Review – To Hold the Bridge – Garth Nix

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Summary:

Far to the north of the magical Old Kingdom, the Greenwash Bridge Company has been building a bridge for almost a hundred years. It is not an easy task, for many dangers threaten the bridge builders, from nomad raiders to Free Magic sorcerers. Despite the danger, Morghan wants nothing more than to join the Bridge Company as a cadet. But the company takes only the best, the most skillful Charter mages, and trains them hard, for the night might come when only a single young cadet must hold the bridge against many foes. Will Morghan be that cadet?

Also included in this collection are eighteen short stories that showcase Nix’s versatility as he adds a fantastical twist on an array of genres including science fiction, paranormal, realistic fiction, mystery, and adventure.

Review:

As always, short story collections are a hard review because different stories will appeal differently to you, so my review will mainly focus on the structure and form of the book itself.

First off, I want to point out something that I found to be a bit of a disappointment: not a single story in the collection.

Not. One.

Not even the “original” Old Kingdom novella, which the way the book touts you think it would be.

Instead, if you browse the earliest pages of the book, you’ll discover that everything in the is book was published between 2009 and 2013. While this probably isn’t an issue for anyone aside the most die-hard of nix fans (myself included), it is disappointing that Nix couldn’t even contribute anything new at all. I don’t know. $18 for reprints just seems high. I think I’d feel better about the collection if had been published as a trade paperback instead.

That aside, I do like the major revamp in formatting between the last collection I looked at and this one. Gone are the self-important introductions before each story, which I’m all too happy to see. The stories themselves are sorted by overarching themes: paranormal, coming of age, horror and the like. It makes it easier to find what you’re most interested in, though many are mutli-genre so you still might just want to read them beginning to end.

Content wise, I did enjoy the novella – it’s set in the world of the Old Kingdom while not being directly tied to the Abhorsen series. It’s a mostly quiet tale of a boy trying to find himself a place in the world and it works. The quality of the short stories overall is also definitely higher here than the last set I looked at, which you’d hope for as it’s been 20+ years and you’d expect at least some improvement. While I do think that he’s still better as a long-form writer, there is so much improvement that if you’re just going to grab one of his collections to check out, I would recommend this one instead.

So do I recommend it?

Yeah, I guess. Personally, if I could do it over again, I’d probably wait for it to be released in paperback because of the lack of truly new content. But for the stories themselves, I can give it a nod.

Verdict: Borrow It

Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

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Summary:

A great deal is happening in London and the country this season.

For starters, there’s the witch who tried to poison Kate at the Royal College of Wizards. There’s also the man who seems to be spying on Cecelia. (Though he’s not doing a very good job of it–so just what are his intentions?) And then there’s Oliver. Ever since he was turned into a tree, he hasn’t bothered to tell anyone where he is.

Clearly, magic is a deadly and dangerous business. And the girls might be in fear for their lives . . . if only they weren’t having so much fun!

Review:

When I did my Stacking the Shelves post the other day, I mentioned this book was an author recommendation but I wasn’t quite sure who recommended it. Pages in, I knew: Gail Carriger. To be sure, some quick Google-Fu tells me that this indeed one of her favorite books and that it was an influence of hers when she wrote Soulless all these years ago. I bring this up because in a way this book can be considered Carriger light – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you like the idea of her books but find her a bit much to handle, this Regency romance/fantasy might well more be your speed. It’s just something to keep in mind.

The big items of note here is that this book is a true epistolary format, that is to say the entire book is told through Cecelia (Cecy) and Kate’s letters back and forth between London and the countryside.

I kind of wish it hadn’t been.

There’s a lot to like her: Cecelia and Kate are likable, as are the men and the magic is subtle but used to good effect in an appropriately dastardly scheme. However, the choice of the letters ruins any momentum the plot has. It takes almost half the book to really pick up. I was getting close to giving up on it and less patient readers may well do so. The story was enjoyable enough that I wish it could have been told conventionally, because I think it would have been stronger for it.

