Stacking the Shelves #5

Man, in the last few days of vacation, I started getting on a roll. I was so pleased with myself that I managed to schedule like two weeks worth of posts. So what did I do? Proceed to completely squander that build up. I hit a wall hard. I was going to start The Choosing only the very first page of the eARC revealed the book’s primary genre was Christian fiction, something I just do not read for personal reasons (and I would have never requested had it been so listed on Edelweiss). So then I started Uprooted by Naomi Novik. While I amused by the fact that the Dragon was a man this time around, something about it just wasn’t grabbing me and I set that aside. So then I decided to give Snow Like Ashes – a very well liked Young Adult title a look and sigh. The premise is very much suspension of disbelief to start, falls apart completely if you think about it at all, and when I skipped to the last page of the book discovered that yep, it’s main plot twist was a huge YA trope that I am utterly sick and tired of. I may well go back it at some point because I did get approved for Ice Like Fire (I requested it before starting Snow Like Ashes). I am working on two books right now that I think I’ll actually finish, but it’s probably going to take a few more days so why not a new round of Stacking the Shelves?

I have to say, I’m rather excited for the next month or two ahead!

 

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eARCs with a 6/2 Publishing Date

Knight’s Shadow – Sequel to The Traitor’s Blade, a book that just barely didn’t make the cut of my Top 10 books of 2014. One of two books I’m reading right now, this promises more of what I liked about the first book: good characters, good action and good intrigue.

The Witch Hunter – Paranormal Young Adult. As far as Young Adult fantasy goes, I feel like the genre isn’t nearly as diverse in terms of kinds of stories told as it is on the adult side of the fence, so I’m always up for a look at something a little out of the norm.

The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath – Steampunk paranormal fantasy mixes are a bit on the unusual side, a lot of people consider steampunk to be a form of science fiction, and generally speaking the technology does fill in for the magic of a world. It’s a mix that catches my eye and both the title and the cover are eye catching.

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Additional eARCs

Ink and Bone (7/7) – This book had me at “The Great Library” to be honest. I love books where books play a key role – Libriomancer, Sabriel and so forth. I burned up almost all of my remaining points at Penguin’s First to Read program to grab this one. Also a YA fantasy that isn’t necessary a romance? Winning.

The Philosopher Kings (6/30) – I picked this up thinking it was an excerpt, but when I discovered it was instead the full copy and that has totally made my day. A trippy mix of science fiction and mythology, this is a sequel that at some point I’m going to make a point of picking up the first book and I have to say that even less than 20% in, I suspect this may make my Top 10 list of this year. This is the other book I’m currently reading.

I am the Traitor (6/9) – Young Adult thriller with a male lead. Totally not my normal thing, totally a series that I’ve loved. Looking forward to reading it!

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Last eARC (for now)

Ice Like Fire (10/13) – Like I said, I only got about a hundred pages in to the first book. It’s not that the first book was bad, it’s just fits so squarely into the kind of YA fantasy that I’m not terribly fond of. I am optimistic that this would be the better of the two, because at least we get the more tropey aspects out of the way.

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ARCs won in a blogger giveaway. All books are out now 🙂

The Orphan Queen – YA fantasy that doesn’t pretend to not be a romance. I’m hit and miss on Jodi, so I’m curious to see how I’ll feel about it.

Shadow Scale – I had issues with Seraphina, namely the way that the character seemed to engage in self-loathing that seemed way too neatly resolved within paragraphs at the end of the first book. The original premise was unique however, and I’m looking forward to giving it another chance.

Prudence – Carriger’s new adult series. Carriger is one of those authors that you hate or you love. I will say I’m a touch more fond of her Etiquette and Espionage series that’s YA right now, but I still think it’s going to be a fun read, even if only for more Lord Akeldama!

Phew! Lotta stuff to look forward to. What about you? 🙂

Desert Rising – Kelley Grant

Hey everyone – just a heads up that I will be going on vacation, and so too will my blog. Although I’ll certainly be reading, I’m not going to worry about trying to post, though I’ll almost certainly save my thoughts to post upon my return on April 27th. Happy reading all!

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Summary:

“It frightens me, knowing the One has called up two such strong individuals. It means that there are troubled times in our future, and you must prepare yourselves.”

The Temple at Illian is the crown jewel of life in the Northern Territory. There, pledges are paired with feli, the giant sacred cats of the One god, and are instructed to serve the One’s four capricious deities. Yet Sulis, a young woman from the Southern Desert, has a different perspective – one that just might be considered heresy, but that is catching on rather quickly…

Sulis’s twin Kadar, meanwhile, is part of a different sort of revolution. When Kadar falls in love with a woman from a Forsaken caste, he finds he’s willing to risk anything to get these people to freedom. But with Sulis drawing a dangerous level of attention from the deities, and war about to break out on two fronts, change may not come as easily as either twin had hoped.

