someone who acted immediately to keep Darkstalker’s attention (and therefore magic) away from him, Turtle is the only one capable of doing anything against Darkstalker.

But the “doing something” mostly involves following Darkstalker at a distance and praying for someone else to step in and be the hero. Animus magic has always been unbalanced but it’s frustrating that Darkstalker is just so massively overpowered.

Overall this is a necessary next step for the story but it isn’t as engaging as the ones that came before. I rate this book Recommended.

Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles #1)

Title: Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: The Numair Chronicles #1

Arram Draper is the youngest student at the University of Carthak. Thanks to his powerful Gift and boundless curiosity, he’s learning more than he ever could have imagined. And he’s even found unlikely friendships with two other prodigies: Ozorne, who has connections to the Imperial family, and Varice, who wants to specialize in kitchen magics. But underneath everyday life at the university, sinister plots are brewing against the Imperial line.

This is the magical equivalent to the Alanna and Kel series. Arram’s magical curriculum actually has fairly little detail aside from the class names and broad generalities about what he studies. There isn’t much more here about how the Gift works or the techniques people use. What the story focuses on is more the school life, and the types of assignments Arram takes on, like learning healing firsthand at a plague center when disease strikes.

It helps to have read the Daine quartet beforehand but isn’t strictly necessary. Ozorne is a good friend to Arram, but he’s got some noticeable personality flaws that only worsen as the other heirs start dying off and pushing him closer to the throne. And his mother is crazy (possibly from grief, or possibly she’s just always been cracked), but she has enough power that no one can do anything about it.

I especially liked the mythological bits that sneak in, like Enzi, the male crocodile god. He’s probably helping Arram, in his own way, but he’s also a crocodile with a crocodile sense of humor. Preet, of course, is another highlight. I don’t wonder that she’s getting as educated as Arram in all the classes she attends with him.

I disliked the whole “let’s have a sex education talk” bit at the beginning. The book’s barely started, and pretty much the first thing that happens is Arram having erections and going through puberty. Given that the rest of the book is him so wrapped up in his studies he’s barely noticing girls, it’s especially out of place. I’m here to read an adventure, not a sex ed lecture.

Some of the cameos felt a little forced, too, although some of them were fun nods. I think the Coopers show up as the authors of three different books. Another character wasn’t obvious until his name gets revealed, and once that happens the story switches to using the more familiar name.

Overall this is another mostly solid chapter of backstory. There isn’t a whole lot done or resolved in this book, as it’s mostly Arram’s continuing education, but it’s setting up a number of things that will be more important down the road. I rate this book Recommended.

Have Sword, Will Travel

Title: Have Sword, Will Travel

Author: Garth Nix and Sean Williams

When Odo and Eleanor go fishing for eels in the drying up Silverrun river, they never expected to find a sword. Odo accidentally woke it up, which is how they discovered Biter was not just a sword, but an enchanted sword with very firm ideas about the knight who would wield him.

This was okay. Odo is the cautious and strong side of the partnership, whereas Eleanor is the quick and clever. Odo is also the one who doesn’t care about going on an adventure, which of course means he’s the one to end up with Biter. Between Biter and Eleanor, he doesn’t have a chance to say no.

I liked the unexpected way Eleanor’s jealousy played out. Both of them are hoping Biter can be convinced to take another master eventually, but then Eleanor tries to take matters into her own hands and ends up with a possible curse to figure out. And when they meet a female knight, both of them realize it’s not going to be as easy as letting someone else go after the dragon blocking the river.

Biter has as much personality as both kids. His insistence on doing things according to knightly rules can be amusing.

I do find myself rolling my eyes at the second confrontation with the knight. The kids have had mere days of training, and that while on the road. Sure, the enchanted weapon helps, but the victory is implied to be skill-based, not random luck. Perhaps I’m spoiled by my recent reading, which featured a much more in-depth depiction of the skills required to make a knight.

Overall this isn’t bad, but it didn’t really grab me either. I rate this book Recommended.

 

The Steel of Raithskar (The Gandalara Cycle #1)

Title: The Steel of Raithskar

Author: Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron

Series: The Gandalara Cycle #1

Ricardo is a university professor nearing the end of his life. A terminal diagnosis has led him to take a cruise around Europe, but his planned vacation ends with the fiery impact of a meteor. But he wakes up, on another world, in another body. Another life. A second chance. But living means taking on the identity of Markasset, the former owner of that body, and Markasset had problems of his own . . .

I read this once years ago and never got around to finishing the series, so I thought I’d give it another go.

