Tag Archives: dragons

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #2)

Title: The Hero and the Crown

Author: Robin McKinley

Series: Damar #2

Aerin is the king’s daughter, but that doesn’t mean much to a people who are half-convinced her mother witched her father. An awkward, plain, Giftless princess who tries to hide in the shadows, Aerin is acutely aware of her shortcomings. But her persistence in odd hobbies reaps unexpected dividends when she discovers an ointment to protect herself from dragonfire, and volunteers herself to slay dragons. Small, nasty, vermin dragons, which is a job with as much glory as hunting rats. Then the real trouble arrives . . .

I’ve liked this book a lot ever since childhood, although now, rereading it again, I can see things that just don’t seem to hang together as well. What exactly draws the cats and dogs to Aerin’s side? They just show up, and suddenly they’re allies. And the evil villain is brought up and disposed very quickly, so he never really feels like much of a threat, more of an aside to the actual plot. He doesn’t force Aerin to come to grips with any of the issues she’s been struggling with, or serve any kind of thematic climax. He’s just there. Which is kind of funny considering he’s supposed to be mega-threatening.

And it’s both puzzling and annoying that Aerin sleeps with Luthe when she does, because she is highly conscious of her duty as a princess, and that sort of thing tends to have severe repercussions on the marriageability of princesses (and depending on how soon she and Tor had a child, could cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the heir. Which, given Aerin’s own precarious position, doesn’t seem like her to wish upon another). And it’s not very fair to Tor. The story would have worked equally well if she’d just liked Luthe, and gone back to him after Tor died.

But for all that, the story is still a good one. Aerin’s a princess without the usual princess trappings. She gets stuck with much of the duties but few of the benefits. What she earns, she earns through study and experimentation and hard work, and her victories are as likely to grant her sympathy as acclaim. Because while dragons may need slaying, no one’s overly keen on glorifying the butchery. And the courtiers turn up their noses at those who manage the grunt work, dragons or no. Aerin spends most of the book sick with one thing or another, and being a wallflower, so her eventual victories feel like great triumphs.

So Aerin is very human, and relateable. She befriends a horse, defends her country from dragons great and small, and in the end finds a place for herself, even if it’s not going to be entirely comfortable.

Overall this is a good read. The later portion tends to feel a bit dreamy because so much is happening that doesn’t quite make sense, and there’s bits of the mythic creeping in about the edges. I rate this book Recommended.

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The Huntress’ Game (Eve of Redemption #5)

Title: The Huntress’ Game

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #5

Kari is caught between duties and family. Grakin’s condition is worsening, but it isn’t easy taking time away from her job. For one, the demon king Koursturaux isn’t willing to put off her visit any longer. In addition, Zalkar has set the final trial in her testing to become the next Avatar of Vengeance: to deal with her former friend-turned-vampire Annabelle Sol’Ridachi. Who was probably turned by a vampire black dragon. Who lives in an old fort that’s all but impossible to assail. But Kari’s wanted for years to give her former partner the peace of actual death, and now she has reason to try.

I really hope Kari one day gets to stick a sword (or other appropriate pointy object) into the actual demon kings. She’s a long, long way from that now, though, and she knows it. This visit to a demon king in the seat of her power isn’t quite what Kari expects, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe. It’s a delicate balancing act, with a lot of diplomacy (which Kari doesn’t have much of) and nerves of steel (which she has plenty of) to help her through.

The characters and action are both strong, as expected from the series this far, and this book continues in that excellent tradition. The plot continues to throw out one surprise after another—I did NOT expect how this ended at all. In fact there are several neat surprises along the way, too. Kari’s continuing to draw friends and allies from the unlikeliest of places.

And there’s so much heart. Kari introducing her daughter Uldriana to the original Uldriana’s parents was one of my favorite scenes. The mallasti did so much with so little, and her brief encounter will resonate for a long time to come.

Overall, if you’ve been following along with the series so far there’s not much more I can say to recommend it, as every single book has been excellent. If you’re new to the series, start at Salvation’s Dawn to avoid spoiling yourself on some of the bigger surprises. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Azrael’s Twins (Nearworld Tales #1)

Title: Azrael’s Twins

Author: V.J. Mortimer

Series: Nearworld Tales #1

Niamh and Grady O’Connell never expected to find out that their parents are magic-users from another world slightly offset from our own. Or that they have powers too, and an evil sorcerer is after them. With the help of a phoenix, a unicorn, dragons, and more, their lives are about to change entirely. On the other hand, school is still school, parents are parents, and sometimes things can feel a bit TOO normal . . .

I have very mixed feelings about this. I started reading for the promise of a phoenix, and because I generally like portal fantasies (all the more so because in this case, the whole family is involved and not just the kids). And I do really like the phoenix, though the dragons are mostly treated like slightly smarter horses. The magic system is messy, but not the worst I’ve read, and it supports the story well enough. The characters are generally decent, with a few more unique angles, like the were-setter.

The main problems I had were that the story gets sloppy in a couple of places, and extremely derivative in others.