An astonishing debut, Kelley Grant brings to life a powerful new epic fantasy tale of determination and self-discovery.

Review

I’ve said in the past that one of the better aspects of the Harper Voyager Impulse line is its lower price point: it encourages you to take chances on books that you might not otherwise look at, or, in the case of a book such as this, a book that has flaws, but enough originality to balance it out.

There is some fun to be had with this book: I like the idea of the four deities speaking through humans, and that the humans can channel the powers of the gods when needed. There’s a very Greco-Roman feel to the whole affair. Bonding with the feli isn’t entirely unique, but you really can’t go wrong with giant cats either.

That being said: the world feels generic. The vaguely Middle Eastern setting isn’t taken advantage of. There is the one empire that is subduing the other, and of course the empire is evil and condones slavery while the good guys treat all people of all levels equally. It’s a bit preachy and it’s been done before and not overly compelling. I’m also not sold on the machinations of two of the deities. While the premise of war is intriguing, making one someone who preys on the pledges is…yeah. And it doesn’t feel like the have any nuance either. There’s nothing that makes them sympathetic, and given that she does change point of view to tell their portion of the story, there’s no reason she couldn’t have given them more depth. If they don’t have depth again they’re not compelling. I suppose you could argue that they are petty because their gods are petty, but if that was the aim, then I’m not sure that we needed this point of view at all then. I don’t know.

So yeah, it’s a mixed bag. There’s definitely enough there to give it a look, but for epic fantasy, it could stand to be a little more epic.

Verdict: Borrow it

Available: April 21st

Stacking the Shelves #4

I’ve been on a bit of a tear lately, absolutely devouring books at a crazy rate. Then I ran into a bit of a problem: I ran out of stuff I wanted to read that weren’t ARCs. Oh, I still have a decent number of books on my to-read list, but they just haven’t been calling me. So I decided to both slow down a little bit both for that reason and to avoid burnout. I also went on an excursion today to Illiad Bookshop to see what goodies I could dig up. I’ll share my spoils below, but I’ll just say that if you’re in the in the LA Area/SFV you owe it yourself to go check that place out: it’s the only used bookstore that I’ve been to that was both a) clean, spacious and well lit and b) had a fantastic selection of science-fiction/fantasy, which if oft neglected in these kinds of stores. I’ll definitely be checking it out again.

Anyway, as a result, I decided it made for a perfect time to do another Stacking the Shelves post. Some of these eARCs I’ve had on my Kindle for a while, but they somehow just didn’t make it in to the last post. With that said, let’s get started.

The Books I’ve Bought

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$22 including tax, and 3 of the four are like-new condition. Deal of the day!

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Kushiel’s Avatar (Kindle) and Kushiel’s Scion (Hardback) – Me finishing Phedre’s trilogy was only a matter of when, not if. I’d probably have waited on picking up Kushiel’s Scion (first of Imreal’s trilogy) except that when you find a new hardback for the same price as the Kindle edition, it just makes the hardback hard to pass up!

Mage’s Blood – This is one of those books that I kept picking up at the bookstore, then putting down, or looking at it on Amazon, but not hitting the click button. When I found the hardback at the bookstore (again for cheaper than what the Kindle version would go for), I decided it was finally time to just go for it.

The Golden Key – An absolute favorite when I read it back in like 1999 or 2000. The premise – using painting as a way to manipulate time and reality – remains one of the most clever conceits I’ve ever read and I picked it up because I want to re-read and see if it holds up as well as I think it will.

Banewreaker – I love the alternate Europe that Carey created in her Kushiel series, but wanted to see how she otherwise fared. Since then she’s dabbled in some other genres: some urban fantasy, some paranormal fantasy, and then this series which seems to stay within the realm of epic fantasy. Maybe one day I’ll get around to one of her other worlds.

Finished Copies Received from Publisher for Review

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William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace – yes, this is exactly what it sounds like it is: a retelling of Episode 1 in iambic pentameter. I’m currently reading it, so you’ll probably see a review sometime this week.

E-ARCs Received from Publisher for Review

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The Choosing- Dystopian YA! One day I will find one that isn’t a complete rip off of The Hunger Games or Divergent

Desert Rising – Epic fantasy where priests bond with large cats. Count me in.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik moves beyond dragons a fairy-tale like world. Consider me curious.

