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Book Review – The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is the first book in N. K. Jemisin’s newest series, The Broken Earth. I have read all of her previous novels, and like her other work, The Fifth Season brings a truly unique world to life. The world-building is fascinating, but for some readers, may be confusing in that the author never dumps any long explanatory passages into the story. This requires the reader to piece the information together while suspending many questions, but everything you need to know is in there. The book also contains a glossary at the back for many of the terms.

Fifth Season Cover

Once the world of The Fifth Season starts to become clear, it is one of the most bizarre and mesmerizing settings I have ever encountered. Civilization flourishes between Fifth Seasons, each one a devastating volcanic winter in a world plagued by frequent seismic and geologic upheaval. During a Season, anarchy reigns, and only those who follow the ancient stonelore and are willing to take extreme measures to defend their homes and supplies survive. The people who live in this land are not quite human, and other non-human denizens, mysterious obelisks, and fragments from lost civilizations lurk across the surface and below.

A few people are born with the ability to sense and manipulate the earth, giving them a sort of geology-magic. Of course, this power comes with a price, and these orogenes are feared because they can freeze and destroy anything or anyone around them if they lose control. If they choose to, they could trigger earthquakes or worse. Set in place to control the orogenes are the Guardians, with their own set of strange powers. The book brings up the question of who is really in control – the orogenes, the Guardians, the Emperor, or someone or something else, and even the characters in play don’t know the answer.

The story is told through three different point-of-view characters. As the plot emerges, it becomes clear that each thread of the story is set at a different time. Essun is an orogene in hiding, having somehow escaped her Guardian. When a massive quake hits, she returns home to discover that her husband has murdered their son and disappeared with their daughter. Essun is determined to track down and kill her husband before he can hurt their daughter.

Damaya is a child who has just exhibited her orogene powers for the first time. In small villages, these children are often killed out of fear, superstition, or prejudice. Fortunately, Damaya’s parents have sent for help, and a Guardian arrives to take charge of her. Damaya trains in the Fulcrum to learn how to control her orogeny, but delves too deeply into its secrets.

Syenite is a trained orogene of the Fulcrum and is sent on a mission with the not-quite-sane Alabaster, a ten-ringed orogene who is supposed to mentor her, as well as father a child with her. Everything in their lives is controlled by the Fulcrum, but Syenite soon learns that Alabaster has been quietly subverting that control whenever he can.

One strange aspect of The Fifth Season is that it lacks an antagonist. While each character encounters physical obstacles or people who may post a danger or serve to slow down their progress, there is never a true enemy. In many ways, the greatest threat to all of them is the volatile earth itself. Even without an antagonist, the plot works well and remains engaging until the end.

The conclusion of the book was abrupt, and I felt like I was left hanging and was a little uncertain about what I was supposed to infer from one character’s revelation. The Fifth Season is only the first book in the series, so I hope that my questions are answered in the next volume.

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Book Review – How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig, is a bit outside the type of book that I would normally pick up. I acquired an advance copy at New York Comic-Con last year, so I thought I’d give it a try. This novel is a more literary treatment of a concept that I identify mainly with the movies and television show, Highlander.

Tom Hazard isn’t exactly an immortal, but he might as well be. He is one of a rare breed of humans who stops aging at a normal rate around his early teen years. In How to Stop Time, Tom is over 400 years old and appears closer to 40. Unlike Highlander, no one is  running amok with swords (unfortunately), looking to take out the other immortals.

Stop_Time

Tom had a rough childhood – his mother was killed for witchcraft once the villagers realized that Tom was different. He fled his home and had no understanding of his condition, thinking himself alone in the world. Years later, Tom discovers the Albatross Society, an organization of others with the same affliction. The society helps members move and hide, find jobs, and helps Tom realize that he is no longer alone. The head of the society, Hendrich, simply asks members to do an occasional job for him, and there’s one rule for the Society: you aren’t allowed to fall in love.

At first this sounds great to Tom. He had lost his wife to illness hundreds of years ago and has been grieving her ever since. The pain of this loss makes him realize he doesn’t want to become attached to anyone like that again. However, Tom also had a daughter, and he knows that she is an immortal like him. His main goal throughout the book is to find her and reunite with her.

