Category Archives: adult novel

Updraft by Fran Wilde

UpdraftKirit lives in a city made of bone high above the clouds. Her mother Ezarit is an accomplished trader, who flies between bone towers negotiating trades and delivering anything any of the other people need, including medicine. All Kirit has to do is pass her wing test in a few days, and she can join her. But everything is turned sideways three nights before the wing test when Kirit it sitting on her balcony and is attacked by a skymouth. Kirit screams at the skymouth’s approach, and it flees from her voice. This unusual and rare event is witnessed by a Singer named Wik, a protector of the city. Wik offers Kirit a place as a Singer, and when she refuses, he sabotages her wing test and she fails. In retaliation, Kirit and her best friend Nat fly to the Spire, the home of the Singers, a place forbidden to regular citizens. Kirit is caught and told in order to keep the rest of her family and friends alive, she must become a Singer. Desperate to keep her mother and friends safe, Kirit agrees, moves into the Spire and begins training to become a Singer, the very thing she used to hate. The longer she lives among them, the more secrets Kirit discovers the Singers are hiding, and the more determined she becomes to reveal the truth to everyone.

Updraft is the first book in Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe trilogy. It falls somewhere between YA and adult fantasy. The protagonist Kirit is around 17 years old (though Wilde never says specifically), which often indicates YA fiction, but the novel’s themes of secrecy, betrayal, and death are much more “Adult” in nature. The library where I borrowed the book files it with their adult fiction. I snagged the book after I saw Fran Wilde speak in Philly with Kevin Hearne and Chuck Wendig. She was fabulous, and I was intrigued by the novel’s concept of a people who live above the clouds and build their own wings to travel around their city.

Wilde falls firmly into the Show Don’t Tell camp of world building. I never felt like I completely, 100% understood how the world worked, with the bone towers and Spire and how everything connected – and it was perfect. Not knowing everything added to the suspense and drama of the novel, and allowed the reader to better relate to Kirit, since Kirit didn’t know everything about her city either. Finding out along with Kirit really drew the reader into the story – you share her frustrations, fears, and hopes as they happen, and are never sure whether or not things are going to work out. I loved the feeling of not knowing, experiencing genuine fear and concern for characters I liked, hatred for those I disliked, and never quite knowing which side I was on.

Kirit was a well-written character. She was a heroine, but she didn’t have any special powers beyond grit and determination. She stood by her beliefs, but listened to new thoughts and ideas and wasn’t afraid to adjust her worldview when she learned new things. She protected those she loved, and always did what she believed was right. Her actions and choices made sense, and were believable – the reader could buy into the idea that Kirit was a relatively normal young adult and capable of thinking what she thought and doing what she did. Yes, that sentence is rather vague, but this book had too many twists and turns for me to even hint at a spoiler.

Speaking of the twists and turns, there were almost too many. Perhaps it was just because I was so engrossed in the novel, and so desperately needed to know how everything worked out, that I read it in about a day and a half. The slow reveal of all the various relationships between characters certainly added to the suspense, but I did catch myself thinking at one point, “Oh Good Lord, not another betrayal!” It got a little over-whelming to keep track of everything, and who was on which side of the conflict. This was not overly detrimental to the novel though, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed as much if I hadn’t been fatiguing from reading for about 5 hours straight.

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Me, this morning. 

Finally, I must mention, there was no hint of a love triangle. No love story at all really. See, authors everywhere. You can write a successful, thought-provoking, honestly fantastic YA(ish) fantasy novel without a lovesick, tortured female protagonist. There’s a tiny, minuscule, barely worth mentioning possibility one could appear in a later novel. But I find that rather unlikely. There was no cliffhanger either! Are there unanswered questions? Sure. Of course I want to know what happens next – I’m completely invested in Kirit, her friends Nat and Wik, especially since by the end of the novel the City has changed quite a bit since the beginning. But the main plot lines wrapped up fairly neatly, and the ending was satisfying.

4 and a half stars

Fran Wilde’s Updraft receives  4.5 out of 5 stars from me and I highly recommend it to those who love high fantasy, an unusual world, and a realistic, believable heroine. The second book in the trilogy is called Cloudbound, and I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as possible so I can be ready for the release of Horizon, the final book in the trilogy, this September. Go out and enjoy it!

