Tag Archives: 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.

Firebolt (The Dragonian #1)

Title: Firebolt

Author: Adrienne Woods

Series: The Dragonian #1

Elena Watkins is tired of her dad’s paranoia. Moving every three months, never settling down or making friends, never able to experience a normal life . . . and then the dragons attack, she wakes up in a magical country, and she realizes “normal” will never define her life again. No one knows who was after her (or was it her father?) or why. Now she’s struggling to fit into a world where the ordinary humans surrounding her might be dragons in disguise, and her own role might be bigger than anyone expects.

This book has a lot of solid parts, but it’s also kind of jerky. The first bit is a thriller, with the abnormal home life devolving into an attack that leaves Elena all but dead . . . and then the plot just forgets about that and moves on. Elena’s feelings for her father gets a few brief mentions but otherwise nobody brings up anything about that time, which felt really bizarre. The enemy doesn’t appear to have been killed, so the lack of follow through was puzzling. Elena doesn’t ask any questions about it. No one offers any answers. No one even offers to guard her against the possibility of future attacks.

Once we get past that, it’s pretty definitely a YA fantasy/paranormal romance. There’s one main romance (I can’t honestly call it a love triangle yet) although this is hampered by Elena’s emotions and will running one way and the plot clearly pointing her in another direction. I’m pretty sure the prophecy, for example, has a lot more to do with her romantic choices than anything else.

I did like Elena’s female roommates. They’re neat characters, and Sammy in particular was a lot of fun. I liked the dragon shapeshifters, the various types of dragons, and the various abilities. I wasn’t at all fond of the whole “dragon personality completely changes when claimed by a human,” which was disturbing to watch in action (even if it does clean up his character from jerk to decent guy). Especially since it’s a given this is going to happen again with Blake.

It is pretty easy to spot the overall way things are going, though, which makes Elena’s romance uninteresting and to my mind unimportant.

****SPOILERS****

Elena is clearly the daughter of the late monarchs, with her “mother’s” disappearance and its timeframe, and the prophecy about Blake, being some of the strongest evidence. Blake, equally clearly, is her Destined Soul Mate, so anything not involving him is basically doomed by Authorial Fiat, because the prophecy says the monarch’s child will claim the Rubicon. Elena even has a PICTURE of her “mother”, which she never bothers to bring out but would likely be instantly recognized by some of the older dragons who actually knew that dragon.

****SPOILERS END****

I was also a bit annoyed that so many of the riddles present in the book are just reusing rather famous ones. Particularly Elena’s last and hardest one. Given that it was part of a myth, the two pages devoted to her thinking it over had me wondering how she hadn’t run into this before, since her father likes riddles and this is hardly a new one.

I’m torn about continuing this series. I would probably read more on Kindle Unlimited, but I don’t think I like it enough to buy it outright (if this was in my library, it would get a rental). I feel like the story is dropping some interesting angles in favor of a love story it’s too obviously telegraphing can’t work anyway. On the other hand, the world was fun, and the dragons are by and large more fun, so I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them. I rate this book Neutral.

The Last Wizard (Wizard #8)

Title: The Last Wizard

Author: Simon Hawke

Series: Wizard #8

Talon may be the youngest of the Dark Ones, but he’s been scheming for centuries. And with all his opposition whittled away—by the Council, and their human Avatars—the time has come at last to strike. The Avatars have no idea the full extent of his plans. Even the human government, with all its resources, can’t provide more than a speed bump. It will be a battle of power Talon fully intends to win . . .

This was probably the worst place to start the series, but I didn’t realize HOW many books came before it until after I finished. And this was the only one I had on hand anyway, so, take my thoughts with that in mind.

If it sounds like I’m seeing the plot more through Talon than anyone else, that’s because he was not only the easiest character to latch on to, but the most consistent one. The actual Avatars themselves got a boatload of backstory but not much present-day action, so they weren’t all that interesting. The old professor was amusing, but he also doesn’t contribute a whole lot until the end. So Talon drove most of the story, as we get to see his schemes unfold.

Actually Rafe was my favorite character. Rafe understands well enough how the world works, and he can suss out Talon’s agenda enough to refuse to have any part of it. He’s maniacally single-minded about that, and it’s his will against Talon. And I love how the end of that plays out (although I don’t buy Rafe’s ultimate decision about what he’ll do . . . he seems wasted on something that won’t let him do more with what he already has).

I liked how tight the writing was, too. The descriptions are vivid and succinct, and the game of cat and mouse didn’t often falter. Most of the slower spots were the backstories of the various good guys, which series readers probably already know and I found more confusing than relevant. So this person has that person’s memories. Did it matter? No. So I don’t really care about the whole sequence unless that’s actually going to be important to THIS plot.

Overall, I found the world to be interesting, though I probably would’ve followed along a lot better if I’d found one of the earlier volumes and started there. If you’ve been reading the series, Recommended. But if this is the first book you’re looking at, I’d try to start somewhere else, and rate it Neutral.