The storytelling in this book alternates through different timelines, but was pretty easy to follow, with Tom always the narrator. Most of the plot follows the events of Tom’s life and how he has been dealing with his emotions. Little action or suspense is present through the story. For me, this was the weak point of this book. Tom’s despondency with his life becomes apparent early on, and he doesn’t seem to want to change.

The intrigues with the Albatross Society finally fuel some excitement by the end, but for me this book was not a page turner. However, it was easy to read and relatively short, so it may be something to pick up if you like a more literary treatment of a story that questions human mortality with a dash of time travel.

Book Review – Sorcerer to the Crown

I received Sorcerer to the Crown through NetGalley, and while I enjoyed the book, it wasn’t really what I had expected. This story by newcomer Zen Cho is set in Regency London and is a light and fun adventure filled with magic, humor, social commentary, and a little romance. Sorcerer to the Crown is a stand-alone novel that could be followed by more books in this alternate world.

sorcerer_front mech.indd

Zacharias Wythe was seized from his home as a child, sold into slavery, and raised in England by Sir Stephen, England’s Sorcerer Royal. He is freed and raised much like a son to the sorcerer and trained in magic as well. Zacharias inadvertently inherits his mentor’s position as Sorcerer Royal after Sir Stephen dies under mysterious circumstances. This shrouds Zacharias in suspicion, and with his race already making him an outsider amongst the London social elite, the other sorcerers in England plot against him.

The true protagonist of the novel is Prunella, a young lady who teaches at a school for magically gifted girls. However, it is unseemly for women to use magic, so the true purpose of the school is to teach the ladies how to avoid using their powers. Prunella is particularly gifted, but runs into trouble when Zacharias Wythe visits the school. She leaves with the new Sorcerer Royal and hopes to learn more about her powers and her past.

The plot weaves back and forth between these two, with Prunella struggling to master her magic while keeping some dangerous secrets. Zacharias works to discover why England is running out of magic, a problem likely linked to the Faerie realm.

I found the story to be light and engaging and the plot drew me in. Prunella is a fantastic character, and overshadows Zacharias with her audacity and bravery. I don’t read a lot of books set in this time period, but to someone who isn’t overly familiar with Regency novels, the historical aspects worked and nothing seemed out of place.

The mysteries behind Sir Stephen’s death and Prunella’s past are all cleared up in a satisfying way. While the stakes are high, the outcome is logical and happy, as befits the overall tone of the book.

I’ll be looking out for more books from Zen Cho in the future.

Book Review – Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

This book took a long time for me to read, but it was absolutely not the book’s fault at all. When I first started to read Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu, I was sidelined by other obligations and just never had enough time to read more than a few pages of the book at once. I’m sorry, but I would have struggled to stay engaged with even the most suspenseful page-turner at that time.

Sharakhai cover

I put the book down on purpose once I realized that I really liked it, but my snail’s pace was hampering my enjoyment of the story. Once the rest of my life was organized again (as much as it ever is, really), I went back to give this book the time that I thought it deserved, and was not disappointed.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the first book in a series titled The Song of the Shattered Sands, which is supposed to run to six books total. This fantasy novel is set in the desert city of Sharakhai and has a Middle Eastern or Arabic feel to the names, cultures, and details. The main character is Çeda, a pit fighter and courier for those customers who don’t want their business known. Sharakhai is ruled by twelve seemingly immortal Kings, and Çeda is determined to kill all of them because she blames them for the death of her mother when she was just a child.

It is a tall task for a pit fighter to go up against the mystical rulers of Sharakhai, and Çeda flounders trying to figure out how to avenge her mother. She has been left with only her mother’s book and the skills and knowledge of how to sneak to the fields of the adichara, deadly trees with forbidden blooms that grant the user a hypervigilant state.

The story opens on B’eht Ihman, the night on which the asirim (undead slaves of the Kings) search the city and claim several of its inhabitants. While this is a death sentence, it is also supposedly an honor to be chosen. It is forbidden to be out on the streets, a law which Çeda routinely flaunts. On that night, one of Çeda’s courier jobs goes wrong when her best friend, Emre, is nearly killed. She is also cornered by one of the asirim who wears a crown, whispers mysterious words to her, and plants a kiss upon her forehead.

