Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review of Silver Borne

Silver Borne is the fifth book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. It is currently available in hardcover and will be out in mass market paperback in January 2011. The first four books in the series are Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, and Bone Crossed. River Marked, the next book in the series, is scheduled for publication on January 25, 2011.

The day begins mundanely for Mercy Thompson as she works on fixing a car at her mechanic shop. When she receives a phone call from a friend passing along a message from Phineas to "tell Mercy to take care of that thing I gave her," she figures he just wants back the book about the fae that he lent her. Since Mercy's friend is worried that he cannot get a hold of Phineas she promises to stop by his bookstore to return the book that very night. However, once she gets there to find the shop closed and Phineas nowhere to be found, her instincts are screaming that something is not quite right.

Mercy doesn't have time to dwell on something that might be wrong since she has a date with Adam. Although her date begins well, it ends badly when she finds herself acting strangely, as though she is compelled to do so. Soon, she suspects someone is using the pack bond to control her- it's no secret that some of Adam's wolves are not particularly happy about having a coyote as a pack member.

Later that night Mercy receives a call from Samuel asking her to go get him from the hospital where he works. Once she arrives she finds that something is seriously wrong with him: his wolf half has taken over because Samuel is too depressed to continue. She can't tell anyone who may know more about the situation than she does because werewolves in this position must be killed according to pack law. Can Mercy save Samuel, salvage her relationship with Adam's pack and unravel the mystery of her fae book before it is too late?

It continues to impress me that Briggs manages to pack so much into such a short novel. Each of the books in this series are approximately 300 pages long, yet the main plot is always wrapped up by the end and the characters are further developed. What I love best about each new installment, though, is that reading a new Mercy Thompson book is like reconnecting with old friends. After five books, the characters are all so familiar and true to themselves that they seem real (in spite of any supernatural abilities). Mercy has such a natural voice touched with humor that always draws me right in to the story and keeps those pages turning quickly.

This particular volume has a main mystery involving the fae, a group I particularly love if they have a dark nature instead of being happy, human-like beings. Although most of the fae in this series fit into that category, there are a few exceptions and I don't even mind those because I love all the characters so much. While I loved the dark, fairy tale feel to the fae plotline in this story, the ending did bother me. It was just too convenient and seemed to come out of nowhere. It's the same complaint I have with a lot of urban fantasy - it seems as though every powerful creature in the world happens to show up in the one city the series takes place in.

This is largely Samuel's book as he's dealing with some of the issues that have been mentioned before. Even so, there are still plenty of great parts with Adam, Bran and many of the other characters (I'm starting to really want a series about Bran and/or Samuel's past adventures). Also, there's more information on pack dynamics and the different bonds, and learning more about the pack social structure is always interesting.

Silver Borne is another great addition to the Mercy Thompson series with some more plot revolving around the fae aspect of the world. Although part of the ending didn't quite ring true, the characters do and many readers will be happy to know that there is some special emphasis on Samuel.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it (in hardcover even though it meant my books no longer matched - I found it for $11 and just couldn't wait).

Read Chapter One
Read the Author's Comments

Other Reviews of Silver Borne:
Reviews of other books in this series:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review of The Sevenfold Spell

The Sevenfold Spell is a new novella by Tia Nevitt, who runs the wonderful Debuts & Reviews site. This Sleeping Beauty story is the first in a series of fairy tale retellings called Accidental Enchantments. The next book will be based on Cinderella, and there are plans for books based on Beauty and the Beast and Snow White as well. The Sevenfold Spell was published in e-book format and was just released this week.

This particular version of the Sleeping Beauty tale is based on the familiar myth but makes it into its own unique version. While it is the same basic story with the fairies and a princess destined to prick her finger on a spinning wheel, the princess is not the main focus. The Sevenfold Spell is told from the perspective of a commoner named Talia, who is of marriageable age at the beginning of the story. The princess Aurora was just cursed by the evil fairy, and all spinning wheels have been outlawed from the kingdom. Talia and her mother earn their living by spinning, and the consequences of the seizure of their spinning wheel are devastating. A good portion of Talia's dowry goes toward a new loom so she and her mother can begin learning and practicing a new trade. As a result, she and her suitor Willard do not have enough money to begin a life together and Willard's father sends him to a monastery. Over the course of several years, we see just how this affects the course of Talia's life and how her story ties in with that of Princess Aurora.

