Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

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A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

Summary:

Feyre’s family has lost their fortune, and, owing to a promise, Feyre learns to hunt so she can support her father and two sisters. Hunting the woods, on the brink of starvation, Feyre sees a massive wolf which may or may not be a fairy. She kills it.

Turns out, it was a fairy, and Tamlin, a high lord, forces her to live in Prythian, fairy land, as punishment. Tamlin’s house is under a curse, and everyone is forced to wear animal masks. The curse, which Feyre originally believes is a magical disease, was created by the evil fairy queen Armantha. Feyre falls in love with Tamlin, challenges Armantha for Tamlin’s freedom, and saves Prythian from the evil queen.

My Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose this book on recommendation from a friend.

This is a fairy tale retelling, mainly Beauty and the Beast with allusions to some others. I typically do not enjoy fairytale retellings. I tried to consider that and probably gave this a higher rating than I normally would because I know I have my own bias.

I gave four stars because the plot was predictable. I figured out the riddle the first time it was presented. I anticipated the plot turns based on the fairy tale. It made this story less exciting.

I spent more time than I should have rolling my eyes, thinking how very Disney, and this is the part where the sing Tale As Old As Time in the background.

I did not find myself sympathizing or enjoying Feyre. She is bitter about taking care of her family, she is angry about being taken, and she is mistrustful of people around her even when they supposedly can’t tell lies and then very trusting in them when they admit they can tell lies. She hangs on to the desire to get back to her family for the majority of the book but then when she decides to stay and fall and love she quickly leaves that because she is told too. Then she does some simply stupid things, like not being able to figure out a fairly simple riddle.

That being said, there was a few scenes which I really enjoyed and which make the story worth reading. I am a sucker for scenes of abandonment, and I really enjoyed the scene where Tamlin takes Feyre away. Despite Feyre’s anger at having to take care of her family and their “evil step-sister” tendencies towards her, they have a few moments of tenderness and the forlorn half-faded depictions of flowers that Feyre paint seem sad and lonely. There is another scene where Feyre returns home and learns her sisters are not what she remembered them being. I appreciated that as well.

Anyway, all in all, this was not my cup of tea, but it was a quick and easy read. For people who enjoy fairy tales, this was a good book.

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Book Review: Necroscope

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Necroscope by Brian Lumley

Summary:

This another book that follows multiple groups (I seem to be picking up a lot of these lately).

Harry Keogh can talk to the dead. They tutor him in math, use him to write their life stories, and share their secrets with him. Sometimes, they share their deaths with him, like his mother, a murder victim. And sometimes, Harry seeks revenge.

Outside Harry’s connection to the dead, two government agencies for humans with special gifts (the British ESP and the Soviet ESP) are in a cold war. Each seeks to increase their power within their own government as well as to stop the talent acquisition of the other.

Boris Dragonsani hears a voice in a grave and hunts out the secret to this mysterious voice. The vampire Ferenczy promises Dragonsani knowledge in exchange for freedom. First, young Dragosani learns how to rip the secrets from the dead. Next, he learns how to steal the powers of other ESP talented humans. Finally he plans to take over the world.

Dragosani and Keogh’s paths cross one cold winter day when Harry confronts his mother’s murderer. They have their final stand off when Harry attacks Dragosani at the Soviet ESP fortress.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary:

This is everything I want from book one in a series.

It had characters I was intrigued by. Harry starts a little boring as a boy who can’t stay focused, but little bits of his life are intriguing like his interest in snooping and his lack of competitiveness. In comparison, Dragosani begins very interestingly as a man who enjoys ripping the memories out of people and sleeps naked next to dead people.

The plot was a complete stand alone novel. The prologue promised me that the Soviets would soon lose a large number of followers. By the end, they did. The story promised me Harry Keogh would be an important key the survival and success of the ESP, and he was. Harry is the downfall, a lone warrior really, marching into battle against the Soviet ESP. The story promised me power plays and political intrigue, and by the end, they happened. Yet, there are enough intrigues and side plots happening in this story that they left me wanting novel two and three and so on. (good thing, there are more.)

The story telling contained little hints and details that lent credibility to the setting and characters. The Soviets play a large role in the story and there are little word choices that are very reminiscent of Russian, i.e. calling swimsuits costumes and windshields wind screens. Little choices throughout the story made the cultures feel authentic rather than contrived.

