Tag Archives: fantasy

Book Review: Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) by Naomi Novik

5 Apr

BlackPowderWarBlack Powder War picks up where Throne of Jade left off–in China, in the aftermath of the death of Prince Yongxing. As Temeraire and his crew are waiting for favorable winds to carry them home, orders arrive by a curious source to head at once to Istanbul where they are to pick up three valuable dragon eggs purchased by England. After a hasty and dangerous adventure across continents, they arrive in Istanbul to find the British Ambassador is dead and the authorities are none too eager to hand over what is rightfully the property of the British. To top it all, one of the eggs is close to hatching, and the crew must act before it is too late.

I took a bit of a break from Temeraire because to be honest, I wasn’t hugely impressed with the second book. My husband insisted it gets better, though, so for lack of other reading material, I picked up book three and I’m so glad I did! I liked this one even more than the first — same brilliant writing style, same wonderfully drawn characters (plus some new faces), and an even more interesting plot is a recipe for a book that will be thoroughly devoured by anyone who loves dragons as much as I do.

What entertains me most about these books is the diverse personalities of the dragons, of course, which I think is what got me down about Throne of Jade — for most of the book we only see Temeraire, and then some stuffy Chinese dragons who aren’t nearly as interesting as their British counterparts. In Black Powder War, we get to meet some ferals for the first time, plus the introduction of a certain fiery dragon who I cannot WAIT to read more about.

Plus, this story was a lot more fast-paced. The journey from China to Istanbul is much quicker and more full of adventure than the ship journey to China from England. And once they get there, there’s all sorts of covert operations they have to get up to–sneaking into harems and all that–and then that’s not the end of it; stealing across the border, they are further delayed, and you can sense the urgency of getting these eggs home in time.

I can’t wait to delve into the next installment. If you haven’t already checked Temeraire out, I suggest you do so!
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Book Review: Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2) by Naomi Novik

25 Jan

Throne of JadeWhen Temeraire is summoned to China to help with trade negotiations there, Captain Laurence naturally goes with him. But as the long journey ensues, it becomes clear that Laurence is not the first choice of the Chinese. Threats and assassination attempts, hidden behind a veil of polite ceremony, make Laurence all the more convinced that he and Temeraire need to return home. However, dragons are treated much differently in China than they are in England, and Temeraire might want to stay…

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like this book nearly as much as the first. The writing was as perfectly wonderful as it was before, and I loved the interaction between Temeraire and Laurence and watching their relationship unfold, and I felt immersed in the Napoleonic era, but the plot just didn’t do it for me.

The beginning felt promising: we’re going to China! Except it takes practically a year to get to China, and boy does the book let you know it. China didn’t actually show up until the last third of the book, and so the time spent there was rushed. I would have much rather skipped a lot of time at sea, which bored me a bit anyway, and spent more time discovering things in China. It was so interesting, the differences in the treatment of dragons, and I would have loved to explore those differences more in-depth, with more interactions with these other dragons.

That said, it’s not a bad read and I’m told the remaining books are just as brilliant as the first, so I’ll be continuing the series at some point soon!

Book Review: Arrows of the Queen (Heralds of Valdemar #1) by Mercedes Lackey

8 Jan

arrowsofthequeenWhen 13-year-old Talia is informed that she’s going to be married off, she runs away and wishes she could be chosen to join the Heralds like the ones in the tales she loves. But when a white horse sweeps her off her feet, she can’t believe that she has actually been chosen. Talia soon learns that there’s an awful lot to being a Herald, especially to being one of the Queen’s top advisors. And she needs to learn fast, because there’s a deadly plot brewing which could affect the future of the realm, and it’s up to Talia to stop it.

I’m afraid I’m about to voice an unpopular opinion! I didn’t really like this book. 😦

The plot is there–it’s a bit different, interesting, exciting, page-turning. The characters are there too–there’s a whole cast of them with fun back stories and personalities.

But honestly? This read like something I might have written when I was thirteen. I think the third person omniscient is what initially sparked this opinion, because third person omniscient has been beaten out of me with a stick. It cheapens the writing by making it seem as though the author could think of no other way to reveal whatever information Characters B and C and D are revealing. I prefer to be in the main characters head, watching for other character’s reactions and figuring things out with the main character. There’s no suspense with third person omniscient, making me a less eager reader.

And at the beginning, the way they just went on and on about “Oh, if you don’t know, we can’t tell you” made it seem like the author hadn’t quite decided WHAT was going on until the point at which someone COULD tell her what was happening. But at the same time, I felt like Talia was a bit stupid for not understanding what was happening in the first place. Of course, when the reader knows stuff the main character doesn’t because the reader already learned it from Characters B, C, and D, feeling like the main character is stupid tends to happen.

