Fantasy

Shadow Study (Soulfinders #1) by Maria V. Snyder

16130758I love Maria V. Snyder’s books. She always has just the right amount of romance, action, and mystery to make me happy. My all time favorite book of hers is Poison Study, and so I was excited to see she was starting a new series with Yelena and Valek, the main characters of her Study books. This Soulfinders series can be read without reading anything else from her, but I would read the Study series first just because I think you get a better grip on who the main characters are if you start from the beginning.

For those not familiar with these characters, Yelena is an official liaison between two territories, Ixia, a land where magic is banned and Sitia a land full of magicians and magic. She is also a Soulfinder, a person who finds lost souls and guides them to wherever they are to spend eternity. The problem arises when it appears that Yelena’s magic is gone completely, and the whole book we are trying to find out what has happened, who is trying to kill her, and also what the Commander in Ixia is up to. There is also a side story about illegal goods being shipped and who and how they are getting across that we have to figure out.  Along the way we get to meet some new characters and have some laughs when we get to read from Janco’s point of view. The thing about Maria V. Snyder’s books are that she really has a knack for making her side characters so interesting and loveable and so it’s nice to read about new characters that you know are going to be so awesome in the future.

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed because I was excited about reading more about Yelena and Valek, but yet again they seem to be apart for most of the book. Yes, they are really cool characters but I think they are better when they are together, and sadly this doesn’t happen. I was glad we got three different point of views, but when I started reading it, all I really cared about was Yelenas. Valek’s chapters had a lot of flash backs and they ended up being a bit boring for me. I have read though, that some people really liked reading about his past and how he became an assassin so I guess it’s just a matter of preference. Plus I have to say that Valek’s loyalty to the commander has always bothered me, and I dislike reading about it.

I’m not saying not to read or to give up on this series, I’m just saying this book felt like a set up for the next books (even though it had a tidy conclusion) and perhaps in the coming ones Yelena and Valek will be together.

So the bottom line is that if you are familiar with her Study series you will be happy to see the characters you love again, but it’s really just a book you read to get to the next one. For those who are new to anything Maria V. Snyder has written, then I would say start with Poison Study first, even though technically you don’t have to. Shadow Study will be released February 24th.

Also Shadow Study is out in audiobook over at Audible. I highly recommend giving it a listen. Gabra Zackman has been the narrator throughout the series and has consistently done a good job. Here’s a small clip to listen to…

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Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Audiobook: The Dragons of Dorcastle (The Pillars of Reality, #1) by Jack Campbell

23379243Details, Please (Publisher’s description)

“For centuries, the two Great Guilds have controlled the world of Dematr. The Mechanics and the Mages have been bitter rivals, agreeing only on the need to keep the world they rule from changing. But now a Storm approaches, one that could sweep away everything that humans have built. Only one person has any chance of uniting enough of the world behind her to stop the Storm, but the Great Guilds and many others will stop at nothing to defeat her.

Mari is a brilliant young Mechanic, just out of the Guild Halls where she has spent most of her life learning how to run the steam locomotives and other devices of her Guild. Alain is the youngest Mage ever to learn how to change the world he sees with the power of his mind. Each has been taught that the works of the other’s Guild are frauds. But when their caravan is destroyed, they begin to discover how much has been kept from them.”

So what?

While searching for something new to listen to I saw an advertisement for a book written exclusively for Audible and thought that it might be interesting. It’s depicted as a new epic fantasy saga and is written by Jack Campbell who already has a fan following with his many military science fiction/ space opera novels.

The Dragons of Dorcastle is about a world where Mages and Mechanics get to throw their weight around and treat everyone who is not in their guild like trash. It’s not even like the two major guilds get along, in fact the Mages and Mechanics hate each other. There is a lot about Mages not understanding technology and the Mechanics not understanding or believing in Magic. Each guild perpetuates lies and rumors about the other to the point that nothing said about each has any real truth. Any contact between the two is not encouraged and to a certain point could mean death.