The Sevenfold Spell is a fast, absorbing novella. It didn't take long at all too engage me, and it only took about an hour and a half to two hours to read from start to finish. As someone who is a paper book fan, I was a little unsure about reading an e-book and I think it would have been hard for me if it hadn't grabbed my attention pretty quickly or if it had been dense. Fortunately this was not the case and I quickly forgot I was reading on a screen (other than on a couple of occasions when I noticed how heavy the iPad gets).

The first half of the book was actually pretty racy, and I was a little surprised by the amount of sex and wondered at first when it would get to more about the fairy tale. It began with showing just how terrified people were to be losing their primary means of making money when the spinning wheels were banned, and the next part was a lot of sex scenes. Early in the story, I wasn't quite sure how they related to the rest of the book, but by the time I was finished, I felt that it ended up shaping her character quite a bit. It made sense that she'd decide just to have some fun and forget about her reputation - her prospects for marriage were gone and she was probably feeling pretty hopeless at that point. Plus it did shape her character throughout the years, and it influenced some advice she gave to a certain prince later.

The second half of the book ended up dealing more with the fairy tale, and Princess Aurora and the prince take on larger roles. I especially enjoyed reading about the explanations for the details in this well-known story, such as why the fairies could not counteract the curse.

The Sevenfold Spell is still the Sleeping Beauty we are all familiar with but with a different perspective that sets it apart from being just another retelling of this fairy tale. It moves at a good pace and is entertaining - and a bit romantic.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: The author sent me a copy.

Other Reviews:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tia's Pajama Party Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Sevenfold Spell

Today I am pleased to welcome Tia Nevitt to celebrate the release of her novella The Sevenfold Spell, the first in a series of fairy tale retellings called Accidental Enchantments. Since Tia is normally only available to comment after business hours, she has been stopping by while in her pajamas, thus the name. For a schedule of all the tour stops, you can see the full list here on her book review site, Debuts & Reviews.

Wow. Today is it. The release date. Be kind to me, world! Thank you so much for having me, Kristen. To celebrate the release, I’d like to give away a copy of The Sevenfold Spell. To enter, either leave a comment, or email me at tia @ tianevitt . com (remove the spaces) and please mention that you saw this at The Fantasy CafĂ©.

For today’s post, I’d like to discuss the books that have touched me over the years. They are all works of fiction, listed (roughly) in the order in which I read them over the years. Most are fantasy or science fiction—but not all.

2001 by Arthur C. Clarke
This is the first speculative fiction novel I ever read. For a long time, it was the standard by which all others were judged. It had to be hard science fiction—no space opera for me! However, it also had to have wonder in it. And the Jupiter approach scene is just about the most wondrous scene I have ever read.

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
I learned a great deal about character development from this novel, which I read when I was in high school, and before I entertained any serious desire to become a writer. I have since reread it many times.

The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Simply put, this novel made writing look so fun that I just had to try it for myself.

Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey
My husband had this lying around and I picked it up out of boredom. It was my first space opera. It touched me because of the music. I loved reading about a musician who goes off and finds a lucrative and exclusive line of work because … she has perfect pitch. And because she had to pass a rigorous physical, mental and intellectual exam to get in. I so wanted to be a crystal singer.

Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
I loved this series because the authors did their damnedest to include wonder in every chapter. You just don’t get a shot of wonder like this when you read today’s gritty fantasies. If you disagree, I’d love for you to recommend some titles.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I learned a great deal about point-of-view while I was reading it, as it alternates between omnipresent to third person as it goes from chapter to chapter. I also learned that you can take an unpleasant character and make them compelling.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This book showed me that a novel can take on a serious subject and still make the reader howl with laughter.

Sentenced to Prism by Alan Dean Foster
I was blown away by this novel. Initially, I didn’t want to read it because I didn’t like the punny title. A friend convinced me to give it a try. It was totally not what I expected and when I name my favorite science fiction novels, this one always makes the list.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This novel taught me the importance of bringing out a character through dialog. It also made me fall in love with romance again.

And to round out this list, a recent one:

The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe
I just reread the review of this novel, and it made me wonder why I have not bought the second novel—I certainly intended to, and now I think I’ll get it for my nook. I loved Eddie LaCrosse, and while it was drenched in blood and gore, it had unexpected wonder, redemption and soul.

