Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Bitterbynde Trilogy – where Celtic lore meets orcs

“The rain was without beginning and without end. It pattered on incessantly, a drumming of impatient fingers. The creature knew only the sound of the rain and the rasp of its own breathing. It had no concept of its own identity, no memory of how it had come to this place. Inchoate purpose drove it upward, in darkness. Over levels of harsh stone it crawled and through dripping claws of vegetation. Sometimes it slept momentarily or perhaps lost consciousness.”

Looking for an epic trilogy? Want one that’s already finished, so you don’t wait endlessly for more?

The Bitterbynde Trilogy by Cecilia Dart-Thornton was first conceived over a decade ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I stumbled across the fantasy series in a used bookstore in Australia. I snatched it up and soon discovered what I was missing. Nestled in a corner shop on the edge of a bustling beach, I thanked my luck I was able to find all three novels side-by-side. Needless to say, much of the next two days was spent with my nose pressed into the yellowed pages (when I wasn’t out snorkeling or hiking the beautiful shores of Airlie Beach).

The Bitterbynde Trilogy

The lovely trilogy I picked up from a used bookstore in Australia.

 

Beginnings …

The trilogy is a wonderfully concocted fantasy that brings folklore, magic and heroism to life. It all begins with a scarred, despised and mute foundling surrounded by superstitious servants and pompous lords. As the mute seeks the help of a wise woman in the outside world, it runs into trouble and is eventually saved by an adventurer who gives it the gift of communication through hand-speak and, most importantly, a name. Imrhien then sets off into a journey where she meets new friends, unkind foes, crazy wights, frightening monsters and ultimately falls in love…

For more, visit BreakingModern here.

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‘The Kingkiller Chronicles’ is the next big thing

“My name is Kvothe. I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”
– Kvothe, The Kingkiller’s Chronicles

It’s an epic trilogy of woven words in equal parts sorrow, adventure, laughter and wit. It’s a coming of age tale narrated by the protagonist of how one incident, one trigger, can turn a young man into a legend.

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The first in the Kingkiller Chronicles, ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss is an engaging adventure.

In my eyes, it’s the next A Song of Fire and Ice or Lord of the Rings – it’s a saga that will leave its mark in the literary world.

Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles begins with The Name of the Wind, the first of three novels in which each novel takes place over a day.  The trilogy has Kote (the protagonist) narrate his own tale about how as a streetwise young man formerly known as Kvothe, his foremost goal was hunting down a mysterious group involved in the death of his family, to how he became a legend.

In brief, the captivating story begins in the rural town of Newarre where Kote the innkeeper and his assistant Bast are introduced. Here, it is revealed that Kote is also the hero of legends, Kvothe: an unequaled swordfighter, phenomenal magician, and genius musician with a silken voice. On a brief journey out of town, Kote saves a travelling scribe called Chronicler from a spider-like creature called a Scrael. When the Chronicler is brought back to Kote’s inn, he asks to record Kote’s story of which he is told will take three days.

For more, visit BreakingModern here.

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Greek mythology meet Percy Jackson

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had just hit the screens when my friend introduced me to the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.

LighteningThief

Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief is the first novel in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.

By this time, there was already four books out in the series with a growing audience – myself included. What I love about this series is how Riordan takes Greek mythology and introduces it to readers in a fun, yet educational way. The Percy Jackson series has since concluded, yet the tales of half-bloods continue in The Heroes of Olympus sequel series.

I have always been intrigued by myths (Greek, Native, South African, etc) and this series takes a look at Greek mythology with a different twist to its well-known heroic tales. Riordan not only manages to engage readers with interesting characters, he is able to weave social, political and environmental concerns subtly into conversations between characters. I wouldn’t consider it so much as propaganda, since it offers both views, but the concepts are brought down to an adolescent concept and the ideas definitely begin to tickle the mind of the young. 

In brief, The Lightening Thief (the first book in the series) introduces readers to Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old dyslexic, ADHD teen struggling to fit in at school. Or, as Jackson puts it:

“My name is Percy Jackson. I’m twelve years old. Until a few months ago, I was a boarding student at Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled kids in upstate New York. Am I a troubled kid? Yeah. You could say that.”

Essentially, after returning home from boarding school, he and his mother Sally Jackson go on an impromptu road trip to their favourite beach in Montauk. A series of tragedies follows, as per any novel in which a protagonist begins his journey of self-discovery, including being chased by a minotaur and finding out his best friend is a satyr. He also finds out he is a demigod and son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea. The first book in particular follows Percy and his friends quest to clear his name after being blame of stealing Zeus’ prized lightening bolt.