I feel like there was so much to this world that could have been explored–and, given that there are roughly a million other books written in this world, maybe they are there–but not enough detail was given. Then again, this book is marketed toward younger readers, so maybe if I’m craving that sort of detail I should pick up something older.

Anyway, this book wasn’t a total miss, I was just expecting a lot more depth and a different writing style. Still worth checking out as it comes highly recommended by others!

Book Review: The Witch of Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

30 Dec

witchofsaltandstormAvery Roe is a witch. Or at least she should be, if she could unlock the magic within her. Stolen from her grandmother’s cottage by her mother, Avery has been sheltered from magic. But her grandmother is fading, and someone must continue the Roe Witch line–the sailors on Prince Island depend on magical protection at sea. But when Avery’s ability to interpret dreams tells her of her own death, it seems there is no hope left. Unless a tattooed boy with magic of his own can break her mother’s curse before it’s too late.

Oh, my my my… I don’t know where to start. I’ll say that this was going to be my favourite book of the year.

The Good:

This book is exceptionally well written. I read other reviews that stated that they would have preferred more action. It certainly is a more narrative book, but that’s the sort I love, especially when done correctly. This book was literary. It was a study in what it means to be a good writer: so many beautiful descriptions and sensory details and little analogies–I’m pretty sure there’s more to this book than I was able to get out of it on a first read. Honestly, I was reminded a bit of Patricia C. Wrede who manages these things so excellently that I didn’t think I’d ever find someone quite as good.

Avery herself was an incredible main character. I loved her. She went after what she wanted and made plenty of mistakes along the way and was horribly disappointed at the outcome. She was real. She was refreshing.

The plot kept me turning pages. Not only was it interesting and a bit different from what I normally read, but I could practically hear the clock ticking on Avery’s time. Plus, the ending is unexpected–at least for YA.

The Bad:

The romance. The romance is really a key point in the plot, which makes it a romance I can get behind (if you follow this blog, you know I can get pretty critical of some romances!). But in my opinion, it happened too fast, and the boy who stole Avery’s heart was not developed nearly enough for my liking. If we had gotten to know him a bit better, I think the romance could have soared.

Pet peeve alert. I hate, hate, HATE reading books in present tense. My argument is this: books are stories that are written down. If they have been written down, they have already happened. If they have already happened, they should not be written in present tense. Obviously, the amount of present tense you’ll find these days in YA fiction shows that I’m pretty alone in this opinion, but it doesn’t stop present tense from grating on my nerves.

When an early chapter of Salt and Storm was written in present tense, I panicked and flipped to a page in the middle just to make sure I hadn’t been duped. Sigh of relief–that chapter was only in present tense because it was a dream. Later, other dreams were also written in present tense. This, I can stomach. It’s a way of differentiating between what’s a dream and what isn’t without using other transitions. Fine, because it had a purpose.

But the sudden switch on page 289 to present tense, which was maintained through the rest–nearly a third–of the book? I was tearing. my. hair. out.

My pet peeve aside, the previous use of present tense showed that the author MUST have been intending some deeper meaning with its usage in the last third. The rest of the writing is too smart for this to have been thrown in without reason. But whatever she was aiming for, she missed her mark with me. Clearly, the rest of the book was not a dream. Not a sleep-dream, anyway. Was it a remark on how Avery was accomplishing her life-long dreams? But then I thought the present tense should start even later. How she was in her dream, the one that set the plot into action? I think this is the most likely, but it was slow to click, and I honestly think it’s a statement that flew over the heads of most readers. But then again, other people don’t seem to be as sensitive to present tense as me.

Anyway, I still gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. If present tense doesn’t bother you, don’t be swayed by my negative comments–this really was an excellent book. But if it annoys you as much as it annoys me, beware.

Book Review: The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones (and Ursula Jones)

10 Dec

IslandsofChaldeaAileen is the youngest in a magical family, so she always thought she was supposed to be magical too. But she seems to have failed her initiation–and that isn’t even the biggest of her problems. Soon she and her aunt are sent off to fulfill a prophecy to lift the magical barrier surrounding Logra, the largest of the Islands of Chaldea. But even though they’ve been told they’re fated to achieve their goal, everything seems to be going wrong. It remains up to Aileen to save the day, with the help of an ugly cat, a boy from Logra, a holy man, and a hot air balloon.

I was astounded to come across this in the library the other day. Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite authors, and when she passed away in 2011 I was heartbroken. She was hugely talented, weaving magical tales filled with intricate details that seemed to come alive and certainly enchanted my 10-year-old self. The Lives of Christopher Chant, Howl’s Moving Castle, and A Tale of Time City in particular are high on my “favourite books” list.

This one was left unfinished at the time of Diana’s death, and was finished up by her sister Ursula and published earlier this year. It is definitely one of her younger stories and I felt it didn’t contain as much depth of character as her other books, but the world was still richly magical and the plot was fast-paced and tied together nicely.

