Friday, January 23, 2015

The Blacksmith's Son, by Michael G. Manning






The Blacksmith's Son by Michael G. Manning is an interesting book. It is a voyage of discovery, with plenty of adventure midst a great amount of humor, and is the lead-off book for the Mageborn series. I had a great time with this book.

BUT FIRST THE BLURB:
Mordecai’s simple life as the son of a blacksmith is transformed by the discovery of his magical birthright. As he journeys to understand the power within him he is drawn into a dangerous plot to destroy the Duke of Lancaster and undermine the Kingdom of Lothion. Love and treachery combine to embroil him in events he was never prepared to face. What he uncovers will change his understanding of the past, and alter the future of those around him.

MY REVIEW:
Mort is a great character, both wise beyond his years and naive as heck. Manning goes deep into the world of Lothian, creating characters who are real and who respond to their circumstances in entirely realistic ways. 

At first he his unaware of his birthright, and as his gifts develop and his knack for trouble unfolds, Mort grows into a strong character. I liked the interactions between Mort, his friend of noble birth, Marcus, and his love for good, brave, honest Penny.

Devon Tremont is a complete villain, the perfect evil character, as is Father Tonnsdale. They are well-drawn and dramatic, and both fear Mort's emerging powers.

I liked this story because it is a story. The surroundings of the village and castle, the people within the castle, their values and morals make a great backdrop to this tale of political intrigue and high adventure. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Kandide and the Secrets of the Mist, by Diana S. Zimmerman



As a grandmother, I often check out books that are suitable to buy for my older grandchildren, books that may not be labeled as young adult. Beautifully illustrated by Maxine Gadd, Kandide and the Secrets of the Mist, by Diana S. Zimmerman is an excellent choice if you or you older child/young adult loves fantasy romance and fairy tales.

But FIRST THE BLURB:

What if everything you love is suddenly gone?

And everything you fear is all you have?

Welcome to Calabiyau. Still a teen in human years, Kandide is the personification of perfection. She is also spoiled beyond belief and vain beyond control. You won’t like her when you first meet her. Nevertheless, she is heir to Calabiyau’s throne and the keeper of the “Gift”—the key to the survival for all Fée.

When a terrible accident leaves her less than perfect, her own mother mercilessly sends her to a treacherous land where strange beasts roam the dark lifeless forest, and even stranger Fée rule its secret kingdom. If she is to survive, Kandide must battle terrifying creatures, as well as her own internal repulsion for the ‘Imperfects’ she is now like. But that is just the beginning of her troubles. Within Calabiyau a presence far more deadly is emerging.

Kandide’s prankster brother, Teren, her tomboy sister, Tara, and a group of misfit Imperfects set off on a perilous journey to save their sister and their land. They must challenge the darkest of forces to face an evil far worse than ever imagined. Calaiyau is forever changed. Or is it? Nevertheless, she is heir to Calabiyau’s throne and the keeper of the “Gift”—the key to the survival for all Fée. When a terrible accident leaves her less than “perfect,” Kandide's own mother mercilessly sends her to a treacherous land where strange beasts roam the dark lifeless forest and even stranger Fée rule its secret kingdom. If she is to survive, Kandide must battle hideous creatures, as well as her own repulsion for the “Imperfects” that she has become. But that is just the beginning of her troubles. Within Calabiyau, a presence far more deadly is emerging. Kandide’s prankster brother, Teren, her tomboy sister, Tara, and a group of misfit Imperfects set off on a perilous journey to save their sister and their land. They must challenge the darkest of forces to face an evil far worse than any imagined. Kandide and her kingdom are forever changed. Or are they?

MY REVIEW:

First, let me assure you that once you work your way past the daunting list of critical praises that make up a good portion of the front of this book, slog through the encyclopedic history of Kandide’s World, and arrive at the map, there is a really good story here midst the ornate descriptions, so stick with it, or skip those parts entirely. The actual story is great and the illustrations will definitely please young readers.

This is a tale that lays bare the falseness of eternally striving to achieve perfect beauty. In true fairytale fashion, this story lays bare the flaw in our own eye. Zimmerman frankly deals with the perception of physical beauty as determining ones worth. Yes, she wraps it up in flowery prose, but she hangs it out there, nonetheless. Vanity, lust for power, the irrational but pervasive fear of people with crippling disabilities, and the callous shunting aside of those less-than-beautiful who live among us forms the core of this tale.

Kandide herself is a little pain in the backside, but don’t quit on her. She is dealt a harsh lesson in compassion, learns to love, and sets out to right some wrongs. I enjoyed this tale enough to overlook the sometimes florid style of writing. It doesn’t ruin the book, and some readers will like that style.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Pawn of Prophecy, David Eddings



Pawn of Prophecy by the late David Eddings is a watershed book in the fantasy pantheon. It is the opening book in a 5-book series ultimately called The Belgariad. First published in 1982, I have read five paperback copies of this book to death.

But first, THE BLURB:

Long ago, the Storyteller claimed, in this first book of THE BELGARIAD, the evil god Torak drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

But Garion did not believe in such stories. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved--but did not know...?


MY REVIEW:
Many times I see authors try to force an exact, detailed picture of their world on the reader, and it ruins the story for me. An author doesn't have to beat me over the head with minute detail; that sort of thing bores me. David Eddings never fell into that trap. Eddings had the ability to convey a sense of place in a few well-chosen words.

The book opens in the kitchen of a farmhouse with Garion's memories of playing under the table in a kitchen as small child. He, is being raised by his Aunt Pol who works as the cook on a prosperous farm in a place called Sendaria. Garion has friends, and as time progresses he even has a wistful almost-romance with one of the girls there. But all is not as it appears, and Garion knows nothing of the reality of his family or the world he lives in.

He has other friends; Durnik the smith who is in love with Garion's Aunt Pol, and a strange old traveling storyteller, Mr. Wolf whom his aunt seems to know well and whom she grudgingly tolerates despite his strange attire and love of ale.

News arrives at the farm that causes Aunt Pol to abruptly leave, embarking with Garion on a journey of far more than merely a week or two, and he suffers a long period of doubt and depression. Fifteen-year-old Garion is poised on the edge of manhood--half child, and half adult. Obviously they are on the run, and he is fearful and angry at being kept in the dark--and not knowing the truth, be begins to believe his life to that point was nothing but a lie. 

In this first book, he doesn't discover who he is, but knowing who he is not is important. This is a vivid book, written from the heart. What David Eddings does in the first chapters of this book is truly magical. He immediately drew me in and within two paragraphs I was immersed in this world--I could smell the smell scents of the kitchen and visualize the people who worked there so companionably in the generous employ of Farmer Faldor. I felt I knew them, and I felt I knew that farm.

If you have never read the Belgariad, try the the first book, and you will be swept away. Be prepared to sit down and read, because this book is a truly great, immersive read.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Mr. Composure, Shaun Allan





This is one time when the spin-off story is so far beyond the movie there is no comparison. Indie author Shaun Allan was commissioned to write this original novella as a serial for WattPad, and he really knocked it out of the park. It is short, only 46 pages, but it is a gripping read.

But First--THE BLURB:
"Once upon a time..."

All the best stories begin that way. Once upon a time, Jack climbed a beanstalk. Cinderella did go to the ball.

Once upon a time, his parents died.

When your parents are killed in front of you on the one day of the year when all crime is legal, what do you do?

You prepare for next year. You prepare for payback...

-

Specially commissioned by NBC Universal for the release of the film The Purge: Anarchy, Mr. Composure is "simply superb" and ranked #1!

MY REVIEW:
From the first paragraph, this tale is gripping. The protagonist is never named, and in many ways we actually know more about the killer, whom our protagonist dubs Mr. Composure, and who has a first name: Tom, than we do our protagonist, despite the fact our protagonist is speaking to us all along.

His desire to get the man who killed his family becomes his reason for existence, and he spends the next year laying plans just for that opportunity. Society has completely collapsed, and starving, facing a life of thievery, he is taken in by a stranger and his wife.

The ending is--wow.

I give this tale 5 stars. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Jack of Shadows, Roger Zelazney


Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazney was a watershed book for me as a reader. In what can only be described as a genius move, Zelazney introduces the concept of the Trickster as the hero-antihero. Originally conceived as a serial for F&SF in 1971, it was published in book form that same year by Walker and Company.

But First, THE BLURB:

Shadowjack walks in silence and in shadows to seek vengeance upon his enemies. Who are his foes? All who would despise him or love the Lord of Bats: Smage of the Jackass Ears, the Colonel Who Never Died, the Borshin, and Quazer, winner of the Hellgames and abductor of the voluptuous Evene. One by one, Shadowjack would seek them out and have his revenge, building his power as he goes. And once his vengeance is obtained, he would come to terms with all others who are against him, he would unite the World of High Dudgeon, destroy the Land of Filth, and bring peace to the Shadowguard. But to accomplish all, Jack of Shadows must find Kolwynia, the Key That Was Lost..


