Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Yikes! I didn't realize it had been so long since I had posted here until a couple of hours ago. With the holiday and starting a new job, the time has just flown by.

I still have reviews on the rest of the books in the Pit Dragon trilogy to write. Unfortunately, it takes me nearly as long to write the review as it does to read a book of that size since I read it over and over and revise it about 50 times. So I haven't written those yet with the amount of spare time I've had lately.

After I finish The Winter King, I'll probably read either the new novel by Diana Pharoah Francis's new novel, The Cipher, or one of C.S. Friedman's novels. Or maybe I'll read The Children of Hurin since I'd like to read that before this year is over.

I'm indecisive, so I'm open to hearing preferences or other suggestions for what to read next. A lot of the books I have and have yet to read should be in my "to read" section in my Good Reads account (the link for that is to the right toward the bottom of the sections on what I'm reading, links, etc.). So feel free to leave a comment about what you'd like reviewed in the near future!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review of Dragon's Blood

Dragon's Blood, which first came out in the 1980s, is the first book in the Pit Dragon Chronicles trilogy by Jane Yolen. Although it is the first book in a series, there are no cliffhanger endings and the book stands quite well on its own. This is tagged as a young adult book and the main story is very reminiscent of books I read as a child; however, there is a maturity in both writing and subject matter at times that makes this book seem a little more adult. I found this tale of a boy and his dragon enjoyable but not very original other than the setting; however, this book is mainly setting up the next two books, which end up moving away from the lighthearted story in the first book.

Austar IV, a desert planet, was once a penal colony that founded its economy on breeding the native dragons, training them to fight in the pits, and betting on the winner. Jakkin, a fifteen year old boy, is working to pay off his bond and become a free man at one of the dragon farms. He believes his only chance at earning enough money to pay off his debt is to use his natural talents with dragons to train one to be a great fighter. Because of this, he makes plans to steal a dragon's egg. Taking an egg is considered acceptable since most of the dragon eggs are decoys that do not actually contain a baby dragon and therefore are not even counted before they hatch.

An unfortunate incident with a dragon forces Jakkin to miss the year's hatching, but later Jakkin slips into the barn at night to take a look at the hatchlings and finds that an error has been made in counting the dragons belonging to one of the hens. Instead of the nine hatchlings displayed on the door, there are actually ten. Jakkin selects the one he believes to be the best, forms a telepathic bond with it, and begins training it in secret.

The writing is simple and the story very plot-oriented, being a young adult novel. However, there were a few recurring adult themes that were not explored in depth such as gambling, prostitution, and drug addiction. Austar IV is not a pleasant, idealistic world by any means.

The story is rather predictable; in fact, it reminded me a lot of the formula used for many of the horse stories I read as a kid but with dragons instead for horses. It was certainly more imaginative than the stories about horses since it was a fictional planet containing Yolen's version of dragons, and the world was grittier than those books, but the overall story of a boy and his animal friend was very similar to stories from childhood.

This is a short book, but the pacing is done well. It is a story that is easy to begin reading and get absorbed in, and the subplots add to the story instead of taking away from it.

Dragon's Blood can be enjoyed by anyone, young or old or in between, who is looking for a fun, uncomplicated story that may feel somewhat familiar.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review of The Princes of the Golden Cage

The Princes of the Golden CageThe Princes of the Golden Cage

The Princes of the Golden Cage
by Nathalie Mallet
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.25/5
Goodreads Rating: 2.5/5

The Princes of the Golden Cage is Nathalie Mallet's debut novel and the first book in the Prince Amir series. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy from a book giveaway on Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' Book Reviews last month, so I recently read it to review here. This mystery story is not one I would recommend, but it is good if you are looking for an entertaining, quick read. In spite of its flaws, I did find this book kept me turning the pages quickly until the end, but it was a case of an interesting idea executed poorly.

Prince Amir and his brothers, who number over one hundred, are forbidden to leave the cage they live in until one of them becomes the next sultan. Amir is not interested in becoming the next sultan or being killed by one of his more ambitious brothers, so he tries to remain unnoticed and spends a lot of time in his room studying. However, Amir's compassion for the two insane brothers he cares for is noticed by his brother Erik, who decides to befriend Amir. Amir is unsure whether or not he should trust Erik in a society where the brothers are constantly trying to eliminate other contenders for the throne, but Erik is persistent. Because of his relationship with Erik, Amir meets and falls in love with his cousin Eva who is to become the first sultana after the next sultan is chosen.