On a side note: those who have read Regency romances may have issues with things like the girls easily flitting into the highest levels of the Ton (sorry, but that Marquis really wouldn’t have picked the untitled Kate without causing a great deal more scandal) and the guys aren’t nearly rakish enough for my taste. For all that there are whispers, there is never an ounce of behavior that seem to justify it. It could very well be because of the formatting, which again goes back to that whole “this may have been better told as a traditional story” bit.

This is definitely one of those reviews where I’m stretching to find something to write. It’s ultimately just kind of there. Although I do think Carriger can take it a bit far, I do think she is better at. If you like the idea of non-linear storytelling, then check out the forth-coming Illuminae instead as that does this style right. I don’t even know I can recommend it for fans of Regency Romance as it doesn’t quite work there either. I’m just not sure who to recommend it for. And because of that, I can only come to one conclusion:

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

Did Not Finish: Darkhaven – by A.F.E. Smith

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Summary:

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

I wanted to like this book. The premise seemed fun, and I’m always up for shifters that aren’t wolves. So what went so wrong?The plot contained in the summary above literally constitutes the first 3% of the book. I’m not kidding. I checked. There is no world building of any kind to speak of: the story just starts. This is problematic because it immediately invites questions, such as: why is Ayla so opposed to being Queen? The laws of Darkhaven seem to be pretty set in stone: you must be a Changer to rule. She can Change. Her half-brother cannot. That’s pretty cut and dry. And for that matter, why was her father keeping her so damn ignorant of affairs of state even though naming her heir was all but inevitable? There’s shame that she’s a half-blood, but still, risking the future of your kingdom over it is pretty bad. And for that matter, how does her being a half-blood result in being some kind of weird hybrid animal? I don’t think diluted blood works that way. For anything.

These were only a few of the questions I had. Ayla’s mother died in a landslide. One of the POV we get is from the guard who was supposed to be guarding her that day. He somehow slept through said landslide. How exactly does one do that? Especially when he’s like twenty feet away? And for that matter, why was he allowed to live and roam free? He was derelict in his duty and the Queen died for his negligence. Logic dictates that he be dead or locked up. I didn’t get far enough along to know for sure, but I’m pretty sure that it’s because he needs to live to meet up with our heroine and help her regain her throne. Our heroine, whom by the by is fascinated by translucent marble and helpful color-painted lines on the road that tell you where you need to go.

Where is this translucent marble and where can I get some? And why is this fancy gate resolved for such a seemingly low tier of society?

The last point of view of note (the prince has some, but not worth discussing) in the section I read belongs to a priestess, whom after getting over the fact OMG THE PRINCE TOUCHED HER (and reminding herself that her not-at-all-severe order requires herself to be chaste and surely the prince was just being polite) seems surprised that the royal palace of all places has plumbing, and that Ayla’s wordrobe is so much finer than her own. And she meditates for all of a single line. No, really.

Letting it fill her vision, she became one with the flame. [paragraph break] Later, the candle guttered and Serrena realised her muscles were stiff with sitting still.

Long meditation session, that. And why are we following in the first place? So we can get the revelation that if Ayla gets caught her fate is to be kept in a cage to be bred with her half-brother to produce future generations of Changers. I stopped there, by the way, before I could even get to wondering who would rule the country since there are no other Changers, but that’s beside the point. The point is the plot is just bad, and the writing does nothing to lift it. It’s full of melodrama:

An invisible monster had taken a giant bite out of the bank; earth and rock had vanished into the gorge, leaving only a crumbling lip. The ground was all cracked and torn around it, tumbled by a mighty force.

Landside.

[…]

He kept trying to convince himself of that, right up until he dropped to his knees at the edge of the crumbling bank and gazed down at the slowly eroding mound of debris in the river below – at the pile of rock and earth not quite concealing the splash of bright red that was Kati’s skirt.

Red had always been her favorite colour.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t take this seriously, even at the impulse pricing of £1.99. I can see the outlines of a decent traditional fantasy here, but for this genre and this price there are so many better options out there.