Ok, I have obeyed the blogger’s rule of THERE MUST BE TEN, so I’ll leave it at that.

Which novels would make your top-ten list, and why?

Thank you, Tia. That's an intriguing list of books! I'm going to have to think about my top ten list; that's a tough question to answer.

Here's some more information on The Sevenfold Spell, which was released today as an e-book from Carina Press:

Have you ever wondered what happens to the other people in the fairy tale?

Things look grim for Talia and her mother. By royal proclamation, the constables and those annoying “good” fairies have taken away their livelihood by confiscating their spinning wheel. Something to do with a curse on the princess, they said.

Not every young lady has a fairy godmother rushing to her rescue.

Without the promise of an income from spinning, Talia’s prospects for marriage disappear, and she and her mother face destitution. Past caring about breaking an arbitrary and cruel law, rebellious Talia determines to build a new spinning wheel, the only one in the nation, which plays right into the evil fairy’s diabolical plan. Talia discovers that finding a happy ending requires sacrifice. But is it a sacrifice she’s willing to make?

Good luck to those entering to win a copy of The Sevenfold Spell! To enter, email Tia at the address she provided or leave a comment with your top 10 favorite books - we'd love to hear about which books you love the most and why!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coming Up

There were no books to add to the leaning pile this week, but I just wanted to give a quick update on what is coming up.

Tomorrow Tia Nevitt will be here as part of her blog tour for the release of The Sevenfold Spell. She will also be giving away a copy of her book. I've read it and it's a very enjoyable romantic fairy tale based on the story of Sleeping Beauty.

For reviews, I'm working on one for The Sevenfold Spell and one for Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs. My hope is to get both of them up this week, but as I already know it's going to be a crazy week we'll see how that goes.

I've read an unusually crazy number of books for me this month so even with writing 1 -2 reviews a week I'm behind. After that, reviews that still need to be written are:
  • Lady Lazarus by Michele Lang
  • Blameless by Gail Carriger
  • Of Darkness, Light and Fire by Tanya Huff (an omnibus containing two of Huff's earlier novels - Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light and The Fire's Stone)
Whew! It might be time to get out a longer book to give myself a chance to catch up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Discussion: The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

For quite a while now, I've been thinking I'd like to try to get more book discussions going here. Sometimes in review comments there's a little bit of discussion about books, but there's a limit to those conversations since there's the need to be cryptic or put up big spoiler warnings before talking about a book. So I'm going to try actually doing this and see how it goes, and if I don't end up merely conversing with myself, I may put up these discussions more often.

I will always make it clear at the beginning of the post that this is a spoiler discussion so anybody who hasn't read the books knows not to read any further (unless, of course, you don't care about reading big, nasty spoilers). The initial post will be spoiler free - I will not post anything specific about the books other than in the comments.

For my inaugural discussion, I've decided to start with the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews for several reasons. First off, I discovered these books this year and love them! Also, I seem to keep talking about this books with people on Twitter, and 140 characters just doesn't quite cut it for a conversation. Plus there is so much to talk about! Please note this discussion is intended for all four books so there could be spoilers for Magic Bites, Magic Burns, Magic Strikes and/or Magic Bleeds.

Feel free to write about anything related to the series - what you thought about the books, how you feel about any of the characters, what you think of the mythology, speculation on what will happen in the next book, anything at all!

Read the comments if you want to see my theory about who Roland is, and I would also love to hear other thoughts on the clues we've been given so far!

For those who missed it, here is a recent interview with Ilona Andrews. It might give us some more to talk about.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Review of An Artificial Night

An Artificial Night is the third book in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, this year's John W. Campbell Award winner for Best New Writer. The first two books in this urban fantasy series about faerie are Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation, respectively. There has been a very short wait in between books, and both the fourth and fifth books are scheduled for publication next year (Late Eclipses in March and The Brightest Fell in September, continuing the trend of beautifully worded titles taken from Shakespeare).

Life is never dull for Toby Daye, a changeling private investigator who does work for the Faerie court. One moment she's capturing Barghests who have taken over the feast hall of one of the Faerie nobility. The next morning her own personal Grim Reaper shows up at her front door, cheerful and eagerly awaiting Toby's imminent death. As if that weren't enough, Toby comes home from breakfast to a frantic call from her friend Stacy who needs her to come look into a situation. Two of Stacy's children disappeared in the middle of the night, and one of her other children will not wake up.