The Devious Dr. Jekyll by Viola Carr

The Devious Dr. Jekyll is the second book in Viola Carr’s Electric Empire series. I initially picked up the first book in this series, The Diabolical Miss Hyde, because I saw the cover in a bookstore and it looked really cool. The cover for this installment was equally awesome. As the title of the books suggest, they are a play on the story of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Main character Dr. Eliza Jekyll is the daughter of Henry Jekyll, and because Dr. Jekyll was using his infamous elixir when Eliza was, *ahem* conceived, Eliza has what you could call a split personality. Her “other half” so to speak is Lizzie Hyde.

**This review will contain some mild spoilers for the The Diabolical Miss Hyde.**

devious dr jekyll coverEliza is a well-respected female doctor who often helps the police solve their cases and who dates the dashingly handsome Captain Lafayette. Captain Lafayette works for the Royal Society, a group dedicated to wiping out everything even remotely supernatural in England. This should include Eliza, which makes their relationship a bit tricky – until Lizzie discovered Captain Lafayette has his own secret – he’s a werewolf. Eliza and Lafayette mutually decide to keep each other’s secrets, but their relationship remains complicated. Lizzie meanwhile is not just another personality. When Eliza drinks her elixir – or Lizzie breaks out on her own – her whole body changes, down to her hair color. She looks completely different, wears different sized dresses, and speaks with a different accent. Adding complication to Eliza’s relationship with Captain Lafayette is the small matter of Lizzie sleeping with him, and continuing to harbor feelings for him after he tells her he loves Eliza only and can’t be with her anymore. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a love triangle or not, haha.

These books are interesting reads for me, because most of the books I really like I enjoy because I can become emotionally invested in the characters. I don’t particularly like Eliza Jekyll or Lizzie Hyde. Eliza is too proper, and she makes some outrageously stupid decisions for a person smart enough to become a doctor. Lizzie is more crude than I can handle. The plot is good though. In this novel, Eliza and Captain Lafayette are searching for a murderer who is killing his victims using a horrifying ritual. I like steampunk novels, and I think Eliza’s talking mechanical dog is adorable and a nice touch by the author. So far, the books are fine.

Now here’s the part that really makes me want to read these novels: Viola Carr’s imagery is SPECTACULAR. I should have made notes of some specific examples, but of course I didn’t think of that at the time, and now the book is back at the library. The one moment I remember because it was so brilliant was Carr’s description of the sunlight as “gritty.” There was much more to the description of the scene than just this one word, but this stuck with me, because while it is not a word you generally associate with the sun, I understood exactly what she meant. Every single one of her descriptions is this perfect. It really takes her story writing to the next level, and it inspires me to make my own writing even better.

Overall, I give this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to fans of steampunk, the supernatural, and really brilliant imagery. The third book in the series, The Dastardly Miss Lizzie, was just published in April and I looking forward to reading it.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

This book was freaking fantastic. Like, so good I almost didn’t want to start another book because I couldn’t recover. Wow.

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Hint: swords are important in this novel.

I love the concept behind the Divine Cities trilogy. The Divinities are dead, killed in the war between the Saypuris and Continentals almost a century ago. The Saypuris, once enslaved by the Continentals and their gods, are now large and in charge and trying to unite both their land and the Continent under the same ruler. Hasn’t been going as planned though, because these Divinities and their powers can’t quite seem to stay as dead as everyone hopes.

Alright. Here’s the synopsis for the second book in the trilogy, City of Blades:

The city of Voortyashtan was once the domain of the goddess of death, war, and destruction, but now it’s little more than a ruin. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called out of retirement and sent to this hellish place to try to find a Saypuri secret agent who’s gone missing in the middle of a mission, but the city of war offers countless threats: not only have the ghosts of her own past battles followed her here, but she soon finds herself wondering what happened to all the souls that were trapped in the afterlife when the Divinities vanished. Do the dead sleep soundly in the land of death? Or do they have plans of their own?

