Category Archives: adveture

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!

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

This review will contain some SPOILERS for The Way of Kings, the first book in the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. This is a spectacular series and trust me, you don’t want a second of it spoiled for you. Go read  The Way of Kings before you read this review.

Here’s the synopsis from the front cover flap, which was posted on brandonsanderson.com:

words of radiance coverSix years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.

Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status darkeyes.  Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and their civilization-ending Desolation. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but even arriving there proves more difficult than she imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The consequences for Parshendi and humans alike—indeed, for Roshar itself—are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

This novel by Brandon Sanderson–actually, both novels in his Stormlight Archive series–have definitely become two of my favorite books. They are both masterpieces of high fantasy, with incredible world building, intriguing and creative uses of magic, leading characters it is easy to fall in love with, and villains you love to hate. My favorite character by far is Kaladin–a bitter, angry, too-young-to-be-so-cynical darkeyes (low class) man who constantly defies the odds and not only stays alive when several people try to see him dead, but becomes a leader and confidant of one of the most powerful men in the land. Watching him grow and change and learn about himself is for me the most interesting part of the novel–and it is just one small part of a novel filled with intrigue, war, magic, technology, and even some romance.

The complete cover image. I LOVE this artwork.

The complete cover image. I LOVE this artwork.

One of the impressive things about Sanderson’s work is how all the characters, from a variety of backgrounds, weave together to create one story. When I started reading, I was sure everything was not all going to fit together, at least not by the end of the (granted, very long) book. But they did, while revealing more of each character’s past, purpose, and even the lore and past of Roshar and the Alethi kingdom itself. All the characters are diverse and speak with their own unique voice, and often tell the same event from very different perspectives. Even more interesting are the occasional interludes narrated by “side” characters who we have often never met before and there were a few whose place in the story I can’t even guess at yet.

Sanderson’s plots, while complex, are easy to follow and understand, and seem perfectly logical and believable. I never see the twists coming, especially those right at the end of the novel, just when you think everything is going to calm down and you finally know what’s going on. Sanderson is a fast writer, which is great news, because I’m already dying for the next book.

5 stars out of 5, and highly recommended to fans of George R. R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire series, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, and Glenn Cook’s Black Comapny series, and Sanderson’s Mistborn series (though I have read the first Mistborn book and I like the Stormlight Archive better). And if you haven’t tried any epic fantasy yet, this is a great place to start. Happy reading!

-Branwen

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

Sadima, Franklin, and Somiss, driven out of Limòri by a suspicious fire, are living in a cave hidden within the cliffs that overlook the city. Somiss is convinced the dark passages of the caves were the home of ancient magicians, and his obsession with restoring magic deepens. Sadima dreams of escape — for her, for Franklin, and for the orphaned street boys Somiss has imprisoned in a crowded cage. Somiss claims he will teach these boys magic, that they will become his first students, but Sadima knows he is lying.

Generations later, Hahp is struggling to survive the wizards’ increasingly dangerous classes at the Limòri Academy of Magic. He knows the fragile pact he has forged with his secretive roommate, Gerrard, will not be enough to put an end to the evil. It will take all the students acting together to have any chance of destroying the academy. Building trust, with few chances to speak or plan, will be almost impossible, but there is no choice.

sacred scars coverIn this second book in Duey’s Resurrection of Magic series, all Sadima’s efforts are focused on convincing Franklin to leave Somiss. She, Somiss, and Franklin are living in a cave in the woods where Somiss has been keeping the boys he kidnapped, claiming they will be his first students. Sadima is sure this is a lie, and Somiss’s real purpose for the boys is much more nefarious. Somiss’s mania to find the secrets of magic has increased, and he treats Franklin worse with every passing minute. Something must be done. Meanwhile, in the future, Hahp is busy trying to convince Gerrard that the only way they can truly defeat the wizards is for their entire class to band together both to survive, and eventually destroy everyone else at the Academy.