I admit I was reading with an eye for the place where Ursula took over. I’ll never know if I found it, of course, but I thought there was a bit of a shift around page 190 (would love to hear other guesses in the comments below! An earlier guess was page 118–I can’t remember why–but that seemed almost too early). Certainly by the very end I could tell that it wasn’t Diana writing anymore, but that was only because I was conscious of it–it’s a fairly seamless transition. Certainly younger readers won’t pick up on anything. I thought Ursula did an admirable job of wrapping up her sister’s final story and I would love to encourage her to write more of her own; the talent seems to run in the family.

All in all, a surprising, enchanting story that left me spellbound until the end.

Book Review: The Thief (Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner

4 Dec

TheThiefGen is a thief, and as thieves so often are, he’s in prison. When he’s offered an opportunity to escape prison (at least for a little while) by stealing something for the King of Sounis, he’s forced into the chance. He spends his days traveling with the king’s magus, two useless boys, and a guard. No one will tell him where they’re going or what he’s meant to be stealing. But Gen has his own secrets, too, and it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do next.

I rated this book a 4/5 on Goodreads. To be honest, I think that’s a bit high. I think I was intimidated by the silver Newbery Honor medal on the cover.

I’ll start with the good: it is quite an interesting story, and Gen is a fantastic narrator–smart, witty, sarcastic, full of fire–I loved him from the first few pages.

However.

This wasn’t great as a fantasy novel. The world was not developed enough. Things that were happening in these countries were not expounded upon, just mentioned in passing. The time period seemed a bit mixed up (the author notes in the “Extras” section that there’s not specific date in our world that correlates). Much as I loved Gen, he and the rest of the characters weren’t developed very much either. When a couple of characters died, I was like, “Well, that happened.” I’d prefer to feel a tug at my heartstrings, not apathy.

I think a lot of this development was sacrificed for the “big reveal” at the end (which I admittedly did see coming, but I’m rarely surprised!). Rather than risk telling too much, the author told too little. I might have been more impressed if I knew that it didn’t have to be this way. The more recent The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen had some similar elements and a similar “big reveal” and did it much better, in my opinion.

Still, this was an entertaining book and for all of my complaints I won’t hesitate to grab the sequels when I can.

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik

29 Nov

Temeraire1The Napoleonic Wars are in full swing, with a twist: warriors on valiant dragons patrol the skies, engaging in aerial battles that could determine the outcome of the war. Captain Laurence of the Reliant, one of the ships of the British Royal Navy, never expected the direction his life would take after capturing a French vessel. On board was a dragon egg, and it was ready to hatch. Laurence manages to harness the dragon, which he names Temeraire, and together they must train to fight against the French troops. But training isn’t easy when Napoleon will do anything to make sure his dragon egg returns to him–even if it’s already hatched!

I had seen this book (and the rest of the series) around for several years and never thought to read it because it was an “adult book” and I tend to prefer YA for its typically quick and to-the-point style. But my husband started reading this series shortly before we left for Europe and raved about it, so I thought I’d give it a go and I wasn’t disappointed. Honestly, I’m surprised more of my friends haven’t read this and I highly recommend that they do! First of all, Napoleonic Wars with dragons? Yes, please.

The book does contain quite a bit of history and I feel like the voice was spot-on for the time period. The reader is immersed in the life of the very respectable Captain Laurence and his views will likely make you chuckle from time-to-time with how much he stands on ceremony. The battles are a mix of real and imagined (I mean, some of them kind of have to be–dragons and all that!).

Loved how different areas of the world had different breeds of dragons. Temeraire was easily my favorite character. Dragons in this world can speak straight out of the shell, but that doesn’t mean they have all the answers. Temeraire is a hugely intelligent dragon with the curiosity of a cat, and while some of the topics he chooses to question are rather deep or technical–mathematics, why the sea is not owned by man but land is–others become downright hysterical when posed to upright Laurence. After all, why DO men enjoy whores?

Temeraire and Laurence are explored most thoroughly in this first book, with a wide cast of characters circling around them who I hope are developed more in subsequent books. I’m particularly intrigued by Catherine and the Rolands (because yes, women can ride dragons, too!). I will admit that I was a bit bored by the battle scenes, not because they weren’t well-written, but because that’s my reading style–I love character interaction, not necessarily action. My husband LOVED the battle scenes because that’s what he enjoys. Either way, the battle scenes don’t make up the bulk of the book and it was still thoroughly enjoyable to me. This was a really excellent start to a series and I can’t wait to read the rest. Cal assures me that each one is just as good as the last! Highly recommend to all who enjoy fantasy, and particularly to Dragonriders of Pern fans as there were some similarities.

Did this book catch your interest? Check it out here!

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