Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

I think I heard about this book through io9’s monthly article about books they are anticipating. I’ll leave the link here. They have a really good list. I’m also interested in Dread Nation and Night Dahlia.

Ash Princess is about a princess, Thora/Theodosia, of the conquered nation of Astrea, who is held hostage by her nation’s conquerors, the Kalovaxians.  Thora is used as a tool to keep the Astreans in line. Step out of line, and the princess is beaten. She is the princess of ashes only, and is treated at times like an honored guest, and at other times like a criminal. Of course, rebellion is in the air, and Thora soon becomes involved in a plot to overthrow the Kalovaxians and take back her kingdom.

As I was reading along, I thought this was a stand alone novel. The plot moved along at a very brisk pace, with just enough information about the characters, culture and circumstances to advance the plot. There were breaks in the story for exposition about the use of gems in the Astrean religion, a little bit of background on the Kalovaxians, and the destruction they have wreaked not only on Astrea, but other nations in this world. But it all seemed pretty surface, no real depth. Which I expect when a story is a stand alone. More emphasis on plot and less on character development. This isn’t a criticism, it was just the impression I got while reading. As we get nearer to the end, it becomes obvious that this won’t get resolved by the end of the book. And I find that I don’t mind that. I am actually curious about what will happen next. I like a good story about the oppressed rising up against the oppressors!

That would be the main criticism I had. I wished that this felt like a first book in a series, rather than a stand alone novel. This may be my own fault for not researching more on this book, but I would like to have seen more world building. The Kalovaxians have a history of concurring and pillaging other countries, so I would like to know more about that. This will probably (hopefully) happen in the next book (or books), but more world building now would have made the story a bit richer, for me.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

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Circe by Madeline Miller

I have always loved greek mythology. And if you love it too, you’ll really enjoy Circe.

The story is about Circe, the witch Odysseus meets on his journey home from the Trojan War. She is the child of Helios, one of the Titans- the gods who ruled before Zeus and the Olympians overthrew them. You meet some of the Olympians we are all familiar with, but we see them through Circe’s eyes. Circe has had a hand in almost all of them. The names should be familiar: Scylla, Glaucus, Daedelus, Jason, Medea, to name a few. Even a couple surprises! At least they were surprises to me. 🙂

Circe’s story is tragic. At times you root for her and at other times you become exasperated with her. She is a complicated figure. You really feel her loneliness, her sense of being “other”, and how her upbringing brought on many of her insecurities, and shaped the decisions she makes later in her life. In a small way this is a story about bullying, and the long term affects that can have on a person. Circe definitely lashes out in response to her treatment by her family, and usually to horrible consequences. Her story is always compelling, and you understand how she came to be who she is.

The writing is like a more accessible epic poem. (I would also suggest listening to the audio book). It is a good balance of modern and formal. There is a sense of age, yet its not impressed with itself.

I’m really not doing this book justice. Its a fantastic and captivating read. It makes the greek myths feel more vibrant and real. I’m definitely going to go back and re-visit these old myths, and I will certainly pick up Miller’s first book, Song of Achilles.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This book showed up on several lists of anticipated books of 2018. I added it to my own list because I was in the mood for a Young Adult (YA) story. This is not a dystopian YA story, which is a good thing.

This is the story of a country in what appears to be an African-like continent, where magic has been eradicated (or has it??), and the people who used magic were almost wiped out. Their descendants are an oppressed people who are shunned, ostracized and brutalized by the current regime. They are often used as servants/slaves to the upper classes, including the royal family. This purging of magic took place about 11 years ago. Of course, our young heroine, Zelie, is descended from magic users, and the story focuses on her discovering her destiny to bring magic back.

You can definitely pick out the epic fantasy influences. There’s the hero’s journey, where Zelie denies her destiny, then accepts it. There’s the loss of the wise mentor. There is also the formation of the rag tag group of heroes who will help her on her journey. There are tales of gods, wars, magical objects, and of course romance. There are references to places with similar names to ours (Britaunis, Porltoganes, etc.) This is definitely the same way in which more traditional fantasy infuses medieval English or French cultural influences into the world building.  There is also the use of the Yoruba language that lends even more grounding in cultures here on our own earth.

What this story does so well, is dramatizing a real underlying sense of fear, hate and oppression. There is a heavy sense throughout the book of the depths of hate and intolerance and the lengths people will go to in order to oppress those who are different. The hate and animosity runs deep, and some characters are overcome by it, while others clearly struggle to rationalize what has been done to the magic users, all in the name of  protecting the people. The Author’s Note at the end of the book gives more insight into how this story reflects modern day issues.