It is with this knowledge that Mari, a Master Mechanic, and Alain, a Mage run into a conflict where both reluctantly have to work together; Mari being on a caravan that Alain is contracted to protect.

This book was interesting. At first I was not really paying attention until I became aware that, hey this is actually good… I really liked Campbell’s world and how he described the Mages. They are described as being taught to not display or feel any emotion and reminded me of robots. I’ve never read about mages like that.

It’s kind of steampunk and it’s just neat to see a world where mechanics and magicians are so important and are in conflict. Also a plus is that both protagonists are likeable in their own way, with Alain being brutally honest and not quite sure about the gamut of emotions he is experiencing, and Mari trying to live and fight for respect in a world where she is being looked down upon from every angle. There is a mystery and it’s fun trying to figure out what and who is behind all the trouble.

Perhaps I liked this book not just for the world building, but also because there is some romance. In The Dragons of Dorcastle the romance it isn’t trying to knock you over the head all the time. It’s mostly just sweet awkwardness here and there amidst the plot.

Having never read any of Jack Campbell’s science fiction books I don’t really know what to expect of his writing, but I think it is great that he wrote this YA fantasy. He did a really great job and I will definitely look into his Lost Fleet series.

Now, this is an Audible exclusive so I don’t think this is even published as a physical book. You can probably only hear it through Audible. If you already have an account I think it is worth a credit. If you are not sure then check out some more reviews before buying or getting a membership. Also check your local library to see if they carry the audiobook.

It is worth noting that MacLeod Andrews does a great job narrating and his voice is not irritating in the slightest. Audible lets you listen to some of it before buying.

The Dragons of Dorcastle Published December 2nd 2014 by Audible Studios on Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 hrs and 27 mins

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Chalice by Robin McKinley

I’ve read her Damar books, Beauty, Sunshine and now finally Chalice. I realize now I’m a Robin McKinley fan. Her writing is so beautiful I just want to read her books out loud and pretend I have an audiobook voice.

Details, Please (Publisher’s description)
As the newly appointed Chalice, Mirasol is the most important member of the Master’s Circle. It is her duty to bind the Circle, the land and its people together with their new Master. But the new Master of Willowlands is a Priest of Fire, only drawn back into the human world by the sudden death of his brother. No one knows if it is even possible for him to live amongst his people. Mirasol wants the Master to have his chance, but her only training is as a beekeeper. How can she help settle their demesne during these troubled times and bind it to a Priest of Fire, the touch of whose hand can burn human flesh to the bone?

So what?
It’s almost like a fairy tale and so warm and sweet. It made me crave honey and I don’t even like honey. The characters in this book seem real, and it is easy to identify with their problems. Mirasol as a heroine is now in my top five. I admired her a lot. She feels inadequate as the new Chalice, and reading what previous Chalices have done only helps so much in her case, as there has never been a honey Chalice and a Fire Master before. So she is adding to the rule books really. She has so much courage and even though she feels like a failure at times, she never lets it show. Basically she went from being a beekeeper to the second most important person in the land.

The Master is an interesting character trying to remember what it’s like to be human again, and trying not to burn what he should help cultivate, and exhausted by the effort. He is isolated during festive events because everyone is afraid of getting burned. It sucks to be a nice guy in a fire body. The Master and Marisol are both duty bound and love the land, and it’s sweet how much they are willing to do to protect it, and how they learn to work together.

There were some parts that jumped backward in narrative and then forward again and I was a bit confused, but it was all written so beautifully I didn’t mind too much. I wish there was a sequel, but I doubt there will be. Also, anyone heard “Latika’s Theme” from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack? It reminds me a lot of Marisol. If you’re a fan of Diana Wynne Jones, or Juliet Marillier then I think you’d really like this book. Even if you’re not, it’s a great read.

