Book Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne


A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

The Six Kingdoms have existed in tentative harmony for generations, each country kept safe by a “kenning” or magical ability, each one specific to a certain kingdom. The peace is shattered when an invading fleet of pale, nine foot tall warriors, called Bone Giants, run rampant over the coastal cities, slaughtering everyone they come across. The kingdoms, reeling from the attack, must race against time to ensure their survival. But surely the world will never be the same again.

I really enjoyed his book, but I have to say that it probably would have been a dud if written by a different author. This book is, in essence, a 600 page flashback. A novel-length world building tome. Yet it works. It’s crazy, but it works.

When the story opens, the invasion is months in the past. The book follows Dervan, a scholar set the task of writing down the tale of Fintan, a bard. It is the bard’s duty to tell the story of the invasion and the subsequent retaliation by the Six Kingdoms. Every night, Fintan stands on the wall of the refugee city and tells another part of the tale. His bardic gifts let us hear the story from devious politicians, poor hunters, forest dwellers, scholars, and soldiers. Intermixed in all this are the gifted, the lucky (cursed?) few able to control one of the kennings.

The book is huge, the story is epic in scope, and the world beautiful and terrible in all its detail. Hearne has created something incredibly ambitious, and he does it well. As I said, the format of telling the story in a series of flashbacks is odd, and it took me a bit to get into it, but I was hooked soon enough (though I have to say I do hope we get some more direct action in the next book). The plot would tend towards Game of Thrones-level darkness at times if it weren’t for Hearne’s sardonic sense of humor shining through. The brief moments of levity are enough to offset the horror of invasion, betrayal, and mass slaughter.

Any one looking for a new epic fantasy series to dive into (I’m looking to you, Game of Thrones folks!) should invest some time into this book. Fans of Hearne’s Iron Druid series will also likely enjoy this book, though it is certainly a different creature from that fantastic urban fantasy series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson


Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

This is the seventh book in the Josephine Tey mystery series. There’s probably going to be spoilers in this review for the previous books in the series.

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Detective Archie Penrose is called to the scene of a most unusual murder. A man has been found buried alive in a crypt in Hampstead Heath. The look of terror and the ravaged fingers of the dead man speak to hours, if not days, of torment trying to escape the crypt. Tracing a clue about the murder to Cambridge, where writer and friend Josephine Tey has recently taken up residence, Penrose finds the local constabulary overwhelmed trying to stop a series of increasingly violent rapes in the small town. When a second body is discovered, Penrose realizes that he is dealing with an incredibly intelligent, and unspeakably ruthless murderer, and his list of victims is only going to grow.

I have not read the previous books in the series, but fortunately, for the most part the book is able to stand on its own merits. There were a few instances where I felt like a reference was passing me by, or that I had missed some subtle reference, but all in all the back story is well explained without becoming laborious.

This is an interesting (and frankly creepy) mystery. The gothic elements of the main murder series, and the more visceral horror of the serial rapist combine to make the town of Cambridge feel distinctly unsettling. Upson deftly keeps the suspense high with atmospheric writing. Her portrayal of a idyllic small town in the grip of an unknown monster is well done.

The literary aspects of the mystery were especially intriguing. I had never read anything by M.R. James, but after his inclusion in the plot, I found myself a collection of his ghost stories and am looking forward to reading them now that autumn is at hand.

Fans of period mysteries (and, I’m presuming, fans of the series thus far) will find a lot to like in this book. I was surprised that a book in a series featuring a female protagonist is told mostly from the male detective’s point of view, I’m not sure if this is a departure from the regular tone of the series or not. Either way, Upson is able to craft a compelling mystery, one that will keep the reader on his or her toes.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

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The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

I’m continuing my Sherlockian trend with the first of this series by Laurie R. King!

Sherlock Holmes has retired from the life of a consulting detective to keep bees and indulge in chemistry experiments in the Sussex Downs. Mary Russell is a teenage orphan, forced to live with her penurious aunt until her majority. When the two chance to meet, Holmes is not expecting to encounter a mind equal to his, and Mary Russell is not expecting to find a mentor. This first book chronicles the first four years of their friendship.

