r The Farceur Trilogy

The Farceur Trilogy

Mostly reviews of fantasy and sci-fi books, oftentimes romantic fantasy and sci-fi, with a little of this and a little of that thrown in for good measure.

REVIEW: Elantris (Elantris, #1)

Elantris - Brandon Sanderson

Elantris is definitely one of those books in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As I'm sitting here, trying to think of ways to break this book down for my review, I find myself feeling almost lukewarm toward each particular element. The magical system involving runes is nothing to write home about (no pun intended), the characters are likable but lack depth, and the story is intriguing but not in an, "Oh my god I need to know what happens next," kind of way. And yet, when all combined together into the book that is Elantris , the end result is something wonderful and entrancing. Kind of like how I would never enjoy eating raw sugar, eggs, flour, or butter, but when baked together into the form of a cookie? Ohhhh yeah.


Although a lot of themes within the story of Elantris are familiar, the plot itself is pretty unique. Ten years ago, the Reod destroyed the divine city of Elantris. No one knows what caused the Reod, but it turned the once beautiful city of Elantris into ruin, and its godlike citizens into decaying wretches. Prince Raoden of Arelon is turned into one of these damned creatures, and, in his exile to Elantris, must find a way to restore hope and order to the Elantrians. As you can imagine, this is no easy task.

"Definitely not — you optimists just can't understand that a depressed person doesn't want you to try and cheer them up. It makes us sick."

Meanwhile, Wyrn, the emperor of Fjordell, plans to make Arelon a part of his theocratic empire. Whether this subjugation comes from peaceful religious conversion or whether it comes through bloody warfare is up to Hrathen, a Gyorn (high-priest) of Fjordell.

While the majority of Elantris won't have you on the edge of your seat (until you get closer to the end, that is), the mounting tension throughout the book will keep you flipping the pages. Knowing that the threat of the Fjordell empire looms ominously over Arelon and Elantris like a ticking time bomb, even as the main characters have no idea of the danger that awaits them, will keep you riveted at all times. It's the city of Elantris, though, and the life of the people within it, that I found most intriguing. Life there just seems to miserable, beyond even imagining, and I loved following Raoden's struggle as he determinedly tries to overcome the city's ever-present aura of misery and pain. This is a byproduct, of course, of Sanderson's amazing world-building, which is always a major strength of his.

Generally, Sanderson tends to excel in his characterizations, but in Elantris ? Not so much. This isn't to say that the characters are bad or unlikeable or not compelling, of course. They do, however, lack depth. Raoden, although swoon-worthy, is just a little too perfect (okay, a lot too perfect). For those of you who've read the Mistborn trilogy, he was kind of like an Elend prototype, without any of Elend's flaws. As for Sarene, Raoden's betrothed from the Kingdom of Teod - well, I appreciate that she's a strong female presence, and yes she's a clever girl, but she's definitely my least favorite of Sanderson's heroines that I've encountered so far. She's the kind of girl that wants, above all things, to be married, which honestly made me kind of hate her a little bit.

My favorite character in Elantris is Hrathen, the Gyorn (high-priest) from Fjordell. While it's easy to write him off at first as a villain, his character is much more complex than that. It's almost frustrating that Hrathen had multiple layers while Raoden and Sarene seemed to have only one, but at the same time, it just made Hrathen all the more fascinating by comparison.

Now, I can't really comment on the writing in Elantris , since I listened to the audiobook. However, I will say, for those of you who prefer audiobooks to dead trees or ebooks - get the Graphic Audio version if you can. I first downloaded the Audible version, narrated by Jack Garrett, and maybe I've just been spoiled by Michael Kramer, but oh lord did Garrett put me to sleep. So, I tried the Graphic Audio reading instead, and it was amazing. It's pricey, unfortunately, but if you have the money to burn you'll be hard-pressed to find a better production than this one.

I think from a more objective reader/reviewer this might be a 3.5 star book, which I perhaps subconsciously bumped up a half star due to my total fangirly love for Sanderson and everything he writes, or perhaps because of the awesome production made by Graphic Audio. Yet, when we get down to it, the point is that I really loved this book, and would eagerly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good dose of high fantasy to help make the medicine go down.

REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

I'm finding it hard to properly review this book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of those books that, more so than the story itself (and the characters, the events, and all of the usual stuff), what's more important here is how it makes you feel. For this reason, this book won't be for everybody - some people will be lured in by Neil Gaiman's beautiful melody of childhood, while others won't be. I, for one, fall into the former group, finding Gaiman's usual whimsy evoking strong feelings of nostalgia, yearning, and loss within me, and aching to be able to go back to a time when everything seemed magical and full of possibility.

I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.

The narrator, whose name we never come to learn, returns to his childhood home after a funeral. He finds himself drawn to the house at the end of the lane, where he had he met a remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, as well as her mother and grandmother, during his childhood. He goes to sit by the pond in the back, which Lettie had always claimed was an ocean, and during this time, he recounts a flood of childhood events that he had seemed to forgotten.

I was a normal child. Which is to say, I was selfish and I was not entirely convinced of the existence of things that were not me, and I was certain, rock-solid, unshakeably certain, that I was the most important thing in creation. There was nothing that was more important to me than I was.

While I enjoyed the fantastical element to the story, as it added an air of magic and whimsy to the narrator's retelling of his childhood, I found myself mostly drawn in by the narrator's thoughts and feelings. As we get older, childhood is nothing but a memory, and memories are not the least bit safe or reliable.

That's the trouble with living things. Don't last very long. Kittens one day, old cats the next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together.

I'm not sure if this was a normal reaction for readers of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but reading this book made me feel a profound sense of loss for my own childhood. Being able to enter into the narrator's whimsical childhood was almost like being able to live vicariously in a world that I wish still existed.

A story only matters, I suspect, to the extent that the people in the story change. But I was seven when all of these things happened, and I was the same person at the end of it that I was at the beginning, wasn't I?

This book is most definitely not a "coming of age" story, and yet, I feel like I learned a lot about childhood, adulthood, life, and death. As is often the case with Neil Gaiman's books, in The Ocean at the End of the Lane he transported to another place, somewhere I really wanted to be.

