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Book Review – Crucible of Gold

As one of my reading goals for 2019, I planned to finish reading several book series that I had enjoyed but never completed. One such series was the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, which brings dragons into the military of the Napoleonic Wars. I found that the sixth book (Tongues of Serpents) really dragged, so it took me a while to get back to the series.

Crucible of Gold is book #7 and picks up from the end of book #6 with Laurence and Temeraire still exiled to Australia. But this time, instead of wandering through a mainly uninhabited land, he is finally sent off to do something more interesting.

The French expansion now threatens Spain and Brazil, and Laurence is thought to be the best person to negotiate with the Tswana people as they threaten the Portuguese leaders in Rio. With Australia deemed reasonably close to Brazil, Laurence and Temeraire are sent off via ship for the New World. Of course, things do not go as expected, and one tragic event galvanized the story and made me truly wonder where it was going once more.

Eventually, they encounter the Inca and make a series of narrow escapes. The different human-dragon interactions and the variety of cultures was one of the more unique aspects of the story at this point. Much of the rest of the book involved travel from one place to the next, with a generally less focused story than the early books.

Interestingly, I found that starting with this book, each installment becomes less of a self-contained story. Each volume has a more indistinct ending and flows into the next book. At the same time, there are also larger jumps between places and time within one book.

This was still a better book than Tongues of Serpents and gave me hope for the last two books.

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Book Review – Fortress of Gold

Fortress of Gold is the second book in the Magicians Gold series by David Harten Watson. I had read the first book, Magic Teacher’s Son, when it came out, and you can find my review of it here.

The story opens with our protagonist, Pran, leading an expedition from the land of Eldor to the legendary kingdom of Earth. Magicians on Eldor have been fighting a desperate battle against an invading army from Marakna, where death-fueled sorcery is commonplace. When the enemy steals all of the gold that is vital to powering their white magic, the Eldoreans are defenseless.

Pran travels with a group of friends: Jelal, an experienced spy who looks to be 12 years old as a result of a spell accident, Samir, a friend and cousin, and Vitina, an enchantress whom Pran has fallen suddenly in love with. This journey was foretold in a prophecy in Book 1, and I was excited to see how it would unfold.

The plot was interesting enough and there is some definite appeal in watching the characters fumble through the culture shock of earth. It takes a while to get going as the heroes get oriented, but then the action was entertaining and enjoyable.

A few new secondary characters arrive to help Pran’s group, and I liked getting to know them. The main goal of the story turns this book into a heist tale, which was also fun. While magic can often be used to overcome any obstacle, the rules that the author has put in place in his story allows the heist to still be a significant challenge while imbuing creativity into the escapade.

One downside to this book was that the romance aspect between the characters didn’t feel real enough to me. Pran has fallen in love with Vitina, and this sudden infatuation could be blamed on the aftereffects of a healing spell she cast on him in the previous book. However, when a love triangle develops, it doesn’t feel like something that has grown organically from their interactions.

I know there’s supposed to be a third book, but I don’t know when it will be released. I’m curious to see how this wraps up, so I’ll be looking for it in the future.

Book Review – Spinning Silver

After reading Uprooted, I had to pick this one up next, and I’m glad I did. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik is another sort of fantasy and fairy tale blend, but this one feels like it is based slightly more in our world than Uprooted. The two books are stand-alone novels and are not related, so you don’t have to worry about reading in a particular order. You can read my review of Uprooted here.

This story follows three women and their intertwined stories. The book starts out from the perspective of Miryem, the Jewish daughter of a small village moneylender. Her father doesn’t do a very good job at moneylending, so Miryem helps out, saving their family from poverty.

Her actions draw the attention of the Staryk, an elf-like people who travel a magical road through their lands and are tied to the winter and snows. The Staryk king hears of Miryem’s ability to figuratively turn silver into gold and tasks her to do the same with his Staryk silver. She takes up his challenge and uses her creativity to solve problems.

Wanda is the eldest child in a poor farming family. Together with her two younger brothers, she struggles to keep food on the table while their abusive father drinks away what little coin they have. Miryem calls upon Wanda’s father to repay their debt, and since he lacks coin, he sends Wanda to work for the moneylender’s family. While their relationship starts out simple, eventually Wanda’s story is wrapped up in Miryem’s fate and the fantasy realm of the Staryk.

