November 27, 2008

Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson

I waited for this one to become available at the library for quite awhile. It was always checked out and that, coupled with the rather rave reviews I'd read, made me excited to get my hands on it. The cover is decidedly hokey, but I've come to regret bouts of cover-snobbery many a time before. So I resolved not to let it get to me this time. Besides. I finished the book and still can't wrap my mind around what the tairen actually look like. So the creature on the cover is as good a rendering as any, I'm sure. 

Essentially, it is a Cinderella story. One in which the prince is actually a king. A massively overbearing, centuries old king at that. Rain Tairen Soul is well-known throughout the world as the man who almost destroyed it all when his beloved was killed. His rage was of such a magnitude that it nearly scorched the world. Thousands upon thousands died as a result. This all took place nigh unto a thousand years ago and Rain has spent the intervening years basically trying to hang onto his sanity and not give into his anger and sorrow. Enter Ellie--found on the side of the road as a child and taken in by a woodcarver and his wife. In a moment of utter terror, her soul cries out and Rain's hears it. He comes immediately to her rescue and the two of them attempt to make sense of what has happened to them. And what has happened is that they are soul mates. That's right. Rain has love thrust upon him centuries after he thought he was through with it for good. And Ellie has it swoop down upon her for the first time in her life. It's all very anguished and touching. 

Except it's not. 

I don't know if it's just that the story's been done before and in more compelling ways. Or if it's the he's older than Methuselah and she's a spring chicken ick factor. But it didn't do it for me. It's like the whole time the story was telling me, I am So Epic. Bask in my epicness! And Rain was storming around yelling at me, I am So Tortured. Revel in my anguish! Meanwhile, Ellie was tip-toeing around in his wake whispering, I am fragile but with a Core Of Steel. Underestimate me at your peril! But none of it felt real. It just felt like the veneer of epicness and torture and steel cores. There was also a string of women drugged and manipulated against their will which really rubbed me wrong. And did anyone else think Ellie should totally be with Bel? Or was that just me? Now the story certainly had its sweet moments. How could it not? At just over 400 pages, it never gets beyond the courtship stage of Rain and Ellie's relationship. But even then, I didn't feel like they got to know each other well. But I didn't feel like I knew them either so it wasn't that great a loss. I do have to say that this book (and series) is dearly beloved by many so, clearly, your mileage may (and probably will) vary. It may very well fly for you. But, for me, it never got its feet off the ground. 

November 24, 2008

The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

I have had the entire Hollow Kingdom trilogy sitting in my TBR stack for awhile now and finally settled in with the first one and read it through. The first thing to catch my eye was the dedication. This is often the case with me. I was wandering the bookstore with my cousin just other night, talking about what a sucker I am for a good dedication. I should probably be keeping some sort of top ten list or something. If I did, Laurie R. King's dedication in The Game would certainly be on it. 
For librarians everywhere, who spend their lives in battle against the forces of darkness.
That one still sends chills down my spine, it's so awesome. I've fallen in love with many a Lloyd Alexander dedication as well and that's why this one in The Hollow Kingdom stood out to me. Because it was dedicated to him. 
This book is respectfully dedicated to Lloyd Alexander, who gave the world Eilonwy and brought Gwydion back to life.
Yep. Another happy dance-inducing dedication.

Kate and her younger sister Emily arrive at Hallow Hill in search of a new home. Recently orphaned, the two sisters have inherited the estate and come to live with their two muzzle-headed great aunts and their one creeperiffic guardian. The girls take to the new surroundings immediately, but soon after moving in Kate starts to feel like she's being watched. One night while out walking she is actually followed home by a mysterious hooded stranger on horseback. The stranger turns out to be the goblin king Marak. Every goblin king must steal a human bride and bring her home to the kingdom under the hill to live forever, never to see the sun or stars again. Once he sets his sights on Kate, Marak assures her it is only a matter of time til she is his. Kate manages to keep an admirably stiff upper lip, under the circumstances, and resolves to outwit the goblin king and remain above ground. Unfortunately, she is forced to reconsider when her sister is kidnapped and she is sure the Marak is behind it. In a wonderful reversal of expectations, Kate (of her own free will and choice) gains entrance to the goblin court and agrees to marry the king if he will release her sister. 