I have a few nitpicks, but the one I will mention here is the setting, or timing of the current story.  I would’ve liked this story to take place maybe another generation or two from the eradication of magic. Seeing how wounded this society would be after so many years, would make the stakes a bit higher. How would the descendants of the magic users feel? Would they have sided with their oppressors and believed that magic was bad? Would they mostly be in hiding? Everything seemed so new and raw. I would like to have seen the toll this event has taken on the society, another generation or two later.

Overall, this is a very engaging story, with characters you can root for. There is so much more to this story, so I am looking forward to part two!

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2

2018 Reading Goals

Happy New Year!

New year, fresh start for reading. I’ve never  had any specific goals for reading, other than to read more. This year, I’ve decided to actually be more specific, and deliberate with my reading. In 2017 I exceeded my Goodreads goal, but it was a struggle at times. Part of the problem was that I was distracted by all the great television. Between Netflix, Hulu, HBO and everything else, it was, and still is, very easy to just plop down in front of the TV and binge a show. I’d like to change that, and plop down on the the couch and binge a book! There aren’t too many sows that I need or want to watch live, so there’s no reason why I can’t make reading my default, and fit TV in between those times when I’m not reading. So, here’s my plan for 2018:

  1. Goodreads Goal: 25 books
  2. At least 30 minutes to an hour each day reading. The TV will not be on, no other distractions. This can be a designated time before bed or right after work.
  3. Expand beyond traditional sci fi and fantasy. Maybe more young adult, urban fantasy, contemporary fiction, historical fiction etc. Expand those horizons! Its not like I’ve never read literary fiction before, so why not add that back into the rotation?
  4. Re-read Favorites. When in a rut, pull out an old favorite. I won’t necessarily finish the book, but use it as a time filler while deciding on a new book. It keeps up the habit of daily reading. And its always nice to re-visit old favorites!
  5. Second Chances. Be willing to give some books a second chance. Life is too short to read books you don’t like, but sometimes you just need to give it a go again, because it may turn out to be a new favorite.

We’ll see how this goes! What are your reading goals for 2018?

The Book of Swords, edited by Gardner Dozois

Let’s be real. The reason I picked up this anthology was because of the George R. R. Martin short story called The Sons of the Dragon. There were other authors that I was familiar with, but I read it for A Song of Ice and Fire purposes. And, yes, the story was great. The history of the Targaryens is completely fascinating to me, and its my favorite part of Westerosi history. This particular story is a tale of the sons of Aegon the Conqueror himself, Maegor the Cruel and Aenys I. The power struggle between them really sets the stage for the kind of kingdom Westeros would become. Not essential reading of course, but any fan of A Song of Ice and Fire would really enjoy this.

I did manage to read other stories in this anthology. I wanted to branch out and try some authors I hadn’t read before, including Elizabeth Bear, CJ Cherryh and Cecelia Holland. Daniel Abraham, and Robin Hobb are authors that I have read before, but haven’t gone back to in awhile.

I will highlight those stories. I’m not going to go into great detail about plot, but I will give my very brief impressions of the story and whether I would read something else by that author.

Her Father’s Sword by Robin Hobb- This story sees the brief appearance of a familiar character to fans of Robin Hobb- FitzChivalry Farseer. I have only read the Farseer Trilogy (actually, it may have only been the first book), but it was so long ago that I don’t remember much of the plot. It’s clear though that this story definitely ties in to one of the series that FitzChivalry appears in. Fans would get more out of his appearance than a casual reader like me. Needless to say, the story was enjoyable, with a memorable villain, great action and drama. I’ll definitely consider picking up the Farseer Trilogy.

The King’s Evil by Elizabeth Bear- This one was a bit weird to me. I really couldn’t get attached to the characters. The world building felt like it belonged to a much bigger story, and maybe it does. The big thing that turned me off was the use of a modern weapon. I wasn’t expecting it, and it felt out of place. But honestly, at that point, I had pretty much checked out of the story. I don’t like mixing my swords with modern stuff. I would still like to give the author’s other books a try. Leave some recommendations!

The Mocking Tower by Daniel Abraham- I really liked this one. It was the one story that I wanted to see expended into a full length novel. I would definitely like to get the full story on how the realm descended into the civil war it finds itself in now. This story gives an overview of it, but I’d really like to read it as it plays out. I want to know how we got to the events of this short story, and what happens afterwards. Great story. I’m reading the Expanse which is written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, under the pen name James S.A. Corey. Love that series. There are two other series by Abraham, that I have tried to start but couldn’t get into. I may give those a try. The first series is The Long Price Quartet and the other one is called The Dagger and The Coin.

