Tag Archives: neutral

Gryphon’s Eyrie (Witch World Series 2: High Hallack Cycle #7)

Title: Gryphon’s Eyrie

Author: Andre Norton

Series: Witch World Series 2: High Hallack Cycle #7

Kerovan and Joisan have survived numerous trials so far, but their journey isn’t over yet. A strange longing tugs at Kerovan–and he flees it. Joisan is determined to remain by his side, no matter what forces of might or magic might come against them. When they find their way to a tribe of nomads, both of them hope for peace. But their coming stirs up enmity . . .

One of the perils of picking up books on the clearance rack is that it is quite easy to get something like this, a book obviously well into a series (that had nothing on the cover indicating it wasn’t a standalone). So I haven’t read anything that comes before this, which might color my thoughts somewhat.

This was pretty tame, though, and I found it almost bland. The characters clearly have a great deal of history, but the exposition provides enough that although I never got attached, I never really got lost either. Kerovan fears his heritage as one touched by Powers from before his birth, one his mother hoped to bend to evil. Joisan, on the other hand, makes full use of what power she can summon, in her role as a healer.

There are no gryphons. This was annoying because I had been hoping, based on the title, to find one. Apparently there was one in a previous book but he does not show up here. The closest we get is a brief mention of a statue of a gryphon. I am still not entirely clear on this but I think the title is supposed to refer to Kerovan’s heritage and the home he finds through it.

Overall, this was a quick read, but not a memorable one. I rate this book Neutral.

Brokedown Palace

Title: Brokedown Palace

Author: Steven Brust

Four brothers live in a crumbling Palace. When Miklós, the youngest, butts heads with his eldest brother László, he finds himself walking straight into myths. But though he journey all the way to Faerie, his heart and his destiny are with his home. Only Miklós seems willing to admit the Palace is rotting. Yet he has no idea what he’s supposed to do about it.

This was an odd book. I liked the way it balances between myth and fact, often muddling the two so much that it’s not clear where any lines ought to be drawn. The Palace is both itself and a symbol of many things, primarily the old, broken, and decaying. I liked the Palace, too. The little details about various things going wrong is almost comical in places, because the King is so determined to just keep on with his everyday life he can ignore gaping holes in the floor.

The complex relationships between the four brothers is also more of a literary bent. The story doesn’t follow events as much as the twists and turns of those relationships, as Miklós tries to escape László, then re-integrate into some kind of family (which is troublesome because he and his eldest brother have polar opposite views on some critical things, and both of them aren’t willing to give any ground). There are also two women, one that László takes as a whore and one he intends to wed, who are themselves set against each other as foils.

The problem for me is that all this literary stuff isn’t nearly as interesting as even my least favorite Vlad Taltos book. This book isn’t often funny, or full of action, and the nods to the wider world it shares with the Vlad books are either incidental or rather subtle (for instance, Brigitta’s end very obscurely ties to a familiar character, but it took out-of-book author confirmation to say for sure as the reference could have also referred to just about anything).

Overall, this will probably appeal more to those who like diving into complex family relationships and spotting various bits of symbolism. For myself, I don’t think I’m going to read it again, but I don’t mind having read it once. I rate this book Neutral.

The Secret Country (The Eidolon Chronicles #1)

Title: The Secret Country

Author: Jane Johnson

Series: The Eidolon Chronicles #1

Ben’s plans to get himself a pair of Mongolian Fighting Fish only last as long as it takes him to save up the money. At the pet store, a cat insists on being taken home instead—and since Ben has never heard a talking cat, he gives in. Little did he suspect he had encountered the fringes of something much bigger. Another world exists alongside our own. A world of magic. A world in trouble. A world that needs Ben to help it . . .

This was a bit too young and straightforward for my tastes, but it was still a decent story. There’s no complexity to the villains or the heroes: once you’ve met someone, you can easily tell which side that person is on. (Amusingly, the only exception is Ben’s sister, but she’s not a major part of the story.)