REVIEW: The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)

The Alloy of Law  - Brandon Sanderson

This book was a complete joy to read! (Or, should I say, it was a complete joy to "listen to," as I listened to the audiobook for this one).

For those of you who have already read the original Mistborn trilogy (which isn't necessarily required before reading The Alloy of Law), this book was definitely "lighter." That's not to say that it's all rainbows and sunshine, because it certainly isn't. However, it's much shorter, so there's a lot less world-building than Sanderson usually employs in his novels, and, the events themselves are much smaller in scale. For example, while the Mistborn trilogy dealt with the fate of an entire city, empire, or even world, the adventures in The Alloy of Law take place on a much more micro level of cause and effect.

As for the aforementioned world-building, The Alloy of Law relies a lot on previous world-building that Sanderson had already done in the Mistborn trilogy, but with a slightly more modernized spin, as this book takes place 300 years or so after The Hero of Ages ends. This is not a bad thing, especially if you're like me and have a lot of love for the series as a whole. Also, to keep things fresh, there are updates to the magic system, such as new metals for Allomancers to burn (temporal metals!), and the existence of "Twinborns." See, Mistborns no longer exist in this world, but some people (including the main character, Waxillium "Wax" Ladrian) are Twinborn, meaning that they can use one allomantic power, and one feruchemical power.

Unabashedly, my favorite part of the world-building was the fan service. Okay, now "fan service" is way too derogatory of a term to use, as Sanderson includes references to the prior Mistborn trilogy in The Alloy of Law because it made sense in the context of the book, and not just to make people like me completely squee . Yet, all of these things, like Wax being of House Ladrian (i.e., a descendent of Breeze), the religion of Harmony, the city of Elendel, a gun called Vindication, and so on and so forth - they made me pretty damn giddy, I'm not going to lie. That's a big reason why I think people should read the trilogy first before tackling The Alloy of Law, even though this book technically can be read as a standalone. (Well, that, and the fact that the Mistborn trilogy is freaking awesome, but I digress.)

Yet, I think that the true strength of this novel lies in its characters and character interactions. While the characters may not have too much depth in this book, per say, as there's a pretty distinct line between "good" and "evil" here, Sanderson just manages to write them in a way that brings them to life.

Also, I've come to realize that one of the things I love most about Sanderson is his constant inclusion of strong, female characters in his stories. Take Marasi, the most prominent female character in The Alloy of Law, for example - I freaking loved her. She's smart, capable, and rambles about statistics when she's nervous or afraid. She can handle a gun, or at least a rifle, but she doesn't like to use one if she doesn't have to - she prefers using her intellect to fight crime. She's also quite feminine, unlike a lot of female protagonists in contemporary literature, who tend to shun their femininity to show that they're "strong" and "just as good as a man." Finally, she has an unrequited crush/love, which I think almost all of us can relate to from some point or another in our lives.

Wayne, who can be summed up (perhaps unfairly) as Wax's sidekick, was another constant source of joy for me. Again, he's not exactly a deep character, but he's ridiculously hilarious. I laughed out loud during most of his interactions with Wax, as the two characters had great banter. Wayne also had some great conversations with Marasi:

"Shouldn't they have been worried about bringing you, an experienced lawkeeper, back to town? Removing your uncle and accidentally putting Waxillium Dawnshot onto them. . ."

"Waxillium Dawnshot?" Wayne asked, cracking an eye. He sniffed softly and wiped his nose with his handkerchief.

She blushed. "Sorry. But it's what the reports call him."

"That's what they should call me," Wayne said. "I'm the one who likes a good shot of whiskey in the morning."

Sidenote: For those of you with the audiobook version or who are considering getting it, Michael Kramer does an amazing job voicing Wayne's large repertoire of accents. I really can't recommend the audiobook enough, Kramer is fantastic.

And then finally, let's talk about our protagonist Wax, wonderful, wonderful Wax. It actually took me a bit to warm up to Wax, since an event that takes place in the first chapter pretty much sucks the soul completely out of him. This event and his sense of duty bring him away from his life as a lawman and into the life of a nobleman. Yet, as much as he might wish he could, he finds that he can't quite turn a blind eye to the events taking place in the book. It's around that time I found myself totally falling for him, hard. I mean, he's completely brilliant, which hits all of my girly swoon triggers, and when you add that to the Michael Kramer voice/portrayal in the audiobook... well, ahem, I'll stop gushing now. Ultimately, Wax is a lot like Kelsier in that he's always the man with the plan, the one people look to for leadership, yet without Kelsier's hard edge.

I'm pretty sure that if I had read this book in high school or at a more impressionable age, the passage with Waxillium waxing poetic about metallurgy would have inspired me to find a profession in chemistry.

"Alloys are remarkable things, Lady Marasi. Did you realize you can make an alloy with a metal that reacts to magnetism, but end up with one that doesn't? Mix it with an equal part of something else, and you don't get something that's half as magnetically reactive- you get something that's not reactive at all. When you make an alloy, you don't just mix two metals. You make a new one.

That's a fundamental of Allomancy, you see. Steel is just iron with a pinch of carbon in it, but that makes all the difference. This aluminum has something else in it too- less than one percent. I think it might be ekaboron, but that's really just a hunch. A little pinch. It works for men too, oddly. A tiny change can result in creating an entirely new person. How like metals we are. . ."

Why couldn't my science teachers have talked so romantically about metals? If they had, then maybe that would have saved me from getting a useless degree in history, hah.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to get to in all of my nonsensical ramblings that I have labeled as a "review" is that, this book is great fun. Ultimately, it's a bit too shallow in its characters, story, and world-building to earn that fifth star from me, as I would have liked to have seen just a bit more complexity, but that doesn't change the fact that this book was an absolute pleasure to delve into.

REVIEW: Ferragost (The Lumatere Chronicles #2.5)

Ferragost (Lumatere Chronicles, #2.5) - Melina Marchetta,  Kirsty Eagar

Please believe me when I tell you that I love, no, completely adore Melina Marchetta's works, especially The Lumatere Chronicles, which is one of my all-time favorite fantasy series.

Ferragost, however, just did not compel me in any way.

Now, I will start off by saying that this could be a case of "It's not you, it's me." I now have exactly one book on my "mystery-thriller" bookshelf, and it's this one. So, clearly, mystery-based stories aren't really my jam.

