Review: River of Teeth

RiverofTeethTitle: River of Teeth (2017)
Author: Sarah Gailey
Pages: 172
SeriesRiver of Teeth #1 (Series Tracker)

Around the turn of the 20th century, the United States toyed with the idea of importing hippos and settling them in the bayous of Louisiana. Such a move would provide an alternative source of meat for Americans, but it neglected the potentially dangerous side effects of introducing an animal with hippos’ nasty disposition onto their shores. River of Teeth answers the “what-if” proposition of this great hippo resettlement…and things do not go well.

It’s tough for the execution of this story to match how cool the concept is, but I’d say author Sarah Gailey does a commendable job. River of Teeth focuses on a rag-tag collection of adventurers tasked with ridding the coast of the feral hippo beasts. Each character we meet is unique and memorable, but not enough time is spent with any one of them to feel any sort of emotional connection to them upon their eventual demises. Luckily, this is a fun story that unfolds at a fast pace where nary a dull moment is found.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Legion of Flame

LegionofFlame.jpgTitle: The Legion of Flame (2017)
Anthony Ryan
Pages: 592
Series: The Draconis Memoria #2 (Series Tracker)

The Legion of Flame picks up directly after the events of The Waking Fire (review), as our adventurers must contend with the White drake menace that they’ve unleashed on the world.

I love the sandbox that author Anthony Ryan has created — a Victorian-era world filled with steampunk gadgets and a politically complex society. Unfortunately, a cool setting is not enough to overcome a thin plot that struggles to carry the novel.

That being said, the first few hundred pages were outstanding. The pacing was much better than the first book as there was less reliance on action sequences to drive the narrative forward. It’s these quieter moments (the scheming, the politics, etc.) where Ryan’s writing is most engaging. I find his action sequences to be difficult to follow and repetitive. There are only so many times a chapter can end with impending danger at the unexpected sight of a dragon.

Eventually, much like the first book, things descend into a dizzying action bonanza. This, coupled with an ending with little resolution, makes my commitment to finishing this series up in the air.

★★¾ out of 5

Review: Age of Swords

Age of Swords 2.jpgTitle: Age of Swords (2017)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 512
Series: The Legends of the First Empire #2 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Author Michael J. Sullivan continues his six-book, 3000-years prior to Riyria, fantasy epic with Age of Swords, a tale of humans attempting to unite their clans and overthrow the god-like Fhrey race. Our main characters must overcome in-fighting, inferior technology, and a bunch of pesky dwarves before they can even think about crossing paths with the Fhrey.

This book starts with a bang, quiets down and then steadily builds to a satisfying conclusion. In typical Michael J. Sullivan fashion, there are plenty of common fantasy tropes at play here, but he utilizes them in a way that is fresh, inviting, and fun. There is something to be said about reading fantasy that gives off a positive vibe, during a time when grimdark is all the rage.

Sullivan greatly expands his character pool, while giving everyone enough to do to justify their presence. Each person is easy to root for and there’s a bevy of awesome female characters that steal the show. No worthy adversary ever emerges, and the plot outcomes are fairly predictable, but this is still another enjoyable adventure with a stellar cast.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: City of Dragons

d80f67438973206d458173c0fd7fabbdTitle: City of Dragons (2011)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 426
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #3, Realms of the Elderlings #12 (Series Tracker)

Upon finding Kelsingra, the titular “City of Dragons”, our dragons and their scaled human companions seek to gain a foothold in a mysterious place while also grappling with the physical changes that this mystical location has wrought upon them. Several new character POVs are seen, including a few whose nefarious aims threaten the strange settlement and its inhabitants.

While not as engaging as the prior Rain Wild book, scenes featuring Kelsingra were fascinating; it was unfortunate that more of the story did not take place there. Like the first book in this series, City of Dragons leans heavily on set-up, as this is the first half of what was originally one long manuscript. This story checks in with several underserved characters and sees where everyone is positioned for the big finale. I look forward to seeing how this tetralogy concludes, but with a title like Blood of Dragons it may not be smooth sailing for our weary adventurers.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Soleri

Soleri-final-cover-for-dropboxTitle: Soleri (2017)
Author: Michael Johnston
Pages: 368
Series: Soleri #1

Soleri follows five characters who must negotiate an ever-changing web of deceit and conflict as they each vie for power in the sprawling Soleri empire. The story and setting were reminiscent of Game of Thrones but with tighter pacing and an Egyptian flair.

