Tag Archives: dragons

The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon #1)

Title: The Shadow of Black Wings

Author: James Calbraith

Series: The Year of the Dragon #1

Bran is a young dragon rider eager to graduate from the Academy and go on with the rest of his life—even if he’s not too sure what he wants to do. A journey taken with his father on a ship bound for places he’s never heard of sounds like a good start. But destiny has some marked him for something else . . .

The land of Yamato is more isolated than the Qin behind their barrier. An island unreachable by most sailors, it nonetheless contains a civilization to rival the rest of the world. But strange divinations foretell great changes. A shrine maiden and her best friend, a female samurai, are more involved than they suspect in the turmoil to come.

I really liked this, but the book suffers greatly from a lack of cohesion. The worldbuilding is excellent, picturing an alternate-history where Bran, who is from either Scotland or Wales (I never looked up what the new names referred to), finds himself on a sea voyage that takes him all the way to China and Japan. Along the way we see various kinds of dragons and magic, and the ways different cultures approach them both. The majority of the beginning and middle is devoted to this, with the greater plot only picking up at the end.

The biggest flaw is that the narrative doesn’t flow well at all. The initial scenes put a great deal of emphasis on Bran’s time at school and the bully that torments him. Both of these things drop out of the story after he graduates (hopefully they’ll surface in a future book so the time spent developing them wasn’t wasted). Then the sea voyage is less of a journey and more of a series of vignettes about various places Bran sees along the way (and the frequent switches from Bran’s point of view to his father’s don’t help much). Then we switch to Yamato and spend a good amount of time setting things up there before the story ever circles back around and connects the two threads. And the story cuts off in the middle of rising action, with nothing resembling a climax, even a minor one.

The ending may be less of a problem if you read the bundle, since I presume the second book will pick up immediately after this one left off. But whether or not you enjoy the book is probably going to come down to how much you like exploring the world, as the rest of the story feels like it needed another draft. I would have preferred alternating chapters between Bran and the girls, as it would have allowed the moment their stories merge to come much closer to the event that caused it.

Overall, I suspect I’ll keep going with this, because I do like it, but you’re probably better off getting the first book while it’s free and sampling it that way. I rate this book Neutral.

The Red Winter (The Tapestry #5)

Title: The Red Winter

Author: Henry H. Neff

Series: The Tapestry #5

Having successfully defended Rowan from Prusias, the alliance is now ready to go on the offensive. Prusias, the seven-headed dragon/demon who claims rule of the world, must be defeated. Worse, the victory must come at the place that is the seat of his power. And always, in addition to Prusais’s menace, David, Max, and Mina must grapple with the mysterious Astaroth before his plans can come to fruition.

I can’t think of a more perfect cap to this startling and excellent series. Max, the Hound of Rowan, the son of the Celtic sun-god Lugh, is still discovering what his heritage means. Pursued by ruthless assassins that are actually his own clones, discovering new aspects to his power, and faced with impossible decisions, he may be Rowan’s great savior . . . or its destruction. David and Mia similarly uncover new depths of character, but my favorite has always been Max. Demigods that actually portray some fragment of the vastness and horror that an actual god might possess are rare in fiction, and Max has the unique challenge of integrating his humanity into his divinity, lest he become something worse than Prusias. “Never summon a god into the world,” he’s warned. And that warning is accurate.

I do wish I had reread the previous books before this one, because the story is both vast and sweeping as well as close, tying up a lot of the little hints and threads from previous books, allowing most everyone who survived this far to have their own little piece of the story (Bob and Mum are particularly touching). Connor surprised me, more than once. So did the vyes. The emotional highs and lows struck all the right notes, and there’s plenty of action and intrigue to move things along.

This has been a long journey that changed drastically along the way. From the humble beginnings of a boy attending a magical school, to the world-altering disaster that followed, to the covert rebellions, then open war, then beyond, this has been an absolutely amazing ride and cemented its place among the best of the best. Read them all in order (preferably in a row) to better appreciate the little clues and subtle details. I can’t wait to see what Henry H. Neff writes in the future. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Dragon Trials (Return of the Darkening #1)

Title: Dragon Trials

Author: Ava Richardson

Series: Return of the Darkening #1

Agathea Flamme (Thea) is a noble who dreams of being chosen to be a dragon’s rider. She’d rather be like her brothers in the Dragon Riders than married off to help carry on the family name through her children. Sebastian is the son of a drunken blacksmith who never even thought he’d qualify for such an honor. But when the same dragon chooses both of them, they’ll need to learn to work together. Because a greater danger is stirring . . .

I’ll say up front these do not read like 17 year olds. I read them about twelve. I enjoy middle-grade fiction as well as YA, so I still enjoyed the story, but I do want to note that the way the characters think and act in no way speaks “teenager” to me. Thea’s blind hatred of Sebastian for being a commoner is a grade-school level grudge.