Even if I were a fan of mystery stories, though, I don't necessarily think that I would have been spellbound by this one. For one, it's a short story, so you don't really get to know the characters, victim, or suspects that well, which made it hard for me to care much about the investigation. Secondly, it's not the kind of mystery that you can try to figure out for yourself, because you're not given the background on the key clue (at least, not in this story). Instead, we just kind of have to observe as Celie manages to figure it all out - yawn.

Sidenote: I see that a lot of people have tagged this into the "fantasy" genre, but it's not reeeaaaally fantasy. Okay, yes, it takes place in the fantasy world of Skuldanore (specifically, in the castle of Ferragost, which is located in the kingdom of Belegonia). However, aside from the setting, there is really nothing fantastical about this book. /Sidenote

Another major issue I had with Ferragost revolved around the characterizations of Celie and Banyon, especially Celie. Clearly it's just me, based on the reviews I've been reading, but I really dislike Celie. I remember being irked by her in either Froi of the Exiles or Quintana of Charyn (I can't remember which, but I'm pretty sure it was the latter), since she seemed like nothing more than Isaboe's lackey. I was excited for this story because I thought I would learn more about her and like her, but no, it was just the opposite. The girl is smart - I'll give her that. Other than that, though, I didn't find her even remotely captivating. I know that she only had a short story to work with, but Phaedra didn't have many pages dedicated to her in Froi of the Exiles and she still managed to be quite fascinating. Celie already has the hook - a female spy, that sounds awesome, right? - but there just doesn't seem to be anything much deeper than that. I also got incredibly mad at Celie at the end of the story (for spoilerific reasons that I won't mention, but basically, I hate people who think they can have their cake and eat it too).

And as for Banyon, the castellan of Ferragost... he was alright, I suppose, but again, there was nothing particularly interesting about him. His character seemed promising at first, as Banyon suffers seizures, which makes people suspect he might be possessed by a demon. However, this never seemed to go anywhere. Rather, Banyon was of your typical "He's a jerk to the heroine, but deep down, you know he's a really sweet guy!" variety. At least in Banyon's case, though, I do think he at least has the potential to be an intriguing character, if Marchetta in the future ever decides to include him in future stories.

So, yeah. A mostly dull mystery, with boring (at best) characters. It took me a whole week to read this 70-page story, which is quite a long time for me, and is demonstrative of how uninterested I was in it. (By comparison, I read the entire Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson in ten days, for example, just prior to picking up Ferragost.) No, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't good, either. The next time I find myself re-reading The Lumatere Chronicles, I'll be sure to skip over this little installment.

I tried to read the other story in this compilation, Molasses by Kristy Eager, but gave up because I disliked the rough writing style. It also seemed to be mostly dialogue, with hardly any prose, which is just not my thing. So, I'm not going to review that one, sorry!

REVIEW: The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)

The Hero of Ages  - Brandon Sanderson

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the series, The Final Empire and Well of Ascension

I'll start this review by trying to explain how I feel right now. I feel... empty. As if this book has taken all of my emotions from me, and all that remains is nothing but a hollow shell. I spent the last ten minutes or so openly weeping, not from sadness, but just from being so completely overwhelmed by the beauty of it all, with a deluge of so many feelings at once that I simply couldn't handle them. And now, it's as if I am nothing.

I can't remember the last time, if ever, that a book has made me feel like this.

It's true that I've loved this series from beginning to end, but as I started The Hero of Ages, I never expected that I'd have this kind of reaction to it. Actually, it took me a lot longer to get into this book than it did for the prior books in the series. Perhaps it was because I was in a bit of a Mistborn burnout, having read these books so quickly and back-to-back, but I think it was more because the world I was thrown into was so jarring.

I mean, immediately, it was as if everything I had known and grown comfortable with in the Mistborn universe had changed. Elend is a tyrant now? Not to mention, a Mistborn. As it turns out, the Lord Ruler might not have been such a bad guy, after all? And, this, of all things, is coming from Sazed?

Now, he wanted to know . .  . no, he had to know . . . if the religions of the world had answers for him. He would find the truth, or he would eliminate each and every faith.

Even the style of this book was different from its predecessors. Whereas the reader experiences the first book through the eyes of Kelsier and Vin (with some occasional Elend), and the second book through the eyes of Vin, Elend, and Sazed (with the occasional random character), the third book is all over the place. Vin, Elend, Marsh, TenSoon, Spook, Sazed - so many POVs that it was initially frustrating, because the converging storylines made the plot move too slowly, and all I really wanted was to remain in my comfort zone with Vin.

But of course, that's just Sanderson doing what he does, brilliantly weaving away. And when it all comes together, it's just so, so worth it. I thought I had all of his tricks figured out by this point, but nope, I sure didn't. I still don't know how he does it - how does he create all these moments that I didn't see coming, and yet manage to have them make perfect sense? I am in awe of him.

And the questions that he forces us to face, about politics, religion, life, and everything else, are uncomfortable but full of truth. Take Elend, for example. I mean, I struggled with Elend so much in this book. Is there any such thing as a noble tyrant? Is it okay to subjugate people if it's for their own good? Was what Elend was doing really much different than what the Lord Ruler did, in his empire that we hoped so desperately would crumble in The Final Empire?

“What kind of monsters are we?” Fatren asked in a hushed tone.
“The kind we have to be,” Elend said.

It seemed like Elend had done a complete 180, and yet, he was really just doing the best he could, trying to somehow balance his ideals with the reality that the situation necessitated.

“There has to be a balance, Vin,” he said. “Somehow, we’ll find it. The balance between whom we wish to be and whom we need to be.”

I may not have liked Elend in this book, I may not have agreed with him, but I most certainly understood him.

I also struggled with Sazed in The Hero of Ages, while he searched for a religion to believe in. Religion is about faith, not truth, and yet, how do you find faith in something you don't believe to be true? Sazed was supposed to be the one person full of faith. Elend was supposed to be the one person full of idealism. And when the world had put them in situations in which they struggled with these identities, it made me uncomfortable.

