Review: Imager (Imager Portfolio #1) – L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Kindle version purchased by me

Summary:

Imager is the beginning of a whole new fantasy in a whole new magical world from the bestselling creator of Recluce. Although Rhennthyl is the son of a leading wool merchant in L’Excelsis, the capital of Solidar, the most powerful nation on Terahnar, he has spent years becoming a journeyman artist and is skilled and diligent enough to be considered for the status of master artisan—in another two years. Then, in a single moment, his entire life is transformed when his master patron is killed in a flash fire, and Rhenn discovers he is an imager—one of the few in the entire world of Terahnar who can visualize things and make them real.

He must leave his family and join the Collegium of Imagisle.  Imagers live separately from the rest of society because of their abilities (they can do accidental magic even while asleep), and because they are both feared and vulnerable. In this new life, Rhenn discovers that all too many of the “truths” he knew were nothing of the sort. Every day brings a new threat to his life.  He makes a powerful enemy while righting a wrong, and begins to learn to do magic in secret. Imager is the innovative and enchanting opening of an involving new fantasy story.

Review:

Modesitt is an author who has been publishing longer than I have been alive, and yet I somehow never got around to, even though I knew I probably should. So when this showed up on sale, I decided to take the plunge. And, ultimately, I’m left frustrated.

On the one hand, I did enjoy this book. On the other hand, I felt like it could have been more.

This book is a slow burn. A very slow burn. The first 20% deals with Rhynn’s life as an artist. The next 20% deals with his time at school. Action doesn’t really start until about the half-way mark, and the story really gets going at the 60% mark. It’s worth reading, but this book could have benefited from editing. There are a lot of discourses in this book about the nature of people and of government, and even of law. It technically adds depth to the world, but it is wasted depth, because it ultimately adds nothing and just gives Rhynn more time to ponder this question or that. It may be interesting at first, but ultimately gets to the point that only a student of political science won’t find themselves getting a bit antsy at yet another speech. The book could be another twenty pages shorter and I don’t think you’d really notice. And I say this because he ultimately isn’t saying anything new, or that hasn’t been said, and none of his worlds are so unique that it makes you go, “yeah, I want to learn more about it.”

In fact, the world building in general is a disappointment as a whole. Not only is there nothing unique, but it seems wholly derivative, so much so that the days of the week are little more than bastardized French, and if you actually knew the true French names, you may just be driven crazy because it looks more like he misspelled a day, than recognizing it as a day of his own creation.

The magic itself is cool on the surface – Imagers literally create things from nothing, requiring only energy. How they manipulate the energy to do this isn’t quite explained. For example, if they can Image in their sleep, why do they need to be able to see to do their craft? And for some reason, never explained satisfactorily, lead can protect an Imager from him or herself. It’s a system of magic that breaks down if you think about it too much and this is the kind of system that almost needs over-explanation.

As for Rhynn, he’s one of those characters: no matter how much you like him, you can’t help but have a part of you that dislikes him. As an artist, he’s so good that when he tries to find another position as a Journeyman, no one will take him because he’s too much a threat financially to the other Masters. As an Imager, he goes from raw recruit to the lowest level master over the course of a book – maybe a year. I get that they promote on skill over time spent learning, but seriously, it’s hard to take his ridiculous rise to power without some eye-rolling. Modesitt does at least make him mostly likable, and when combined the conceit that he’s got to be special in some manner to make the story interesting, you can definitely get vested in the character, but a little more roughness around the edges might have been nice. I’ll be honest though, I prefer his girlfriend and her family over him. Though “just” merchants, they clearly have a far more interesting background and I might have liked spending more time with them.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder if Modesitt is one of those authors who has final say over the editing of his books. I can’t recall how many times I saw Rhynn mention that he was going out “with full shields,” or how many times the varietal of wine was mentioned. There’s an inherent wordiness that drags down the momentum of the story, especially since there are so many passages that begin “Vendrei was slower than Jeudi.” Again, it’s not a book killer, it’s just something that may or may not be of concern to you.

I did enjoy reading this book, but I felt like with some editing, it could have been more. From what I can tell, the Imager Portfolio is currently a trilogy, a quintet, and now he’s starting a third series of indeterminate length. I’m not entirely convinced I want to continue on. It ultimately is traditional fantasy with some pacing issues and a magic system and world that sound more impressive than they actually are. It’s an easy enough read that I can give it a recommendation if you’re like me and want to see if Modesitt is for you, but from what I understand, his Recluse series is stronger over all, and you may be better served starting there.

Verdict: Borrow It. It’s traditional fantasy with some problems. Although he clearly has a strong fan base, I can’t say I feel like I’ve missed out by waiting so long to pick him up, and odds are, if you’ve gone this long without reading him, you’ll probably feel the same.

Available now.

