Saturday, October 31, 2009

Review of Tempest Rising

Tempest Rising is the first book in the Jane True series and is Nicole Peeler's debut novel. Its official release date is November 1, although Amazon started shipping it on October 27. This urban fantasy series is supposed to be at least three books long with the next book, Tracking the Tempest, coming out sometime in the spring/summer 2010 season according to Orbit's website. The third book is entitled Tempest's Legacy.

For her entire life, Jane has lived in the little coastal tourist town Rockabill in Maine. When she was very young her mysterious mother disappeared just as suddenly as she first appeared in the town, completely naked in the middle of the storm. Due to her mother's oddness and the fact that many of the residents believe Jane to be just as strange as she was, Jane has always felt like an outcast, especially after she was blamed for the death of her boyfriend. It doesn't help that Jane herself has always felt a bit weird since she tends to go swimming in the middle of the winter and doesn't even notice the cold.

During one of these swims, Jane finds a dead body in the ocean. Since she'd rather people didn't associate her with yet another corpse, she doesn't inform anyone but drags the body onto the beach where she knows someone will find it. The next day Jane is followed by a huge dog that looks like some sort of hellhound who takes her to a gnome and a kelpie. They reveal to her that her mother was a selkie, making her a halfling - half human and half supernatural. The man who died was also part supernatural, and since Jane found him and will be questioned, they have decided it is time she knew the truth. As part of the investigation, Jane meets - and becomes rather close to - the handsome vampire Ryu, who has been assigned to the case. In the process, she learns more about the paranormal world and her own heritage, while becoming entangled in solving the mystery.

Tempest Rising is a short, entertaining read. It had some humor, which was rather hit or miss. Sometimes it was quite humorous, but other times it seemed to be overdone and trying too hard. There was a lot of sex - too much for my taste - and for a while I was thinking it seemed more like a paranormal romance. I decided I wouldn't actually label it a paranormal romance, though, just because it didn't seem, well, romantic. Jane and Ryu hooked up really fast, but it wasn't at all like love at first sight. It was more like lust at first sight, which seems a lot more realistic. Jane doesn't delude herself into thinking her relationship with Ryu is anything like her previous relationship - nor should she since she barely even knows Ryu when they sleep together for the first time. It doesn't seem like a completely shallow relationship, either, since she and Ryu do care about and look out for each other - it's just a rather fast one that seems nothing like love but has the potential to turn into it.

In spite of having too much time devoted to sex for my personal taste, some overdone humor and also an obsession with describing clothes far too often, it did win me over in the end. This was mainly due to Jane herself, the barghest Anyan, and the plethora of supernatural which fortunately was not limited to just the typical vampires and werewolves. Yes, there was one vampire (and I am started to get a bit tired of vampires at this point, especially since I was never a big fan of them in the first place), but this supernatural world also contains kelpies, selkies, gnomes, djinn, nahual, a barghest, and nagas. Many of the paranormal races are shapeshifters of some sort and I do love shapeshifters. The nahual can assume any form, and most others are two-formed, meaning they can be either human or some sort of animal.

Jane herself was very sympathetic and likable, which is particularly important since this novel was one told from the first person perspective of the main character. It's easy to empathize with her both for her tragic past and her place as the town outcast who is picked on for no good reason other than prejudice against people who are different from the norm. She's not really a kick-ass heroine but a more vulnerable one, and others tend to take care of her instead of her saving the day herself all the time. It will be interesting to see how she develops now that she is part of a community in which she no longer has to hide what she is. Her struggles are not over yet, though, since not all paranormal creatures are willing to accept those who are half human. I'm also looking forward to learning more about what she can do as a half-selkie, and as a resident of Maine myself, I think she has one of the best powers for the climate one can have - never getting cold. For about half the year I am freezing so I'd love to have Jane's tolerance for cold temperatures.

The next book is supposed to have more Anyan, which makes me very happy since he was one of the main reasons I wanted to keep reading this book. Anyan, the barghest, is one of those mysterious characters and there are a few intriguing hints about him that are dropped here and there. Some revelations about him toward the end that made me curious about finding out more. It feels somewhat formulaic since it seems similar to another character I've read about recently, but I have to admit it's a formula that hooks me.

