Category Archives: Young Adult

City of Gods II: Horsemen (City of Gods #2)

Title: City of Gods II: Horsemen

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #2

The Horsemen have learned much during their time at the Academy, but now they have to face final exams. True to form, the exams aren’t easy—and some of them require involving themselves in the outside world. And after, everyone is split up as they’re sent on their first real missions . . .

I still think this is better as “kids with powers” than Horsemen specifically, the little nod to a vision of horses notwithstanding. That said, it’s still an interesting world, and each of the kids gets a lot of opportunity to develop.

In some ways this feels like a novella about the final exams, followed by the first half of a book about their first missions. That’s not a bad thing—both stories rotate between all four Horsemen and the split means things can go in several directions. One of the missions, for example, is directly built on an exam.

I like that Gunnar’s challenge is more about leadership, because he’s not really used to working with others still, much less the people who actually end up by his side. And I liked that Rowan isn’t quite as one-dimensional as he’s seemed (I usually love berserkers, but Rowan being an arrogant bully cancelled that out). I liked that Saoirse picked up the biggest incongruity about the minotaurs and is clever in playing to her strengths. I liked that Kayana gets challenged over her sociopathic tendencies, because Tommy and Cassander show her she may be extremely intelligent but she’s operating from a bad set of assumptions about humanity. And Tommy not only has a chance to be more of a leader himself, he’s got hints about the shape of his destiny that intrigue me.

Some of the characters felt a bit weaker, though. Cassander sometimes comes across as less of a character and more of a mouthpiece, and I dearly hope Kayana’s “overpopulation is the problem” confronts the reality that people can be jerks just fine even if they have all their material needs met.

Overall, though, this is still a really unique setting that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s fun to see Apaches and Celts and Spartans and Amazons and so much more all vying for attention. There’s enough tech to be a light sci-fi while of course the gods provide a lot of magic. I rate this book Recommended.

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City of Gods: Hellenica (City of Gods #1)

Title: City of Gods: Hellenica

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #1

In a world where gods and mortals squabble over a constantly changing set of countries, Hellenica has dared to try something different. They have chosen 16 different beings with their various powers to train as peacemakers. People who might be able to change the status quo. Of those, the wildcards are the four Horsemen, whose powers no one fully understands and whose destiny points towards great things . . .

I’ll be honest—I really enjoyed this as a story about kids with powers, but I think the kids with powers shouldn’t have been associated with the Horsemen. For one, the White Knight doesn’t appear to be Conquest, but reminds me more of the rider from Revelation 19:11-16, which has imagery depicting someone with powerful speech. Also Pestilence is used here, which has a very interesting set of powers but doesn’t technically seem to jibe with the descriptions of Revelation 6:1-8, which reads more like Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. The only reason this MATTERS to me is because we are talking about various gods and legends, and by and large everyone else fits pretty well into their source material (I was highly amused to see Dagon show up. Talk about obscure deities).

That’s also what trips me up on some of the other details. We have Horsemen, who are part of Christian doctrine, but they have no horses. They don’t even seem aware of the existence of God, with the possible exception of Tommy, but there’s no indication Tommy actually BELIEVES in the faith of his hospital. Saoirse even worships a completely different goddess. They not only don’t have horses, there seems to be no need or desire for them. So again, this really works well as kids with powers, but I have a ton of trouble buying these are actually the Horsemen. I don’t really care that two of them got gender-flipped to female to provide a balanced team. The other things bugged me more.

Once I decided to pretend these weren’t actually the Horsemen but rather just a bunch of kids with interesting powers, I could enjoy the rest of the story a lot more. There’s a good mix of personalities as well as powers. Tommy’s kind and caring nature is at odds with the fact that he’s basically a walking vector for every disease known to man (and probably will accidentally invent new ones if that’s what it takes to infect someone). Kayana is highly intelligent but absolutely clueless about the workings of normal humanity and tends to view things in a very black-and-white manner. Saoirse has very ill-defined powers, but being raised as a high-class prostitute has left her attentive to the subtleties of humanity, and she prefers to avoid conflict and seek to talk her way out of problems. Gunnar feels like he got the short end of the stick. He’s Spartan, raised in a culture of war, and a pit fighter—but apart from a few glossed over fights at the start most of his matches do little to highlight any unusual skill or any kind of power. I was particularly miffed at the bout with the Amazon near the end. They don’t have any divine power, and he should, so why couldn’t it have turned out a bit differently?