There is more to the plot that Çeda’s desire for revenge, for the Kings of Sharakhai have numerous enemies, including neighboring states and a more organized ruthless rebel force, the Moonless Host. Their plot threads all begin to intertwine as Çeda is drawn into the secrets surrounding the Kings, solving riddles that are seemingly the keys to their demise.

The book begins by telling its story through mainly Çeda’s point-of-view, alternating the current day with flashbacks showing her time with her mother. These flashback scenes become more sparse once we have learned the necessary information, and other characters add to the narrative, including Emre, Ramahd (an emissary from another state), and even one of the Kings. This structure worked well for me, but as more characters are introduced, it did require some concentration to remember all of the political relationships between them.

I truly enjoyed Çeda’s tale and found her to be an enthralling and realistically drawn protagonist. Some of her secrets and foreshadowed events were obvious early on, but I believe that was an intentional decision by the author, as more of the excitement of the story comes in how she pulls off what she does. But this book also ends as one volume of a series should – with many unanswered questions. One aspect of the plot is wrapped up so there is still some satisfaction to be had, and it doesn’t end on a huge cliffhanger. The next book (With Blood Upon the Sand) is already available, and I plan to pick it up soon.

Mini Book Reviews – October 2017

I haven’t had as much time as I would like to read and write reviews, so here’s just a quick attempt to summarize some of what I’ve read this past year:

Zero World by Jason M. Hough – part science fiction, part spy thriller, this book was a lot of fun. I particularly liked that I could never truly anticipate where the author was going with the plot. The twists were intriguing and the world set up by this novel holds a lot of potential for more. I can’t even describe it more without giving something away.

The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold – a historical fantasy novel by one of my favorite authors. This story is set in Renaissance Italy and follows a young woman’s plight when she witnesses the murder of the local ruler. Using the bits of metal-magic that her father taught her, she has to rid the city of evil. I listened to this as an audiobook and enjoyed it, like most of Bujold’s work. However, it took me two tries to get through it, mostly because I was too busy to listen regularly.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog – I took a break from fiction to read this fascinating book about how people relate to animals in modern society. Even though I love the idea of non-fiction books, many are not written in a way that makes them easy to read. However, this book was engaging and allowed me to consider many new perspectives.

The Stand by Stephen King – It seems that this is considered one of King’s best works, but I did not enjoy it as much as some of his other books. I listened to this as an audiobook, and if I had read the physical book, I’m not sure that I would have made it through. I like the opening premise well enough: a deadly strain of flu escapes from a military research facility and kills most of the population. The spread of the flu and each character’s struggles as they deal with their friends and family dying, and the fall of most of civilization was a darkly fun read. However, most of the book then moves on to become a classic struggle of good versus evil with a lot of Christian mythologic overtones, which just isn’t very interesting to me. The antagonist is distant and never felt like enough of a threat, and the day-to-day activities of the characters dragged down the plot.

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris #2) by Jim C. Hines – I started to read this series because I loved the concept of a class of magicians who could magically pull technology, monsters, swords, etc. from books. I listened to this as an audiobook and it went quickly. I found the narrator a little off-putting at first, but then grew used to him. The narrative sneaks in some backstory for one of the characters in small excerpts through the regular chapters. I couldn’t always follow the numerous rules about the magic, but the plot moved quickly and the characters are unique.

Here is what I’m currently reading:

Twelve Kings in Sharakai (The Song of the Shattered Sands #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu – the first book in an epic fantasy series, set in a desert land with a well-developed mythos and world. I’m enjoying this one a lot so far, but I had to start from the beginning again when I had been too busy for several months.

Artemis by Andy Weir – I just snagged an ARC of this book by the author of The Martian at New York Comic-Con. It’s really good so far, and is the book I’ve been reaching for first this week.

Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire #6) by Naomi Novik – It’s been quite a while since I read any of this series, basically because there hadn’t been any more out yet at the time. It looks like Novik is up to nine books now, so I’m going to catch up. Dragons fight alongside human soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars. This volume sees our main character and his dragon sent to Australia after committing some treasonous acts in the previous volume.

How about you? Have you read any good books lately?