I ran to my library to get this book almost as soon as I finished the first book in the series, because I just had to know what happened next. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as the first one (Skin Hunger, reviewed here). It was soooooooo slow. Sadima spent chapters and chapters and chapters exploring cave tunnels. Hahp spent chapters and chapters and chapters (again) making food or figuring out how to make other random things with the “magic stone.” It droned on and on. I felt like the book could have been 150 pages shorter. Now, it did have some interesting moments. The action that did happen was dramatic and unexpected. Sadima and the boys’ escape attempt was suspenseful (though it would have been even more suspenseful if it had been about 5 chapters shorter). I also thought learning more about the Eridians was interesting, since Somiss and Franklin talked about them all the time in the first novel, but don’t really explain who they were. Towards the end of the novel, I was sure the timelines were about to come together, but whether or not they did was never made clear. I think that was supposed to get me excited for the next book (which, at the time Sacred Scars was published, was not even in the planning stages) but really it just frustrated me. Notice I did not really find anything about Hahp’s story interesting enough to mention here. I desperately wanted to be emotionally invested in Hahp–I felt like I should be–but I just wasn’t.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for readers who read and enjoyed the first book, but warn you not to get your hopes up too much. According to Duey’s website, the third book is in the revising stages (though Goodreads doesn’t know anything about it, which is a little suspicious). We can only hope the third book releases soon and is better than the second!

Happy reading,

-Branwen

Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore

When Queen Bitterblue took the throne of Monsea, she was a child, and her advisers ran the kngdom for her. Now she is beginning to question their decisions, especially how they handle the legacy of her father Leck, who who ruled through his Grace—a special talent for mind-altering—and his taste for darkness and violence. Bitterblue needs to know Monsea’s past to lead it into the future, so she begins exploring the city sreets at night, disguised and alone. As she does, she meets two thieves, who hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Bitterblue US coverBitterblue is the third book written in the Graceling Realm. The other books are Graceling (the first) and Fire (the second). Cashore writes on her blog that they do not necessarily need to be read in order, which I agree with, although I was very glad I had read them in order; it made the story much more enjoyable since I knew the back stories.

Bitterblue is a young woman, 18 years of age, who became queen after she helped kill her tyrannical and psychopathic father when she was only 10 years old. Now she is Queen of Monsea, one of the Seven Kingdoms, in which some people are born with Graces, which can best be described as a sort of talent, although they are much stronger than regular talents. Bitterblue’s father Leck’s Grace was mind control, which he used to control and suppress his people, and perform terrible experiments on them. Bitterblue is trying to help her kingdom recover and be prosperous once more. This is easier said than done, as her advisors are trying to pretend the past did not exist and keep Bitterblue too busy to notice that her city is falling apart around her. Bitterblue makes the courageous decision to sneak out at night and learn what’s really happening in her city. She meets two thieves who teach her what’s really going on outside her castle gates, and at the same time teach her about herself.

Bitterblue UK coverMy favorite part of this was how everyone seemed like a real person, especially Bitterblue. Her struggles were so real and easy to understand and sympathize with. She was in one of the worst situation a queen could ask for, and she was trying to recover from her own personal problems as well, like missing memories, her father’s abuse and the murder of her mother when she escaped so long ago. She tries so hard to do the right thing, not just for herself but for her friends and for her people. Some other characters from Graceling appeared as well, like Katsa and Po, along with some of their friends, like the handsome Giddon. They helped Bitterblue with her trouble and added some familiar humor and fun to the novels.

