Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dreamwalker by James Oswald


"So that’s what death means, Benfro thought. It’s not about bodies lying motionless, or dragons giving up the will to live, it’s about the fire going out and there being no more stories."

Dreamwalker is a fantasy novel that chronicles the lives of three different people who share not only a birthday but also intertwining destinies. One is a power hungry princess who will stop at nothing to gain the throne going so far as to even kill family members. One is a royal son born in secret and hidden away in a remote village on the edge of the forest. Finally, one is a young dragon—the first male dragon to be born in one thousand years. Using these three characters, Oswald concocts an impressive tale of magic, suspense, and intrigue.
    Those who know me know that I’m apt to read any book dealing with dragons. Ever since I discovered Tolkien’s The Hobbit in my youth I’ve been infatuated with them. The ways in which dragons have been portrayed in both fantasy and science fiction are too numerous to count. Some are menacing and animalistic, others are cunning and intelligent, and some authors even combine these two traits in order to make both ferocious and lovable characters. Initially, I was a little disappointed by the dragons in Dreamwalker. They aren’t cunning like Smaug, nor are they incredibly magical nor large in size. However, clues throughout the story hint at a reason for the dragon’s diminished stature and the dragons themselves are interesting characters. The story begins with a prophecy and while I’m personally a little tired of prophecies in books, I found the main plot of Dreamwalker to be rather interesting. True, many aspects of the plot are not uncommon in the fantasy genre. In fact, some have become a little tired over the years. Prophecies, lost heirs to the throne, power hungry person who will stop at nothing to keep that heir from achieving the throne etc. Frankly, the basic plot of this book held no surprised for me. This may or may not be a bad thing, depending upon the reader. Some readers like to see familiar formulas reused over and over again, while others are always looking for something new to pique their interests. I would categorize myself as being somewhere in the middle of these two preferences. While I like to see familiar plots reinvigorated, I also like to read stories that take me place I’ve never gone before. So while I feel like I’ve been told stories with plots very similar to Dreamwalker, I appreciated Oswald’s attempt at making what could be a very boring repeat of dozens of Epic Fantasy novels’ plots into something a little bit more inspired. But I’m rambling.
    Specifically, I really liked the way this story was handled. I always enjoy reading both the antagonists’ and protagonists’ perspectives. This type of narrative prevents readers from growing bored with just one person’s view and it’s the type of storytelling I generally prefer. The characters of this story were fairly well written, though some of them read like stock characters (especially the antagonists). Being the first book in a series, the author still has plenty of time with which to further develop his characters past their stereotypical roles. I also found Oswald’s take on magic to be very intriguing. In fact, it was probably the most interesting aspect of this story. Like many ardent fans of the fantasy genre I’ve always been fond of magic in stories. I love to see how authors handle magic because I feel as though this—more than anything else—reveals the author’s mentality regarding the mechanisms of the world world. I have a few minor issues with the book, including a confusing editing error. One of the characters, Beulah, is supposed to come into power by her upcoming birthday. However, the book actually gives conflicting accounts regarding the age she’s turning. Sometimes it’s twenty-one while other times it’s twenty-five. I assume this error probably came from a last minute change in which the writer decided to alter the characters age but neglected to re-edit certain areas of the book. In addition to this minor yet annoying error I felt as though the story needed more exposition. The world Oswald has dreamt up is fairly complex and includes it’s own histories, legends, and famous figures. Having been reared on Tolkien I'm fairly fond of complex worlds. However, there were times during the story where I felt as if I had missed some vital piece of information only to discover upon backtracking that said information was never provided.
   None the less this was an enjoyable book. It was a tad formulaic and some of the characters seemed a little cliché but overall it’s a promising start to a series and I fully expect the next book to improve upon the first. If I had to classify this book I would say that it is a High Fantasy story which stradles the line of adult fiction and young adult fiction (though the upper edge of YA as this story does deal with some mature and delicate issues). It’s enjoyable, it’s free, it has DRAGONS—what more motivation do you need?

