Category Archives: High Fantasy

High Fantasy is traditional not-of-our-time fantasy, featuring magic. It is never set in present time on present earth.

The Blue Sword

McKinley, Robin. The Blue Sword (2000 ed.) 272 Pages. Puffin. $5.99

Harry Crewe knew from the beginning that when her parents died, she would be thrust upon the mercy of her brother Richard. (Not an entirely bad fate, as she knew her brother was a good, and dutiful man.) What Harry did not know was that when this fate eventually caught up with her, she would end up in Damar, a Homelander Colony.

When Corlath, king of the Free Hillfolk comes to warn the Homelanders of an impending war, he does not expect Harry. Despite being a girl from across the sea, something about her is unique, and it is clear that her fate lies in the Damarian Hills. Like Aerin before her, Harry has the outsider’s ability to save Damar.

First Lines:

She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here– was it only three months ago?– with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day. But she had been eager to be delighted; this was to be her home, and she wanted badly to like it, to be grateful for it– to behave well, to make her brother proud of her and Sir Charles and Lady Amelia pleased with their generosity.

Thoughts:

I think part of why I love Harry so much is because she has always reminded me of my best friend. A tall blonde, determined to be optimistic, and stubborn. As I read Harry’s story, I picture Novia, staring down desert men, wielding a sword, riding beautiful horses.

Harry’s story is an adventure of epic proportions, and she learns to love Damar with the reader. The customs are strange, the world unique, and we get to experience them through the eyes of an outsider, coming to terms with her connection to the country.

As I said when talking about The Hero and the Crown, I will not pretend to be reasonable about this book. It got me through some rough times, and was with me through some good times. It was beautiful and enthralling and no matter what mood I am in when I pick it up, I am transported to Damar, and it feels like everything will be alright.

This book gets a 5/5 and a very strong insistence that you read it.

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The Hero and the Crown

McKinley, Robin. The Hero and the Crown (2000 ed.) 246 Pages. Puffin. $5.99

Aerin is a king’s daughter, a first-sol, and an outsider in her own country. Her mother was a Northerner, a mysterious woman who many said bewitched the king. Having always been hyper-aware of her tenuous position in her father’s kingdom, Aerin has allowed herself to be pushed aside, and overlooked.

When she comes across a recipe for kenet- which promises fireproofing, even from dragons- Aerin finds a purpose. She gains a reputation for dragonslaying, but this is only the beginning of a fate which is much greater than anyone could have guessed.

First Lines:

She could not remember a time when she had not know the story; she had grown up knowing it. She supposed someone must have told her it, sometime, but she could not remember the telling. She was beyond having to blink back tears when she thought of those things the story explained, but when she was feeling smaller and shabbier than usual in the large vivid City high in the Damarian Hills she still found herself brooding about them; and brooding sometimes brought on a tight headachy feeling around her temples, a feeling like suppressed tears.

Thoughts:

This is one of those books which I have quite literally loved to pieces. I first found The Hero and the Crown during a hard time in my life– mom and I were living with a crazy landlady, and we both needed our escapes. Perhaps it is because of those memories that this book will always have a special place for me. I am completely and utterly in love with Damar, and the stories set there.

Despite the fact that The Blue Sword was written first, I always start with The Hero and the Crown, because it comes first in Damarian chronology. I love reading about Aerin* and everything she does. She might be one of my favorite heroines ever* and her story is fantastic.

I am not going to pretend to be reasonable about my love of this book, because after so long, nothing reasonable remains. As far as I am concerned, it is a brilliant story with brilliant writing and brilliant characters. If I had to complain about something, it would be that McKinley has said that there may be more Damar books but she has not written them yet.

This book gets a 5/5 and the unwavering insistence that if you like Fantasy, you should read this book.

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* I swear, it’s not because her name is so similar to mine.

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The Extra-Ordinary Princess

Ebbit, Carolyn Q. The Extra-Ordinary Princess (2009). 324 Pages. Bloomsbury. $7.99

From the Back Cover:

In the peaceful land of Gossling, there are four princesses. The three older girls are beautiful and talented and very good at everything they do– but not the fourth. Amelia’s unruly red hair, imperfect schoolwork, and disdain for anything prim and proper make her a most unlikely princess.