Sebastian is easily the best part of the book (well, him and the dragons). He’s insecure due to his background but is willing to do what he can not only for himself but to help those around him. He’s thrilled with his dragon, and his interactions with her are sweet and a lot of fun.

Thea is also insecure, but unlike Sebastian, the story doesn’t flesh out her family beyond the extreme sense of duty she feels to live up to what she believes is their high expectations for her. So she comes off as an insensitive jerk for most of the book. I would actually have less of a problem with this if the story had included a few scenes showing her interacting with her parents, losing arguments, being weak, or otherwise humiliated, and then taking that pain out on Sebastian as a way to cope. As it is she’s going to be the make-or-break part of the book, because she’s mostly needlessly cruel. If you can’t stomach reading about her until she softens up, then you might as well just put the book down and go do something else.

Overall, though, I liked the dragons, and since Thea does get better by the end, that leaves me feeling more positively about the sequel. I just hope it takes more time to flesh out the characters and motivations through scene. I rate this book Neutral.

The Masked City (Invisible Library #2)

Title: The Masked City

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #2

Irene is enjoying her post as Librarian-in-Residence. She’s been able to collect books for the Library, heal, and–if not take it easy, exactly, then at least settle down to one place. But then Kai, her dragon apprentice, is kidnapped by the Fae. In the interests of preventing a war between the dragons and the Fae, she has to get him back. Even if it means traveling deep within chaos-controlled realms . . .

Like the first book, this is full of crazy twists and a lot of fun action sequences. Irene, who struggles to be competent and professional and above all, grounded, finds herself in a place where story is more important than reality. Stories are reality to the Fae. The question, as Irene continually asks herself, is which kind of story has she stumbled into? One where the prince is rescued and everybody goes home more or less okay? Or one where the clever Fae stumble across the antagonist out to ruin their grand plan and do away with her?

I liked the chance to dig deeper into both the dragons and the Fae. Irene’s starting to pick up on the fact that the Library is probably playing some game of its own, but that takes more of a backseat to fleshing out the various sides outside the Library. Irene herself is for humanity, but it’s Vale who is the actual human involved in this mess. Vale takes Kai’s kidnapping personally, not in the least because of what the Fae do to try to distance him from solving the case. I did wonder towards the end why Vale did better than Irene in a certain area. It would be interesting to know if the reason was merely personality and experience on his side, or if something else was going on.

Once again I wasn’t all that fond of the sexual tones of certain parts. Pretty much every powerful male except the adult dragons tries to seduce Irene, or at least would like to sleep with her (though Vale would probably prefer marriage, and I like him best just because he’s the only one who isn’t PUSHY). This is personal preference, but is one reason I like reading books for kids more; I find the constant repetition of that theme really boring. Although once again Irene actually says no to all of them (and her point about Silver in particular was illustrating… he literally can’t stop himself, even if his life is at stake).

All in all, this was an interesting follow up to a strong first book. Given the hints about some of the deeper games in play, there’s plenty more material to fuel an ongoing series. You could technically start here, but it would spoil some good twists from the first book, so I’d encourage reading them in order. I rate this book Recommended.

The Invisible Library (Invisible Library #1)

Title: The Invisible Library

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #1

Irene is a Librarian for an unusual Library, one that exists outside time and space and worlds, in its own reality. Mostly she infiltrates alternate worlds and collects unique books for its collection. But her latest assignment reeks of secrets and politics, and may be rather more dangerous than she’s been told. She’s supposed to train a junior assistant, the book she’s looking for has already been stolen, and the Library’s greatest enemies also want what she’s after . . .

This was mostly fun, with a few places where I just had to roll my eyes. Fun stuff first. Irene is a very likeable lead. She tries hard to stay cool and in control even when the situation has exploded away from her. She’s aware of what being a leader entails, and she tries to be responsible to that ideal. Kai’s presence tends to exaggerate that in her, too, as she both wants and needs to be a good superior for him. I was particularly impressed that she refuses to bed him after his explicit invitation (although other aspects of that scene were part of the eye-rolling bits). It wouldn’t have been a good idea, but I can’t say I remember the last book where that actually stopped the characters.

The world she ends up on has a lot of steampunk with a dash of mad science. Mechanical creatures! Zeppelins! Victorian fashion sense! Also werewolves and vampires and Fae (who are creepy, dangerous, and strongly magical). And I really liked the detective she meets, and how he engages the mysteries before him with his own skills, even though he’s got no idea of most of what she’s caught up in.

I wasn’t all that fond of Kai, though. His character is all over the place (although to be fair, Irene notices this too and remarks on it). Once more of his secrets come out, some of his behavior makes even less sense.