Tempest Rising is an entertaining story, although it did some issues that did not agree with my personal taste. The humor was also a bit of a mixed bag, but some of it did work very well. In spite of some problems, the world populated with some lesser seen paranormal creatures and some of the characters, including the main protagonist, made me want to read the next book.


Where I got my reading copy: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Other Reviews:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Week & Horror Book Review

It's Halloween week over at The Book Smugglers, which means there are tons of posts about horror books and movies. There are also a lot of guest posts, and Thea and Ana invited me to post over there this week. Thea also sent me one of her favorite scary books to write about today - Christopher Pike's Whisper of Death, which is about a couple of teenagers who come home to find their town deserted except for them and 3 other teens from their school. The review is now up and if you are a Halloween fan, there are plenty of other spooky books and movies to read about.

For other reviews, I've been working on a review of Nicole Peeler's debut Tempest Rising, which will be out on November 1 and is now shipping from Amazon. I'm almost done with Sarah Monette's The Bone Key, and then I'll be eagerly devouring the newest from Elizabeth Bear, By the Mountain Bound.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Leaning Pile of Books

It's Sunday so it's time to post any new additions to the TBR for the week. I have three new ones and they are all copies I received for review.

By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear

I was psyched to get a copy of the second book in The Edda of Burdens series a few days ago - it is one of my most anticipated 2009 releases (it's out on October 27). Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite authors and I loved the first book in this series, All the Windwracked Stars. (Well, I called it the first book but this is actually a prequel to it even though it is the second book - which excited me even more because I cannot wait to read about the events leading up to All the Windwracked Stars.) The Edda of Burdens series is based on Norse mythology, and I just absolutely love how Bear writes anything based on mythology. I just started The Bone Key by Sarah Monette for my last Halloween read (I can't believe I forgot about this book when I was trying to think of horror/Halloweenish novels - I was going to read Sunshine but decided I'm vampired out for the moment), but as soon as that is finished, I'm reading By the Mountain Bound.

Servant of a Dark God by John Brown

Ever since I first read Tia's review of this book over at Fantasy Debut (which has just moved to Debuts & Reviews), I've been intrigued by it. Plus I really like how ominous the title sounds and enjoy reading new debuts, so I'm looking forward to reading this one.

An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures by David West and Anita Ganeri

This is a children's book that's exactly what the title says - information on mythical creatures with illustrations. It's relatively short so it's not an exhaustive guide by any means, but it looks as though it could serve well as an introduction to these creatures for younger readers (of course, I haven't read it yet - only flipped through it a bit to see what was there).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review of My Soul to Keep

My Soul to Keep
by Tananarive Due
352pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.24/5

My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due has two sequels: The Living Blood and Blood Colony, respectively. The ending isn't quite a cliffhanger but I wouldn't call it a complete ending, either, since it is very clear that there is a lot more of the story left to be told. It's often classified as horror, but I thought it was more contemporary dark fantasy/suspense than horror. Also, I've often seen it labeled as a vampire story and it really is not - or if it is, it is a retelling that is drastically different. Although it does contain some humans who achieve immortality through a ritual involving an injection of blood, they are not nocturnal, nor do they have fangs, suck blood, turn into bats, sleep in a coffin or even so much as sparkle in the sunlight like a wussy imitation vampire.

Note: I'm not really sure how to write this review without giving away what may be considered spoilers. The excerpt from the book on Due's site is actually the part of the book that mentions the part I am worried about, so I don't think it was supposed to be a shocking revelation, especially since I thought it seemed pretty obvious where this was going from the opening pages. It's also confirmed so there can be no doubts about 15% of the way in, but just in case, I'm adding a warning.

Jessica couldn't ask for anything more from her life - she has a doting husband dubbed "Mr. Perfect" by a coworker for his attentiveness, an adorable 5-year-old daughter, and her dream career as a reporter. Her husband stays home with their daughter most of the time, which enables her to work long hours at her job as a journalist. She has been working on an article about poor care in nursing homes, and her friend and coworker Peter obtained a book deal for the two of them based on this story. They are pursuing information on a particularly nasty case involving an 80-year-old woman who was smothered to death one night while most of the staff was out due to a storm. Unfortunately, her husband comes across the files one night when he's waiting for her at the office with some dinner - and immediately throws them out since they threaten to unveil his secret.