The characters can be pretty thin. Illia, Markasset’s girlfriend, is probably the worst drawn of the main cast. She’s beautiful and interested in Markasset, and that is the extent of her characterization. Zaddorn, the police chief that Ricardo inadvertently crosses, is better but still fairly straightforward: he wants to recover the stolen jewel and thinks Markasset either did it or has answers about what happened. Thanasset, Markasset’s father, has the most depth. He recognizes immediately that his son is not the same, although he’s also remarkably quick to come to terms with his son’s death.

The plot is a bit better. Ricardo tries to analyze the new world in which he finds himself, piecing together what clues he notices to try to figure out who he is supposed to be, and later on, what happened to the jewel that was stolen. He can’t even say with any certainty that the body he wears now DIDN’T do it. And I liked that although Zaddorn is an antagonist, Ricardo has a great deal of sympathy for the man, as he’s only trying to do his job.

I also liked Keeshah, the gigantic cat that Markasset had bonded. In this dry, desert world, the cats are used as mounts by those who have bonded them (everyone else goes on foot). It’s a little strange to me that a meat-eater would be the largest creature in the desert, but I do like the relationship between him and Keeshah. The cat, of course, knows that Ricardo is not Markasset. But Keeshah’s trust opens a number of opportunities for Ricardo, not the least of which is the ability to get from place to place much faster than anyone else.

Overall I’m ambivalent on the series so far. I’m not particularly fond of any of the characters except Keeshah, but the plot was decent, and the book is short enough that it’s not a slog. I rate this book Neutral.

 

Summer’s Fall (Of Cats and Dragons #3)

Title: Summer’s Fall

Author: Carol E. Leever and Camilla Ochlan

Series: Of Cats and Dragons #3

Omen’s penchant for adventure has been tempered by Kyr. Taking care of his older-little brother is enough of a handful, even without two talking cats that cheerfully complicate life even more. But when Tormy is recruited to help solve a kidnapping, Omen ends up on another adventure, like it or not . . .

I received an advance copy and was asked to give an honest review. I bought the book anyway because I loved it.

These books just keep getting funnier. It’s hard to tell how much of the cats’ innocence is real and how much is an act. They certainly know how to cause trouble (as Dev notes, anyone with less connections and wealth than Omen’s family would probably go bankrupt trying to care for Tormy). The scene where Fog, another talking cat, comes to recruit Tormy for a “secret mission” was my favorite part, but pretty much everything they do is great fun.

I love Omen’s new awkwardness in trying to take care of Kyr. He wants so badly to give Kyr everything Kyr was missing, and has no idea how to deal with Kyr’s ramblings. As a reader, it’s fairly obvious that Kyr is seeing things on multiple levels at once, but Kyr can’t distinguish between what only he can see and what everyone can see.

Templar returns! I love how he and Omen play off each other. The new additions to the adventure are equally intriguing. Devastation Machelli looks to have a backstory just as interesting as Omen and Templar, for all that he’s not sharing much of it yet. Dev’s lackadaisical attitude and finely-tuned ability to annoy people made me laugh, especially because his target of choice is Avarice. I love the names in this family. Shalonie provides some much-needed level-headedness and the general smarts to balance out the boys.

And Devastation is just the best. He’s turned trolling into an art form.

“Surely you’ve already told my mother everything there is to say,” he groused. “You can’t possibly have anything more to tell her.”
Dev’s lips twitched upward as he continued to write. “You are correct,” he agreed mildly. “I don’t think she’ll ever use the term ‘excruciating detail’ around me again.”
Omen blinked at him in shock. “You’re purposely annoying my mother by writing nonsense to her?”
“Oh, we passed annoying days ago,” Dev replied.

The action scenes remain strong, too. A gigantic sea monster nicknamed the Widow Maker has shown up off the coast of Melia, and it has a particular interest in Kyr. But Omen and Kyr need to get past it somehow to complete their quest. This is a difficult fight since their opponent is monstrously big, out in the ocean, and attacks mentally as well as physically.

Overall, this is just the first part of the quest line, but it introduces several engaging new characters and sets up an epic adventure. You could technically start with this book but I would encourage you to read the first two books because they’re amazing and will help set the stage. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Three (Forsaken Sons #1)

Title: The Three

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Forsaken Sons #1

Benaiah doesn’t fit in. Half-human, half-angel, with looks that mark him a foreigner to the Israelites among which he lives, he scrapes out a living. But a single choice grants him unexpected opportunity—and the potential for deadly peril. His life tangles with a young shepherd boy named David, and soon Beneniah has a mission, a purpose, and a growing collection of misfits . . .