The Shannara Chronicles Recap – Episodes #1 and 2

So I’ve decided to write up a brief recap or review for season 2 of The Shannara Chronicles because: 1) it’s a fun show, 2) I read the books a long time ago, 3) I like to write things, and 4) I love Game of Thrones, but there are already plenty of sites that write about it (and really, there’s not much to cover for it between now and 2019).

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Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Season 2 starts off quickly with the episodes Druid (#1) and Wraith (#2). The first episode shows us Eretria in the immediate aftermath of season 1 before jumping ahead to events a year later. We see that Eretria has found a new place in the world and a new lover, Lyria, yet she still wonders why Wil and Amberle never came looking for her.

Wil has also found a new life, training to be a healer with the gnomes. Trouble starts when a stranger comes seeking healing, but turns out to have other reasons for seeking out a Shannara.

By the end of the first episode, the show has already set up two antagonists. General Riga is an elf who believes that magic is too dangerous and wants to rid the world of magic-users. The other enemy is one of pure magic, as Bandon, corrupted by an evil sword, tries to resurrect the Warlock Lord, originally destroyed by Wil’s father in the book, The Sword of Shannara.

The action moves quickly as Eretria and Lyria are kidnapped by rovers, who are then interrupted by a bounty hunter, Garet Jax. Wil is pursued by Mord Wraiths, summoned by Bandon to seek out the Warlock Lord’s skull, necessary to bring him back. Interesting associations start to take shape as more is revealed about the new characters.

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Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Lyria is revealed to be a princess, daughter of Queen Tamlin, ruler of the human kingdom of Leah, while Wil’s companion is Mareth, who can use some type of illusion magic and claims to be the daughter of Allanon. Where is that pesky druid, anyway? Well he’s been busy running back and forth to everyone trying to keep the world safe. He flees Skull Mountain to meet with King Ander before ending up back in Leah with most of the rest of the cast.

All together, the season is off to an intriguing start. The show is just as beautiful as season 1 was, both in the locales, special effects (I really like the fiery Mord Wraiths), and costumes. And like season 1, The Shannara Chronicles doesn’t shy away from killing off characters we like in season 2 either.

What were your favorites scenes so far? What do you think of the new characters? Let me know in the comments below!

Fan Movie Fun – The Hunt for Gollum

I caught the end of a television show about fan films a few nights ago. I did not realize that this was such a phenomenon, but apparently it is! The show discussed several films quickly, but I wanted to find out more. I’m a huge fan of the LotR books and films. I almost ran off to New Zealand when they were being filmed. So of course I had to check out this fan film: The Hunt of Gollum.

hunt-for-gollum-poster

The production value in this movie is amazing, especially when compared to the official films. While the plot may be confusing to anyone not familiar with LotR, the actors are well cast to look like those from Peter Jackson’s version. The voices are spot-on, especially Gollum. Even the music manages to echo that of the trilogy without quite copying its themes. At only 40 minutes in length, it’s worth a look for any fan of Tolkien and the film versions of LotR.

Check out the trailer and then the short film over at youtube.

 

I have some random links for everyone today!

 

Here is an article on tor.com discussing the recent 2015 Eisner awards and how comics are becoming more diverse in many ways.

I have several book reviews that went up over on Book Spot Central in the last few months. In case you missed them over there, they are:

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (graphic novel) by Andrew MacLean

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Link

Looking for a Few Reviewers

Is anyone out there interested in becoming a book reviewer? I’m looking for a handful of new reviewers over at Book Spot Central for genre novels. The site covers mainly fantasy and science fiction, but books with some mystery or romance elements are fine. You can also review graphic novels.

Benefits include the ability to get a Net Galley account where you can find e-book advance review copies of the latest books. If you may be interested, fill out the form below explaining why you want to write book reviews and a link to anything similar that you’ve written (or paste it into the other box if it isn’t available online).

Ken Liu Giveaway at Fantasy Scroll Mag

Hey, my friends over at Fantasy Scroll Mag are having a giveaway for Ken Liu’s first novel, The Grace of Kings. One prize is a signed copy of the book!

Other prizes in the giveaway package include a two-year subscription to the magazine and the Year One anthology e-book. It’s easy to enter, and you can make multiple entries. Check it out here:

Fantasy Scroll Mag Giveaway!

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