One night, one of the Sultan's sons dies suddenly, and observers say this death could have only been the result of dark sorcery, although Amir and the Grand Vizier's assistant are convinced the brother must have been killed by poison. As a pattern emerges in which a brother is killed during each full moon, it becomes more and more obvious that sorcery is involved, and the sorcerer appears to be gaining power with each of his victim's deaths. Rumors abound that the studious Amir is the culprit, and he and Erik must figure out who the real murderer is to clear his name... before they both become victims.

This story, told from a first person perspective, is a blend of mystery and adventure with some romance thrown in. It is a short, fun book that can be read quickly without taking the time to think about it. The Princes of the Golden Cage is entertaining, but it is not thought provoking or well written.

In fact, this book stands out as one of the most poorly edited books I have ever read. The grammar is often quite awkward, which can be attributed to the fact that English is not Mallet's first language and is one she has been writing in for less than 4 years; however, a good editor should have been able to fix that in addition to the many typographical errors in this novel.

The characters are not very well developed, but this is a plot-heavy mystery/adventure story and not a character study. In spite of that realization, I found myself shaking my head a few times because the characters were being so stupid. They were not good at making well developed plans and thinking things through. At all.

The highlight of the novel was the setting of the cage and its affect on the brothers living within it. I had never heard of this before, but a sultan's sons living in a cage until the ascent of the next sultan was based on a historical Ottoman institution instead of being a fictional invention. This society was interesting, and it was certainly different from the medieval European setting often used in fantasy novels.

The Princes of the Golden Cage is by no means an exceptional work of literature with well written prose and intelligent characters. It is, however, light and fun reading, and it was one of those books that kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next in spite of its many flaws.


The next book in the series, The King's Daughters, is supposed to be out in the summer of 2008.

Other opinions on this book:

Friday, November 16, 2007

Review of Lords of Rainbow

Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian is the first book in a duology, although it is a complete story that works perfectly well as a stand alone novel. (I actually thought it was a stand alone book until I looked at the works in progress on Nazarian's site and saw that she was working on a "standalone sequel" called Lady of Monochrome.) This fantasy story was unique and beautifully written, although it had a few flaws that kept it from being as outstanding as it could have been. That being said, this is only Nazarian's second novel and it was still good enough to keep me up reading until 4 am, so I think she definitely has potential to be an outstanding novelist.

Lords of Rainbow is a mix of adventure, political intrigue, and romance told in a fantastic setting. Many years ago, color left the world and its inhabitants can only see various shades of gray. The only colors in the world come from expensive specialized lights, a form of magic made by the secretive Light Guild in the kingdom of Tronaelend-Lis. It bodes ill for this kingdom, led by a pair of siblings who are rather weak rulers, when a dark man comes to the city claiming he is paving the way for his master, who should not be named.

Ranhe, a young warrior woman, finds herself in the midst of the turmoil in the city after she stumbles across Elasand, a young nobleman protecting his aunt and cousin from an attack by several men in dark clothes. After concluding these men must be the deadly Bilhaar assassins she had believed to be mere rumors, Ranhe helps the man out anyway and together they manage to fight off the attackers. Impressed by Ranhe's fighting ability, Elasand enlists her aid as a bodyguard when they run into each other at a nearby inn later. After much coercing, Ranhe agrees to be Elasand's bodyguard under the condition that she is free to leave at any time she chooses - whether the timing is convenient for Elasand or not.

The prose in this book is elegant, poetic, and a delight to read. Even the descriptions of the monochrome world were gorgeous. However, there were two occasions where there were about 8 pages of just description, which was too much for my taste. For the first 2 or 3 pages I did not mind since the way it was written was quite lovely, but after that I started wanting to get on with the story. Since that was only about 16 pages out of over 400, it was not a huge problem, though.

The characters in this book were wonderfully done and each one captured my interest. Ranhe is one of those elusive creatures - a believable female character. She is a warrior, and because of that, she is not feminine although she also has problems that women can relate to. Ranhe is intelligent and witty and not at all the damsel in distress type. The other characters have their flaws and their strengths as well, and I really enjoyed learning more about Elasirr and Elasand throughout the book.

