Book Review: Off to be the Wizard by Scott Meyer (2014)

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Review #83

Martin Banks is just a normal, everyday guy who enjoys digging into the depths of the internet in his spare time. On one of these nighttime expeditions, he stumbles across a discovery that will change his life forever. The world as we know it is nothing more than a computer program; a computer program that Martin is able to change at will. He vows that he will use this newfound power sparingly and with great care. This vow lasts for approximately forty-eight hours before Martin finds himself fleeing back in time to medieval England. He decides to pose as a wizard and make a life for himself in the tiny village of Leadchurch.

Author Scott Meyer makes the smart decision early in this novel not to waste time on how any of the plot elements work. The computer program controls everything about the world because it does, and Martin is able to use this to alter his appearance, his bank account, and his location by teleporting. There is very little time given over to trying to apply logic to an inherently illogical premise, and Meyer avoids getting bogged down in the details.

Instead, he offers up a wildly silly story of a man who tries to fool a village of 11th century English villagers that he is a wizard. Martin downloads the computer code into his phone, and uses it to make himself hover, emit sparks, and speak in a booming voice. Don’t bother asking how his phone continues to work in the past, it just does. This process is laid out in a highly enjoyable montage that reminded me of The Matrix, if Neo were learning break-dancing instead of kungfu.

Overall, Off to Be the Wizard was smart, irreverent, and short enough that it ended before the situational comedy began to wear thin. It never made me laugh out loud, but instead caused a kind of perpetual smirk from beginning to end.

My rating: 3.5/5

You can find Off to Be the Wizard here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Book Review: Lost Boy by Christina Henry (2017)

 

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Review #73

Have you ever wondered what sparked the endless hostility between Peter Pan and Captain James Hook? What is Peter wasn’t the happy-go-lucky boy that everyone loves and remembers? In this revisionist fairy tale, the world of Neverland is explored as never before, through the eyes of a boy named Jamie and his best friend, Peter.

J.M. Barrie’s classic children’s novel has remained popular for more than one hundred years. Since 1904 kids and adults have been captivated by the story of the boy who never grew up and instead had thousands of adventures with his troop of lost boys in the woods of Neverland. One of the many factors that have contributed to Peter Pan’s enduring popularity is the ambiguity surrounding its main character. Peter has been depicted by both male and female actors. He has been the brave hero, rescuing his friends from the clutches of Captain Hook. He has been the coward who flees from responsibility in favor of his eternal games. My personal adaptation, 2003’s Peter Pan starring Jeremy Sumpter and Jason Isaacs, shows Peter as a boy on the brink of puberty who lacks the maturity to deal with adult emotions such as love and instead hides behind a false bravado.

In Christina Henry’s re-imagining of the Neverland world, Peter is portrayed as an emotionally indifferent sociopath who lures boys away with promises of a life filled with fun and adventure. Countless years of fighting pirates, crocodiles, and the enigmatic creatures known as the Many-Eyed have left Peter twisted and morally decrepit. His lost boys exist only to admire and love Peter and to participate in the violent and dangerous games he invents. If the boys become sick, injured, or homesick for their former lives, Peter turns a blind eye to their suffering and often orchestrates for those boys to meet with some fatal “accident”. His oldest and most loyal friend, Jamie, is the one who has shouldered the burden of caring for the lost boys and trying to keep them alive for as long as possible.

Henry’s vision of Neverland differs wildly from the version we’ve seen in the past. Certain elements such as the fairies and the mermaids are barely recognizable from the original source material while other characters aren’t present at all. This is a dark and dangerous Neverland that presents a daily struggle for survival. The rivalry and violence between the lost boys is often more reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies rather than the cheerful Disney characters we remember from childhood.

At under two-hundred pages, this is a relatively short novel. I honestly found myself wishing that I could have spent more time in Henry’s version of Neverland. The climax in particular, felt rushed. Going in, we all know how Jamie’s story is going to end, but getting there was a wild, exciting, and often sad journey. After all, all little boys grow up…except one. Never has that sentence sounded more sinister.

My rating: 4/5

You can find Lost Boy here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

 

Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (2015)

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Review #64

 

Every night the boy-king of Khorasan receives a new bride. They are married, often without setting eyes on one another. The new wife is then escorted to her rooms. In the morning, she is dragged from her room and strangled with a silk code. Nearly seventy girls have died so far. Sixteen year old Sharhzad volunteers to be the next victim for this monstrous Caliph, but she has a secret. Her dearest friend was one his murdered wives, and Sharhzad is out for vengeance. Not only does she not intend to die at the break of dawn, but she plans to end this cycle of violence once and for all.

This is a re-imagining of the tale of Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights. This collection of Middle Eastern folklore is from unknown origins and contains the popular legends of Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad. The beginning chapters of The Wrath and the Dawn follow the legend of Scheherazade pretty closely. Every night the Caliph (King) visits his new wife, intending to have her executed at dawn. And every night Sharhzad spins out a little more of a story, being sure to reach a climax or an interesting twist just as the sun breaches the windows of her bedroom. Hoping to hear more of the story, the evil king allows her to live another day.

Author Renee Ahdieh draws a sumptuous portrait of life in ancient Arabia. Sharhzad’s life in the royal palace is filled with colorful silks, rich damask, and tables laid with fresh fruits and cheeses. Conspicuously absent from the narrative is the inherent sexism of the culture during this time period, allowing her protagonist a level of freedom and expression that would almost certainly not have been tolerated from a woman. Sharhzad is a strong, outspoken woman who never hesitates to speak her mind. From the onset of the novel, her every fiber is focused on wreaking vengeance upon the man who stole her friend from her. She is determined to survive at all costs.

Until all of a sudden she is magically transformed into a lovelorn girl. This metamorphosis comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t seem rooted in logic. Sharhzad begins to fall in love with the Caliph for reasons that are never fully explained. He has murdered dozens of women but by the end of day three her heart is fluttering? It seems to be a case of a character performing an action simply because it is needed to further the plot. This is meant to be a love story, therefore Sharhzad must fall in love whether or not it fits in with everything we know about her so far.

Ahdieh attempts to soften the king by allowing him to open up to his new queen, sharing stories of his early life and giving him opportunities to defend her honor and whatnot. There is also a mystery surrounding his decision to kill all of these innocent women, which we are led to believe will absolve the king of responsibility for his actions.  But the bodies of seventy dead women cannot be denied, and Sharhzad’s sudden and inexplicable decision to throw her lot in with a man who has allowed these acts of violence rings false.

Somehow, despite my objections to the love story presented in this novel, I found myself drawn into the story of Sharhzad as she struggles between the pulling of her heart and the revenge in her mind. And when I finished The Wrath and the Dawn, I immediately put the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, on a wait list at my local library. So kudos to the writing style of Renee Ahdieh, for drawing me into this story almost in spite of myself.

My rating: 3.5/5

You can find The Wrath and the Dawn here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Side-note: I’ve never actually read One Thousand and One Nights. How does it compare?

 

Book Review: A Court of Frost and Starlight (ACOTAR #4) by Sarah J. Maas (2018)

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Review #55

Warning: Contains mild spoilers for Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) series

Still reeling from the violent events of A Court of Wings and Ruin, Feyre, Rhysand, and their friends are looking to recover and rebuild the Night Court. As the Winter Solstice approaches, Feyre is attempting to navigate her first major festival as High Lady. Despite the festivities, the scars are still apparent both on her and the citizens of Velaris.

I am a huge fan of Sarah J. Maas. I’ve read all the installments of ACOTAR as well as her wildly popular Throne of Glass series. Her novels are pure escapist fantasy, blending romance with action in a wonderfully imagined world of magic and beauty. There are a few glaringly obvious flaws in her writing style (I began a tally of the amount of times she uses the phrase “vulgar gesture” and the word “prick”), but I have always found myself transported wholly into the world of Prythian.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the fairies of ancient folklore have been largely stripped of their malevolent power. This series was foremost in my mind when I made that comment. The High Fae of Maas’ novels are magical, powerful immortals who reign more or less benevolently within their own realms, having little or nothing to do with the mortals who live outside their territory. These are the “sexy” fairies as opposed to the devilish tricksters depicted in mythology.

Maas does run the risk of giving her characters what I refer to as “Superman” syndrome. Superman is the most boring of all the superheroes because he is without flaw. For literary examples, one could look towards Edward Cullen of Twilight, or Christian Gray of Fifty Shades. One could say the same about Rhysand. He is handsome, chivalrous, generous, and treats Feyre as a true equal. Not to mention he’s rich. And apparently quite well-endowed. But as I said before, this is all meant as escapist fantasy for young women which wouldn’t be nearly as fun without some deliriously unattainable example of the male form.

I have yet to actually say anything about the plot, but that would be because there simply isn’t much to say. A Court of Frost and Starlight is meant to act as a stopping point on the way to the continuation of the ACOTAR series. At only a little over two hundred pages, it is much shorter than most of Maas’ novels, and does little to advance the overall plot of the series. At some point it began feeling like one of the Direct-to-Video Christmas stories that Disney releases in order to maintain interest in their popular franchises until the next major film is ready to be released. They tell a self-contained story that does not affect the larger story, and therefore can be either enjoyed or ignored without fear of missing something.

For what it is, the central plot revolves around Feyre and her friend’s preparing for the Winter Solstice, a festival that involves much merrymaking and gift-giving. Maas makes an attempt to liven affairs up by giving her readers a few different perspectives. The bulk of the narrative continues to be from Feyre’s perspective, but we are also treated to chapters from the point-of-views of Rhys, Cassian, Morrigan, and (briefly) Nesta. After three novels of Feyre constantly comparing every single thing to a painting she would like to create, I was eager to branch off into the mind’s of a few other key characters. Unfortunately, these alternate narratives are used so sparingly that they seem more like a tease than anything else. We get maybe four chapters with Rhys, three with Cassian, and only two with Morrigan. I’m hoping that the next installment of ACOTAR expands upon this idea though. To be honest, Feyre is becoming a bit dull. She only ever talks about theoretical artwork. Or about how much she loves Rhysand. And let’s not forget more half-assed allusions to painting.

Overall, A Court of Frost and Starlight was a bit like sitting down in hopes of a major meal and being served chicken broth instead. While the chicken broth will certainly suffice, but it left me feeling unsatisfied. Considering that the next installment will likely be released next year, perhaps that was the Maas’ point. To give her readers just a taste, but to keep them wanting more.

My rating: 3.5/5

You can find A Court of Frost and Starlight here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

 

Book Review: The Invasion (The Call #2) by Peadar O’Guilin (2018)

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Review #54

Warning: Contains spoilers for Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call.

Shortly after the life-altering events of The Call, Anto and Nessa are looking forward to relaxing away from the survival school and beginning their lives together. Nessa is on the bus to meet Anto when she is abruptly arrested and accused of collaborating with the Sidhe. If found guilty, her punishment will be eternal exile back to the nightmare of the Grey Lands. Meanwhile, Anto tries to search for Nessa but finds himself fighting alongside a group of soldiers as they desperately try to fend off attacks by the Sidhe and their legions of mutilated monsters.

I read and reviewed The Call a few months ago, and I really enjoyed it. Much like vampires have been defanged and werewolves declawed in their modern interpretations, so have the Fae been stripped of the mischief and malice that made them a force to be feared in ancient Ireland. A native of County Kildare, Peadar O’Guilin restores the “fairy folk” to their proper place as cruel and mysterious beings who were banished by the kings of Ireland to a bleak and desolate world. I felt that the first novel did an excellent job of establishing a world where the Sidhe have found a way to drag children into their realm to torture and twist them into living weapons. It was an unsettling and suspenseful novel that made me eager to learn more about Irish mythology.

The Invasion picks up shortly after the events of The Call, as Nessa and Anto try to adjust to a world that has left them very changed. Anto finds that his arm, mutated by the Sidhe, seems to have a mind of its own that is bent towards violence. Nessa’s new control over fire lands her in hot water when she is accused of treason by the corrupt remnants of the Irish government. Many new characters are introduced, but sadly they are not given a lot to do. The Professor, for example is said to be a convicted murderer who has been given reprieve due to her expertise on the Sidhe. I would like to have spent more time fleshing out her backstory, but she is only given a few short chapters. A few of the supporting characters from The Call make an appearance, but none make a terribly strong impression.

If The Call was about setting up a convincing world and introducing the people in it, then The Invasion is more about action. Nessa and Anto aren’t really given the opportunity to grow as individuals, which I had been looking forward to once they were away from the dangers of the survival school. The various battles and engagements depicted in this novel are lopsided. A story like this is only as compelling as its villain, and here the Sidhe fall strangely flat. Seen as a large and blurred army, their individual menace has been diminished.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy the second installment of O’Guilin’s series as much as the first. It had some really interesting aspects, but it lacked the suspense and sense of dread that the Grey Lands delivered the first time around.

My rating: 3/5

You can find The Invasion here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Ready Player One: Book vs Film

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Last week I sat down in my living room to watch Ready Player One. Twenty minutes in I was ready to throw in the towel, but decided to stick out the entire two hour running time in the hopes that things might improve. Things did not improve.

 

As soon as the credits rolled, I picked up my copy of Ernest Cline’s novel and began to read it for the third time in the hopes of scrubbing the events of the evening out of my mind. I began taking notes as I read, trying to pinpoint the exact reasons why I found myself so enraged by Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the book. In no specific order, here are my thoughts on Ready Player One the film vs the novel. Spoilers abound.

  1. Prior to watching, I had been told by several people that the movie was relatively enjoyable as long as you didn’t expect it to follow the book too closely. I took that to mean that there would be minor plot points that varied from the books in order to make the film flow a bit smoother. For example, in the Harry Potter films, I understood why they chose to omit the character of Peeves and most of the Quidditch games; if they didn’t every movie would be a long rambling mess. However, Spielberg seems to have taken the original source material for Cline’s novel, ripped out approximately thirty pages of it and used that to build his narrative. The heart of Ready Player One was completely lost in translation.
  2. Instead of a series of puzzles that require the characters to rely on their intelligence and problem-solving skills, we are instead treated to a MarioKart style opening wherein the “gunters” have to dodge giant dinosaurs and King Kong in order to make it through the first gate. The search for the Copper Key is where things began to go horribly wrong. It leaves out the equal playing field that James Halliday set up for all the users of OASIS. He placed the Copper Key on a planet where a) everyone had free and unlimited access to travel and b) there was no violence allowed. This essentially meant that no matter how strong and high-ranking your avatar was, the only thing that would allow you to reach the first key was your wit and your obsessive knowledge of obscure pop culture. In the film, it’s just another mindless car chase.
  3. Speaking of obscure pop culture, let’s talk about that. Ernest Cline’s novel delved so deeply into the realm of 1980’s music, television, film, and video games that one would need a submersible to follow after him. While reading the book, I found myself having to Google Japanese anime from the 1970’s. I had to familiarize myself with the fundamentals of text-based video games. When Wade or one of his fellow gunters finally solved one of the riddles, it was  genuinely impressive, because who the has the energy to devote their time and energy so completely to learning about this stuff? How many people can read a limerick and understand that it is referencing the limited edition cover of a thirty year old video game? In the novel, the difficulties that Parzival, Art3mis, and Aech face are actually difficult. When watching the film, all I saw was the growing trend of referencing things in a nostalgic way so that viewers will feel smart when they understand the references. Literally everyone watching this films knows the Tyrannosaurus from Jurassic Park. Or the Iron Giant. Or a DeLorean. There’s no challenge there. Spielberg dumbed down the pop culture references to the point where my six year old nephew could have found Halliday’s egg. It seems like he was so afraid of alienating any part of his audience, perhaps specifically the overseas audience, that he was unwilling to take even the smallest risk. Instead he chose to pander to the lowest common denominator.