This is the first in a series which now contains fourteen books. I’m definitely late to the party. Like most of the other Sherlock Holmes stuff I’m reading lately, the choice was inspired by From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström. The book is a series of interconnected vignettes rather than one contiguous story. In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, we move from Mary and Sherlock’s first meeting, to their strange friendship, and the beginning of Mary’s training in the art of detection.

In Mary Russell, King has given us a heroine who is fiercely intelligent and independent, and more than a match for Holmes himself. I loved that while she shares a lot of Holmes’ personality traits, the two complement one another rather than existing as mirror-image duplicates. As with any new series, there is always the awkward getting-to-know-you period. But this is a great start to a series, and I’m quite looking forward to binging on the rest of the series.

Book Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King


The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Can you believe I’ve never read any of the Dark Tower Series by Stephen King? I picked up The Gunslinger in high school (back in the stone ages), and got about halfway through before being distracted by something or another. The poor book has languished on my TBR ever since. Now, though, with The Dark Tower movie coming out, What better motivation to read through the series at long last?

The Gunslinger introduces us to Roland, last of the gunslingers. Roland is pursuing the mysterious and sinister Man in Black across a blighted land. The land is at once alien and hostile, but strangely familiar. Ragtime versions of “Hey Jude” ring out from western-style taverns, and remnants of an all-too-familiar society blight the landscape.

This is one of the first major things Stephen King ever wrote, and you can feel the rawness of it. Reading The Gunslinger, you can see glimmers of King’s talent for allowing the horror of his story to creep off the page and run down your spine. Still, as the first book in the series, there is always some awkwardness in balancing setting the scene and introducing the characters without sacrificing pacing and plot. King sets us down in the middle of the chase and provides background information in small morsels.

 In all, I have to say that this isn’t the best of King’s books. But, as it’s the first of the series and one of his first works, I feel like he gets plenty of leeway. I’m excited to read the next book in the series, and see not only how Roland and the others evolve, but also how King’s writing grows over the course of the story.

P.S. – Thank you to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box for the gorgeous Dark Tower series themed bandana (from the June “All Hail the King” box)!

Book Review: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

This is the second book in The Great Library Series, and so there are inevitable spoilers for the first book below.

 

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Now that the requisite spoiler alert is out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Jess finds himself as a lowly grunt in the Library’s Garda. Forced to abandon his dream of becoming a Library scholar, and very aware of the dark underside of the Library’s rule, Jess uses his smuggling past to try to find more information of the imprisoned Morgan and murdered Thomas. When Jess uncovers a bombshell: Thomas is alive and held captive by the Library at a secret prison, Jess must reunite his old friends (and frenemies) in a desperate rescue attempt. Little does he know that this act of rebellion will spark a violent chain of events which could threaten the world as he knows it.

Paper and Fire is a good sequel to Ink and Bone. The characters seem to have grown up quite a bit since we first met them, and the danger from the Library and its minions seems more devious and omnipresent than ever. We are given more information about the inner workings of the Library, and learn more about its past. I always enjoy the second book in the series, we’ve gotten over the awkward introduction phase and the characters can really stretch their legs. Caine lets Jess and his friends grow, but avoids the simple and comfortable and keeps things on a more realistic and complicated plane.

If you enjoyed the first book in the series, you will almost certainly like this one. If you haven’t read Ink and Bone yet, then you really shouldn’t be reading this review, should you? But either way, fans of the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series will enjoy these books, which manage to be both about teenagers and very adult at the same time.

Book Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

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The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

The book is a slightly less-than-direct prequel to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Though you do not have to read that book before you read this one, I would highly recommend doing so.

Merrick Tremayne is a shadow of his former self. Formerly employed by the East India Company as a smuggler, an accident has left him with a crippled leg and no prospects for the future. But when an expedition is planned to seek out quinine in the mountainous jungles of Peru, Merrick’s knowledge and family history make him indispensable for the success of the mission.

However, once he arrives at New Bethlehem, the village founded by his grandfather, Merrick finds that the fairy tales and stories he grew up with may hew closer to the truth than he ever could have guessed. Merrick must discover the secrets of this strange village–and Raphael, the mysterious local priest–in order to continue his mission.