It turns out other children are missing as well, including a human girl. Toby soon learns that this means Blind Michael is stealing children to become animals and riders for his Wild Hunt. With so many taken, including some who are dear to her, Toby cannot do anything other than try to retrieve the children - even if the appearance of death at her door means this does not bode well for her.

Each book in the October Daye series is better than the last, and this series has become one of my top three urban fantasies (right after the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs). The second book was a big improvement over the first one, and this latest installment was slightly better than the second one. The plot was tighter with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere in the realms of Blind Michael. It's dark and there is not a vampire or werewolf to be found - it's all about the fae.

One of the reasons this book seems stronger than the others may be that it's not about solving a mystery - the cause of the disappearing children is discovered early in the story and most of the book was about how to rectify the situation. While I mostly love Toby as a character, I'm afraid I don't actually believe in her as a private investigator. She seems to have issues grasping simple clues in each book, and her ability to solve cases seems to rely more on sheer luck than any actual skill. Perhaps good fortune is part of Toby's changeling heritage that hasn't been revealed yet since she did admit in the beginning of this novel that solving her latest case had nothing to do with her prowess as an investigator (plus, she does seem pretty lucky not to be dead by now as often as she's nearly been so in these three books). When it came to figuring out who took the children, she also didn't do a whole lot of problem solving but instead came to the conclusion by coincidence leading her to the person she needed to talk to. Admittedly, she'd had a rough morning with Mae, her own personal Fetch who looked like her and was just waiting to carry her off after she died, showing up at her door. Yet I can't ignore this or think of it as a special case since she's seemed equally dense at figuring out clues in the previous books.

In spite of the fact that I am hoping there is an explanation for Toby's less than stellar investigative skills, I do enjoy reading about her. She's funny with a rather amusing way of phrasing her narration, and she's certainly not all powerful. Her tough but vulnerable attitude and willingness to dive into danger reminds me a lot of other urban fantasy heroines, but her voice in the second book went a long way toward making me like her. However, I did find myself thinking Toby's voice was not as strong or full of personality in this installment as the previous one. After some thought, I don't think that there was a big difference between the second and third book narration, but Toby's voice no longer seemed as "Toby." The last book I read by Seanan McGuire was Feed, a novel she wrote as Mira Grant, and I found myself thinking at times that Toby's narrative style sounded very much like George, the narrator in Feed.

Most of the characters other than Toby are also very enjoyable to read about, both new and old. Luna's past is explored, and it was fun to learn more about her origins. The rose goblin Spike was fleshed out a little more and even though he can't speak to Toby, he has his own personality and endearing ways. Tybalt remains my favorite and even though there wasn't as much of him in this novel as the second one, the parts that were here were very good. Part of his allure is just how mysterious he is so I don't really mind if that is dragged out a little, especially considering we did get some setup hinting there may be more about him soon. There were also several references to Toby's mother that made me quite curious about where that may be going. This part of the series is handled very well - even though each book stands on its own with a definite conclusion there are some tantalizing bits to anticipate in future installments.

My personal preference for fae is the darker the better, and I am beginning to wonder just how dark these fae are. Although there are certainly some who are on the creepy side such as this book's villain Blind Michael, many of them seem to genuinely care about others. There are times they look out for themselves or do good if it benefits them, but I am beginning to wonder if some of the fae are further on the Tinkerbell side of the faery goodness spectrum than I'd initially thought. Since all the important characters are at least partially fae, the average reader may not be able to sympathize with them if they seemed too inhuman, though. It's a difficult balance to maintain, and there is at least still plenty of blurriness when it comes to motive for many of them.

Although I do have one major issue with the series so far - the main character's incompetence at her job - An Artificial Night is an entertaining read that kept me turning the pages. It's dark and eerie with some delightful characters I'm looking forward to reading more about.

My Rating: 8/10

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

Reviews of other books in this series:
Other Reviews of An Artificial Night:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

This week I got three books to add to the pile (well, I guess technically my husband got one but it's in a series we both read so I'll include it). Good thing I've actually been reading more books this month than the last few...