In Riordan’s take of Greek mythology, demigods/half-bloods are born with various degrees of ADHD and dyslexia. Reading English is generally pretty difficult and causes headaches, while Ancient is a breeze, for example. The ADHD in demigods is caused due to natural battle instincts and quick reaction times. Riordan’s world is set in the modern era and with the change in times, Mount Olympus is  now located in New York. Camp Half-Blood, a boarding/training school of sorts, has become a sanctuary for demigods learning to control their powers. Humans, on the other hand, cannot see behind the “mist,” and only see what they want to believe, rather than what is truly in front of them. As Percy Jackson continues his many adventures, he stumbles upon magical items such as the Golden Fleece, the living dead, and various forms of opposition from gods set in their ways.

Each book that follows (re)introduces new gods and those less familiar, old characters, and always re-imagines the world with a mythological take. Following The Lightening Thief, are: The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian – each as humorous as the last:

“Wow,” Thalia muttered. “Apollo is hot.”
“He’s the sun god,” I said.
“That’s not what I meant.”
-Percy Jackson and Thalia, daughter of Zeus upon meeting Apollo in The Titan’s Curse

As with many novels with multiple books supplementary works include: The Demigod Files, The Ultimate Guide, graphic novel, Demigods and Monsters, and The Demigod Diaries.

*Spoilers Alert*

Nevertheless, The Heroes of Olympus sequel series looks at combining Roman and Greek mythology of the gods and begins with Percy mysteriously missing and a Roman demigod taking his place. It becomes a conflict for gods and their split personalities: Zeus vs. Jupiter, Poseidon vs Neptune, etc etc. It’s dissociative identity disorder at its finest.

Again, for all that Riordan’s Percy Jackson series are an easy and fun read, with a zap of romance, what I love best about them saga is the underlying social commentary about the world. From the environment to political hub-dub, Riordan touches base on important issues. 

In The House of Hades, the fourth novel in the sequel series, Riordan chose to make brooding Nico di Angelo come to terms with what many teenagers face: emotional indecision of who they are and what is “right and wrong.” What many readers may have thought of as Nico in love with Annabeth, was really an underlying emotional attraction to Percy, someone who save his life. As a child born in the 1940s and kept alive through sorcery and a magical casino, being gay was not accepted in society. Though years have passed since then, Nico is still faced with what was then and what is now. It will be interesting to see how it the characters will continue to develop and what the future has in store for these young demigods.

Book Five in the Heroes of Olympus series, The Blood of Olympus, is set to hit the bookshelves Fall 2014.

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‘In Death’ captures futuristic crime in a suspense-filled series

“You know, lieutenant, you wear your weapon the way other women wear pearls.” “It’s not a fashion accessory.” -Roarke to Lieut. Eve Dallas

I’ve come to the conclusion that part of my overzealousness in purchasing new books stems from my impatience of waiting for holds placed in a library – especially when you find a new series that’s captured your attention. (Let’s disregard the whole e-reader thing, I’ve heard that spiel far too many times). My friend recently reminded me of J. D. Robb’s In Death series – one I’ve heard about over the years but haven’t gotten around to reading.

J. D. Robb, a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, takes a futuristic look at crime in New York City in the year 2058. The suspense thriller has elements of a sci-fi thriller that touch upon laser guns, flying vehicles, and off-world stations. The gun, for instance, is considered an antique and collectible, an outdated weapon that is the focus of the murder investigation in the first book.

Her first novel Naked in Death introduces readers to Lieut. Eve Dallas, a tough, by-the-books 10-year veteran of the New York Police Department and Security Department. Essentially, she kicks ass. When she is first introduced as a character, she is described as a women of intellect and wit. Her self-cropped hair, whip-thin body sustained by caffeine, and physical attributes come later.

There’s nothing better than presenting a strong female character with a no-nonsense  persona and one committed to her beliefs. Troubled past aside, in which readers will discover more as the series progresses and helps with her development, Dallas has definitely entered my list of favourite female characters.

The characters Roberts (as Robb) has created for the In Death series are both well-developed and come from all walks of life: Summerset is his own brand of awesome. As Roarke’s current butler and former partner/mentor in crime, Summerset’s relationship with Dallas is hostile with a tinge of grudging respect on both ends. Dallas’ BFF Mavis Freestone is wild, crazy and free-spirited – she’s the comic relief, Dallas’ rock, and first real friend. Another main star is billionaire hunk Roarke and is considered one of the primary suspects in the string of murders due to his connections and shady past. Roarke and Dallas’ tumultuous relationship goes from passionate to tender, hot and cold instantaneously but grows into something deeper as the series continues.

For all that I dislike thrillers (my over imaginative brain tends to keep me up at night with thoughts of monsters and the boogie man) and am not the fondest girl-guy-meet-fall-in-love story lines (though I’m admittedly a sucker for Jane Austen), the In Death series is able to create unique murder mysteries involving high-tech gadgets – it’s regular crime revamped.  I find the series is equally intriguing not just for its varied crimes, but for Roberts ability to capture human nature not only at its finest, but its worst. It reveals, and foreshadows reality, that no matter how sophisticated technology becomes, humans will remain human. The plight of human desire and emotion, love and lust have not, nor will not changed throughout the years, no matter how many androids and robots enter the fray.

