Sunday, October 4, 2015

Troubled Waters

When I was visiting Chapters awhile ago with my brother, Sharon Shinn's Royal Airs caught my attention.  It sounded like a standalone story, so I didn't mind reading it.  But knowing it was book two of her Elemental Blessings series kind of bothered me. So at the first chance I got, I picked up the first book, Troubled Waters.

Earlier this week I realized I had to write a book review.  Having not read anything for a few weeks besides Macleans magazines (my brother has been giving them to me and I'm quite behind on reading them), I decided I should read a book fast.  I was thinking of reading The Secret Country by Pamela Dean, but I found myself really, really wanting to read Troubled Waters instead.  For one thing, I've read only short stories by Shinn and have been wanting to read one of her novels for some time now.  For another, her Elemental Blessings novels really appeal to me right now: if I get super into the series, there's currently only one more out, which I have (unlike with her Samaria series - if I start Archangel and love it, I'll have to track down the other four books!)

So Troubled Waters is about Zoe Ardelay, a girl who has spent the last ten years living in a small village with her father, a former royal advisor.  After her father passes away, the new royal advisor, Darien Serlast, arrives to inform her she has been chosen to be the king's fifth wife. 

On their journey to the city, Zoe is a shell of herself, still deeply grieving her father's very recent death.  But when they arrive in the city, she seizes a moment to disappear, staying with the other people who live alongside the river.  Slowly she begins to heal, making a life for herself there.  But she knows it is only temporary, for she will have to decide what she will do.  For she is born of one of the Five Great Houses, and she knows she will not be content to live by the river forever.

But then she makes an even more astonishing discovery - she is the heir to her mother's family, a secret that has been kept from her her entire life.  And so she goes to reclaim her heritage.  A heritage that means she will have to return to the city, the King's court, and to Darien Serlast, but this time as the prime of a powerful family. 

I wasn't sure what exactly I was going to get out of Troubled Waters.  I've basically just given you the summary of the back of the book.  But honestly, that pretty much gets you halfway through the book.  The second half of the book is actually a court drama that Zoe is thrust into the middle of.  What made it super interesting was not only the schemings of the king's four wives and the presence of Darien Serlast (a man of wood and bone, who was totally at odds with Zoe's water and blood heritage and personality), but the way Zoe was able to play the court games even after having been living in exile with her father for ten years.  She didn't really care about a lot of what was going on, but she was playing the games anyway, mainly because she had to - she is now the head of the Lalindar family and needs to keep up their position.  But she's also part of the Ardelay family, and wants to bring them back into favour with the court and the king.

Shinn's worldbuilding was quite awesome - I loved the world of the Elemental Blessings.  This is a world where the number five is incredibly important.  At birth, a child's father goes up to three strangers to acquire three random blessings for the child, which come from the five elements (or if the child is extremely lucky, from the sixth set of extraordinary blessings).  Most people have a main element that they have an affinity to, be it water/blood (coru), wood/bone (hunti), fire/mind (sweela), air/soul (elay), or earth/flsh (torz).  This tends to be quite pronounced in the Five Great Families.  The head of each family also has extraordinary power, being able to command the element they have an affinity for.  So in Zoe's case, she can call water to do her bidding, she will not drown, and she can actually feel the make-up of anyone's blood if she can touch their skin.  The seasons are also organized into five, which are also named after the elements (Quinnelay, Quinncoru, Quinnahunti, Quinnatorz, and Quinnasweela).

Oh yeah, and you can wander into a temple and pull random blessings during a day.  These blessings can help give you direction for what's going on in your life.

I also really liked that all the people in this book is that they all felt real: they were all flawed human beings in their own way.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I actually liked Troubled Waters so much that it made its way onto my favourites shelf on Goodreads, something that doesn't happen all that often (the last book to make it there was Elizabeth Bear's By the Mountain Bound, which I read in January).  The characters were believable, Shinn's descriptions were great, everything was great.  Troubled Water was exactly the sort of book I expected from her after reading the couple of short stories by her (especially after being blown away by "Nocturne" four years ago) I'm only sorry that I've put off reading a novel by her for so long!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where is my Sister?

Well this is it, the last book in Scott Butcher's Fairly Stillwart Chronicles, Where is my Sister.