Unknown to Jessica, her husband David is about 500 years old despite the fact that he appears to be no more than 30 years old. He and several other men underwent a ritual in which they died in order to come back to life again - forever. These "Life Brothers" always heal and even come back from the dead if they are killed. They have sworn to protect their origins no matter what the cost and most of them spend their lives studying. However, David ended up falling in love with a mortal woman and is torn between protecting his mysterious identity and his family.

My Soul to Keep had two major strengths: it made me care about Jessica and her family while keeping me on the edge of my seat for almost the entire book. There was a good mixture of character interactions in between suspenseful moments that made me want to find out if Jessica would ever find out her husband's secret. There are quite a few sections dealing with David's past from how he became immortal to some time he spent as a slave in the South to his experiences as a musician in the 1920s. Because of this, the reader knows far more about Jessica's husband and his mysterious life than she does, and there's a lot of tension that builds up about when/if she finds out and what exactly she discovers, if so.

Yet sometimes one has to wonder how a woman as intelligent as Jessica is portrayed to be seems to be can be so dumb, but in the end, I decided it made sense with her character. They say love is blind and she certainly proves that saying true. She's been married to David for several years and he has never gotten sick in all that time and he very adamantly refuses to ever go see a doctor. If he's injured in any way, the wound is always gone by the next morning. In all those years, Jessica doesn't seem to have seriously questioned these oddities but has always dismissed them. However, it seemed more like this was due to her personality than actual stupidity since it is mentioned in the very first chapter that she has a tendency to ignore problems and hope they will go away.

David himself does not always appear to be as intelligent as one might expect, either, but I felt like he did not have as good a reason for that appearance as Jessica. Sometimes he gives away some information that could very well get him into trouble if his wife were paying enough attention to put two and two together. After approximately 500 years of practice at being secretive, one would think he'd be good enough at it not to make careless mistakes like that (or maybe he just noticed the pattern of his wife ignoring anything that seems the least bit odd or like something she doesn't want to deal with and figured it didn't matter). It could be argued that he was trying to open up to his wife and was perhaps a bit less careful than he should be in attempting to do so, but his wife's failings were far more believable as the classic example of someone ignoring the truth. This is also because sometimes David made mistakes without even realizing how they would affect others - and immortal or not, he really had the types of experiences that should have taught him better than that.

They were both very far apart when it came to morality - Jessica is a Bible-believing Christian who would never harm a soul and David glowers at the pictures of Christ on the few occasions he goes to church with his wife and has far fewer scruples. In fact, David has committed some truly horrific acts and even though he seems cold-hearted at times, it's also very apparent that he really cares about both Jessica and his daughter Kira. There are usually reasons for his actions, although there are a couple of times where he really has no excuse for being that numb.

The immortality factor was very intriguing, although this book only covers a very small part of what the immortals can do. There are glimpses that there is more to some of them than just healing and living forever, and I hope and suspect that more of this is revealed in the next book.

This novel can be very dark and it certainly contains some content that some may find objectionable. I would not recommend it to anyone who has difficulty reading about violence toward pretty much anyone, including animals and children, for this reason. It has a truly shocking and tragic ending, although Due does foreshadow it so readers are somewhat prepared for what is coming and even puts a little bit of a happy spin to a very devastating event.

There was one minor problem I had with the novel other than some moments of character stupidity, and that was the tendency to tell a lot instead of showing. Sometimes David's sections would go on and on about what he felt and why more than was necessary. The enjoyment I got from reading it far outweighed any issues I had with it, though, and I mostly ignored them while I was racing through the novel (I had to add mostly after remembering I did yell at David once or twice for being a moron).

Despite some flaws with character believability and too much telling, My Soul to Keep had me glued to the pages from beginning to end wanting to know what became of Jessica and her immortal husband. The end promises even more exciting developments and I am very much looking forward to the next book, which I have already ordered.


Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

By Special Request: War on Sci Fi

So, whilst I was off being a good little grad student, apparently there was a Thing in the blogosphere about this fun little rant. By special request of RRRJessica, here's my take on the subject:

He's got a point.

Wait! Stop! Before you fire up the hate mail, I should probably clarify that a bit. There is a valid point in there. It's a tiny little thing; like most points it is 0-dimensional, lacking depth, width, and breadth, and is easily missed in the massive Calabi-Yau manifold of fail that makes up most of the post and would force us to use specialized mathematics to determine its true extent.'s a point that should be dealt with before dismissing the rest of the article as the sincere troll that it is.