With over 40 novels and short stories in the series, it’s said Roberts will conclude with Dallas’ eventual pregnancy somewhere down the line. I’m excited to see what mysteries and adventures Dallas, Roarke and the rest of the crew will come across in this series. As such, I’ve already read the next two books and am eager to start the fourth, Rapture in Deathonce the library contacts me.

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Blood of the Demon by Rosalie Lario

“You’re telling me that this book is supposed to create zombies?” -Brynn Meyers

Lawyer turned novelist, Rosalie Lario is a relatively fresh-faced author entering the genre of urban fantasy crossed with paranormal romance. Her latest novel, Blood of the Demon, begins its inter-dimensional tale with Keegan, a stunningly handsome demon, and his three (equally drool-worthy) half-brothers. As bounty hunters for the Elden Council, the four brothers are given the task to capturing their father, Mammon, and also stopping his plans to begin an apocalypse.

Of course, there is always a starring lady. Enter beautiful Brynn Meyers, an art gallery owner who is able to read memories embedded in objects and whose simple touch can drain people of their life force. Unbeknownst to her, until otherwise informed, her abilities indicate demon ancestry and a past that makes her the key to unlocking the powers from an ancient zombie-raising book. To stop Mammon from imprisoning Brynn and summoning said zombies, Keegan and his brothers must work to protect her by any means necessary.

I am pleased that Loria wrote Brynn as a strong female character, regardless of the overdone concept of being tossed into a precarious situation where new worlds, demons and the things that go bump at night exist.

Another good point in the book is the character interactions, particularly in regard to the brothers. Their sibling squabbles and friendly discussions were entertaining; it all leaned heavily towards bromance, and reminded me at various points strikingly of Dean and Sam Winchester — entirely charming, to say the least.

Keegan is a mix of Dean and Sam in a tall, dark and handsome package. He has the older-brother-must-protect syndrome, combined with unnecessary emotional angst towards finding love and moral rights. Part demon, part dragon. Similar to his other brothers, each of whom are part demon, part something else.

Also in this book’s favor are the compelling action scenes, although they were far too few. But what little action scenes there were — more so near the end — were good enough to make me wonder why Lario didn’t include more of this kind of thrilling adventure into her paranormal tale.

But my main problem with this otherwise entertaining novel, ignoring the clichéd plot, is the level of hotness of each character. They are all depicted as beautiful, sexy, steamy — well, you get the point. Not that I have an issue with beautiful people — it just gives the characters a level of vanity I could do without. This coupled with several cheesy lines gave me a good laugh. Case in point: “Would she taste just as sweet?”

In all, Blood of the Demon follows a typical plotline with no elaborate twists or turns. Boy given task to protect girl from evil parent, boy and girl lust-love each other, boy fights parent, girl kills boy’s parent, boy and girl end up together. Lario writes an entertaining novel that is a good, easy read for when days are long and you want to cuddle up with a blanket and cup of tea.

And I must admit that I am curious to read the second book in this series, slated to be released only a month after this one, featuring this time the romantic entanglement of Keegan’s brother, Taeg.

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Starrise at Corrivale by Diane Duane

“Excuse me, Ambassador, but what’s a bedbug?” –Captain Dareyey

Best known for her Young Adult series Young Wizards and, unbeknownst to me, numerous New York Times best-selling Star Trek novels including Spock’s World, Diane Duane brings the much anticipated Harbinger Trilogy from the world of Star*Drive.

The first to write within the Star*Drive universe, Duane has not been the last. TSR’s science-fiction role-playing game Alternity, which I’m slightly intrigued about and may end up playing soon, is brought to life through the protagonist Marine Lieutenant Gabriel Connor.

While I have never read a game-related novel, Diane Duane is a childhood favorite. Add to the fact I have never played Star*Drive, and I really didn’t know what to expect.

What I found was a very much recycled story that revolves around a soldier duped into taking the fall for a sinister plan, disgraced and given the boot. Said character aims to uncover the corrupt system, to regain lost honor, while becoming a hero in the process.

A Marine for Galactic Concord, Lieutenant Gabriel Connor is the typical attractively intelligent man, who climbs the ranks quickly. He has the favor of Ambassador Delvecchio, a sharp-witted women who commands those around her with the wave of her finger at 133-years-old — a character who’s ferocity and personality I quite admire.

After Connor is assigned to become part of the military contingent accompanying a diplomatic mission, in which war has waged for hundreds of years, he is thrown into an unexpected position of handling negotiations between the two worlds. Accused of assisting in a murder, Connor is — as is typical — discredited and told to leave.