ARC Review: Superheroes Anonymous – Lexie Dunne

22138441ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Everybody in Chicago has a “superhero sighting” story. So when a villain attacks editorial assistant Gail Godwin and she’s rescued by superhero Blaze, it’s a great story, and nothing more. Until it happens again. And again. Now the media has dubbed her Hostage Girl, nobody remembers her real name, and people are convinced that Blaze is just her boyfriend, Jeremy, in disguise.

Gail’s not so sure. All she knows is that when both Jeremy and Blaze leave town in the same week, she’s probably doomed. Who will save her now?

Yet, miraculously, the villains lose interest. Gail is able to return to her life … until she wakes up strapped to a metal table by a mad scientist who hasn’t read the news. After escaping–now more than human herself–she’s drawn into a secret underground world of superheroes. She’ll have to come to terms with her powers (and weaknesses) to make it in the new society, and it’s not easy. After all, there’s a new villain on the rise, and she has her sights set on the one and only Hostage Girl.

Review:

First and foremost, can I say this is a fantastic premise? So often in comic-book series, women are reduced to the helpless damsel-in-distress trope. Modern comics are starting to buck this trend to an extent, but the tropes are very much still alive and the general public is still more apt to know about Mary Jane Watson always getting rescued by Spider-Man than know that the extended Bat-family has both a Batgirl and Batwoman or that Thor is now a woman in Marvel’s recent reboot. So yeah, this notion that someone can go from being the villain-bait to the villain-fighter is something I can get behind. Without spoiling it, her origin story is appropriately absurd and fits right in with the likes of Spiderman and the other heroes who need a little outside help to get their powers. The explanation behind the explanation even made me laugh, it was that great.

The bulk of the book is spent with her adjusting to her new life, making new friends and trying to wrap her head around her new powers and a villain named Chelsea, whose new to the gig and still working on the villain name and outfit. While nothing in this story is overly unexpected, it’s well done and you quickly grow to enjoy the group of people that surround Gail: her mentor Vicki, her trainer Angélica and Blaze.  Dunne does take the time to explain how Blaze and Jeremy are connected and it’s well done. It’s a very human feeling story for a group of superheroes and it’s something I always appreciate in my superhero tales because quite frankly, they are still people and perfection is boring to read about.

So yeah, it’s a fun, enjoyable read, and then you hit that ending.

If you can call it an ending.

This is one of those books, where it doesn’t really end so much as just break off and throw a “to be continued” onto the last page. “But wait,” you say, “superhero comics end on cliffhangers all the time!” This is true. What’s also true is that media only allows for 22-24 pages of story per issue. This is a book. This can be as long as it needs to be, especially because this is a genre that allows for longer books. I really do wish they’d done it, because it’s just so hard to shake that feeling that the work is undone, especially when  the cliffhanger feels a bit out of left field. It’s ultimately just frustrating.

Had this book told a complete story, I’d probably be recommending fully: it’s a book that hits sweet-spot of the genre that fans of the genre will enjoy. As it is, I’m going to have to stick with my gut and knock this down a notch. I’ve yet to find a book that was otherwise so fantastic that would let me overlook a non-ending like this, and sadly, this one won’t be the first to do so.

Verdict: A strong Borrow It.

Available: Now

Review: Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic (The Dowser #1) – Meghan Ciana Doidge

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Summary:

If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have told you that the best cupcakes were dark chocolate with chocolate cream cheese icing, that dancing in a crowd of magic wielders — the Adept — was better than sex, and that my life was peaceful and uneventful. Just the way I liked it.

That’s what twenty-three years in the magical backwater of Vancouver will get you — a completely skewed sense of reality. Because when the dead werewolves started showing up, it all unraveled … except for the cupcake part. That’s a universal truth.

Note: 68,000 words

Review:

Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic is a very short paranormal novel that’s fun to read while it lasts, but can leave you wanting for more due to its underdeveloped word.

Jade is half-human/half-witch cupcake baker who occasionally dabbles in magic by stringing together magical objects as a kind of found-object art project (the trinkets of the title). One day her trinket is found on the corpse of a dead vampire and she quickly finds herself drawn in to the world of vampires and wolves as she rushes to solve the mystery of who is killing these supes so that they can be stopped.

The brevity is important to mention here: the book barely clocks in at just over 200 pages (the remaining pages are taken up with a sample of the sequel) and I think the book suffers for it. This is a world inhabited by witches and wolves and vampires. We meet ONE vampire over the course of the book. We meet three wolves. We meet no other witches than her adopted sister, and at the very end, her mom and grandmother. Why not take some time to show us the rest of this world? At one point Jade mentions that witches don’t run with wolves. Why not? We don’t know. It’s just something Jade says. We don’t know what vampires can do: what we do learn is from Kitt negating myths that Jade has learned. Good paranormal books need ground rules if they’re going to succeed.