Natasha Pulley has a real talent for incorporating magical and fantastical elements into a thoroughly believable historical setting. Her melding of history and fantasy is organic and subtle, and a fine example of how magical the genre can be. I also enjoy how Pulley steps out of the usual tropes of this type of fiction–exploring the Japanese Civil War in Watchmaker, and taking us into the mountains of Peru (and the shelling of Canton) in The Bedlam Stacks. Pulley explores colonization, international intrigue, and imperialism in this new book, and amidst the magic of her location, she reminds us of the ever-increasing consequences of invasion and interference.

Some aspects of the plot are similar to those in Watchmaker. We are again confronted with a man we are unsure if we can trust, even as Merrick grows closer to him. The mystery of the danger lurking in the forest outside of New Bethlehem, and the questions surrounding Raphael are well written. The book moves slowly in parts, but the climax of the book is actually quite creepy. While the magic here is more fantastical than that on display in Watchmaker, I feel that Pulley did a wonderful job of integrating it into the story.

If you enjoyed Natasha Pulley’s first book, you should certainly check out The Bedlam Stacks. Any fan of historical fantasy should look into the series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

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Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

The Great Library was started to ensure that the wisdom of mankind was safeguarded. However, since its advent during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Library has stagnated, hoarding its knowledge, and stifling any dissent.

Jess is the son of a book smuggler. Printed books outside the Library’s control are contraband, and the penalty for owning these forbidden tomes is death. Though he has lived his life defying the Library’s hold on the printed word, he understands the value of protecting knowledge. When his family is able to get him a coveted position to train as a Library Scholar, he is secretly excited for the opportunity. Once his training starts, however, he discovers he may have been safer as a smuggler.

First of all, I can’t believe I waited this long to read this book, it has been filling up my feed for ages now, and the third book in the series is due out soon.

The world building in this book is fantastic. Caine manages to combine steampunk with dystopian near-future, and it works. This is a world built on steam, alchemy, and high technology. It manages to feel both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. The characters that inhabit the book are similarly complex and well-crafted.

As Jess starts out his training with the Library, we begin to hope that we can stay with the “Hogwarts with Books” aspect. Alas, soon any illusions about the Library are tugged away and we find ourselves in a dystopian world where knowledge is a coveted resource, and this supreme entity will go to any lengths to keep their monopoly.

Honestly, it’s a bit like Amazon took over the world. The Library is a repository of knowledge, and the information deemed “acceptable” to be released to the public is done via “blanks,” electronic books to which the texts can be sent via alchemy. In a world where increasing digitization has vastly changed the concept of ownership, Ink and Bone feels like a cautionary tale. It certainly made me look at my kindle in a new light.

This book is a great adventure story, and fans of books like the Hunger Games will enjoy this series. Though I’m sure this book is considered YA, the subjects being dealt with are mature and complex, and there is a lot here for older readers (like me). Now I’m off to get the next book in the series (hard copy, not in kindle format).

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate by Aaron Pogue

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The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate by Aaron Pogue

This book is the second in the Godlander Series by Aaron Pogue. If I have to tell you by now that there are spoilers ahead, I’ll be very disappointed. (My review of the first book in the series, The Dreams of a Dying God, was written pre-blog, but you can read it here, if you like.)

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I read the first book in the series several years ago, started this book, and promptly became distracted by something shiny. The poor thing has been sitting on my shelf ever since, and as I’m trying to be good about getting through long-timers on my TBR, I thought it was high time to give the book another try.

Corin Hugh has returned from the ancient city of Jezeeli and emerged in the present day with the favor of a God. Tasked by Oberon himself to kill usurper god Epithel, Corin first sets his sight on some satisfying revenge. Corin sets his sights on killing Ethan Blake, his mutinous first mate who left him to die in the ashes of the great city’s ruins. Unfortunately, it seems that Blake may actually be one of the Vestossis, powerful politicians and rulers who enjoy the favor of Ephithel himself. With the help of a druid ally, Corin must learn to use the magics given to him by Oberon to exact his revenge.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: time travel makes for messy book keeping. While an interesting concept, Corin’s traveling 1000 years in the past in the first book can only complicate the plot from here on out. Fortunately, Pogue seems to sidestep most of those issues by placing Corin’s first adventures in something analogous to a dream, as envisioned by the God Oberon (kind of a literal deus ex machina).