The Hollow Kingdom is completely enchanting. It was the characters that won me over. Kate is a strong, thoughtful heroine and her sister Emily provides a good bit of comic relief as she is interested in absolutely everything. The prospect of spending the rest of her life among goblins strikes terror in Kate's heart, but sends Emily into raptures. What an adventure! But then it's not Emily who has to marry one of the ugly creatures. Which brings us to Marak. And Marak is an enigma. Crafty and cunning, he delights in attempting to capture his chosen bride and force her to do his will. Yet he is not without sympathy. He rushes to his wife's defense at any slight and, even as he laughs at her discomfort, he tries to make her more at home in his underground world. A favorite passage:
"Marak?" she said softly, turning toward him. He laid his cheek against her hair.
"What is it?" he asked quietly.
"Do you write about me?" she asked. He nodded. "What kinds of things do you write?"
"The same sorts of things as the other Kings," he said. "What you love about your new life, what you hate."
"What do I love?" she wondered.
"It hasn't been very long," he answered, "but I think you love coming with me to my workroom."
Kate thought about that. As the realm's greatest magician, the goblin King worked magic all the time, whether he was healing illness, supporting building projects, or making sure the correct weather occurred. Sitting on her high stool, Kate watched him preparing and mixing things, and he showed her odd bits of magic as he studied and practiced. She enjoyed the magic; it was one of the things she was starting to appreciate about her unusual husband. The workroom was like a refuge to her. It was almost the only place in the entire kingdom where no one was watching her.
"I do love the workroom," she said softly. "What do I hate about my new life?"
"Being locked in," he answered. "Being stared at, being teased."
"If you know I hate being teased," she asked, "why do you alway do it?"
"Because that's one of the things about your new life that love," he chuckled. That made her smile. "And I write about the milestones that the Kings look for their wives to pass. The first time you spoke to me--that was when you met me. The first time you called me by name--that was the day after you came here. The first time you smiled at me--that was a week after you came here, but the first time you smiled because you were really glad to see me--that was only a month ago. The first time you were happy when you woke up in the morning, full of plans you wanted to accomplish. . ." He fell silent.
"When was that?" Kate wanted to know.
"That one hasn't happened yet," he admitted. "Maybe tomorrow."
It's a surprising and lovely story and I recommend it for an evening autumn read. 

November 19, 2008

Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn

As readers of this blog already know, I am a huge Sharon Shinn fan. Archangel is one of my very favorite comfort reads and so is Mystic and Rider--the first in Shinn's Twelve Houses series. Her characters become friends so quickly I forget what life was like before I read them. That's why the Twelve Houses series is so much fun. It follows a disparate group of six travelers who, despite differences of rank, temperament, and fundamental beliefs, become first allies and later friends. Shinn tracks this six of them through four books, eventually wrapping up each thread of the overarching story. Or so we thought. Fortune and Fate is a companion novel to the Twelve Houses series. An unexpected and delightfully welcome fifth volume. 

Wen was a King's Rider, one of fifty elite guards dedicated to protecting the king with their lives if necessary. Until the king died. On her watch. Shortly after, Wen resigned her post and rode out of the capital city forever. Two years later she is still roaming the countryside, searching for people to save in a futile attempt to atone for her sins. For failing to save her liege. Determined not to connect with anyone ever again, Wen finds herself reluctantly accepting a post as captain of the guard at House Fortunalt after saving the young serramarra's life. Answering to the serramarra's guardian, the bookish Jasper Palladar, Wen promises to stay for a month at most. Long enough to train a rough guard. Not long enough to form any attachments or find any reasons to stay. Meanwhile, the queen's consort wends his way through the southern Houses on a journey to sound out the new Thirteenth House nobles as well as the upcoming generation of marlords and marladies. 

The story alternates chapters between Wen's sojourn at Fortune and Cammon's journey through Gisseltess, Rappengrass, and Fortunalt. But this is essentially Wen's own story. And I was pleased to find myself soon attached to this tough young woman so intently bent on self destruction. It was naturally extremely pleasant to spend time with Cammon, Senneth, and Justin again as well. But Ms. Shinn does a good job of extending her readers' affections to Wen and her particular set of troubles. The secondary characters are well-drawn and sympathetic, especially Jasper, Karryn, and Ryne--the young lordling from Coravann. This is a quieter, more self-contained novel than the previous Twelve Houses books. It unfolds slowly as Wen struggles to retire her ghosts and maintain some distance from those who would try to keep her. As Jasper quietly works to rebuild a house in disgrace and extend Wen's stay at Fortune. As Karryn learns who she can trust and how to differentiate herself from her parents' failures. A very fine coda to a simply wonderful series. 