Stacking the Shelves #6

Ahhh. That nice lead I had built up starting on my vacation in April has finally ran out. I have to admit, I kept up that buffer longer than I expected, so I suppose I can’t complain. Basically though, don’t be surprised if I started missing days. Anyway, since I haven’t anything new to post today (confession: what I’m reading doesn’t qualify for this page anyway. Probably not the smartest, but I’m entitled ;))

So let’s see what’s new on my bookshelf!

eARCs received from publisher

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Lair of Dreams was a Read Now title that sounded interesting on Net Galley, but I just realized it is the second in a series. I’ll try giving it a look anyway – push comes to shove I may break down and get the first book. If I do that though, I obviously won’t be getting to this anytime soon. The Heart Goes Last I picked up basically because it’s Margaret Atwood. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read anything of hers before, but I’m interested to read this version of a dystopian society. And finally, A.F.E. Smith reached out to me about Darkhaven. I’ll probably take a look at this next 🙂

eBook purchased by me

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So this was on sale a few weeks ago. I picked it up based off on an author recommendation. I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t remember which author made it. Oops. My bad.

Physical books purchased by me

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A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length is the book that I’ve been reading that won’t get a review on this blog. The third (and presumably final) book of the Movies that Suck series by Roger Ebert, it’s something I have a personal fondness for which caused me to finally pick this up. I’ll do a true review on GoodReads when I finish it, so if you’re curious, keep an eye on that. As for To Hold the Bridge, I mainly picked this up out of a completion mindset. I absolutely LOVE the cover designs of this series and I just had to have it. On the plus side, there is the Abhorsen-related short story in there and the remaining short stories are actually new, as opposed to reprints of the previous collection. Look forward to getting to this.

So what’s new on your shelf. Anything good?

Supervillains Anonymous (Superheroes Anonymous #2) – Lexi Dunn

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Summary:

New superhero Gail Godwin, the one and only Hostage Girl, is in big trouble: her nemesis Chelsea is loose, someone close to her is dead, and everybody thinks Gail did it. To make matters worse, Davenport Industries has thrown her into a prison that just happens to be full of the very same supervillains who used to kidnap her on an almost daily basis.

Outside, things aren’t going all that great either. There’s a conspiracy that runs all the way to the bedrock of the superhero community, and it’s affecting everybody Gail loves. With her friends in the crosshairs, it’s up to her to escape and get to the bottom of things. Subterfuge, crime-fighting, and running away from everybody you know should be a cinch, right?

Wrong. Gail faces off against hero and villain alike just to stay alive, and you know what they say about supervillains. If you can’t beat them…join them.

Review:

Supervillains Anonymous is an improvement on Superheroes Anonymous in almost every way: the pacing is better, there is good action, and some of the best updates on the genre can be found here. If this were a sequel, I’d be singing its praises like whoa because sequels rarely improve on the first book. But this isn’t a sequel.

It’s a continuation.

If these two books were a roller coaster, Superheroes Anonymous did all the heavy lifting, tugging the car up to the top of the hill. Supervillains Anonymous gets to take advantage of gravity and zip right along. Of course it is going to be better than the first book: the first book did the hard part.

I suspected at the end of the first book that this had been one book cut into twain. You can’t convince me otherwise now. Don’t be fooled by the summary. She doesn’t join the supervillains. She never even considers it. As close as she gets is hiring one for help, and she’s not even that much a villain. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, but if you were actually expecting her to even consider going rogue, you’ll be disappointed.

I’m frustrated.

If these books had been pushed as one complete title, I’d recommend it without any question because together they are a full satisfying story. As it stands, it’s harder to. The first book suffers for having been split as it does and the second book is fun but doesn’t live up to the premise of its summary. I’ll also never like the thought of anyone paying twice for a single product.