Excerpt:

There were several ritual ways a Chalice could hold her cup; she chose the one—only practical on the slender, stemmed Chalice vessels—that allowed her to weave the fingers of her two hands together around it while her crossed thumbs held the other side:connection, joining, linkage. She tried several phrases from the incantation book she had left behind, but none of them suited her; none of them felt right, none of them settled to the work before her. She felt the earthlines listening—listening but waiting. Waiting to hear the thing that would reassure them, that would knit them together, that would call them home.She reached the end of the crack and paused. It had, she noticed with some small relief, stopped growing. But when she turned and looked back along the length of it, it seemed leagues long; the two big work-horses as small as mice in the distance; the heavy ropes hanging off their harness and disappearing into the crack were barely visible threads.

“Please,” she said clearly, aloud, as if she spoke to a person. “Please be as you were. I will try to help you.” She hesitated, and pulled out the handflower honey and added a little more to the mixture in her cup. The water was faintly gold against the silver cup; the small stones in the bottom shone like gems. She did not want gold and silver and gems; she wanted ordinary things, commonplace things. Trees and birdsong and sunlight, and unfractured earth. “Let the earth knit together again, like—like darning a sock. Here are the threads to mend you with.” And she threw a few drops from her cup into the trench. She saw them twinkle in the air as if they were tiny filaments; the pit was quite shallow here, and she could see tiny spots of darkness where they landed. Her fingers were sticky with honey. Absentmindedly she put one in her mouth; the taste of the herbs was clear and sharp, but the honey’s complex sweetness seemed to carry mysteries.

There was a sudden sharp new tremor under her feet. Her heart leaped into her throat and she froze.

The jolt loosened the dirt on the sides of the trench, and it pattered down. Quite a lot of it pattered down, till the trench was barely a trench at all, little more than a slight hollow.

“Here are the threads to mend you with,” she said again, having no better spell or command to offer, and she tossed more drops from her cup into the wound in the earth.

The trench began to fill up.

She walked slowly back toward the deep end, murmuring to the earth and the earthlines, tossing sweet mysterious drops into the shadows of the ravine. The earth under her feet still shook, but the shaking now seemed more like that of something shaking itself back together again after a shock or an unbalancing blow: like the turning sock in the hands of the darner.

The crevasse was disappearing.

A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith

Paperback: 300 pages

Publisher: YA Angst (July 1, 2008)

Okay, so I admit this wasn’t much of a challenge for me to read, since this is the kind of stuff I lap up with a spoon. I mean c’mon, prince and princesses, castles…magic diamonds. Now, wait! Don’t run, this isn’t a cheesy version of Princess Diaries 2 (although, if you must know I liked that fluff film.) This is an adventurous take on some prince and princess clichés.

Up until now I had only read Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel, but that was enough to cement her into my list of favorite authors. What I love about her, is that although I’m indulged with all my favorite elements in fiction, I’m still confronted with practical girls, who although wish for romance, know the duties they must face to protect things in life that are bigger than themselves.

Enter Rhis, princess of the small kingdom of Nym known for its mountains and gems. It’s such a small kingdom they don’t hold court or do that many social activities. She loves to spend her time in her tower playing her tiranthe and writing ballads. She feels no pressure to apply herself in her studies as she is not the heir, and will not grow up to be a royal mage like her sister. Before applying herself she wants to undergo an adventure and a bit of romance. Well lucky for her Queen Briath from a neighboring kingdom has invited all the eligible princesses to her son Lios coming of age party. So Rhis gets a chance to practice courtly behavior as well as be an ambassador for her own kingdom.

Income all the princesses who have hopes of snagging the prince and a series of parties, picnics, dances and all sorts of fun. Rhis finds herself making friends with such interesting characters. There is Taniva of the High Plains whose idea of fun is fighting with her neighboring enemy Jarvas of Damatras.Then there is Shera from Gensam who can’t help but flirt with every boy she sees. Yuzhyu of the Isle of Ndai who is sort of left out of everything despite being the princes cousin, and the mysterious and charming Dandiar the princes personal scribe. The characters are really fleshed out, and the ones we end up hating we find out the reason they became that way.

