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Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho published on

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Firstly, if you haven’t had the opportunity to see the gold-foil cover of this book in person, you’re missing out on a beautiful piece of artwork. That’s a gorgeous cover!

Secondly, this is a book that lends itself readily to comparison, so I hope the author can forgive me for starting with this: Sorcerer to the Crown is Jane Austen with dragons, magic and modern identity politics. It is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell lite. It’s a fun jaunt through a world that never was. Oh, if only it was.

Thirdly, a review. This is a fantasy of Regency England manners as well as modern day perspectives on race and gender. Zen Cho is one of those authors who secludes herself from reading modern fiction until she has completed her period piece, and this really shows in the language she uses here. Words rarely used in modern English (or at least the American version of it) are common here: pelisse, reticule, inamoratas, distrait, piquant, philtres, mendaciously, enervation, mésalliance and soupçon. Cho has worked very hard to make this book feel like it could have truly been written by an alternate world Jane Austen.

The joys to be found in Sorcerer to the Crown fit largely into character interactions. There is a plot, of course, and I enjoyed it. But the truth of Cho’s world lies in the small moments, the spoken word, the gentle concerns. The characters are generally polite, or at least pretend to be.

“Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking,” said Zacharias severely.

“Yes, isn’t it?” said Prunella, pleased.

The general storyline goes as such: a serious child with African lineage, Zacharias Wythe, is taken in by Sir Stephen Wythe, the Sorcerer to the Crown, at a young age and taught how to do magic. Now, Zacharias, being African, was taken from his parents, and Sir Stephen does not seem to view this as a concern. This is not glossed over and we recognize that there is a large degree of cruelty in this. On the other hand, Zacharias recognizes that he was provided food and shelter and an education, that his parents had likely become slaves, and that they may even be dead. Upon the death of Sir Stephen, before the start of the novel, Zacharias is somehow granted the staff of office and is now Sorcerer to the Crown. As you can imagine, with a novel set in Regency England, there was a bit of a fuss over a black man becoming head of the society of magic users.

The other protagonist is Prunella Gentleman. She has been a student/servant at a school designed to teach young women of fine breeding how to avoid using their magic. Further than that, the girls are taught how to repress their magical ability. Women of society, obviously, are unable to handle magic due to their weak frames. Your average peasant witch is right and fine, but women of breeding certainly shouldn’t do it. Prunella is not necessarily a woman of breeding: her father appeared at Mrs. Daubeney’s school one day with the child, and through a series of events, she winds up living there as not-quite a student and not-quite a servant. She is half-Indian, you see, or half-Native as they say here. And because she was left with nothing, her position has been impossible to quantify. We soon discover, however, that she was left a few things after all. A few important, dangerous, wonderful things.

The story really begins when Zacharias goes to the school to speak to the young women about magic.

There is a romantic component to this novel, as one might suspect from a book with the trappings of an Austen novel. There are also many small, clever, enjoyable moments.

For a moment a fragile silence reigned over the Hall–a quiet composed of pure astonishment. It was broken by a deep, bubbling, delighted laugh, issuing from Damerell’s corner of the room.

“I have never been so happy to have risen before noon,” said Damerell.

My biggest gripe about the book is that it was about 100 pages too short. I wish there had been more to the plot: further twists and turns, a grand adventure. But that wasn’t the book. I would like to note that there is magic here. This isn’t a book in which magic is discussed but never used. Spells are cast, murders are attempted. There are ghosts and familiars and lamia and many other creatures. This is all used to good effect.

This was an enjoyable work, one with much beauty and thoughtful bons mots; a work with history and language and surprises and polite love. I’m excited to one day get my hands on the second book in the series.

If you’re interesting in purchasing this delightfully improper adventure, here is a link: Amazon Link

Review: The Blood Guard (#1 & 2)

Review: The Blood Guard (#1 & 2) published on
The Blood Guard by Carter Roy
The Blood Guard by Carter Roy

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I never could resist a good adventure story.

Carter Roy has thrown his hat into the ring of adolescent male adventure books, and it looks like he’s a major contender. Like Percy Jackson, Evelyn Ronan Truelove (he is a guy, I swear) is thrown into a supernatural situation almost right off the bat. Also like Percy Jackson, Ronan (as he wishes to be called) has family ties that lead him into danger.

