Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cast in Shadow

by Michelle Sagara

Story summary: Kaylin is the equivalent of a police woman in a fantasy city filled with interesting other races. Something from her troubled past comes back to haunt her, the strange marks on her arms start changing, and she has to team up with a man she hates and a man who's a dragon, to discover who's murdering children in the lawless city of her childhood.

Thoughts: A fun, interesting world with several intriguing aspects--including Dragons! Now that I've read Silence and Touch, I can see that Michelle Sagara has quite a distinct writing style. Reading reviews, it's obvious that some people find it fairly annoying; but in the end, although I find it somewhat distracting at times, I rather enjoy it. It can be a bit confusing, though. She doesn't explain a lot.

But it certainly looks like a promising series. There are a few too many eligible men hanging around for my taste (and not quite enough female friendship) but the romance seems like the really slow burn type, and I'm keeping an open mind about it for the present. I might end up quite liking it. Meanwhile, the diverse races and interesting politics can keep me going for a while, I think.

Grade: 3 stars

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mirror Dance

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: I don't really want to explain this plot in too much detail. Suffice it to say, it concerns Mark, who was introduced in Brothers in Arms. Thus, there is more twisty identity stuff, and lots of character development.
See the others in this series: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, Cetaganda, and Brothers in Arms.

Thoughts: Wow. This was...intense. And rather brilliant. Although I found the first bit slightly less interesting, but then everything starting from Barrayar afterwards was fascinating. It seems to be a lot of people's favourite of the series, and I can see why. The Warrior's Apprentice or The Vor Game might still be my personal favourite; I will have to do a re-read of the whole series to find out! hurrah! But this one is most certainly the darkest since the stuff with Bothari in Shards of Honor. And I mean dark in a good way; it's the gritty stuff that stays with me and makes me think.

As always with these books, it's the characters that have my heart and soul. And because much of this takes place on Barrayar, we get to see a lot of Cordelia and Aral again, as well as Gregor. And Ivan is around as always. The fascinating thing about this book was being able to see everyone from the outside, from Mark's point of view. Ivan's scenes, for instance, were amazing. I've always loved Ivan, and each book I love him more.This was definitely the best one for him yet. (I loved Cordelia's little comment about his intelligence.) And of course, we got to see Miles himself from the outside. Although I found what was most interesting was seeing the effect of Miles from the outside, as opposed to Miles himself. Here's a short paragraph concerning Miles a.k.a. Naismith (thought by Mark):

"He could always tell, instantly, when someone he met thought they were facing "Naismith." They all had that same stupid hyper-alert glow in their faces. They weren't all worshipful; he'd met some of Naismith's enemies once, but worshipful or homicidal, they reacted. As if they suddenly switched on, and became ten times more alive than ever before. How the hell did he do it? Make people light up like that? Granted, Naismith was a goddamn hyperactive, but how did he make it so freaking contagious?" (from page 315 of the Miles Errant omnibus)

Miles is one of those charismatic fictional people that reminds me a little bit of Eugenides, from Megan Whalen Turner's "Queen's Thief" series. They are "kings", in some sense of the word; they have a certain innate power over people (should they choose to exercise it). Strange, mad, brilliant people they are, and I love them. As his own mother says of him, "I grant you he's a genius, but don't you dare try to tell me he's sane." (pg. 473)

This definitely deserves its 5 star rating, for me. It encompasses the best of the character development of the series so far, which is saying something since character development is always superb in these books. And there are so many awesome little poignant scenes. For me, these are always the ones that stand out. Every once in a while I will like a book solely for its excellence overall, but it's almost always the presence of a few spectacular scenes (not really mattering what the rest of the book is like) that does it for me.

It makes me sad. Every book I finish in this series means one less book I have left to read. I also keep thinking, "Surely it must have peaked by now. The rest of the series after this book won't be as good--they can't continue being So. Darn. Good." But they do.

Note: all page numbers come from the Miles Errant omnibus.

Grade: 5 stars

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Revenge of the Witch

by Joseph Delaney

Story summary: First book in the "Last Apprentice" series. Thomas Ward leaves his home and family to become the apprentice of the Spook, an old man who deals with the supernatural. But being an apprentice, he naturally gets into trouble, and he soon comes to realize just what he has to deal with as a Spook. (Hint: there are witches. Evil, evil ones.)

Thoughts: I started reading this series because I read that it was an excellent series, and like Harry Potter, it got more adult as it went on. I did find it a bit young for me, but then, I never managed to properly read the first couple HP books either (though I consider myself a huge HP fan). So I'll continue for some books more, and see how it goes.