Then a plague sweeps through the land of Gossling, taking the lives of the girls’ parents. With Amelia’s eldest sister too young to rule, the kingdom is left in the hands of their terrifying uncle, Count Raven. But before Count Raven can cast a spell over them to protect his reign forever, Amelia escapes. Now it seems the fate of her sisters– and the kingdom of Gossling– is in the hands of a girl who will prove she is much more than ordinary.

First Lines:

On the sixth day, the queen lay dying. The afternoon was bright, and the sun peeking through the tightly drawn curtain was strong, though outside the heat of the past ten weeks has broken and it was finally fall.

For four months a terrible illness had spread through the small country of Gossling; it spread quickly through the tiny towns and villages, traveling down the long rivers and over high hills, through the country’s dense forests and into its cities. No scientist, doctor, or scholar knew how the sickness spread or how it might be cured. ….

Thoughts:

If the book had been what was suggested by the back cover, then it might have been brilliant. Indeed, the concept was a solid one; Amelia, youngest of four, struggles with a sense of self, and feelings of inadequacy. Where her sisters are talented, and everything seems effortless to them, Amelia has to work hard. She is not particularly smart, not particularly graceful, and not particularly anything. She is ordinary, and cannot handle her ordinariness.

When the plague comes to the country, Amelia’s parents send her and her sisters away to their summer home in the mountains. Finally, her parents succumb to the disease, leaving Merrill only 7 weeks shy of the 18 years-old that she needs to be in order to rule. Why they could not have disregarded this rule, I do not know. Seven weeks is not so very much difference, frankly.

So anyway, the Evil Uncle comes– you know he’s evil from the beginning, and it only gets more obvious from there. He turns Merrill into a tree, and Lily and Rose into swans. He misses Amelia, because she is still in the summer palace with chicken pox. From here, things take a steep downturn.

Amelia runs off with her friend Henry and her enemy Meg and begins her adventure in a place called the Sunflower Forest. From there, they travel quite a bit, seemingly unperturbed by the forty-day limit they have in which to save her sisters. Eventually, they end up in the Night Forest, a magical place, where Henry is given a prophesy saying that he will save the kingdom (which he never does), and Amelia gets three magical rocks which she can wish on. I put emphasis on the three because she uses it four times. (Once for Henry, once for Meg, twice for different transportation.)

When Amelia and Henry are in the Mountains, they are distressed that there are only three days left, but when they meet their allies after traveling two days, they state that there are 48 hours remaining until the curse becomes permanent.  Time remains an issue through the end of the book, as numbers are simply thrown around “two hours later” “four hours later”, “at two-fifteen in the morning” etc.

On top of all of this, there are many, many fruitless side-plots. Meg is not evil, but spoiled, and she becomes “good”, sort of. Amelia is dyslexic, but it only shows up in one chapter. The plague ends after her parents die, but nobody ever speculates as to its source or purpose, and later in the book, someone mentions checking the progress of the plague. The title “White Queen” is thrown around quite a bit, but at times it seems it is meant to be secret, and at times it seems to be public knowledge. Amelia and her sisters have their own magic, but it rarely manifests itself, except when convenient. Henry is a gardener’s son, but the queen took an interest in him and nursed him herself, making him Amelia’s “milk twin” but this is never really explained.

There is so much going on in this book that at times it seems to lose track of itself, which is unfortunate, because it has a lot of potential. The concept is good, and with a few less distracting side-plots, and some more focus on fixing inconsistencies, it could have actually been a good book. In part, it was the writing, and in part it was the editing which doomed this book to score a 2/5.

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Pegasus

McKinley, Robin. Pegasus (Nov 2, 2010). 404 Pages. Putnam. $18.99

Once upon a time, humans forged an alliance with Pegasi (who are not winged horses), to share a beautiful, fertile land. Generations later, this alliance is still upheld in practice through the binding of the two royal families. Princess Sylviianel is the youngest of her family, and the last to get bound to her pegasus.

Princess Sylvi, who has never enjoyed the spotlight, finds herself at the center of everything, when it turns out that she can speak to Ebon without the aid of a translator. Their bond is deep from the moment they first meet, but there is a chance that it will threaten everything.

