Category Archives: fantasy

Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians (The Magicians #1)For most of his life, Quentin Coldwater has used the Fillory (think Narnia) books to escape the doldrums of his everyday life. Now at the age of seventeen, Quentin has been given a chance he never dreamed he had — magic is real and he can become a magician.

Instead of heading to a mundane, normal college, he enlists at Brakebills, a university of magic and begins training. The one thing the books never included was that becoming a Magician is difficult, tedious work and nowhere nearly as exciting as depicted in the novels.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians follows Quentin and a group of students during the course of their studies at Brakebill’s. Rather than having one book equal one year of Quentin’s life, we’re treated to the highlights of his magical training — from the semester spent in Antartica to the rather odd magical game played among his school and others. The episodic nature of Grossman’s novel ensures that Quentin and the reader never get entirely comfortable with how things are going, including when Quentin and his love interest Alice test out of some of the first year and are moved up to second year early. Continue reading

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Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On

If you finished Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and wondered what it would be like to read some of Cath’s Simon Snow fanfic then Carry On will push your buttons in all the right places.

Alas, the Simon Snow aspect of Fangirl wasn’t my favorite part of that story — nor did I necessarily find myself wanting to actually read Cath’s final alternate version of the adventures of Simon Snow. So, I guess you could say that Carry On wasn’t my cup of tea.

Coming back to school for his final year, Simon Snow has just defeated the forces of evil, rescued his friends and is preparing for his great destiny to come. But things are all going as well as it would appear. His girlfriend, Agatha, was seen last year talking in the woods to his mortal enemy and roommate, Baz. And there are forces of evil attacking his school in every effort to kill the anointed magical world savior.

Simon Snow was a thinly veiled Harry Potter stand-in used by Rowell for Fangirl to allow Cath to have a fictional wizard to obsess over and create fan-fiction for without incurring the wrath of J.K. Rowling’s lawyers. We got hints about Simon and his world from Cath and her friends. And after reading all six-hundred or so pages of Carry On I feel like a little went a long way. Continue reading

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Kushiel’s Dart Read-A-Long, Week One: Chapters 1-8

Kushiel's_Dart

It’s been a while since I participated in a read-a-thon but when I saw rumblings about one for Jaqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, I was in.   I’ve had the book for a long time now, sitting on my to-be-read shelf.   And the read-a-thon was just the push in the right direction I needed to finally get it off the shelf and start reading it.

This week’s installment covers the first eight chapters of the novel and is hosted by Dab of Darkness.  If you’d like to see what others are thinking about this week’s questions, head over to DoD and you will find links to everyone else participating.

Here’s this week questions and discussions:

1) Here we have the earliest days of Phedre’s life, and we have the story of Elua and his followers. Did you note any similarities between Phedre’s beginning and Elua’s stories? Do you enjoy having these stories upfront or would you rather have had the stories shuffled in later with an adult Phedre looking back? 

 

kushielsdartFirst of all, I have to say that I love the opening line of the book.  “Lest anyone should suppose that I am a cuckoo’s child, got on the wrong side of the blanket by a lusty peasant stock and sold into indenture in a shortfallen season, I may say that I am House-born and reared in the Night Court proper, for all the good it did me.”

 

Early on, Phedre and Elua’s stories are those of people who must be comfortable in two worlds.  And they’re also characters who seem to have little or no control over their destiny.   Elua is only saved on the whim of one of the gods while Phedre has little or no control over where which court or noble that she is indentured to.    She seems to have been fortunate (for now) to have landed in Delaunay’s court because he encourages her to learn — not only “book” learning but also about the world of politics.  He’s also willing to give her freedom to continue her exploration of the city and her friendship with Hycanithe.  But I can’t help but wonder if it at some point this may come back to bite Phedre or if she will find herself in the court of another who isn’t quite as open minded and be forced to try and escape.

 

So far, I’ve enjoyed the stories that Jaqueline Carey has sprinkled in about the myths and stories from this world.  It’s doing a nice job of world-building and (I hope) setting up some things for later in the book (and possibly the series).

 

2) Hyacinthe has become Phedre’s one true friend. Do you think she is the same for him? The dromonde, or fortune telling, fascinates Phedre. Do you have a fortune telling story? 