I keep going back to the word uncomfortable, that this book made me uncomfortable, and well, it did. But really, that just made me love it all the more. It's easy to write a book where everything is good or evil, black or white, where the good guys are always right and true and just, and the bad guys are always wrong and false and evil. But it's the idea of balance (which is also a major theme in this book), and watching the characters be forced to face that, which just made everything feel all the more real.

I'm not saying that this book was perfect by any means, and in fact, there are a lot of things that I wish Sanderson had done differently (I won't say what, specifically, because, spoilers). After all, it's easy to compare this book to The Final Empire, which was much stronger with regard to its storyline and storytelling. Yet, despite it's flaws, The Hero of Ages manages to grab you (or me, at least) on a much deeper level, so much so that The Final Empire almost seems like "Mistborn light" in comparison. It's hard for me to put it all into words, and I'm sure that this review doesn't make any sense and is mostly full of my own ramblings, but all that really matters is that reading The Hero of Ages is an experience that I won't ever forget.

REVIEW: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2)

The Well of Ascension  - Brandon Sanderson

WARNING: This review will have spoilers from the first book in the series, The Final Empire

How often do you read a book or watch a movie about an oppressed, fictional people going up against a tyrannical government, and get pumped when the rebellion succeeds at the end; then, call it a day when you finish, with nary a thought of what came after? More times than not, I'm sure. We're not conditioned to think about what comes next, and you know why? Because rebuilding a government is a messy, complicated business with loose ends that can't be neatly tied.

Well of Ascension, however, forces us to face the aftermath of the rebellion that took place in The Final Empire. Yes, the Lord Ruler was killed and deposed, but now what? Will Elend's government be everything that the Lord Ruler's wasn't? Will other factions try to seize power themselves now that the Lord Ruler is out of the picture? And, what about the Deepness?

Sanderson doesn't take the easy way out and portray a world that is hunky dory now that the Lord Ruler is gone. Instead, he gives us more bitter realities.

It was hard to believe that anything could actually be worse than the Lord Ruler’s oppression. Sazed told himself that these people’s pain would pass, that they would someday know prosperity because of what he and the others had done. Yet, he had seen farmers forced to slaughter each other, had seen children starve because some despot had “requisitioned” a village’s entire food supply. He had seen thieves kill freely because the Lord Ruler’s troops no longer patrolled the canals. He had seen chaos, death, hatred, and disorder. And he couldn’t help but acknowledge that he was partially to blame.

As if rebuilding a government and kingdom infrastructure wasn't enough to deal with, Kelsier's crew (who are now really Elend's crew) face some very pressing difficulties, including that they can't find the city's atium for economic stability, and oh- the fact that three armies are laying siege to Luthadel. Then, there is talk that the Deepness is returning...

There's a lot going on, yes, even though this is just a "transition book," as most middle books in a series are. We must get from point A (the first book), in which Kelsier's crew defeated the Lord Ruler, to point C (the third book), in which - well, obviously I'm not going to spoil the set up, but let's just say, major stuff is going to go down. Well of Ascension bridges the gap from point A to point C, but manages to do so in a way that is riveting, heart-pounding, action-packed, and suspenseful.

While the first book focuses on the development of Vin as she changes from a broken street urchin into a formidable Mistborn, this book in turn chronicles Elend's journey from an earnest idealist into a self-assured ruler. It's certainly not an easy journey for him, and his struggles are portrayed realistically.

Elend shook his head. “Can you not be both a man who follows his conscience and a good king, then?”
Tindwyl frowned in thought.
“You ask an age-old question, Elend,” Sazed said quietly. “A question that monarchs, priests, and humble men of destiny have always asked. I do not know that there is an answer.”

Keep in mind, too, that Elend is very young (in his early twenties) when he takes the throne. His insecurities feel achingly truthful - he can't help but wonder, wouldn't Kelsier have made a better king?

And, speaking of Kelsier, his absence is certainly felt throughout the novel, by both the characters and the reader. The skaa have deified "The Survivor," and well, I found myself somewhat deifying him too, as I was constantly thinking, "What would Kelsier do?" After all, it has to be said - as much as I like Elend, as much as I felt the realism of his struggles, as much as I think he's a better king than Kelsier would ever be, the fact remains that he's not Kelsier, and I sometimes wished he was.

Vin, to me, is much more compelling than Elend. As she's pretty much the epitome of a strong, female protagonist, I can't help but love her. It's so refreshing to have her protect Elend, and not the other way around. Of course, she comes with her own bundle of insecurities - how can Elend love a woman like her, a paranoid, trouser-wearing, killing machine? I can understand some readers being frustrated with Vin's constant self-doubts with regard to her relationship with Elend, but I never was because I thought it made sense for her character, especially knowing where she came from. It's difficult to accept love when we don't think we deserve it, after all. I also loved the contrast between Vin the Mistborn and Vin the girl. People are complex, and someone can be strong and insecure at the same time - Sanderson understands this.

My concern with Vin at this point, though, is that she's getting too powerful. In the first book, she came to realize that even though she's a Mistborn, she's not invincible. Well, in this book, she seemed pretty damn invincible to me.

You know, there's a lot of stuff in this book that I haven't talked about in this review, that I don't even know how to begin to talk about, without my review being the size of a dissertation. There's just so much depth in Sanderson's books, and the fact that I can't even discuss 99% of the things I would like to mention without opening a can of word vomit hopefully attests to that. There are some events from the ending that I'm not sure how I feel about... mainly Elend's easy acceptance about being given the position of Emperor, and Elend "snapping" into a Mistborn at the end. But, I'm willing to trust in Sanderson that these were the right choices for the series - he sure hasn't let me down yet.

While this book doesn't have the perfection of its predecessor (in my eyes, at least), it's still amazing and one of the best books I've ever read. I was biting my nails the whole time, and there were some incredible, jaw-dropping, "oh NO he didn't!" moments from Sanderson. I'm still reeling over the ending, and once I get over the shock I will be delving into The Hero of Ages.

There are also a lot of heartbreaking moments, and the struggles of one character in particular just ruined me. My poor, poor Sazed! "He knew at that moment that he would never believe again." My heart. Hurts.

I'm pretty sure that the next book will have a lot of heartache as well, but I can't stop, won't stop, not now.


REVIEW: Raven Flight (Shadowfell #2)

Raven Flight: A Shadowfell novel - Juliet Marillier

Raven Flight definitely suffers from the dreaded "middle book syndrome." I know that this series can be riveting; I felt it when I read Shadowfell, and I felt it when I got to the last 5% of this book. But, everything leading up to the ending, with the exception of one pretty intense scene, can mostly be described by the word "meh."

You see, I had two major problems with Raven Flight - one being Neryn, and the other being the pacing. These problems are somewhat intertwined, as Neryn just isn't a strong enough character with exciting enough adventures to carry this book on her own.

The last part of the book blurb says, "What Flint learns from the king will change the battlefield entirely—but in whose favor, no one knows." I was hoping that this meant we'd spend more time in the book from Flint's point-of-view, but even though that happens, it can't be for more than 20 pages total, if that. (Also, that blurb is really unfair, considering "what Flint learns from the king" happens in the last few pages, and will clearly be pivotal to the next book, not this one.)

So, we're stuck with Neryn for most of the book, for better or worse, and I'd have to say that it's mostly for the worse. Whereas Flint is a deep and complex character that I want to spend my time with, Neryn is just vanilla - that is, when she's not frustrating the heck out of me.

For example, Neryn's constant angst over killing the enemy really bothered me. Not that I expected her to be a cold-blooded killer or anything, but she joined the rebellion, for lord's sake. Rebellion means war, which means death - so, it's okay for the deaths to occur, as long as it isn't her specifically causing said deaths? That seems pretty hypocritical to me. Then, when she did have to kill people out of necessity, men who would have raped and killed her and Tali, mind you, she anguishes over it.

I added a prayer for the men who had died or been forever changed here. They had performed their own act of violence. But, like the Enforcers who had fallen in last autumn’s battle, they had been sons, fathers, brothers, husbands. Someone would mourn their loss; someone had loved them.

They were would-be rapists and murderers; geez, forgive me if I'm not busting out my tiny violin. If Marillier wanted me to empathize with Neryn here, she should have made the men she killed less horrific at least. Especially when compared to Flint's burden of having to kill men who trust and believe in him, Neryn's angst just seems petulant in comparison.

Regarding Neryn and Flint as a couple, they are separated for most of the novel. The romance between them is very sweet, and I did really enjoy the brief moments they got to spend together. However, there just doesn't seem to be enough nurturing of this particular couple to make the level of intensity of their feelings make much sense, especially when Neryn is constantly proving that she lacks faith in Flint. (Yes, that's just another thing to add to the list of things that frustrated me about Neryn - she never seems to be able to trust and support Flint in the most crucial of moments.)

As I said above, I was also left wanting by the pacing of this book. Marillier's writing is often slow-paced, with her beautiful prose and wonderful story-telling being able to carry her sagas on their own merits. But, Raven Flight seemed especially slow, with really not much happening for the majority of the book, and without a strong over-arching story to really pull the reader through these moments. The ending to the book was jaw-dropping and intense, and there was one scene involving Flint's "Enthralling" that had me on the edge of my seat, but I wish more of the book could have been filled with that kind of energy.

With that said, I'm not scared off of the Shadowfell series for good, because I have faith in Marillier and faith in this series. I just hope that the next book shows major improvements from this one.

REVIEW: Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)

Mistborn: The Final Empire  - Brandon Sanderson

This book was spectacular.

I've been wanting to check out the Mistborn series since, well, forever, but just never got around to it. I finally decided that a good way to combat my procrastination would be to get this on audiobook, so that I'd end up listening to it on my commute to/from work, while walking, while cleaning, etc.

Generally, I only listen to my audiobooks in those aforementioned times, but Mistborn was different. This book was so engaging - the characters, the story, the world-building - that I couldn't make myself stop. Rather than keep this to my scheduled "audiobook times" during the day, I was listening to this book every second I got. I also ended up downloading the ebook, because I was so impatient to find out what happened and I knew I could read faster than the audiobook could read to me.

Let's start with the story. The premise is immediately intriguing - What kind of world results when the hero of prophecy fails? That of Mistborn, which is ruled by the oppressive deity-like Lord Ruler. In this world, there is also great economic and social disparity between the nobility and the skaa (peasantry). A rebel named Kelsier puts together a small but talented "thieving crew" and charges them with the daunting task of putting together a successful skaa rebellion, which is not quite the normal kind of heist that they are used to, to say the least.

One of Sanderson's most impressive skills is the way in which he masterfully weaves this story. The writing itself isn't anything special, but the careful and thoughtful threading by Sanderson more than makes up for it. For example, the story begins in the point-of-view of a nobleman who is completely non-essential to the overall story, just so that we get an immediate feel of how the skaa are treated and perceived in this world. Another example consists of the short narrated sections at the beginning of each chapter. As the book progresses you slowly come to learn more about this mystery narrator, and it's hard to explain the details here (for spoiler reasons and such), but just trust me in that it's all done brilliantly.

But where the book truly shines is in its characters. I don't think there are many book characters that I love or will ever love as much as Kelsier. He's charismatic, loyal, smart, driven, and full of hope. Yet, he's still flawed - he lusts for the blood of the nobility, refusing to see them as individuals and instead seeing them as an oppressive whole; his tactics for completing his tasks are often Machiavellian in nature; and, he has a huge ego.

Then, there's Vin, the true main character of the book (in my opinion), and well, she's awesome, too. Want to read a book with a strong female protagonist? Then, this one's for you. Vin is a very developed character, and to witness her journey and growth from the beginning of the book to its end makes you care fiercely for her.

The secondary characters are also great. Even though you don't get insight into their lives (much) like you do with Vin and Kelsier, they still all have very distinctive personalities. Plus, in Mistborn, it's not just the characters that are impressive, but also the relationships between the characters.

Finally, let's talk about world-building. The magic system (allomancy) is complex and original. Allomancers have the ability to use metals in order to fuel a variety of physical and mental enhancements and abilities, and well, it's pretty damn cool. As for the world itself, we aren't exposed to all too many parts of it (geographically), but you really get a feel for the dystopian setting. The skaa, the nobility, the Steel Ministry (consisting of obligators and the terrifying inquisitors), the mists and the kandra, the keepers - simply put, there's a lot of interesting stuff to delve into. I can't wait to find out more (in future books, presumably) about how the world turned into a place covered with ash, a place with no plants, a place of such desolation.

I guess I haven't said anything bad about the book in this review, and believe me, I'm trying to rack my brain for something, but nothing is coming to mind. I think that any fantasy genre lover should read this, most definitely.

REVIEW: The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

This month I lost of very close friend of mine, one who was taken from this world way before his time. I've been struggling to find a way to come to terms with this loss, to accept it, to understand it… if any of that is even possible. So, a friend recommended The Year of Magical Thinking to me, thinking that it might help me through the grieving process.

The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles Joan Didion's thoughts following her husband's death. It's not a self-help book, it's a memoir, but because of that, it's infinitely more relatable.

This was very painful for me to read, and yet, it helped me to understand some of my own thoughts and feelings, which I've resisted trying to articulate to other people. I found myself crying throughout the book, and not necessarily because of my sympathy for Joan (even though I certainly did feel that), but because I was realizing my own truths and reliving my own memories through her writing. I know all too well, painfully, the feeling of thinking that I should be able to change the outcome, change what happened somehow.

I wanted more than a night of memories and sighs.

I wasn't always brave enough to read this book, since it forced me to confront a lot of things within myself that I didn't necessarily feel ready to confront. Instead, I've preferred immersing myself in escapist fantasy literature, because it's just easier that way. Joan's daughter Quintana's initial condition and infection reminded me so painfully of my friend's eventual situation, that there was a point during which I would read a sentence, then put the book down… then read a sentence, then put the book down… until I finally managed to get through the offending section.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.

So, how do I give a rating to a book like this, a book that I used as a vessel in my own personal journey toward confronting my own grief? I didn't read it to learn about Joan's life with her husband or daughter, I read it to find words for what I was thinking and feeling.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.

I know also that if we are to live ourselves there come a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

Knowing doesn't make it easier of course, relating to a book doesn't make it easier, but perhaps it's all a step toward that eventuality.

I see a lot of reviews condemning the book because Joan and her husband lived a blessed and quite luxurious lifestyle, one that most of us will never know. And yet, isn't death the great equalizer? Should we begrudge her this grief because she had an amazing life that most of us can only envy? We can't relate to her life, but can't we relate to her grief? As her husband John once said, "It all evens out in the end." Bad news will come to each of us.

The craziness is receding but no clarity is taking its place. I look for resolution and find none.

There can be no resolution in grief, perhaps, but maybe there can be clarity. And in The Year of Magical Thinking, I think I've come close to finding that, at least.

REVIEW: Breath of Dragons (A Pandoran Novel, #3)

Breath of Dragons (A Pandoran Novel) (Volume 3) - Barbara Kloss

Please hold on for a minute while I try and process everything that I just read. I need to let the feeling of reading a book that I loved - like, in an oh-my-god, swoonworthy, I want to read it again right this very minute is that weird? kind of way - wash over me for a second.

My only complaint, and it's not a real complaint, is that now I have to wait a painful amount of time (1 year? 2 years?) for the next book to come out, in order to find out how the series will end. I don't know if I can handle the waiting, you guys, I really don't.

You see, I went into this book thinking that it was the final book. Trilogies are all the rage after all, right? Once I got 90% through, I finally figured out that it wasn't, and my stomach kind of dropped. I'm trying to look at the bright side here - I mean, I get a whole additional book filled with this amazing, young-adult, fantasy romance story, right? But oh, the waiting, the waiting, the waiting...

Okay, so, now that all of my feelings have processed (somewhat), I guess I should talk about the actual book itself. In this book, we continue to follow the adventures of Daria, who is now trying to find the box of Pandor (with Alex and Vera in tow). Meanwhile, Eris' army of shadowriders is pressing in on Valdon, which paints a pretty dire picture for Stefan and his realm.

So, what specifically did I love about Breath of Dragons, then? Pretty much all of the same things that I loved about Gaia's Secret, but multiplied exponentially because in this book, the stakes were much higher. To sum it up though, we have engrossing adventures and a great overarching storyline - check; a wonderfully sweet but seemingly star-crossed romance - check; interesting world-building and fantasy elements - check; dragons - check; characters that you love and want to see succeed - check; and, last but not least, excellent writing that's descriptive and right on point with pacing - check.

Regarding the pacing, the previous book (The Keeper's Flame) had slowed things down a bit in order to portray Daria's life in the castle. But, I'm happy to say that Breath of Dragons utilizes more of the same wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am action-packed speed of the first book. There was never a dull moment, indeed, and that's saying a lot considering that this book was 120 pages longer than either of the last two installments.

I also think that Ms. Kloss made improvements to the structure of the narrative. One of my big issues with having a singular first-person narrative (especially in multi-book series) is that the world becomes too big in scope to be portrayed to the reader effectively by just one character. Fortunately, Kloss recognized this, and even though over 90% of the book is from Daria's point of view, we do get occasional peaks into the thoughts of some other characters.

If I had one honest criticism about Breath of Dragons, it'd be that Daria's abilities are becoming a bit deus ex machina, and it seems like there's almost nothing she can't do (or at least, won't be able to do eventually). Alex is also a bit too perfect, so it's not like Daria is the only one getting the super-hero treatment from Kloss. Character depth is certainly not the book's strength, let's just say. Yet, when it comes down to it, I don't even care because it didn't stop me from loving the characters or the story.

(Also, as a side note, I really missed Fleck in this book, but I'm hoping he'll have a major role in the series conclusion!)

So, there you have it. This book was amazing, and everyone who enjoys young-adult fantasy and/or fantasy romance should give this series a whirl. Anyone who has already started the series should feel confident proceeding with Breath of Dragons, because it's the best book in the series so far. And anyone who has already read Breath of Dragons and now has to wait what seems like forever for the series conclusion can join me in a fetal position on the floor.

REVIEW: The Assassin's Curse (The Assassin's Curse, #1)

The Assassin's Curse - Cassandra Rose Clarke

I'm not sure what I'm missing here that others loved, but this, for me, was a struggle to finish.

First off, I have to say - the plot blurb sounds awesome, and it made me super excited to read this. I don't get as hyped about pirates as most people seem to, but I do love assassins, fantasy, adventure, and romance. So, this probably should have been a home run for me, right? But, no.

From the get-go, the narrative grated on the part of my brain that only baby screams and nails on chalkboards have previously pierced. First-person POV is never my favorite form of storytelling, but when done well and in the voice of a character you love, it can be something special. Not so much in The Assassin's Curse. I think I flinched every time Ananna said or thought the word "ain't" (i.e. all the time), or phrases like, "I knew that I wanted a merchant who wouldn't ask me no questions." Maybe that makes me a grammar snob (who knew?), but to have the entire narrative in such a painful vernacular just killed me. It probably didn't help that I read this right after a Juliet "my writing is so beautiful sometimes that it makes you want to weep" Marillier book, but so it goes.

Then, nothing is described, things just happened. What's the Empire? What's the Confederacy? And is it me, or was the curse that bound Naji to Ananna after she killed the snake never actually explained?

All the characters are one-note bores. And what, is Naji like, the worst, most helpless, most self-deprecating assassin in the history of assassins? Personally, I have high expectations for anyone who has the title "assassin," thank you very much.

Finally, the ending was super abrupt. Not that I wanted the book to go on any longer, mind you, but the author could have at least tied up the story better, you know?

So, to sum it all up, high expectations mixed with a lackluster book leads to disaster.

REVIEW: Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters, #3)

Child of the Prophecy - Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier is so very talented. The skill in which she crafts prose and weaves stories with such beauty is simply amazing. While I don't love all of her stories, for whatever reason (maybe a particular plot won't excite me, or maybe I can't relate to the main characters of a given story), the ones that I do love always blow me away. And, such was the case with Child of the Prophecy.

Now, I've read the Sevenwaters books all out of order, mostly due to circumstantial reasons. At present, I'm mostly caught up, and after finishing Child of the Prophecy, I only have the novella Twixt Firelight and Water as well as the newest book Flame of the Sevenwaters left to go. So, I have a lot to compare Child of the Prophecy to. Yet, the books holds up in the series, and has all of the elements that Marillier does best.

Going into this book, I read all these reviews saying that Fianne was a great protagonist because of her capacity for evil. While I agree that she was a great protagonist, and was a lot more three-dimensional than some of Marillier's other leads (cough Liadan cough), I never thought of her as evil in any way. Yes, she did some horrible things, but I always understood and even sympathized with her reasons for doing them. Fianne's struggles throughout the book and the loneliness she is forced to endure is somewhat heartbreaking, and while I was reading this I yearned for her to somehow find happiness.

The key to her happiness seems to be Darragh, Fianne's best friend from childhood who fell in love with her somewhere along the way. Fianne has to constantly push Darragh away to protect him from her wicked grandmother. Yet, even after being pushed away time after time, Darragh is always coming back to her, which just squished my heart in a painful but wonderful way. They are apart for most of the book, but that just makes the moments they have together all the more poignant and beautiful, even when (especially when) those moments were heartbreaking.

I will say that there are parts of this book that are a bit slow, and this book is a bit too chock full of lore and information on the events of Sevenwaters. Overall, though, this was a wonderful story, the kind that made me ache, and those who love Marillier's works should love this one as well.

REVIEW: The Battle Lord's Lady (Battle Lord Saga, #1)

The Battle Lord's Lady - Linda Mooney

I'm sad to say that I didn't like this book, at all. Here were some of the thoughts that I had while reading it:

(1) The genocidal backdrop didn't exactly put me in the mood for romance. Yes, I know the "Cleaners" had a "lifetime of conditioning" against the Mutahs, but that still doesn't make me cool with the genocidal behavior. It would have been better if we had known earlier on about the Blood attacks, and how Yulen's people thought Bloods/Mutahs were the same. At least that would have been a better excuse for the attacks in the beginning of the book than a "lifetime of conditioning." In the beginning it seemed as if they hated the Mutahs solely for their mutations, while that was only really part of the reason. But, since we didn't find this out until close to the end, the attacks on Atty's compound seemed purely genocidal in nature, and it was hard to get invested in a romance born from that atmosphere.

(2) Yulen becoming so intrigued/smitten with Atty from the get-go didn't seem to make much sense, and therefore, it was hard (or, impossible) to get invested in his character and their relationship. So, a guy who went through such lengths as to be scarred in order to save one of his men, because "he wasn't going to risk losing another man," could so quickly fall for a girl who just killed sixteen of his men? Why did he fall in love with her so quickly, and more importantly, how did he?

(3) Of course, conveniently, Atty doesn't have any of the disfiguring kinds of Mutah traits.

(4) "Like two halves of a whole, they each slowly slid off their horses." Oh boy, so mawkish. The whole romance in general was oversentimental, really.

(5) It sure doesn't take long for Atty to start calling Yulen "Yul," and ask if he has a wife. Again, the relationship between the two happens so fast with no real development.

(6) Mary Sue much?
“Why do I get the feeling she’ll never cease to amaze us?”
“She cooks.  She can shoot the eye out of a flea at a hundred paces.  And she’s a one-woman ammunition depot.  The only thing she isn’t is a lusty wench in bed, but I guess you already have plans on what to do about that one, right?”

(7) All the plot points seemed pretty forced. For example, did anyone reading this actually think that Atty might lose her powers after losing her virginity?

At the end of the day, this is a romance book, with a very poorly developed romance. I didn't feel anything stronger than apathy about the relationship between Yulen/Atty, and therefore, I felt very detached from the entire story. None of the fantasy or world-building elements were interesting enough as to save the book elsewhere. The characters were one-dimensional. I'm struggling to try and think of one positive thing about this book, but just can't seem to do it. I did manage to finish it, so, there's that, I guess.

REVIEW: The Keeper's Flame (A Pandoran Novel, #2)

The Keeper's Flame (A Pandoran Novel, #2) - Barbara Kloss

Having just finished Gaia's Secret (the day before I finished this book, hah), I couldn't wait to get my grubby e-book loving hands on The Keeper's Flame... which I then proceeded to plow through in about 7 hours.

I have some mixed feeling on this installment - mixed because even though I still loved it, of course (like, a lot a lot), I was still a bit disappointed because it didn't hit on all cylinders like Gaia's Secret.

