Tag Archives: neutral

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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When The Night Wind Howls

Title: When The Night Wind Howls

Author: Pamela F. Service

Sidonie and her mother have recently moved to a small Indiana town, and as a way of fitting in, they’ve gotten involved in the community theater. But this theater appears to be haunted. When Sid starts digging into the rumors of ghosts, she finds far more than legends . . .

This is a solidly-written book, but I didn’t like it much. I’m not huge on ghost stories, and not familiar enough with theater to recognize the various plays and musicals, so I didn’t have a lot invested in the plot. And when the big reveal comes out, I got annoyed by a lot of theological points (some of which is just annoyance at Sid and her minister for taking movies more than Scripture as a guideline for how to deal with the devil).

It was an amusing take on what makes a theater “haunted.” Sid, her friend Joel, and the mysterious Byron Vincenti are the heart of the book, and I like how the two kids keep changing their minds about Byron as they figure out more of the problem.

I’m not so fond of the use of witchcraft, the lack of involvement on God’s side (for what’s supposedly a two-sided dispute, one side is not exactly shown participating), or the spotty use of Christian theology. I realize this is just an updated take on the same play the theater is performing, so it’s not like the book is trying to show how to deal with demons as much as it is retelling an old folk tale.

Overall this isn’t necessarily a bad book, but I didn’t care for it, and won’t be reading it again. I rate this book Neutral.

Weirdos of the Universe, Unite!

Title: Weirdos of the Universe, Unite!

Author: Pamela F. Service

Mandy is determined to be weird. When she meets Owen, who is even weirder than she is, she’s happy to have a friend who shares some of those ideals. But after a homework assignment goes strange, mythological creatures are suddenly invading their lives, the world is in danger, and their group of misfits seems to be chosen by the Fates to stop it . . .

This was an amusing mashup of various characters from several mythologies banding together to stop an alien menace, with plenty of Star Trek and Star Wars references sprinkled in. Unfortunately, the short length felt like a detriment, because no one ends up with a lot of depth. This is more about the absurdity of Coyote, Baba Yaga, Sigfried, Lung Nu, and the Wild Huntsman banding together (with a tribble!) to fight aliens whose main fault is that they have no imagination.

I suppose the main reason it didn’t grab me was that with the exception of Lung Nu most of these characters were too familiar to feel weird, and the short length works against substantially adding to or deviating from some of the expectations. Knowing Coyote, the “dog” routine was obvious from the moment it showed up. Same with the rest. To people who aren’t as familiar with mythology, the story probably flows better.

Overall this was another fast read, and amusing enough. It’s a standalone story and ties up well by the end. I rate this book Neutral.

Discern (Mosaic Chronicles #1)

Title: Discern

Author: Andrea Pearson

Series: Mosaic Chronicles #1

Nicole is settling in her freshman year of college at Katon University. Despite an exemplary high school life, she’s nervous: this is a university for Aretes, those with magic, and although she’s supposedly capable, she hasn’t yet been able to call any magic. But college life throws even more surprises than she expected. Her dorm room is haunted by spiders. A magical book is determined to follow her around. And an expedition is coming up which offers both opportunity and danger . . .

This wasn’t terrible, but it has a lot of really bizarre logic near the end to make the plot work that backfired for me.

The characters were generally good. Nicole comes from a very wealthy background, but her attempts to remain independent of her controlling parents means she’s trying to get through things without them. I actually wish this had gotten a little more focus, particularly when she has to deal with her mom directly. I didn’t see the emotional upheaval I expected (having seen this play out in real life) from having to confront someone who’s trying her hardest to undercut Nicole’s independence. Because despite how much she might hate her family, that’s still a lot of baggage to overcome, and could have provided a bit more depth to the plot.

On the other hand, her struggles with finding out how to release her own power were well-drawn. Only fourth children have magic in this universe (I guess seven was stretching credibility), and although the world appears to be exactly like ours the magic is well known and generally accepted. I do wish the small hints about its origin had gotten a bit more explanation. Magic on the whole appears to be a hard career, as users are limited both by ability and by how much they train and study. Nichole has the studying side down, because that’s the only variable she feels she can control.

