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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Quickening Maze

The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds is an interesting book. It tells the story of poet John Clare's incarceration in an asylum in Epping Forest. The asylum is run by Dr. Matthew Allen and populated with quite an assortment of characters including Allen's family, the poet Alfred Tennyson, the brutish staff, and Clare's fellow inmates. Clare has a hard time living in the asylum because he is a man of nature - being inside is crushing his spirit. But he is delusional, calling himself other names and yearning for his childhood sweetheart (who he believes is his second wife) and so he must remain.

Alongside Clare's narrative are two others: Dr. Allen begins his enterprise in creating a woodcarving machine, and one of his daughters, Hannah, searches for love; Hannah tries to catch the eyes of unavailable men including Tennyson and one of the inmates who is not insane (he's merely being kept at the asylum because he has inappropriate " sentimental attachments").  Both of these narratives were interesting for different reasons: while brilliant, Dr. Allen's scheme faces setback after setback; and Hannah manages to grow up, so to speak, while chasing her unattainable men.

My one issue with The Quickening Maze is that it gives you the point of view of an awful lot of characters (many more than the few I've mentioned here), which can be quite confusing at times. I'm thinking that's mainly a fault with the subject matter: this book is full of many interesting and historically accurate characters, so Foulds probably wanted to ensure the reader got a feel for them all. Despite this issue, The Quickening Maze is a beautiful book, in particular thanks to Foulds' background as a poet; his prose contains many lovely turns of phrases.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tettrennial Drift

I've had Duncan Weller's Tettrennial Drift for a few years now.  Weller is a local artist and author; I bought it at one of his shows.  Unfortunately poetry isn't really my thing.  But my brother also bought a copy, so the two of us decided to read it together.

Tettrennial Drift is split into two sections: Tettrennial Drift and Monocular Park.  Tettrennial Drift is full of longer poems (they're all at least a page long).  Monocular Park is full of a whole bunch of shorter poems (generally 3-4 per page). 

I don't have a whole lot to say about Tettrennial Drift because, like I said, poetry isn't really my thing.  But I was struck by how honest these poems seemed to be.  They really seemed to give you a good glimpse of the author.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fire in the Blood

I first saw Fire in the Blood at work. It looked and sounded interesting, plus it wasn't listed as part of a series on Goodreads, so I added it to my to read shelf. 

Then my mom got it for me for Christmas, so I eagerly started reading it...and realized it was book four in a series! That made me sad (it's very hard to find standalone fantasy books nowadays). I debated for a few days whether I should get a hold of the first three books or just read this one. In the end I decided to just read it. I regretted that decision for the first fifty pages or so. Most of that is back story, talking about events that happened earlier in the series. But once you get past the back story, Fire in the Blood gets quite good.

Fire in the Blood is about Farideh and Havilar, twin tiefling girls who were raised by their Dragonborn father, Mehen. Farideh is the Chosen of Asmodeus, a devil god; he grants her powers of the Hells which she doesn't want. The girls lost seven years of their lives due to a deal with a devil (I don't know all the details - I'm guessing this was an earlier book). They return to find the world has moved on without them. Havilar's noble lover, Brin, is engaged to Princess Raedra of Cormyr. Cormyr is fighting a war against Shadovar/Shade. Raedra's father, the crown prince, goes missing during the war. And Farideh sees a Shadovar agent in the princess's inner circle. Farideh ends up allied with the princess while Havilar and Brin go looking for the crown prince after everyone believes he is dead. And Havilar may be manifesting powers that mark her as a Chosen of Asmodeus, too. Mainly that she can summon imps who will do things for her - like give her a hellhound puppy so she can track the untrackable crown prince of Cormyr.

Oh yeah, and the ghost of the original Brimstone Angel is hanging around, trying to get a piece of her soul back. The only problem is that it's in either Farideh or Havilar. And she may have to kill them to get it back (once she is strong enough to do so).

There's also some stuff going on in the Hells. Lorcan, the devil who is supposed to be watching (and corrupting) Farideh, is getting embroiled in politics he doesn't want to care about. Plus his half sister may have stumbled on something the powers that be don't want getting out. I'm not going to lie: I really didn't care about this stuff. It was a lot more fun following Farideh, Havilar, and Raedra. They were dealing with kidnappers, political intrigue, war, magic, racism (Cormyr is not a friendly kingdom for tieflings!), love, heartbreak, and just so many fun and interesting things that it was so easy to be caught up in their story. They were all so relatable, that I really fell in love with them and their trials. I'm not in a hurry to read the earlier books, but I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for future books in the Brimstone Angels series!

Monday, February 23, 2015

If Wishes Were Horses

After reading Anne McCaffrey's An Exchange of Gifts back in August, I bought it and If Wishes Were Horses, which is another of her novellas. I decided to start reading If Wishes Were Horses a few days ago. It's short (only 85 half pages), but I've been pretty busy so it took me a bit longer than I thought it would.