Where is my Sister was an extremely odd book in the context of the Fairly Stillwart Chronicles.  Stillwart disappears very early on in the story, and remains mysteriously absent for the majority of the book.  Appleblossom and all of Stillwart's friends and family are left worrying about Stillwart for seven years.  Appleblossom and Nightwood, the pixie knight who was sent by Queen Pridella to bring Stillwart home, look for the missing Stillwart.  But Appleblossom is forced to abandon the search because she has been absent from the South too long; as Queen of the Southern Fairies, her people need her to come home.  Nightwood agrees to continue the search for Stillwart; Appleblossom hears from him for a few years, but then he, too, disappears.

Out of these three new stories in the Fairly Stillwart Chronicles, Where is my Sister was hands down my least favourite.  To explain why, I'm going to give a spoiler warning here.  So if you haven't read the stories in The Fairly Stillwart Chronicles: Volume 2, don't keep reading this post.

Stillwart is gone without a trace for seven years, the length of time that the Magic Sisters (the daughters of the helpful human) are serving the Morrigan.  At the end of their servitude, they bring Appleblossom some visitors from the North: Stillwart and company!  It turns out Stillwart made a deal with her brother to avoid the war he was starting in the North.  He agreed to surrender to Queen Pridella if Stillwart disappeared.  During these seven years, Stillwart has been helping the Morrigan.  But her brother decided that Stillwart doesn't have to stay hidden anymore, and so she has come back home to the South and to her heart sister, Appleblossom.  Stillwart is also taking her place as the Queen of the Southern Pixies, which she always has been, even if no one realized it.

One thing that I liked about Where is my Sister is that I didn't have a hard time keeping track of characters.  In my first two posts about The Fairly Stillwart Chronicles: Volume 2 (Tory Blithe and the St. John's Pixies and The Hidden Chronicle), I noted that this was a bit of a problem because there were a ton of characters around all the time.  Where is my Sister dialed back the number of characters who were around, which was a really good thing.   

One thing that I really disliked about Where is my Sister is that the majority of the action is just told to us after the fact.  Sure, Appleblossom and Nightwood spend some time looking for Stillwart at the beginning of the story.  But Nightwood (and Stillward herself) only tell Appleblossom and the reader where Stillwart has been hiding after the fact.  We aren't shown any of it.  We don't even get to see Nightwood's quest to find Stillwart because the narrator of this story is Appleblossom.  Appleblossom was a fine secondary character, but as narrator (especially of this particular story) she falls short: she ends up going and living her life, worrying about Stillwart but ultimately being unable to look for her.  A better choice of narrator would have been Nightwood, who was actively searching for Stillwart.  Or even Stillwart herself.

Another thing that I really disliked was that like in Tory Blithe and the St. John's Pixies, we don't get to see much of Stillwart.  This time I felt like we saw far more of the Magic Sisters than we saw of the fairies and pixies, which was really unfortunate; I was reading this series for the spunky Stillwart and company, not for the magical humans. 

So unfortunately, as much as I loved the first few books in the Fairly Stillwart Chronicles (especially A Pixie Pilgrimage and The Scotti and 'Fairies Don't Exist'), I found the latter three, and in particular Where is my Sister?, to be disappointing. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Hidden Chronicle

I started reading the fifth book in the Fairly Stillwart Chronicles, The Hidden Chronicle, and found myself rather confused. Tory Blithe and the St. John's Pixies ended implying Stillwart and company would finally make it to the Northern Pixies and that Stillwart would take her place as their princess. But the prologue of this book says that didn't work out and so instead she is working at the library in Tintagel as a scribe. This was a bit of a letdown. But I do admit that I was curious to see how this happens.

This time, Stillwart and company decided to visit Tintagel before going to the Northern Pixies with the fairy grains; they need to look for information on the Morrigan. The Morrigan is the most powerful banshee, so Stillwart thinks the Morrigan will be their best shot for undoing some of Tory Blithe's magic (in particular, making Lucy and Phoebe human again). Of course, the Morrigan is also the most fearsome magical creature in existence, so Stillwart's friends agree to help her out with this quest. In total, seven royal pixies and fairies and their entourages seek Tintagel with the help of their human allies.

But Tory Blithe has other plans for them. Having escaped St. John's, Tory has made it to Europe ahead of Stillwart and company. He has managed to raise a new army of pixies and is determined to stop Stillwart. 

Once again, I did have a hard time keeping all the characters straight. But it was nice to see a bit more of Stillwart this time around. This is the first book that has Stillwart as the narrator; it was interesting to see things from her perspective for a change.  Although I do believe having the chronicle narrated by Stillwart herself meant The Hidden Chronicle lacked some of the comedy (in the case of Appleblossom harassing the human narrator of books 2 and 3) and the extra characterizations (like how Belinda was able to look back on her earlier experience and acknowledge she was wrong) that earlier books had.