My one and only (small) gripe with this book was that I really could have used a “In the previous novel…” type-thing at the beginning. I read City of Stairs quite awhile ago, and it took me awhile to remember who all the characters are and their relationships, etc. But I figured it out quickly enough, and not remembering all the details from City of Stairs wasn’t a problem.

Turyin Mulaghesh was a fantastic character. She was not your average hero. Having been instrumental in winning the Battle of Bulikov, she has taken her prosthetic arm and retired. She in NOT pleased to be dragged out of retirement by Prime Minister Shara (hero of book one), who uses a glitch in the system to claim Mulaghesh must work a few more months to receive her military pension. Thus, Mulaghesh is sent on a mission to determine if the mysterious white powder being mined in Voortyashtan is Divine, and discover what happened to the spy-scientist Shara sent before who has mysteriously disappeared. The mission is fraught with peril, and not just the physical kind. In charge of the Fort in Voortyashtan is General Biswal, Mulaghesh’s former commander who brings with him a host of terrible memories from the last war that Mulaghesh wishes she could forget. Added to the mystery of the missing scientists are the horrific deaths of the natives happening around the city. Suddenly, the issues facing Mulaghesh are much bigger than just a missing person, and she must race to figure out what is going on in Voortyashtan before everyone’s lives are at stake.

Throughout both this novel and the previous one, author Bennett does a masterful job weaving his world’s history into the present-day plot. His world-building is spectacular. So much detail, so much history, and every bit of it adds to the story. While at times all this information can be over-whelming and difficult to keep straight, Bennett does a skillful job helping his readers determine what is important and remember how everything connects. It’s rather amazing how he brings everything together.

Bennett’s stories are a fabulous, fun mix of mystery and fantasy. Readers of either genre will enjoy his work. It will grab on to your imagination, and won’t let go. I can’t wait to get my hands on the third book in the trilogy, City of Miracles. This book receives a rare 5 out of 5 stars from me, and is recommended to those who enjoy other high fantasy novels, like those of Brandon Sanderson or Sarah J Maas. Read it. You will not be disappointed.

The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin

I rarely cheat and use Goodreads for my book summaries, but I just couldn’t figure out a way to summarize this one without giving too much away, so…

serpent's tale cover

Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II, has died an agonizing death by poison—and the king’s estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect. Henry suspects that Rosamund’s murder is probably the first move in Eleanor’s long-simmering plot to overthrow him. If Eleanor is guilty, the result could be civil war. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth.

Adelia is not happy to be called out of retirement. She has been living contentedly in the countryside, caring for her infant daughter, Allie. But Henry’s summons cannot be ignored, and Adelia must again join forces with the king’s trusted fixer, Rowley Picot, the Bishop of St. Albans, who is also her baby’s father.

Adelia and Rowley travel to the murdered courtesan’s home, in a tower within a walled labyrinth—a strange and sinister place from the outside, but far more so on the inside, where a bizarre and gruesome discovery awaits them. But Adelia’s investigation is cut short by the appearance of Rosamund’s rival: Queen Eleanor. Adelia, Rowley, and the other members of her small party are taken captive by Eleanor’s henchmen and held in the nunnery of Godstow, where Eleanor is holed up for the winter with her band of mercenaries, awaiting the right moment to launch their rebellion.

Isolated and trapped inside the nunnery by the snow and cold, Adelia and Rowley watch as dead bodies begin piling up. Adelia knows that there may be more than one killer at work, and she must unveil their true identities before England is once again plunged into civil war . . .

Basically, our favorite 12th-century forensic pathologist is back in action, only this time her action is complicated because 1) its winter, and in 1147(?) travel wasn’t easy in perfect weather, so imagine how much tougher it is in 4 feet of snow; 2) her friend, confidant, and all-around helper Rowley is now a bishop, an Important Person in court and in the Church so on top of everything else their relationship is changing; and 3) she has a BABY and running around solving murders when you need to take breaks for breastfeeding is tough for anyone, 12th-century or otherwise.

Much like the first book in this series, Mistress of the Art of Death (reviewed here!) Adelia is called on by King Henry to help solve a murder, only this time the murder is connected to the royal court and the identity of the murderer could lead to war. I like these books, not just because I like historical fiction, but because I like Adelia. She wants to be strong and independent and most of the time she is successful, impressive for a time period when any woman with an ounce of brains was accused of witchcraft and executed. Yet she also struggles with things like balancing her work and motherhood, her faith – whether she has any at all, and if she does, what exactly does she believe in? She’s imperfect, and despite her sometimes abrasive manners and foolish decisions, she’s likable and as a reader you are on her side.