Science fiction has, for several generations now, been one of the bigger sources of inspiration for the engineers and scientists in our society. There isn't much wiggle room there: anecdotes and studies both seem to agree that sci-fi, while not necessarily a determining factor, is certainly a critical factor in motivating many of the people who end up in those fields. So sci-fi, whatever it may be now, does have a history of pushing kids in the direction of curiosity and discovery that is so important to keeping them going through the decades of training that are now required before most researchers can even dream of making any sort of significant contribution to their fields. Hyperspecialization sucks folks, and if you're going to put in the investment of essentially all of your time for your entire life, there better be some kind of idea to grasp tightly and don't-let-go when your eyes are blurring over the latest dataset to process at 3AM. In the sciences, that role is often filled by sci-fi.

But the question is, does sci-fi now do what it did for several generations in the 20th century? Certainly, sci-fi has changed. In general, I'd agree with the observation that it has become more character-oriented as the decades went by–it's even visible in the course of the careers of individual writers, as I hinted at in a writeup on Asimov's work a little while ago. But that's not the question; the question is if those changes have damaged the utility of sci-fi in general. I don't have any convenient answers for that one, other than to say that I find the whole invasion of the gays and women angle from that article to be ridiculous at best.

I would, though, suggest one way I can think of that it could be making sci-fi less effective than it used to be. The most successful people–in any field–often have a certain degree of monomania in their personalities. Golden Age sci-fi, whatever else it may have been, was usually characterized by a highly focused storyline and world that I suspect made/makes it more attractive to those personalities. Modern sci-fi is much more aware of character and relationship and may not be as interesting to the sort of personality that doesn't want to wade through all that other crap to get to the stuff that inspires and motivates them. (It would be easy to generalize that into being a geek-thing, and maybe it is to a degree, but monomania is a feature of successful people in a variety of areas, not just science and engineering.) So, in making the product less attractive to the potential pool of future contributors, yeah, maybe it does hurt the cause a bit.

But I would also point out at least two caveats to that idea. The first is that even Golden Age sci-fi was almost never just about science and math. While the most basic formula started out with the author imagining a new technology, the key was that they then extrapolated an entire world (or more) based on the impact of that technology on society. In the very best sci-fi, the technology really only acts as a setting through which the author can explore humans. Kirk may have gotten all the (green) girls, but Spock was the icon of the original Star Trek because he was the one that was outside of humanity and could act as a proxy for the viewer who was trying to understand the strange new worlds Roddenberry was creating. 1984 and Brave New World featured unusual technologies, but they were really about unusual societies. My favorite sci-fi series, The Beggars Trilogy, was written in the 90's (by a woman, Mr. Spearhead!) and followed this same formula. So sci-fi has never been just about the technology, and maybe monomania just isn't a factor; but then again, the societies and technologies were so inextricably connected that it could be that they would both be considered as extensions of the same tunnel vision concept. I'm not sure that would apply as powerfully to the focus on character and interpersonal relationships that is so common in sci-fi now.

The second caveat is that, while I might acknowledge that something has been lost, I'd also have to look at what is gained by strengthening character relationships. The sci-fi stories I mentioned in the last paragraph are significant because they not only posit new societies, but also because they critically examine the ethical ramifications of the cultures and technologies they discuss. Obviously the ones I mentioned have all been successful to varying degrees, and for the most part it's because they take the standard sci-fi formula and then add in enough empathy to reach readers and get them to truly understand what it means to, say, be a genetically-engineered super human in a world that fears you. It's an integrative aspect that differentiates significant, world-changing science fiction from pulp sci-fi about guys with fancy guns and spaceships.

Character and empathy, human relationships? That sounds a lot like what this guy is complaining about...and yet, it's what made all of this classic sci-fi, well, classic. Why would you then complain about those features growing in the modern realm of sci-fi? Of course there will be cases when it does nothing but add emo-drama to an otherwise perfectly good book, but more character and more empathy really just means that there is more opportunity for really good sci-fi. The sci-fi is not going to be the same as it used to be, but really, how can anything improve if it never changes?

