Rae Carson- Crown of Embers

Being sick is a wonderful thing.

I mean, well it isn’t, but when you’re lying in bed cuddling up to a bucket you do find that you have the opportunity to get some proper reading done. Those of you who remember me will know I am now in full time employment after graduating (yay!) and living in London (double yay!) so I’ll admit that I’ve been holding off on reading this book for two reasons.

1- When I read Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns I stayed up all night and read it in one sitting. I slept the next day. (see previous review)

2- The only way I could get away with doing the above a second time for the second book in the series would be if I had a free weekend (which I don’t) or was on my deathbed with nothing else to do. (a-ha)

So yesterday I finally got around to reading  the second book in Rae Carson’s trilogy (released this year, published by Gollancz) and I started with stupidly high hopes, hopes so high that nothing could possibly meet up to my expectations.

But Rae Carson is an amazing writer, and her second novel in theFire and Thorns trilogy matches up incredibly with her first. Having become a young Widow and Queen, Elisa is growing increasingly frustrated with the politics of her new home; the people hail her as a hero- so long as taxes stay low, and the other members of her government dismiss her as a child and don’t trust her. The only people around her who she can trust are her two ladies-in-waiting, Mara and Ximena, her stepson Prince Rosario and the Commander of her Royal Guard, Hector.

Oh, Hector. I’ve loved you since the very first book.

Not only is Elisa’s Quorum/Government doing their best to ignore her, but they’re also trying to marry her off (again). The country is unsettled and Elisa has yet to prove herself as more than a war hero, so a husband will give her the ‘stability’ she needs. Enter the dashing Conde Tristan from the Southern Territories. He’s intelligent, brave, and seems a perfect match as long as you don’t take into account that Elisa doesn’t love him… but no one is as they appear to be, and his own secret is one that has to come out sooner or later.

Not only that, but it appears Elisa didn’t quite manage to totally defeat the Invierne people in the last book, and after a rather public demonstration that involves a lot of fire, her position is weakened further by their bid to kidnap her.

And as if that wasn’t enough for the seventeen year old Queen/Widow/Mother/War Hero to be dealing with, there have also been several attempts on her life, which means she has more enemies than even Hector suspected. It might be time to start choosing some unlikely allies and keeping old friends at a more wary distance.

Everything about this story is a step up from the first; The politics are more secretive, Elisa’s enemies are more mysterious and more numerous, and the romance is more mature, more slow burning. I had a moment of horror before I began reading, wondering if, as sequels can do, this book would disappoint me, but it’s everything I hoped for and more; the plot is a continuation of the same story, but there’s new elements being introduced too. Elisa still makes mistakes, she still trusts the wrong people and still does the wrong things, but by the time this book ends she’s found her footing a little more, and she’s still that brilliant blend of surly teenager and brave young hero that made us love her in Girl of Fire and Thorns.

And now I’ve realised that the Final installment, The Bitter Kingdom, won’t be released until next year. That can’t be true. My heart won’t take it…

Fire and Thorns – by Rae Carson

I have finished with university, almost definitely for good, and I’m very very conscious of the fact that I’ve written… almost no reviews for Un:Bound since starting uni almost three years ago. I’ve certainly not written any since the big move to the new site.

For reasons best left to the privacy of my twitter account (@katheubeck) I am under house arrest at the moment and since I’m at my parent’s house, that means I’m stuck in a village with just three streets and no Co-op.

My first real foray to proper book-reading has started with Rae Carson’s debut novel, “Fire and Thorns”, published by Gollancz. It follows the story of young princess Elisa, who has grown up babied, fat and lazy. Even though she bears the Godstone, a sign that God has chosen her for a life of heroism, she has never pursued adventure and was encouraged to stay out of harms way.

On her sixteenth birthday, she’s married off to the handsome king of a huge nearby country, but finds that although she has been married off as part of a treaty, the king keeps their marriage secret, and instead openly courts the beautiful Condesa Arina. Spurred by her own thirst for knowledge, and suspicions that there is more to the legend of the Godstone than she knows, Elisa finds herself drawn further and further into an age-long war she didn’t even know was happening, a war that she is a part of whether she likes it or not.