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the first book in a young adult fantasy trilogy, The Seven Realms. I've wanted to read this ever since I read Thea's review at The Book Smugglers but had never actually gotten a hold of a copy of it, so when I was contacted about receiving the first two books for review consideration my answer was an ecstatic "Yes!" It looks like a fun book. The first chapter is available on the author's website.

Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for himself, his mother, and his sister Mari. Ironically, the only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell. For as long as Han can remember, he’s worn thick silver cuffs engraved with runes. They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.

Han’s life gets even harder after he takes a powerful amulet from the son of the High Wizard. The amulet once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece so powerful at stake, the Bayars will stop at nothing to reclaim it from Han.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, Princess Heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. Although Raisa will become eligible for marriage after her sixteenth name-day, she isn't looking forward to trading in her common sense for a prince with a big castle and tiny brain. Raisa aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But it seems like her mother has other plans for her—plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the Queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms will tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide in this stunning new page-turner from best-selling author Cinda Williams Chima.

The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

The middle book in The Seven Realms trilogy will be released on September 28. Chapter Two is available to read on the author's website.

You can't always run from danger...
Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling at Mystwerk House in Oden’s Ford. But leaving the Fells doesn’t mean danger isn’t far behind. Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. And Mystwerk House has dangers of its own. There, Han meets Crow, a mysterious wizard who agrees to tutor Han in the darker parts of sorcery—but the bargain they make is one Han may regret.

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells, accompanied by her friend Amon and his triple of cadets. Now, the safest place for Raisa is Wein House, the military academy at Oden's Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.

The Exiled Queen is an epic tale of uncertain friendships, cut-throat politics, and the irresistible power of attraction.

Miles In Love by Lois McMaster Bujold

This was the last set of Miles books I didn't own (at least until CryoBurn comes out next month). I still need to read Memory before getting to this one, but my husband recently picked up the next book he had to read in the series and started going through the rest (and has now finished them all, including this one and the one after it). This omnibus edition contains the novels Komarr and A Civil Campaign and the novella "Winterfair Gifts."

Two complete novels and a short novel in one large volume:

Komarr—Miles Vorkosigan is sent to Komarr, a planet that could be a garden with a thousand more years of terraforming; or an uninhabitable wasteland, if the terraforming project fails. The solar mirror vital to the project has been shatteredby a ship hurtling off course, and Miles Vorkosigan has been sent to find out if it was an accident, or sabotage. Miles uncovers a plot that could exile him from Barrayar forever—and discovers an unexpected ally, one with wounds as deep and honor as beleaguered as his own.

A Civil Campaign—On Komarr, Miles met the beautiful Vor widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who has no intention of getting married after the heartbreak and betrayal of her first experience. But Miles has a cunning plan to change her mind. Unfortunately his clone-brother Mark and his cousin Ivan have cunning plans of their own, and the three-way collision of cunning plans threatens to undo Miles’s brilliant romantic strategy.

“Winterfair Gifts”—Miles and Ekaterin make elaborate preparations for their wedding. But Miles has an enemy who is plotting to turn the romantic ceremony into a festival of death.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review of Lord of the White Hell: Book Two

Lord of the White Hell: Book One
by Ginn Hale
346pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: N/A
Goodreads Rating: 4.7/5

Lord of the White Hell: Book Two completes the Lord of the White Hell duology by Ginn Hale. Book One came out in the middle of August and Book Two was just released today. Since the second book picks up right after the first one and this is one book split into two parts, I would strongly recommend starting with Lord of the White Hell: Book One instead of the second volume.

As this is a continuation of the first book, I am going to skip the plot summary and refer to my review of Lord of the White Hell: Book One for those who are not familiar with these two novels. If you have read the first book, you know what the books are about and there is really no need to discuss what happens in the beginning since it's really the middle and I'd like to write about the book without spoiling it. In this review, I'll cover some of the differences between this and the first book and what I thought of both books as a single entity.

First of all, I loved the second half of this book just as much as the first one. It did take me a little bit longer to get to the same level of complete absorption as in the first, but before long I was just as swept up by the story. Although it did suck me in pretty quickly, I thought I might not enjoy it as much as the first part for a little while. This was mainly because there was a lot more sex, and I do have a tendency to get bored with a lot of sex scenes. They did not drag on for too long before moving on, though, and they also were often integral to character development so I didn't mind them as much as I thought I would. However, I still much preferred reading about the various characters, the cultures and mythology, and the curse.