I've pretty much ignored what the guy in the original article wrote, and I'm sure a lot of my arguments above have already been mentioned in the blogsplosion that I didn't have time to read. Mr. Spearhead reads like a bad parody, and my general philosophy is to avoid feeding the trolls. But while gender may be a bad way to slice the data, I do think that the changes in sci-fi will make it more or less attractive to people with certain personality characteristics. Frankly, I'd much rather have somebody who is capable of integrating science and society doing the research of the future than some of the tunnel-vision types that have been at the switch in the past. Maybe if there was more banking fiction we could have avoided a lot of problems lately.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Shiny New Books

I've decided to join in with the book blogosphere trend of posting books bought and received on a weekly basis (unless I did not happen to buy or receive books that week). So every Sunday I'm going to put up new additions to the TBR pile just for the fun of it and since I know many of you, like me, probably enjoy seeing books that they may not have noticed before. I've always avoided these posts since I was afraid I'd just bore everyone, but personally I like reading the "what I received this week" posts. And you can always ignore them if you find them dull. Or just look at the shiny covers.

Since this is the first time, I'm going to go back two weeks.

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

John is a huge Discworld fan, and I enjoy the series as well so when we found it on Amazon for $14, we just had to order it. He's already read it and really liked it, but due to grad school mayhem, I'm not sure when/if he'll get a chance to review it. And I'm not sure when I'll get around to reading it, but there is a review over at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review.

Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn

You can't order from Amazon without getting free shipping (really, it's a rule - at least I abide by it like my life depends on it) so I ordered this one along with the new Discworld. I can't remember exactly where I heard about it, but I've heard some good things about it and am considering reading this one when I do my Sci Fi reading month at some point (because I have not read nearly enough science fiction lately, especially compared to last year).

Whisper of Death by Christopher Pike

This one was sent to me by Thea of The Book Smugglers since we were discussing Halloween-related books and she suggested I try one of her old favorites. Even though I'd never read a Christopher Pike book in my life, it was a trip down memory lane. The cover said it was $3.50! Ah, how sweet it is to remember the day when you could purchase brand new books for that little. And it has those order forms at the back of books that I hadn't seen since I was a kid. This is the only one on this list I've actually read - it was short and I read it all yesterday afternoon.

Bitter Night by Diana Pharoah Francis

I received this in the mail from the publisher yesterday. This new urban fantasy will be out on October 27. I read another book by this author (The Cipher) and didn't really like it but this had blurbs from both Patricia Briggs and Ann Aguirre, so I'll give it a try. Plus I read this review of it over at Book Love Affair a while ago and was wondering if it might be worth trying anyway. And the word Armageddon caught my eye.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review of Medicine Road

Medicine Road by Charles de Lint was released this year in trade paperback for the first time, as it was previously only available in a more expensive limited edition. It's a relatively short contemporary fantasy book at just under 200 pages and contains some lovely illustrations by Charles Vess. Although it is part of the Newford series and directly related to another book by de Lint, Seven Wild Sisters, it stands just fine on its own. This was my first book by de Lint and it was not at all confusing without having read Seven Wild Sisters, although I did get the impression there must have been another book containing more detail about some of the characters as I read it.

Nearly one hundred years ago, Coyote Woman encountered a wild red dog chasing a jackalope. As she often does, Coyote Woman gave the two animals a gift they had forgotten they even had - the ability to walk as a "five-fingered being" (human) or use their respective animal forms. However, Coyote Woman's gift is not unconditional. If both Jim Changing Dog (the former red dog) and Alice Corn Hair (the former jackalope) do not each find true love in one hundred years, she will return both of them to their old forms without the ability to shapeshift into a human.

With only two weeks remaining of this hundred year timespan, Alice and Jim are feeling rather desperate. About 30 years ago, Alice found her soulmate, but Jim has never found true love and has given up all hope of ever finding it. At least until he sees two red-haired twins performing their bluegrass act and becomes enamored of one of them, Bess. He has very little time to get to know her and find out if she could be the one, and it's not only his life on the line but Alice's as well. Furthermore, a snake woman has decided to meddle in his affairs to get back at Coyote Woman for a former grievance.

Medicine Road is another one of those books that I have mixed feelings on. The opening intrigued me, particularly since it dealt with the mythology, which I thought was the best part of the book. For a while, it seemed a bit drawn out to me and it was difficult for me to really connect with some of the characters. In spite of that, I did find myself surprisingly touched by some of their scenes toward the end and I also rather enjoyed the conclusion. It had some strengths and was readable enough that I wanted to finish it, but I didn't like it quite enough to want to read the related book or any of the other Newford books.