The book is split into three parts, each following a different ‘role’ of Elisa’s as her journey goes on. In part 1, she is the intelligent but lazy scholar, trying to make the best of a bad situation. She tries to prove that she’s capable of being a Queen to her new husband whilst learning as much about the Godstone as possible… until she’s kidnapped.

Part 2 follows her survival in the desert, and the realization of her own significance as the war rages on. She becomes a tactician, and a survivor.

In the third and final part of the book, Elisa really comes into her own. She stops relying on others to carry her through, and becomes a leader, a figurehead of war.

The copy I have is an uncorrected Manuscript proof which I was given as an Un:Bound reviewer at some point last year. I need to say a big SORRY to my boss/benefactor/dictator/religious leader at Un:Bound that it took me so long to get this review done but… you know… the final year of university is supposed to be time-consuming. At least other people tell me this.

Now before I say anything else about whether I enjoyed the book or not, I want to be absolutely clear. I started reading at about midnight for a bit of a wind-down before bed. I didn’t stop reading until I finished the book at 4.30 the next morning.

I absolutely loved it, but I was so engrossed in it that I didn’t realize how MUCH I loved it until I reached the end and realized there were birds singing outside. The characters that I got to know, and their exploits that I was so much a part of took such hold of me that I wasn’t even able to THINK about the real world (by which I mean the internet) until about ten minutes after I finished the book and had let it all sink in.

In many ways this is aquite traditional coming-of-age story; a teenager is pushed from the nest and learns to fly alone, learning more about their true identity along the way. Yes, we know that story, it’s every teenage fantasy book that is already on our shelves. Except for one or two…

But the wonderful thing about this book is that it takes everything that makes those books wonderful and introduces that little bit more. Elisa doesn’t just strike out on her own; she builds on the advice others give her, she befriends those who have wronged her, she is completely aware of her own limitations and knows when she needs others around her. Elisa starts the story as a clever but lonely girl whose only friends are the two handmaidens her father pays to keep her safe. She ends the book respected, wise and loved.

As a fantasy novel with a female protagonist, told in the first person and some feminist elements, I’ll admit “Fire and Thorns” might struggle with some within the male demographic, but the sheer depth of the characters we meet will enthrall anyone who reads it, of any age or gender. Carson’s realistic but readable approach to war and politics, both at the front lines and within the government, takes the perspective of a sixteen year old and brings you into the adventure with remarkable skill.

I’m told that this is the first installment of a trilogy and I really really hope I can get my hands on the next book as soon as possible, preferably before I’m forced to storm Gollancz and take Rae Carson hostage as my own personal book-writer.

Do the right thing, Rae. Give it to me now for the good of mankind.

Banners in the Wind by Juliet E McKenna


The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution Book 3

It’s a good measure of this book that, considering that I started at the third book of the series, I still found it readable and found myself interested in going back and reading its predecessors to gain the full story in detail rather than the occasional reference to past events made in the book.

The premise of the book is also interesting. The country of Lescar was born with the decline of a greater nation, has been experiencing turmoil since its creation due to the rivalry between the dukes that form its rulership, and much money is spent on hired swords and internecine warfare between them.

Some of the people are rightfully angry at the squandering of their tax money thusly, not to mention the death and disruption fighting brings. Therefore, they’re revolting. The third book begins with the war in full flow and with the revolutionaries experiencing friction both within their own ranks and from the remaining dukes.

The story it written from several perspectives and includes a cast of key figures on both sides. It is a well constructed world and much of the story concerns the political movements required in a small countries warring rather than the stereotypical swords and sorcery action being the focus.

That doesn’t mean that the action isn’t well written when it comes into play… The sorcery element is also interesting. Due to its potential for mayhem, the offshore Archmage has banned the use of sorcery in the countries wars. Therefore, the revolutionaries have learnt a different form to the standard and its nuances and uses form an interesting strand of the book in its own right.

With good pacing, intriguing and artfully written plot Banners in the Wind was well worth reading and I look forward to having the time to read the predecessor books!

Regards to all,

Kerl

If this sounded interesting, please consider:

The Chronicles of King Rolens Kin, reviewed here: http://hagelrat.blogspot.com/2010/07/kings-bstrd-chronicles-of-king-rolens.html

You might want to go beyond the initial review however, as my opinion changes substantially as the series rolls!

Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 1: Orientation

Written and Illustrated by Thomas Siddell, who was kind enough to give me the go-ahead for posting this.

Published by Titan Books

We’ve all been their, the first day at a new school. Some of us might have even been in the exact situation of the protagonist, Antimony Carver, coming in to a new school after a few years, when people already know each other, friends a groups have been established and you have to figure out who to befriend and who to avoid by yourself as you try to fit in. However, I somehow doubt that any of our schools are quite like Gunnerkrigg Court, the mysterious complex of buildings that exists between ‘normal’ human civilization and Gillitie woods a place of myth and magic.

The book is a graphic novel based upon the web-comic of the same name, which has been running since 2005 and is ongoing, with three books published to date of which this was the first. Each book covers the events of one school term, Orientation covering Antimony’s arrival at the court and her meetings with her classmates, from the routine bully William to the downright unusual Zimmy. The classes are only the tip of the iceberg, however. Actually, they only appear in chapter two. In chapter one, Antimony acquires an extra Shadow, an entity of some kind. Upon confronting it, she discovers that it wishes to return home, to the other side of the waters. As Antimony can’t go herself due to ‘the rules’ she does what any right-thinking young girl would do. Build a robot to take the shadow home!

This snippet introduces the reader well to the combination of science and magic that form the core themes of the tale, as well as demonstrating the writers markedly tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, the robot coming from a room labelled ‘robot parts’, amongst a row of rooms labelled, pens, pencils and other mundane paraphernalia we’d expect. There’s also a distinct tease here about the convenience with which regular hero’s “fortunately” find mysterious items which help them, an idea which crops up later in the series.

I must confess, this my first attempt at reviewing a graphic novel, so please forgive me for focusing a little on the story, which is a fascinating mixture of European and Native American mythology and lore, with appearances of several mythological figures (including my two personal favourites, kudos to whoever figures out which two) contrasting beautifully with the scientific, rational nature of the schools appearance.

This separation is reinforced by the difference in graphical styles used for the two, with the forest being a living area against the grey bulk of the school. Another nice touch is the use of different graphical styles for certain characters from the forest, so a character of Native American mythology descent would tell a section of the story illustrated in the style of their homeland. There’s also a chapter which is a pure spoof on classic adventure comics, which is again done in their style and provides a quirky side-trip from main plot.

Whilst the first few chapters can be a little confusing, the beauty and depth of this story rapidly draws you in and the story rewards you for it, with what looked like throw-away or stand-alone elements from earlier coming back later (in this book or others in the series) as major plot elements, binding the story together in a complex, fascinating whole brought to life by a lively illustration style.

I can strongly recommend the Gunnerkrigg Court series to anyone who wants to read a glorious British piece of originality in the Graphic Novel area.

Regards to all,

Kerl

P.S. For those who wish to “Try before they buy”, the web-comic can be found here: http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/archive_page.php?comicID=1

If you liked the sound of this, consider:

Poul Andersons “Operation Chaos” and “Operation Luna”, presenting a world not dissimilar to ours but where magic is the driving force, so instead of car’s, brooms line the streets. As with Gunnerkrigg Court, the books draw upon global mythology to produce a beautiful story along with an excellent mirror to the real world.

The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

Written by Celine Kiernan

The shadows are gathering as Wynter Moorehawke returns to her home Kingdom. What, from her memories, comes across as a vibrant, idyll kingdom has turned into one of secrets. The true heir to the throne hasn’t been seen, whilst the illegitimate son has returned.
This sets the seen for a most compelling story which presents a curious fusion of
real-world locations and ideas (the characters say “Jesu Christie when surprised, for example”) alongside some marvellously creative fantasy elements, such as the ghosts. However, what won me over from the start was Wynter’s former job description: The keeper of the cats. The looking after of the castles cat population and her ability to talk to them is another feature of her childhood that comes across with warmth and humor, that then turns to tragedy as the story continues.