First, the sloppiness. Niamh and Grady have lots and lots and lots of magic, but no training at all, and unsurprisingly find themselves having a hard time actually using it once in this wonderful new world. There’s specifically some kind of block on their powers . . . but this seems to equal not wanting it badly enough, and once given enough incentive, they unleash their full potential. This was extremely unsatisfying. The plot had been hinting it might have something to do with the fact that both kids were born in the world of deep magic (and it also feels like cheating that being born on normal-Earth qualifies you for both magics, but magic-Earth only qualifies you for normal magic). In the end, though, it’s just “try harder.” And it’s really hard to gauge what any magic user is capable of because the most we get in the sense of limits is simply elemental, but then a number of spells like transformations don’t exactly seem limited to a particular element.

Second, the derivative nature of a few key components. To be honest, the iWands almost made me quit the book. We have an obvious Apple clone, from the way the wands are named, to the way they look, to how they’re sold in stores, and even an app market. Why? Why can’t there be something magic-specific (even if it is a particular type of wand)? Why would an alternate-Earth reflect that kind of product placement when those wands are basically the only thing that does?

The school portion is obviously going to remind people of Harry Potter, and the prose makes a few digs at that (including, amusingly, a conversation about why they’re still learning ordinary subjects and not magic-specific ones). Why NOT magic classes, though, even though there’s no reason for it to be the whole curriculum? And the allowances for the “games” done over breaks and lunch is frankly crazy and I’m amazed no one’s getting killed. No one bothers to protect students like Grady who can’t defend himself, and the one instance that pushed things too far relied more on the students not seriously wanting to kill each other to work out. These aren’t little spells—people are getting transformed. So why the lack of adult interest?

And why broomsticks? Why are we once again shown someone who gets a handcrafted, high-qualify broom that’s the envy of every other kid in the school? It’s almost forgivable because their parents are royalty, and therefore rich enough to afford it, but still, it’s going to draw even more parallels to the famous boy wizard this story is trying (mostly) not to emulate. No one has bothered finding something more comfortable than a stick between your legs in the supposedly modern era in which they live? There’s no technical reason presented for why it has to be broomsticks and not a flying car, or a surfboard, or something that might actually be better suited for riding. I get that broomsticks are traditional, but if we’re going with an iPhone clone for a wand, why wouldn’t the transportation be a bit nicer?

Anyway, I could go on, but the characters aren’t particularly noteworthy, and the setting and plot are full of holes. Some people may have less trouble with the things that bothered me, but I don’t intend to go on. I rate this book Neutral.

Salvation’s Dawn (Eve of Redemption #1)

Title: Salvation’s Dawn

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #1

Karian Vanador has the dubious distinction of being the only known case of anyone being resurrected. In her former life, she was a renowned demonhunter, but in the current one, a massive war everyone calls the Apocalypse sidetracked everyone for the last eight years. Now, with no war to distract her from contemplating another lifetime alone, she’s tired. But just because the war’s over doesn’t mean the demons are through, and it isn’t long before Kari is sent out on yet another mission. This time, she’s got partners in a group called the Silver Blades—half-demon demonhunters. It’s up to the few of them to investigate rumors of a civil war, and do anything they can to stop it. . .

This was fascinating. There’s so much backstory that I read the sample, then looked for some prequel series that surely had to exist. Who starts a story AFTER the main character has already lived (and died), and then finished out a world-altering war? But this level of detail is actually characteristic of the book. Nations, races, languages, historical events, various gods, and more all have a lot of depth. The various information might seem slow to some, but I found it all naturally building up not just a few characters but an entire world.

The characters that populate this world are equally strong. Karian isn’t human, though humans exist (and amusingly enough, are hinted to come from somewhere beyond the stars, thus adding a nice bit of sci-fi to an otherwise solidly fantasy plot). The various humanoid races include Karian’s own draconic race, the rir, which is itself split into several sub-races (and if this is confusing, there IS an appendix that helpfully lays things out at the back of the book). Karian is also a fascinating person. Her prowess as a demonhunter was a result of her personality, drive, and the knowledge she was already dying from a terminal illness, which made her much more willing to walk headlong into danger.

I also particularly like Karian’s Order, who serves a deity whose motto is “Love justice, but do mercy.” Not exactly what you might expect from a god dedicated to wiping out the demon scourge. Karian embodies much of this apparent contradiction: a deadly warrior who hasn’t closed off her heart, and whose compassion tends to get her more involved with the suffering than some of the other hunters.

The Silver Blades are another interesting wrinkle. They’re a tight-knit group of siblings with a wide variety of skills, and they aren’t sure what to make of Karian. Some flat-out refuse to believe Karian is THE Karian Vanador. Others do but don’t know what to do about working with a living legend. And while Karian is adaptable, some of them are less so.

The plot kept throwing one surprise after the next. I liked the layers of mystery, and the various things going on around the possible war. It was also a lot of fun to see Karian changing her perceptions bit by bit, as her longstanding beliefs are challenged by the people she meets.

Honestly, the only thing that I wanted to see differently was to have the nameless female in the prologue get a name in the prologue. It’s not like it matters since she’s not actually mentioned by name until much later anyway.