Rating: 3.5

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker

     The Emperor’s Edge is the first in what is presently a quartet written by author Lindsay Buroker. I stumbled across this book on ereaderIQ, a website that lists—among other things—free ebooks. Recently I set out to scour the web for the best free ebooks currently on the market and I am proud to say that—after reading many poorly edited yet promising attempts—I’ve finally found a genuine gem. The story is both engaging and simple. Amaranthe Lockdon is one of the select few female enforces employed by the Turgonian Empire—the most successful empire in the world. Due to the scarcity of women in her profession as well as her personal drive to be precise in all of her tasks, Amaranthe can be described as a very focused individual. She’s so focused on proving her worth and serving the Empire that she agrees to undertake a mission that would exploit her feminine wiles and compromise her moral principles. Nothing is what it seems in Turgonia however, and what initially promises to be a simple tasks reveals a plot to kill the young and naïve Emperor, Sepsian, and possibly lead Turgonia into a civil war. All at once, Amaranthe is a fugitive on the run, working with the country’s most notorious criminal as well as a band of unlikely comrades in order to stop the plot against the Emperor before his nineteenth birthday, which takes place in just two weeks!
     I really enjoyed this book and I’m still shocked that I got this gem for free. The pace of the story is very well done, with the action scenes being just fast enough to engage the reader yet not so fast that the story looses detail or depth. Amaranthe serves as a very good example of what a well-developed and strong female character can be. When I was growing up there was nowhere near the abundance of YA fiction that there is today. While I loved to read I often struggled to find girl characters that did not drive me crazy! Most were stock characters and utterly predictable and it was especially difficult to find worthwhile female leads in action stories. While I did eventually discover writers like Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley whose heroines are usually rich and full of depth, my youth left me with a physical intolerance to poorly written characters of either gender. I’ve abandoned more books because of poor characterization than I have of any other story failing. Therefor, The Emperor’s Edge was a welcome addition to my slowly growing list of stories that feature ladies who are anything but stereotypical. What makes Amaranthe well written is not merely the fact that she’s a woman occupying a position of strength. Infact, the "strong woman" motif has become just as much a stock character as the "princess" motif. More often than not, writers tend to give a female character a sword, add some water and presto! They now think they’ve written a strong female lead. Amaranthe escapes this sloppy characterization by being more than just her rank. Not only is she a strong female character who can take care of herself, she’s also very human and still a girl. She’s very intelligent and willing to admit when a problem is too big to handle alone. More often than not, Amaranthe chooses cunning and logic in order to succeed in her quest, though she doesn’t shy away from fights she knows she can win. She isn't beyond feeling physical attraction towards certain members of her group but she wisely puts those feelings aside and focuses on the task at hand.

     In addition to Amaranthe, her motley crew of criminals in the making are also thoroughly enjoyable. While some of them could admittingly be classified as stock characters, it is perfectly acceptable—in this nerd’s opinion—to have your secondary characters fit into preset categories. You have the charming fop, the mouthy street rat, the wise old man, and the stoic assassin. The fact that these character types are common in adventure stories really didn’t bother me, and each character is given as much depth as the fast-paced narrative will allow. Some readers might feel like this book falls short in certain areas. While there are many dark underlying themes in this book(medical experiments on prisoners, mauled bodies turning up on the street, rape etc.), the story only ever scratches the surface of these themes, providing enough description to shape the atmosphere of the book while never going into a full gorefest. Ultimately, this just comes down to reader preference. If you’re looking for a dark steam-punk thriller and expecting loads of juicy details then this book might not be for you. Personally, I would classify this story as a mystery with mild steam punk tones and enough action to keep most readers satisfied. Granted, the plot at times can be very predictable, as it follows traditional formulas seen in most action and mystery novels. There is one surprise revealed towards the end of the book that I honestly never suspected and I even—dare I admit it—gasped aloud.

    The bottomline is that this book, which is currently free, is too good to pass up. Even if you do read it and find that you didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I did, I can’t see anyone disliking this book so long as they know to expect a story that is more fun that it is surprising, and more focused on characterization than it is on exploring every dark tone or subject matter with graphic descriptions. This is a fun and engaging read, which boasts both original characters and characters that fit into familiar motifs. It’s fun, it’s free—what excuse do you have for not downloading it?

Rating: 4/5



Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hexes and Tooth Decay by Nancy Fulda

When you were a child and still naïve enough to suspect anyone other than your parents took your freshly shed baby teeth in exchange for some monetary reward, did you lay awake at night and hope to catch a glimmer of the mystical tooth fairy? Like most children, did you picture a beautiful woman? Or,like me, did you picture some sort of shadowy figure that made necklaces out of said teeth? Well, Nancy Fulda provides a delightfully entertaining alternative to either imaginings. "Hexes and Tooth Decay" is a short story, which is a type of story I seldom review. After all, many of the grading criteria for short stories differ dramatically from full length novels. In fact, I’ve always been under the impression (based on my personal trouble in writing them) that short stories are much more difficult to write. I’ve always been a deceptively quiet person when it comes to human interactions. Contrariwise, when I write I tend to positively verbose (sometimes to the detriment of what I’m writing). Therefor, short stories have often proven to be very difficult things to accomplish. Unlike a regular novel, words can’t be wasted(though one would hope that no author would actually write scenes just to fill up space it does—unfortunately—happen). Short stories must use their limited words to contribute 100% to telling the story at hand. And the story—while not as long and epic as a novel length tale—must be intriguing enough to fill a set number of pages while at the same time be written well enough to leave readers with a sense of finality. "Hexes and Tooth Decay" is a fun example of this. This isn’t a serious story, nor does it provoke any strong emotions. It is simply a fun tale and an interesting twist on a popular fable. This story is perfect for a quick read before bed or for a palate cleanser between heavier stories. There isn’t much more to say, as it is only six pages. But it is a whimsical six pages and there is no reason why anyone with a kindle or a phone that supports the kindle app shouldn’t spend a minute or two on this cute little tale--because it's free!