I really don’t have much negative to say about this story. If I had to pick something, just to have a negative to balance the positives, I guess I could point to some of the standard tropes appearing particularly in reference to vampires. They are weak to wooden steaks, silver, beheading, and fire. The need blood to survive. Then again, these vampires are symbiotic creature which live inside humans. I guess a negative might be some of the predictability of the story. It was not hard to guess, Dragosani was being trapped by a vampire, that Harry managed to time travel, that Harry’s talents came from the dead. None of that really bothered me as I was reading.

All in all, I give this one high marks.

Book Review: The Blade Itself

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The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Summary:

This is a multi-POV novel following various characters.

Bayas, First among the Magi, is a wizard from story books, the ancient kind. He also happens to be a baker, living in his northern library. Political forces are moving, and Bayas leaves his sanctuary on an adventure.

Logan Ninefingers, the Bloody Nine, is a northman and prior champion of Bethod, the king. When Bethod unsuccessfully kills Logan, Logan is collected into Bayas’s group of adventurers.

Jezal van Luthar trains for his chance to be the city champion at fencing. A title once held by Sand dan Glokta and Collen West. In the interim, he falls in love with a commoner and is recruited into Bayas’s adventure.

Ferro Maljinn is a slave on the run from the Empire. She feels no pain and is driven by the need for vengence. She’s exactly what Bayas needs for his adventure.

Sand dan Glokta, a POW surviver and cripple, is an inquisitor of some skill. Under the command of Arch Lectur Sult, Glokta tears apart the mercer guild, opening trade routes in the south, and begins his own investigation into the corruption of the government.

Collem West worked for years to win his fencing championship and became one of the few commoners to be given rank  in the Union army. Skill and strategy leads him into the high chain of command, and his next big assignment is to win a war against the north.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My thoughts:

I knew this was the first novel in a trilogy, but I heard it was a stand-alone novel. It is not. If you plan to read it, plan to read the remaining books. This book starts with a couple big plots. First character on scene is Logan Ninefingers after being nearly killed by Bethod. Classic novel structure suggests that this would be the event which should close the novel, making it a stand alone. Nope. Logan finds Bayas early in the book and becomes his traveling companion. He has a few early chances to face Bethod, but he does not. That chance doesn’t come around again in this novel. Actually, at the end, Logan chooses to sail to the End of the World with Bayas when full ships of armed men are going north to fight Bethod, thus losing him the “”opportunity” to directly fight his foe.

There is a major trend of plots not ending or ending very early in the story, leading to this novel feeling like it does not stand alone. Examples other than Logan Ninefingers: Sand dan Glokta, who never finds what he is looking for and cannot answer the question of why he still struggles even though pain and his crippled status leave him wanting to give up; Bayas, who sets out to collect a group of men for an adventure to collect the seed (in defense of the book, Bayas is able to collect his group, only to be left with the big open story issue of the entire adventure he gathered the group for); Collem West and his sister, who appear throughout the book and advance in character while never having a clear goal and resolution; Ferro, who wants revenge but is steadily carried away from it then redirected without the chance to get her revenge; and the fencer Luthar, who wins the contest that he never really cared about and is subsequently drug into Bayas’ adventures.

Worse than not being a stand alone novel, it started to become predictable. What! The dashing swords man who disdains anyone of a station lower than himself will fall for the common girl? What! Logan Ninefingers, who is constantly called the Bloody Nine, a figure so scary the northmen, Anglanders and even people in the center of the Union tell horror stories about him, has an internal blood-loving beast that is ready to kill but must be suppressed by Logan’s human side? What! The cripple is being used by the Arch Lektor? What! The closed council is corrupt? What! The wizard has been helping the Union in disguise for years? What! Their future mission (should they choose to accept it) is to finish the adventure from centuries before that was never achieved? I had heard so much before reading this book about how unique it was and the interesting twists. I was disappointed.

These two issues were enough for me to make this 3.5 stars.

However, the story is well written, and I enjoyed some of the characters.  Sand dan Glokta is, by far, my favorite character. He has hit his low point (years of torture which has lost him half his teeth and the use of his leg). He’s scary looking, has come to accept that, and uses it as a weapon. He laments his lost life, is bitter about to the point of being incensed when one of his prisoners does not recognize him, yet still steps in to encourage Jezal to continue fencing, agrees to watch over West’s sister, and is honestly interested in fighting corruption. More than any of the other characters, his action show a sense of hope and stubborn defiance. I finished the book, hoping West’s sister would give up the idea of Jezal and fall in love with Glokta.

Yulwei is another character I grew to enjoy. Yulwei is the magus who finds Ferro. He is wise, kind, and makes an excellent cat burglar. If he wants to be unseen, he is. If he wants a band of traveling slavers to think his traveling companion is a boy, they do. If he wants to walk through enemy lines, he does. He does not choose violence, yet when faced with flesh eaters (breakers of the second law), he destroys one with water and the other with fire. Very practical. He made me smile.

I’m unsure at this point if I will read book two. I’m curious about what will happen with Glokta, but I don’t foresee anything amazingly exciting happening with the plot. If I read book two, I assume it will also not be a stand-alone, so if I read book 2 I need to be in it for book 3. Honestly, I’m not sure if the characters alone are enough to keep me reading the next two novels. I’ll give it some time before I decide.

Book Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

51dimrpqvpl-_sx328_bo1204203200_An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

Summary:

Princess Isabelle is misshappened, cursed, and discarded by her own family, yet she is the precious culmination of centuries long planning and the lynch pin of a breeding program.

When she is forced into a political alliance with a neighboring country, she must carve out her place among warring princes, a greedy queen, and the church.

 

Rating 4.5 stars

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book; however, it has one issue that drove me nuts. In this world, women have no identity outside their husband or father. Blah. In one country, that ownership is used to degrade the women, and the next the men dote on their wives, but either way, women gain their identity through the men they are attached to and their ability to have children. That’s the big negative. It’s a big enough negative that at one point I considered putting the book down.

Why did I give it 4.5 stars then? Because once the issue of women is put aside, this is a fun adventure. I initially picked it up because the first chapter is set on an air ship (think masts and sails). I want a sky-faring adventure of exploration and intrigue. I was sorely mistaken, as most of the story happens on land, but I definitely got intrigue. There is no limits on what might be set on fire, exploded, stabbed, shot, or manipulated. There are crown politics, tavern dealings, and mistaken identities. Princess Isabelle’s chief protector is a scoundrel who is not a scoundrel. Her best friend is a lifeless corpse, kind of. Her future husband has been broken, remade, and replaced, and he may or may not be trying to kill her. Some buildings are destroyed, some carriages exploded, and the church has underground labyrinthine catacombs.

This was a fun adventure.

Book Review: The Dwarves

The Dwarves by Markus HeitzThe Dwarves, by Marcus Heitz

Summary:

This novel follows three-ish groups who all end up fighting an epic battle.

Tungdil is a dwarf living with a mage. In all his hoping and errands, he has never come across another dwarf. Instead, he has learned to read, speak multiple languages, and be a smith. The mage writes to the dwarves, informing them of Tungdil’s existence. While waiting for an answer, the mage tasks Tngdil to deliver some items to the mage’s former apprentice in Black Saddle. So Tungdil sets off on a long journey.

In the dwarven kingdom, the high king has grown old. Preparing for his death, he has asked the king of the fourthlings, Gandogar, (fourthlings are one of five kingdom of dwarves) to present himself as a potential to be high king. At the presentation, Gandogar reveals his intention to lead the dwarves against the elves in war. The old high king, distraught by the prospect, seeks to delay making Gandogar high king until the council can be persuaded to avoid war. To delay the crowning, the high king states there is a second challenger to the throne, Tungdil.

In a third front, the mages meet. The Perished Land, a dead place full of orcs and revenants where the dead come back to life, presses against a barrier, which the mages maintain. The barrier has started to fail. The mages, including Tungdil’s master, meet to reinforce the barrier. During the spell, Nudin the Knowledge-Lusty betrays the mages stealing their power. He then kills the other mages. He then calls together the mage apprentices and steals their power as well. This leaves the Perished Lands to invade the realm and the orcs to plunder towns at will.

Tungdil meets up with the guards sent by the high king, learns of Nudin’s treachery, and agrees to challenge for the throne. In the challenge, each challenger picks tasks that both must complete. Tungdil challenges Gandogar to a journey that includes reuniting the dwarven kingdoms, killing a dragon, and forging a legendary weapon. On the way, his group is threatened by orc, evil elves, treacherous dwarves, and fate which sometimes guides and other times ignores them.

