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

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

down-among-the-sticks-and-bones-book-coverTitle: Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 176
Series: Wayward Children #2 (Series Tracker)

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

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story set prior to the events of author Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway (review). Twins Jacqueline (Jack) and Jillian (Jill) are raised to fit perfectly within the boxes their parents select for them — looks, clothing, and behavior are all meticulously regimented. When they climb through a portal into an unknown world, they leave the rigidity of their past behind them and seek a chance to start anew. Vampires, mad scientists, and romances abound!

McGuire employs an inviting and clean prose, through which she can clearly communicate the cruel nature of Jack and Jill’s individual situations. She makes you feel that being plopped into a dangerous world is a welcome respite for what the twins were coming from.

In the novella format, it’s tough to fit worldbuilding, character development, and a solid story together effectively. Here, the characterization of Jack and Jill is excellent, the worldbuilding of the Moors (the creepy portal land) is strong, but the overall story left me wanting. The sequence of plot events spans several years but skips by very quickly, never lingering long enough for each event to have the intended impact. I had similar feelings when reading Every Heart a Doorway — an enjoyable read built from a fun idea, but with a story that I never fully connected with.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Fool’s Fate

Fool's FateTitle: Fool’s Fate (2003)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 928
Series: Tawny Man #3, Realms of the Elderlings #9 (Series Tracker)

Fool’s Fate sets out at a sluggish pace, with the characters sailing to various territories in the Outislands. While this fleshed out the culture of the Outislanders in a compelling way, it mostly felt plodding and overlong. I was worried that this story would follow the same trajectory as the third book in the Farseer Trilogy, with Assassin’s Quest feeling much more meandering and unfocused than the preceding two books. Luckily, the story takes off at the halfway mark, and all my qualms were washed away.

Dragons, deaths, betrayals, family reunions — it’s jam-packed and Robin Hobb’s talents are on full display. The writing is imbued with so much care and emotion that it’s impossible not to care tremendously for each of our main characters. This was a beautiful conclusion to an excellent trilogy. I’m sad to leave Fitz behind to journey into the Rain Wilds, but it’s a comfort to know that there are three more Fitz books waiting for me on the other side.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Golden Fool

GoldenFool.jpgTitle: Golden Fool (2002)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 736
Series: Tawny Man #2, Realms of the Elderlings #8 (Series Tracker)

Golden Fool expands and improves upon every aspect of Fool’s Errand, just as Royal Assassin did for Assassin’s Apprentice. This story was firing on all cylinders — the pacing, the plotting, the action, and the intrigue; it was all on full display.

Fitz (as Tom Badgerlock) is firmly back in the game and he’s juggling relationships with: his three children (one by blood, one adopted, and one…well, it’s complicated), The Fool/Lord Golden, spymaster Chade, Queen Kettricken, Starling, Thick, and his past self. He’s developed a keen insight into his own grief — something that is now fully realized after having so much practice at it. Even after five books in Fitz’s story, the characters and relationships around him continue to evolve in fresh new ways — as does the overall plot of the Realms of the Elderlings narrative. This book marked the first major crossover between adjacent trilogies, as the events of the Liveship Traders series are reframed and what I understood about certain characters was cast in a new light.

This book fully rekindled my addiction to this world. I’ve been swept into the Skill stream and I’m happy to go wherever it takes me.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Providence of Fire

Staveley_Anderson_Providence-of-FireTitle: The Providence of Fire (2015)
Author: Brian Staveley
Pages: 737
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2 (Series Tracker)

Picking up where series-starter The Emperor’s Blades left off, siblings Adare, Valyn, and Kaden, continue their fight to save the Annurian Empire. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the first book, but any goodwill that carried over to book #2 quickly evaporated. Gone are the training sequences, monk wisdom, and black ops action scenes that made the first book so absorbing. There is more bloodshed, fighting, and military maneuvering here, and the scope has expanded to such a degree that more intimate, personal narratives are left in the dust.

I had seen some stellar reviews from people I trust, but this didn’t end up being for me. I don’t think I’ll finish the trilogy, but I am intrigued by Skullsworn, a prequel novel that focuses on Pyrre, an assassin that has been a fun side character in this series. I have faith in Brian Staveley as an author and I hope my dislike The Providence of Fire came more from the story evolving out of my comfort zone, than from the quality of the narrative he is telling.

★★½ out of 5

Review: Borne

passport_Borne-A-Novel-1519296-9fdd0708c6a0d663eb92Title: Borne (2017)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 325

Rachel is a young woman scavenging the ruins of a dilapidated city. She comes across Borne, a sea anemone-like creature affixed to the side of monstrous bear that patrols her territory. Rachel must contend with Borne’s growing sentience (and size) as her world crumbles around her.

Borne shares a lot of stylistic DNA with Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, one of my favorite books of all time. This novel did not jibe with me in the same way, unfortunately. While Annihilation dealt with the slow creep of the unfamiliar into our known world, Borne shows a world already gone — a world filled with biotechnological monstrosities and a destroyed civilization. It’s a full embrace of the New Weird genre that VanderMeer has helped popularize, but it ultimately lost me along the way.

There are nuggets of really interesting ideas found within the pages of this novel, but I found the writing style to be ultimately inaccessible. Borne lacked a cohesive narrative and a compelling mystery, which made it difficult to stay invested. In the end, all the discordant sequences coalesced into something coherent, but it wasn’t enough to rectify the disinterest and confusion that came before it.

★★¼ out of 5

Review: Nyphron Rising

41QcBGJCE0L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Nyphron Rising (2009)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 350
Series: The Riyria Revelations #3 (Series Tracker)

In Nyphron Rising, Royce and Hadrian travel south with Princess Arista to rally Nationalist sympathizers to their cause, as the Nyphron Church attempts to use their clout and sham “Heir of Novron” to conquer Elan. After two stellar opening books, this was a bit of a letdown. As the focus shifts to military maneuvering and away from caper-like adventures, I find myself less invested in the proceedings.

Royce and Hadrian remain wonderful leads, but these stories live and die with who else is along for the ride. I loved Myron the monk in the first book and Eshrahaddon the wizard in the second, but there is no standout side character to be found in this story. Princess Arista has risen to supporting role and has a nice arc, but it seems like the best is yet to come for her. These are all minor quibbles for an overall story that still feels fresh and fun, and will hopefully have major payoffs in the back half of the series.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Fool’s Errand

FoolsErrand-USTitle: Fool’s Errand (2001)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 662
Series: Tawny Man #1, Realms of the Elderlings #7 (Series Tracker)

It is so good to see these characters again after three books away. When we last left FitzChivalry Farseer, his story had ended in a place that I was comfortable with and he seemed to be at peace. I was initially apprehensive about his return to action, but author Robin Hobb eventually coaxed me back — just as Chade and The Fool do for Fitz. As such, our now-unretired protagonist must use his magical Wit and Skill to track down young Dutiful Farseer from interlopers with complicated aims.

As excited as I was to see the band back together, it really took a while for this story to get rolling. Hobb’s writing is top-notch, as always, so even long sequences of relative idleness are not difficult to stomach. About two-thirds of the way through, though, there was a scene that grabbed and shook me deeply. From that point forward, the action picked up and I flew through the final chapters. I’ve fully bought in to Fitz’s new story arc and I see great potential for the next books in this series. 7 books down, 9 to go!

★★★¾ out of 5