Rating: 3/5

Download Link

The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen

    The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen is a book authored by a former cop named Lance Manley. The story centers around the journey of an eleven-year-old boy named Jared who is forced into the magical land of Algeria after his life is jeopardized by an otherworldly assassin. Like most characters who feature in "boy/girl is spirited away to a magical world" plots, Jared is just a regular kid. The bland normality of his run of the mill life is interrupted when visiting a hospital to celebrate the birth of a baby cousin. While there, Jared notices a strange presence in the room of a comatose girl named Sophie. Fearing that it might be someone who shouldn’t be there, Jared decides to investigate. Little does he know that Sophie—who was apparently injured in a car accident months prior—is actually the gateway to a magical world, in which she is queen!
        I must admit, the premise of this story is very interesting. As I stated in my review of S.M.Boyce’s Lichgates, the "boy/girl is spirited away to a magical world" trope never really gets old. It can be used as a basis for an endless amount of plots and can take place in an endless variety of settings and locations. So naturally, this specific aspect of Manley’s story is immediately appealing. In addition to this well loved plot device, this story also explores the mysterious process of the mind of a comatose person—a really novel idea(ho, ho—punny!). However, I feel as though there were a lot opportunities missed with this book. My final impression of this story is that it was cute, but ultimately read like an un-edited first draft of a story that desperately needed a good editor’s touch. For starters, the story is plagued by typographical errors. These include misspellings, lack of proper punctuation (like periods and apostrophes), and reversed word order. In addition to these minor glitches, I also stumbled across quite a few awkward sentences. Some were in need of comma splices, while others were in need of commas. The words "but" and "again" were overused in a way that was almost irritating. Additionally, this story lacked quite a bit of exposition. In fact, there were times when the writing seemed to be leading into an exposition, only to veer into an entirely different direction. I don’t mind mystery in a book. In fact, half the fun is in the mystery. Presentation is everything however. Readers need to be given enough information to read on comfortably but they also need to be intrigued enough to want to continue. Another really sloppy and distracting mistake in this book’s format was the lack of transitioning devices. Many authors utilize symbols, lines, and even numbers in order to signify a transition. In The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, no such devices exist. In one paragraph you’ll be in one scenario and in the following paragraph you’ll suddenly be somewhere else. I understand that Melany was attempting to cover scenes—especially action scenes—from as many perspectives as possible in order to create a complete picture. However, the lack of transitioning devices as well as the use of small, stand-alone paragraphs produced the opposite effect. Where the picture should have been completed, instead it was fractured into a confusing mess.
      Aside from the portions of the book’s story and format that frustrated me the core of story has a lot of potential. The world of Algeria is colourful and full of interesting creatures and the magic doesn’t feel like the run of the mill sort of magic that authors tend to throw into a story in order to make a fantasy. There was some thought behind it, though I did feel as though at times Melany was struggling to describe what he was envisioning. Personally, I feel as though the focus of this story should have been shifted more towards the character of Sophie than Jared—or at least split between them. As a character, Jared doesn’t really captivate the reader’s attention. The story isn’t told from his point of view, so readers don’t get the charming, snarky narrative that can be found in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan or the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. He was just entirely uninteresting, which is a shame because I think he could have been built up into a better character. Sophie, on the other hand, is interesting even though she is seldom seen doing anything in the story(naturally due to her coma). Perhaps if Melany had peppered his story with present narrative involving Jared and flashbacks involving Sophie the story would have taken on a new dimension and have been more interesting as a result. I’m aware that this isn’t a glowing review, but if you feel so inclined please download the free copy of this book. While it may have it’s flaws, the story glimmers of potential. Every author needs reviews as well—even if those reviews are to tell him or her where they might improve (watch me take this back if I’m ever published and receive a negative review).

Rating: 2.5/5

Download link(edit: Somewhere during the time that I downloaded this book and read it, the story was returned to it’s original price for everyone but Amazon Prime members)

Did you say free? As in, FREE?

   For the last fortnight of May(well, I’m approximating. There are actually thirteen days left in May. But who is counting? Oh right, I am…) I’ll be reviewing a selection of free ebooks, found courtesy of eReaderIQ. On one hand, the mere fact that these books are free earns them some brownie points. I won’t lie—I tend to judge free books a little more leniently than books I’ve purchased. Why? Well, other than the fact that I am a very frugal college student who demands what she pays for, free ebooks are usually either self-published or published by small, independent online industries. The fact of the matter is that I expect more from professionally handled books in terms of editing and marketing that I do of most free ebooks. When I come across a typo in an independent publication, I’m only mildly miffed. When I come across a typo in a book published by a big name…well, let’s just say I get a little crazy.

   Most writers who are either published independently or published through one of the numerous small, no name online publishing corporations are in desperate need of a proper editor. While I’m sure there are some more reputable online publishers, my general experience with products of such companies leaves much to be desired. However, there are some rough gems amongst the myriad of poorly edited slop. So I set out on a noble quest to find said gems. The following is a list of titles that will be reviewed in the coming somewhat-a-fortnight. When the reviews are completed, each title will then be linked to the associated review, and each review will include a download link for those interested:

-The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen by Lance Manley

-The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker

-Hexes and Tooth Decay: A Short Story by Nancy Fulda

-Dreamwalker(The Ballad of Sir Benfro) by James Oswald

Happy somewhat-a-fortnight!