Graceling UK coverLike the other two novels written in the Graceling Realm, this would was so wonderful and magical that I wish I could go visit. I want to walk across the Winged Bridge and stroll into a story room late at night. I would love to visit Death’s (pronounced like “teeth,” apparently) library and pet his cat Lovejoy. I would especially like to meet Katsa, Po, and Giddon. Two days after finishing it, I am still thinking about this book and wishing it hadn’t ended. Fire UK coverKristen Cashore claims on her website that she doesn’t know if she’ll be writing another book; in fact, she never intended to write more than Graceling. I hope she does, though. There were too many unanswered questions and stories left untold for her to stop writing about the Graceling realm. Speaking of which, if you visit Cashore’s blog, you can find a ton of cool stuff, not least of which are the alternate cover images. The US and UK cover images for Bitterblue are above. I have also included the US and UK cover images for Graceling and Fire, because they are beautiful. I think Graceling is my favorite. Exactly how I pictured Katsa.

This book was one of the best I have read in awhile. I read several books I like and enjoy, but this one was literally impossible to put down. I hope Cashore appeases her adoring fans (like me!) and writes more about Bitterblue and her crazy friends.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

Alllegiant by Veronica Roth

I did it. I finally got around to reading Allegiant, the final book in the Divergent trilogy. I was excited for this book long before it came out, because I liked the first two books in the series and I couldn’t wait to see how it ended. Then, when it  released and the interwebs exploded, I knew I had to get my hands on it fast before it got spoiled for me. It took all the willpower I possessed to not skip to the end of this book, something I have never done but have desperately wanted to do on more than one occasion. This was one of those times. I held myself back and was ultimately glad I did. I’m going to borrow the summary from Goodreads, since I don’t want to give anything away:

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

allegiant-book-coverThere were several things I loved about this book. First and foremost is that we finally get the full backstory. What happened in the Purity Wars. What’s happening outside the fence, and how did Tris and the rest of her community get inside the fence. What does it really mean to be Divergent. Who was Tris’s mother really. Lots of questions were answered. We also get to see Tris and Tobias (Four) work on their relationship. And actually work on it like real people, not just have some magical teen romance. They still have problems, but they actually sit and talk about them more-or-less like adults, and even if they don’t stop having problems, neither of them are just whining anymore.

Bad news was, there were plenty of things I didn’t like about this book. Lots of reviews I have read have been raving about the dual-perspectives, and how we get to read the story from both Tris and Tobia’s POV. I’ll admit I was excited about this when I first heard about it, and it could have been cool. But it wasn’t. Tris and Tobias pretty much both spoke with the same “voice.” I kept having to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to see who was speaking, they sounded so much alike. That was a big disappointment. I was also a little disappointed that Tris and Tobias face pretty much the exact same problems outside the fence as they did inside the fence. Nothing new there. I guess I was expecting a little more excitement. And the “love story” was so cute I could gag. I mean, I know sometimes I complain about too much sex in YA lit, but this was PG to the extreme. If I read about how wonderful it was to kiss a collarbone, or how exciting it was to have someone’s fingers  in your belt loops one more time, I was going to throw up, haha.

Then there was the ending. I read some reviews before I read this book, which I almost didn’t do because I didn’t want any preconceptions, but I knew the ending was going to be controversial, so I didn’t mind too much. It looks like most reviewers fell into two camps. The first was OMG-how-could-the-author-do-this-to-me-I-hate-her-for-this-ending camp. The second was the I-didn’t-like-it-but-I-can-see-why-she-did-it camp. I think I fall somewhere in between. I never really buy into the whole “this is the only way the author could have ended this story” thing. I heard enough of that after the atrociously bad ending of the Hunger Games trilogy. But on the other hand, we knew this couldn’t be a sunshine and butterflies happy ending. I didn’t love the ending, but I didn’t think it was awful, and I felt satisfied even if I was sad.

Overall, I just didn’t think this book was as strong as the first two. I would have preferred the whole thing be narrated by Tris, with maybe a few chapters told by Tobias, if any.  I think that would have made it much more enjoyable. A good, satisfying ending ending to the series though.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Long ago, wars of ancient Evil ruined the world and forced mankind to compete with many other races – gnomes, trolls, dwarfs, and elves. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles until giant, forbidding Allanon, with strange Druidic powers, reveals a supposedly-dead Warlock Lord plots to destroy the world.