In some ways, this series is a lot like other middle-grade adventure books, complete with a surprise twist. But in other ways, it is far superior. While Riordan, author of Percy Jackson, exposed a fanatic interest in mythology, Roy exposes an interest in quantum physics and philosophy. This is what catapults the books from engaging to must-reads for the younger crowd.

Blood Guard sets things up nicely. It exposes the underlying philosophy. There are thirty six Pure souls in the world, and the job of the Blood Guard is to ensure their safety, that they might never know how many people belonging to the organization the Bend Sinister want them dead. They are meant to live simple lives of grace and happiness, while others (some with supernatural powers) risk their lives and sacrifice all to ensure this happens. Carter Roy knows his audience (he was an editor for many years, so it is no surprise that his debut novel is confident and well-paced); seeds are planted and grown.

In The Glass Gauntlet these story seeds begin to sprout. It is here that Carter Roy begins to really show off his originality in weaving these different elements together. After the madcap adventures of the first book, the three main kid characters are sent to a ghost town in order to begin training to be one of the Blood Guards. If it reads like they’re in a holding pattern, it’s because they are: the story quickly moves them to a weird competition. The story devolves into spoiler territory from there, but I will say that Glass Gauntlet does not suffer either sophomore book syndrome or middle book in a trilogy syndrome.

Speaking of it being part of a trilogy, I only just found that out, and I am both surprised and disappointed. It feels like there is so much story possibility here – how can I be absolutely certain that Ronan, Greta, and Sammy will be safe if their (complex) story ends after a paltry three books? I can’t, that’s how. I need more Ronan Truelove books, Carter Roy!

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik published on

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I’ve spent almost my entire life pursuing fairy tales, and fairy tale retellings. I love the most famous, from Sleeping Beauty to the Little Mermaid; I love the lesser-knowns, like Snow White and Rose Red, the Snow Queen, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon. And I love the ones that no one else really talks about, like Donkeyskin. Oscar Wilde has a fantastic collection of tales, as does Herman Hesse. I love Scandinavian fairy tales, German fairy tales, Irish fairy tales, etc. If it’s the kind of story that used to be told around a family fire, then I love it.

I am always on the look-out for more fairy tales (seriously, if you can think of any, comment on this post!), so when I had the chance to read Naomi Novik’s Uprooted before it came out (I know it’s out already, this was several months ago), I took it. Then I sat down and gobbled up the entire book in one sitting, in exactly the same manner that a greedy little kid eats a bowl of ice cream.

 

It was delicious.

Like all good fairy tales, it includes a Call to Adventure; namely, Agnieszka is chosen in a ritual enacted by the mysterious wizard they call the dragon, even though everyone in the village thought another girl was meant to be chosen. She is taken away from her friends and family, and lives in a dark old tower with a man who shouts at her, forces her to work on magic, and seems generally very grumpy at having her there. Here at the beginning, there are echoes of Beauty and the Beast between Agnieszka and her dragon. She has some prejudices, like what does he do with the women he takes from the village every ten years? (The answer is a shocker) The story unfolds with a hazy, dreamy quality that suits the kind of story it is trying to tell.

Novik has an excellent style, and her pacing is terrific. I never once got bored with Agnieszka’s story – there was no time to. Novik did not waste a single scene, yet maintained the fairy tale style.

It is not a direct retelling of anything. Agnieszka is her own self, not an avatar of some other fairy tale girl whose story I know like the back of my hand. At the most there are echoes, like the scenes that evoke Beauty and the Beast. Baba Yaga is a character, but this is not at all a traditional Baba Yaga story. The woods of this book are as frightening as the woods Hansel and Gretel got lost in. It is as though Novik used the basic ingredients of her beloved Polish fairy tales, and combined them to create something new and beautiful.

I am dying for more books set in this same world, with different characters taking the lead. There is so much she left open, so much she could do with it. What’d the greedy little kid who finished his bowl of ice cream say? “More, please.”

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was published by Del Ray on May 19th 2015.

Review and Giveaway: The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic

Review and Giveaway: The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic published on

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First thing: that’s a hell of a cover.