First Lines:

Because she was a princess she had a pegasus.

This had been a part of the treaty between the pegasi and the human invaders nearly a thousand years ago, shortly after humans had first struggled through the mountain passes beyond the wild lands and discovered a beautiful green country they knew immediately they wanted to live in.

Thoughts:

I’ve been waiting for Pegasus since it was first mentioned as a story which had grown too long to be part of the Air anthology. I’ve been waiting, and reading snippets, and longing for the day it would come out, and even when I was warned that it would end in a cliffhanger, I knew that I would devour it when it came out, because I have never read a McKinley book I did not love.

The cliffhanger killed me, by the way.

This book was beautiful and brilliant and heartwarming and heartwrenching and everything I had hoped for and more. Sylvi and Ebon’s relationship is so beautiful and perfectly written that I could not put the book down. It is clear from the beginning who the Bad Guy will be, though he is not the only bad thing going on. It is clear from the fact that it is about royalty that there will be political turmoil. There are so many things which are so important which are hinted at, but never quite explained.

I was not surprised when I got to the last page. I had sort of expected its direction from about the middle of the book, and there is this sense of something big looming on the horizon. And then it was the last page, and I just wanted more, but the rest will have to wait, because “Pegasus II” as it is currently called is still a part of the distant future.

This book certainly calls for the same thing most McKinley books call for– patience. She takes the time to build her worlds, so the adventure is that much more thrilling, because it is grounded in a solid world. Her characters never fall flat, because in such a real world, they could not be anything less than real themselves. However, sometimes several chapters may be devoted to the beginning, which can seem slow to many, but man, it’s so worth it.

For being so brilliant, this volume gets a 5/5. (I would give it a 6, but that might set a bad precedent…) Despite the agony of the cliffhanger, it is good that the story was not forced into a single volume, and was rather split, in order to do it proper justice.

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Wolf Tower

Lee, Tanith. Wolf Tower (1998). 223 Pages. Puffin. $6.99

The Claidi Journals: Book 1

There is the House and Gardens, and then there is the Waste. Claidi is bored and miserable, she serves the awful Lady Jade Leaf, and is trapped by the Rules and Rituals of the House. Should she dare to deviate, speak out, or disregard a Rule or Ritual, she could find herself banished to the Waste.

That isn’t seeming like such a bad fate, at the moment. Especially if she gets to make her escape with the handsome Prince Nemian. What awaits her in the Waste is not what she expected, and Claidi, free at last, learns more about herself and her world with every day.

First Lines:

Yes.

I stole this. This book.

I don’t know why. It looked… nice, I suppose, and nothing has been  nice for years. Well, not often.

It was in h er stationery chest, out of which she sometimes makes us– mostly me– get her a piece of silk paper or thick parchment. Then she doodles a few stupid lines of awful “poetry.” Or a foul painting, like used washing-water in the Maids’ Hall with something dropped in it– lime juice or jam. And then we all have to applaud. “Oh! How clever you are, Lady Jade Leaf. What bright-shining genius!” Because she”s royal. And we are not. Oh no. We couldn’t ever do anything wonderful like that.

Thoughts

Claidi’s world is simultaneously similar to (they have ice cream) and different from (there are still roving bandits and places like the House) our world, which can be tricky to pull off. It is, however, well done.

Claidi herself is a very interesting character; she starts off as a rather meek maid, and grows in determination and personality as her story progresses. At first, things just happen to her, but by the end of the book, she seems ready to make decisions for herself. At times, Claidi is inconsistent; on one page, she says that she is not good at science, on another she talks about the microclimate of the House and how it disrupts storms. But, for the most part, the issues are easily overlooked.

As a whole, with an endearing character who grows into an interesting character, the book is well worth reading. It gets a 4/5.

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Book of a Thousand Days

Hale, Shannon. Book of a Thousand Days (2007). 304 Pages. Bloomsbury. $17.95

The Synopsis:

Unlucky Dashti was hopeful when she learned that she would be lady’s maid to the beautiful Lady Saren. Unfortunately for Dashti, her first day of work resulted in her imprisonment in a tower with Lady Saren– they will be there for seven years, or until Saren agrees to marry Lord Khasar. As a contrast to the dark, cruel Lord Khasar, there is Khan Tegus– a man Saren has pledged herself to.

