Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

31702733Title: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (2017)
Author: Curtis Craddock
Pages: 416
Series: The Risen Kingdoms #1 (Series Tracker)

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

In a floating world filled with airships and royal sorcerers, Princess Isabelle and her trusty musketeer, Jean-Claude, fight against a sinister plot that has been thousands of years in the making.

I was immediately drawn in by the wondrous setting and Curtis Craddock’s beautiful prose. The humor and clever turns of phrase were perfectly matched to such a fantastical story.

Isabelle and Jean-Claude are wonderful protagonists to follow as they are cunning, capable, and easy to root for. Their bond is a joy to witness, so it was a shame that they spent so little time together in the story. To that end, I wish character relationships, in general, were more at the forefront of this novel. The political maneuverings and motivations were a bit hard to follow and full immersion into the political theater becomes difficult when you only have access to the POVs of two outsiders.

These misgivings aside, this was an entertaining adventure in a fresh new setting. I look forward to seeing where Craddock takes the story next, as he has started (world)building a sandbox with loads of untapped potential.

★★★¾ out of 5

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Review: The Stone Sky

Jemisin_StoneSky-TP.jpgTitle: The Stone Sky (2017)
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Pages: 413
Series: The Broken Earth #3 (Series Tracker)

“I don’t know what’s happening, not really. I know only that this is a battle, full of moment-to-moment confusion as all battles are, and from here forth nothing is quite clear…”
The Stone Sky

This quote sums up my experience with The Broken Earth trilogy. I was frequently perplexed by what exactly was happening from scene to scene, but I was always left in awe by Jemisin’s unique voice and vision.

My lower ratings for the previous two books (3.5 and 3.25) were due to, what I felt was, a lack of accessibility. I struggled to care about the setting, the characters, and their stories because it was such a conceptually idiosyncratic world. The Stone Sky feels more grounded in the familiar. The Earth they inhabit feels real and more analogous to the one we currently inhabit. The characters are more vulnerable and their stories are more focused and clear. …or perhaps the previous two books built a foundation on which I was able to engage more easily with what was going on here. Either way, this one is great!

Summarizing the plot here would not do justice to the sheer power of this book/series. It is, ultimately, a story of survival, oppression, power, love, and family. The Stone Sky is my favorite book of the trilogy and is a dazzling conclusion to a remarkable and devastating series. As a whole, this was a visionary work, written by a wonderfully imaginative author. I look forward to seeing what she creates next.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Fool’s Quest

fool-s-quest-2Title: Fool’s Quest (2015)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 788
Series: The Fitz & The Fool #2, Realms of the Elderlings #15 (Series Tracker)

After a stellar first book, this follow-up was a bit of a let down. Fool’s Assassin felt fresh, with new characters and circumstances reviving Fitz’s tale. Fool’s Quest feels stagnate, with very little forward plot momentum. The events at the end of the previous book led me to believe that we would see an emboldened Fitz, hellbent on seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. Instead, we see travel preparations, brooding, licking wounds, and minimal plot progression. Hobb’s writing is still wonderful but this feels very “middle book-ish” with no resolution or sense of completeness. I’m still excited for the final book, though. Onward!

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Fool’s Assassin

FoolsAssassinTitle: Fool’s Assassin (2014)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 688
Series: The Fitz & The Fool, Realms of the Elderlings #14 (Series Tracker)

In Fool’s Assassin, we return to our beloved protagonist, FitzChivalry Farseer, who is living a peaceful life as Tom Badgerlock at Withywoods manor. Of course, said peace is quickly disrupted by events that threaten Fitz’s closest family and friends.

I would happily read an entire book about Fitz puttering around his retirement home, fixing things, and training apprentices (he’s certainly earned the break), but I’m equally delighted to see him called back into action. There is no permanent retirement for the “Witted Bastard”.

The narrative arc here is less defined than in previous Fitz books, as Robin Hobb once again delves into the dizzying array of complex characters and relationships that are so engrossing to read about. Even though these books are ostensibly about Fitz, no one book feels the same and with the addition of a wonderful new character POV, fresh life has been breathed into Fitz’s tale once more. The book ends with the first real cliffhanger I can remember in all of Hobb’s books — as if I need any other reason to read more of this series…

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Blood of Dragons

BloodofDragons.pngTitle: Blood of Dragons (2013)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 545
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #4, Realms of the Elderlings #13 (Series Tracker)

Blood of Dragons closes the door on the Rain Wild Chronicles tetralogy. I was expecting a grand finale, but was disappointed to read a more muted story that concluded several storylines that I did not care much about. Robin Hobb’s similarly structured Liveship Traders series had countless characters that all felt like important components of a densely woven tapestry, while this series felt less essential and grand, with a heavy focus on relationship drama. Gripes aside, this is not a bad book, just one I did not enjoy as much as most other Realms of Elderlings works. Four series down, one to go!

★★★¼ out of 5

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)
Author: 
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