Gunnar’s the one I hope develops the most, as nothing he’s really done so far has hinted at him being anything different than a Spartan, except the mystery of what he did with his rite for adulthood that has cast him out of Spartan society.

Overall I did enjoy this. It was fun to see so many different cultures and gods represented, even though the story mostly picks a few varied examples rather than try to handle absolutely everything. The friendship between the four main characters is growing, and if this book is any indication the story will continue to unfold in unexpected ways. I rate this book Recommended.

(And if you want a less ambiguous take on the Horsemen, I highly recommend Riders, by Veronica Rossi.)

The Men of the Kingdom Part I (Overlord #5)

Title: The Men of the Kingdom Part I

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #5

Brain Ungulus is a shattered man after his encounter with Shalltear Bloodfallen. But Gazef Stronoff, his old rival, might be what he needs to get on his feet again. In the castle, Princess Renner is mostly useless, but she has a very devoted servant in Climb, who will do anything for her. Sebas and Solution are in the country simply to gather information, but Sebas’s kind nature soon gets him in trouble with the local criminals. When Climb’s path intersects with Sebas, Climb gets a glimpse of ultimate power . . .

This novel has fun moments, but by and large it’s mostly setting the stage for what happens in part 2. I like seeing some of the fallout from things like Brain’s fight with an enemy he absolutely couldn’t beat. Similarly, it’s interesting to compare Brain and Climb’s reactions to Sebas. Brain can’t help but compare Sebas to Shalltear, but Climb’s one-track mind allows him a different perspective.

Of course the best moments by far are watching Sebas take down a tiny corner of a corrupt organization. When the butler gets mad, the butler proves he’s just as capable of smashing in heads as anyone in Nazarick (and he’ll continue to look classy while doing it). My only regret is that there’s nothing even approaching a threat big enough to cause him to reveal his alternate dragon form (mentioned in book 3, but so far has yet to make an appearance even through book 11).

Sebas is also easy to feel sorry for because he’s the one person at Nazarick with something approaching basic human decency. He was the creation of Touch Me, who besides being the strongest person in the original game, was also the one who brought the guild together because of his compassion towards players who were having a hard time. Sebas inherited that desire to help the suffering (although he does have a condition I like: they have to be willing to struggle themselves. If they’re just not strong enough, that’s something he’ll help with, but if they’re not even going to try, he’s not going to bother). But he’s surrounded at Nazarick with a host of beings who don’t think like he does, and after Shalltear’s betrayal, aren’t willing to trust anything that looks like disloyalty . . .

Overall this novel drags on a bit. It’s unfortunate that even the bits about Sebas and Brain don’t really carry the long passages about Climb and Renner. Hopefully this will be part of what’s animated for season 2, which is due to start airing in January. That should help significantly by cutting out all the description in favor of visuals, therefore truncating the more boring parts for the actual fun. At any rate, though, since this does set up the next book, it’s not really skippable in order to understand some of what goes on there. I rate this book Recommended.

Fire on the Mountain (Mountain Trilogy #2)

Title: Fire on the Mountain

Author: Michelle Isenhoff

Series: Mountain Trilogy #2

Quon knows he’s not cut out for his father’s trade of making carriages, but when an accident with horrific consequences strands him, he has no idea what to do. Taking up the offer of an old man, he agrees to journey and learn . . . and eventually to become a hero. A mighty dragon is terrorizing the villages in the mountains, but Quon is destined to defeat it. Or is he?

This is technically a sequel, although almost everything in this book happens before the first one, so the only difference is readers will walk into this knowing how Quon’s quest has to end. And that makes everything just a little tragic, because Quon’s mistakes and triumphs and growth are ultimately pointed towards a different end than anyone he knows expects.

