Tag Archives: dragons

Seraphina

Hartman, Rachel. Seraphina (2012). Random House. 467 Pages. $10.99

Seraphina by Rachel HartmanFrom the Author’s Website

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

First Lines

I remember being born.

In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe.

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A Tale of Two Castles

Levine, Gail Carson. A Tale of Two Castles (2011).336 Pages. Harper Collins. $16.99*

This review is pre-release: It comes out May 10, 2011

Ella Enchanted was one of my favorite childhood books. My mom gave it to me for Christmas in 1998– she’s big on writing dates in books which are gifts– and I’ve read it so many times that a few pages are loose, the spine is falling to pieces, and it’s stained all over. I’ve got an abiding love for Gail Carson Levine, in part because of Ella Enchanted, and in part because she’s got a knack for writing magical stories which children are guaranteed to love.

Synopsis

Twelve year-old Elodie has just set out on her first adventure, and her first step toward adulthood. It is time for her to head to Two Castles and become an apprentice, though she cannot afford a short apprenticeship, so she must commit to the 10-year “free” term. Despite her parent’s wishes– that she apprentice to a weaver, Elodie seeks out an apprenticeship with the Two Castles mansioners.

Things don’t go according to plan, and Elodie soon finds herself working for the dragon Meenore and brushing up on her skills of “deduction, induction, and common sense.” But something is wrong in Two Castles, and Elodie’s job will not be as easy as it first seemed.

First Lines

Mother wiped her eyes on her sleeve and held me tight. I wept onto her shoulder. She released me while I went on weeping. A tear slipped into the strait through a crack in the wooden dock. Salt water to salt water, a drop of me in the brine that would separate me from home.

Father’s eyes were red. He pulled me into a hug, too. Albin stood to the side a few feet and blew his nose with a honk. He could blow his nose a dozen ways. A hong was the saddest.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense, Young Adult Fiction

Tortall and Other Lands (Anthology)

Pierce, Tamora. Tortall and Other Lands (2011). 369 Pages. Random House. $18.99

Tortall and Other Lands CoverI pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard it was being written. Then, the day I got it, I tore through it. Way too much fun to read this particular anthology. It was made even more bittersweet by the fact that it had a teaser for Mastiff in the back.

For Pierce fans, there are a few old, familiar characters. You might remember Aly and Nawat (Trickster’s Choice & Trickster’s Queen) and Daine & Numair (Wild Magic, Wolf Speaker, etc.)*. There are cameos of characters who you might not remember at first, because they weren’t huge, but they were cool.

So, onto brief summaries and story-specific comments. I’ll try to keep them spoiler-free.

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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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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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A Hidden Magic

Vande Velde, Vivian. A Hidden Magic (1997). 176 Pages. Magic Carpet Books. $6.95

We got a lot of new books at work, and this was one of many that I grabbed off the shelf. I expected a few laughs, and some silliness, and this book delivered. It’s certainly not deep, and it was a quick read.* It’s funny in the same way that The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is funny; an Improper Princess goes on an adventure and picks up a sidekick along the way.

Once upon a time– before kings and queens were replaced by an act of Congress and when kissing a frog still sometimes resulted in more than a case of warts– there lived a young princess named Jennifer.

Now Jennifer was not your average beautiful princess living in a magnificent palace. In fact, she was actually rather plain and shy, with the chubby, good-natured kind of face parents tend to call nice… (1)

Jennifer is your standard Improper Princess, who unfortunately falls for a very pretty Handsome Prince. Of course, he’s incredibly selfish and self-centered, and when he encounters Jennifer as she does the laundry, he doesn’t even help her carry it. (Though, because he is so handsome, Jennifer doesn’t seem to mind.)

Unfortunately, Jennifer is so besotted with the handsome prince that she doesn’t realize he’s an idiot, so when he suggests that they go into an enchanted forest, she agrees. It’s no surprise that they get lost, and is even less surprising that when they find a cottage, prince Alexander gets bespelled. (By a mirror, because he can’t help staring into it, and then tries to steal it.) Unlike Alexander, Jennifer has a bit of common sense, and goes to find some help.

The first person Jennifer comes across in her exploration of the wood is the Old Witch, who lives in a cave and talks to her magic pool. Things don’t go quite right, and everyone else Jennifer meets is just as odd as the Old Witch. Eventually, because this is fairy-tale based, prince Alexander is saved, and everyone lives happily ever after.

In Conclusion:

A Hidden Magic is a lighthearted fantasy adventure for kids. The story is well-written, and fun. The pacing is good, and it keeps going along without being too fast. If it were targeted at an older group (than elementary school), it would be a little sparse, but for beginning readers who want chapter books and fun stories, this book is ideal. (It also manages to stay interesting for adult readers) It gets a 4/5.