But when Iardith the most beautiful princess (albeit also the most ill-mannered princess), who the girls can’t help but dislike ends up being abducted the girls set out to bring her back. This is definitely a girl power sort of book, because although the girls all want the prince they discover more important things like friendship and self worth. That no one can really be overlooked, because everyone has value. And that falling in love isn’t just about looks, but heart and mind.

I know the cover is sort of cheesy, but don’t let that get in the way. Sherwood Smith makes awesome characters that are practical when necessary but always fun.

Howl’s Moving Castle By Diana Wynne Jones

Whenever I have a bad day I watch Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s just something I do, so I was bound to read the novel the film was loosely based on. Diana Wynne Jones is now forever engraved in my mind as the epitome of a fantasy writer.

Is it Howl’s cavalier personality, or Sophie’s practicality that keeps me reading? Perhaps it’s Howl’s resident fire demon, Calcifer, or the fact that Howl’s castle door is actually a portal that opens onto four different places? It’s everything and more. The tongue-in-cheek pokes at fairy tale clichés are funny. Sophie doesn’t expect anything exciting to happen to her as she’s the eldest (and as we all know in fairy tales exciting things only happen to the youngest.)

And being the eldest is certainly turned on its heels when Sophie ends up offending the Witch of the Waste who literally turns her into an old lady.

The odd and magical thing is that after this transformation is when Sophie finally starts learning about herself and becoming an awesome heroine. Before she was shy and led a tedious life in a hat shop, but once she aged she really didn’t care what people thought of her. Howl is deliciously her opposite, where she is practical he is nonsensical, shallow and vain. Of course in the most likable way. Each character balances the other. This book takes you through such a fun adventurous journey. One everyone should take at least once.

On a sad note, R.I.P Diana Wynne Jones, who died today after a long battle with lung cancer. You’ll never be forgotten as your words and stories will forever be engraved in our hearts.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Mass Market Paperback: 560 pages

Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (February 18, 2002)

Believe it or not, I had never heard the fairy tale about six brothers who are turned into swans by their evil stepmother. I failed to pick up the book sooner, because I thought the premise was silly, but Juliet Marillier makes everything seem probable, that two worlds that mirror the other exist, and that there is a link between both worlds. And we as the reader are held captivated.

This tale is about a sister who goes through much hardship to free her brothers from this curse, and yet so much more.The relationship between Sorcha and her brothers shows such devotion, and you honestly feel the love they have for each other. Every emotion is shown in its purest form. This novel is all about love, selflessness, loyalty and perseverance amidst adversity.This is by far one of the best fairy-tale retellings that I have read.

Sorcha makes difficult decisions, and you feel a bond with her. Not one character is flat, and you feel as if you know them personally. And as the reader you start to see the bigger picture that Marillier is painting. Not one character means more than another, because somehow they are all intertwined.

Daughter of the Forest was simply magical. There is something about the way Juliet Marillier tells a story. It feels like you are sitting at a campfire and she is addressing only you, just weaving her tale. Her writing is an art form. You think you know what a good book is, and then you actually read one and…wow.

Although I love happy endings, she deals with situations realistically. Realistic in a poetic way, and not jarring. It’s storytelling at its best.

Many passages were so beautiful I just had to read them again. Simply put, just read it. It’s hauntingly poetic.

Of Swine and Roses By Ilona Andrews

Gosh, how I wish this would be turned into a full-out book series! It was short, but oh so sweet. The Ilona Andrews writing team is so good at making awesome realistic characters, that you instantly feel for them.

In this case, its Alena who is forced to help her parents financial and social status by going on a date with Chad the worst thug ever. If that isn’t bad enough she ends up trying to save a little brown pig and ends up ruining her favorite blouse. Gosh, a night in a teenagers magical life.

There is a hint of romance, and it is simply the cutest ever. Read it, it will only take about half an hour. Plus it’s only $0.99 on most ebook sites. This is a must read.