There did seem to be a bit of  anti-priest sentiment, and the sneak peek for the next book shows even more. It could be that there are good character reason for this--it remains to be seen--but I found it slightly annoying, and I hope there is not too much of it in future books.

Grade: 2 1/2

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Retro Friday Review: High Wizardry

by Diane Duane

Retro Friday introduction:
Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be a favourite, an under the radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print etc.

Story summary: The third book of the "Young Wizards" series, set after the events of So You Want to Be a Wizard? and Deep Wizardry. This time, it's Nita's little sister Dairine's turn. As she is only eleven, her acceptance of wizardry results in an explosion of power that sends her across the universe, to a planet of silicon where strange things are happening.

Thoughts: This is perhaps my favourite book in the entire series, tied with A Wizard Alone. Outer space! Computers! Artificial intelligence! (Except not really artificial in this case.) Emerging sentience! Learning of all the things! Everything I love, in one very exciting and well written book. Although it might take a particular kind of person to love this book as much as I do. The description of the rise of the nearby galaxy on pg. 160-2, though perhaps not poetical and interesting enough to quote here, moved me greatly. So did the whole part where Dairine first began interacting with the aforementioned emerging sentience. Man, as a computer nerd, that was amazingly cool.

Page 333 describes, in more poetical terms, this series's idea of heaven: Timeheart. "[A] reality that burned like fire but still was sweeter than water after thirst, and fed the thirst itself, and quenched it again in delight and more desire; a state so much more solid and real than mere physical being and thought that Nita held on to herself for delight and terror, afraid she would fade away in the face of it like a mist in full sun. Yet she wanted to see and feel more of it--for she knew that there was more. How many more realities like this, piled one on another in splendor, towered up into the burning depths of creation, each more concrete, more utterly real than the last?"
I found it interesting how similar some of these ideas sound to C. S. Lewis, especially the idea of "heaven" as described in The Great Divorce: it is more solid and concrete, more real than this reality. Part of it also sounds a little like the "further up and further in" idea from The Last Battle.

Also, a quick little note that isn't really important to anything: on pg. 114 there is a quick conversation with an alien where he says he comes from "Earth", and Dairine remembers that most sentient creatures call their planet "earth" or "the world" or something. Which totally makes sense. It has been a small pet peeve of mine that often in scifi/fantasy, the planets all have strange names, and are called thus even by the inhabitants of the planet. All except Earth, which is called Earth by everyone, including aliens. Biased, much?

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Brothers in Arms

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: Miles already has to deal with a dual personality in the form of Lord Vorkosigan/Admiral Naismith. And now a clone is added to the mix. So this is a pretty twisty book, with clones pretending to be lords pretending to be mercenaries.
See the others in this series: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, Cetaganda.

Thoughts: These are books I know I'll love. Every single one of them so far has been amazing and gripping and memorable. Perhaps this one slightly less so than some of the others, especially now that I've read Mirror Dance as well, which has some of the characteristics of this book, but is more amazing.

A few comments on the characters this time round: there is more awesome Miles of course, more Ivan (Ivan! I am terribly fond of Ivan. He might be my favourite character-that-isn't-Miles--except then I remember Gregor and Cordelia and Botheri...). Elli Quinn was interesting, but I think I'd like her a lot more if we could have had her point of view more. As it is, Cordelia is the only one of Bujold's female characters that I really like (so far). But I really like Cordelia, so that makes up for a lot.

Grade: 4 stars

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Maze Runner

by James Dashner

Story summary: Thomas wakes up in an dark box, with absolutely no memory of his life at at all. The box is opened, and he discovers himself in a small community of male teenagers, surviving in a enclosed area, outside of which is a huge, inescapable maze full of monsters.

Thoughts: This reminded me a lot of what I liked best about LOST: you start knowing absolutely nothing about anything, and slowly gather bits of information, although that doesn't help you much since everything is so strange and weird, and every new clue reveals a whole new set of questions. There were also a lot of similarities to the Gone series by Michael Grant, with teenagers struggling to survive on their own (and mostly failing). However, it was quite a bit lighter than both of those in some ways. Mostly just light and fun (despite the somewhat gruesome deaths) and full of intriguing mysteries. I didn't become attached to any of the characters, and there wasn't exactly much depth. I'd like to continue the series some time to get more answers (hopefully--unless it's too much like LOST), but I'm not rushing out to get them immediately.

Grade: 3 stars