Archive | August, 2013

Book Review: Raven Flight (Shadowfell #2) by Juliet Marillier

30 Aug

ImageAfter discovering that Neryn is a Caller, the rebel forces have made her an integral part of their plan to overthrow the evil King Keldec. With the help of the Good Folk, Neryn embarks on a journey to learn from the masters themselves–the leaders of the Good Folk. But time is running out, and if Shadowfell is to have a chance at defeating Keldec, they must act before next summer. That makes Neryn’s ability to complete her training nearly impossible, but the entire plan depends on her… Meanwhile, Flint is in Keldec’s grasp once more, but the king doesn’t trust him as he once did. With Flint’s loyalty in question, he’s in constant danger of being discovered.

You can read my review of the first book of the series, Shadowfell, here. I was a bit wary going into this one because I knew it was the second of three. In my experience, most middle books are my least favorite. They tend to be a bridge–just a transition book between setting everything up and the height of the story. Not so with Raven Flight.

I actually liked Raven Flight better than Shadowfell. The characters felt more developed and I liked them better–Neryn especially. I didn’t feel like I knew her very well in the first book, but this time around she just seemed much more interesting and I cared about her more. I’m not sure exactly what changed, but whatever it was, I liked it.

On the other hand, Flint irritated me a bit with his “I need to protect you, if I’m not around you’re not protected” stance. Neryn is proving more and more than she can protect herself. I understand where he’s coming from–having saved her life on more than one occasion and caring deeply about her–but seriously, if this relationship is going to work he needs to see that they’re on a pretty even footing here. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

Tali was a nice new addition. Well, we saw her at the end of Shadowfell, but she has a nice, central role in this one (and in the next one too!). I love Tali’s strength and a few of her other, contrasting facets that she showed at the end of the book. Perhaps Tali rubbed off on Neryn a bit and that’s why I ended up liking Neryn a bit more this time around.

One of my main complaints about the last book was that there wasn’t as much play with the politics as I thought there could be. While I still wanted a bit more, there was definitely more explanation in this book and more talk of politics and strategy, etc. That said, it made for a somewhat slow start if you’re not interested in that kind of stuff. I love politics-talk, personally–I kind of wanted more of it than the adventures!

I suppose my big complaint with this one is I still don’t know a lot about Keldec or how he “became” evil. I’m in the camp that unless you’re Voldemort, you can’t be wholly evil for no reason whatsoever. In this book, we’re actually introduced to Keldec and can see him at his sick games. Yes, he’s certainly evil–and believably so. But I want to know how he came to be that way. Finding enjoyment in making people suffer doesn’t happen overnight, surely, and it can’t all be his dislike of magic (why does he dislike it in the first place?).

Anyway, the end of this book has such a “oh no that did not just happen” moment that you’ll be begging for the next book when you’re finished, and I don’t think there’s a release date for that one yet!

An enjoyable read full of fantastic adventure.

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Book Review: Wintercraft by Jenna Burtenshaw

6 Aug

WintercraftWhen Kate Winters brings a bird back to life, she’s chased by Wardens and Collectors who know her for a Skilled–a person who work magic and heal people. High Councilwoman Da’ru has been experimenting on the skilled and desperately wants to put Kate through some tests. Silas Dane, the man who captures Kate, wants her to find a book created by her ancestors to help him with his own predicament. All Kate wants to know is what’s going on and how anything involves her.

This book was a quick read, but I wasn’t blown away. I felt like the whole thing was like a pile of quilt patches about to be sewn together. All the pieces were there but they hadn’t been stitched together properly yet. There were quite a few info-dumps and quite a few things that weren’t really explained or, if they were, weren’t woven through the various threads of the plot often enough for it to really sink in.

For instance, an over-arching plot was that the country had been at a lengthy war and that was why the Wardens had a habit of descending on towns and taking people away. But the logistics were off. The war had been going on for 10 years. If a country was at war for 10 years and was running out of manpower, don’t you think they’d be running out of other resources, too? Yet there was no mention of hard times or food being hard to come by. Secondly, they apparently took EVERYone, including women and children. Could women fight in the war? Did they train child soldiers? We don’t know. We later learn that these people are “sold” to individuals in the capital city, which made me think that maybe the war was a fake idea engineered by the rich people in the capital… but then it was mentioned again and I didn’t think so. I was then confused about why they were at war, who they were at war with, and how the heck they continued to support themselves with food and other necessities.

