Thursday, March 22, 2012

Devil's Kitchen By Alison Deluca

Once again Alison DeLuca hits the ground running in the opening chapters of 'Devil's Kitchen', the second book in 'The Crown Phoenix Series' and the story never stops moving until the last page. While this book is a second novel in a series, `Devil's Kitchen' is written in such a way that it is a stand-alone novel.

In the first book of the series `The Night Watchman Express', we met Miriam, an unhappy young girl who was orphaned when her wealthy industrialist father dies. With no other family, her father's business partners, the Marchpanes, become her guardians. The Marchpanes immediately move into Miriam's house, and take over her father's rooms. (Mrs. Marchpane is deliciously evil.) They make their attempt to gain full control of Miriam's money and her father's company. In book one, Miriam's adventures lead her and Simon, the Marchpane's son to captivity on the train known as the Night Watchman's Express. In this tale, their stories are picked up right where they left off in book one.

The book opens with Miriam and Simon on the terrifying train known as the Night Watchman Express. She is immediately thrown into a prison, the infamous `Devil's Kitchen' and forced to labor in horrible conditions. There are the requisite nasty, cruel people there, but there are also many characters who are kind, caring people.

Miriam's strength and courage make both friends and enemies for her, and her resourcefulness and courage make for a great adventure. Simon also is forced to find his courage and his strength and use his wits to survive the situation that he finds himself in.

Simon is also held captive, in a prison of a very different sort, but one that is a prison nonetheless.

Her former governess, Mana is SO much more than she appears to be on the surface. Mana, her devoted aide Kyoge and Simon's friend Neil return to London for the express purpose of rescuing both Miriam and Simon. They concoct an elaborate scheme which does not go exactly as they planned.

All of the characters are clearly drawn, and the threads of the story are woven seamlessly through each of the protagonist's stories to make a wonderful fantasy adventure.

Just as in the first book of the series, the story is told almost as if it were a fairy tale, but it has a gritty steampunk quality that makes it a perfect rainy weekend read. There is danger, there is darkness, and suspense; there is a serious good vs. evil plot, and sometime evil is not as evil as it wants to be. I found that I was thinking about the characters at the end, and wondering what was going to happen next. This story captured my interest from page one of book one, and kept me turning the pages as fast as I could all the way through it to the end of book two. I enjoyed it immensely, and I am dying for book three!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ravenwild by Peter Plasse

One of the most beautifully illustrated books I have read in a long time is Ravenwild by Dr. Peter J. Plasse.  The gorgeous illustrations are by the incredibly talented Michael Longenecker. Even if the book were a dud, I would recommend it just for Longenecker's richly detailed paintings and drawings which are sprinkled thoughout the book!  However, this book is a very good read.  I spent a snowy day in March reading this tale, and I am now a confirmed fan.

Ravenwild is a fast-paced story, with a large cast of characters. In the first chapter we meet King Rolan Fairman and his second in command, Thargen.  He the king of Ravenwild, a small country in the world of Inam'Ra and has been at war all his life against both the gnomes and the trolls. He is once again under attack. His infant son is endangered, but he saves him, sending the boy and the queen to safety with his wizard, Taber.

The story switches to modern day Connecticut and Dr. Blake Strong. On his way home from the hospital one night he is tricked into a meeting with one 'Hemlock Simpleton, wizard extraordinaire' who tells him that a great many lives depend on him and on Jessica, his wife, and insists that they come to Ravenwild with him, even though it is 'interplanetary travel', or rather, 'interdimensional travel'. 

This is not a popular notion with their children, 16 yr old Orrie (son), and 10 yr old  Jaqueline (daughter). However, through a series of events, their 15 yr old daughter, Stephanie, ends up going to Ravenwild with 16 yr old Erik, the young Crown Prince.  The rest of the Strong family follow her, but they become separated.

