Tag Archives: high fantasy

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

I am a very lucky human in that not only did my fabulous aunt attend San Diego Comic Con, she happened to be attending the day Del Rey Books gave away free ARCs of Plague of Giants. This is the first time I have ever been able to read a book before it was officially released. *squee!!*

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Me, when I heard my aunt snagged a copy of the book. 

I have to say the novel is spectacular. I loved it. I laughed, I cried, the book had it all. And I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. Well, OK. I didn’t necessarily doubt that the story would be good. I do love Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. When I saw Hearne speak in Philly a few months ago, he told us about Plague of Giants. He told us it had something like 11 different POVs. I was intrigued, but had serious doubts I would be able to keep everyone straight. And while I did have to cheat and check the character list and (brief) description at the beginning of the book once or twice, each character spoke so eloquently with their own voice that it was not hard to keep track of who was who. And it was a masterful way to tell the story – hearing the same event from multiple perspectives, including battles… But I get ahead of myself.

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In brief, Plague of Giants is exactly what it sounds like – a novel about a land that is invaded by not one but two sets of giants. One group of giants, the Hathrim, are chased from their home by a volcano, and they settle in a land governed by humans without asking permission. Definitely not the best way to win friends and influence people. The leader of this group of Hathrim, Gorin Mogen, is one of the voices for the story. The giants, the Bone Giants, are even less friendly. They destroy everything they encounter, no one has ever seen them before, and no one can speak their language.

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Sophie the Guard Hound felt vindicated when I told her about the meat-eating attack squirrels in the novel. She always knew squirrels are trouble. 

The rest of the characters are citizens of the six countries the giants invade. Each country worships a different god, and each god can grant a specific kenning. A kenning is a type of magic connected to an element. The Hathrim’s kenning allows them to control fire. The Brynts can control water, including the water in the human body. The Fornish are particularly cool – they live in the trees, and their kennings can do things like allow them to move silently, or help plants grow. Not everyone has a kenning – those who do are called blessed. In order to become blessed, a person must go through a trial they will either survive to become blessed, or die in the attempt. Seeking a kenning is not for the faint of heart.

 

Here are a few of my favorite characters:

Fintan, the Raelach bard – Fintan’s kenning allows him to have perfect recall. He tells stories to a city full of people who have survived or fled attacks by the violent Bone Giants. When Fintan tells a story, he becomes the storyteller – he looks like them, and speaks in their voice.

Dervan, the scholar – Dervan does not have a kenning, he is a historian and a scholar. The pelenant, or leader, of his homeland Brynt asks him to keep a written record of Fintan’s stories. Dervan and Fintan become friends as the novel progresses.

Gondel, scholar of language – Gondel is the first person able to translate the Bone Giants’ language, making him a valuable resource in the battle against the invaders. He is the type of scholar who gets so involved in his work he forgets about his husband for weeks at a time.

Tallynd, tidal mariner – Tallynd’s kenning allows her to work with water. She can breathe under water and swim really fast, to describe it in the most simplistic terms possible. She is the first person to discover the Bone Giants’ invasion, and she warns as many cities as she can at great personal sacrifice.

 

These are just a few of the many speakers Hearne uses to tell the story, each with their own voice, personality, and opinions. There were of course some humorous (almost Iron-Druid-esque, if that’s what you are reading for) moments as well. I hesitate to quote any of them, as the book had quite a few warning not to quote anything until the finished book is published. I suppose you will have to take my word for it that though the book contains a dark subject matter, including tragedy and war-related death, the Hearne humor we have come to know and love does sneak in occasionally, lightening the mood and makes the characters more interesting and relatable.

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Imaginary map!

I did miss having a map, which is apparently a drawback to getting an Advanced Reader Copy. I was kinda amused by what I got instead though. I’m sure the map will be lovely in real life. There was quite a bit of traveling in the novel, and that is the sort of thing I am not good at visualizing. Ah well. The important thing is, I got an ARC!

 

There was a lovely moment towards the end of the novel when Dervan realizes he is not going to be able to return to his old job as a teacher and scholar. He has a moment of crisis in which he contemplates the question, “If I am not a teacher, who am I?” This resonated with me, since I recently lost my job as a music teacher. Watching Dervan, along with many other characters, figure out their place in their new world helped me get through a few rough days. Cliche? Probably. But reading and becoming part of their stories made me feel better, and that’s what reading fantasy is all about, isn’t it?

5 stars

A rare five out of five stars from me for Plague of Giants. It is an amazing piece of high fantasy, with deep, well-developed characters, detailed world-building, and an exciting, involving plot. If you are a fan of authors like Brandon Sanderson, Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie, or Robert Jackson Bennett, you will love this book. If you liked the Iron Druid Chronicles, you will most likely enjoy this book as well, though it is much darker and more intense than Attitcus and Oberon, and of course lacks the pop culture references that Atticus loves to sprinkle into conversation. Plague of Giants releases October 17th. If you can’t pre-order it, ask your local libraries to buy it for you!

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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!

In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen R. Lawhead

In the Hall of the Dragon King coverQuentin is just a young acolyte in the temple of Ariel studying to become a priest. He has been watching the signs, and knows today is the day something special will happen. He doesn’t expect the “something special” to be a near-dead and half frozen knight found outside the gates. The knight is desperate to deliver his message to the queen of Askelon, but knows he will not survive the journey. Quentin volunteers to deliver the message, even though he knows once he leaves the temple he can never return. This seemingly simple task begins a grand adventure for Quentin, in which he meets Durwin, the hermit of the woods, Theido, ex-knight and leader of a band of outlaws in the woods, and travels across the land with Queen Alinea herself.

In the Hall of the Dragon King is a great young adult fantasy novel. Quentin is a young, impulsive boy who is trying to figure out who he is and find his place in the world. He is fun to read about and easy to sympathize with. He meets many interesting characters in his travels, like Durwin the hermit, Theido the outlaw, and Toli the deer-like woodland guide. Oh, and being a horse person, I liked that Quentin bonded to his horse Baldor, and even the horse had some personality in the book. I especially liked how we learn more about these characters and the world as the story moves along. The villains are clearly evil, creepy, and easy to root against, especially Nimrood the necromancer, who enjoys laughing at the end of his sentences.

I could have done with a few less not-so-subtle references to Christianity in this book. I have no problems with religion in novels or anything, especially fantasy novels when it is part of the world building, but I felt this one went a little overboard. I felt the religion was less part of the world building, and more author’s opinion which just wasn’t what I was interested in. Didn’t take away too much from the story though. I’m looking forward to the rest of this trilogy.

Happy reading,

-Branwen