I don’t care for romances in general, so I skimmed the parts where Nicole is noticing the hot prodigy who refuses to talk to her. That plays out pretty much how you might expect, from the initial frustration to the growing attraction to admitting that they actually are interested. I would have preferred more of getting to know him instead of mostly being shown he’s hot and super powerful, but at least there were a few scenes that dug in, and since this is a series I expect he’ll have time to develop. I did find it odd when he revealed the big secret that it was so brutal, and he was so calm talking about it. It doesn’t really seem like he’s over it, and either way he should’ve had a bigger reaction to some of what they found at the excavation because of it.

Now for the bizarre logic. Everything up through the start of the expedition made at least plausible sense. Then we get to the “remote” expedition that’s still close enough to a town for one member to spend the night in a hotel and the days on site. So the problem is, when people start finding bodies brutally murdered, WHY IS EVERYONE DETERMINED TO STAY IN TENTS ON SITE? Tents. TENTS. And then things escalate and they’re STILL staying in tents and wringing their hands about the tragedy.

This is the point, by the way, that I’ve long since stopped being nervous about anyone and am instead laughing as each new gruesome discovery is unearthed. The police are notified about the dead body, but it isn’t being treated as a crime scene at all (no one is telling the group to evacuate until way too late). There’s a scene at the end where Nicole is expecting the authorities to arrive with backup, but she and very few others decide it’s a better idea to go after the murderers by themselves, down tunnels that the enemy knows far better than they do . . .

I actually might keep reading this series purely for the comedy value. Which is sad because the story was going for a horror vibe and ended up feeling like a campy horror B movie instead. The small details worked a lot better when it was just ordinary college life stuff, and not an archeology expedition that by the way has terrible, terrible practices (just pick up any ancient magical artifacts and bring them to us for evaluation! No need to worry about possibly live curses or keeping the site documented for actual archeologists!).

Overall this was a decent effort, but would have been better served if the expedition had either never taken place or had been completely overhauled. I rate this book Neutral.

Song of the Sword (Animas #3)

Title: Song of the Sword

Author: C. R. Grey

Series: Animas #3

Bailey and Tremelo rebelled publicly against Queen Viviana, but the hoped-for revolution is still a distant dream. Driven to the tunnels, hiding from those who would turn them in out of fear or because they believe in the power of Dominance, the rebels are trying to figure out a plan. Tremelo wants to tinker and create something that can strengthen the bond. Many of his followers want war. Bailey just wants to not be sitting around. But before they can come up with something concrete, circumstances may decide for them . . .

I really liked the first book, wasn’t as impressed with the second, and found this one to be an okay ending. There’s so much here that I wish had gotten more focus. Phi’s dream of flight gets an unexpected outlet—but the cost turned out to be different than it initially looked, and I guess it can only be done once? I wasn’t clear on why that couldn’t be repeatable. This is the biggest magic the series has presented so far, and I wanted to see more.

Gwen’s problems with the visions were well done. She’s not sure if she’s seeing something that can be changed or not, and she’s getting enough of a vision without the context to misinterpret many things. I really liked how Tremelo confronts her at the end with the difference between her and the other Seers.

I didn’t like how the battle turned out. Viviana built an army of machines and dominated animal wills. It seemed odd that the machines all behaved just like the animals in the end (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers). It was also very odd that Viviana had followers enthusiastic enough to build and fight with her army, but Viviana herself was the only player that needed to be removed to let everything work out.

Overall this wasn’t a bad finish (except for Viviana), but I finished feeling like I’d rather have had maybe another book so that some of the best parts of this one had room to expand. I rate this book Neutral.

The Lone Dragon Knight (The Dragon Knight #1)

Title: The Lone Dragon Knight

Author: D. C. Clemens

Series: The Dragon Knight #1

Mercer has no memory of his past, and his present is a life lived on someone else’s terms: first as an experimental subject, then sold as a criminal enforcer. When he frees himself, he finds a blade that connects him to a dragon from another world and grants him some of that dragon’s powers. Now that he has the means, he aims to get revenge on those who stole everything from him.

This was decent, but it fell a little too flat for me. The action is brisk. Even when the plot winds through some side missions, Mercer is still active, learning, growing. And the magic system is interesting, although it does feel a bit one-sided for now (nobody ever said what the dragon gets out of all this, although there is the sense that he’s biding his time for some major wreckage to come).