The Waterborne Blade – Epic YA fantasy. I have some hopes for this one. I like stories about women coming into their own, so long as there’s a believable basis for it.

Ice Kissed – Paranormal YA fantasy. Something I haven’t seen much of, so I’m willing to give it a shot.

So how about you? Pick up anything new? Lemme know in comments below 🙂

Kushiel’s Chosen (Kushiel’s Legacy #2) – Jacqueline Carey

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Mighty Kushiel, of rod and weal
Late of the brazen portals
With blood-tipp’d dart a wound unhealed
Pricks the eyen of chosen mortals

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. The inhabiting race rose from the seed of angels and men, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nĂł Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman, the first to recognize that she is one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. He trained Phèdre in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber–and, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze.

When she stumbled upon a plot that threatened the very foundations of her homeland, she gave up almost everything she held dear to save it. She survived, and lived to have others tell her story, and if they embellished the tale with fabric of mythical splendor, they weren’t far off the mark.

The hands of the gods weigh heavily upon Phèdre’s brow, and they are not finished with her. While the young queen who sits upon the throne is well loved by the people, there are those who believe another should wear the crown…and those who escaped the wrath of the mighty are not yet done with their schemes for power and revenge

Review:

No, you’re not seeing things. Yes, I did just review the first book in this series less than a week ago (okay, 5 days ago to be precise). It is a testament to how much I loved the first book that I felt the desire to dive straight in to the second, which is fitting, as indeed this book picks up where the previous left off.

Since I did do such a recent review of Kushiel’s Dart left off, instead of repeating why I so adored that book, I thought I’d touch on some of the things that I missed before.

First off, we have Melisandre our antagonist. As I mentioned the dire lack of strong female protagonist lead epic fantasy, so too are we lacking for strong female antagonists. Melisandre does what she does out of a lust for power and because she  sees Phèdre as a worthy opponent. Not once does a lover scorned ever enter the picture – though I will say there is a rather twisted kind of love between the two players that is all kinds of wrong and yet remains seductive. It is definitely a strength.

Also, I love the travelogue-esque aspect of these tales. The places Phèdre visits this time around are decidedly more interesting than Skaldia, but that same level of care and craft in terms of its peoples and its beliefs and all feel distinct. Carey loves her world without question.

I also love that through it all, Phèdre never loses her faith. It would be so easy for her to become jaded and it is a wonder that she does not. I myself am not religious, but I appreciate those who are and I can understand respect how she in her faith she finds the strength to go one.

I do have two minor quibbles, however. The first is, is that even with only two books it feels like there is a formula setting in: Phèdre slowly gets drawn into an intrigue, and at the half-way mark events spiral out of control and send her on an adventure. It’s not bad, but at the same point in time it probably is just as well that her story is a trilogy or else I think it might grow stale, especially since there are only so many times one can escape certain death (while not being a fighter herself) without losing some plausibility.

The second is that Joscelin gets to be ridiculously annoying. You understand why he struggles so but that does not change that relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin turns borderline melodrama. When fate conspires to separate them for large chunk of the book, I do think it is for the better of the book, and thankfully it is settled by the end of this book.

All in all, the series remains excellent and an easy recommendation.Fantasy would truly be well served to have more characters like her.

Finally, for those worried about such things, there is decidedly less emphasis on sex in this than in the first (though it of course does remain an undercurrent).

Verdict: Buy It

Available Now

Kushiel’s Dart (Kushiel’s Legacy #1) by @JCareyAuthor

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Summary:

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good….and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. Phèdre nĂł Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission….and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair….and beyond.

Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear. Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel’s Dart, a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

Review:

One of the first reviews you’ll see of this book on Goodreads makes much ado about the relative young age of those entering Naamah’s service (14, though most don’t seem to start actually serving until 15 or 16), and how some of the BDSM is a bit extreme for her taste and so on. As I got into this novel I was going to write this big impassioned defense of the world of which this book is set. There’s the fact that Naamah is not unlike Aphrodite: her priests and priestesses are courtesans, and to sleep with one is an act of worship. There’s the fact that consent is everywhere in this book, and that consent being taken away around the midpoint plays an important role. There’s a fact that none of the sexy is tawdry or exploitative. It is crystal clear when one patrol has crossed the line, and what constitutes that line and when Phèdre will allow her patron to tip toe up to it is very much a part of her coming to grips with what it means to bear Kushiel’s Dart and so forth.

But then I realized than I decided that if I did so, that it kind of misses the point.

For as much as sex and sexuality run as themes through this story, it is not a story about sex.

It is epic fantasy.