Given a second chance for redemption by Concord, Connor grabs the opportunity. Along the way he befriends an alien and meets many interesting people.

Much of the first few chapters are a slow progression, introducing characters and establishing the plot. While space combat is always interesting, Duane is at her best when her characters interact. Delving into the psyche of both mankind and aliens, Duane brings up moral dilemmas and pressing situations.

Duane’s style of writing is quite, even surprisingly, different from that of her young adult novels. If not for the name on the cover, I would be easily duped into thinking it was another author. Duane’s traits for establishing characters and keeping the interest of readers is still within the context of the novel, but the manner in which she describes the scene and foreshadows the future is much more complex.

Slow to start, but action-packed with an intricate political skew, Starrise at Corrivale brings to life a much-beloved gaming universe and makes it work. While this first novel in the Harbinger Trilogy can be considered snail paced at times, it works by establishing the world for its two successors. It does take some free time to read as it gets dense and wordy, but it may be just for you.

However, there are some issues with editing, so if that kind of thing annoys you, stay away.

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Book Review: The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

“That’s it, is it? I’ll be remembered as a fine speaker, because no one has bothered to write anything else? But then why remember at all?” – Speaker Hyram

Powerful limbs, sleek bodies, leathery hides, strong snouts, block-long wings, jaw-dropping flames… there are many reasons to love dragons. I had my first taste of these fire-breathing creatures when I first read The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, with its humorously blunt dragon — though, admittedly, the idea of a sniveling prince and a heroic princess probably did more to spark an interest in an independent little girl’s mind. It wasn’t until my teens, when I stumbled across Anne McCarthy’s Pern world, that I fell in love with the scaly creatures.

I have picked up many a book about them since, and while each has individually been great in its own way, none have captured my attention for long. It was during a search for some schoolbooks at a local bookstore I came across Stephen Deas The Adamantine Palace. An appealing cover graced the novel: dark with a blueish-white dragon flying across it. Interest sparked.

In a world once dominated by dragons, humans now control the dragons’ minds with well-kept secrets of alchemy and potions. Kept under harness and tightly controlled, dragons turn into domestic creatures, no more intelligent than four-legged mules. This is, at least, until one prized white dragon manages to escape and regain his long-suppressed memories of a time when humans cowered in fear.

We have Prince Jehal, charming, handsome and vile. Ruthless in his ambition to gain power for himself, he betrays, lies, plots and murders to stay two steps ahead. There are moments where you see him slip and you think it’s possible for him to come back; that he can be redeemed. Then he turns around and makes you shake your head in sorrow. We also have Queen Shezira, poised with a strong personality, is not without aspirations herself. Not entirely sympathetic to the quailing of others, she uses her daughters as pawns for marriage alliances, as she was herself, to secure and influence her own power.

Add in a rogue dragon — full of intelligence and fury — bringing back the memories of his enslaved kind and setting the humans to warring and politicking and you have a fast-paced, brutal dragon tale.

Told through the eyes of several protagonists and minor characters, the book reads solidly. While focusing mainly on the conversion of power of the Speaker (an over-king position coveted for its power), his retirement and his heir successor as fought between royalty, Deas cleverly weaves underground passages in the narrative, allowing the dragon element to slowly come back in full force.

Each character is developed through ever-changing circumstances, becoming nastier, stronger, or more determined to seek vengeance. Deas constantly adds another layer, getting down to the gritty details. While certain aspects of this are welcome, the curveballs of supposedly strong females turning into whiny, spoilt princesses does make one wary. I understand the necessity of annoying, naïve characters in furthering plot lines. I do. But I wish there would be less of them.

I strongly detest weak (naïve, stupid, pouty) female characters. Females can kick ass too without being over-sexualized! Paper Bag Princess, come on!Aside from Queen Shezira and (at least near the end), her eldest daughter Almiri, I felt that in comparison to the number of women that were introduced, the number of strong women is sadly lacking. Grudgingly, if I include the evil, two-faced bitch Queen Zafir — who is too ambitious by far — the numbers are still dismal.

Granted, the male protagonists were equally upsetting.

I suppose this is why I enjoyed the book as much as I did. The Adamantine Palace reveals the coarseness of humanity in its sins and need for power. Deas manages to put life into each personality, and while at times I felt overly irritated with many of the characters and their self-entitlement, lust and greedy fingers, it all does point to the flaws of humankind and the troubles we put onto ourselves (as the history books full of destruction and war clearly show).

Overall, brilliantly written and an excellent read, and a wonderful set-up for the next installment. It isn’t McCaffrey’s Pern (nothing, NOTHING I SAY, will ever come close) but it is certainly the beginning of an outstanding new dragon series.

Oh, and go dragons!

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