The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, only usable by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races. Soon a Skull Bearer, dread minion of Evil, flies into the Vale to kill Shea. To save the Vale, Shea flees, drawing the Skull Bearer after him.

Sword of Shannara coverThe Sword of Shannara is the first book in the original Shannara trilogy. Terry Brooks has written piles of books in the Shannara world, and being new to his writing I had no idea where to start. Luckily, Brooks has a wonderfully detailed website that gives not one but TWO reading orders for his novels, one for new readers, and one for “re-visiting” readers. You can check it out here. If you are a brand new reader, like me, you would want to start with The Sword of Shannara, the first book Brooks wrote, though not the first one in the world chronologically. Perhaps once I read all the rest of the 1062 book on my “to-read” list I can go back and be a re-visiting reader and read them in chronological order. My OCD had a very difficult time choosing between two reading orders, haha. Anyhow, onto the interesting stuff…

I borrowed the summary of this book from Goodreads, since SO MUCH happens in this book it’s hard to sum it up. This book seemed very Lord of the Rings-esque to me, it being epic fantasy in a huge world nothing like our own with a variety of races: human, elf, dwarf, trolls, goblins, and more. The group of main characters is made up of a variety of these races (like LOTR) and they go on a lengthy quest to help the one human who knows nothing about the magical aspects of the land he lives in defeat the evil being and save the world (ahem, Frodo and the Fellowship traveling to Mordor to defeat Sauron). SO yeah, at every turn it sounded like LOTR. I mean, if you liked LOTR like I did then you will certainly like this book. I would have just preferred it didn’t scream LOTR as loudly as it did. Despite that, I still enjoyed it. Enough things were different that it did read like it’s own story, even if it was clearly modeled on another. And the method of the storytelling was different as well, which helped.

Something I liked about this book was that I was able to really connect with the characters and become emotionally invested in their lives. My favorite was Balinor, human and Prince whose armies are the only line of defense when the Warlock Lord attacks. He overcomes great adversity, like his brother being hypnotized by a mystic and trying to destroy his own capital city of Tyrsis. Balinor must come to terms with the fact that his brother has completely lost his mind,  defeat him, take over the armies of the Border Legion, and defend his city all in a matter of days.  Reminded me of Aragorn. All of the characters in this novel had different personalities and “quirks.” Two of the characters were developed more than the others, Shea, the half-human/half-elf who discovers he is the heir to Jerle Shannara and the only one who can wield the magic sword and defeat the Warlock Lord, and Flick his brother. They are both Valemen who work in their father’s inn and are sheltered from the rest of the world and its problems. We learn the most about them because they change the most. They are so naive, through no fault of their own, having never left the Vale and only knowing what they have learned through others. Shea in particular is very prejudice and idealistic. He learns a lot about his world and the various people/races in it as he travels on his quest, and his whole way of thinking changes. Finally, we have the mystery characters Allanon, over seven feet tall, dressed in black, and having a wealth of knowledge and power the traveling companions only glimpse occasionally. The best part was, we heard parts of the story from the perspective of all these different characters. Being in Allanon’s head was especially interesting, as he had many more doubts and fears than any of the other characters could even guess. For me, this is what made these books so much different from the LOTR books, and made it “not just another epic fantasy.”

Readers who liked the Lord of the Rings books, the Black Company series, the Wheel of Time series, or any other epic fantasy will enjoy this book. I’m looking forward to reading the next one, The Elfstones of Shannara. Hopefully some of my favorite characters will be back!

Happy reading,

-Branwen

The Sworn by Gail Z. Martin

the sworn coverAs plague and famine scourge the Winter Kingdoms, a vast invasion force is mustering from beyond the northern seas. And at its heart, a dark spirit mage wields the blood magic of ancient, vanquished gods. Summoner-King Martris Drayke must attempt to meet this great threat, gathering an army from a country ravaged by civil war. Neighboring lands reel toward anarchy while plague decimates their leaders. Drayke must seek new allies from among the living-and the dead-as an untested generation of rulers face their first battle. Then someone disturbs the legendary Dread as they rest in a millennia-long slumber beneath sacred barrows. Their warrior guardians, the Sworn, know the Dread could be pivotal as a force for great good or evil. But if it’s the latter, could even the Summoner-King’s sorcery prevail?

Awhile back, I read the Chronicles of the Necromancer series by Gail Z. Martin. Devoured them would be more accurate. I fell in love with those characters and that world and couldn’t get enough. I finally figured out that those same characters are in this new series. Though Martin says this new series, Fallen Kings Cycle, stands alone, it really follows the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, with the same world and same main characters, with a few additions. You could theoretically read The Sworn without having read the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, but I wouldn’t recommend it, since you’ll be missing a lot. That being said, this review will contain spoilers for the Chronicles of the Necromancer series.

The events of The Sworn pick up six months after Chronicles of the Necromancer. Plague has beset the Winter Kingdoms. Dark mages are robbing graves and whispers of very evil magic permeate the land. Some characters we know and love from the first series are major players in this book. Jonmarc, mercenary-turned-Lord of Dark Haven is busy taking in refugee vayash moru (vampires), and vyrkin (essentially werewolves, although their shifting does not seem to have anything to do with the full moon) who have fled their homes because humans blame them for the plague. His wife Carina is getting ready to have twins, and Jonmarc worries about raising a family in troubled times. Tris and Kiara are preparing to have their first baby in Shekerishet, capital city of Margolan. We don’t see much of Kiara or Carina, since they are getting ready to be moms. In addition to Tris and Jonmarc, Carina’s twin brother Cam in another important character in this book. He is the champion of King Donelan, King of Margolan’s neighbor Isencroft and Kiara’s father. We also meet a new character, Jair, prince of Dhasson, who rides with The Sworn and his shaman-wife Talwyn for six months of the year. The Sworn made an ancient pact to protect the barrows and crypts throughout the Winter Kingdoms, and are some of the first to notice that graves are being robbed and bodies are being stolen for a nefarious, evil purpose. The final new character, and only major female character (at least the one female character who tells the story from her perspective) is Aidane, a serroquette, or ghost whore. She can be possessed by spirits, and hears their voices even when they are not possessing her. She gains important information from them throughout the story and becomes respected and well-treated, even by those who at first think she is nothing more than a common whore.

There is a lot to say to summarize this book, and I’ve only touched the bare minimum, because many different things happen. Each character is working in isolation, or I should say without the other main characters present, and they are all eventually realizing they are fighting the same thing. Watching all the groups figure things out and draw the same conclusions is neat. I missed having all the main characters together and interacting with each other, like they did in the previous series, but getting to know them in this different way was interesting too. I liked the new characters as well, especially Cam, who we met in the last novel but didn’t know much about. We learn much more about his story, and I really came to like his personality. I did wish there was more of a female presence. There were some cool female characters like Talwyn, but we only heard the story from Aidane’s perspective, and while I didn’t dislike her, she wasn’t anything special. I missed Kiara and especially Carina.

The problem with this story was it was one of those novels that sets you up for the next one. It kept building and building to something big that you knew was going to bring most if not all of the characters back together, but it never got there. By the end, they were on the brink of war, but there was no major action. Lots of dramatic prophesying and determining of what all the dark omens mean, and threats about the end of the world. Lots of character development, which I did like. But by the end I just wanted the battle to come already. It was not necessarily a cliffhanger ending, but the whole thing made me want to read the next book, The Dread, right away.

This would be a great series for people who like high fantasy and worlds filled with magic, spirits, and supernatural creatures. The characters are realistic and you can easily connect with them and become emotionally invested in their lives. Just don’t forget to read The Chronicles of the Necromancer first.

Happy reading,

-Branwen