Dashti is resourceful and practical, and has every intention of getting them out of the tower alive, which would be easier if Lady Saren would help. Neither girl has any idea of what awaits them at the end of their time in the tower, and as their food dwindles, they begin to wonder if they will even last that long.

First Lines:

Day 1

My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years.

Lady Saren is sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, and hasn’t moved even to scratch for an hour or more. Poor thing. It’s a shame I don’t have fresh yak dung or anything strong-smelling to scare the misery out of her.

Thoughts:

Based off of Grimm’s “Maid Maleen,” and set in a Mongolia-esque country, Book of a Thousand Days is Dashti’s story, told in journal form. Dashti is a survivor, and against all odds, she has the determination and character to persevere, which is what makes her interesting. Coupled with that determination, however, is a sense of worthlessness; Dashti honestly feels that she has no value beyond her role as Saren’s servant, and it makes her frustrating, at times.

The world is interesting, Dashti’s voice unique, the entire concept brilliantly executed. Saren can be more than a little frustrating at times, as can Dashti’s self-deprecation, when it is clear that she is worth much more than she knows.

Book of a Thousand Days scores a 4.5/5, because it’s brilliant, but the girls could be frustrating.

I really loved this book, however, and it made me want to pick up Tanith Lee’s Claidi books again.

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Rampant

Peterfreund, Diana. Rampant (2009). 402 Pages. HarperTeen. $8.99

I was first introduced to Diana Peterfreund’s man-eating unicorns in Kiss Me Deadly, which is when I knew I had to read Rampant. I didn’t bother even reading the back of the book, I just jumped in. I was not expecting what I got:

“‘I will never really leave,’ said the unicorn. Diamond sparkles floated from the tip of its glittering silver horn. ‘I will always live in your heart'”

I swallowed the bile rising in my throat and forced myself to continue reading.

“Then the unicorn turned and galloped away, its fluffy pink tail swinging merrily as it spread its iridescent wings to the morning sunshine.”

Oh, no. Not wings, too.

“Every time the unicorn’s lavender hooves touched the earth, a tinkling like the chime of a thousand fairy bells floated back toward the children.”

Having just read a story about man-eating unicorns, this was not at all what I expected to find on page 1. I closed the book, walked away for a few minutes, then came back and gave it another go. This time, I got what I was expecting.

Astrid Llewelyn never thought her mother’s crazy stories about unicorns were true. When one attacks her boyfriend in the woods, she has no choice but to believe. Unicorns– previously thought extinct, even by her mother– are back with a vengeance, and Astrid will learn much more about her heritage than she ever knew.

Before she’s really had time to process, Astrid — a descendant of Alexander the Great, and thus a hunter– is on her way to Rome to study unicorn hunting at the Cloisters of the Order of the Lioness. Of course, since the last unicorn was killed several hundred years before, the Cloisters have fallen into disrepair, but that might be the least of their worries. Other hunters need to be found, a task which is easier said than done, as they must not only be descendants, but they must also be virgins (a rarity in teen girls this day and age.) Astrid (and the other girls) must learn to fight like true unicorn hunters, or they will die.

I loved this book. I was totally a unicorn girl when I was little. Our games would go something like: “I’m a princess, and I have a unicorn who’s sky blue with sparkly pink wings and purple mane and tail and her horn is silver and she’s super special because she’s a unicorn princess… … … etc etc etc” A few hours later, when we were done describing our unicorns, we could get to playing our game. I’m not sure I ever really outgrew that phase. I do love that this manages to be completely unexpected; who would think of unicorns as carnivorous and evil? I know I wouldn’t have. I also love the modern setting because Astrid’s disbelief mirrors the reader’s own.

Astrid manages to grow from the beginning to the end, and she transforms into a true warrior. She’s got her problems along the way, and she’s not always happy with her choices, but she keeps going. I really liked that about her.

