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Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

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I heard about Dark Eden probably close to a year ago. The blurb definitely intrigued me. It describes a population of humans on sunless planet where light comes not from the sky, but from the things that live and grow there. It’s a story of one young man breaking from the confines of the group, determined to explore the Dark that surrounds where they live and change the way their world thinks and acts. So why didn’t I read this sooner? It certainly got a lot of praise in the UK, winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel in 2013 and was a British Science Fiction Association Award Nominee for Best Novel in 2012. Well, while it was busy doing well in the UK, it was not released in the US. Until today, that is.

So, now that I have my hands on a copy of this book, what do I think? Does it live up to the hype? Hmmm. I suspect that will depend on who you are. It is different different. Personally, I quite enjoyed it.  The world was eerie, yet had a beauty to it. Light (and not just white light, but variable colors of light) comes from trees and flowers. The trees also provide heat hot enough to burn. There are strange creatures that live here. Becket does an absolutely wonderful job creating this alien world. The foreign feel of the place is further enhanced by Beckett’s prose and the speech of the people there. It does a great job of helping the reader feel that this is not just a group of humans that just landed, but a new culture that has evolved as it has grown in this place. Words are often repeated to add emphasis (hence, my earlier use of ‘different different’), words, particularly ones that have to do with the technology back on Earth like ‘electricity’, are misspelled for phonetic mispronunciations that have evolved over generations.

The book is also a dark exploration of human society, how groups, laws, traditions evolve. Our protagonist, John Redlantern, feels his group is stuck and should evolve and adapt. He feels confined and restricted and pushes for change. His character, while able to push for change, is quite flawed. It’s nice to see a character that could have easily turned into a golden boy destined and able to save the world struggle. It also adds to the darkness of the book quite a bit.

I love dark books, and though the prose, particularly the speech patterns of the people of Eden, took a little bit for me to get used to, I really enjoyed this book. And it is worth getting used to the speech, because it really does add to the impact of the book. So, anyone looking for a dark dystopian science fiction book with a flawed protagonist, definitely give this one a go.

 

Dark Eden is released today,  April 1st 2014, in the US by Crown Publishing/Broadway Books. Many thanks to the Crown Publishing/Broadway Books and NetGalley for the ARC in return for my honest review. 

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Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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I have to admit that Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was quite an enjoyable read. There are dragons, there is murder, there is intrigue and there are secrets. And our protagonist, Seraphina, finds herself in the middle of it all while trying her hardest to not be noticed. Why does she not want to be noticed? Because Seraphina has a dangerous secret that makes her feel an outsider within her world, a secret that could bring her world crumbling down.

Seraphina is an intriguing character. She is a wonderfully talented musician and has a strong and forthright personality. She lives in a society where humans have been living in peace with dragons, for forty years. The dragons live amongst them and maintain a human form. But a story of easily maintained peace would likely be a boring story, wouldn’t it? So when a much loved member of the royal family is found dead, with the cause of death looking suspiciously like dragon, the four decades of peace become threatened and our story unfolds.

To be honest, I am not always a fan of YA, but because of this, I am actually quite happy when I read one that works for me (I hate to say I NEVER like something, so evidence to the contrary is always welcome. I don’t want to become closed to any category or genre). This was absolutely an exception. Hartman’s writing is wonderful. Her world is interesting and Seraphina’s character was just fun to read. Figuring out her secret and her motivations as well as puzzling out how and why she is different was enjoyable.

Especially for the YA crowd, I think there are some great themes within here as well. The parallels between the dragon/human relations and any segment of society that experiences prejudice are great. I guess really, it’s just an us versus them type of story that can be related to any us versus them issues (race, gender, sexual orientation, geographic locations, geeky subcultures, etc). It all comes down to tolerance, acceptance and understanding basic rights and feelings.

It is also the story of an outsider finding her place. Everyone can feel isolated, different, misunderstood. I know this is not uncommon in books, particularly YA books, but I also think sometimes it is handled better than others, and in this case, it is done quite well and is a good option for the YA crowds.