Better still: when Jade is examining one of the victims, Jade notes that she “could have loved him.” Their interaction to that point had been a smoothie date after a yoga class where he’d show up to play bodyguard, and that’s about it. Why not show them actually going on a date? Her feelings would have made actual sense then.

Most frustrating is that there’s a mystery surrounding what exactly she is: though we get some answers on her magic (albeit perhaps a bit dissatisfying because the book doesn’t properly explain about why said talent is dangerous) we don’t get answers on what she is (hint: the half-human part isn’t true) and what’s worse, it seems like others know what she is and just aren’t telling. It doesn’t feel like a mystery, it feels like information is being deliberately withheld so that you’ll pick up the next title. It’s especially frustrating because at one point she’s told that she could be strong enough for the a packmaster to help him hold his pack, but how? She’s no Anita Blake. We kind of need to know if this is going to make sense.

Finally, the overall mystery isn’t much of one. I literally found myself going “Oh, it’s going to be [character]” and was 100% spot on. There’s also a bit with some stools that sticks out like a sore thumb for how often they’re mentioned, only for it to have actually played a part in the mystery.

I had fun while reading this, but its underdeveloped nature makes it hard to recommend very strongly. Fans of the genre might enjoy this, if you’re looking for something quick and breezy, but newbies to the genre should look elsewhere.

Verdict: A weak Borrow It

Available: Now

Note: As of today (11/16) the first book is free for Kindle and Nook users. At that price, I’d say go ahead and check it out because you have nothing to lose. I just don’t know it’s worth paying the $3.99 to continue the series. I will say Skip It for the paperback: it’s not worth $11.00.

ARC Review: Arcana – Jessica Leake

20344642eARC provided in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Amid the sumptuous backdrop of the London season in 1905, headstrong Katherine Sinclair must join the ranks of debutantes vying for suitors. Unfortunately for Katherine, she cannot imagine anything more loathsome—or dangerous. To help ease her entrance into society, Katherine’s family has elicited the assistance of the Earl of Thornewood, a friend and London’s most eligible bachelor, to be her constant companion at the endless fetes and balls. But upon her arrival in London, Katherine realizes there will be more to this season than just white gowns and husband hunting.

Through her late mother’s enchanted diary, Katherine receives warning to keep hidden her otherworldly ability to perform arcana, a magic fueled by the power of the sun. Any misstep could mean ruin—and not just for her family name. The Order of the Eternal Sun is everywhere—hunting for those like her, able to feed on arcana with only a touch of the hand.

But society intrigue can be just as perilous as the Order. The machinations of the fashionable elite are a constant threat, and those who covet Katherine’s arcana, seeking the power of her birthright, could be hiding behind the façade of every suitor—even the darkly handsome Earl of Thornewood.

With so much danger and suspicion, can she give her heart to the one who captivates her, or is he just another after her power?

Review:

Arcana is a romantic historical fantasy, emphasis on the romance. I’m going to put it out here right now: if you don’t enjoy historical romance, then this isn’t going to be your cuppa. The fantasy aspects are woven in, but they’re honestly pretty light. It wouldn’t be so hard to remove them and with a bit of tweaking, have ourselves a very traditional historical romance.  Furthermore, the magic here is, as you might expect, a bit underdeveloped and what is there is wholly ordinary. Mostly it helps to provide some background flavor and tension. Even towards the very end when the action is most heated, you’ve seen before. This isn’t the book to look to for anything new on the historical fantasy front. I did like that her magic was powered by the sun though, I’ve been known to go basking on occasion to perk up. Artificial light just isn’t the same!

Anyway, as romance, it’s pretty good. The characters are solid, the Society intrigue on point and you have your two handsome roguish suitors. I will say that if you have experience with the genre, you’re likely to figure out which of the suitors is the good guy and which is the bad, and that’s even before the story drives the point home. I do wish there were a little more subtlety on the part of the “bad” one but your mileage may vary. I found it a light and breezy read.

Overall, I’d have to say that if you like historical romances, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you’re more of a pure fantasy kind of person who’d never indulge in that kind of thing, this isn’t going to be for you. The fantasy aspect, while not tacked on, isn’t much more developed than that and it just doesn’t satisfy on that front. I expected something more of a work touted as “genre-bending.”

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

Review: The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy #1) – Charlie N. Holmberg

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copy provided through Net Galley in exchange for review

Summary:

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.

Review:

Amazon is pushing the heck out of this book. I’ve seen it on Amazon. On Book Gorilla. Heck, it’s even been featured as an ad on my Kindle. It’s everywhere.  So when another blogger alerted me to the fact that this, and it’s sequel The Glass Magician were available on Net Galley, I decided to give it a go.

And the verdict?