In many books about teenaged heroes the parents are conveniently absent. In Ravenwild they were an important presence. The whole family has a sharp, sarcastic sense humour which had me chuckling along with them at times. The three children and their friends are each quite likable and are drawn with their own distinct personalities. They do share certain familial traits with their parents, which is common in a close family.

This book was definitely one of those books that began slowly, but got better as it went along.  As you read further and the Strong family is broken up and scattered, the branches of the story start to split off into this complex but exciting tale.

As the story progressess, we are introduced many other characters like Jared, the kind and lonely human who lived out in the woods of Ravenwild for years, and the deliciously evil troll Emporer Malance.

The tale is told from a variety of perspectives, from not only the 'good' side, but the 'bad' side as well. All of the different species, elves, dwarves and gnomes have distinct personality traits and mannerisms within their societies, and they are really well portrayed. Even the enemy species of the book (the Trolls), have a wide range of good and bad in their society.  There are the nasty Emperor Malance who despises humans, and the caring and helpful Daria and Forrester who do everything they can to help the Strong family.

This is an excellent first novel, and as I said at the beginning, the book is worth it for the artwork.  If you stick with it you will find a wonderful tale that is slated to be a trilogy.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Song of Dragons, Daniel Arenson

Published to Kindle in May of 2011, Blood of Requiem , the first book in the Song of Dragons trilogy is a compelling novel of love, power and family dysfunction. Based around the rift in a royal family that has destroyed a country and decimated a people, this story is frequently violent, sometimes heart-breaking, and always entertaining. Love runs deep in this tale, making a complex tale of humanity and inhumanity.
Author Daniel Arenson has written several other books which now lurk within my Kindle, awaiting my reading pleasure.
In Blood of Requiem Daniel Arenson has created an immersive and real world that takes what we thought we knew about dragons, griffins and were-people and twists it into a truly original tale. One of the things that struck me immediately was his use of Latin-sounding names for people and places, a touch which lends a sense of familiarity to his world. The reader immediately identifies the importance of each main character and place as they are introduced, because their names have strong historic and religious roots within our own society.
The Vir Requis are Weredragons, humans born with the ability to shift to draconic shape. The story opens with the final battle between two brothers, in which the young King of Requiem, Benedictus is the last of his kind, the Vir Requis to left alive. He manages to bite off the arm of his brother, the completely mad Dies Irae, and in the chaos he is able to flee to safety. Dies Irae survives and usurps the crown.
Dies Irae was not born with the ability to shift to dragon-form. This is seen as a defect by his autocratic father and as such he could not inherit the crown of Requiem. His younger brother Benedictus is instead made heir to the throne. Dies Irae later kidnaps Benedictus' daughter Gloriae, claiming her for his own, and takes the throne of Requiem by murdering his father. Griffins are bound to serve the ruler of Requiem by virtue of a sacred object, the Griffin Heart. Dies Irae steals that object, thus launching a war between those who can shape shift to dragonform and those who cannot, with himself as their new King. With the nearly invincible griffins in thrall to him, he succeeds in his genocide, leaving only a remnant of survivors. There is a rich, multi-layered backstory that is revealed in tantalizing bits as the story progresses
Hidden in the world are a few survivors of the Vir Requis, one of whom is Kyrie Eleison, a young boy weredragon who was found on the battlefield and taken into the home of a survivor, Mirum who raises him as her own. One day Dies Irae appears, and Mirum knows that Kyrie is in danger. She gives her life to allow him to escape, and he flees only to end up wounded and near death. Grief stricken, he determines to find the mythical black dragon, King Benedictus, and with his assistance Kyrie hopes take back Requiem from Dies Irae and his cruel daughter Gloriae.
Kyrie finds a man that he believes is Benedictus, who is going by the name Rex Tremendae. He forces his company on the old recluse and through a series of events he is proven right, Rex is none other than Benedictus. Kyrie forces Benedictus to face things that the old man would rather forget.
Benedictus' wife Lacrimosa and their daughter Agnus Dei still live, hidden away. There are many secrets and layers to the love story of Benedictus and Lacrimosa. She is a white weredragon, and Agnus Dei is a red weredragon. Kyrie is a green weredragon, and each color has strengths that are particular to that color that they can bring to any battle.
The many dimensions and rich backstory kept me reading, and turning the pages as fast as I could. I am impressed with the tapestry that Arenson weaves..Just when you think you have seen it all, there is more to see. I heartily recommend this engrossing tale to all who love dragons and truly enjoy epic fantasy.
All three of the books in this series are available for the Kindle and as paperbooks. They are also available in a just released, beautifully put together omnibus called Song of Dragons, which is available through Amazon as a paperbook.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Magic Crystal, L.T. Suzuki & Nia Suzuki-White