 

I had to keep reminding myself that both characters are fairly young and that a forbidden romance isn’t likely brewing between these two (at least not yet).  I think that Hyacinthe is fascinated by Phedre’s views and his access to the noble courts that he might not necessarily get in the life he has.   I can’t help but wonder if at some point, as he gets older, he might not see his friendship with Phedre as a way out of that.  But for now, I think the two are just friends and a case of opposites attracting.  Or in the case of Phedre as someone she can talk to without worrying about if and how it might play out in the world of political intrigue that takes place in the court.

 

And, alas, I don’t have a fortune telling story.   Never been to one. The closest I’ve been in seeing how they’re portrayed in various forms of popular media.

 

3) The Midwinter Masque on the Longest Night is a long held tradition in Terre D’Ange. What stood out for you? Have you been to such a fete? 

 

One thing that struck me was the smashing of the glasses after the drink had been consumed.  It seemed like it would create a lot debris to clear up as well as a shortage of glasses at some point.  (I believe Phedre comments on the glasses beginning to run low toward the end of the night at one point).   I was also struck by the elaborate costumes that revelers wore and how you couldn’t be sure who was who.

 

4) Anafiel Delaunay has many secrets. How do you think those secrets will shape Alcuin and Phedre? 

 

Delaunay strikes me as a person who is very good at playing politics — and part of that is by knowing which secrets to keep and which ones to use to his advantage.  I have a feeling what he knows — and who he know it about — will come into play as things continue to unfold.   I also can’t help but get the feeling that his ability to keep secrets and mask his true feelings will come into play in the relationship he has with Alcuin and Phedre and the one they have with each other.  I can see them become rivals for his affections and approval and that his ability to withhold those may something that motivates them as their training and education continue.

 

5) Delaunay has a saying; All knowledge is worth having. Do you believe this is so? 

 

I get the feeling that Delaunay feels that “knowledge if power” and that every scrap that you can have is something that can give you a step up on others.   I think it ties in a bit to his being adept at playing politics.   I can’t quite see yet why he’s willing to encourage Phedre to have a friendship with Hyacinthe or why he’s willing to let her wander outside the gates, but I can’t help but think that he’s not being entirely magnanimous here.   I keep wondering what his motive is and what how he sees this bit of knowledge or favor paying off for him in the long run.  I get the feeling he’s playing a long game that will eventually lead to some kind of move to gain power for himself or to use Phedre to gain some advantage.  What exactly that is, I’m not quite sure yet but I hope to find out as I keep reading…

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Review: My Real Children by Jo Walton

My Real Children

Have you ever had that feeling that you might have lived a totally different life in a parallel universe or if you’d made a different choice in what you later look back and see as a life-changing moment?

Jo Walton’s latest novel My Real Children examines that choice in the life of Patricia Cowan. Looking back on her life, Patricia can recall two potential lifetimes, both of which hinge on whether or not she accepts the ultimatum to marry her fiance Mark.

In one reality, the two plan a hasty wedding and settle into a less than ideal marriage that produced four children and multiple miscarriages. In the other, she meets Bee and the two fall in love and raise a family in the less traditional sense.

Part alternate history and part character examination, My Real Children is one of the more fascinating and compelling books I’ve read in a long time. Jo Walton weaves together two separate timelines for Patricia, allowing each to have its own successes and failures but never endorsing one timeline, life or lifetime as better than the other. There are moments of triumph in each one and moments of despair in each one.

Alternating chapters tell of Pat and Tricia’s life over the course of several years in each timeline. One of the more fascinating elements of the story is the creation of alternate histories for each timeline, which show just how easily history could have gone in our timeline.

Walton has a great deal of affection for her characters and it shows as we get to know each of these characters. Some of them you’ll love (at times) and some of them you’ll hate (at times). But you’ll never quite be able to put them aside easily or forget them long after the last page is turned.

My Real Children shows there is more to the fantasy genre than just sword-play and dragons. I’ve heard good things about Walton before and this novel only makes me curious to pick up her other novels and see if they’re as absorbing as this one was.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher via GoodReads.

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Review: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard, #3)

Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies ended on a heck of cliffhanger.

After years of anticipation and speculation, Lynch returns to the universe of his Gentlemen Bastards with the long-awaited third installment, The Republic of Thieves.

Wait it worth the wait?

Absolutely.

Lynch spends the first third of the novel writing Locke and Jean out of the corner he left them in at the end of the last novel. For those of you who may not recall, Locke was poisoned by a slow acting poison. And choices he made at the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies denied him the antidote. Now as Locke is dying in an inn of a room, Jean is desperately working to find someone who can cure him.