Where I kept getting knocked out of the story was with the characters. Mercer isn’t very introspective when he’s under mind-control spells. That’s fine. He doesn’t have to be very introspective out of them, either, but I never really got why he wanted revenge so badly. He doesn’t seem like the cold and calculating type, and he’s not blazing with anger. It’s just kind of there as though it’s too obvious to have to show at all. With no past, he could just as easily have said “There’s no way I’m getting caught up in THAT again,” and gone somewhere remote to start over. There’s not much self-discovery, and he doesn’t feel like he’s remaking himself either, so with few exceptions I never felt like he had much of a personality.

Then there’s the female mercenary. Despite being a professional, despite knowing absolutely nothing about him outside his work on this one case, despite the fact that he’s got a fiend’s tail bound to his arm (which ought to indicate something, since corruption doesn’t appear to be a completely foreign concept), she offers to sleep with him as a way of topping off his pay, because she doesn’t think he’s being rewarded appropriately. I’m trying to figure out why this otherwise sensible woman wants to act like a whore. Especially since getting pregnant is likely to suspend her career.

I was somewhat impressed by Mercer refusing another character’s offer to bed him, though again, I find it very strange that women are so eager to offer sex to someone like him when he’s not charming or charismatic or going out of his way to encourage them.

Overall I might read the second book if I sign up for Kindle Unlimited, but this is more of a rental than a buy right now. I rate this book Neutral.

Content warning: rape scene near the beginning

Winter of Ice and Iron

Title: Winter of Ice and Iron

Author: Rachel Neumeier

When the Mad King invades, Kehera finds herself a pawn in a struggle between nations and their Immanent Powers. Innisth is a minor lord determined to keep his land under his control, and is searching for the best way to deflect his king’s attention so he can be left to rule his lands as he sees fit. The two of them may be the only ones able to stop the world from plunging into chaos during the four days of winter when the Unfortunate Gods are strongest. . .

First, a content warning: although the acts happen offscreen, the book does contain numerous instances of rape (of both men and women), abuse, and Innisth has a homosexual relationship with one of his staff. If I had known this going in, I might have passed on the book, because I really don’t like reading stories with rape or abuse, no matter how obliquely they’re portrayed.

For me the magic system was the most interesting part of the book. Each country has become so largely because of the Immanent Powers that are tied to the land in that location. The strength of the Immanent determines if it’s subordinated to some other or ruling others, which is how the four main countries formed. But it’s not like the people know all that much about Immanent Powers and how they work—there’s a very strong prohibition against experimenting with them thanks to one major and a couple of minor disasters spawned from bad things the Immanents did when humans got creative. And of course, as much as humans may want more power, if their Immanent decides to ascend to godhood, even the best of them cause disasters and leave the land empty for a time.

On the flip side, it is puzzling that the Powers have no concept of equivalent relationships. It’s all about dominance and subordination.

The book did feel a bit long to me. There are a lot of longer descriptive passages, and I wasn’t always a fan of when the story would cut away from the main two to show some of what the more minor characters were doing. It felt like it took a long time for Kehera and Innisth to meet. Once they do, Kehera–who was able to go along with the idea of being married off to a maniac on the slim chance she could be rescued, and to keep her country from being destroyed–balks at the idea of a similar sort of alliance with Innisth. Even though she agrees with all of his reasons.

It’s not her protest I minded so much as what she did next. In a moment where she totally loses her head, she causes a disaster within Innisth’s household. That was one of two moments I really didn’t care for in the book. Innisth did need people to stand up to him and challenge him in a nice way (those not trying to take over his country), but that was a cruel–and more importantly, really stupid–way to do it. Now she’s really angered the guy that needs to help save her country.

Another thing I really disliked was Innisth telling his new wife, right after they get married, that he has no intention of giving up his homosexual lover. This fits his character. What bothers me is that his wife is totally fine with the fact he’s going to be sharing his attentions with someone else. She’s started to care for him, and regardless of whether she agrees with his decision or not, I can’t believe she wouldn’t feel at least a little slighted or rejected or jealous that he’s basically told her she won’t be allowed his full loyalty.

And I didn’t care for how the ending treated Innisth. Tirovay seems to be advocating for himself the exact thing he doesn’t want Innisth to do, but it’s okay because he’s not Innisth.

Anyway, overall it was not a story I would read again. I rate this book Neutral.