November 18, 2008

The Bride's Farewell Cover

Here is the cover for Meg Rosoff's forthcoming 2009 novel The Bride's Farewell, due out from Viking in August. Sort of gothic and whimsical, isn't it? Love the title font.

From the publisher: In 1850s England, a young woman named Pell runs away from home on horseback the day she is supposed to marry her childhood sweetheart. Pell is from a poor preacher’s family; made poorer by the ever-increasing number of mouths to feed. Pell understands horses better than she understands people, so she sets off for Salisbury Fair, where horse trading takes place, in the hope that she can find work and buy herself some time while she decides what to do next. As she rides further and further from home, Pell’s emotional ties to her parents, to her many siblings, and to the fiancĂ© only become strengthened and eventually alter the course of her travels.

The Bride's Farewell is a beautifully told novel about learning how to live, how to be human, and how to love.

November 12, 2008

Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk

Is it weird that I kind of got a kick out of the main character's name in this book being Allie? It's not my name. I do have a dear friend by that name. But I think the main reason was that I just haven't read a book in a long time that featured an Allie, and it seemed to lend the story a certain appealing freshness. The other names in the book are equally appealing. Zayvion Jones. Violet Beckstrom. And the idea for the story is undoubtedly intriguing.

Magic to the Bone is set in an alternate America in which magic "came out" to the world rather like vampires did in Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books. Soon after people become users and consumers of magic, much like they use and consume alcohol. And just like a night of hard drinking, any use of magic leaves the user with a monster hangover. This "hangover" manifests itself in a variety of unsavory ways from intense bruising all over the body to a flu that will lay you low for a week. Allie Beckstrom is a Hound--a person with the ability to follow a cast spell back to the caster. Unlike other Hounds, though, Allie is able to house a small amount of magic within her own body. But this increased ability exacts a higher price. After working a particularly potent bit of magic, Allie frequently loses random portions of her memory. Estranged from her power-hungry father, she lives in a hole, barely scraping enough money together to feed herself with anything resembling regularity. When a small boy is almost killed by a spell that leads back to dear old Dad, Allie immediately goes on the offensive to bring her father to justice. She runs into trouble in the form of Zayvion Jones--a stalker/bodyguard who used to work for her father and seems intent on shadowing Allie's every move.

The whole layout of this story held a lot of promise and I willingly immersed myself in Allie's seamy world, eager to see how she handled her manipulative, possibly murderous father as well as the darkly enigmatic Zay. Allie herself is world-weary in a way that mirrors her world, a place ironically sapped of wonder and goodness by the largely unregulated abuse of "magic." I loved the little book she carries around, recording memories against the day they're stripped from her after overstepping herself magically. In fact, each and every character piqued my interest, from Allie's unusual stepmother to her salt of the earth best friend. However, I found that interest flagging fairly soon as the execution did not quite match up to the idea. Zay's and Allie's relationship seemed rather quickly formed. He felt too good to be true while she seemed to fall into a sort of stereotypical urban fantasy composite heroine. I started to lose my sense for what made her unique and felt that they were both smarter than their actions painted them. The tension between them resolved too abruptly for my taste. Throughout the story, a well-conceived idea here or a particularly cool plot development there managed to revive my flagging attention, but the follow-through lacked the level of tightness and cohesion that is a defining characteristic of my favorite urban fantasy series's.

Links
Amy's Book Nook Review
Darque Review
The Book Smugglers Review

November 10, 2008

Hidden

You may have already seen this, but I just had to post a link to Holly Black's hidden library as featured on The Steampunk Home. Who knew there was a Hidden Door Company? And I really want one of those mantels. This is one fun blog. Check it out!

November 9, 2008

Fragile Eternity Cover

And here's the cover for Melissa Marr's upcoming Fragile Eternity. Due out in April. I'm looking forward to getting some good Seth time in this one. Must be nice to get such lovely covers, musn't it? Thanks to Urban Fantasy Land for the heads up!

November 6, 2008

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater

So it turns out I unwittingly chose the perfect book to follow Heir to SevenwatersI needed something sweet and scary, with a little humor and some faeries. I didn't really know much about Lamentso it was kind of surprising how much I was looking forward to it. But I was just getting this vibe. Like good things would be inside. And these good things seemed to carry with them a hint of Melissa Marr goodness mixed with some Holly Black awesome. I got what I was looking for and more.