I loved this. It’s the story of a boy caught between worlds by his father’s choice. Lonely, weary, and uncertain, Ben is just trying to live as best he can. I liked the difficulty he has in being a leader. He stumbles multiple times in front of those he’d rather impress. And as half-Messenger, he’s not exactly cut out to be a warrior. Or a Captain, with the lives of others under his hand. But being a leader is about more than being the strongest—which ironically is what David also reveals to him, time and again.

Aleff cocked his head to one side to admire the final effect. “Scars tell a warrior’s story for him.”
“Mine all say, ‘frequently in need of rescue.’”

Although this is in some ways historical fiction, the majority of the story is following the angelic side. So even familiar stories like David and Goliath feel fresh, as it offers an angel’s-eye-view of the proceedings. I really liked David, too. He’s so personable but also young, and not all that wise in some ways.

And the three Benaiah goes to collect are also amusing. I like that they all add something different to the growing group, different personalities and skills . . . and different ways they were broken by who they are. Benaiah isn’t the only one terrified of his father, or fiercely determined not to follow his Fall. And they are just such great fun.

Josheb tugged at his chin. “What can you do, Shammah?”
“Destroy things.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“I am unstoppable.” Shammah’s delicate fingers knotted together. “Stopping is difficult.”

Overall this was another excellent adventure. It fits into the wider world the Threshold series established but this is a perfectly fine place to begin. I rate this Highly Recommended.

Trickster’s Queen (Daughter of the Lioness #2)

Title: Trickster’s Queen

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Daughter of the Lioness #2

Aly has chosen to stay with the family who bought her and freed her. But the Copper Isles are uneasy. Sarai and Dove and the twice-royal spoken of in ancient prophecy, and the raka mean to rise to put them on the throne. The current regents don’t know the full story, but they can see the attention the girls are getting from the raka, and they don’t like it. With the political situation rapidly deteriorating, Aly will need all of her skills to push the revolution into a path that will not only succeed, but won’t rip apart the Isles in the process . . .

I liked this one better than the previous. Aly’s skills are still sharp, but not quite so oversized, and the Trickster isn’t meddling in such annoying ways anymore. Also, with an entire island chain to destabilize, Aly’s finding herself in more of a position of desk work than field work. She has to direct the rebels who have trained for this and teach them the best ways to go after their targets.

There’s also some dissension in her camps. Nawat, tired of his uselessness in a city compared to the country, leaves for other islands where the crows can do more to help. Aly tries not to let his loss shake her, but she’s frustrated with him and herself.

I liked Taybur Sibigat. He’s not exactly on Aly’s side, but he’s not exactly an enemy either. He’s sworn to protect the four-year-old king. Since Aly’s plans involve deposing said king so the country can get rid of his regents, she’s uncertain what to do about him long-term. But her plans involve far more than the little monarch. They have a weird sort of rivalry going that’s a lot of fun to watch.

The plotting takes a long time to bear its ultimate fruit, with several surprises along the way. I rate this book Recommended.

Trickster’s Choice (Daughter of the Lioness #1)

Title: Trickster’s Choice

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Daughter of the Lioness #1

Sixteen-year-old Aly has no concrete plans for her life. The daughter of Alanna, the realm’s first female knight in over a hundred years, and George, the King of the Rouge, with a bevy of famous figures surrounding her, she’s feeling pressure to not just do something, but do something extraordinary. Unfortunately, the only type of work she wants to do George adamantly refuses—being a spy is dangerous and often deadly work. Then she gets captured and sold as a slave, a god co-opts her for his own games, and she’ll need all of her skills to keep herself and her new masters alive.

I don’t like Aly much as a heroine. She’s a bratty, self-centered teenager at the start, without the drive that has shaped the various protagonists so far. Worse, she’s incredibly skilled pretty much from page one, which leaves her very little room to grow except personality-wise (which never happens). I would be a little more sympathetic to the whole “finding your place in the world” plotline if her character actually changed in a noticeable way. Her best realization is when she figures out her habit of toying with boys because she liked getting kisses (but quickly bored of the boy and moved on) was actually not a great thing.

The plot is somewhat better. Aly, stripped of her homeland, friends, and family, is plotting how to escape when the trickster god Kyprioth makes a wager with her: if she can keep the family who bought her alive for a summer, he’ll return her home. So from then on it’s more about her setting up her own little kingdom, where she’s recruiting members of the household and surrounding country into her cause. But again, because the god meddled, Aly isn’t operating under too many restraints. Her masters allow her to do pretty much anything she wants, since they know she has the backing of a god (even if they are confused about which one).

