Advertisements

Book Review – Blood of Tyrants

Blood of Tyrants is the eighth book in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, and takes us to yet another part of the world, following Laurence and Temeraire as they continue to fight against Napoleon’s expanding empire.

In this book, there is a bit of a disconnect at the opening. Laurence awakens after washing up on foreign shores. He has no memory of the last eight years of his life — that portion that contains Temeraire and his life as a naval aviator. What could have been an exciting scene, as he is swept overboard in a storm, is left out and we begin with Laurence as he has to figure out what happened. He turns out to be in Japan, where he taken in and cared for, but is also a prisoner.

Some of Laurence’s actions as he tries to take in the oddities of Japanese culture are entertaining, but overall this part of the book was slow and ultimately has no bearing on the greater plot of the series.

While Laurence has been lost at sea, Temeraire refuses to give up hope that he still lives, but cannot begin to know where to look for him. The remaining crew and dragons head to China, where they have political business.

Of course Laurence and Temeraire are reunited eventually, and the story moves on to two other geographically distinct sections. While the overall plot moves forward, the book at this point feels like a series of novellas.

Even with the disjointed structure of this book, the series continues to improve following the chore of reading Tongues of Serpents. Familiar characters return, and the story moves back to a more direct conflict between Napoleon and the other world powers. While this still wasn’t as strong a book as the first three in the series, it sets up a reasonable expectation that the author can wrap the story up in one final book.

Advertisements

Book Review – Dark Prophecy

Dark Prophecy is book #1 in the Soul Storm series by Ann Gimpel. I had read an earlier version of this book shortly after its release, and the author released a revised version of this series a few years later. Since I had never finished reading the series *and* one of my goals for the year is to finish reading series, I picked up this book to re-read before delving into the next two.

My original review was written about the first version of the book, and can be found here under the title of Psyche’s Prophecy. I can’t say that I picked up on any major differences in terms of the character or plot, so I’m simply reprinting my review below.

In Dark Prophecy, author Ann Gimpel takes us to a near and possible future in which resources are scarce and rolling blackouts and gasoline shortages are increasing. Amid this burgeoning dystopia, psychotherapist Lara McGinnis stays busy, counseling disturbed teenagers, OCD patients, and couples with marital problems.

The story immediately takes on the trappings of a thriller before delving into the fantasy aspects that are at the heart of this mixed genre tale. Dr. McGinnis learns that patient Ken Beauchamp is abusing his pregnant wife and steps in to offer the woman assistance. Her help comes nearly too late. Mr. Beauchamp puts his wife in the hospital in critical condition, disappears from the authorities, and begins a course of stalking and retaliation upon Dr. McGinnis for her interference.

In her private practice as a psychotherapist, Lara has found that her long-time ability to read auras has always been handy. However, she has more frequent and disturbing visions as the conflict with Mr. Beauchamp and the unpredictable blackouts across the city continue. On top of this, a graduate student, one of her other patients, and even her live-in boyfriend, Trevor, have all had a common dream. Lara tries to solve this mystery while everything around her spirals deeper into chaos and her visions become darker.

The first half of this book kept me up at night, both as a page-turner and in sympathetic fear for Dr. McGinnis. This is a very good thing if you’re a fan of that type of story, but if the thought of having a stalker break into your residence will give you nightmares, then you may want to read this only during daylight hours.

As the story progresses, Lara must face who she is and what her paranormal abilities mean. There are dark forces at work other than Ken Beauchamp, and ancient mythologies turn out to have real relevance to modern life. Lara and Trevor’s characterization sparkled as they confronted new facets to Lara’s power and the inevitable changes to their world.

In the second half of the book, I felt like the tension lagged. Although to be fair, it was more like the type of tension changed, because this is where the fantasy aspects became heavier. A lot of information about magic, witches, and power is introduced that seems more like buildup for the next volume.

While there is a definite conclusion to this book, there are also many questions left unanswered. Dark Prophecy is the first book in a trilogy and I’m reading the second volume, Dark Pursuit, right now.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Book Review – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

This book is outside of my normal genre reads, but I picked it up on a whim one day last month. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is a guide to help declutter and tidy your home. It has soared to prominence and recently inspired a Netflix series.

This book lays out a method to approach your belongings to help determine which ones to keep and how to organize them to have a more tidy living space. The concept is a simple one, but the author lays out her thoughts in a way that helps to focus the reader upon choosing which items to keep rather than which ones should be disposed of.

This was a particularly helpful way for me to look at my own things. I tend to accumulate items and I have trouble disposing of anything that may have a future use. I also like to make piles of papers and books which sit and accumulate dust while I tell myself I’ll sort and/or read them some day.

The author instructs you to hold each item and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy” or not. While this concept has been lambasted in cartoons and articles on social media, when you read the more nuanced descriptions of her process, it makes a lot of sense.

Part of the way to organized!

One of the other ways in which Kondo’s approach is helpful is that it divides your belongings into discrete categories, starting with clothing, then books, and progressing from there. This road map can keep you more focused and helps to see how much you already own in each category.

So does this process work?

Sort of. I began my tidying a few weeks ago, right after reading this book. The process can be as quick or as slow as you want, and the author even throws out a 6 month time frame as an average.

I began with clothing, but due to time constraints, I chose to break that category up into smaller sections (dresses, skirts, pants, etc.) so that it was manageable in short blocks of time. Oddly, the process was fun and I soon had whittled my clothing down by about 50%.

The second part of Kondo’s process is to organize what you have left by stacking items vertically as much as possible. She gives directions on how to fold clothing and guidelines on what should be hung up instead of stored in drawers.

So many bins for organizing!

I think that so far, the most challenging part of the process is figuring out what to do with the items that I have chosen to discard. I’m trying to donate much of it and while I’m waiting for my pickup date to roll around, the bags of clothing that I’ve set aside make my home feel more chaotic.

Overall I think it has been a helpful exercise to start, but I still have a long ways to go. I’m planning to read Kondo’s second book soon (Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up).

Have you read either of her books? Have you watched Tidying Up on Netflix? Let me know in the comments.

Find all my book reviews here.

Previous Older Entries

Follow Blog via Email

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 255 other subscribers

%d bloggers like this: