Did Not Finish – Paladin of Souls – Lois McMaster Bujold

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Summary:

One of the most honored authors in the field of fantasy and science fiction, Lois McMaster Bujold transports us once more to a dark and troubled land and embroils us in a desperate struggle to preserve the endangered souls of a realm.

Three years have passed since the widowed Dowager Royina Ista found release from the curse of madness that kept her imprisoned in her family’s castle of Valenda. Her newfound freedom is costly, bittersweet with memories, regrets, and guilty secrets — for she knows the truth of what brought her land to the brink of destruction. And now the road — escape — beckons. . . . A simple pilgrimage, perhaps. Quite fitting for the Dowager Royina of all Chalion.

Yet something else is free, too — something beyond deadly. To the north lies the vital border fortress of Porifors. Memories linger there as well, of wars and invasions and the mighty Golden General of Jokona. And someone, something, watches from across that border — humans, demons, gods.

Ista thinks her little party of pilgrims wanders at will. But whose? When Ista’s retinue is unexpectedly set upon not long into its travels, a mysterious ally appears — a warrior nobleman who fights like a berserker. The temporary safety of her enigmatic champion’s castle cannot ease Ista’s mounting dread, however, when she finds his dark secrets are entangled with hers in a net of the gods’ own weaving.

In her dreams the threads are already drawing her to unforeseen chances, fateful meetings, fearsome choices. What the inscrutable gods commanded of her in the past brought her land to the brink of devastation. Now, once again, they have chosen Ista as their instrument. And again, for good or for ill, she must comply.

Review:

This novel won the Hugo, the Locus (fantasy novel) and the Nebula awards in 2004 for best novel. And on an objective level, I can see why this novel stood out for so many. It is the story of actual middle-aged woman, and it it’s a fairly quiet, contemplative story about trying to find a purpose in your life, as being Dowager Royina, her options are pretty much non-existent. Not only would it have been completely difference for 2003, but it would stand out even today. It is genuinely different and I appreciate that with all my heart.

And yet…

And yet…

I find myself not nearly as emotionally invested as I thought I would remain in this book. I’ve been working at this book for the last solid week and I was going a couple days without picking up the book. I was more or less making myself pick up this book. Heck, I even found myself reading a second book at the same time, which is something that I normally never do. It just wasn’t grabbing me. I tried to make a push to finish it this weekend and I couldn’t do it.

I wanted to put this out there though, because it does dare to do something different and I absolutely can see why this book is beloved by many. It may not have held my attention, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hold yours.

Enchantress (Everman Saga #1) – James Maxwell

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Summary:

Ella and her brother, Miro, are orphans, their parents killed long ago in the ongoing struggle against the mad Emperor.

From the day Ella witnesses an enchanter using his talents to save Miro from drowning, she knows what she wants to be. But the elite Academy of Enchanters expects tuition fees and knowledge. Determined, Ella sells flowers and studies every book she can. Meanwhile, Miro dreams of becoming one of the world’s finest swordsmen, wielding his nation’s powerful enchanted weapons in defense of his homeland.

A dark force rises in the east, conquering all in its path, and Miro leaves for the front. When the void Miro left is filled by Killian, a charming stranger from another land, Ella finds herself in love. But Killian has a secret, and Ella’s actions will determine the fate of her brother, her homeland, and the world.

Review:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Books don’t have to be original to be good. When I first started reading this, I was enjoying it for what it was: a fairly basic piece of epic fantasy with a semi-interesting magic system that went along with.

And then it fell apart.

An awfully convenient bit at the beginning about a noblewoman oddly befriending a peasant girl went from merely seeming like a plot device (needed a recommendation to get into Enchanting school, and what do you know, one source of recommendations is nobility) to flat out cliche that I suppose would be a spoiler if I revealed it, but let’s just say I mentioned it in my recent review of Red Queen and it worked hell of a lot better there.

Ella is a Mary Sue: she’s stunningly beautiful, she’s amazingly smart, she’s the most talented Enchantress in a generation, she loves her brother! Only nope, she’s a total idiot who falls for the painfully obvious bad guy, I legitimately can’t remember the last time I went “he’s going to betray her” during his very introduction. And when said betrayal goes down and she spends half the book tracking him on her own despite having no skills needed for such a trip at all, she gets caught because even though she knew he was in the area, she’s all “I still have time to take a bath!” And then starts flirting with him again after being his prisoner for a while. And then he changes.

For fuck’s sake. (Pardon the French)

I hate, hate, hate this trope of making otherwise intelligent girls into completely idiots around boys, and her actions in the later part of the book do not make up for that.

Her brother Miro isn’t so nearly a trope, but he’s not that interesting either.

Finally, we have a token best friend in Amber, who disappears at the 20% mark to return at the 80% mark because the author suddenly decided we needed the POV of the masses to show us how bad war is.

Just. Sigh.

Originally I was tempted to give this a borrow it recommendation because it’s well done for a self-published title and it could have been a book that scratched the itch of a fun bit of escapist fantasy. But yeah, in the end, I was started to yell at this book on twitter. Not squee, yell. And I can’t in good consciousness recommend a book like that.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

ARC Review: Red Queen (Red Queen Trilogy #1) – Victoria Aveyard

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The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

Review:

Though you are reading this in February of 2015, I picked this up right around Christmas. YA Bloggers were going nuts for the book and the book I’d chosen to try and read wasn’t really doing it for me, so I decided to hop with the #RQReadAlong. And having read it, I get it. This is easily one of the better YA books I’ve read in ages. First and foremost, although there are three guys here, the relationships are well developed so that when the actual bad guy is revealed, it’s both a surprise, but not cheap. I never once during the book was going “okay, that’s the one that’s going to be she ends up with.” Good job there, Aveyard.

As for other benchmarks – such as world building – she does a good job here too. While not that revolutionary, the division between the “Reds” and “Silvers” are well described and the powers of the Silvers are fun. It’s solid-all around.

I think one of my favorite things about this book is that things don’t always go Mare’s way, decisions she makes have unintended consequences and though you know she has to survive because it’s a trilogy, it certainly didn’t come easy. I appreciate that, because in far too many of these books, victory is almost always assured.

On the downside you do have some of the usual tropes here: like the training montage, the Mean Girl Rival and the Girl from the Sticks Gets To Join Royalty, but still, it’s so solidly done that I didn’t find myself minding them and you probably won’t either.

All in all, I get the hype for this book. Not only should fans of the genre love this, but I think it’ll be a good place for people to look when wanting to dip their toes in YA for the first time or those who are still kind of side-eying the genre although. It’s so nice to be pleasantly surprised.

Verdict: Buy it

Available: Today

 

The Originals: The Rise – Created by Julie Plec

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Family is power. The Original vampire family swore it to each other a thousand years ago. They pledged to remain together always and forever. But even when you’re immortal, promises are hard to keep.

Arriving in New Orleans in 1722, Original vampire siblings Klaus, Elijah and Rebekah Mikaelson believe they’ve escaped their dangerous past. But the city is lawless, a haven for witches and werewolves unwilling to share territory. The siblings are at their mercy…especially after Klaus meets the beautiful and mysterious Vivianne. Her impending marriage is key to ending the war between the supernatural factions—and Klaus’s attraction to her could destroy the uneasy alliance. As Elijah works toward securing a piece of the city for his family, and Rebekah fights her unexpected feelings for a French captain, will Klaus’s volatile desires bring their world crashing down—and tear them apart for good?

Review:

In some ways, this review is almost unnecessary: tie-in books and comics are basically created for existing fans. They don’t make a huge effort to introduce you to the characters, and while the stories themselves are complete, they will always feel like a small piece of a greater whole. It’s not unfair to say that those completely new to the books would just be complete lost, or at best, they’re never going to get as much out of it as a fan. That said, that doesn’t mean fans don’t deserve a good tie-in, because we are spending money on them and tie-ins do have a history of being uneven, let’s say. A good example is the recently ended Vampire Diaries comic. Some issues felt like they could have been expanded into the show proper, others felt like they were stories planned for other comics and just had the names changed to fit characters from the show.

So how does this fit in it?

It’s pretty good, actually.

The story focuses on the period of the decade after the arrival of the Original family in New Orleans, a time not really explored on the show, and for the most part, it’s solid, if relying a bit too much on the trope of Rebekah falling head-over-heels-in-love within moments of meeting a character. She always got the short end of the development stick on the show, and I’d have liked to seen her get some more depth here. It would be been a great place to do it, given that the show has always focused on the brothers more than her. But still, it was still less annoying that Klaus of all characters falling into a bit of insta-love. Over time Klaus does feel more like Klaus, but I would consider it the weak point of the novel.

Ultimately, the three siblings (as a reminder, Finn and Kol are daggered) get equal time, the book expands the universe in a way that’s believable, and is an easy, fun read. It’s a all you can ask from a book of this nature. If a fan picks it up, they should be pleased. I know I was.

Verdict: Providing you’re a fan, Buy It.

Available: Now

Jupiter Ascending: Oh Dear God No

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Don’t mind the 2014 on the poster. It’s not a misprint. Originally slated for July 2014, studios realized they’d made a very expensive ($179 million + promotional fees, so maybe close to $200 million) dollar mistake green-lighting this mess and pushed it back to February 2015.

Then Variety has the audacity to claim that because audiences are shunning it, it proves that audiences don’t want original premises and will become more conservative as a result.

No, Variety, sometimes the audiences get it right.

Jupiter Ascending is a mess, plain and simple. I’m not sure how the Wachowskis are still being given money to make films given their ONLY hit was the Matrix trilogy (and even then, it’s general consensus that the second two are pretty bad films too) and everything else has been plodding, special effect-laden messes,

This is not any different.

Your basic story is that Jupiter is an illegal immigrant, who works with her mom and aunt cleaning houses. Her life has no meaning, and she seemingly has no time for anything but work and sleep. She finds out that she’s the genetic copy of a deceased 90,000+ year old matriarch (it’s never explained how that quite happens, other than it is partially “spiritual” and is considered to be the equivalent of reincarnation), which some bees helpfully confirm by swarming around her in something akin to a flock and helpfully attacking a bad guy because they’re programmed to recognize royalty. Or something.

A trio of children from this lady want her dead because her claims presumably negate their claims to their property. It’s not entirely clear how she wrote her future-self into her will (thereby keeping control of Earth amongst presumably other things) and yet how her children (who are at least 14,004 per the sister) how have property. It’s not very clear. Anyway. Aside from explaining how they stay young, I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of the sister’s existence is other than explaining what passes for a plot because one scene ends and she’s never heard of again.

From there we get an oddly out of place scene commenting on bureaucracy (“I’ll never complain about the DMV again” which makes no sense when you consider she’s undocumented and therefore has no use for them) and from that point on it’s Jupiter going from scene to scene being gullible and stupid and then after a final explosion-laden set piece where I’m pretty sure she runs through the same set five times, she escapes, returns to earth, and somehow finds happiness and contentment in being a maid.

She literally OWNS the planet in the eyes of intergalactic law; is the scion of one of the universes most wealthy families and can’t even spare a few credits to at least let her tireless mom and aunt retire?

Idiot and selfish bitch.

A lot has been made of Redmayne’s overacting, and he deserves the flack he’s been given. He has zero reason to act in that manner: no one else in the film is! Everyone else is serviceable, but even the normally nice distraction of Tatum’s abs is heartily negated by his stupid space rollerblades which never stop being laughable.

Special effects are mediocre at best. The wirework slo-mo that was innovative in the Matrix looks dated and out of place in the few appearances it makes here. Sound design isn’t anything to write home about and even the music is almost laughable being bombastic when it’s trying to build up tension instead.

This film is an utter mess. I kept waffling on whether or not it was worth my time and money to see. I found a show for $8 dollars. I regret paying that much.

Wait for HBO or Starz. Even a $1 rental is spending too much.

Son of the Morning – Mark Alder

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Summary:

Edward the Third stands in the burnt ruin of an English church. He is beset on all sides. He needs a victory against the French to rescue his Kingship. Or he will die trying.

Philip of Valois can put 50,000 men in the field. He has sent his priests to summon the very Angels themselves to fight for France. Edward could call on God for aid but he is an usurper. What if God truly is on the side of the French?

But for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell and take an unholy war to France . . .

Mark Alder has brought the epic fantasy of George R.R. Martin to the vivid historical adventure of Bernard Cornwell and has a created a fantasy that will sweep you to a new vision of the Hundred Years War.

Review:

The Antichrist is the single most moral character in this book.

Seriously.

That sentence should defy all logic, and yet, Alder has done such a convincing job of laying out his version of Christianity that it actually winds up making perfect sense. In this world, as the story goes, Lucifer was the creator, and reveled in the joy of his creation, while the angel Ithekter wished to be worshiped. Eventually, Ithekter overthrew Lucifer, declared himself God and put Lucifer under the watch of his gaoler, Satan in Hell. Those who worship Lucifer claim that Christ was not the Son of God, but rather Lucifer in mortal form. Further, they go on to mention that demons are fallen angels, where devils are creatures “created from spite and envy.” And ever since that day, there has been civil war in Hell – between Lucifer, his demons and followers who would only wish for peace for all and Satan, who wishes to keep him contained. Lucifer is now trying to escape hell so he can set Earth back to what he created – as opposed to what the usurper has ultimately wrought on it.

And although this sounds sacrilegious at first, there’s something very respectful about all of this. The so-called “cult” of Lucifer isn’t an attack on Christianity at all. If anything, it comes across as Christianity in its most idealized state: equality for all, and no man above another. Ultimately, this retelling feels like a condemnation of the Catholic Church during this time period: the Angels only help those who build the biggest and the most beautiful temples, and God’s favor can literally be bought. There’s much talk of the divine right of Kings and you see many instances of the Church using its power to trod upon the underclasses. And the squabbles of man – such as Edward and Philip’s struggles to control France – are almost equally found amongst those that serve god and all have their own agenda. Lucifer wants out of Hell. God wants the AntiChrist left alive while Satan wants him dead (“Servants often have different plans than their masters” is mentioned more than once, as is the notion that God likes to play the angels and devils off one another for his affections). The divine politics are easily as complicated as (if not more so than) the politics on earth. It makes for some fantastic reading.

In a lot of ways, this book is about faith to: the Antichrist (who I don’t want to spoil) is a very moral man and his faith is absolute. LIkewise, Montagu, Lord Marschall of England, is devout in his beliefs as well. He hates himself for what he has done, so seeks to damn himself – although in so doing, he is serving Lucifer, and arguably, the better team. We also have characters like Osbert the pardoner whose faith only extends so far as to supporting the side that can support him best. It’s all complex and well thought out.

This is a book I gravitated towards because the summary grabbed me, and it yet it wound up being so much more than I expected it to be. If you can open yourself to what the book is trying to present, I think you’ll find that this book is not only an engrossing read that is beautifully written, but it may even make you think too.

This is easily the best book I’ve read to date this year, and I can’t imagine it not making my Top 10 list. If this intrigues you at all, hunt it down (sadly, this book doesn’t have an American distributor yet – tips for locating it will be below) because it’s definitely worth the read.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: NowIf you want to get your hands on the book, you’ll need to look to UK distributors. Your best bets are Amazon.co.uk for a Kindle version or The Book Depository for a physical copy. Amazon sellers just aren’t going to be a help here.

2015 Stacking the Shelves #2

Howdy everyone! After I posted my brief Did-Not-Finish piece on Masters of Blood and Bone I tried to give Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton a go. It did not end well. But where I thought the former book had potential, and this one was just boring, I decided to not post about it. So then I was again on the hunt for something to read. That something is Son of the Morning by Mark Alder, and so far it is great. It is also nearly 800 pages long so it’s taking me some time. So, on that note, I figured, well, why not time for another Stacking the Shelves?

eARCs – all provided by the publishers

I really have been pretty good and haven’t been requesting a lot of books, but I have picked up some:

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The Turnip Princess and other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales – just because I’m not a huge fan of fairytale retellings doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of the actual fairy tales. I look forward to giving this a shot

Flex – An urban fantasy where Flex is magic distilled into a drug in a universe that hates disruptions caused by magic. Consider me intrigued.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy – like it says on the tin: it’s meant as a introduction to all things geeky from fanfic to roleplay, conventions to cosplay. I’m a bit of a vet, but I still think this could be helpful to newbies (we all start somewhere, right?)

Books Purchased by Me

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The Originals: The Rise – The whole fangirling thing? I went to my first convention in 1998, it was for Xena: Warrior Princess. Since then I attended another Xena convention, multiple Comic Cons, Wonder Con a few times and most recently, Creation’s The Vampire Diaries convention. I bought this book both because I’m curious to see where they go with it and possibly with an eye to getting it signed at the con by a few of the actors. I haven’t decided yet. One thing I noticed: The book says “Created by Julie Plec,” but she’s not listed like an author on a title page, and even her introduction lists her as “Creator and Executive Producer.” Ghostwritten book, maybe? It wouldn’t surprise me. Anyway, still looking forward to reading this. Should be fun.

Snow Like Ashes – If you like to read, but can’t afford bookstore prices, one place to keep an eye on is Twitter. Bloggers often have more books than shelf space and will sometimes sell excess books to clear some space. I picked this up for $10 including shipping, a great deal because I get a basically new book and I help support another blogger! I picked it up because this was one of the favorites of the YA community last year, so I figure I’ll give it a shot.

Paladin of Souls – I visited an Antiquarian Book Fair yesterday. I could barely afford anything there (you know big dollars are there when books worth thousands are just out in reach of anyone), but I found this little gem. $15 for a pristine first edition signed by the author. Honestly, the beautiful cover grabbed me and the story – about a formerly mad, middle aged woman who goes on a pilgrimage because – sealed the deal. I’d bought this without the autograph. It’s just a lovely bonus 🙂

Book – contest giveaway

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Half Bad – Another darling of the YA community in 2014, I won a copy in a giveaway. It was one of those books that sounded kind of intriguing, but I never got around purchasing. For free though? I’ll totally give it a chance.

Seven books and only bought 4. Not bad 😉 What about you? Pick up anything new?