I missed Rowley a bit in this novel. He wasn’t as involved as he was in the first book, and when he was, his character began to change and grow due to his new position as bishop. I wouldn’t say he is a favorite character by any means, but his interplay with Adelia was fun and I wanted more. We did see more of Adelia’s relationship with her friend Glytha (I think that’s the correct spelling of her name – I made a dumb move and returned the book to the library before writing my review to avoid fines, haha). Anyway, Glytha is matronly and well-grounded in common sense, and she’s a good balance to Adelia’s impulsive and sometimes pig-headed nature. I like her, and enjoy reading about her.

There was definitely more court intrigue in this novel, including a long, detailed scene with Adelia interacting with King Henry. He’s a smart, progressive ruler who could be much more of a jerk than he chooses to be. His queen and children are in the novel as well, so if historical fiction with Royal Drama is your thing, you will like this novel.

Finally, I wasn’t able to figure out who the murderer was before the characters in the novel, which was great. I was surprised and pleased with the twist ending. While I didn’t love this book quite as much as the first, I still give it 3.5 stars out of 5, and recommend it to fans of historical fiction and mystery novels.

Ghost of a Chance by Simon R Green

I am, in general, a huge fan of Simon R Green. I LOVE his Secret Histories series, with Eddie Drood, his partner Molly the Wild Witch, and the crazy huge and complicated Drood family. I don’t like the Nightside series quite as much as the Droods, but its still good, just not as much my thing. I had high hopes for the first book in the Ghost Finders series.

hopes dashed meme

This novel was a disappointment. The biggest issue was the characters. The three “good” guys, JC Chance, Melody Chambers, and Happy Jack Palmer work for the Carnacki Institute, an organization that exists to deal with ghosts. JC is the overly positive and optimistic team leader whose special talent appears to be strong willpower and bossing his team around. Melody is the tech geek, who believes science can explain everything (sort of?) and likes her computers more than she likes people. Happy is a pill-popping telepath, whose powers are overwhelmingly strong so he needs to constantly medicate to function. Unfortunately, none of these characters were likable in any way. They were one-dimensional and honestly obnoxious. I am absolutely the sort of reader who wants to be able to empathize with the characters, or even feel like I could be part of their world and be their friend. The only character I came close to liking was JC, the attractive, suave, smart leader – and then he fell in love with a ghost he knew for exactly 0.7 seconds, which made NO SENSE WHATSOEVER and that’s pretty much when I lost interest in the novel.

what face meme

My face, when the main character abandoned his team to chase after a ghost he was “madly in love with” that he literally just met. 

Then there were the “bad” guys from the Crowley Project, a group interested in the supernatural to meet their own ends and basically take over the world – because of course someone is evil and trying to take over the world. *eye roll* I don’t even remember their names any more. The female (Natasha maybe?) was another telepath with a violent history, like helping her mother kill her father, who carried lots of weapons and was in general Dangerous. The male (Erik?) was a genuine mad scientist who made a computer out of a cat! What?! Creepy. Sometimes, when you can’t connect with the good guys in a novel, you can at least be interested in the bad guys. Not so in this novel. They were awful and nightmare-inducing, with (once again) no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I didn’t like anybody. What a bummer.

ghost of a chance coverThe world building and the supernatural elements in this novel were creepy AF. Like, I had moments where I wondered if an author with ideas this frightening might possibly need to be locked up. Yes, OK, I’m being a smidgen dramatic. But dude. This definitely headed towards “horror” rather than just urban fantasy. Maybe I’m a wimp but it was too scary and horrific for me.

If you enjoy horror and really freaking scary world building, you might enjoy this book. If you read for characters like I do, forget it. 2 out of 5 stars, and I won’t be continuing with this series. Too many books, too little time.