After exhausting all their possibilities and burning more than their usual share of bridges, Jean and Locke are approached by the Bondsmage. In return for curing Locke, the two must work to influence the Magi elections. Locke and Jean agree, but only after he’s cured do they find out that they’ll be going up against an old friend, Sabetha.

If you’re a fan of the series, you probably know that Sabetha is that one women in Locke’s life and has been the subject of hints in the first two novels. The good news is that Sabetha enters stage left and takes over the last two thirds of the novel. Lynch details the reunion of the trio as well as flashbacks to Locke and Sabetha’s growing up and romance.

Fans are likely to eat this up with a spoon. (I know I did). After two books of build-up, the story of Locke and Sabetha is about as close to perfect as it could be.

The one drawback to the novel is that the flashbacks to the our heros and the scheme Chains comes up with to send them out as a traveling drama group wears a bit thin as the novel progresses. This may have less to do with this plotline and more to do with the compelling plotlines taking place in the present and some of the cliffhangers Lynch puts at the end of each chapter.

The Republic of Thieves proves to be worth the wait. And hopefully this time, Lynch won’t make us wait as long for the next installment in his fantasy series.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this novel from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest

Helen and Troy are just your ordinary, average young Americans who work together at minimum wage jobs in a fast food restaurant.

Well, except for the small detail that Helen is a minotaur and the two have been given an epic quest by a hamburger god. And while details of the quest aren’t exactly forthcoming, the duo still sets out on a epic road trip/quest in A. Lee Martinez’s comedic fantasy novel Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest.

Along the way, they’ll meet a cyclops who will only do battle with people who have purchased a license (enacted to help keep his small town’s struggling government afloat), visit a dragon preserve and face pursuit by a group of supernatural bikers who may or may not have our heroes best interests at heart. And that doesn’t even take into account the quasi-governmental agency assigned to help our heroes.

If it all sounds a bit absurd and like something out of a Terry Pratchett novel, you’re not wrong. Unlike a lot of authors who try (and fail) to channel the humor of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, Martinez writes a humorous story, poking fun at the pratfalls of epic fantasy and delivering a handful of genuine laugh out loud moments along the way. (This is not a book to be read in company that will look at you oddly if you chuckle, snort or laugh out loud at a certain line, image or clever turn of phrase. Consider yourself warned).

And while Martinez gets fairly close to what Adams and Prachett do (and they make it look easy), he doesn’t quite enter the same stratosphere as those two giants. But he comes a lot closer than many other authors I’ve seen try and spectacularly fail in the attempt.

That’s not to say Helen and Troy isn’t a fun, entertaining read. It’s a mostly hit or miss comic fantasy that, for me, hit more than it missed. Certain threads started to weigh thin over the course of the story, but overall this is an epic road quest worth taking. This mis-matched duo of a minotaur and the popular cute guy delivers some solid laughs and witty observations over the course of the story. And Martinez wisely doesn’t dwell long on each of the epic fantasy stops along the way. He allows the jokes to have their moment and not wear thin (in most cases).

In the interest of full discretion, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Summer Reading: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1)

One of the more intriguing trends in the publishing world is authors from one targeted demographic attempting to crossover and target another demographic. For example, J.K. Rowling recently published her first “adult” novel with The Casual Vacancy while Elizabeth George went after a young adult audience with The Edge of Nowhere.

And while I’m not one who judges a book by the section of the bookstore or the library where it’s shelved, it’s intriguing to see what happens when an author gets out of his or her comfort zone.

You can add to the list of best-selling authors who are looking to expand their audience writer Brandon Sanderson (who given how much output he has and the sheer length of his novels, I am beginning to wonder if he somehow has figured out a way to write a novel using telepathy and while he’s asleep). Every publisher is looking for the next big fantasy series along the lines of Harry Potter and given Sanderson’s pedigree in the fantasy genre, a young adult series from him seems like a good idea.

Enter The Rithmatist.

All of the strengths of a Sanderson fantasy novel are on display — a magic system that has clearly defined rules and limitations so it can’t be used to write himself out of any situation or peril that comes up as well as having characters have different degrees of ability within the magical system. Like all talents or traits, there are some who have a better grasp of some elements of the system while others have a better grasp of others. In this case, the magical system is one that brings chalk drawing to life and they do battle. There are various ways in which battles can be won and there is a skill and a strategy to it. Sanderson spends a lot of the novel laying out the rules and strategies of his new magical system, but he also allows them to play out on the printed page and for the reader to see the system in action.

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