In Conclusion:

With what can only be called a unique approach to unicorns, Diana Peterfreund manages to make Rampant a special book about butt-kicking teenage girls. It’s firmly based in real mythology, and despite the fantastical beasts, feels like something a lot of teens could go through. It gets a 5/5 because it was that good.

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Kiss Me Deadly (Anthology) Part 2

Telep, Trisha (Editor). Kiss Me Deadly (2010). 430 Pages. RunningPress. $9.95

Review: Part 2 (Part 1, Part 3)

Because I have so very much to say about all of the stories in this anthology, I’ve opted to break it into parts. You can find Part 1 here, though, in short, I’ll say that Diana Peterfreund’s “Errant” is excellent. I’ve been slowly enjoying the next few stories, and I figure four is enough for another post. I hadn’t heard of any of these authors before reading this anthology, but I’ll be finding more works by a few of them after this.

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Wolf-Speaker

Pierce, Tamora. Wolf Speaker (2008 ed). 344 Pages. Simon Pulse. $6.99

The Immortals: Book Two

From the back cover:

When Daine is summoned by the wolf pack that saved her life a year earlier, she and Numair travel to Dunlath Valley to answer the call. But when they arrive, Daine realizes with a shoc kthat it’s not just the animals whose lives are threatened; people are in danger too. Dunlath’s rulers have discovered black opals in their valley and are dead set on mining the magic these stones embody. Daine learns that Dunlath’s lord and lady plan to use this power to overthrow King Jonathan– even if it means irreversibly damaging te land and killing their workers.

Daine has to master her wild magic in order to save both her animal friends and her human ones.

I do like Daine, a lot. I love the idea of being able to speak to animals, or transform. Her adventures in Dunlath, however, are not my favorites. I do really like Maura of Dunlath*, and some really cool magic is used. This plot really throws you into the middle of things, which is fine if you’re familiar with Tortall, less fine if you’re picking it up for the first time. I’d strongly suggest starting with Alanna’s series, because the realm and culture are much better explained.

As much as I love Daine, I feel like her story might be one of the weakest in the series. She’s fascinating, and the plot is clever, but it’s clear that Pierce becomes a stronger writer in her later series.

In Conclusion:

This particular review has been brief, because it’s really a bridging-book. Daine learns more about herself and her powers, and we’re taught a lesson about how humans can be more horrible than real monsters. Characters and situations are set up for the plot in books 3 and 4. This book gets a 3.5/5– I really liked it, but it’s the weakest book in the series. (Books 1 and 4 are my favorites.)

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*Per Tammy’s website, Maura is likely getting her own series down the line. (Slated for 2015.)

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Kiss Me Deadly (Anthology) Part 1

Telep, Trisha (Editor). Kiss Me Deadly (2010). 430 Pages. RunningPress. $9.95

Review: Part 1 (Part 2, Part 3)

This was a definite impulse grab. I was at Borders, looking for a specific book, though at the moment I can no longer remember which book I sought. I don’t think I remembered what I was looking for then, either. When I walk into a building which contains more than a few books, I tend to get a little sidetracked. So I was staring at the Y.A. Paranormal section, feeling a little concerned for the sheer quantity of Twilight-knockoffs — we all know them, they’re the generic vampire romance that has exploded since sparkly vampires were first published — and my eye fell upon Kiss Me Deadly. I had a moment of oh dear, not another, but I’m such a fan of anthologies as a way to sample new authors that I couldn’t help picking it up.

I know it wasn’t an author’s name that grabbed me, because I have to admit that I do not know a single author from this volume. (Though I did also grab Shiver while I was there, because as a fan of romance, paranormal, and young adult, it seemed like a reasonable combo.)I think it was the Editor’s Note which opened the volume which got my attention;

Love in the time of… Zombies?

Somehow, that just doesn’t have the classic ring of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous novel Love in the Time of Cholera* …  my bet, after titles like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter**, is that this is likely in some publisher’s pipeline somewhere, probably slated for publication next year, or the year after that. (Intro)

Anyway, in a sort of gimmick-y “paranormal = horror” way, there are 13 stories in this volume. Because I do intend to talk at least a little bit about each of them, I’m going to cut this into several posts.

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