Whilst anyone requiring non-stop action may be disappointed (there are one or two small engagements which are very well written) the word play and character development is incredible, bringing you into the book alongside the characters as secrets from the past rise up to threaten the present. The characters are, despite the slightly supernatural world, very human with their own dreams, desires, strengths and weaknesses that make the tale believable and aid in drawing you into the book. This works well alongside a brilliant description of the life and workings of a medieval castle which aid that sense of realism and make the book an almost education read, but described through the characters eyes. Actually, I’ll correct that, Wynters eyes. Whilst there are several strong characters the story is told primarily from her perspective, what she sees and feels as she finds the welcoming home and the people she thought she knew slipping away like a waking dream.

A fantastic read. Whilst the ending is without ceremony it did leave me wanting to read the rest of the trilogy and see what happens.
Regards to all,
Kerl
Post Script: Celine keeps a DeviantArt Page with many excellent quality sketches of her various, vibrant characters. It can be found here: http://tinycoward.deviantart.com/

I’m also on there, as Kerl-of-Fox-County, if you want a few photos of scenary around the UK alongside some sketches and rambling bits of writing! 😀

Black Chalice | Steven Savile

I am not generally a fan of Arthurian stories. It doesn’t enchant me as it did when I was a child. Maybe I’m just jaded. I am however a fan of Savile’s writing, having traipsed happily through tie in, horror and thriller with him I was more than happy to have a look at Mallory’s Knights of Albion with him.

A young knight, confused about his place in the world, sets out on a quest to prove himself. Of course there is witchcraft, corruption, some old fashioned good triumphing over evil and plenty of sword play. All the trademarks of the sub genre are present and correct.

There is more to Black Chalice than that though. The characters have a little more subtlety to them, the emotional interplay has more depth, the writer successfully bewitching the reader as effectively as the young knight is taken in.The traditional trappings have some unusual twists making this a compelling tale.  In among the usual Arthurian melodrama Savile has successfully created a wonderfully written fantasy with a real feel for the complexity of human emotion.

(I’m just going to take this chance to point out that a number of Savile’s other books are available in e formats for insanely low prices at the moment.)

Diana Wynne Jones | The House of Many Ways & Deep Secret

The House of Many Ways & Deep Secret
by Diana Wynne Jones

After I was introduced to the anime of Howl’s Moving Castle I needed to read the book. Having read the book and loved it, I then needed to read more Diana Wynne Jones.

I started this exploration with ‘The House of Many Ways’ set in the same world as Howl and featuring him briefly.

A somewhat sheltered bookworm is sent to take care of her great great uncle’s house while he is being treated for a medical problem. The situation is a little unusual because the Uncle is a wizard and the treatment is being carried out by elves. While he is away Charmain finds herself a little over whelmed by the tasks that face her and then to top it off a young apprentice Wizard turns up expecting her uncle to be around to train him. Charmain manages to get taken on to help the king catalogue his library and finds that all is not well in the kingdom. The two youngsters find themselves being drawn into a situation neither of them is ready for but the kingdom, not to mention Sophie and Howl are going to need their help to put things right.

Howl is exceptional and The House of Many Ways doesn’t quite live up to that standard, but it’s still an excellent story of magic and mystery. The characters are a delight to read and there is plenty of chaos and magical mayhem to entertain the reader.

Deep Secret
by Diane Wynne Jones

This is a little different from the Howl books. Set here on earth primarily but visiting several of the infinite alternate universes, the book focusses around a slightly officious Magid, his search for a new magid and the authorised collapse of a world. It has computer geekery, betrayal, mystery, nursery rhymes, blasters, centaurs and a car bound ghost. Huge fun and plenty of twists and turns to entertain.

Rupert is a little too pleased with himself and not really as good a magid as he’d like to think, Maree is brash and irritating, hostile to the world and Nick is utterly selfish. The three of them are tied up in the fate of a world that none of the really knows.

Once again Diana Wynne Jones doesn’t start out with especially likeable leads, setting up instead realistic and entertaining flawed characters in a way that makes slightly outrageous coincidences and claims entirely acceptable. I was once again charmed, enchanted and entertained.

The author somehow manages to make you feel as though you are listening to friends talking and telling stories rather than reading and this as much as anything sets her as writer to be enjoyed at any age. Regardless of which are your favourite worlds and characters Diana Wynne Jones’ books are a joy to curl up with. I tore through them just for the pleasure of it.

The Double Edged Sword | Sarah Silverwood

‘Sixteen’s an interesting age. Not quite a fully grown man, but not a kid either. Anything is possible when you’re sixteen.’