If Wishes Were Horses is the story of the Eircelly family (a noble family made up of lots of children who are almost all twins). Their father is called away to a war, so the rest of the family is left to take care of themselves and their village without him. The war drags on much longer than planned, getting nearer and nearer to the eldest pair of twins' birthday. For Tirza, this isn't much of a problem: she may miss out on getting a traditional Ball, but she knows she's getting a crystal as per her family's tradition. But her brother, Tracell, had his heart set on getting his own horse. With the war still raging, horses are impossible to come by. How will Lady Eircelly make his birthday wish come true?

If Wishes Were Horses was a fine story. I liked that it was about the whole family getting through this hardship. I don't think it was as good as An Exchange of Gifts though, which was a bit of a shame (An Exchange of Gifts was awesome and I'd love to read more set in that world!) But even saying that, If Wishes Were Horses was still a great read. :)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Betty and Veronica's Princess Storybook

I saw this when I was checking books in at work this morning and had to read it.  It's an Archie-style retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, and the Little Mermaid.  Betty and Veronica play the title characters (sometimes shared, as in the Little Mermaid and Rapunzel), and other Archie characters play the supporting cast (Cheryl as the Sea Witch and also the wicked queen's mirror were both a lot of fun!)

Another fun feature of this book is that each story is introduced with some historical facts, telling you when and who first wrote it down, how popular it's been, stuff like that.  There were a few cases where I actually enjoyed this more than the story (Rapunzel and Beauty and the Beast in particular). 

All in all, Betty and Veronica's Princess Storybook was a fun and super fast read.  It was exactly what I needed after work today.  :)

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Sea Thy Mistress

Well here we are.  It's over two weeks after I finished All the Windwracked Stars, and I'm only now finishing the final book of the Edda of Burdens, The Sea Thy Mistress

Like All the Windwracked Stars, I had a bit of a hard time getting into The Sea Thy Mistress.  Actually, that's an understatement: I had a very hard time getting into this story.  It takes place during the 50ish years right after All the Windwracked Stars: the world is renewed thanks to Muire's sacrifice.  Selene and Cathoair, as angels, are trying to help the world and its people rebuild.  But then 34 years later, Muire's child with Cathoair (Cathmar) washes up out of the sea.  And Heythe arrives, finding the world not at all how she expected it.

From there, the book moves slowly through Cathmar's childhood and adolescence.  Cathmar is a child first and an angel second, and so he needs to learn how the world works.  And this was a bit of a slog to get through, especially when I found myself having to backtrack through the dates a bit to figure out how old Cathmar was at certain times.

But once he sort of grew up, it felt like the story really started.  Cathmar slowly got his independence and found a girl he liked.  He moved into the city with her around the time the Imogen showed up to serve his father.  But Cathoair was still grieving the loss of both Astrid (whom he accidentally killed) and Muire (although she was not truly lost, just changed); the Imogen's ability to feed on your pain becomes an addiction.  And when Heythe finds him and tells him she can send him back to save Astrid at the cost of four days spent with her, Cahey agrees to her torture, not realizing Heythe may be using him just to get to Muire. 

The Sea Thy Mistress, when it comes down to it, is an interesting read.  Unfortunately it takes a bit to get there.  It doesn't help that it deal with a pretty big time span and multiple characters (on that note, I think it gets better when the characters more or less come together later in the book).  All in all, I am glad I persevered through the beginning and finished it and the entire saga.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All the Windwracked Stars

So it's less than a week after I finished By the Mountain Bound and I'm already finished All the Windwracked Stars.  I actually finished reading it last night when I couldn't sleep - rather than wasting my time trying to sleep, I thought I'd be useful.  And the story had really caught me by that point, so I was really eager to finish.

Unfortunately, it didn't start out that way.  The first chapter of All the Windwracked Stars is almost exactly the last chapter of By the Mountain Bound (it's the epic battle between the Children of the Light and the Tarnished).  Once that was finished, All the Windwracked Stars then went into a lot of worldbuilding.  You see, Valdyrgard may be dying thanks to that battle, but it's taking its sweet time about doing it!  Over 2000 years pass, and Muire, last of the Valkyries, is in the last remaining human city.  And it's there that she finds Mingan haunting her city.  For Mingan has found Cathoair, a beautiful boy with the soul of Strifbjorn.

It took until about halfway through the book before I really got hooked with this story.  Eiledon (the last city) is being held together by the Technomancer Thjierry Thorvaldsdottir's power.  It was at the point that you start to realize some of the bad Thjierry has done that the story gets really interesting.  It seems she has been using the swords of the Children of the Light to take power from the rest of the world and funnel it into saving Eiledon - she is literally killing the rest of the world to save this one city.  She's also found a way to infuse the souls of the dead Children of the Light into animal bodies, making them into slaves. And she wants Muire's help or at least cooperation to keep this system in place.

One thing I was struck by, especially during the first half of the book, was that I was glad I'd read By the Mountain Bound first.  By the Mountain Bound gives you the background of a lot of characters who are generally just mentioned in All the Windwracked Stars.  So if you're planning on reading this series, I recommend doing what I did and reading the first two books in reverse order.