That said, the war wasn’t part of the plot at all. The main bit was Kate finding the book that her ancestors had written about all the dangers of going into the Veil and dealing with souls, and Silas wanting her to kill him (he was trapped between life and death). The plot moved quickly, which was nice for a quick read, though I got confused when it came to the magic and veil and felt that it could have been explained better. Part of the problem was that Kate wasn’t in control of her power most of the time, which made sense as she only just discovered she had any power at all. But–and this is a personal preference–I hate it when characters are simply “gifted” with something and don’t have to work at it. Her lack of power never really came into play in a negative fashion; she didn’t destroy anything or make something go wrong. She always ended up doing whatever she was meant to even though she didn’t know how. She was a “natural.” It just seems unrealistic to me.

On the other hand, the main characters–Kate and Silas–were okay. I particularly liked Silas, who had a brooding sort of quality about him. Hidden depths and all that. Kate annoyed me a little sometimes, but I liked that she didn’t turn into a teary mess when she was taken against her will. She was a pretty strong character all things considered. Some of the other characters–Edgar, Artemis–struck me as largely dispensable, but that might be because I didn’t really care either way about them.

I don’t mean to sound like I didn’t enjoy this book. I feel like I run that risk every time I read a book that I think could have been better. It was actually quite enjoyable–a fun, fast read–but there were little details that could have been added or changed to make the whole thing a lot better. I read it in (almost) one sitting doing some late-night babysitting and it certainly caught my interest and pulled me through the evening. Worth a shot if you see it on the shelf, and hey, you might have some different opinions.

Book Review: Splendors and Glooms (Fire Spell) by Laura Amy Schlitz

1 Aug

ImageClara Wintermute is the only surviving child of Dr. and Mrs. Wintermute after cholera swept through the house. As such, she’s led a rather sheltered life without many friends or much excitement. On a walk through the park she sees a puppet show put on by two children and their master, a man named Grisini. Fascinated, Clara MUST have them at her birthday party. She talks to Lizzie Rose and Parsefall before the show and quite likes them, even if she finds Grisini a bit frightening. Except the next day, Clara disappears. And it turns out there have been other mysterious disappearances associated with Grisini, too. That, coupled with a mysterious letter from a rich woman inviting Lizzie Rose and Parsefall to live with her is enough to make anyone suspicious. But what they find at the house is a little more than an old woman and puppets…

There are several things you should know about me as a reader. a) If you put Big Ben on the cover of a book, I am likely to pick it up. b) If you’ve set your book in the Victorian period, I’m likely already reading it. c) If you’ve done the above and also have Venice as a secondary setting, I’m probably in love. d) Throw in some magic spells? Might as well just give it five stars already.

Okay, so it isn’t as easy as all that, but this book ticked all the usual boxes as well: well-written, brilliant, likable characters, well-described setting (complete with Parsefall’s fantastic dialogue and Grisini muttering in Italian all the time). This was just one of those books that I loved from page one. It’s a library book and I’m putting it on my “to-buy” list so that I can have it around for re-reading purposes.

I will admit that in the back of my mind I was a bit nervous. The prologue was in Cassandra’s perspective (that mysterious old woman), the first few chapters are in Clara’s perspective, and from there it switched up between Clara, Parsefall, Lizzie Rose, Grisini, and Cassandra. That sort of thing can be messed up really easily–I know I’m not brave enough to try it. However, I thought this was done seamlessly. What helped was that I was interested in all the characters, so I was never disappointed when one chapter ended and another began with another character. Also, the chapters seemed to flow into one another–the timing was always right.

Of all the characters, my favorite was probably Parsefall. He was a young boy who had been in Grisini’s care (if you could call it that) the longest. A pickpocket who refuses to wash, has a thorny exterior and a long, painful history but is actually quite sweet on the inside, and has a passion for the puppet business–he was just kind of adorable. Especially with that accent of his. Warning: he might take some deciphering at times, but the author’s good about explaining words he says through the other characters if their meaning isn’t intuitive. Like “stumpy.”

As for the plot, here lies my only complaint, and a minor one at that. I felt like there were two competing problems: first, Clara’s disappearance. Second, Cassandra needed a magical stone–the fire opal–to be stolen before it consumed her. These two plots intertwined wonderfully, but I felt like the conclusion to the latter could have been drawn out a bit more. It seemed to happen quite fast. I would have liked the characters to have a bit more time with the stone before what happened, well, happened. I won’t go into detail for the sake of spoilers, but if you’ve read the book you’ll know what I’m on about.

At any rate, if you’re into young adult fantasy set in Victorian London (or any one of those aspects) go check it out! I rushed off to see if the author had any other books, and I was pleased with what I found. Also, it’s a Newbery Honor book. So it has that seal of approval. =D Loved it.

**Note: My copy of the book is called “Fire Spell” but “Splendors and Glooms” is what pops up on Goodreads. Depending on where you’re living it could be either of these titles!

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