The Double Edged Sword: The Nowhere Chronicles
by Sarah Silverwood
Pub: Gollancz
Cover: Eamon O’Donoghue
Release: HC Out Now / PB May 2011

Finmere Tingewick Smith is sixteen. It’s been a strange life so far, alternate lives at different schools, learning to live in two worlds equally in way, his annual meeting with Ted who found him as a baby on the steps of the Old Bailey. Now though he is learning that everyone is either Somewhere or Nowhere and that he may be the best hope to save two worlds in a much more literal sense. Fin and his two best friends set out to save everyone’s world and maybe find out who Fin really is and where he came from.

The Double Edged Sword is the first book of the Nowhere Chronicles, but Silverwood doesn’t waste time scene setting. While there are mysteries not fully solved and the promise of things to come in future volumes Sarah has delivered a full and satisfying adventure story. Fin’s world mixes the magic and drama of fantasy questing with a real teen adventure story set to test friendships, loyalties and courage. Nor is this a simple evil overlord vs trio of plucky teens, it’s darker and more muddled than that. Good men to afraid, old or broken to fight for what they believe in,the boys making sacrifices and facing choices that much older warriors should not have to face. No one is safe and nothing is simple.

A number of times I thought I had key plot lines figured out and everytime Silverwood’s story twisted on me again, unpredictable and slippery. Engaging, beautifully written, thrilling and with a cast of truly fantastic characters that are easy to believe in, this is a novel for anyone, of any age, who loves good stories. That’s what it is all about in the end, the Stories.

Bluntly, it’s fucking great and I can’t wait for the next one.

Brian Jaques – Redwall

by Harbinger,
redwall_anniI’ve always wanted to be a writer, its one of those secret fantasies people have like playing for England or suffocating Tony Blair….perhaps I should not have mentioned that one. Even as a child I wanted to write, from three Brave nights in search of a sacred Pork pie, to a well meaning man driven to shooting an ex-Prime Minister… (off I go again). I may never have been able to write much more than I could fit on the back of a beer mat, but the object of my inspiration remains with me today.
As a child I remember reading the Redwall books which I am unashamed to admit I still read today. When I have had a stressful day and feel sad an depressed that a civilised country could bring a person like Tony Blair into existence, it is good to regress into a child like state and forget everything. Brian Jaques is undoubtedly a great author, taking an old fashioned fantasy setting and making the characters take the form of animals. His first book (Redwall) is embryonic indicating that his world might take place in ours but in later books this disappears. 

Matthias a young novice at Redwall Abbey is an adventurer at heart and balks a little under the rules of the Abbey. Peace is broken when Cluny ‘The Scourge’ a notorious an unpleasant rat sets his sights on the abbeys strong defensible walls.The animals living in the woods are forced behind the abbey walls as Cluny’s press gangs attempt to build up a force to take the Abbey. It falls to young Matthias to retrieve the legendary sword of Martin the Warrior (The founder of the abbey) and use it to defend Redwall. However, Cluny is not the only thing in the woods to be scared of.
The Tales of Redwall are always a great read, even to us big kids. It is a book of wonderful little touches particularly in its descriptions of food. I have heard other fans of Redwall (I am truly not the only sad person in the world) describe how the Jaques’ description of fictitious meals left them feeling hungry. The reason why I have reviewed this book is that it is not the sort of book over protective parents would necessarily like. There is quite a lot of killing that goes on, not just of the villains but the heroes as well. Interestingly Jaques uses accent and dialect as a device to display the differences between the animals. For example Hares and Rabbits speak with a distinctly upper class accent (and display an obsession with food), where as Moles speak with and almost incomprehensively thick Somerset accent. This gives his world much more colour without requiring the effort of inventing languages like JRR Tolkien.
In many ways Jaques can be compared to Tolkien in style and as such may be susceptible to similar criticisms, namely a formulaic approach to the villains and heroes. With the exception of a handful of characters, Villains remain pure evil and Heroes are purely good.However these are not issues that effect the overall achievement of the book which is being fun a thoroughly readable to adults.
Give it a try, when none of your friends are around to avoid any sniggering and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
TTFN

The Chronicles of King Rolen’s King Book 2: The Uncrowned King

I suspect I owe Rowena Cory Daniels an apology. Whilst my comments in the previous review (http://hagelrat.blogspot.com/2010/07/kings-bstrd-chronicles-of-king-rolens.html) concerning some over-the-top soul searching on the behalf of the characters still stands (but to a lesser degree) I underestimated how good the book really was. My apologies!

The second Book continues to follow the King Rolen’s Kin as their lives and their kingdom come to pieces around their ears due to the treachery of their cousin and the ambitions of the invading Merofynian/Spar army*.

One of the very clever features of the books is that they reveal the difficulties of communicating across a country of any size without technology or (reliable) communication magic. No-one is entirely sure where the other is, leading to situations where a character goes to ask for aid or deliver news to discover the destination already to have fallen or that the situation has drastically changed from how they left it. This puts some reason behind the introspection apparent in the first book as the sibling really have no idea what happening to the others, relying only on hearsay and hostile propaganda or actions to determine the fate of the others.

The second book also offers more interest than the first in that in fleshes the world out, with further detail of the cultures of the neighbouring Merofynian’s and the merchants of the Ostron Isle which is neatly situated to profit from a war between the two (Rolencia being the main location for the plot) neighbouring kingdoms, located as it is offshore of both with a powerful navy to guard against the ambition of either. The comparisons are interesting. Is it better to live in a more flamboyant but corrupt and bickering society? A richer but treacherous, politically sliding society or one that, whilst perceived as crude by the others, is ruled with honesty and stability?

Also further developed is the affinity system and the ethics coupled to it. In Rolencia, following the death of the current Kings family by rogue affinity the King has dictated that all people touched by affinity should be sent to one of the Abbeys. In Merofynia the Affinity touched can go to the Abbey’s (including the one who takes the form of a cow, with flaming dung wreaking death and destruction!) or become mages and scholars in their own right. A similar system exists on the Ostron Isle. Pushed into contact with both systems, as well as the cultural differences mentioned in the previous paragraph the ethics and values of the Kin are strongly tested.

With this expansion of the world and the development of each side’s plots and machinations the book makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read. Whilst theirs is still some introspection and the affinity system is still odd the expanded world and character development shown more than compensate. It’s also interesting as it’s one of a handful of novels where the “good guys” aren’t winning, but suffering setback after setback as the lack of lines of communication make misinformation rife and leave army’s out of place and people with the wrong version of events.

It is also interesting in being a reminder of the normal scale of historical warfare, with soldiers measured in hundreds and raised from farmers (rendering feeding the army’s a problem) the book makes a refreshing break from the “cast of thousands” battles seen in the Lord of the Rings and others.

Another point in its favour is the fact that the hero’s are human. Yes, Byren’s an elite warrior but he can still be stabbed and left to the wolves. Yes, Fyn is a ninja monk but he still has his own doubts, troubles and experiences (though not as many as Byren, his older brother and heir to the thrown with all the responsibility that attends it.). And yes, Piro is a brave and plucky young girl, but pluck only gets you so far in a world of rogue affinity and larger, crueller men.

By virtue of its strong characters and world that largely dodges genre clichés, making for a very real experience, I can strongly recommend “The Uncrowned King” for your reading list.

Regards!

If you enjoyed this description consider reading:

Magician, by Raymond E Feist. One of the truly famous books in the genre, Magician shares with King Rolen’s king a sense of scale of the world in ancient days but then takes the scale of the action up by a large step, complete with an invasion from another similar world with its own culture! Dealing in suspense, treachery and hidden agendas mixed with impressive, sweeping action sequences and a large cast of varied characters Magician is a wholly worthwhile read.

*Merofynia is the neighbouring large country on the same island. The Spars are effectively spokes radiating out from the two neighbouring countries which occupy the heart of the landmass and are each ruled by their own warlord. Dividing the two large countries is a mountain ridge. There are independent cities on the passes, however they aren’t detailed in the series so far.

Snippits: One thing did bring a quirk to my lips. Their’s a comment in the book from a charachter to the effect that “the summer comes sooner on the Ostron Isle” which reminds me of the old “The Summer comes sooner in the South”

Tune in on Thursday for the review of the Third Book! The Usurper!