And the few personal nits: why does Kai have to be devastatingly handsome, with perfect looks, perfect voice, etc? I’m getting tired of “perfect boyfriend” type characters. (Irene subverts this somewhat by falling for the detective instead of her trainee, which made me very happy.) And the scene where he invites her to bed involves the two of them comparing the amount of sexual experience they’ve had, which also makes me roll my eyes. For one, it absolutely doesn’t suit Kai, whose nature is order, whose firm commitment is to family no matter what, to be such a player he might have spawned half a hundred offspring without knowing it. And then just moved on. Because the family he’s so emotionally invested in apparently doesn’t include people he sleeps with and definitely doesn’t include himself as a possible father. Does this strike anyone else as a total betrayal of the character’s deepest beliefs? The alternative is that he’s lying about said experience, which I don’t really buy either, or he wouldn’t have been so casual about asking Irene. And the way the whole scene plays out feels really pointless, except to have both the characters bragging about how much sex they’ve had, as if that somehow makes them better people. It has nothing to do with the story.

Overall this was a pretty good adventure, and although things wrap up in one sense, the deeper threads point towards a series. I rate this book Recommended.

Athyra (Vlad Taltos #6)

Title: Athyra

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #6

Savn is happy in his life as a physicker’s apprentice. But when a stranger—an Easterner, no less—comes to town, and someone turns up dead, his idyllic life becomes a morass of confusion. Savn rather likes the Easterner, Vlad. The rest of his village hates Vlad, and Savn finds he’s now in the middle. And although Savn’s vow is to save lives, he’s got some hard choices to make. One way or the other, someone’s going to die.

Those who like Vlad’s first-person narration will probably find this book a bit of a shock, as the point of view and focus shift to young Savn, who experiences Vlad from the outside. It was a shame to lose the witty commentary with Loiosh, but I liked how it shows Vlad from the outside. Particularly when Vlad’s city-bred violence conflicts with rural life. Vlad can’t help but be disruptive, but this is the first book that deeply looks at things from the perspective of the people being disrupted. Rozca, Loiosh’s mate, also handles parts of the narration.

As the title suggests, the deeper focus of the book is philosophical and mystical. Savn faces several challenges to his way of thinking. The world as he thought it is isn’t exactly true—but how much of a difference should that make to the way he lives his life? I like that not only was this a journey, but Vlad (and Savn) offer no pat answers. Savn does what he thinks is right, but he’s never settled about the hows or the whys. He’s mostly acting from simpler motives, like his vow to save life and not take it.

The only thing I think didn’t work so well was the ending. I get what happened only because I’d read Orca first, and therefore knew how it played out. It’s a confusing battle for Savn too, but it would’ve been nice if the prose was a bit more direct about what happened.

All in all, I liked this as an addition to the Vlad stories. It’s got a lot of differences from the usual style, but it’s still an engaging story with a compelling main character. I rate this book Recommended.

Jhereg (Vlad Taltos #1)

Title: Jhereg

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #1

Vlad Taltos is a mobster and assassin, and he’s just landed a contract so lucrative he’ll be set for life. If, that is, he doesn’t botch the job. Because this time his target is also a Jhereg, who knows how the game is played. It won’t be an easy kill, but if he can’t pull it off, Vlad won’t be alive to worry about the consequences . . .

I FINALLY got my hands on a copy of Jhereg, which I immediately devoured. It’s hard to believe this is the first book, and that’s not just because Steven Brust went and wrote prequels filling in some of the history Vlad so casually tosses out. The worldbuilding is immense, but tight—and having already read most of the other books, I can catch a lot of Vlad’s references (and I was pleased this book filled in some of the holes). But we already have Vlad, happily married to the woman who once killed him; his Dragaeran friends Morrolan, Aliera, and Sethra, who are all unique and dangerous; Daymar the innocently terrifying Hawklord, and on, and on.

They’re a great cast of characters, and each one already showing some snippets of untold amazing stories about how Vlad got involved with them. If this had been the first book I’d read, I’d still have wanted to track down everything just to see how this wildly different group of people had gotten so enmeshed in each other’s friendships. Morrolan, for example, is an extremely honorable Dragonlord—who not only has Vlad on staff, but calls him a friend (and given the lengths Vlad is willing to go for him, the friendship is mutual). It’s a testament to how well the series as a whole hangs together that most of those little details do get expanded in some book or other.

And this is in some ways an origin story for Vlad himself. We see him as he witnesses his first assassination, and as he bonds with Loiosh, his jhereg familiar. But the story never lingers on the past, preferring to hurtle along with Vlad’s present task of dispatching a man who is very, very difficult to kill. In many ways, the target has thought everything out perfectly. But as Vlad likes to point out, anyone can be assassinated.

The humor is perhaps a touch less developed than some of the later books, but still very present and very funny. Each chapter starts with some pithy saying, like: “You can’t put it together again unless you’ve torn it apart first.”

All in all, this is a great read whether or not you’ve read any of the other books, or whether or not you intend to. Like most of the series it’s basically a stand alone story set within a complex universe, and it plays out some small piece of the life of a very interesting man. I rate this book Highly Recommended.