Ocean Realm (Crystal Doors #2)

Title: Ocean Realm

Author: Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson

Series: Crystal Doors #2

Elantya is recovering from the merlon attack that nearly overpowered them. The threat isn’t over, but now they have time to figure out how they can defend the island, and what they might do against the evil mages Azric and Orpheon. Gwen, Vic, and the others don’t expect to have a large role—and then a kidnapping puts them in the heart of the ocean, under Azric’s power. Can they free themselves and save Elantya once again?

This had an okay story marred by a few really annoying things that kept throwing me out of it. Basically, “like on land but underwater” kept being a dealbreaker for me. Take the behavior of light. Yes, light goes through water. Badly. And this gets worse the deeper you go. According to a quick search, to match the behavior of light in the book, most of this has to take place about 200 meters below the surface. That’s a really shallow ocean. Or take how Vic’s father treats diving with rapid descents and ascents. There is one nod on the last one that he got the bends, but overall I was either expecting magic to explain it away or him to do things properly. And so on.

I also wasn’t that fond of the merlons. We finally get to see their society, so I was expecting a little more of the society and a little less of evil/stupid slave drivers with a king that behaves like a toddler either throwing a tantrum or distracted by a shiny toy. Vic feels sorry for killing one. That felt really forced to me, since their behavior barely puts them above dolphins on the intelligence scale. And none of them show any signs of not being evil, even if it’s not quite at Azric’s level. They’re pretty much here to be cannon fodder.

That said, the plot took a while to get going, but once it did, managed to keep things moving. Most of the focus was on Sharif and his character journey. It’s got a lot of message about slavery being bad and not looking down on people, though I did appreciate Sharif wasn’t really obvious in his superiority and so didn’t recognize it in himself. I also really liked one quote from late in the book.

“Mmm,” the Ven Sage said. “A choice may be unfair, unbearable, unreasonable, dishonorable, painful, awkward, complex, unethical, or impractical. It may even seem impossible. But there is always a choice, even if it is a bad or painful one.”

Overall, I’m not all that interested to see where this is heading. It’s obvious Orpheon still has a role to play, and that the prophecy will be fulfilled (though I would hope a few twists in its interpretation materialize). I’m still annoyed at how the worldbuilding and the science worked out, so I don’t think it’s worth trying to track down the final volume unless you liked it a lot better than I did. I rate this book Neutral.

Dragon Born: Chronicles of Dragon Aerie (Plague Born #1)

Title: Dragon Born: Chronicles of Dragon Aerie

Author: Travis Simmons

Series: Plague Born #1

On the night a slit-eyed baby was born, the dragons returned. Ravaging towns with their breath and their claws, slaughtering the people—and cursing many of the survivors with a disease that, if not fatal, might grant some the abilities of dragons themselves.

Wylan knows the events that surrounded her birth, but she’s still curious about dragons. She and her adoptive parents make a living scavenging, a life grown harder because the dragons are driving everything to ruin. But when she finally sees a dragon up close, it isn’t the encounter she imagined having . . .

This would have worked a lot better as a part 1 to some longer book, although even then there were pieces that would puzzle me.

The story opens—not with Wylan, who the summary would have you believe is the main character—but with the midwife who births her. Millie Bixby is as much a main character as Wylan is in this short piece, and the initial return of the dragons (along with their wreckage) gets a lot of detail. I thought the story went a little far here trying to humiliate Millie, mostly with the description of her pissing herself. I have no problem with the reaction, but the way it was described felt off, like the text was delighting in the fact rather than sympathizing with her. And Millie returns later on, to give a view of what’s been going on in the last remaining human towns while Wylan grows up.

I don’t really buy the way the wyverns have integrated into the town’s defense system. Unless I misread something and they are the majority of the town, in which case the setup makes a lot more sense. Millie’s drastic timeskip means the story loses a lot of interesting things, like how she determined she could shapeshift/had powers/was connected more to dragons, and how she reacted to that. Or how ordinary humans reacted to this. And are there other countries beyond the desert that people could run to, or is there some reason they’re stuck where they are? The story didn’t have time to introduce enough of the world, but even what’s here left me puzzled about certain bits.

Wylan’s story is fine until we get to the pivotal event, which goes by too quickly. I could write off her reactions as shock but her story basically ends right there, so there’s no sense of actually dealing with the event. Boom, it happens, and the next instant she’s vowing revenge, and then we swap back to Millie until the story finishes.

Speaking of, there isn’t much of a sense of cohesion to this. We have Millie’s story, which is basically entirely different from Wylan’s story, and there isn’t any kind of thread tying them together beyond the overall world and the fact that Millie happened to be there for Wylan’s birth. The end just stops—it doesn’t feel like an ending, just a chapter break. We don’t really get rising action, or any kind of payoff for reading just this segment. Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if this was just the first part of something else, but the fact that it’s treated like its own book makes me want something that feels like a cohesive story.

Overall, although I really like the idea of wyvern shapeshifters in a world with dragons, I’m not sure what to do with this. There’s a lot of solid writing on the bits that do work, but this feels more like bonus material than a story by itself. Wylan didn’t grab me with her personality, her story, or her decision, so that leaves reading a sequel solely based on enjoying her abilities . . .  and I’m not sure I want to do that. I rate this book Neutral.