I did like the variety of mythological creatures. There are dragons, of course, but also selkies and dryads and Gabriel’s Hounds. I particularly liked the twists in how the selkie was presented. That made much more sense than the whole sealskin thing.

I also liked that the whole destiny card doesn’t give Ben a free pass. He’s still himself, with his only real ability apparently being able to talk to magical creatures, which is something a lot of people share.

On the other hand, Ben doesn’t do a whole lot either. Mostly he’s enabling or directing others to do most of the work. I would hope a future book would involve more of his own deeds and not just the help of his friends.

All in all this sets up for a series, but the story wraps up well enough in the first book to have something that feels like an ending. I doubt I’ll continue just because it feels a little younger than the stuff I enjoy, but it isn’t a bad book. I rate this book Neutral.

Rose Daughter

Title: Rose Daughter

Author: Robin McKinley

Beauty remembers her mother’s scent more than her mother’s face: a strange perfume she later learns is made of roses. Beauty has always liked gardens, flowers, and helping the helpless. But when her father’s business implodes, her family must move to Rose Cottage, a home inherited by chance, a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. A house near a town that’s said to be cursed . . .

This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but has no relationship to any of McKinley’s other books. I think this one does a better job in a few ways, although overall it makes less sense than the earlier book titled Beauty.

The world building and character building remains top-notch. Beauty herself doesn’t change much throughout the story, but it’s interesting to see her sisters lose their biggest character flaws as poverty teaches them to think of themselves more humbly and treat others with more respect. Similarly, their father’s fall and recovery is well done.

This book has a lot of details on gardening, particularly how roses work. It’s fun to see Beauty wonder what those strange thorny bushes are that are planted all around Rose Cottage, and when she does fall in love with their blooms, how she works to reclaim both her roses and the Beast’s wild garden.

The story gets confusing when it tries to explain the origin of the Beast and what exactly happened, as three somewhat similar versions of the story get presented back to back. And the end isn’t exactly clear on what happened with the Beast, either. Those bits are annoying, but the thing I find most puzzling is that Beauty isn’t experiencing the passage of time normally, and therefore is only a scant handful of times acquainted with the Beast before deciding she loves him enough to marry him. It feels like there should have been more story to get to that point.

Overall it’s still a book I enjoy reading, though it isn’t my favorite McKinley book. I find the earlier version of the fairy tale, Beauty, to be better put together, but this one has its own moments of charm. I rate this book Neutral.

Between Worlds

Title: Between Worlds

Author: Skip Brittenham

In the forest is an aspen tree said to grant wishes. When Marshall and Mayberry encounter it, they end up in a world full of strange creatures, magic, and danger. Can they survive?

This was stuffed with all the things I usually enjoy, but maybe because of that I never connected much with anything. It was too much, too fast. Or perhaps I just didn’t feel enough of a connection to the characters or the world to really care about what happened to either.

The illustrations are easily the best part. Every few chapters another full page color illustration showcasing a nearby scene. The pictures really help to bring some of the strange creatures to life.

The characters are generic. Mayberry is the “too cool for the country” new girl, and Marshall is the dork with no self-confidence. Both of them are outcasts, and pretty much the other’s only friend. They feel similar enough in the prose that I had a hard time telling them apart; other than surface details it felt like most of what one of them did the other could’ve done and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

And the fantasy world would have been better if we didn’t have Marshall and Mayberry mastering magic in the space of a week. There’s no attempt made to explain what magic is or how it works, which I could live with if it didn’t feel so haphazard. These kids have never seen magic before, but after only a week they can do complicated magical tricks like lighting multiple sticks on fire at the same time or calling up gigantic waves from nowhere? And all it takes is chanting a few words and twisting your fingers a certain way?

Same with the familiars just showing up and instantly being best friends, because the prose doesn’t have time to be anything but bare-bones. We have multiple intelligent races, there’s some kind of war going on, here’s a magical weapon that’s the source of all magical weapons, etc. And then the way the book ties up it doesn’t feel like it wants a sequel, so whatever this world is and whatever relation it has to ours doesn’t seem to matter either.