Nawat is the best part of the book. A crow walking around in human form, he’s got a crow’s way of looking at the world. Which can get really funny when he tries courting Aly with a crow’s methods, like offering to feed her bugs.

I also did like the more delicate spy’s work. Compared to Alanna, who mostly struggled to beat her problems, Aly must approach things from the side, and do much of what she does through other people. The political situation frequently changes, and what it all means to the conspiracy also shifts. As Aly’s new family draws closer to the throne, the plots against them become deadlier and more consequential.

Overall this isn’t bad from a plot perspective but stumbles more on its characters (except Nawat, although even he doesn’t seem to have a reason for being in love with Aly). It was an okay read but I wish Aly was a less perfect character, and that being enslaved actually meant something more than an excuse to keep her from going home. I rate this book Recommended.

Lady Knight (Protector of the Small #4)

Title: Lady Knight

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Protector of the Small #4

Kel has earned her shield, and now that war has broken out, she’s heading straight for the border with Scanra. But instead of fighting on the front lines, she’s given charge of a refugee camp. Her frustrations with her post are ignored by her commanders. She’s also troubled by the vision she saw in her Ordeal of the man behind the strange machines that are wrecking havoc on the army. The Chamber said it was her duty to stop him. But how can she do anything if she’s stuck away from the fighting?

This almost feels a bit too long. The majority of the plot is Kel’s work in the refugee camp, and how she’s working to build it out and manage hundreds of civilians, some of which are very unhappy to be under her command. Given what we’ve already seen about her visions in the Chamber of Ordeals, how this eventually shakes out regarding the mastermind is easy to see, so it feels like it takes a really long time to get there.

On the other hand, the refugee camp is a good test of all the abilities she learned from Raoul. She’s acting as a commander, not a combatant, for most of the book. When she finally does face the decision to go and fight, she’s risking following the vision directly against orders. I liked that the Yamani traditions that have been such a strength to her throughout in this case actually work against her. It’s also a challenge to her to obey, but not blindly. But ignoring orders means being willing to take the consequences. When she was a page she only risked repeating four years of training. Now that she’s a knight, the consequences are a lot more serious.

Overall this is a decent end, but not one I’m particularly excited to reread. I rate this book Recommended.

Squire (Protector of the Small #3)

Title: Squire

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Protector of the Small #3

Kel has become a squire, but she has a problem: no knight will have her. But the waiting comes to an end with an unexpected opportunity. No less than Sir Raoul claims her. She’ll get to travel with the King’s Own as they deal with natural disasters, bandits, and possible war. And at the end of four years, the Chamber of Ordeals beckons. . .

This is my favorite Kel book. I’ve liked Raoul since the Alanna books, and this gives a much better look at him. I like the detail that he won’t drink because he implies he’s been an alcoholic in the past (which makes this book one of the ONLY fantasies I’ve read with an alcoholic who isn’t actively drinking). He’s big and strong and kind, but also the sort to go headlong into whatever disaster has cropped up. He’s a great mentor for Kel in so many ways, and her position at his side throws her immediately into the thick of things.

It’s also interesting that her best friend Neal ends up with Alanna. Neal, as a Gifted healer, is a better fit for Alanna anyway, but that doesn’t stop Kel from struggling with the death of her old dream. I do really like that Kel comes to terms with this well enough to recognize that she and Neal got the best possible mentors for who they are, even if it’s not what they thought they wanted.

I’m also fond of how Joren’s bullying ultimately worked out. He’s been behaving a lot differently to Kel’s face, although he still seems up to his usual tricks behind her back. But to become a knight means more than just getting through eight years of training. I like that in this world being a knight actually means something more than being nobility who could afford the training.

The griffin is interesting, as Kel gains another companion (more like pet) she didn’t choose, who comes with major problems. In this case, it’s that she can’t foist his care off on anyone else, so she’s stuck trying to do her duties and care for a very demanding baby.

Kel’s fumbling around with relationships here, although she doesn’t go beyond a few stolen kisses with Cleon (who, by the by, is betrothed already to someone else, but thinks it’s fine to continue this relationship because he plans to break it off with the other girl). I appreciate that she never gets around to actually sleeping with him, but the story can’t keep itself from directly speaking against those who decide to wait until marriage to have sex, comparing it to horse breeders who want to keep their lines pure. I’m frustrated these books keep emphasizing terrible arguments against waiting until marriage to have sex and staying faithful to your spouse.

Overall, though, this is a solid read, and provides an engaging next part to Kel’s adventures. I rate this book Recommended.