Second thing: stick around through the completion of the review because Angry Robot has supplied us with 5 COPIES of The Dragon Engine to give away. According to Angry Robot, the books can be shipped internationally. One winner per household. 5 total winners.

REVIEW

I don’t typically read Grimdark. I have seen George R. R. Martin listed as a Grimdark author, and I’ve read him. Some others, too. However, after reading Remic’s The Dragon Engine, I’m starting to wonder if Martin’s monochrome rainbow of humiliation and violence isn’t nearly grim or dark enough for the classification. Martin’s characters–well, some of them–have redeemable qualities. There isn’t much to redeem many of the characters of The Dragon Engine. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, necessarily.

The first chapter doesn’t really prepare the reader for what eventually comes in this novel. It started out feeling  a little bit like a Dragonlance book: adventurers meet together in a tavern to reminisce about the good old days in the military. They plan an epic adventure together, to journey to the supposedly abandoned Dwarven kingdom to retrieve some priceless artifacts that just might provide immortality.

We have the bombastic, axe-wielding warrior, Beetrax the Axeman. The best of all archers, Talon.  The swift ninja assassin, Sakora. The lordling swordsman and former Champion of the Guard, Dake, and his not-good-enough-for-daddy wife, Jonti Tal, a former soldier as well. And finally, the magical healer, Lillith, whose gentle femininity is a foil to Beetrax’s masculine bravado. This first chapter reminds me an awful lot of some well-written Pathfinder campaigns I have witnessed. It isn’t particularly dark or grim. The book can go anywhere from here. And it goes dark.

From this point forward, though, we’ve got some really heavy stuff happening. Rape, abuses of power, torture porn, psychopaths coming out the wazoo, and hyper-violence: brains and blood and guts galore. Warriors reciting cheesy poetry, a Church of Hate and a Church of Purity, assassins and slavery and plentiful use of the sort of language my mom used when I was growing up. The sort that got Zest bar soap, or maybe Irish Spring, rubbed into my teeth if I repeated it. You know the sort.

The abandoned places are not abandoned. The Dwarves have been driven by an intense form of isolationism, germinated by their former status as the slaves to men. The Dwarves, though, have in turn ensaved the Dragons. And the dragons are not pleased.

Everything here is amplified: the hate is the deepest hate, the pain is the most excruciating pain, the love is the loveist doveyiest love, the death is the bloodiest death.

Ultimately, I need to say that this wasn’t my sort of book. I read a lot of epic fantasy, military fantasy, modern and urban fantasy. I wasn’t sure what to expect here, but this wasn’t it. I think there are some people who will love this book, and I hope they read it. There’s a lot here to like, and I know several people who would hack off their left arm for a copy of this book.

The Dragon Engine is written by Andy Remic. It is published by Angry Robots Books. Release date: September 1, 2015.

Purchase The Dragon Engine at AMAZON.

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Review: Hunter

Review: Hunter published on 4 Comments on Review: Hunter

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The unique thing about Lackey’s latest novel, Hunter, is that it checks a lot of the current cultural boxes in the science fiction, fantasy, and young adult “genres.” The novel is in the first-person POV, following a teen female protagonist monster-hunter in a post-apocalyptic world beset by The Folk (tall, lithe, highly intelligent monsters) and other frightening creatures from old fairy tales and religious texts.

Most of the Othersiders are monsters: Drakkens, Kraken, Leviathans, Gogs and Magogs, Furies, Harpies, things we don’t even have names for. Things that belong to myths and religions from all over the world, and things that don’t match anything at all.”

Joyeaux Charmand  is a teen Hunter who grew up in a Monastery in the Rocky Mountains, was trained to be a Hunter by a wandering Zapotec Hunter and a Tibetan Buddhist, and happens to be the niece of Apex City’s current Prefect. There are actually many Hunters living at the Monastery, though there should only be one per region, other than in the major cities. The rest of the Hunters are kept secret, as any excess Hunters found will be sent to Apex City to be on their own highly edited television channel while protecting the Cits, or regular folk in the cities. Nobody in power wants the Cits to know how bad things really are. And things are definitely bad.

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