Overall, I do think the books are worth a read, but read them back-to-back and maybe try to pick one of them on sale. It’s a good book, singular, and should be priced as such.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: June 30

Kushiel’s Avatar (Kushiel’s Legacy #3) – by Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It’s inhabited by the race that rose from the seed of angels, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. Phedre n Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman who recognized that she was pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Phedre’s path has been strange and dangerous. She has lain with princes and pirate kings, battled a wicked temptress, and saved two nations. Through it all, the devoted swordsman Joscelin has been at her side, following the central precept of the angel Cassiel: Protect and serve. But Phedre’s plans will put his pledge to the test, for she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe. She has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture to the Master of Straights, a bargain with the gods to save Phedre and a nation. The search will take Phedre and Joscelin across the world and down a fabled river to a forgotten land . . . and to a power so intense and mysterious, none dare speak its name.

Review:

There’s something about Carey’s words that I slip back into her world not unlike a comfortable bathrobe. No matter how much time has passed, it envelopes you in comfort and begs you to sit there and read. And lucky for us, her journey is as worth reading as ever. I will not lie: these books can be a heavy read, for in each of the three books of Phedre’s she winds up in slavery, and third time is easily the worst as what she suffers goes past sadism into torture, only her love of pain allowing her to keep her sanity. Thankfully, this section of the book is relatively small and handled well. We feel more than we see, and she never lingers. Instead, the bulk of the talk focuses on the Name of God, and here too she displays a deft and respectful hand. She never presumes to give him a name and there remains an ever presence sense of awe when she even thinks of it, it’s done well.

As always, the story remains part travelogue. Our tale take us to the Middle East and to Africa this time, and always, I love to read her descriptions because they are always so vivid. I admit, the amount of time dedicated to the intricacies of travel and locale could easily feel like dead weight in other stories, but here they work and work well.

Finally as a conclusion to a trilogy and the start of a new, it also works well. There is without sense, absolute closure. Had she never written another book, you could walk away content. But there is another trilogy (well, two if we are being all technical about it) and this book sets us up well for it. The character it follows (to tell would be a bit of a spoiler) is rather likable and I look forward to starting to read it. I do own and I will get to it, though perhaps not for some time.

Overall, I think this is as satisfying a series I’ve read as absolute any and I implore you to give it a chance. If we only all followed Elua’s precipt, we would all be in a far better place.

Love as thou wilt.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

I Am The Traitor (Unknown Assassin #3)

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Summary:

In the third and final installment in the Unknown Assassin trilogy, Boy Nobody is on the run from The Program and uncovers a secret about his past that forces him to decide where his loyalties lie.

The Program has sent Boy Nobody on countless missions, instructed to kill whichever target he was given. But now, after going rogue, he is on his own mission to rescue his friend Howard who was captured by The Program. Boy Nobody manages to free Howard as well as Tanya, a mysterious girl who was being held with him. Howard and Tanya help Boy Nobody collect information about his father, eventually revealing a dangerous secret that teaches Boy Nobody a valuable lesson — he can’t trust anyone.

Allen Zadoff packs the third book of the Unknown Assassin series with even more action, higher stakes, and mind-blowing reveals that will leave readers riveted.

Review:

As I was sitting down to write this review, I went back to look at the reviews I’d written of the first two books (which, for the record is why you’re seeing this here and not on Good Reads even though this is technically a thriller) and I can definitely say that my enthusiasm has waned a bit. I chalk up my initial eagerness to the fact that it was a) male lead and b) a thriller – two things that remain rare in YA. But as I got to this book, I realized that one of the central stylistic choices – that Zach never sounds like a teenager – doesn’t sit well with me any more. I noticed it first in I Am The Mission but it really hit home for me here. There’s talk of emotion and how this new chip would essentially “make him a robot” but in a way, he kinda already is. The only thing that stops Zach from feeling like Data is that he is able to make connections with humans – namely Howard (who first appeared in the last book) and Tanya, who is introduced here. But I almost think Jason Borne has more emotions and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Still, if you’ve made it this far, then I’m guessing that this choice doesn’t bother you, and on the action front, this book holds up well and the ending is, for the most part, mostly satisfying, though it wraps up in a way that maybe feels a little neat in the sense that he ends it before he has to deal with the consequences of said ending. Still, I am thankful that it is a closed-ending trilogy and that we do actually get resolution.

Overall, I think if you like the other two books, I think you’ll like this one as well. I just wish that our protagonist was more identifiably a young adult.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now