This marks author Michael Johnston’s first solo novel and it’s certainly an impressive debut — it’s equal parts epic and intimate, as we’re dealing with a small set of characters with political ambitions on a large scale. The writing is clear, concise, and moves the narrative along at a nice pace.

I sped through the first half of this novel before encountering a ~100 page stretch in the second half that really felt stagnate and lost my interest. Johnston employs an unsustainable barrage of fun plot twists in the first half that probably should have been spread more evenly throughout the book. It was not until the final few chapters that I was brought back to what was so good about the novel to begin with — twisty, intriguing family dynamics against the backdrop of an interesting world with a rich history.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Dragon Haven

dragonhavenTitle: Dragon Haven (2010)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 526
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #2, Realms of the Elderlings #11 (Series Tracker)

Many of Robin Hobb’s books begin with a set of characters that are broken in some way (physically, emotionally, by circumstance, etc.). Throughout the course of each book or series these characters are made whole through their experiences. Dragon Keeper introduced us to several flailing entities (feeble dragons, outcast keepers, multiple characters in doomed relationships), but it is from these small beginnings that these characters come into their own in Dragon Haven.

This book is very much a continuation of Dragon Keeper — which is not surprising, since these first two books were split from one long manuscript. Where the first book provided the set-up, Dragon Haven delivered with the action, romance, and pacing of a much more enjoyable book. I’ve become more connected with these characters, and in classic Robin Hobb fashion, I’m sharing in their triumphs and hurting from their defeats. Although it’s not quite at the level as the three preceding trilogies, this is a major improvement on the first book.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: The Waking Fire

Title: The Waking Fire (2016)
Author: Anthony Ryan
Pages: 594
Series: The Draconis Memoria #1 (Series Tracker)

9781101987872Combine the magic system of Mistborn, the gunplay of Red Dead Redemption, the steampunk aesthetic of Bioshock Infinite, the dragons of Skyrim, a fun cast, a unique culture, and an intriguing Macguffin and you have The Waking Fire. I was expecting a traditional dragon-centric Epic Fantasy story and this was that and so much more.

The story follows three character POVs who are each integral to the hunt for the mythical White drake, whose blood grants unimaginable power to those who can ingest/wield it. Along the way, the characters are thrown into bar brawls, naval battles, dragon fights, zombie horde skirmishes, and so on — frankly, the steady barrage of action sequences was a bit dizzying. I would have happily sacrificed a few of these scenes for some additional character development. With that in mind, the book feels overlong, but luckily never loses its sense of excitement. Author Anthony Ryan has built a thrilling and fascinating world that I plan on revisiting soon in the forthcoming sequel, The Legion of Flame (2017).

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Dragon Keeper

9780061561627_0_CoverTitle: Dragon Keeper (2009)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 500
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #1, Realms of the Elderlings #10 (Series Tracker)

It’s always difficult to leave Fitz behind, especially for a tetralogy that is regarded as the weak point in the Realms of the Elderlings series. I was hoping that a story devoted to several dragons would be big, bold, and thrilling; unfortunately, the dragons found in this opening tome were weak, malformed, and helpless. Obviously, this is just the beginning and things will likely change in the forthcoming books, but it was a disappointing revelation that Tintaglia and dragons like her were nowhere to be found.

That’s not to say that there is nothing to like about this book. Compared to the Liveship Traders trilogy, this story is much more focused, the cast is less sprawling, and the characters convergence more quickly. The main characters are complex, likable, and varied. From Alise, the erudite Bingtown trader’s daughter, to Thymara, the societal outcast seeking a place in the world, and to Leftrin, the shrewd ship captain with a heart; each character seems to have virtuous aims with realistic faults, and that makes them easy to root for.

Overall, though, this novel was mostly character introduction and set-up; it never captivated me like Hobb’s other works, but I will push forward to the next book to see if the story picks up.

★★★ out of 5

Review: The Emerald Storm

TheEmeraldStormTitle: The Emerald Storm (2010)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 375
Series: The Riyria Revelations #4 (Series Tracker)

Royce and Hadrian continue their journey to locate the Heir of Novron and install him to his rightful throne. On this adventure they board The Emerald Storm, a New Empire ship with a crew whose allegiance is never quite what it seems.

This ship tale was not on par with Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders or Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies, but it’s another satisfactory installment in the series. I found this second pair of books to be less compelling than the first pair, perhaps because I’ve become more invested in the overarching story that spans the series rather than the plots of each individual book. Luckily, Royce and Hadrian continue to be a fun duo and I will see their journey through to the end.

★★★ out of 5