Deirdre plays the harp. Her best friend James is a piper. And hilarious with it. The two of them together are exceptionally cool John Green-esque geeks. Besides James, Deirdre's got an overbearing mother, an aunt from hell, and a very weak stomach. The story opens at one of her competitions. She is lurking about the girl's bathroom about to lose her lunch, as she always does before a performance, when the mysterious Luke Dillon (who Deirdre's never met before but seems to know somehow) wanders in and proceeds to hold her hair back for her. Clearly the mysterious Luke must stick around. And stick around he does. For reasons which remain a little murky and a lot enticing, and which Deirdre is determined to find out.
Luke was at my elbow, saying, "I think I'm going to have to leave early. I think I might have to go now."
I was about to protest or beg unabashedly for his number when I realized the clapping had gone quiet. The voice crackled on the speaker. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's six o'clock, and as promised, we're going to announce the winners of the grand prize. Thank you everyone for competing and sharing your talent with us. The judges would like to congratulate the grand prize winners for this year's arts festival--Deirdre Monaghan and Luke Dilling." 
Luke whispered into my ear, close enough that his lips brushed my hair. "Tell me you want to see me again."
I smiled.
Sexy as sexy. That's Luke. Plus, he's got a deep dark secret he can't reveal. Literally can't. Very bad things happen to Luke when he tries to talk about where he came from, what brought him to Deirdre, and who's pulling his strings. So it's up to Deirdre to figure out who Luke is, why he seems to have brought a host of creatures out of myth and legend in his wake, and what her own role is to be in it all. As I used to live in Virginia, I thoroughly enjoyed the setting, particularly the descriptions of the weather and humidity. In Lament Maggie Stiefvater artfully weaves together a heady mix of music, humor, exhiliration, and desperate longing. I enjoyed this book so much it is physically painful to me that the sequel, Ballad, isn't due out till next Fall. 

November 5, 2008

Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

I couldn't believe it when I heard that Juliet Marillier was writing another Sevenwaters book. It's been eight years since Daughter of the Forest was first published and six since Child of the Prophecy and I honestly thought that ship had sailed. I had accustomed myself to the notion that all I would ever have would be the original trilogy to keep me warm on those cold nights when only the Sevenwaters magic will do. And then the unbelievable happened and she announced a fourth volume. And instead of following its predecessors and taking place a generation after the previous book, Heir to Sevenwaters would be set just three years after the events of Child of the Prophecy.

The story follows Clodagh, the third of Sean and Aisling's six daughters, and the one the entire household looks to in times of strain and dissension. Known for her exceptional domestic skills and attention to detail, Clodagh is forced to take the reins as her mother approaches the delivery of her final child--the long-awaited son and possible heir. At the same time her father is preparing to host a council of warring chieftains and dealing with the possibility that his son-in-law is plotting against the alliance. When her new baby brother is stolen from his nursery while in Clodagh's care, everything changes, and Clodagh finds herself completely outside her realm of experience, on a journey to reclaim her kidnapped brother from the realm of the Fair Folk and prove not only her own innocence, but that of the unusual young warrior Cathal who is also under suspicion. Together, Clodagh and Cathal risk everything as they face the Lord of the Oak and bargain for their lives.

I don't know what it is about the world of Sevenwaters, but it has some kind of hold over me. And it was so good to be back. Clodagh is a different kind of heroine from her aunt Liadan and her grandmother Sorcha. Though, like those two women, she finds her life drifting radically from the path she was sure it would follow. She also displays a large quantity of courage when called for. As evidenced in this lovely passage:

I ordered myself to be calm. I would be ready, no matter what. I would do this even if years and years had passed. I had the green glass ring, I had the necklace, I had the egg stone and I had Fiacha. And I had a plan, a plan that frightened me half out of my wits, but then the very notion of confronting Mac Dara would be enough to make most young women turn tail and flee, I thought. Perhaps, to survive in a place like this, a person had to be half mad; as mad as a man who would sacrifice his future to save a friend; as mad as a woman who could love a child made of sticks and stones.
Just gives me chills. The good kind. There are many such passages in Heir to Sevenwaters and the book stands out to me because of the beautiful, even writing and because of the likability of its two main characters. Clodagh is an ordinary young woman who, when thrust into extraordinary circumstances, finds resources she didn't realize she had. The courage to risk her life for her brother, but also the courage to try to be friends with a lonely young man who is not interested in being her friend, who goes out of his way to be prickly and unpleasant, who fights himself at every turn, and who no one believes in. Including himself. I loved this story. I loved its glimpses of old friends and its hints of future possibilities. As only the best ones do, it surprised and delighted me and made me long for more.

Links