My biggest issue with the book was Daria's complete lack of confidence in herself. Essentially, for reasons unknown (until later on), Daria has lost her magical abilities. Because of this, her confidence takes a major hit, to say the least, and there's tons of self-deprecation to be had. I wish there had been a, "Hey, I don't need magic to be awesome!" realization moment, especially considering that Daria has a lot of physical skills and good instincts - but, nope.

Everything else, though? I'd say it was all great, for the most part. The story switches gears in The Keeper's Flame, so whereas Gaia's Secret was fast-paced and full of adventures, this book slowed things down as it explored Daria's adjustment to her new life. Nonetheless, Daria manages to find herself in more than a few scrapes along the way, and events are constantly in motion.

As a side note, I think that the romance aspect became a bit more pronounced in The Keeper's Flame - it was still not quite front-and-center, but was almost there - so be careful if you don't like that kind of stuff. In this book, too, there were times when the romance teetered on too-angsty or too-mushy, but in the times that it was on point, it was just oh-so-squee.

So, this is the part that now sucks - having to wait for the next (and last, I believe) book in the series! I'm lucky enough with the timing since Breath of Dragons comes out next week (yay!), but even that is going to feel like an excruciating wait right now.

REVIEW: Gaia's Secret (A Pandoran Novel, #1)

Gaia's Secret (A Pandoran Novel, #1) - Barbara Kloss

Oh... my... wow. Just wow.

When I bought this book, I wasn't expecting anything too special - just your standard, 3-ish star, young-adult fantasy fodder.

Instead, I found this hidden gem that I just loved to pieces. In fact, I don't even want to write this review right now, because all I want to do is go and read the next book in the series. But, alas, that wouldn't do justice to this book, which I so thoroughly enjoyed, so here I go.

In Gaia's Secret, you follow the adventures of Daria Jones, who is thrown from her boring life in Fresno into the magical world of Gaia. Throughout the book, Daria strives to re-unite with her father (who just up and disappeared from Fresno one day), while simultaneously trying to find her place and role in this new world.

To be honest, you won't find anything all too original in Gaia's Secret. Yet, helping to fuel the story and picking up for any creative slack is the writing, which is descriptive in its depiction of Daria's surroundings and the events taking place, but never to the point that the story feels like it's dragging. In fact, the book is pretty much perfectly paced. The writing is engaging but light, so that the book always feels at home in its young-adult genre.

The story is told through Daria's point of view, so she ends up being a well-developed character that you come to love. You can really sympathize with her during the book, and feel her frustrations when her friends and family are constantly leaving her in the dark and hiding truths. First-person POV storytelling isn't my personal favorite to read, generally, but it works well enough here. I did get annoyed being constantly in the dark with Daria, and with some characters for always keeping the truth from her, but on the same note that just made me rally behind Daria all the more.

Just as a heads up, there is a romance angle in this book. Although it's not the main focus of the story, as this is a fantasy book first and foremost, it does play a pretty major role. So, if you dislike that sort of thing, you may want to (sadly!) pass this book up. But, for those of you that like having romance dashed in with your fantasy, you will only adore this book all the more. The romance is lovingly and achingly developed, in the good "slow-burn" kind of way.

Since this book is part of a series, the story obviously leaves off with some major loose ends. Now that I think about it, I don't think the major baddie of the series has even made an appearance yet. I almost wish that the loose ends had been resolved and that this story had been a stand-alone, because I loved it so much and can't imagine the next installment being able to stand up to Gaia's Secret. At the same time, I'm oh-so-happy to have the opportunity to experience more of Gaia, with so much of the world left to explore. In fact, I'm going to do so, right about... now.

REVIEW: DawnSinger (Tales of Faeraven, #1)

Dawnsinger - Janalyn Voigt

DawnSinger is definitely not a bad book, in case that's how you interpret a 2.5 star rating, yet this book just didn't resonate with me personally. I read it in one day, so this book was by no means a chore to get through, but nothing really made it stand out. After all, there's nothing I love more than a fun fantasy adventure, but even though DawnSinger started with a lot of promise, I felt that it never really took off.

Essentially, all the exposition in the first part of the book was pretty interesting, but once Shae, Kai, and company went on their journey to find the DawnKing, the book just kind of staled. Normally in a fantasy, the journey is the most exciting part, but for DawnSinger, it wasn't. Everything just seemed really formulaic: Walk, walk, walk. Creature attacks, Shae has a near death experience, Kai has a near death experience, creature is defeated or avoided. Relief, tend to injuries, rest. Walk, walk, walk. Creature attacks, Shae has a near death experience, Kai has a near death experience, creature is defeated or avoided. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then, when it came to the final showdown, so to speak, everything was over really quickly and it was all kind of anti-climactic. Also, something really significant happens at the end, and there seemed to be no character reaction to it, which made the book lack any significant closure.

The writing in the adventure scenes didn't do the story any favors, either. Although the book was well-written, I don't think the writing was flushed out enough to keep the story engaging. There just wasn't enough imagery for me to feel like I was on the journey with the characters.

As for the romance - normally I really enjoy having some romance in my fantasies, and the romance in the book was actually really sweet. However, it was also really strange, for reasons that will become obvious as your read the book, and I just couldn't get past that. I mean, even though Kai knew his whole life that Shae wasn't his blood-relation sister, and the reader knew early on that this was the case as well, that doesn't change the fact that Shae thought Kai was her brother for her whole life. I mean, if I found out today that my brother was not actually my brother by blood, there's still no way my love for him would ever transition to romantic love, because, ick ick ick. Not to mention, since Shae's real parentage is kept mostly a secret even after Shae finds out, everybody else still thinks they are brother/sister, too, so that's kind of weird to think about.

Finally, all the Christian allegory and God constantly saving the day stuff wasn't really my cup of tea, since I'm not a religious person. I just wish it had been included with a bit more subtlety. And, besides, it's kind of cheap in a fantasy book if it just takes some good old-fashioned faith in God to beat your enemies. It just seems a bit too lazy and convenient for me.

So, yeah, as it turns out, this wasn't the book for me, but I could definitely see how people could really enjoy it. It had some really interesting elements, but in the end, they weren't threaded together well enough for me to come to love this story.

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