Although I enjoyed reading about all the characters, no matter how minor they were, I did feel like there were far too many minor characters introduced in the first 100 pages of the book. The first quarter of the book skipped back and forth between Ranhe's story and a few pages on various other characters who were mentioned briefly enough in a short span that it made it hard to keep track of them all. After that, the story was mainly about Ranhe and these characters were barely even mentioned again until toward the end of the story. I felt like less focus on these characters in the beginning and more on Ranhe would have made the story tighter and less confusing, and knowing less about these other characters would not have taken away from the overall story.

The world in this story was unique and a pleasant change from the cliche fantasy settings. There was little magic other than the ability to create color and a mythological backstory involving a plethora of gods and goddesses. No races other than humans existed in this world and it did not feel like the city was reminiscent of medieval Europe to me.

The highlight of this book for me was Ranhe's story and that's the main reason I kept reading. When the book was about Ranhe, I found it extremely difficult to put down. The interactions between her and other characters kept the story interesting, and she is one of the more memorable characters I have read about this year.

Although the story could have been tightened up a bit in the first quarter of the book, it was an excellent tale. I would recommend it to anybody looking for a unique fantasy setting, poetic prose, and a strong female lead, and I look forward to seeing what Nazarian does with Lady of Monochrome.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Review of Making Money

Making Money, the thirty-second novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, is the second book in the series about con-artist Moist von Lipwig. Both stories are self-contained, meaning that you do not have to read any of the previous Discworld books in order to enjoy the newest one, although a few minor parts of the book will probably make more sense to you if you have read the first book about the main character, Going Postal. Some background on some characters appearing briefly exists in some of the previous Discworld books, but reading the previous novels in the series is certainly not a requirement for understanding what is going on in this book. It would just enhance the experience of reading it.

Moist finds he is getting bored with his work at the post office now that it is running rather smoothly and entertains himself by putting his thieving skills to the test and attempting to break into his own post office. Vetinari seeks to relieve Moist's lack of mental stimulation by repeatedly trying to entice him with the new challenge of running Ankh-Morpork's bank. Moist will not accept this position, which turns out to be an offer he can't refuse when the chairman dies, leaves her dog to Moist, and leaves all her shares in the bank to the dog.

Moist's leadership of the bank is somewhat complicated by the fact that making the coins is worth more than the value of the coins themselves, and in a fit of con-man brilliance (or madness) he invents modern economics. Unfortunately, his brain was lagging a bit behind his mouth when he did it, and he spends much of the book trying to deal with the consequences of an economy based on paper money. He must also contend with the Lavishes, the remaining family members of the dead chairman who feels they should be in charge of the bank, and their attempts to destroy his reputation. Furthermore, his secretary, a golem, has not only decided it's female but also that it has a crush on him, and Moist's fiance enlists his help in solving a mystery involving some golem artifacts she found buried underground.

I've read a lot of reviews saying this book was a disappointment and did not live up to the usual standards of a book by Terry Pratchett, so I was not sure what to expect when I read it. It was not my favorite of the Discworld books by any means, but I still thought it was a good book. The Discworld books beginning with Night Watch have been more serious in tone, and the ones from Monstrous Regiment on have not been quite as good as many of the old ones. I did not think that Making Money was any worse than any of the other more recent books in the series.

Moist is not as compelling a character as Sam Vimes or Death, but I do prefer his character to the wizard Rincewind or any of the witches. (That being said, I do believe that some of the books about Rincewind and the witches are better than either of the books about Moist.) However, Moist is an interesting character if you like to read about con men who can say anything and get away with it because they're just that charismatic.

I've also heard a lot of concerns about the plot of Making Money sounding similar enough to Going Postal that it would end up sounding like a rehash of the previous book about Moist. Although the general plot is similar (revolutionizing and modernizing an institution), the scenarios were very different. The circumstances, a lot of the characters, and the side plots were all different, so I did not feel like the books were too similar.

Pratchett has an amazing command of the English language and his ability with wordplay is perhaps unrivaled. He can create a descriptive and humorous scene using brevity, and he has a clever way with words that few do. His stories may seem simplistic on the surface, but he packs philosophy, sociology, religion, and other themes into his work that makes it more meaningful. This book does not disappoint in that respect and showcases this skill with language and adding layers of meaning.

The story is fun, but it does lack some of the excitement and craziness of the other Discworld novels. There were certainly parts that were amusing or worded in such a way as to make one smile, but none of it had me unable to stop laughing for any length of time.

While it is weak while compared to many of the books in the Discworld series, Making Money is still an entertaining book containing insights into economic theory and the foibles of human nature. I would recommend it to any fan of Discworld but not as a starting point for those interested in reading a book from this series for the first time.


Other Opinions on Making Money:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

World Fantasy Winners Announced

Congratulations to all the winners!

Gene Wolfe won the World Fantasy award in the best novel category for the third book in the Latro series, Soldier of Sidon.

A list of the winners is available on the Science Fiction Awards Watch blog.

Review of The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass is the third book in the His Dark Materials series. (I was going to say it was also the final book, but apparently Philip Pullman is writing a fourth book in the series called The Book of Dust.) While it was still a good book that I did not regret reading, I felt it was the weakest book in the series. There were many interesting ideas in this book, but the end just did not live up to my expectations. It was one of those books that had the potential to be excellent, but I put it down after reading the last sentence feeling like it should have been so much better than it was.

The story picks up where The Subtle Knife left off. After snatching Lyra, Mrs. Coulter hides her in the mountains and keeps her in a deep sleep. Will and Ama, a girl who brought food and supplies to Mrs. Coulter, sneak into the cave where Lyra is being kept and wake her from the drug-induced sleep. During her sleep, Lyra dreamed of speaking to Roger in the Land of the Dead and she and Will decide to go to this land.

Meanwhile, Mary Malone settles for a time in a world inhabited by beings called mulefa. The mulefa appear to be animals at first, but in fact are intelligent. Mary learns to communicate with the mulefa, and they ask for her help in saving a type of tree they are very dependent upon. While in this world, Mary constructs a spyglass that allows her to see Dust.

This book could have, in my opinion, been a bit shorter. The beginning was slow and hard to get into, parts of the middle dragged, and there was a lot more description in this book than the previous two. Description does not always bother me, but in this case it did because the series was about plot and action and all the exposition did little to advance the plot or enhance the story. The prose was well-written, but sometimes fewer words would have made the book flow a lot better.

The characters were better developed than in the previous books since some of the lines between good and evil were a bit blurrier here. However, the characters (other than Lyra) did seem fairly generic and lacking in distinct personality traits. Some of the changes in character were rushed and not very convincing. This is not surprising to me, since young adult novels generally focus more on plot and not as much on character development, but I always find a lack of good characterization disappointing.

This book continued to put a lot of emphasis on the evils of organized religion, particularly Catholicism. The way religion was woven into the storyline was a very fascinating idea with a lot of potential, but in the end, a lot of the themes were emphasized more than the story. The prophecies mentioned earlier in the book or series ended up having very anticlimactic conclusions, particularly the parallel between events in this book and the fall of Adam and Eve. The ending did not seem particularly satisfying or fitting to me.

Although I found this book to be a bit disappointing, I still enjoyed it and found it worth my time. The major problem I had with this book was that it had so much potential to be outstanding, but ultimately, it was merely a good book and nothing exceptional.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

On Ratings

Since opinions differ on ratings and what exactly certain numbers mean, I thought I'd just write a summary of how I see it.

My ratings system is based on a 1 - 10 scale. Basically, anything on the low end (1 - 4) is bad, in the middle (5-6) is ok, and on the high end (7 - 10) is good.

The following is a more detailed explanation of the specific ratings:

10 - Outstanding. A book that stuck with me long after I put it down. The only books I would give a 10 rating would be books that made it into my list of favorite books ever.

9 - Excellent. The book was very good, but was better than your average good book by being unique or thoughtful, having great characterization, and/or just being a lot of fun to read.

8 - Very good. Not a book that kept me thinking about it a lot after I put it down, but very enjoyable and better than just a worthwhile book.

7 - Good. Worth reading but nothing spectacular or mind-blowing.

6 - All right. An ok book that had some interesting elements.

5 - Meh. It's not terrible but nothing about it intrigued me for a second.

4 - Somewhat bad. Definitely not worth reading.

3 - Very bad. Not worth glancing at.

2 - Terrible. All memory of this book should be erased.

1 - Complete crap. The author must have had incriminating photos of somebody in the publishing industry. Books like this are almost enough to make one believe in book burnings.