Having forged the mighty weapon, Tungdil, Gandrogar, the elves, the humans, and the last surviving magus meet on the battlefield to fight Nodin.

My Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thoughts:

This was a good adventure. If you are looking for a coming of age adventure with an epic grand battle, this is a solid choice, but it has some pitfalls.

Names and titles. This book, especially at the beginning, is overrun by names and titles. A dwarf cannot introduce himself without giving his name, nickname, and clan. I give you: Boïndil Doubleblade and Boëndal Hookhand of the Swinging Axe clan and warriors of the secondlings; Gandogar Silverbeard of the Silverbeards, king of the fourthliings; Goingar Shimmerbeard of the clan of the Shimmerbeards, Lot-Ionin the Forebearing ruler of the Enchanted Realm of Ionanda; etc. All the names bogged me down and almost convinced me to stop, but I soon stopped paying attention to all the names.

There is a sense of things happening too easily. For instance, with all the names floating around, the evil elves, enslaved to Nou’donn the Doublefold, announce their master to the orcs, while Tungdil eaves drops from a tree. Thereby relieving poor Tungdil of any investigation to determine who his enemy is. At another point, Tungdil is faced with his first orc battle. He is untrained and knocked down, but he is saved by the appearance of the high king’s escorts. Plausible, but then when the group of three dwarves come across Nou’donn, one of the previously dead magus reappears and saves them. At another point, Tungdil’s group is searching for a dragon so they can steal its fire, only to get to the exact cave where it is at and find it already dead. Never fear, however, because the dragon lit the lake on fire, leaving what they needed within their reach without the dragon battle. But fire is tricky and in the final battle before reaching the forge, it is extinguished. Again, never fear because the Perished Lands does not let anyone die, and 11 century old dwarves who have battled their internal anger and evil regained their sanity and have been protecting the forge still lit with dragon fire since their downfall. 11 centuries ago. There are many other instances in the story.

This is a Tolkien realm adventure. Sure the names of the individual players are different, but there are no substantial differences that ever lead me away from thinking of Tolkien. Wizards are magi, but the other races have the same names. The races are described the same down to the bearded dwarven women and the leaf-shaped elf ears. Sure the wizards have to recharge their magic, which is not something Tolkien used, but that alone wasn’t enough to drag me away from the Tolkien realm.

Women have no individuality. Sure there are women in the story. Yes, the women do some cool things. The last remaining magus is a woman. She heals people, balances good and evil, throws lightening, and does some other cool stuff, but she is a woman. So she is hit on and seen as a love interest by one of the males. Her male travelling companion is for a brief mentioned suggested to possibly be something more than just her body guard. The female dwarf the joins Tungdil becomes his love interest. The woman Tungdil is friends with at the start of the novel is fairly consistently referred to in connection with her children. The human actress who joins the party is the lover of one of the other actors, and in the indexes at the end is not noted for her battle bravery or her own actions but rather as the actor’s lover. The female queen of the firstling dwarves has her own independence, but of course it takes Tungdil showing up and suggesting she go north before she breaks the long silence between her clan and the others. (This part was probably more annoying because Tungdil literally only had to tell her to go north, she mentioned she had already considered breaking the silence, and the assumption was that she needed to go to the male kings versus them coming to her.)

All that being said, I still gave the book 4 stars. When I want to read an adventure book, I’m not worried about the role of women and weak plot choices. I’m reading for battles and intrigues and action. This book had a lot of those moments. Once the naming settled down, the story smoothed out, and it was a fairly quick read. I still recommend reading, but go into the book knowing its a Tolkien-esque fantasy adventure. Enjoy it for what it does well.

Book Reviews: I’m supposed to do those?

Ok. I’ve heard this advice a million times: good writers are good readers.

Far enough. I’m an audiobook reader, which means, I don’t have time to sit down with a real book and actually read, but I am happy to switch my radio time with someone reading to me. I have been a audiobook reader for more than a decade at this point.

What I have not done is write reviews of the books I have “read.” So this is my mid-year resolution. Once a month, I will try to review a book. I will mark them as “Book Review” with the book title.

Let’s see what happens.

By the way, as a newb to book reviews, feel free to leave me comments on how to do it or what you expect from a book review.