It was frustrating because I wanted to like this more than I did. Instead it felt like a firehose of fantasy trappings without ever getting enough depth to make anything stick. It’s not bad. It’s just that I’m more likely to remember the pictures than anything in the plot. I rate this book Neutral.

A Crown of Dragons (Unicorne Files #3)

Title: A Crown of Dragons

Author: Chris D’Lacey

Series: Unicorne Files #3

Michael is no closer to understanding the mystery behind his father, his own powers, or the secret agency UNICORNE that seems to hold all the answers. But when the dragon scale his father was hunting impacts his life once again, he’s pressing for answers. Even if finding out might change his life once again . . .

I didn’t think it was possible for the book to give some answers that actually made sense of some of my more aggravating questions, but it did. For starters, why would anyone try to make Michael into a secret agent when he clearly has little aptitude for the role? Although plot-wise, I think the second book could basically be skipped as it contributed very little, and the first and third books do a better job presenting the overarching plot with Michael, his dad, and Freya.

That said, I still had to force myself to finish. Michael feels like the wrong protagonist for a story like this. He’s got fun powers, but barely uses them at all except to pull a total rewrite for the end, and that feels cheap—he’s never really controlled them, and part of the fun was seeing the unintended consequences, like his sister becoming a musical genius, that always accompanied whatever he was ACTUALLY trying to do. Add to that he’s not showcasing much except incompetence and an ability to get into trouble (and not in a particularly entertaining fashion), and the adults who know more are basically jerking him around for the most part.

It’s not really badly written. It’s just that I ended up hating the main character, who I actually liked well enough in the first book, because it’s really hard to find things to like him FOR. I did like the ideas, particularly in this book, and its take on dragons. But I can’t see myself reading these again. I rate this book Neutral.

Alexander’s Army (Unicorne Files #2)

Title: Alexander’s Army

Author: Chris D’Lacey

Series: Unicorne Files #2

Michael was hoping joining UNICORNE would allow him to find out more of what happened to his father. But answers are few, and UNICORNE has another mystery they’d like him to investigate first. A comic shop has some weird things going on, and they want Michael to check into it. He’d rather deal with Freya, or his own powers, or his dad, but he reluctantly agrees. But he’s not actually very good at the whole undercover operative gig . . .

I finally figured out what my biggest problem was with this book: I don’t like any of the characters. Michael was fine in the first book, where his weird reality-bending powers kicked in on a regular basis, and he was being eased into a world beyond the world he knows. But in this one, he’s downright terrible at figuring out anything, his powers activate less often (and the book kind of cheats by having a different power take center stage), and there isn’t any real progress made on most of the continuing plot threads.

Michael doesn’t really WANT any of the missions or adventures he’s involved in, and he’s pretty much incompetent at running them too. Freya went from sympathetic to cold and harsh (and though she tries to explain it away, it still doesn’t make the book easier to read). I sort of get the impression the two of them are supposed to eventually become boyfriend/girlfriend for real, but there’s nothing THERE. At this point he’s helping her mostly because he’s got a giant guilt complex about how she died and he inadvertently made her live after death.

Aside from that, the plot definitely veers closer to horror/thriller territory (I was hoping for more of an adventure, because the first book set up what could’ve been a couple of different directions). Although I liked the unusual bits of the supernatural that showed up this time, I can’t help but feel there’s never going to be a point. Michael isn’t offered any kind of framework other than “stuff just happens, and sometimes it’s wacky.” Since he’s not digging into other people’s powers or his own, just trying to get out of whatever he’s been volunteered for this time, I wasn’t as interested.

This isn’t necessarily a bad book, just not for me. I’m not certain at this point if I’ll make it through the third book, but I may give it a shot since I have it on hand. Perhaps if it is the last one Michael will man up and actually do something instead of forcing everyone around him to push him forward. I rate this book Neutral.