Both books are very heavy on character development and relationships between the characters, and so many of the characters came across as real and likable. Kiram, the scholarly boy with the genius for mechanics, and Javier, the lord controlling the white hell, are of course the best drawn as the main protagonists the books focus on. Yet reading about any of them was immensely enjoyable, and all the friends from the academy had such a wonderful camaraderie shown through humorous, smoothly written dialogue. Even childlike Fedeles, whose conversation mainly consists of singing the names of his favorite horses, shines as sweet and good-natured - and was a character I really cared about in spite of the fact that he is not even normally coherent.

In book two, there is a break from school and Kiram goes home to the Haldiim district in Anacleto. At first I was concerned that this meant there wouldn't be as much time spent with the characters I'd come to love so much, but it didn't end up being a problem since some of them lived nearby and others visited. Also, this allowed a firsthand look at the Haldiim and how their way of life contrasted with that of the Cadeleonians. It was particularly refreshing that even though they were more open-minded and less strict than the Cadeleonians, they were not portrayed as perfect in every way. Even though they allowed people to marry a person of either gender and seemed in general more lenient, the matriarchy still had some of the same pitfalls as a patriarchy. Marriages were still often made based on forging an advantageous connection with another family, and mothers still refused to give their sons certain freedoms. Regardless of culture, everyone seemed human with their own strengths and flaws - even compassionate Kiram was not immune to some prejudice when it came to the Cadeleonian religion.

The conclusion was very exciting, and every plot thread was wrapped up. Even though it had a satisfying resolution, it does feel like there is room for sequels since more adventure is probably in store for Kiram.

Although it had many similarities to Wicked Gentlemen, such as the examination of two conflicting cultures, a character driven story and a romance between two men from opposing societies, Lord of the White Hell was not as prettily written. Even so, it is a stronger story, although perhaps I think that because I usually prefer longer stories with more time to get to know the characters.

Lord of the White Hell is highly recommended to readers who enjoy character-driven fantasy with some romance and focus on social structures. It had me captivated from start to finish and is easily one of my favorite books I've read so far this year.

My Rating: 9/10

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

Reviews of other books in this series:
Read Excerpts:
Read an Interview with Ginn Hale

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review of Killbox

Killbox, the fourth book in the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre, was released on August 31. The other books in this space opera series are Grimspace, Wanderlust and Doubleblind, in that order. There will be six books total in the series with Aftermath scheduled for September 2011 and Endgame for September 2012.

Please note that since this is the fourth book in a series, there will be spoilers for the first three books. This is a series that I would definitely recommend reading in order beginning with Grimspace (review).

After leaving Ithiss-Tor, Jax sends a message that she is quitting her job as a diplomat the first chance she gets. It's not that she doesn't want to do her part to save humanity (and any other species that refrains from hostile actions such as devouring the flesh of anyone it feels like eating) - but diplomacy has never really been her strength. Instead, she takes an apprentice jumper and begins teaching him how to traverse grimspace.

Daily life is not as safe as it used to be, and for some peculiar reason the Morgut appear to be targeting scientists. As more and more people are attacked by the deadly Morgut, Jax and her friends realize that there are serious consequences to destroying the corrupt Farwan, which at least had a large number of patrols dedicated to aiding those in trouble. The Conglomerate comes to the same realization and offers March a position as commander of a new armada - with free reign to be "creative" due to limited funding and the urgency of defending the universe. Although it is a lot of responsibility, it's also impossible to refuse, and the crew begins gathering a force of mercenaries of ill repute as the last hope against the Morgut threat.

After the political diplomacy in Doubleblind, this book packs in a lot more action. In spite of (or perhaps because of) this, it actually took a little longer for me to get emotionally involved in Killbox than the previous three novels, although I was very much emotionally involved by the time it ended. The beginning is not at all slow, quite the opposite - I was just being impatient about wanting to see certain threads from the last book picked up. The previous installment dealt a lot with Vel, my favorite character in the series, and I was hoping to see some of the parts about him from it followed up on some more. Although it took a little while to get to them, there were definitely some great scenes with Vel that I'm now hoping to see continued in the next novel.