MY REVIEW:

Lester del Rey was unimpressed with this tale, but I read this book to shreds. What I loved about this book was the typical Zelazney mystique--many questions abound regarding Shadowjack, and answers come at slow pace, just information enough to keep you interested, and be warned: not all your questions will be answered. Even the ending is a question!

Jack is an awesome character. He is good and he is bad. He has deep compassion and can be moved to do great deed that benefit all of humanity at the cost of his own life, but he will be the smallest, meanest man over a tiny little slight to his ego. He abuses his powers, and also uses them for good.

In this book, Zelazney fully realized the concept of 'shadow.' It is neither light nor dark, and it is not here or there. It all of those and none of them. Thus the unanswered questions. What Zelazney did in this less well-known of his books is create a story in which the reader decides what is true.

If you can find a copy of this book, pick it up. It is a quintessential Zelazney fantasy, combining testosterone, science, and high drama with magic and mystery. The characters are great, the world he sets them is is fantastic, and the story itself is intriguing.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hunted Heart, Alison DeLuca


I enjoy all things literary, and this gender-bent riff on the Snow-White tale is both literary and full of the fantastic. It is told in a style that harkens back to days gone by, to a time when prose was crafted for beauty as well as for the action it portrayed.

But First--THE BLURB:
When Tali is hired to cut out the heart of Prince Kas, the huntress can’t refuse. Tali realizes there is no escape from the dark magic of the queen’s mirror, even though her own feelings for the prince are far too complex to understand.

As they try to run from their shared destiny, Tali and Kas have to rely on their wits and each other as hunter becomes prey and hearts are won and lost.

A genderbent Snow White for adults (18+ only.) All royalties go to SavetheChildren.org.

*Warning: Chapter 21 contains details about an attempted sexual assault. Also, several chapters detail an assault in the main character's background. Although there are no explicit details, readers sensitive to being triggered by references to sexual assault should exercise caution.
 

MY REVIEW:
Tali is an awesome character, strong and loyal, despite the terrible things that happened in her childhood. She is complex, and driven by her loyalty to her guardian. Prince Kas is no two-dimensional Disney prince either--he is multilayered and quite driven by human emotions. The setting and culture DeLuca places them in is baroque and mysterious. Their story is both harsh and intriguing, and is not sugar-coated in anyway.

The style of writing in this tale is a bit more descriptive and ornate than I usually gravitate to, but I was intrigued by Tali and her situation enough that I soon got into the tale--she is forced down a path she doesn't want to take, and manipulated by one of the best portrayed evil protagonists I have read in a long time. Queen Leila is more nasty, more selfish, and more hateful than Voldemort in a dress.

I highly recommend Hunted Heart to those who love romance and new takes of traditional tales. Alison DeLuca is a masterful storyteller.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Elantris, Brandon Sanderson



I had a hard time getting into this book, but once I did--wow! Elantris by Brandon Sanderson is a deep commentary on fear, lust for power, and humanity.

But first, The BLURB:

Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

My REVIEW:
The setting of this book is the ruined city that once was the shining example of all things wonderful in the world, and which is now a tomb for the living dead. There are three main characters, which was a little offsetting at first, but as I got into the tale, I saw the reason for it, and the story couldn't be told any other way.

Prince Raoden wakes up to find himself afflicted with the curse of 'the shaod,' the physical manifestation of the once beautiful, but now terrible, change. Despite being heir to the throne, he is declared dead and secretly thrust into the city with little food. He finds many reasons to fight against his lot, and struggles to raise the inhabitants of Elantris from the anarchy they have fallen into in their hunger and despair. Raoden is driven to find an answer, to discover the answer to why the Aons no longer work, and to restore their power, thereby returning Elantiris to health.

Sarene is a princess who is married by proxy to the now officially dead Prince Raoden.  She arrives in Arelon, a widow before she has even met her husband, and, despite some roadblocks, immediately takes charge, as she is the only one really suited for the task. She sees the reality that the Arelon nobility ignores, and begins her efforts to both improve the lives of her new people, and head off the impending doom represented by a foreign religion that is poised to take over Arelon. When she realizes what Elantris conceals, and that her husband is there, she takes decisive action, sending food and other encouragement.

Hrathon is the high priest in charge of converting Arelon to his religion and placing a puppet on the throne. His own sense of honor and nobility get in the way of his duty, which sets things up for a spectacular finish. He is complicated, both likable and unlikable.

This is a complicated read, but well worth the effort. The characters are deeply compelling, and Sanderson draws you into his world of magic and logic with precision and a flair for intense drama. I highly recommend Elantris as a one-of-a-kind fantasy set in a distinct and unique world.