The first installment in ‘The Dream Merchant Saga’, ‘The MagicCrystal’ is absolutely enchanting.  As the authors say in the prologue, it is “an imperfect tale about imperfect people.” It is an untraditional fairy-tale, told in a thoroughly traditional style.  Written by the mother and daughter team of L.T. Suzuki of 'Imago' fame, and her young daughter Nia Suzuki-White, The Magic Crystal delivers on all counts.

The tale opens with the spoiled, temperamental, thoroughly aggravating 16 year old Princess Rose abusing her servants and ‘her jester’ an unfortunate boy named Tag.  Rose has ruined Tag's life, and made it impossible for him to achieve his goal of becoming a knight, something which he holds against her and she doesn’t give a fig about. She enjoys the fact that he has to serve her no matter what he really wishes.

Always looking out for herself, she has crafted a plan to trap the Tooth Fairy and thereby force her to grant Princess Rose 3 wishes.  Rose tries to force Tag to help her steal the tooth of a child. He refuses to help her, but she gets the tooth through bribery. Her plan succeeds, but goes awry, when the enraged fairy rats her out to her parents.  Her parents are not really that strong on discipline and leave it up to the tooth fairy to discipline Rose, as long as she doesn’t do any magic, such as changing her into a toad. Rose makes a bargain with the fairy who agrees to introduce her to the Dream Merchant who will make all her wishes come true.  Though she is warned many times that this is not that good of an idea, Rose insists and the fairy accepts a small silver heart-shaped locket in lieu of a good deed to make the deal binding.

Of course, Princess Rose is her usual charming self when the Dream Merchant arrives, and thus is set into motion a wonderful set of adventures that are perfectly befitting the arrogant girl. He tells her that she shall have no more than 3 wishes per day, and that devious manipulation of the rules on her part will reduce her to 1 wish per day.  He gives her a dream crystal and tells her to keep it safe, for if it should fall into the wrong hands, the consequences would be dire. She is told that she must learn something called wakeful dreaming to use it properly. He only asks for one thing in payment for the Crystal – the love of her parents.  She agrees, as she does not think that her parents love her since they are always trying to get her to behave.  He warns her to be careful of what she wishes for, tells her how to get hold of him if she wants to return the crystal and disappears.

Of course the next day she finds herself tossed out of the castle, and the only one who recognizes her is her despised jester, Tag who reluctantly helps her. Soon they are on a quest to find the one thing that can get her life back to normal - her heart. On the way they meet a wonderful character, Cankles Mayron, the local V.I (or Village Idiot).  He helps them out and becomes an indispensible part of their life.

I enjoyed this creative and amazing series of adventures immensely. I laughed and cried with Rose and Tag, and loved the way that one misadventure flowed into another. Sorcerers, dragons, and mistaken identity - it is all rolled into one of the funnier tales I have read in a long time. The uneasy alliance of Princess Rose and Tag, and Cankles is a brilliant, entertaining story that will become a classic in my family.  The Magic Crystal is a read-aloud sort of story, one that will enchant the adults as well as the children.

I am eagerly looking forward to reading the second installment in this series, The Silver Sword. It waits within my Kindle, tantalizing me, begging me to drop everything and read it!