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* I’m a pretty fast reader, so I finished it in a little over an hour. I think most adult readers could tear through it in 3 or less hours.

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You only have until tomorrow to enter, if you’re interested in a free book! I’ll be deciding the winner tomorrow (July 30th) at about 9pm PST, so be sure you comment by then! (I’ll even waive the haiku/limerick requirement, if you find it intimidating, or are hesitating because of that.)

Click here to go to the give-away!

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Humor

Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits

McKinley, Robin & Dickinson, Peter. Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits (2009). 297 Pages. Penguin Young Readers. $19.99

I never really thought about the possibility that a husband & wife team could actually write together in a cohesive way. I suppose I was working under the theory that one would ride on the other’s coattails, and the book would be a failure. Clearly, that was a poor assumption, as both Peter Dickinson and Robin McKinley are strong writers in their own right, and both have brought significant contributions to this anthology.

There are five stories in this volume, though there might once have been six. But that was before both Sunshine and Chalice became full-length novels, instead of  novellas or short stories, suitable for inclusion. Three stories are by Peter Dickinson; “Phoenix,” “Fireworm,” and “Salamander man.” Two are by Robin McKinley; “Hellhound” and “First flight.” I have to say that I loved every single story, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite.

The volume opens with “Phoenix,” which takes a while to really unravel, but as it moves along, it reveals itself nicely. In a park in England there is a small preserve- Dave’s Wood. It is here that Ellie meets a boy, one who knows far more about the animals and trees in that little patch of forest than any child has time to know. The story isn’t about Ellie, rather, it is revealed to her by the Phoenix’s companions. There’s a lot going on, and there are a few surprises (though more of the “ooh, that’s nice” than the “omg what just happened” variety.) It was well-written, and very nicely paced.

I’m clearly biased to like Robin McKinley’s stories, so I doubt it’s a surprise that I loved “Hellhound.” Especially since I read her blog, and know that she refers to her own dogs as Hellhounds.*Our main character is Miri, a teenage girl who grew up helping at her family’s stable– cleaning, helping with horses, teaching riding lessons, and leading trail rides. Things begin to change when Miri graduates high school, and goes to the pound to adopt a dog. There she meets Flame, a dog she calls “hellhound” because of his solid red eyes. Some rather magical things happen, and Miri’s relationship with Flame enables her to save her brother from death.

If I had to say I had a least-favorite story in this volume, it would be “Fireworm,” which is about a rather primitive tribe and their nemesis; the fireworm. Tandin is an outcast in his tribe, because nobody knows his father, because of this, he holds no rank, and must sleep further from the fire than any other man in the tribe. Perhaps it is because he is so far from the fire that he wakes one night, to realize that the fireworm has appeared beneath their fire. He manages to save the tribe, and learns that he is to become a spirit walker– a sort of shaman. Because of insights he gains in the spirit world, he is able to help his tribe to defeat the fire worm at last. There are emotional consequences for characters, and I’m not sure I really liked the story. There were too many chances for Tandin to change course, chances which he ignored in favor of killing.

After “Fireworm” came “Salamander man” which was an interesting story. Tib has always known a life of slavery, and he has always served Aunt Ellila– a fact in which he was lucky, as the old woman actually cared for him. He helps her with her market stall, moving it, assembling it, and guarding it for her every day. Everything changes when a magician arrives, and forces Aunt Ellila to sell Tib. Desperately, the old woman gives Tib the one thing she can give; a salamander arm-band. However, despite the fact that most magicians are evil, this one is not, and has other plans for Tib. A lot of this story is told, rather than shown, but I feel like it’s solid nonetheless. The story was interesting, and I found myself caring what happened to Tib, and hoping things went well for the boy.

The volume closes with “First Flight” which is the longest of all the stories. Ern’s parents had his life planned out for him from the very beginning. His eldest brother Dag was to be a dragon rider. His second brother was a spiritspeaker, and Ern, the youngest son, was to be a wizard. In a lot of ways, this works out for everyone, the story isn’t about them chafing against their roles, rather, it is about how they embrace them. Though there is a middle brother, the story is more about Ern and Dag than the third sibling (whose name I cannot even recall). Ern has a talent for healing, though he denies it to himself constantly. He has a pet foogit (which is somewhere between a dog and a dragon) that he saved during its puppyhood. This ends up being very significant. A lot happens, and I don’t want to say too much about it because there is so very much to give away, but Ern goes to the Dragon Academy with his brother Dag, not quite knowing what he would do, but hoping to do something to help.

The Quick Version:

With five very solid stories by two very talented authors, this anthology is definitely worth reading. It is the second book in what should eventually become four elemental anthologies. Every story is a nice read, and they work well together as a set. It gets a solid 5/5.

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* They look almost exactly like I would expect Hellhounds to look, too.

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