Greyfriar by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

Greyfriar by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith, a husband-and-wife writing team, is the first book in the Vampire Empire series. It is an alternate universe novel, set in a time when vampires banded together and essentially took over the world in the late 1800’s. Humanity, which now lives in the cities closest to the equator where there is the most heat and sun, has finally made enough technological advances that they are prepared to start fighting back. The main protagonist in the story is Adele, Princess and future Empress of Equatoria, and land that encompasses most of the former British Empire. While on a diplomatic mission, Adele’s airship is attacked by vampires. She is rescued by the legendary Greyfriar, a human known for his ability to fight vampires. As she travels through Northern Europe and falls in and out of the hands of the ruling vampire clan, her worldview is shattered, and she learns quite a bit about herself and the vampires she has grown up hating and wishing to destroy.

greyfriar coverA unique take on the vampire lore is presented in this novel. Vampires are creatures that a born, not made from humans. They have exceptional senses of sight, hearing, and smell but feel little pain and have a terrible sense of touch that makes it difficult for them to manipulate tools – which is fine, because they are arrogant and find manual labor beneath them, forcing their human “bloodmen” to do it for them. They have retractable claws which they use as a main weapon. They can also fly – sort of? They can change the density of their body, and therefore float and move around with the breeze.

 

On one hand, I had a bunch of issues with this novel. I’m not sure I ever completely bought into the vampire lore. I respect the authors for trying to do something different, but I think it was too different. I believed almost everything right up until the change their body density to float/fly thing. I also found it unusual that the vampires had no interest in any sort of knowledge – they couldn’t read or write, and didn’t care that they couldn’t. They ruled and conquered by physical strength. Perhaps it is just because I have read far too many vampire novels in which the vampires are brilliant, rich and well-read, using the knowledge they gain by living for centuries to their advantage. The fact that these long-lived vampires had no concept of that seemed strange to me. I wanted this new and different take on vampires to be refreshing, but instead it irked me and took away from the story.

 

 

I did enjoy the relationship between Greyfriar and Adele. I felt Greyfriar appeared a bit too vulnerable at points, and it took away from the believe-ability of his character. But I thought their relationship was believe-able and well-written, and that kept me interested in the story. I figured out Greyfriar’s real identity almost immediately, and at first I was annoyed, but then later decided the writers did it on purpose and it worked.

 

There were these few and far between moments that alluded to some sort of magic. Presumably this becomes more important to the plot in the next novel? Otherwise I can’t figure out why it was mentioned. So little information about it was offered, that I found it annoying and abrupt rather than mysterious. I just wanted to get back to the action with Adele and Greyfriar. The mystery-magic either needed to be more developed or removed completely, particularly the secret meetings. I think moving them to the beginning of the next novel would have been more effective and interesting, and just left the readers wondering why Adele’s prayers have an effect on the vampires. This paragraph was a bit vague, but I don’t want to give anything away.

 

Overall, this novel was OK and I do plan to read the next one eventually, being interested in Greyfriar and Adele, and how their relationship will grow and change. I give it 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to fans of alternate history and steampunk vampire novels. I use the term steampunk loosely though – the novel has airships, but that’s about it for typical steampunk technology.

 

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

mistress of the art of death coverAdelia is a forensic pathologist, a doctor who studies corpses to discover the cause of death. Alone, this isn’t a shocking or particularly special characteristic. When you add “in 12th-century England” it becomes much, much more interesting. Adelia trained to become a doctor in Salerno, Italy, a quite progressive town for the mid-1100’s, not only because the people who live there know so much about medicine, but because they trained a female doctor. Adelia is even more of an oddity because her particular field of study – that of death. While she is respected by those in the medical profession in Salerno, she is still so unique that her foster father must take credit for her work. Thus it becomes a shock for absolutely everyone when Adelia is the “death doctor” chosen to fulfill the King of England’s request for a doctor to help the determine the cause of death of the several children in Cambridge.