The story itself is engaging. However, it does take about 70-ish pages before you start to feel like you’re having fun. Once the book settles into its rhythm though, it becomes a rather entertaining swashbuckling, monster-fighting, ship-exploding, revenge-seeking, pirate-killing extravaganza. I would recommend reading the first book prior to this one, but, as I didn’t reread it prior to reading this book, you may be able to get by reading this book as a stand alone.

I would recommend this book to fans of straight-up fantasy. It does take some work, but once you muddle through the first few chapters, it really does become quite a bit of fun.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

All-too-familiar Caveat: This is a review for the second book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. That means there will almost certainly be spoilers here for the first book. Rather unavoidable, really.

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Now, then. I have finally gotten around to the the second book in the Miss Peregrine series (Yay!). If you’re interested, you can read my review of the first book here.

So the kids, led by Jacob and Emma, have escaped Cairnholm Island with a severely injured (and unable to transform) Miss Peregrine in tow. On their own in 1940, the children, already exhausted from their battle with the wights, must journey through the bomb-scarred British countryside to find someone capable of healing Miss Peregrine. The war-torn landscape gives perfect cover for hunting wights, and the children must race both time and their enemies in order to save their ymbyrne.

Okay I’m going to come right out an say it: this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the first one. The first book gave us the joy of experiencing new worlds, new folks to meet, and while we got a good dose of creepiness, it was still fun. Hollow City is, in a word, grim. Traipsing through the wartime English countryside is not really an enjoyable pastime. The antique photos, used to such great effect in the first book, take on a new cast here, sometimes seeming like the sole factor driving the story at points. And be warned, some of the photos in the book are of dead bodies. I don’t have a problem with this in and of itself (after all, dead folks are my field), but photos of actual dead people in a young adult book is a bit surprising. Maybe I’m being too delicate. After all, I’m old, and don’t know what the young people are into these days (presumably dead folks. Good for you, young people).

So bottom line: Hollow City isn’t nearly as good as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but it’s still a fine example of the young adult genre. I’ll hold off on judging the series as a whole until I’ve read the third book.

Book Review: The Visionary Mayan Queen by Leonide Martin

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The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque by Leonide Martin

This is a historical fiction novel about Yohl Ik’nal, a Maya queen who ascended to the throne of Palenque in 583CE. The book is the first in a trilogy detailing the early years of Yohl Ik’nal and her reign.

I didn’t finish the book. I had my doubts when it began with Yohl Ik’nal meditating in the jungle, then abruptly mind traveling to speak with a young (Scottish? Scandinavian?) girl who also visited the “realm of faeries.” While I’m not opposed to fantasy, I generally expect historical fictions to trend more towards history than outright fiction.

I also found the dialogue to be stilted and lacking in subtlety. Characters simply state their feelings to one another, or allow the omniscient narrator to tell us exactly what so-and-so was thinking. While Maya culture is formal and regimented, I feel there are better ways to demonstrate this than through awkward dialogue. Along these lines, Martin also gives the reader explanations and translations for various aspects of Maya life, often in parentheses within the paragraph. While this isn’t entirely a bid idea, this approach is more appropriate for an academic work; within a fictional setting the effect is jarring and tend to take the reader out of the story.

Leonide Martin is a scholar of Maya history, and there is no debating her knowledge. However, her strengths do not seem to lie in the fictional realm. A less fictional, more historical/anthropological work might be better suited to showcase her attention to detail and intimate knowledge of  the subject matter. Something along the lines of The Woman Who Would Be King, by Kara Cooney, which stays mostly within the verifiable history but adds in conjecture by the author would have worked well here.

In all, I feel like the fictional aspects of this book are not as engaging as they could be, and the historical aspects are not well integrated with the fictional portions of the book. Yohl Ik’nal is a fascinating figure, and one certainly deserving of wider attention. Maya history enthusiasts may still want to investigate this book, but this may not be the best for the more casual reader.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. The Visionary Mayan Queen is currently available for purchase.