The mythos was the main strength of this novel. It takes place in the state of Arizona in the United States, and the mythology feels Native American although it's supposed to have existed before the Native Americans. The old natives of the land such as Coyote Woman had the ability to use two different shapes - their animal form and their human form. There are other people and animals who have the blood for this ability (referred to as "cousins"), but many of them have forgotten about it and do not remember how. I loved this part of the story and how Coyote Woman changed the jackalope and the red dog so they would remember their roots and that there should not be enmity between them. Reading about the curse, Jim and Alice and Coyote Woman was all very interesting.

However, I felt that far too much time was spent on Bess and Jim's relationship and those parts bored me. It felt to me like their romance happened too fast and it just lacked good emotional moments. Perhaps this is partially because I grew to find Bess very annoying, although I didn't mind her early in the story (for some reason, I always liked Laurel better, though). It also seemed as though the friendships within the story were far better written than the love story. There were moments with Alice and Jim and Alice and Laurel that were very touching and much more memorable.

As far as the characters go, I really liked sweet Alice and open-minded Laurel and I liked Jim and Coyote Woman. Bess irritated me, but I cannot really say why without spoiling part of it. I thought Ramona was going to be interesting since I love tricksters but she ended up making a rather lame one. Her plans were rather poorly done and did not tend to have the effect she wanted at all.

The structure is five chapters, each containing different sections with the name of a character (or in one case, characters). Some of these sections are told from the first person perspective of that character and others are told from the third person perspective.

Medicine Road had an intriguing main story and mythology, but it had too much of a rather dull romance for my taste. The friendships were well done with some memorable moments, but while some of the characters were great, others were not. It was a good enough book to keep me wanting to find out how it ended, but it didn't make me want to read more in the series. However, I do seem to be one of the few people who didn't love this one so be sure to check out some of the other review links below or on some of the book sites linked at the top if it sounds like it may be a book you'd enjoy.


Where I got my reading copy: I received a copy from the publisher.

Other reviews:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review of Fire

Fire is a YA fantasy novel by Kristin Cashore. It is a loosely connected prequel to her debut novel Graceling and takes place approximately 35 years prior to it in a different land. Without having read Graceling, Fire was perfectly accessible and I did not feel at all lost reading it. However, Cashore's site does say that reading Fire first gives away a spoiler for Graceling so she thinks it is preferable to read them in the order of publication. Currently, Cashore is writing Bitterblue, a sequel to Graceling with a different main protagonist which takes place about 6 years after the first book ended.

Seventeen-year-old Fire, named for the color of her hair, is not shocked when she is hit by an arrow - until she learns that the man who hit her mistook her for a deer and is sorry to discover he shot a girl instead. As a rare human monster, Fire already carries several scars from attempts on her life made over the years. Monsters are extraordinarily beautiful and possess the ability to control minds. Many hate Fire because of her dead father, who abused his abilities severely and made a mess of the kingdom as an adviser to the former king. Others would like to kill her simply because they cannot possess her. Yet this hunter merely saw her brown clothing and thought he was getting some dinner. In spite of that, it is a bit suspicious that he's not the first stranger to be seen on this land lately and he is imprisoned once he returns Fire to her friend, the overprotective Lord Archer.

The next morning, the man who accidentally shot Fire is found dead, killed by an arrow wound that had to have been made by a very skilled archer. Soon after that, another stranger is found dead, and Archer decides to ask the former queen, Roen, for some soldiers and any information she may have on why this is happening. Fire insists on accompanying him and does so even though Archer insists she would be better off locked in her room where no one can harm her. On this trip, Fire meets King Nash, who is fascinated by her, and his brother Brigan, who looks on her with a wary eye and guards his mind against her. This leads to her involvement with trying to discover a plot against the kingdom when King Nash eventually asks for her aid due to her unique gift - which she very rarely uses after the example of her father before her.

While I was reading the completely haunting and creepy prologue, I was hooked. It was quite a switch going from the prologue, which did not contain Fire, to the first chapter. At the beginning, I found it a little slow-paced at times but it wasn't that long before I was hooked again - and I ended up absolutely loving Fire. I loved the world with its brightly colored monster animals, the story itself, the way the story unfolded and all the different plots tied together (some were predictable but there were a few I didn't see coming), and the various characters.