The Sword Tyraste by Cecelia Holland- I had never heard of this author, and I do like some historical fantasies, so I gave it a try. Norse mythology and stories about Norse cultures are not always my cup of tea, but I found this story to be intriguing. I t caught my attention quickly, and I wanted to see where it ended. And its the ending that I found lacking. Its not really a cliff hanger, it just ends after a fight, and gives two sentences about the main character and thats it. Its hard to describe it here without spoiling it, but yeah, this one left me scratching my head.

These were the stories that stood out to me, and the ones I read first. The other ones were not necessarily genres that I like, so I skipped those for now.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 out of 5

 

The Dark Tower- The Gunslinger by Stephen King

This is the third Stephen King book I’ve read. The other two were The Eye of the Dragon and 11/22/63. Not a part of his horror collection, but I thought they were good.  Unfortunately I watched the CBS television adaptation of Under the Dome, rather than reading the book. Boy, those are hours of my life I can’t get back!

Anyway, I of course have known about the Dark Tower series for awhile, long before there was talk of movies and tv show adaptations. The idea of a “gunslinger” had me thinking westerns. Westerns do not interest me in the least. But, the more I heard about the series being this great magnum opus for Stephen King, and with the not so favorable reviews of the movie, I thought, maybe now is a good time to try it. Well…

I was confused. Well, maybe confused isn’t quite right. Befuddled might be a better word. The writing style is all over the place. The jargon of the gunslinger changes constantly, and parts of the story were told in flashbacks within flashbacks, then in the present. Its been a few days since I finished it, and I’m less befuddled than I was while reading it, but it was a bit of a jumbled mess. However, if you stick through to the end, things do start to become more clear. The gunslinger is chasing the man in black, then finds out he has to go to the Dark Tower. Why does he have to go to the Dark Tower? I have no idea.  (I’m sure this was explained in the book, but it just didn’t stick in my head). But it appears to be quite important. In case the title of the series didn’t clue you in.

I know it sounds like I disliked this book. I didn’t dislike it, it just left me feeling…unfinished. Which doesn’t totally work for a first book in a series. I need more clarity on the mission of the gunslinger. (Who’s name is Roland Deschain, by the way).

This isn’t much of a review, due to my lingering befuddlement, but there was enough here to make me want to see it through to the end. But the ending wasn’t enough. It didn’t end. It just stopped. Now, I feel that I need to start the second book to finally be able to figure out what’s going on. Then I can actually decide if this is a series I want to continue. Crazy, but in a curious way!

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Warning! This review makes reference to events from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. These events may be considered spoilers for that series.

Well, it feels good to be back in Osten Ard! The Witchwood Crown takes place thirty years after the events in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Simon and Miriamele are still on the throne. Some of our old favorites are back, including Count Eolair, Binabik, Tiamak and others.  Once again, as is usually the case, there is a rising threat from the Norns, and possibly from other sources.

Without giving too much away, the story seemed to have an air of impending doom. I kept thinking that at some point,Simon, Miriamele, or others may die. Obviously, I won’t give anything away, but there was a sense that anything bad could happen at any moment. That could be influenced by the stories I have read since Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was first published. Nonetheless, it brought a nice tension to the story. I wanted this story to be an introduction to the next generation- a passing of the torch. Simon and Miriamele are still the main characters, and I am anticipating that the next book will have the next generation closer to front and center.

We say goodbye to some old characters, and are introduced to some new ones. The politics of the world have expanded. I look forward to spending more time in Nabban and amongst the Thrithings folk. Their stories are featured more prominently and expands the world much more than in the original trilogy. We get to see more of the politics of the world and all of its complexities. It feels like a more sophisticated and complicated Often Ard. That’s a good thing. We get to spend more time with the Norns, too. If you read The Heart of What Was Lost, you will recognize some of the Norn characters. These people can really hold a grudge!

And, for those who were wondering, the fate of Josua, Vorsheva and their children is explored in this book. I was able to correctly guess some things, but not others. The reveal was very well done and absolutely worth the wait.

One thing I did have trouble with were the actions and decision making of Simon and Miriamele. I didn’t think some of their decisions really made sense, and they only made those decisions in order to move certain characters around in preparation for the main story arc. Miriamele in particular seemed harsh, and Simon didn’t seem to have matured into his role as king.

The story has some surprises, mystery and betrayal. All of the ingredients for a masterful  trilogy.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5