I was intrigued by this novel before reading it. The idea of a “death doctor” in the 12th Century was enough to make me want to pick up this book – the fact that the lead character was a woman made me even more interested, and I was not disappointed. Adelia is a strong, independent, and brilliant young woman. She is faced with an exceptionally difficult task, taking a long journey to England, a country that is much more conservative, and practically even backwards by the standards of Salerno that she is accustomed to. Her servant and dear friend dies on the journey. She must pretend her other servant is really the doctor, as female doctors in England are unheard of, and she would be accused of witchcraft and executed. Not to mention she’s living in a time period where women are considered property of their man, and without a man are regularly taken advantage of. Adelia faces her challenges with her head held high and never backs down from those who consider themselves her betters. She makes mistakes as she learns her way, but she learns from them, and this only makes her more human and relate-able.

Some other reviewers complained about Adelia’s indecision about her belief system. At times she rejected religion, and at other times prayed and called upon God, Allah, or whoever came to mind at the time. I found this understandable rather than obnoxious. Adelia comes from a place where science and medicine are appreciated and practically worshiped, which does not often lend itself to belief in a higher power. Traveling to England, she finds herself in a location where God is the ultimate power, believed to be the only thing that can take pain away, and any sort of science or medicine is not just disbelieved, but frowned upon and reviled. Being surrounded by these varying ideologies, it only makes sense that Adelia would question and at times change her views.

There was some romance in the novel, but it was not essential to the plot and did not distract from the story in any way. Most of the supporting characters were well-written and had their own depth and backstory. I enjoyed the history in the novel as well. I recently read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, and noticed Kind Henry II and some other events in this novel were similar to those in Follett’s novel, which took place about 100 years later. Had I not read Pillars so recently, I would not have noticed, and while this might bother the more historical minded, it didn’t effect my enjoyment of the story. I am looking forward to A Serpent’s Tale, the next book in the series.

I give the novel 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to fans of mystery and historical fiction.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

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There are tons of covers for this book. This one is my favorite. 

You wouldn’t think a book about building a cathedral would pull you in and refuse to let you go. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett did exactly that. The novel follows a large cast of characters though 12th-century England as they struggle with war, famine, corrupt rulers, rape. accusations of witchcraft, death, poverty, and ultimately the decades-long task of of building a stunning cathedral.

This is a very difficult book to sum up because it is extremely long – over 900 pages – and spans the lifetime of several characters, whose difficulties and growth I would hate to give away. I will say all the characters are beautifully written and exquisitely human, each with talents and flaws, and who make decisions that make the reader love and hate them equally. There is a character for everyone – the feminist who overcomes severe adversity to make a name for herself without the help of a man, the strong independent woman accused of witchcraft who lives in the forest, the religious monk who constantly finds himself between what his religion teaches and what society demands, the corrupt bishop who manipulates all those around him for his own gain, the father who struggles to raise his children on his own, the child who must choose whether to follow his parent’s footsteps or strike out on his own. Finally, there is a spectacular villain, you spend the entire novel gleefully hating and waiting for karma to catch up to him.

In addition to a fabulous cast of characters, the novel presents a detailed account of life in 12th-century England, in which travelers would die on the road if they came across bandits, families starved if they couldn’t find work, earls were free to do as they pleased to those in their power with no oversight, religion and royalty fought to determine who was really in charge. And the idea of these uneducated (even then, and certainly by our current standards) peasants building a magnificent cathedral without any of the machinery we are familiar with today was particularly impressive.

On his website ken-follett.com, author Ken Follett notes that the cathedral in his novel is fiction, but he drew inspiration from two real-like cathedrals in his writing, the Wells Cathedral and the Salisbury Cathedral, pictured here to give an idea of what these amazing people were capable of before electricity.

My only, albeit very small, gripe with this novel was that as fascinating as it was learning the minutiae of building a cathedral, I just wasn’t that interested in it, and I occasionally skimmed through some details about building plans. The novel did feel a bit long at points, but on the other hand was so enthralling that when it was over I wanted more, so ultimately no complaints about the length.

I give this book a rare 5 out 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction. Truthfully, I recommend it to everyone. There is something in this novel for every reader to enjoy, and I like Follett’s writing style enough that I now plan to seek out some of his other works.

PS – There’s a sequel! It’s called World Without End and apparently occurs in the same location two centuries later, during the Black Death. I will be reading it ASAP.