I’m….kind of confused, actually.

On the hand, Ceony is definitely are narrator. We see the world through her eyes and interpret events through her reactions. And yet, this really doesn’t feel like Ceony’s story; for when she goes into Thane’s heart, we spend the bulk of the book learning about Thane. By the end we have learned so much more about Thane than we have Ceony, so much so that the most glimpses of her full self are only revealed towards the end. It’s a shame too, because her backstory suggests that there could be some real interest there, if only the author had taken the time to develop it.

Speaking of development, the magic system, while intriguing on it’s face – a magician binds to one Material and that’s all they can work with it- is critically lacking. Basically what I just told you is about all we’re ever of the system. Supposedly Folding is weak, and yet Thane has a working life-size glider in his attic. He can turn paper into dogs and skeletons and bombs. How did the other Folders not be able to something like this? Were they lacking? Was the knowledge lost? Was Thane that much a genius? Could an Excisioner really trap someone in a heart? Are they necromancers if they can heal? There are so many questions that ultimately the magic feels convenient, that the author left it so broad that she could do whatever the story needs (that glider, for example, was very plot convenient) without issue. It’s frustrating too, because it’s such a great concept that I hate seeing it not brought fully to life.

I enjoyed reading this book, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least a little lacking. Some rounding out of Ceony and the magic system would have done wonders to push this to the next step, because there are definitely some good bones here.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

Review: Death Sworn – Leah Cypress

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Summary:

When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world

Review:

If there’s any trends for me in 2014 it’s that I’ve definitely lost a lot of love for genre YA – although I’m still reading roughly equal amounts of young adult to adult (albeit less so recently) when I look at my tentative list of best books of 2014, only a quarter of the titles there can be considered YA. So what’s with the disconnect?

Death Sworn is a great representation why attitude has shifted so much in this past year: there’s a glimmer of a great idea here, but it’s buried beneath slow (and weak) character development and it tries to push a romance upon us, even though there’s practically no chemistry between the intended couple. In other words: squandered potential.

The biggest weakness of the book is Ileni herself. On the one hand, she keeps walking around going “I can’t use my magic, lest I run out” and then two seconds later casting a spell that drains her even more. When she isn’t doing that, she’s complaining about how wrong it is for assassins to kill..never mind she’s in a camp full of them complaining to one of them. By the end of the book she does start to show some potential, but it’s a shame she spent so long in this state. Towards the end a plot of unraveled that is actually rather intriguing, especially the use of the kids in the plot. It’s the only reason to finish the duology.

Yep. Duology. Not a trilogy. Not an open ended series. Nice change! Anyway, there is a second and final book due out next March, and I do have an ARC of it – you’ll see a review of it much closer to publication.  Overall though, this book was eh. It was par for the YA course. Take that for what you will.

Verdict: Borrow it

ARC Review – The Thirteenth Tower by Sara Snider

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eARC received from Net Galley in exchange for fair review

 Summary:

Abandoned as a baby, young Emelyn’s life as a housemaid in the quiet village of Fallow is unremarkable—and empty. That is, until a host of magical creatures arrives and inflicts terrible misdeeds on the townsfolk. Inexplicably immune to their enchantments, Emelyn joins a pair of Magi intent on stopping the cause of the trouble—and who claim to know of her parents, promising Emelyn answers to a lifetime of questions.

But the answers Emelyn seeks prove to be more elusive than she hoped, and the world outside Fallow more perilous than she imagined. Magical creatures roam the land over, attacking yet another town before coming after Emelyn. The key to her survival—and finding her family—lies deep within her, if only she can conquer her doubts and believe she is more powerful than she ever dreamed.

In a journey that explores facing one’s fears amidst the uncertainties of an unknown world, The Thirteenth Tower is a magical tale of discovery, growth, and of love’s enduring strength.

Review

Two books of equal length. Two tales that didn’t break the traditional stories of their genres. But where The Nightingale Bones failed to grab me, I liked Emelyn enough that it made this book a quick and breezy read. Snider does not reinvent the wheel here – you can guess the big twist fairly readily – but she crafts her tale finely enough that it isn’t until you’re almost done that you realize little has actually happened in this book. And yet, I think the book was the perfect length. Longer and it would have felt stuffed, shorter and you would have lost the little moments that perhaps were not necessary, but helped to flesh out the world and give it some manner of newness. There was also a nice sense of tragedy to this book that wound up with the wronged character developing a vibe and an ability that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Japanese horror flick.

If it sounds like I’m struggling to find something to say, it’s because I am. It’s a solid little work that kept me entertained enough that I read the entire thing in a day. It may not be particularly memorable (down to the rather cheap looking cover if we’re honest), but it’s a real solid indie title, and at $3.03 right now on Amazon, it’s worth a look.

Verdict: Borrow It