It is feminist, sex-positive epic fantasy told from a perspective that we just never see: the female outsider. Phèdre is no warrior. For all that she has been taught, she is no scholar nor trained diplomat. She is a courtesan, taught by her bond-holder (yes, she’s an indentured servant, but like so many before her has earned her freedom before the half-way mark of this book) to pay attention and to listen. She gathers information and passes it along to let him do with it as he pleases.

Until she can no longer be the outsider.

Until her bond-holder has been betrayed and killed and she has become an unwilling participant because it’s that or die. She survives because she is smart. She survives because she can use her knowledge of men (and one woman, actually) to do what must be done. There are a few occasions in this book where she uses her body to get what is needed. Male companions of hers question her decisions, but in a refreshing change from the norm, she does not feel guilt. She is a servant of Naamah. She has Kushiel’s Dart. They are part and parcel of who she is and if that is what it takes to to further their dire situation than so be it.

This is about a girl becoming a woman. It is a book about discovering what it means to serve your god – chosen freely (Naamah) or by her very nature (Kushiel) – and that is a discussion that isn’t limited to Phèdre, but also to her companion Joscelin – a guard in the service of Cassiel who in their quest to survive must break vows he swore never to break.

I actually really like the religion and world building here too. It’s a curious mix of the polytheism of the Greeks mixed with a bit of Christianity (Blessed Elua had 12 companions is all I’m saying) and the Yeshuites are clearly the Hebrews. The world is clearly European-based: Phèdre people feel like the French. We get mentions (in other names) of the Romans, the Spanish, the Celts, and the Vikings. It just shows that you these old constructs have plenty of life in them when enough care is paid to them.

And finally, I have to give Carey props because though this book is long (the paperback version is about 930 pages long, the Kindle version just over 1000) it doesn’t feel it nor outstay its welcome. So often I feel like books of these length (see Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles) need a trim, but this one doesn’t. The first half and the second half are distinct enough that they could have been cut into two books, but I’m glad they didn’t, because you need both halves to get that truly rewarding experience.

One consistent plea in fantasy is for more female-centric and female-written books. This book and this series are just that. Don’t let the basic concept behind the book turn you off, because you’ll be missing out on something truly special.

Verdict: Buy It

Available Now

Abhorsen (Abhorsen #3) – Garth Nix

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Summary:

The apocalyptic conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Abhorsen series—an epic fantasy experience not to be missed.

The Abhorsen Sabriel and King Touchstone are missing, leaving only Lirael—newly come into her inheritance as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting—to stop the Destroyer. If Orannis’s unspeakable powers are unleashed, it will mean the end of all Life. With only a vision from the Clayr to guide her, and the help of her companions, Sam, the Disreputable Dog, and Mogget, Lirael must search in both Life and Death for some means to defeat the evil destructor—before it is too late. . . .

Review:

It is with a bit of wistfulness that I review this book, for now I am fully caught up on the Abhorsen series. I started this series on a whim: a fellow blogger was clearing off her shelves, and in exchange for postage, I got my hands on the ARC of Clariel. If you’ve been following me, you’ll know that I wound up loving that book so much that it made my list of Best of 2014, and in the less than six months that have passed since I first read it, I have now gone back and read its three predecessors. If you look at my track record for pressing on with series (hint: it’s awful) you’ll know it’s a sign that this series must be truly something special to me, and it is. There may be a fifth book in the works, but there’s no planned release date, and quite frankly, waiting sucks.

Published eight years after Sabriel, Abhorsen benefits from the growth and maturation of Nix’s style. While the former really did feel like little a fairly modern YA fantasy in terms of its tropes, Abhorsen foreshadows what we’d end up seeing in Clariel: an undeniably dark opening with the seeming assassination of a major protagonist of the trilogy, a lack of any kind of romance or romantic-mindedness at all (granted, it’d be kind of creepy with the relationship between Lireal and Sameth, but still), and and ending that’s also dark in its own right, although with a bit more optimism than what was seen in Clariel. Oh, and the final confrontation against The Destroyer is a thing of beauty and just an absolute joy to read.

I can’t really think of any series quite like this in the modern YA fantasy landscape, and if you give it a chance (perhaps reading it in chronological order – #4, #1, #2, #3) fans of adult fantasy will enjoy this as well. It’s just that good.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

P.S. And okay, I lied earlier. I’m fully caught up on the main series. There are actually two short story collections that have novellas that tie-in to this world. Normally I skip these, but I will be checking out Across the Wall because it does contain an Abhorsen novella which will serve as the jumping point from. A second one, called Across the Bridge remains to be seen, but the cover art is so damn pretty (and done in the style of the cover revamps that came Clariel’s release) that I may well pick it up anyway because I’m just that shallow.

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