I like the setting, once again. It’s a fantasy vision of rural, historical China, and Quon lives as many kinds of laborer as he’s working his way towards defeating the dragon. It’s interesting to see how many of his decisions have reverberations throughout his life, and the lives of others.

It’s also nice to see a bit more of Song Wei and what became of him after the end of Song of the Mountain, though it amounts to little more than a good epilogue for his earlier quest.

Overall this could easily be stand alone, even though it will help to have read the first one just to understand more of the very beginning and very end. I rate this book Recommended.

Dragon Defender (Dragon Defense League #1)

Title: Dragon Defender

Author: J.A. Blackburn

Series: Dragon Defense League #1

Peter Clark is not really an adventurous sort—unless you count building robots. But when an uncle he didn’t know about shows up on his twelfth birthday, he learns his mother’s disappearance is connected to an unexpected legacy with dragons. Now he’s running around South America looking for a dragon egg . . .

This was pretty good, although it relied a little too heavily on circumstances being favorable for my tastes. Peter might be an approachable lead, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of skills to offer (the awesome car battery scene aside). He picks up two companions fairly quickly, though. I don’t care much for Xana, whose main contribution appears to be that she’s rich and has parents who don’t care if she runs around in a dangerous place unsupervised. Similarly, Mario is almost a bit too good when his introduction paints him as a kid who has had a very hard life and turned to crime to support himself.

Those are comparatively minor quibbles, though. The dragons are the main point of the book, and those are a lot of fun. I like that there are multiple types, with their own habitats, and in some cases ties to local folklore. And the particular dragon this book is tracking down isn’t exactly typical. Given what ends up happening, I am curious to see how Peter interacts with other dragons in the future.

As might be expected, the first book is in large part setting up a series to come. I am curious to see how the larger story unfolds. It would be nice if the bad guys aren’t so one-dimensional, but given everything else this book was doing there wasn’t a lot of room for that here. I rate this book Recommended.

Song of the Mountain (Mountain Trilogy #1)

Title: Song of the Mountain

Author: Michelle Isenhoff

Series: Mountain Trilogy #1

Song aches to know about his family. His parents have died, and he lives with his grandfather, who refuses to speak of them. But without knowing his past, how can Song know his future? Then a dragon shows up, and Song realizes there is more to both his past and his future than he ever expected . . .

I really liked this. The story is set in an alternate historical China (with bits of fantasy, such as a fire-breathing dragon). The setting builds in a natural way, and the description never stalls describing things that would be unfamiliar to a Western audience. Instead it’s all presented as Song experiences it.

Song himself is interesting in a couple of ways. His focus on wanting to know his own history is understandable, but it’s also unique because he feels he doesn’t have a future without knowing his family history. It’s less a personal grief and more of a cultural expectation. That said, he’s also the only one making a big deal of it. The villagers may or may not care about their own ancestors, but Song isn’t close enough to any of them for a direct comparison.

I’m not sure what to make of Nori’s ending. I don’t quite believe what Song believes actually happened, and I don’t have much sympathy for her in any case. At least Song comes to his senses about her sooner rather than later.

Overall this is a somewhat short read but a good one. I rate this book Recommended.

Joss the Seven (Guild of Sevens #1)

Title: Joss the Seven

Author: J. Philip Horne

Series: Guild of Sevens #1

Joss wasn’t expecting anything strange the day he found a note in his locker. But the note led to some experiments with entirely unexpected results. Joss has superpowers. And there’s a Guild of probably-good guys and an equally mysterious bunch called the Mockers who both want to control him. Or maybe just kill him. Either way, he’s in over his head . . .

I really liked this. The seven forms of superpowers are a lot of fun, and offer a lot of potential for mischief. Ghosting through solid objects is one of my favorites (shapeshifting would be my favorite, but that doesn’t come up much in this book). Joss is in some ways blinded by his own determination to learn, as he tries to soak up everything his parents might have known but never told him.

The pacing stays fast throughout. Joss careens from one adventure to the next, and the web around him grows more complicated. We don’t get a lot of answers here about the big picture, but that’s fine, as this is setting up for future mayhem.

Overall this is a fun, fast read. I am very curious where things will go from here on out. The Guild’s next move could change a lot of things. I rate this book Recommended.