I think another reason why I enjoyed this more than other YA books is that the vocabulary and style was not overly simplified. It does have some characteristics common to YA books, but I also never felt like the book was for small children or compromised any details in an effort to make it easy for younger readers. Just because a book is YA does not mean that it has to restrict its vocabulary to a fourth grade level, and it is nice to see a book that is good for younger readers, but yet is not approaching them as simpletons. And I don’t really mean that as an insult to the YA category. I am sure there are many other great examples of books that don’t do this, but I have seen ones that do, and enjoyed this one for not.

So, to any fan of YA books, I would strongly recommend this book, and to those of you that are a bit leery of them, you may just find yourself enjoying this one as I did if you give it a chance.

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The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D’Lacey

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If you read my review of Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey, or saw it listed as one of my favorite books of 2013, you won’t be surprised to know that I I was eagerly awaiting The Book of the Crowman (the second half of the Black Dawn Duology). It can be hard to read a follow up to a book that you thought so highly of. There is always concern that if the second book doesn’t live up to your expectations, how to handle an honest review without sounding so negative that the entire series sounds unworthy of being read

To get to the point, what I found was a bit more of a mixed bag for me than Black Feathers was. I wish I could write another gushy review and tell everyone they must go read this book, but I can’t quite do that. To be fair, I had high expectations, so there was a lot to be accomplished to live up to them. I’ll start with what worked very well. Gordan’s character has grown and developed. I love that D’Lacey did not turn him into some faultless hero. Even in the beginning of the book, Gordan’s pursuit for the Crowman and his fight against the Ward have made him practically a living legend. But with every act for his cause, there is still a price, there is darkness that comes and becomes a part of Gordon. This is not a book that glorifies death count of the enemy.

I also really enjoyed the how the story unfolded, learning the origin of the Crowman as well as the Keepers. I love the folklore feel of it and the mystery it presents as we watch the two main protagonist’s stories unfold, waiting for them to intersect in some way. But I have to be honest here. It took me almost halfway through the book before I was very intrigued by Megan’s storyline. Once I got to that point, I felt it flowed as well as it did in the first book, so I quite enjoyed the second half. But I also have to say that is way too long and ask ‘why was that’? I honestly think that it was because her sections felt way too preachy.

D’Lacey is obviously an activist, and I certainly don’t want to fault the book for having a message. But, in Black Feathers, there was also a strong environmental message, perhaps some found that one too preachy, but I did not, I quite enjoyed it. The Book of the Crowman would have really benefited with a bit more subtlety with its message instead of being so heavy handed with it. Showing instead of telling could go a long way here. Megan’s chapters are the ones that really laid it all out there.

The one other area I found a bit troubling was a sudden switch to first person from a secondary character’s POV. This was very strange, a bit jarring and only a handful of pages. I am usually quite tolerant of perspective changes, I am not someone who is typically bothered by first person, but usually there is some rhyme or reason to it or some structural need for the change that is used consistently throughout the book. Here, it just happened once and I could not figure out the justification.

But, complaints aside, there is still much to love here. The Book of the Crowman is the grim and haunting unfolding of folklore with an honest and powerful conclusion. Fans of the first book should definitely give it a shot, if they find the first half slow, hang in there, because the story as a whole is certainly worth reading.

The Book of the Crowman will be released February 25th by Angry Robot Books. Many thanks to the Angry Robot and NetGalley for the ARC in return for my honest review.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Daughter of Smoke of Bone by Laini Taylor features a fun protagonist, Karou, an art student with peacock blue hair. One would think she’s a typical college student, dying her hair quite an unlikely color. But in truth, she doesn’t color it at all.  Studying art in Prague, she happens to lead a bit of a double life. While she lives here, in the world we know, her ‘family’ lives in another world that she accesses through portals.

I really enjoy her personality. She is a bit mysterious and has a wry sense of humor that she uses that to her advantage as she tells people truths that are not quite unbelievable within the world we as humans know.  They just assume she is joking. However, in truth, there are many unbelievable things that are just part of Karou’s life. It’s a life that she herself does not really understand, but just lives. As part of it, she runs mysterious errands across the world, traveling via portals, she also gets wishes, that are a type of magic brought from the other world as well. But all of this, she feels a bit lost, not real sure where she really came from or who she really is (her family through the portal is an adoptive family, of sorts.