I'm not at all sure what's going to happen in the final book of the series, but I do think that Stillwart and company will finally meet Queen Pridella of the Northern Pixies. Luckily I don't have to wait to find out! I'm also very interested to see who the narrator of Where is my Sister? will be.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tory Blithe and the St. John's Pixies

Scott Butcher once again gave me a review copy of the newest book in his Fairly Stillwart Chronicles. It looks like the final three books in the series just came out in a new omnibus edition (and not individually), which is why it's been a little over a year since I reviewed The Scotti and 'Fairies Don't Exist.' Even though the final three are together in The Fairly Stillwart Chronicles, Volume 2, I've decided I'm going to review them all separately here, starting with Book Four: Tory Blithe and the St. John's Pixies.

Tory Blithe and the St. John's Pixies is a very different book from the first three. This one opens with Stillwart, Appleblossom, the human child Phoebe (who has been turned into a fairy), and the pixie knight Nightwood captured by Tory Blithe, leader of the St. John's Pixies. Their friends have heard that Tory Blithe is planning on marrying Stillwart, and so are planning a rescue. But Stillwart is not demurely accepting his plan: the pixie princess wants to level Tory Blithe's stronghold. The only thing stopping her is the fact that Appleblossom and Phoebe are here too. And Tory Blithe has threatened to kill them if Stillwart doesn't marry him.

Now as I just mentioned, it's been over a year since I read Book Three. Which means my memory for exactly what happened leading up to this book was a bit hazy. Luckily, Butcher builds little reminders right into the story, making it easy to follow along.

One thing that was odd was that this book does not follow Stillwart very much. And while that is necessary for this particular story, it was rather unfortunate because Stillwart is the star of the show. I love her character, and missed seeing her ingenuity at solving the problems at hand. Hopefully she'll be more centre-stage for book five, The Hidden Chronicle.

I also think Tory Blithe and the St. John's Pixies may be suffering a little bit from having too many main characters. Personally I was having a bit of a hard time keeping everyone straight (but again, it has been awhile since I read the first three, so that's not helping me either). And not just too many, but having them all going off in different directions. Hopefully book five will have the characters in one main group again, which will help with this a lot!

So all in all, Tory Blithe and the St. John's Pixies was by no means my favourite book in the Fairly Stillwart Chronicles. But it was still an interesting tale that brought to light the darker side of Stillwart's world. It also gives you a bit of a glimpse into what Stillwart's mother is like. So now I'm really looking forward to reading The Hidden Chronicle!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The House of the Four Winds

Huh.  So apparently it's been over two years since I last read something by Mercedes Lackey.  While you can't tell from this blog, seeing how I've only reviewed four of her books here, she's one of my favourite authors.  That being said, I've never read any of the books she co-wrote with James Mallory (The Enduring Flame, The Dragon Prophecy, etc).  Not for any specific reason.  I was just super caught up in first Valdemar, then the 500 Kingdoms.  (I also didn't really like the Owl Mage Trilogy, which she co-wrote with someone, so I wasn't super keen on jumping into another series that was co-written by someone else, even knowing that James Mallory was NOT the one who co-wrote the Owl Mage Trilogy).  But of course, The House of the Four Winds caught my eye.  It has a super attractive cover (I found this noted in a few Goodreads reviews I read earlier today).  And it sounded really great: a princess pretending to be a boy goes on a swashbuckling adventure!  Featuring pirates!  Mutiny!  Love!  All that fun stuff.

Clarice Swansgaarde is the oldest princess of twelve. Her country is tiny, and giving all twelve daughters a dowry would bankrupt the treasury. So her family agrees that on their eighteenth birthday, each princess will go into the world and make her own fortune with her chosen skill. In Clarice's case, she has chosen to master the sword. And so she decides to become a sword instructor. But first she wants to have adventures in order to build her reputation. Deciding travel will be difficult as a lady, she masquerades as Clarence Swann. Heading to the New World on adventure, she books passage on Captain Sprunt's ship where she meets Dominick, the navigator.
Although Clarice and Dominick become fast friends, the voyage is difficult. Sprunt has been inciting the crew to mutiny. And when they do revolt, and Clarice kills him to save Dominick, the remainder of the crew must turn pirate to survive. Knowing that they are in danger if they head home, they decide to follow a magical map Sprunt had, they find themselves at a mysterious pirate port called the House of the Four Winds on the island of Dorado. And they will have to use all of their wits to survive, especially when Shamal, the Lady of the House enchants Dominick and takes them all to the ends of the earth for a magical treasure that will make her the most powerful mage in the world.