Part of its appeal was its themes and the struggles that Fire and her friends faced. Fire and Prince Brigan both seem to both feel the need to compensate for the sins of their fathers before them. In particular, Fire never wants to abuse her power the way her father did, and when she has the opportunity to offer valuable assistance to her kingdom through her gift, she has to decide what her beliefs are about using her ability to control minds - whether or not there are any circumstances under which she thinks it is acceptable to use her power and how far she can go with it. For her whole life, her father taught her that it was their right to manipulate the minds of others however they pleased and she always shied away from using it for fear of being cruel as he was.

As a character, Fire does seem to be a bit too flawless. She's one of a kind as the last human monster, she's gorgeous, she can control minds, she's a talented musician, men beg her to marry them, she's brave and she's also very gentle and kind. Even when she is shot by the hunter in the beginning, she tells Archer not to be too hard on the man who could have killed her and has a pillow and blanket sent to his cell. Yet I really liked Fire anyway even though I often felt she was too good to be true. In spite of her advantages, Fire doesn't always have it easy - there are those who would kill or rape her, she's never known her mother and her father is dead, and the animal monsters like the scent of her blood far more than normal humans (which leads to the embarrassment of everyone knowing just when it's that time of the month since she needs extra guards then). Further into the book, it becomes very clear that she isn't invincible and Cashore is very hard on her. Plus it turns out Fire has a horrible secret and she may not be quite as obviously good as she seems.

As for the other characters, I loved pretty much all of them that were supposed to be likable (most of the ones that showed up fairly regularly other than the super creepy kid from the prologue). Brigan was easily my favorite character other than Fire, even though he was also on the very good side. Archer got on my nerves sometimes since he was so possessive of Fire - he was constantly asking her to marry him even though she always said no, keeping any guards away from her if she so much as said they were nice, and throwing lots of fits. He had been her friend since childhood, but sometimes I still had to wonder why she put up with him even if this was a fairly recent change in his attitude. That's not to say she let him control her since she most certainly did not and sometimes distanced herself from him because of it - but she still always saw him as someone she really cared for.

Even though the main protagonist was on the perfect side, she had enough hardships that did not magically disappear and obstacles in dealing with her uniqueness that she was still sympathetic. Fire was a pleasure to read and I found myself very invested in the what happened to the characters and finding out how the story unfolded.


Where I got my reading copy: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Other Reviews:

2009 National Book Awards

Today I read that Laini Taylor's Lips Touch: Three Times was nominated for the 2009 National Book Awards for Young People's Literature. I haven't read this one, but I loved both of her Dreamdark books (Blackbringer and Silksinger) so I was rather happy to see this. Congratulations to Laini Taylor!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Review of Doubleblind

Doubleblind is the third book in the Jax series by Ann Aguirre. This romantic space opera series should definitely be read in order - Grimspace, then Wanderlust, and finally this book. The fourth book, Killbox, is scheduled for release in October 2010, and there are supposed to be six books total.

Note: There are spoilers for the previous book in the plot description. If you haven't read the first two books and want to avoid spoilers but still want to hear some about the book/series, skip past the part of this review above the horizontal line. Everything below the line is safe.

Sirantha Jax now finds herself in one of the most precarious situations yet - as a diplomat to Ithiss-Tor, a planet inhabited by a bug-like race of aliens who despise humans. If Jax does not succeed in procuring an agreement with the Ithtorians, all of humanity will pay the price for her failure. More and more human settlements have been attacked by the Morgut race of aliens, and the only way they can think of to protect themselves is to get the Ithtorians, whom the Morgut respect and fear, on their side. Since Jax is in the unique position of being the only human to befriend an Ithtorian (the bounty hunter Vel who once tried to kill her), she was chosen to represent humanity with Vel's assistance as a guide and translator.

Meanwhile, Jax must also contend with the problem of March, who has still not recovered from the war he fought in the previous book. Ever since then, he's been ready to kill anything that moves, and he no longer feels anything for Jax although he sticks with her because he can remember caring for her once. Jax refuses to give up on him and keeps him as part of her entourage even though she worries he may go crazy and jeopardize their mission. Instead of having to do one impossible task, she has determined to do two - secure an alliance with the Ithtorians and fix whatever is wrong with March.