“This was her life: magic and shame and secrets and teeth and a deep nagging hollow at the center of herself where something was most certainly missing”

Things take a turn however, when mysterious handprints start showing up, scorched onto the doors that serve as portals, and from here, the story really starts unfolding and we get to see Karou tested, challenged and thrown headlong into war she knows nothing about.

I enjoyed Taylor’s writing and think it worked well to get across the personality of the younger protagonist, but didn’t sacrifice quality at all. It was creative, fun, and had a good flow to it. However, at about half way through the book, the story just lost something for me. The pacing seemed slower, there were flashbacks, that while very important, felt like an interruption to the story being told; they seemed to break the flow and I started losing interest. . The romance also was a bit much for me as well. The good news was that the last 10% or so of the book, the pace picked back up (way up), and I was just as engaged as I was in the beginning. I just wish that could have held for the entire story.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It’s a story of love, friendship, hope and magic. Taylor’s prose is very well written, easy to read, and features the wry humor that her protagonist shares. It would be a good choice for fans of YA, especially ones looking for a strong female lead and very fantastical style romance.

“Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic”

Many thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

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How appropriate to finish and review Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard on Valentine’s Day. I’m not one to make a fuss about the holiday, but even I have to admit, if I am going to post a review on Valentine’s Day, it is very fitting that it would be for Moth and Spark. This is very much a love story. It is about freeing dragons, saving the empire and winning love. And I won’t say that it is the boy’s story to do these things, because in this the romance is also a partnership. Together, what can be accomplished is much more than individually.

The romance in Moth and Spark is an unlikely romance (and I mean unlikely in their world, obviously as readers, we are quite used to such things).  When the two meet, sparks fly. They are drawn to each other as a moth to flame. You get the idea. Like I said, this is very much a story of love and romance.

Corin is, of course, the handsome prince that all the court is swooning over in hopes of landing a royal marriage. Well, maybe not all the court. Only those who have a high enough status to be deemed a worthy match swoon. The rest know their place and set their sites accordingly. But they still probably secretly fantasize.

Tam is the strikingly beautiful, incredibly witty, and very intelligent daughter of a doctor. She is a commoner who was invited to court for the first time, new to the formalities, the ways of court, and to knowing when to keep her comments to herself.  Of course, these comments are why readers will enjoy her. It is also what draws Corin to her, despite the fact that she is obviously not just below, but way below what would be considered even an option for marriage. There is no falsity to her, which is a rare thing in the world he knows and Corin can’t help to appreciate and crave it.

It sounds sweet and lovely so far does it not? But, the romance is most certainly not the only part of the book. There is a plot that has found itself entwined with the couple. So much so, that it is in many ways hard to separate out. For without Tam and Corin coming together, the story would have unfolded to tell a much different tale.

Dragons are being held and forced into servitude. The Emperor that holds them has gone a bit mad and Corin has been selected by the dragons as the one to free them. Only, he does not know how to accomplish such a thing. Tam has also had brief moments to show that there is more to her than one might think.  Their romance unfolds and strengthens as they work to solve problems larger than what the court might think of them as a couple.

I very much enjoyed this because it was a refreshing change of pace from my normal books. Leonard did a great job with the characters and also in keeping an appropriate balance between romance and how it plays into the plot.  I also enjoyed that it was not the story of just ‘winning the prince’ but rather winning love together in the process of trying to free dragons and save the empire.

Moth and Spark will be released February 20th 2014  by Viking (Penguin Group) in the US and Headline in the UK. Many thanks to  Viking (Penguin Group) and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Guy Gavriel Kay has been on my “must try” list for years. I have heard him recommended so many times and I have come across devoted fans that will praise his prose endlessly. And on top of that, he writes stand-alone novels, so there is no fear of commitment here. With all of that, I have no idea why I have not read one of his novels previously. But, I nominated The Lions of Al-Rassan for one of my book club reads and happily it won. No more excuses, it was time to actually read.

So, now that I have read it, do I think it is worthy of the praise I have heard? Absolutely. Kay’s prose is just wonderful to read. Lions of Al-Rassan is a historical fantasy with very little magic. Similar to K. J. Parker’s work, this one is a fictional world that mirrors ours. But the strengths of this book are different than Parker. Kay’s prose has a more fluid feel, while Parker has more mystery/layers. I don’t think one is better than the other; they just have a little bit different feel reading them, even though in some ways they are similar.

One of the first things I took note about this book is that it is brutal. At least there is a very brutal scene in the beginning. I was surprised just because I have never heard that mentioned of Kay’s books before. And reading on, I don’t know if it is indicative of all his books, but for this one, it made so much sense for him to capture atrocities of war and present them to the reader for this particular book. Because when it’s all said and read, this book is about war. It’s about intolerance, differences in religions and cultures and how people stereotype and treat each other. It is also about how people don’t need to be evil to be driven to carry out what would otherwise be evil deeds. It’s all in the name of war or religion. Or both. It would be hard to really drive home the brutality of war without showing it. There is a shock value there that just can’t be accomplished otherwise. And I’m not saying that Kay is very graphic, he’s not. It’s just the events themselves that are harsh.

A real strength of this book is that each of the three protagonists represents a different culture. It is much harder to pick a side to root for or against when you see each side humanized instead of stereotyped. And by some fate, they have wound up traveling together and have to face divided loyalties. I love books that make characters reflect on choices and loyalties. I love when the other side is shown as actual people with their own reasons and motivations instead of just being “good guys” vs. “bad guys”. Because lets face it, in reality, every side thinks of themselves as the good guys.

Another strength of this book is the women characters. Jehane is one of our three main protagonists and is by all means a strong female character. She is not a fighter, she is a doctor so I don’t mean strong as in physically strong (I never do when I say that, I think a female character can be portrayed as physically strong, but still be weak). The only point I came even close to having a complaint about in this book was I felt like everyone was falling in love with Jehane. But that is not a real complaint, it really didn’t bother me, and I guess she was a remarkable woman. In addition to Jehane, there were a couple of secondary women characters that were also strong and fun to read.

Something else I enjoy in this book is the way Kay will allude to events being one way, causing the reader to make assumptions, only to turn the tables and reveal something else. As a reader, you then have evaluate and realize how easily you can come to false conclusions. Even after you catch on, it’s still fun because it makes the book less predictable.

And as for the ending of this book, I absolutely love the way it was done. I don’t want to say more because I want to keep this spoiler free, but fantastic ending. Kay’s prose, story telling, world building and characters are all just beautifully done.I highly recommend this book to anyone, and I look forward to reading my next book by Kay.

6 Comments

Snowblind by Christopher Golden

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A real modern day ghost story, Snowblind by Christopher Golden is the story of one small New England town where people are haunted. The atmospheric story starts out with one frightful night where the danger lurked not in shadows behind closet doors or under the bed. The danger was not in isolated old houses. The danger here came with the snow. A monstrous winter storm that brought more to fear than just cold and ice descended on the town and left those who survived forever changed, mourning those lost and fearful for another storm that was more than just a vicious weather event.

The story then brings the reader 12 years later, showing snapshots of how life had changed for those who lost loved ones, and those who could not save victims of the storm 12 years earlier. It also showed a town on edge. The weather forecast is calling for another monster storm reviving memories of lives lost and people missing all those years earlier. Memories of the unsolved mysteries the last storm left. And memories that many would rather forget then remember, and certainly did not want to relive.

As the storm nears, some members of the town start acting strange or different. The memories of the last storm are growing stronger and more urgent. Pain and regrets grow fresh again. The story in this was great, especially for a winter read. I loved the haunting storm, trying to figure out what was going on. There was wonderful suspense, mystery and occasionally adrenalin. There was also a great range in characters, and relationships.

For most of the book, it is not a fast paced thriller. It is more slow and haunting. On the surface this is very much a ghost story, but if you look closer, I also feel that ultimately, this book was about life, death and relationships. Appreciating what you have and to let go of regrets.

Many thanks to the St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the ARC in return for my honest review.