There's lots of danger, excitement and battles, and Aguirre continues to maintain an excellent balance between moving the plot forward and developing the characters. At first it did seem as though there was more adventure and less of the character moments, but there were some - they were just mainly with March. Ever since the second book, I've much preferred reading about the friendships Jax has developed to the romance, especially her relationships with the alien Vel and the ship's mechanic Dina, an exiled princess. By the time it reached the big cliffhanger ending, not only had there been some fantastic conversations with both Vel and Dina, but it had definitely also taken me on an emotionally harrowing journey. The last 50 - 60 pages made me cry not just once but twice (which rarely happens at all).

Another major highlight is the return of some characters we haven't seen since the very first book, but the most rewarding part is the development of Jax herself. She continues to grow as a character and has changed so much since the first book. Even better, just how much she has grown is shown through her actions - we're not just told she's not the same Jax but we're shown time and again that she has come a long way since the first book. It did get on my nerves a little that we were told she wasn't the same so many times instead of just letting her deeds speak for themselves, but considering the story is told from Jax's perspective, I don't think it's unrealistic. Someone who has undergone as much of a metamorphosis as she has over the course of this series is probably going to be continually amazed by the contrast between how she reacts now and how she would have reacted just a short time ago.

The writing itself has also improved since the first novel. While is still mainly straightforward and sometimes fractured prose as it's told from Jax's perspective in present tense, there were a couple of phrases and observations that struck me as lovely. The turmoil at the end especially was very moving.

It was somewhat annoying that March and Jax were apart yet again in this book. Although the reason behind it was logical, the fact that it keeps happening over and over again is making it feel contrived to me. It's starting to seem like every book needs to have a new dilemma for keeping some tension in the romance so it doesn't get stale before the final book.

Overall, this is a strong addition to the Sirantha Jax series. It has plenty of action and adventure, the characters continue to grow, and the writing has matured since the first book. One final word of advice: do have a box of tissues handy and be prepared to curse the book for ending where it does.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.

Read Chapter One

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Reviews of other books in this series:

The Leaning Pile of Books

This month I bought one book for National Buy A Book Day. (I also decided to also make it "Buy Cookies and Caramel Mocha Day" at the Borders coffee shop - I hadn't been to their cafe in a long time and didn't realize just how delicious their cookies were but they were soft and chocolatey and really, really good. Maybe I need to make this a monthly holiday.) Every once in a while I try to go over there and buy a book or two that I know I want to read. We had a bookstore on our mall that I can't remember not having there that closed down recently and I really don't want the same thing to happen to our Borders!

Elfland by Freda Warrington

Somehow I had completely missed this book until I read Sarah's review at Bookworm Blues. It sounds like it is just my type of book - a character-driven story with captivating prose. I had already decided I must read this when I looked for it at the bookstore, and then I found it and opened the cover and what do I see under the "Praise for Elfland" section?
Elfland is an absorbing and gripping journey into a world where the otherworldly shivers alongside us, unseen. - Storm Constantine, author of the Wraeththu Chronicles
Wraeththu Chronicles is of course one of my favorites ever for the same reasons this book sounded appealing to me. It turns out some of Freda Warrington's other books have been published by Immanion Press, Storm Constantine's publishing company.

Another Aetherial Tales novel, Midsummer Night, is coming out in the US in November. Each novel in the series is supposed to stand alone.

Elfland is an intimate, sensual novel of people—both human and Aetherial—caught between duty and desire. It is a story of families, and of Rose Fox, a woman born to magic but tormented by her place in her adopted world.

Led by Auberon Fox, a group of Aetherials—call them the Fair Folk, if you will—live among us, indistinguishable from humans. Every seven years, on the Night of the Summer Stars, Lawrence Wilder, the Gatekeeper, throws open all gates to the Other World. But this time, something has gone wrong. Wilder has sealed the gates, warning of a great danger lurking in the realm beyond them. The Aetherial community is outraged. What will become of them, deprived of the home realm from which their essential life force flows?

Rose Fox and Sam Wilder are drawn to the lands beyond the gates, even as their families feud over Lawrence’s refusal to do his duty. Struggling with their own too-human urges, they discover hidden truths that draw them together in a forbidden alliance. Only by breaching the dreaded gates and daring the danger beyond can they confront that which they fear most— their otherness—and claim their birthright.