Ever since I first read Grimspace shortly after it came out, Ann Aguirre has become an auto-buy author for me. The moment one of her books comes out I run to the bookstore and buy it. Actually, that's not quite true - ever since I discovered books are sometimes on the shelves before their release date, I've tried to find her books a little early. I was so excited about Doubleblind that I looked for it three times in the same week and was rewarded by finding it one week early. As soon as I finished the book I was reading at the time, I started Doubleblind (which is rare for me as I tend to have book ADHD when it comes to what to read next).

This series appeals to me because they are fast-paced, entertaining, and have some great characters that I really enjoy reading about. Sometimes they are humorous, other times they are touching and they are always pure fun. They keep a great balance between character development/relationships and a plot that moves at a pretty good clip. Plus they are relatively short and easy to read (while I love long books, sometimes it's nice to read something that isn't going to take me more than 2 or 3 days to get through).

This newest novel was a little slower paced at the beginning and a bit harder to get hooked on than the previous two books for me. As with the previous book, the first chapter was largely summary of who everyone was and where the book had left off, but I was still completely unable to put the previous installment down by chapter 3. Although I did get to the point of not wanting to put this one down as well, it did take a bit longer than normal compared to the other books in the series.

Doubleblind was less action-packed than the previous books and more about politics and diplomacy, which I rather enjoyed once it did get going. One of my favorite types of space opera is the type in which a different people or species with a very different way of life is explored. Learning more about the Ithtorians was the main highlight for me, particularly since it revealed a lot more about the alien former bounty-hunter Vel.

Vel has become the most interesting character in the series to me, although perhaps that's at least partially because I like outcasts as well as inhuman characters who occasionally show glimpses of humanity. Not only do we get to see the planet he came from in this book, but we also get to find out more about his past and why he left his home in the first place. Plus there are a few little bits of information about him that will hopefully be described in further detail in future installments. One of my favorite parts of Wanderlust was Vel and his developing friendship with Jax, and their interactions remained one of my favorite parts of this novel as well.

Jax herself has also grown a lot, as can be seen from her refusal to give up on March and her seriousness about her role as a diplomat. The roles have been reversed in her relationship - March used to always be the one looking out for Jax but now she's the one looking out for him. Their situation (referred to in the above plot summary) provides some conflict for their relationship, but ever since the second book I've felt the focus has shifted away from the romance and more toward friendships. This one has more romance than the previous book, but I still felt that the plot and friendships were a better reason to keep reading.

Other than Vel, March and of course Jax herself, most of the other characters are in the background in this book. They show up but they don't undergo any major development.

Although I do find the Jax series to be immensely entertaining, this does not mean I don't have to suspend my disbelief quite a bit when reading them. I don't mean because it has psychics, aliens, genetically engineered super people, talking computers and all the things I love about space opera. In this book, I found it difficult to believe that anyone would send Jax on a diplomatic mission of supreme importance. Although it becomes clear in this novel that she's matured a lot, not all that long ago Jax was a party-girl infamous for getting drunk and flashing her tits in bars. She does not seem like the responsible type one would trust with the fate of the galaxy. Sure, she had a genuine Ithtorian to help her, but Vel was an outcast on Ithiss-Tor since he ran away from it and lived among the humans. So I don't see why his presence would help endear them to the Ithtorians, although it was useful that he could teach Jax what she needed to know about their customs. Not only did they send Jax to Ithiss-Tor as a diplomat, but they did not send any humans with actual experience in this arena to keep an eye on her and make sure no disasters occurred, which would have at least made a little more sense to me.

Also, there was one point toward the end where Jax and Vel were trying to solve a mystery and the solution seemed rather obvious long before they figured it out. Although I can see Jax having difficulty putting two and two together, it really seemed like Vel should be smarter than that, although I suppose he didn't have some of the information that Jax did.

Even though I did find it difficult to believe at times and a bit more difficult to get into than the other two books in the series, Doubleblind was as much fun as the previous books once it got going. Jax is still a great heroine to read about, and if you are a fan of Vel or curious about Ithiss-Tor, you definitely won't want to miss this one!


How I got my reading copy: As mentioned in my review, I bought this one.

Read an excerpt

Other Reviews of Doubleblind:
Reviews of other books in the Jax series: