Tag Archives: historical

Storm at the Edge of Time

Title: Storm at the Edge of Time

Author: Pamela F. Service

The Orkney Islands hold much history, and many secrets. Three children from across time are called to band together to find the three wands necessary to fortify ancient defenses against the forces of Destruction. Arni, an 11th century Viking boy. Jamie, a modern girl. Tyaak, a 26th-century half-human. None of them have experience with magic, but they will need more than ordinary power to prevail . . .

This was okay, but the plot felt too repetitive and predictable after the initial setup. Go into the era of one of the kids, use that kid’s local knowledge to get around, while the group tries to sense the location of the staff, then try to snatch the staff out from under the agents of Destruction who are also after it. The specifics vary, of course, depending on the century, but it’s hard to feel too much tension since this is obviously a stand-alone book and not part of a longer series. (In other words, there’s no time for failure. The page count alone tells me they have to succeed.)

Jamie, being the modern representative, gets the most narrative focus. She would have gotten a little more of my sympathy if she hadn’t been so determined to just fall into some great talent that none of her family enjoyed (hint: even natural skill in the areas her parents and brother succeed in takes a lot of hard work to become that big a success). At least she’s not instantly great at magic (mostly due to a failure of imagination about how to use it).

Overall this wasn’t a bad read, but I did find myself more bored with the story than not, so it’s not one I’d come back to. I rate this book Neutral.

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Vision Quest

Title: Vision Quest

Author: Pamela F. Service

Kate Elliot was used to a military family that moved around constantly. After her father dies, though, she and her mother have a more permanent home in an old run-down town in Nevada. Kate is tired of losses, and determined not to make friends. Determined not to get hurt. But an ancient Indian artifact draws her into the lives of two ancient shamans . . .

This story is more about the shared visions that link an ancient shaman boy with Kate and later Jimmy. The story can be a bit more literary, but still fast-paced due to the short length.

The characters are well-drawn. Kate’s grieving and loneliness has turned into a determination not to be hurt again, which leads her to isolate herself. She’s particularly irritated at having to rely on Jimmy for anything—because her mother will consider them friends, and want her to be social. Jimmy was amusing too. He thinks Kate is crazy, but when the visions start coming to him too he commits to helping her get rid of them. I also really liked his insistence that Pete’s racial slurs be correct—he’s less offended by the slur and more offended that Pete keeps confusing him with other nationalities, even after he corrects him.

Wadat’s portions were good too. He’s not sure he wants to be a shaman, but his mentor and father-figure is, so he’s sort of fallen into the training. He keeps having visions of a strange spirit who follows him around, but as he’s familiar with spirits in general, he’s not bothered by the visions as much as curious what this spirit might want. He’s used to placating the spirits, and if this one wants something in particular, he’ll try to do what he can for it.

Overall this is another solid title, though not my favorite. I rate this book Recommended.

The Reluctant God

Title: The Reluctant God

Author: Pamela F. Service

Lorna Padgett is the daughter of an archaeologist, and more at home in Egypt digging up sites with her father than at her boarding school in England. But when a chance find uncovers an untouched tomb, her knowledge of the ancient world is needed in an entirely different way . . .

Ameni was the second son of the pharaoh. Constricted by a life of duty, he longs for adventure. But his life has a destiny he never imagined, and soon he will get an adventure he never wanted.

It’s been decades since I last read this, but I still remembered enough of the plot for it to feel like a reread than a new read. The two individual stories alternate long enough to build up both Lorna and Ameni before the single event that changes each life. After that it turns into a race to recover the missing urn.

I liked the hints of mysticism around Ameni. He’s in the line of Pharaoh, who is considered a living god, but he doesn’t understand what that really MEANS until the mantle passes to him. He’s still a man, somewhat. But he has a different relationship now with the gods, and can speak to them and hear back from them. And the ways Anubis particularly keeps stepping in for him are really neat.

I’m not as sold on the message of Osiris being a god of love, or the other gods actually loving the people who worship them. That’s not exactly evident in the myths. I can go with it for the sake of the story, but it does pull me out a bit now.

Overall this is a fast read that has an interesting concept, but it’s not a story I see myself going back to. Still, it was an entertaining read. I rate this book Recommended.

Berserker

Title: Berserker

Author: Emmy Laybourne

Hanne’s family has the old Viking gifts, the Nytte, but to Hanne, they’re more of a curse. Especially hers. Being a Berserker means that any time someone she loves is in danger, she becomes a killer. And when that finally manifests the way she always feared it would, the siblings must flee their home village. In America, they hope to start over. But America isn’t far enough to flee something within their very blood. . .

Owen is a bastard son hoping to make a new life for himself as a cowboy. But a vengeful trail boss undermines him, and he soon finds himself desperate for work. Meeting Hanne and her family allows him a chance to earn enough to survive the winter, even though he’s sure they’re running away from something . . .

This was interesting, though it mostly played out how I expected from reading the jacket summary. Owen’s early bad decision to drink made me far less sympathetic towards him as a character (he’s never seen anyone get drunk?), so after that happened I mostly just wanted to read Hanne’s parts of the story.

The early American frontier is supposed to be about striking out to unexplored lands and making your own destiny. Hanne is hoping for that, as well as to connect with her uncle, who is also a Berserker. She desperately wants to learn how NOT to kill people when her Nytte takes over. Unfortunately, other people know about her, and some have plans for her gift regardless of what she thinks about it.

I did like the climax of the book. The final fight promised a lot of hope for Hanne, and also for her siblings. It could work either as a standalone or a lead to a future story, too. Also I am always happy when annoying characters get what’s coming to them.

Either way, this was a good read. It’s not my favorite novel about berserkers by a long shot, but it offers an interesting magic system that could definitely expand more if there are any future books. 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.

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.

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.