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

torch-against-nightThis book was awesome. Even better than the first in the series, An Ember in the Ashes, reviewed here. This review will contain EPIC SPOILERS for said first book in the series

Elias and Laia are on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of Elias’s former best friend Helene while they travel to the prison Kauf to rescue Laia’s brother. Laia knows the prison break will be almost impossible, but will do anything to save her last living family member. Elias just hopes he lives long enough to help Laia, since he is dying from poison inflicted by his mother when they fought during his escape. The two face plenty of danger, make unexpected allies, suffer tragedy and heartbreak, and at times its difficult to believe either will ever reach anything resembling a happy ending.

Both Elias and Laia go through some significant character development in this book as well. Elias struggles to figure out who he is and where his loyalties lie now that he has escaped the empire and has only months left to live. Laia discovers magic powers have been awakened in her, and she must learn to control them and use them to help her in her quest to free her brother. She also must take a stand and decide whether or not she wants to be part of the Scholar Resistance. Everyone in this novel becomes more than they originally thought they were capable of. Watching the characters grow and struggle with their choices and the consequences of them is captivating.

New to this installment in the series are chapters told from Helene’s perspective. Talk about a conflicted character. Helene’s world is turned completely upside-down, as she finds herself hunting her best friend Elias with orders to kill him. If she fails in her mission, her family will be killed. Everything Helene tries to do feels like the wrong thing for one reason or another, either because of her loyalty to her friend and man she once loved, or her loyalty to her family and the empire. Reading events from her perspective in addition to Elias and Laia really added an extra layer to the novel, and was a brilliant choice by Tahir.

It was nearly impossible to predict how this story would end. From the beginning it was clear everything could not be tied up with a nice neat bow. But the twists and turns were unpredictable and added to the suspense and excitement. Total emotional roller coaster. It’s difficult for me to say more without giving away some major plot points, and trust me this story is better if you don’t know what’s coming.

I give this book a rare 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy high fantasy, adventure, magic, and suspense. Definitely read the first book in the series before you read this one. It’s going to be a loooooong wait for the next book!

Showdown by Ted Dekker

This book was pitched as the ultimate showdown between good and evil. Except it wasn’t. It was more about mind control and people who thought their intelligence gave them the right to play God.

There were two main settings to the book. Paradise, a tiny town of about 400 or so people in the mountains of Colorado. And the Monastery, hidden in the mountains outside Paradise, and home to a bunch of brilliant young showdownchildren, wise beyond their years, who are being taught all about love by a group of very smart adults with the eventual goal of “changing the world.” Eventually you, the reader, find out that hidden in the basement of this monastery are a bunch of blank books – whatever you write in the books becomes reality, but you can only write in the books if you have childlike innocence, or something along those lines. Hence, the discoverer of the books sets up the monastery with the intention of raising a bunch of brilliant kids who will write only positive, wonderful things in these books and make the world a better place. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out just about everything can go wrong. A rogue teacher (because there’s always one, isn’t there?) encourages a student to seek out the books. The student discovers its way more fun to write stories filled with evil and violence than with love, and once he realizes everything he writes in the book is happening in real life, he gleefully turns Paradise into hell. And now, for the SPOILERS

Of course there is one student in the monastery who isn’t taken in by thoughts of doing evil, and with his father, the head of the monastery, writes in one of the books and tries to turn things around. This plan fails, he eventually this child goes down to the town and sacrifices himself to save the townspeople. The father, who is suddenly able to write in the books, unlike every other adult ever, manages to resurrect his son and fix the town. I don’t suppose this story sounds familiar to anyone, does it?

I guess I had trouble buying in to this story. Not only was I not convinced a bunch of thirteen year-olds would immediately abandon everything they had been taught and mindlessly write terrifying evil, there was also this magic, hallucinogenic “worm gel” involved, that the students found in the dungeons with the books and which made them sick but was addictive…and yeah, was never explained fully. And all the while the rest of the supposedly brilliant adults in the monastery could just do nothing? Really?? And the sacrifice of the perfect son to save the town was just too on-the-nose for me.

In the end, I just don’t think Ted Dekker is an author for me. I always think the synopsis of his books sound great, but then when I read them they are too concerned with religious symbolism and parallels for my taste. I give this book 2 out of 5 stars, but do recommend it for those who like science fiction with lots of religious overtones thrown in.