Irina is the third main character and is the daughter of the Duke in the larger city near Miryem’s village. Irina comes into the tale when Miryem’s Staryk silver catches the eye of the Duke. The tsar enters the story at this point, and turns out to be one of the antagonists of the tale when we learn that he is possessed by a demon.

The three women’s stories are woven together into a masterful plot that brings together several conflicts while each woman challenges her traditional role in this culture. The dual nature of this world resonates throughout the book, with human versus Staryk, human versus demon, and winter versus spring, all important themes. The enemies that the women face are not as simple as they originally seem, and the outcomes of events are unpredictable and fascinating.

I truly enjoyed this book as much as Uprooted, but it is a different kind of story, focused more on the human characters and their own struggles. This is one of my favorite books this year.

Fencing Tournament Report – Salt Lake City NAC (April 2019)

It’s been several months since this event and I haven’t had time to write down my thoughts on it until now. But I think it may still be of interest, and I want to complete my collection of write-ups on all the events I attended this past fencing season.

Events and Format

The April NAC was my second national level event for the 2018-2019 season. This event moves around every year and was held in Salt Lake City this time. You can find more about the format, registration, and other details of NAC events in my report on the December Cincinnati NAC here.

Every NAC features different events in terms of levels and age groups, with Veteran Open, Veteran age groups, and Divisions II and III contested in Salt Lake City. The NAC was also held concurrently with the Division I and Para-Fencing National Championships which required separate qualification. For this trip, I fenced in the Vet Open and Vet-40 events.

Location and Venue

The tournament was held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

This location was fairly central to the hotels, restaurants, and attractions. This was my second trip to Salt Lake City so I knew what to expect in terms of the venue and the city’s layout. Even though I stayed at a hotel about three blocks from the convention center, I rented a car so that I could explore further afield.

Of course, my last trip to Salt Lake City had been in July, so the outdoor options were a bit different this time around. If you do travel here and like hiking, make sure to bring your boots and other gear. I did a gorgeous hike when I visited in July, and managed another one (albeit shorter and snowier) this time.

At the same time as the NAC, a separate fitness convention (Fit Con) was held in the same convention center. I didn’t have a chance to look in on Fit Con, but a regional youth circuit event was held there, providing even more fencing options for the weekend.

Spring thunderstorms wreaked havoc with travel plans over the NAC weekend. I was fortunate to not have any delays or lost luggage, but several fencers never arrived at all. In certain events, the travel problems definitely affected the outcome of the day.

The Events and My Fencing

Since it’s been several months since this event, I don’t recall the details of the day. I fenced in the Vet-40 event on my first day and didn’t do well. My coordination was off and I think I may have been struggling with the altitude, despite all of my triathlon cardio training.

For the second day, I fared much better, winning the gold in the Open Veteran event. I still had some rough spots in my fencing, but my parries began to work and my feet cooperated better. You can see my gold medal bout below!

Full results from the April NAC can be found here.

It looks like US Fencing has scheduled the 2019 December NAC in Salt Lake City for this next season, so I guess I’ll be back soon.

Book Review – The True Queen

The True Queen is the second novel by author Zen Cho, and is a sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown, which I previously reviewed here. I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Set in Regency England, this book features the protagonist from the first book, Prunella, now Sorcerer Royal of the nation, but in a secondary role. The main story follows Muna, a young lady from distant Janda Baik who was taken in by Mak Genggang, a powerful sorceress that also makes a reappearance from the Sorcerer to the Crown.


Muna and her sister Sakti awaken on a beach with no memories of their past. They soon find their way to the household of Mak Genggang, where Sakti becomes a student of sorcery. However, both of the sisters appear to have been cursed, and when their plans to fix their ailment themselves go wrong, Mak Genggang is forced to send them away to England for their own protection.

During their journey, the sisters travel through Faerie, and Sakti disappears. Muna emerges into England alone and swears to find her sister, but also doesn’t trust the English sorcerers enough to tell them exactly what happened. Muna still manages to discover Sakti’s location and launches a daring plan to save her, taking Prunella’s friend Henrietta Stapleton along in her adventures.

Muna is a charming and tenacious heroine, but her ignorance of the customs in England add to her challenges. Despite this, I found that I liked the earlier Sorcerer to the Crown better than The True Queen. The ending wrapped up the story, but I felt a little confused with how it turned out in regards to Muna. I’ll still look out for any more books in this series though.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Uprooted

I had first read one of Naomi Novik’s books when I started the Temeraire series several years ago. I struggled to finish Tongues of Serpents and put that series down for some time. Then I kept hearing things about Novik’s two newer books (Uprooted, Spinning Silver) and I thought I’d give one a try.

Uprooted is a unique fairy tale story and I found it to be an enthralling read. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Julia Emelin. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the narrator’s accent, but once I became more involved in the story, it became easier to follow and fit the main character well.

Uprooted follows Agnieszka, a young woman in a small village near to the dread forest, where evil things live and sometimes emerge to bring magical blights and steal away the unwary. The Dragon, a mysterious wizard, protects the valley’s villages from the depredations of the wood, but every ten years, he takes a young woman away to his tower. While she is returned at the end of her service, seemingly unharmed, these women never stay in their former homes and leave for pursuits in distant lands.

This time, everyone knows that the Dragon will choose Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. She is beautiful, kind, and talented, and he always chooses the “best” the village has to offer. Despite this knowledge, Agnieszka cannot come to terms with Kasia’s fate, so she grasps her friend’s hand as the Dragon examines the girls on offer. The Dragon’s attention turns back to Agnieszka, and for reasons known only to the mage, he chooses her instead of Kasia.

Seemingly imprisoned at the top of the Dragon’s tower, Agnieszka tries to adjust to her new fate. Her days are filled with strange lessons and the Dragon is hardly hospitable. Yet her journey in this book is mesmerizing as she learns of her own powers. Kasia remains an important character through the book, and Agnieszka plays a careful game with the Dragon, princes, other wizards, and the dangers of the wood.

The entire novel felt like a fairy tale, but moved from a smaller story of a girl and a wizard to one that involved a greater struggle between good and evil and the entire kingdom. The character of Agnieszka makes a wonderfully stubborn and willful protagonist who values her friend Kasia and her village over rules and proper behavior. At the same time, the evil in this book was terrifying, but also with an undercurrent of melancholy.

Uprooted was one of the best books I’ve read this year, and so far is my favorite of Novik’s work.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Graphic Novel Review – Monstress Vol. 3 (Haven)

I’ve been gradually working my way through Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda and while I’m enjoying this series, the third volume was not my favorite. You can find my reviews of Volume 1 here, and Volume 2 here.

Monstress Volume 3 (Haven) follows our anti-hero protagonist, Maika, as she begins to come to terms with her demon and their shared powers. The plot resumes in the city of Pontus where a magical shield protects the inhabitants from outside dangers.


However, the Pontus shield is inoperable and Maika is enlisted to help repair it. At the same time, her companions explore the city. The fox-child Kippa discovers other fox refugees, and while she searches for her family Master Ren meets with his nekomancer bosses who have their own ideas about what he needs to do.

Pontus is attacked while Maika struggles to help protect the city. She delves further into her past and her heritage and I think she has grown more accepting of the demon inside of her.

Brief episodes of back story are interspersed with the main plot, as well as glimpses of conversations and events in other lands with side characters. It all became rather confusing, especially when taken together with trying to follow all the lore of the Elder Gods.

The spectacular artwork continued to draw me into this world, despite the muddled plot. I’m particularly enthralled by the variety of creatures.

While I intend to keep reading this series, this volume was not my favorite, mainly because I found the details hard to follow. Perhaps other readers would enjoy the mystery of it, but I like more concrete information.

Read more of my reviews here.

Race Report – Sandy Hook Time Trial 2019

I have been planning to race more cycling time trials when I had a chance, and I was finally able to make it to the New Jersey Time Trial Cup’s opening event on March 30.

Location and Course

This race took place at Sandy Hook, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. The course for the time trial is 7 miles of very flat roads. The elevation change is negligible, and the race follows a straight-forward out-and-back route.

The turn-around is wide and easy to navigate. I heard that some cyclists weren’t sure exactly where to turn, but it seemed clear to me.

There are several categories of entry to choose from for these races. They vary by type of bike, age, and category (how fast you are). Since I don’t own a TT bike, I entered the non-TT bike category. If you haven’t earned a higher category, then you’re a Cat 5 cyclist (this was me).

Weather Conditions

I am always cold, so one of the more off-putting aspects of an early season race is the prospect of chilly morning temperatures. However, one reason why I chose to enter this event was that the forecast didn’t seem too bad.

I had seen the wind forecast, but hadn’t given much thought to that. The sun was up and the temperature at the start was 52. As I checked in, it was clear that the southerly wind would be a huge factor in my race.

The road conditions were great with smooth pavement for the entire course. The road was not closed to cars, so riders had to still remain alert to passing traffic.

Check-In and Warm-Up

We found the parking lot easily and I made my way to the check-in table which was near the start. The process was simple – I just gave my name and they handed me my bib.

The event had waived the US Cycling license one-day fee for anyone who was a US Triathlon member which was a nice way to encourage triathletes to try out a time trial.

I returned to the car and started to get ready, assembling my gear and getting my bike on the trainer. I didn’t have a specific plan for my warm-up, but kept it to some easy pedaling followed by a series of progressively harder intervals.

I was definitely cold, so I kept my long-sleeved jersey on. My husband helped to pin my bib to my back, and I headed to the start.

Everyone who is racing is given a specific start time. It is the athlete’s responsibility to be at the start at the right time. Time trials are different in that a designated person holds your bike up so that you can be clipped in with both feet for a faster start. I had practiced this before my first TT 2 years ago and felt like I’d remember how to manage it.

While I waited in line, one of the other cyclists pointed out that my bib wasn’t oriented correctly. She re-pinned it for me, but it would have been helpful if that information had been more clearly available ahead of time.

My Race

Soon enough, my race had started! I felt like I had chosen an appropriate gear and I accelerated and built some speed.

I tried to keep my heart rate under control at the outset because I didn’t want to go out too hard. My plan was to divide the race into 4 parts. I would aim for steady effort in the first quarter, build to a stronger effort in the second and third parts, and then leave it all out there as I pushed hard to the finish in the last quarter.

I was able to keep my heart rate below 180, but also realized that I was moving at 22-23 mph due to a crazy tailwind. I think I ripped through the first mile in 3 minutes. This was a blast, but it meant that I was going to face that same wind head-on for the second half.

As I neared the turn-around, I started to see some of the earlier cyclists as they headed opposite me, toward the finish. I could tell from their expressions that they were no longer thrilled by the wind.

I made the turn and the wind wasn’t too bad to start with. However this part of the course was more sheltered than what lay ahead. My speed dropped significantly though, and my heart rate crept up.

I felt like I was making a steady effort, but as the course turned slightly, this brought the wind directly into my face. The sheltering brush grew more sparse. My speed fell further.

The last mile was grueling. I watched the distance on my computer tick away. I pushed harder than before and my heart rate soared.

Finally, I could see the finish. I gulped more air, kept my legs moving, and rolled across.

I shifted to my easiest gear and rolled back to the parking lot. I bundled myself back up in layers, stowed my bike, and headed home.

The full results for the event can be found here.

I finished in 24:46.6 which was close to my estimate of 25 minutes. Even though that put me at the bottom of my group, I felt like I raced as hard as I could and I’m happy with my day. I would like to do more TT events if/when my schedule allows it.

See more of my race reports here.

Book Review – Revisionary

Revisionary is the fourth and last book in the Magic Ex Libris series from Jim C. Hines. I haven’t read any of the author’s other series, but I found this one to be a lot of fun, so I’ll keep Hines in mind for future reads. I listened to the audiobook edition of Revisionary, narrated by David de Vries.

You can find my review of book 1, Libriomancerhere.

My mini-review of book 2, Codex Born, is here.

And my review of book 3, Unbound, is here.

Libriomancy is magic that is drawn out of books, and libriomancers study and catalog the contents of books so that they can access exactly what magic they need. By this fourth volume in the series, readers are well-acquainted with this form of magic and the array of supernatural creatures that co-inhabit our world.

Once secret, the existence of libriomancy and a variety of monsters was revealed to the public at the conclusion of the third book. In this next installment, our protagonist, Isaac Vainio, has become the public face of magic for the mundane world. Once a porter, his position has shifted to put him in a leadership role at the New Millenium center, a magical research facility outside of Las Vegas that focuses on humanitarian and medical uses of libriomancy. Part of his responsibilities include testifying before Congress about the role of magic in recent events and its potential use and misuse.

While Isaac and the Porters try to persuade the public of the benefits of magic, a group of inhuman assassins strike and take out several political advocates of anti-magic legislation. When Isaac and a close group of friends try to investigate, they must unravel a conspiracy that encompasses humans and libriomancers and threatens the entire world.

Isaac balances his investigation of the conspiracy and continues his research, all while staying in touch with his estranged brother’s family about his niece’s upcoming magical healing. Interludes in the novel show that his powers as a libriomancer have changed as he communicates with a reanimated Gutenberg by reading a secret autobiography of the Porters’ founder. As the story progresses, he must come to terms with his own identity as a libriomancer.

This book (and the entire series, really) was a lot of fun. The author’s familiarity and love of the fantasy and science fiction genres is clear whenever the characters use libriomancy. The plot brings together all the characters from the earlier books, some in new roles. The stakes were higher as the conflict had a more worldwide effect. The overall feel of a darker book that began in Unbound continues with more dire consequences, and not everyone survives.

The ending of Revisionary wrapped up a lot of plot threads and while it doesn’t rule out future stories in this world, I had to wonder about whether I could expect more books in the series or not. A quick search of the author’s blog revealed that he is not currently planning more after Revisionary. However, for completionist fans of the books, a short story (Chupacabra’s Song) and a novelette (Imprinted) set in this world are available.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Fencing Tournament Report – 2019 Veteran Sabre Slam

This tournament was held on March 10, so I’m a bit behind on writing a summary of the event, but I still wanted to get to it. This is another one of the tournaments in the Tri-State Veteran’s Cup. You can find my thoughts on some of this year’s events here and here.

Travel to the Event

This tournament was held at Sheridan Fencing Club in Manhattan. I was able to take the train into NYC and then grabbed a taxi for a quick trip across town.

The Venue

This was my first trip to Sheridan Fencing Club and I had a little trouble finding it. Due to the train schedule, I arrived earlier than I really needed to, and the club wasn’t open yet.

I didn’t see any signage to indicate the club’s location, even though I appeared to be in the right general area. It turns out that the entire front of the club is a large glass window. After hours, a metal door rolls down to cover the glass.

After only a few minutes, someone arrived to open the door and I found myself in a chilly but compact space. The heat kicked on and I tried to move around to warm myself up, but my hands and feet were cold for longer than I would have liked.

The fencing space only has six strips, but for the purposes of this event, that was adequate. One perk that I did not expect was that they were able to run instant replay for all of the direct elimination (DE) bouts.

While I was warming up, coffee and bagels arrived. I definitely needed that coffee and soon felt more prepared for fencing.

Tournament Format

This tournament was conducted in a standard format, with a round-robin style pool followed by 100% promotion into a DE tableau. The women’s event had 8 competitors and there were 25 in the men’s event.

The women fenced one large pool of 8, followed by a quick DE round. The men were divided into 4 pools (7, 6, 6, 6) and then DE’s.

Full results from the day can be found here.

One of my favorite aspects of this tournament was the prizes! The winners went home with a set of Japanese swords and a stand. It’s nice to have awards other than the standard fencing medals.

My Fencing

I had an uneven day in the tournament, going 5-2 in my pool. That made me seeded #2 for the DE tableau. Through my DE bouts I never really hit my normal stride and I struggled to do what I wanted to do. In the end, I finished in 2nd place, so it wasn’t really a bad day. I just felt like I didn’t fence terribly well.

See more of my tournament reports here.

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