I'm not going to lie: I enjoyed The House of the Four Winds, but it didn't wow me. Although it's not a long book (about 330 pages), it feels like it takes a long time to get to where it's going. The characters all seemed rather mediocre in character. For a swashbuckling tale, not a whole lot of swashbuckling really took place. And while the stuff with Shamal was somewhat interesting, in the end it was rather confusing and somewhat fell flat, much like the end did. I would've loved to know what happened once the crew got back to a civilised port (and what exactly Clarice would tell her parents).

Oh yeah, and how exactly did Clarice make it through almost the entire book without ANYONE realizing she was a girl? I thought that at least Dr. Chapman would've figured it out!!!

So overall, while enjoyable enough to read, The House of the Four Winds is by no means a favourite of mine. It didn't even make me want to read any further books in the series (if/when they come out).

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


I don't remember exactly when I wanted to read Joss Whedon's Fray, but I imagine it was back in school around when I took a course on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Whatever the case, I've had the graphic novel since October 2012 (the packing slip from Amazon was still in the book).  So that's almost three years where I've wanted to read it but kept putting it off.

Fray is set in the same universe as the whole Buffy series, but hundred of years in the future.  Magic and demons have long been gone from the world and so no girls have been chosen to be the Slayer.  Until now.  Melaka Fray is the best grabber in Manhattan.  But when a man tells her she's the Chosen One (before lighting himself on fire) and a demon shows up in her apartment, her world starts to spin in crazy directions.  It seems that the Lurkers (people everyone thinks are just diseased) are actually really weak vampires.  And someone has found a way to both organize them AND open a portal to Hell.  To beat them, Fray needs to embrace her destiny as the Slayer.  Unfortunately she is missing a large part of her heritage - she has the Slayer's strength, but not the psychic connection to the Slayers who have come before her.  She's also not exactly a leader, which is what is needed for the coming war...

I honestly really enjoyed reading Fray. I loved how crazy she was, but also how human: here was a girl who was dealt a rather rough hand who manages to rise up to the challenges before her.  Sure, she may stumble along the way.  But that really makes her human.  I was actually rather sad when the book ended - sure the story was wrapped up.  But I really want to know what happens next!!!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Last Dragon

I managed to misplace my copy of Silvana De Mari's The Last Dragon. The book is still on the List, but I have no idea what I did with it. Luckily the library has a copy, so I've started reading that copy instead of mine.

The Last Dragon is about a young elf named Yorsh. Yorsh's village was destroyed by rain. So Yorsh finds himself travelling anywhere to get away. Unfortunately the world he's in isn't a friendly one, particularly for elves. But luckily he finds some good people to help him: Monser the Hunter, Sajra the woman who saved him from starving, and her dog. Together they discover a prophecy about the last elf and last dragon getting together and saving the world from the heavy rains. And so the four of them set off to find the dragon.

Part one is actually where that all takes place. I found it absolutely hilarious because poor Yorsh is extremely young and naive (and only knows what his grandmother told him about humans). He sees the world with a sort of wide-eyed wonder that only the really young seem to have (which leads him to charm a troll by earnestly insisting that the troll is handsome). He also has a hard time understanding the stupid humans to hilarious effect (like calling Sajra a "woman-fool" or thinking the Judge Administrator of Daligar and Surrounding District's title is his lovely name).

So imagine my surprise when Part 2 of the book starts and Yorsh has been living with the dragon for 13 years. Oh yeah, and we're suddenly followibg Sajra and Monser's orphaned daughter, who is living in the House of Orphans in Daligar.  Of course, this is the part where the second part of the prophecy takes place (where the last elf will marry the daughter of the two humans who _____ him).  

One thing that was really interesting about this part of the book was the dragon.  Apparently at the end of their lives, dragons brood an egg for just over 13 years.  During that time, they pass their memories to their egg; the baby dragon inherits them when it first flies.  While interesting, this sort of took away from the one thing I loved about part two: the baby dragon was hilarious, and Yorsh trying to teach him was hilarious, too.  But as soon as he flew, the baby dragon was suddenly seemingly older and wiser than everyone else, becoming patronizing and sarcastic.  It was a total 180 from the sweet and cute baby dragon he was before that time.  It also meant the book didn't get to be about Yorsh and the dragon flying around and having learning adventures together.

I'm sure it's obvious, but I'll state it nonetheless: part one of The Last Dragon was ridiculously cute and funny, and part two I really wasn't fond of.  I actually found part two to be a bit of a slog.  But I did manage to finish it, so that's something.