Overall this was an excellent read. The world, the characters, and the plot are all very strong, and I look forward to future books. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

A Simple Task

Title: A Simple Task

Author: James Galloway

No particular series, but set after Pyrosian Chronicles #3

Tarrin’s work for the God of Gods has put him into an interesting situation. He’s tasked to stop a war, and without using his preferred method of wanton destruction to both sides. Since subtlty isn’t his strong suit, he ropes Miranda and a few others into the scheme to make a boy a king worthy of his crown, stop a war, and preserve the Balance of the multiverse.

As a “short” story (still the length of a long novel), this is an interesting addition to the canon. I actually hadn’t been aware of this until my recent reread through the main series, so I was very happy to find a bonus story to cap everything off.

This is set several years after Demon’s Bane, so it does help to have read the Firestaff series and the Pyrosian Chronicles first. Amazingly, it manages to introduce even more different types of magic (psyonics/will, which was very briefly mentioned in previous books but gets a fuller treatment here, plus some of the tricks Tarrin has picked up that he insists aren’t magic but certainly behave that way).

I like that we do get several returning characters, although I wish Haley got a bigger role. But the returning characters also hamper the story a bit, as the characters from the new world tend to take a back seat to the ones imported to help Tarrin with his job.

I also found it fun how much of Polin’s education centers around teaching him that even though he’s the king, he doesn’t have the power to fix everything, and he shouldn’t try. That no matter what he does, people will still suffer, but his job is to do what he can where he can so he can be a good king.

Overall, this is more of an optional extra for those who liked the main series. It serves to answer a few lingering questions (Telven, Haley, and what’s up with Tarrin’s alter-ego on Pyrosia), and provides a bit of fun in a new place, but doesn’t impact the characters or the world too heavily. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

Demon’s Bane (Pyrosian Chronicles #3)

Title: Demon’s Bane

Author: James Galloway

Series: Pyrosian Chronicles #3

Pyrosia is in trouble. Tarrin is dead, a Demon Lord is on the loose, and the pieces of Tarrin’s sword–which still contain all the power of a god–have been scattered across the world. The situation is grim for the defenders. They’ve put everything on the line, but without Tarrin, is it going to be enough? Meanwhile, Tarrin has used the destruction of his body to launch his soul into the Crossroads, a place where he can continue his hunt for the One. The single rule of the Crossroads is “Do no violence.” But Tarrin has never been inclined to follow the rules . . .

It’s interesting to me how basically every book in this series manages to introduce so many new things. In this case, the big addition is the other planes Tarrin traverses in his search for the One’s home domain. In those places, the rules can be very different, and Tarrin only has a few tricks and no friends.

Although the Goddess does send Jula and Tsukatta to attempt to head him off.

Also fun is that Demon’s Bane (aka Bane) proves to be very much like Val’s shadow in that it can evolve as it grows. The problem is, it either doesn’t or can’t talk, so nobody on either side has any idea what it’s up to, because it’s not indiscriminately slaughtering demons the way everyone expected.

There’s also a rather massive war—which, ironically enough, isn’t actually the point (although if the Demons win, it would certainly make Tarrin’s plans more difficult). So there’s plenty of large-scale action as Pyrosia’s version of the Blood War plays out.

I love the surprise near the end, too, with how the situation in Pyrosia works out. Seeing Triana and Haley’s reactions in particular cracks me up. Poor Triana can handle just about everything except Tarrin, because he surprises everyone, even himself.

Overall, this is an excellent finish to the trilogy, and properly caps off the saga of the Firestaff. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

See my reviews and more at https://offtheshelfreviews.wordpress.com/

Sword of Fire (Pyrosian Chronicles #2)

Title: Sword of Fire

Author: James Galloway

Series: Pyrosian Chronicles #2

Tarrin has one simple mission: find out what happened to the Dwarves and Sorcerers that entered Pyrosia a few thousand years earlier to escape the Blood War. And now that’s become a more urgent mission to find Kimmie and Phandlebrass, who escaped an avalanche and entered that world almost a month ago. But the more they explore Pyrosia, the more they realize something is very wrong. The local Younger god is consorting with demons, the Elder god has abandoned his responsibilities, and Kimmie’s trail is going in worrying directions . . .

This book is so much fun. Tarrin reacts about as well as could be expected to a culture built on oppression, and besides leaving a rather messy trail carved through the countryside, ends up caring for a few children that caught his attention. Eventually he takes personal affront to the One and continues to escalate their spats.

And behind all the action is the question of just how much of his power as a god has followed him back to his mortal life, and what that’s going to mean for him going forward. The majority of the gods on Sennadar are overjoyed he left and don’t want him to come back, which is causing all sorts of problems as his Goddess tries to stand up for him.

But soon what Tarrin wants becomes secondary to what has to be done. And since it’s indirectly his fault, he feels responsible to fix it.

It’s hard to say everything I’d like to say about this book because most of that would spoil something good. This is another great adventure, with crazy fights, spectacular magic, and clever twists. Highly Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm