Review: Jessica Cluess – House of Dragons

House of Dragons

Every 50 years or so, a new Emperor must be chosen. The chosen ones are the oldest, strongest and best trained of their family. But this year, something seems to have gone wrong. It’s the younger siblings’ turn to compete for the throne with their dragons – except in some cases, the youngest has been murdered or isn’t the youngest!

I have to say I was stupidly excited to get a novel with dragons. It feels like it’s been too long since my dragon fix! Unfortunately, this one turned out to have more perspectives from the humans, and not enough from the dragons (except for towards the end of the book). Turns out that this novel has the same title as a Game of Thrones something? Anyway, I had to actually put the author in to find it in GoodReads.

I think it’s a bit rich to call one of the contestants a liar. She’s just a bit shady about her abilities! I’m absolutely buying the soldier, thief and servant as accurate character descriptions, but honestly the murderer is more like a psychopath! I didn’t really get attached to any of the characters, except perhaps Emilia. Everyone else was pretty average. I honestly feel like Emilia was my favourite because her perspective was the first one I read. Of course, I’m always going to complain about too many perspectives in a novel as my pet peeve – and here there are five different view points!

I am going to look for the next book when it comes out, because you know, dragons. And with the events in the last couple of chapters, I think it’ll be more exciting, and have more dragons! I was feeling disappointed at the end though, because I think it could have wrapped up and I would have been satisfied by the ending. Instead, the epilogue leaves it open for the next book. On the epilogue… it makes absolutely NO SENSE in the context of the rest of the novel. Read it, and see if you agree with me.

I did finish off this novel, and it’s hopefully shifted me out of my COVID-19/reading slump. I’m also behind on reviews, and feeling pretty guilty about it. 4 stars from me, even if it’s more of a 3 star read now that I’ve reviewed it.

Penguin Random House | 4th August 2020| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Steelheart (N)

David knows Epics, guns, and that he sucks at metaphors. He wants to take down one Epic in particular, Steelheart. Now that the Reckoners are in town he has a shot, if he can convince them he’s right.

Interesting flip on super-powers on earth. The maxim power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely comes to mind. An event known as Calamity results in super-powered humans, without any humanity. These people, called Epics, do as they please regardless, when they please. Combining a twist on superheros as villians with a manufactured dystopian future. David is a fact-smart but people-dumb protagonist who’s point of view we follow through the completion of David’s vendetta against the Epic, Steelheart.

On the surface the story is straight-forward battle against the big bad, revenge for lost family, and freeing people from tyrannical rule. It goes deeper than this given the underlying theme of what happens when you create a power vacuum by removing a semi-benevolent dictator. Which Steelheart is if only because he considers all ordinary people his property to do with as he wishes, after all you cannot rule without subjects. There are also themes of choice, revenge, the belief of good vs evil, tall-tales, and a lively argument on the pros and cons of rifles vs handguns. Beyond that there are excellent characters in David and the Reckoner team. Each bringing a different viewpoint on the situation and the plans they develop to topple Steelheart. Creating enough conflict that it is not just a clear system of kill and move on for the Reckoners. And everything is planned out to the nth degree.

I’ll say this for the story as a whole it keeps you guessing up to the end on if the Reckoners will be successful. The ending was a shock but also made a weird level of sense, having been in Davids point of view from start to finish allows us to follow the logic of his realisations as well. The final twist shows the 3 McGuffins that allow the Reckoners to be even the slightest bit successful at assassinating Epics are more than they seem. Makes for a nice twist at the end without compromising the enjoyment of rereading the book later.
A few loose ends for the story, but expected ones since this is the first book of a series.

Great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. And I will come back to read it again in the future, since this is where my happy lives. And, given it was the first of many Sanderson novels I read, as an introduction to Sanderson’s writing style I’d highly recommend.

Review: Tamora Pierce – Tempests and Slaughter

Tempests and Slaughter
Tamora Pierce

Numair comes from a family that is delighted and bewildered by his brilliance at magery and academics. From being a lonely student, he finds himself befriended by Orzone the leftover prince and Varice, an attractive young woman who is a witch in the kitchen. As Orzone gets closer to the throne and Varice becomes more attractive, what will Numair find himself doing?

This has what could be called a ‘slow burn’. There’s no real action, and no real climax to it. There are hints at the Orzone behind the Emperor Mage but that’s about it. It’s like the first Harry Potter books where the focus was on learning, and let’s face it, those books were my favorites for that reason!

Let’s talk about sex. Generally Tamora Pierce talks about safe sex and some canoodling. In this novel she approaches Numair’s body changing as he hits puberty, and what this means for him. I actually found it quite awkward to read, and I wonder whether this was deliberate on the author’s part or just a facet of this novel that didn’t work.

I almost can’t believe that I didn’t purchase this at the beginning of last year, it’s been published for more than a year and I forgot to check! I haven’t been keeping up to date with authors that I used to follow avidly, mainly because I receive a lot of novels from publishers and I don’t really have a budget for buying novels (hello mortgage!).

I’ll eventually be purchasing this, probably once the other novels in the trilogy are published (I wouldn’t want them not to match!). When that happens I’ll be primed to read it again too. So four stars from me.

Review: Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind (K)

Kvothe has lived a long and adventure-filled life. Known by many names, and surrounded by rumours, the true story of his life is known only to him. Finally, after many years, he agrees to tell his story to a chronicler, and release the knowledge of what truly happened.

This book begins quite slowly and takes a few chapters to really become immersive. The aspects of the book set in the ‘current time’ never really interested me, and I gave up on the book once before being able to reach the more exciting parts. This was a theme throughout my reading of the book; the events set in the present didn’t seem as engaging as those set in the past. Even when dramatic events appeared to be occurring, I never managed to find myself excited in them. I believe the main reason for this was that most of the book is set in the past. This meant that there were only a few pages of present time every few chapters, which was not enough to get to know the characters or immerse myself in the storyline. I also found myself forgetting the events occurring in the present, which often left me confused.

That said, the ‘past’ storyline was wonderful. It was well-written and immersive, and I fell in love with the characters. Even when nothing important seemed to be happening, the book was written well enough that I was still deeply invested. Young Kvothe’s actions around the university, and his reasons for everything he did were so well thought-through that he seemed as complicated and 3-dimensional as any person I have ever met. The book strikes a perfect balance between making the character stand out by being able to do impressive things, but not be so perfect that it is hard to believe. My only complaint with this part of the book was that there wasn’t enough detail into his education. It felt at times that he had learnt a skill out of nowhere, because it hadn’t been mentioned beforehand.

I wish that this book had been written entirely from the perspective of the young Kvothe, instead of having old Kvothe tell the story. The ‘past’ storyline was stronger and better-written, and the current storyline only seemed to pull me out of my immersion. Some parts were beneficial; it added to a sense of anticipation to hear the cryptic phrases old Kvothe says about young Kvothe’s situation, but the benefits do not outweigh the downsides of breaking immersion and having to sit through the less interesting background to get to the more interesting parts.

I would rate this book a 4/5. It very easily could have made a 5 if it had been the old storyline alone, but as it stands, and because I nearly gave up on the book before managing to even reach the ‘old’ storyline, I can only give it a 4.




Review: Neal Shusterman – Arc of a Scythe

Arc of a Scythe
Neal Shusterman

Citra and Rowan have been selected as Scythe’s apprentices. They are responsible for controlling the human population now that death, war and disease have been overcome. Their mentor Faraday thinks that he can train them both – but soon they have been pitted against one another by Goddard.

I read this trilogy in very short order – so short that I’m not going to bother reviewing the individual novels. That being said ,the first novel was a standout in my mind, while the other two novels dropped off in quality and consistency.

Scythe Anastasia toes the line most of the time, while Rowan likes to push boundaries. Although surely both got equal page time, I felt like the skew was towards having more Anastasia. I could have lived with a few less perspectives so that there was more tension. Eventually I could see exactly where the plot line was going.

What was the purpose of having the Thunderhead cut off like that? Why was mister mean guy so mean in the end? Why couldn’t the Thunderhead just overcome its own programming like the way it went around its other limitations?

I had a problem with the human population not even really needing containment. I would have kept it down at a constant level, not letting it expand even to just below capacity! What if the humans found a way around it? Scythes aren’t necessarily the most brilliant after all.

This series includes Scythe, Thunderhead, and The Toll. I wouldn’t reread them, but I really enjoyed reading it the first time. I’d give the first novel 4 stars, and the others 3 stars.

Review: Anthony Ryan – Blood Song

Blood Song
Anthony Ryan

Abandoned at the gates of the Sixth Order, Vaelin Al Sorna will be trained as a deadly warrior devoted to the Faith and his Realm. His skills with the sword are unsurpassed and he drinks in the teachings of his Order effortlessly. But is there a larger game afoot? Who is the mastermind or even the enemy?

I’m sorry. I tried to love this novel because someone I knew recommended it as superior to a Sanderson novel. My problem was that the protagonist just wasn’t very smart and the story not that gripping. It’s a pretty typical male-focused fantasy with only a token female or two. I’m used to variety in my fantasy now, so this was unlikely to meet my expectations.

I needed the Blood Song to be more apparent. In fact, it was so minor that I didn’t think that Vaelin even needed it. Sure, he trusted it some of the time, but most of the time he seemed to do what was against it regardless. Not to mention his ‘training’ is not really training with how to use it. I felt like Vaelin would be better off collecting an entourage of people he owed than bending to the will of the King.

I found myself very frustrated by the ending. I didn’t fully understand why the framing was used through the story at any point. It meant that there were no surprises or suspense for Vaelin surviving unharmed. I can hardly believe that there are two more books about him! I’m not even sure I’m motivated to read the wiki pages to see what the final ending is.

It’s not a bad novel, it’s just indifferent for me. I perhaps enjoyed the training part of the novel (that somehow takes up the first half of the novel before any action happens) most, because the real ‘action’ wasn’t really action. The ending was a real letdown. 3 stars from me.

Review: Kesia Lupo – We are Blood and Thunder

We are Blood and Thunder
Kesia Lupo

Lena is desperate to escape her life as a cryptling serving the Duke’s Forest Ancestors – but instead finds herself needing to escape to survive after she is branded as a mage. Constance is a mage trying to find her way back into the Forest after her flight many years ago. Both of them are somehow connected to the storm that is slowly killing the Duke’s people, but can they realise this in time to save anyone?

You won’t see the twists coming in this novel. I feel like even mentioning that there is a twist might give things away.  In addition, I liked the idea that magic could be aided or changed by adding clockwork elements, and I think more could have been done with this.

I didn’t get a sense of how large the world was. It seemed absurd to me that Duke’s Forest could be a walk away from the King. I didn’t even see the King and it seemed like this important figure was just invisible behind the potential Radicals. So some important things also seemed inconsistent – the change in Constance’s magic. I thought it was purple? And then it turned out to be white.

What I couldn’t believe, and what spoiled the book for me, was the romance aspect. The relationships that develop seem to be fragile and tenuous from the way that the characters spoke, but then their actions said that there were some strong feelings going on.

I could have seen more about the various religious/God sects which I thought were introduced but not properly discussed. Perhaps this will be explored in the not-a-sequel set in the same world. 3 stars for this one due to the disappointing characters, but I expect to see more good things from this author.

Bloomsbury | 1st May 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Samantha Shannon – The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree
Samantha Shannon

The Nameless One has been trapped for nearly 1000 years, but slowly its minions are being freed of their bonds and North/South/East/West are all threatened once again. What is it that is keeping the Nameless One at bay? Is it the unbroken line of Queens in Virtuedom or some magery performed in the past?

I was excited for this novel because I hadn’t read a good adult fantasy in quite a while and anything with dragons is bound to take my fancy. Sadly, the dragons (wyverns) were on the evil side of things most of the time, and the good dragon riders hardly figured in the picture with their dragons. It was inevitable that the Nameless One would be freed – everything was just a quibble about how long it would take and who would be responsible for its death.

I initially struggled to keep track of the characters because the perspectives swapped each chapter before I could really get settled into them. As I warmed up to the novel, I loved Ead for her plucky determination, and her patience. However, I felt no fear for the characters’ lives. Either I didn’t like them (Roos) or I knew they’d come out the end ok because they were too important to lose (Ead and Tane).

For me this is a prime airport / long travel read. There’s no frustration for not having the next book and it’s long enough to really get settled into. I’m only giving it 3 stars because the action was too slow, and in my opinion, very predictable. I’m not going to link to my embarrassing old review for Kushiel’s Dart, but that was an epic fantasy worthy of the title.

Bloomsbury | 26th February 2019 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Brigid Kemmerer – A Curse so Dark and Lonely

A Curse so Dark and Lonely
Brigid Kemmerer

Harper hasn’t led a sheltered life in Washington, DC. Her mother is dying of cancer, and her older brother Jake is still determined to protect her, even though she’s able to look out for herself. When she tries to protect another girl, Harper instead finds herself sucked into Rhen’s world – Rhen the Prince who is trapped to repeat the autumn of his 18th year until a girl falls in love with him.

Three months is such a short time to fall in love with someone, yet Kemmerer avoided making them cliche into love at first sight. I liked the way she set it up with Harper knowing exactly what was going on, even if at first she didn’t want to believe. Harper doesn’t want to fall for Rhen and she’s such a strong protagonist that the reader doesn’t want her to either. We’d be ok if you chose Grey!

I’m not sure if Harper’s cerebral palsy was consistently approached in the latter half of the novel. In the beginning, it is quite obvious what her limitations are, and how far she is able to push herself. When the creature comes though, she seems a lot more stable. I’d have to reread to make certain (Oh what a problem, I’ll have to reread it!!)

I initially thought to myself that this would be just another Beauty and the Beast retelling. But no! The characters in this felt real enough to come off the pages, and weren’t your normal run-of-the-mill prince/princess. Not to mention that deliciously evil sorceress. What I was very sad about was the fact this this is a series? duo? I’m not sure. But I have to wait a whole year for the next one! The conclusion to this one was satisfying though, and I really felt like the last chapter could have been left out.

I was very keen on reading this novel when it came in the door, and I had read it within two days. My hopes were high due to my enjoyment of Letters to the Lost and Thicker than Water and I was not disappointed. I still need to read More Than We Can Tell, and you better believe I’m even more excited to get my hands on it now. 5 stars for this novel from me. Thanks Bloomsbury!

Bloomsbury | 4th February 2019 |AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Alcatraz verses the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz verses the Evil Librarians
Brandon Sanderson

The Smedrys are blessed with Talents. Or cursed, depending on who you ask. Alcatraz Smedry has a powerful Talent that has meant that he has broken everything in his foster homes so far. When he receives a bag of sand for his birthday, this starts him on a quest with his very odd grandpa and a series of even odder cousins – with talents from falling to waking up ugly!

In these novels, Sanderson breaks all the writing conventions, especially the ‘fourth wall’. The author (Alcatraz) is writing these memoirs and is fully aware of how writers make novels and how to make readers cry out in anger! Particularly with meandering introductions to chapters or going off topic, or just generally being irritating. It’s a style of writing that is either going to drive you crazy or have you laughing out loud.

For example, in the fourth novel, Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens, Alcatraz starts skipping chapters and labeling chapters odd things. He works his way through all of the writing conventions and mixes them around. He skips parts and pretends that the chapters just went missing!

Strangely for a Sanderson novel, I probably wouldn’t reread these ones urgently. I’m thinking I’m too old and jaded for these novels. I’m perfectly happy to accept writing conventions and roll with them. We all know how I feel about using stupid languages (see my scathing reviews of Munmun and Storm-Wake). I’m going to test them out on my 9.5 year old reader and see how she goes with them.