  4. Let’s keep talking about pop culture. As I mentioned earlier, it takes a certain kind of individual to commit themselves so entirely towards one goal. In the novel, Parzival notes that he has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail something like 178 times. He’s beaten every classic video game. He’s watched every episode of every season of every series that was even remotely popular in the 1980’s. Multiple times. Who does that? Answer – a person who has become mentally unhinged. What Ready Player One fails to truly depict is that the people searching for Halliday’s Egg are deeply unhealthy individuals. Outside of the OASIS, where your avatar can be as handsome, fit, and powerful as the you wish, the actual people are described as overweight, sallow, and anti-social. Ernest Cline’s novel can be seen as a cautionary tale against people living their entire lives in a virtual reality. The film does attempt to address this by having the main characters interact in the real world far sooner than in the book, but at the end of the day this is still Hollywood. Wade isn’t exactly a fashion model, but he’s reasonably healthy and good-looking, and does not seem to be crippled by the type of shyness that exists when you never interact with a person in a real environment. Same goes for the other characters. For a group of people who live their entire lives in isolation, they’re remarkably well-rounded.
  5. My biggest problem with Spielberg’s interpretation of Ready Player One is that the stakes just don’t seem that high. Parzival and his fellow gunters are searching for the egg so they can get rich. There’s also the situation with the “Sixers” who are trying to find the egg so that they can use the OASIS to make a lot of money by selling advertising space and charging fees for users. This is all very sad and capitalistic and greedy. But also, so what? It would be like if everyone who was currently online went to digital war over net neutrality. If we won, awesome. But if we lost, it’s shitty but it’s not the end of the world. The film fails to convey the novel’s premise that the global society we now know and enjoy has fallen apart. Global warming is causing widespread famine. The rural parts of America are lawless Mad Max style wastelands. People are being sold into indentured servitude for failing to pay their bills. And in the midst of all this poverty, hunger, and destitution is an escape from reality in the land of the OASIS. Not only that, but it offers free school for the entire nation. Let me repeat that. It offers free school for the entire nation. So in Cline’s novel when Parzival and the others explain that if the Sixers get the egg it will have a drastic and negative impact on society as a whole, we as readers understand the stakes. In the film it comes across more like a millennial wet dream of sticking it to the man. To be fair, Spielberg includes the scene where Sorrento and his cronies blow up Wade’s housing unit and kill hundreds of people. But the scene has absolutely zero emotional weight because not five minutes later we are introduced to Samantha and the resistance and no one stops for even a moment to grieve for the lives lost. The romantic subplot of the novel becomes the driving force of the film. Other significant deaths from the book are omitted entirely, which only underlines the fact that Spielberg was willing to take absolutely no risks with his nice, safe, family-friendly motion picture. The final battle has all the urgency and intensity of a boss-fight in a video game. It’s frustrating if you lose, but it’s not the end of the world.
  6. I’ve ragged a lot on the film, so I need to take just a second to talk about the few aspects that didn’t piss me off. The scene that took place in The Shining was visually amazing. Implausible, since Aech would most definitely have been aware of the the film’s plot-line, but it looked really cool. Crap, turns out I can’t even give a compliment without unintentionally back-handing it. The movie looked very…pretty? Okay I give up.

 

A friend recommended Ready Player One to me a few years ago, and I became an overnight fan. The book is fun, inventive, smart, and exciting. When I heard that the film was going to be directed by Steven Spielberg, I immediately felt uneasy. To be honest, I haven’t trusted Spielberg or his artistic vision since he Crystal Skull-fucked the Indiana Jones series. So there was definitely an element of bias when I sat down to watch Ready Player One last week. At the same time, I did try to give it a fair shot. In the end, I was remarkably disappointed. I do not think I will be re-watching that film any time soon. And to anyone who hasn’t read it yet, I cannot recommend the novel highly enough.

Book Review: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #33) 2005.

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Review #51

Moist Von Lipwig is dead. Sort of. At least, his alias is dead, hanged for committing crimes against the city of Ankh-Morpork. Yet somehow he finds himself alive and working in the government as Postmaster General. He finds the post office covered with pigeon droppings and undelivered mail. To make matter worse, he must compete against the Grand Trunks, which have a monopoly on communication in the city. And he thinks there may be someone trying to kill him. And there’s a possibility that he is hearing whispers coming from the abandoned letters piled up in the post office.

This month’s pick in my book club, Going Postal was my first foray into Terry Pratchett’s insanely popular Discworld series. Normally jumping into a series in the thirty-third installment would make me insufferably cringy, but I consoled myself that this novel is the first one centered around Moist Von Lipwig. Thankfully, this book takes place in a self-contained world, and I had no trouble adjusting to the world of Pratchett’s creation.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the city of Ankh-Morpork a a kind of Wild West outpost on the brink of becoming a civilized city. One rather amusing scene involves the protagonist in a rough and tumble bar, allotting points to the various patrons as they escalate their violent acts throughout the night. Central to the plot is the Grand Trunk company, which control a communication system known as the “clacks”. It took me quite awhile to visualize how these clacks work, but eventually I began to see it as a kind of telegraph system that uses light instead of cables to transmit messages across long distances. Pratchett uses the clacks and the greedy people who own it to illustrate the dangers of unchecked technological advancement. Published in 2005, this novel could easily be seen as a parallel to the rampant growth of the internet and the burgeoning “dot-com” bubble that would inevitably crash and leave many in dire straits.

It is obvious that Pratchett is a great lover of the written word. The idea that words have a certain power of their own, and that they can only fulfill their destiny by being read, is a running current that underlines Going Postal. As a great lover of the written word myself, I loved the scene when von Lipwig delivers a letter after fifty years to a surprising and heartwarming conclusion.

Many readers have compared Terry Pratchett’s works to those of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. I must say that I definitely agree with this opinion. Pratchett writes with a wild irreverence and wit that reminded me of Hitchhiker’s Guide. He also has a similar tendency to using absolutely ridiculous names for his characters. The protagonist, Moist Von Lipwig, is just the tip of that particular iceberg. Also present are Adora Bella Dearheart, Devious Collabone, Greenyham, and countless others.

Pratchett’s particular breed of satire isn’t for everyone. I truly enjoyed parts of this novel, but overall I found myself struggling to care about the fates of these characters. It was all just a bit too silly for my taste.

My rating: 3/5

You can find Going Postal here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (2018)

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Review #50

Alice and her mother Ella have spent most of their lives on the run, moving from town to town in hopes of outrunning the streak of bad luck that seems to plague them. When they receive word that Alice’s grandmother, a celebrated writer of fairy tales, has passed away, they think that perhaps their troubles are behind them. But when Alice and Ella finally begin setting down roots in New York City, Alice begins seeing visions from her past walking around the city streets. When her mother goes missing, leaving behind only a message to “Stay away from the Hazel Wood”, Alice must journey into the dark and twisted world of her grandmother’s fairy tales in order to get her mother back.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, this debut novel by author Melissa Albert combines lyrical prose with modern slang in a way that comes across as charming rather than jarring. I enjoyed the descriptions of twisted forests and monstrous creatures that were occasionally interrupted by references to modern technology. It was a bit like reading Alice in Wonderland if Alice had been equipped with the latest iPhone.

The basic premise of The Hazel Wood is that Alice’s grandmother stumbled upon a magical fairy tale realm known as the Hinterland. She explored the area, gathering the tales of its various creatures, and later published their stories as a book. By doing so, she unknowingly opened a gateway by which the fairy-tale characters gained the ability to cross over into our land. It is the idea of words building worlds, of something that is inherently fictional becoming increasingly solid as it feeds off the collective interest of its fans. The Hazel Wood is at its strongest when focused on this premise.

Unfortunately, it takes a frustrating amount of exposition before the reader is introduced to the fairy tale world at all. There are large sections where the novel reads more as a the mystery novel than fantasy. And it also functions as a “buddy road-trip” story, as Alice and her friend Ellery head off in search of the hidden Hazel Wood. These different elements work well in their separate spheres, but fail to come together as a cohesive unit.

I won’t comment too much on the ending of the novel, except to say that it felt very rushed and unfinished. When you read three hundred pages of a girl attempting to get to an enchanted fairy tale realm, and then spent barely fifty pages in said realm, you come away feeling a little bit cheated.

My rating: 3.5/5

You can find The Hazel Wood here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch Trilogy #2) by Rin Chupeco (2018)

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Review #39

The second installment of Rin Chupeco’s Bone Witch trilogy continues the story of the dark asha Tea. War and treachery are looming among the kingdoms. Given her newfound connection with the daeva monster, Tea must try to unravel the plots against her while trying to fight the dark power that seeks to engulf her. The plot interlaces the past with the present as Tea begins her ultimate mission to defeat those that she feels have wronged her.

Last month I read The Bone Witch and came away with mixed feelings. The fantasy world that built by Chupeco is both elegant and intricate, and the majority of the first novel is devoted into building the Nine Realms into a solid and believable place. The downside is that so much time and effort was spent on detailing politics, music, and fashion that it felt as though the novel ended before anything significant had happened concerning the plot. I said in my review of the first book that a better title might have been Memoirs of a Magical Geisha.

Following that vein, the second novel could easily be renamed Avatar: The Last Corpsebender. The action that was lacking from The Bone Witch is definitely made up for in The Heart Forger, as we see Tea and her fellow asha wield the four elements (as well as the dead) to defend their allies and defeat their enemies. These sequences rely heavily on the reader being able to follow the action, and here Chupeco succeeds admirably. The long fights between the forces of good and evil could easily have become bogged down and difficult to visualize, but instead they are clearly imagined and conveyed through her writing style.

Our heroine, Tea, is finally given something more interesting to do than marvel over her pretty new clothes and pine after the prince of Kion. She comes into her own in The Heart Forger, and begins questioning the strict rules and traditions that dictact the lives of her and her fellow asha. The bone witches are often scorned and looked down upon by the elders of her guild, and Tea is the one who begins to wonder if this is because they are feared for their powers. There is still a light romantic element to the story, but it is there to empower Tea as opposed to chain her down.

Just as in The Bone Witch, each chapter is preceded by a short flash forward which shows Tea raising an army of monsters and preparing to exact revenge on those who have wronged her. These short previews are used much better here than in the first novel. There, they were somewhat useless and kept pulling me out of my enjoyment of the main narrative. In The Heart Forger they are used to heavily foreshadow events to come. They slowly built a level of suspense that left me eager to find out what was going to happen next.

Overall, this novel was superior to the first installment in many ways. The final book in the trilogy is due to be released next year, and I am greatly looking forward to it.

My rating: 4/5

You can find The Heart Forger here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2) by Katherine Arden (2017)

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Review #36

 

Orphaned and ostracized by her community after her encounter with the Bear, Vasilisa Petrovna flees her village. She is now faced with the only two options available to a Russian maiden, allowing her sister to arrange a marriage to a strange noblemen or retiring to a convent. Scorning either, Vasilisa dresses as a boy in the hopes of traveling outside of Russia and seeing the world. But a chance encounter with a group of bandits in the forest finds her in the service of the Crown Prince of Moscow. Now she must carefully guard her secret even as a larger threat begins to loom over the kingdom.

I reviewed the first installment in this trilogy, The Bear and the Nightingale, last month and absolutely loved it. Author Katherine Arden created a stunning world of deep winter and deep magic. The heroine Vasilisa was a lovely mixture of vulnerability and defiance. Overall, I was enchanted by the world that Arden wrote and eagerly awaited the second novel in her Winternight trilogy. I was definitely not disappointed.

While The Bear and the Nightingale was a dark and lyrical fairy tale, The Girl in the Tower is a little more plot-driven. Vasilisa Petrovna exits the cold and cloistered village of her childhood and bursts into the wider world with equal parts determination and naivety. This is a girl who considers a tiny mountain town to be a “city” because it has wooden walls. You can imagine her surprise when she is finally presented to the city of Moscow. There are numerous action sequences in this novel, all of which unfold in a straightforward and easy to follow manner. Too many fantasy and fairy tales rely heavily on deux ex machina and surprise plot twists. Katherine Arden avoids all of this.

But Arden also does not stray far what made Nightingale so enchanting. The numerous Russian spirits still play a major role in the proceedings, as do ghosts, frost demons, and one very opinionated horse. Together they form a world that I was excited to revisit and reluctant to leave.

Also, major props go to illustrator Robert Hunt for yet another gorgeous cover design.

My rating: 5/5

You can find The Girl in the Tower here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.