Monday, April 20, 2015

Fairies: the Myths, Legends, and Lore by Skye Alexander

Fairies: the Myths, Legends and Lore by Skye Alexander explores stories surrounding these mythical beings both ancient and contemporary, and draws heavily on their abundance in literature as beings of delight and wickedness. I initially purchased this books in hopes of building up my reference collection. However, after the first few pages it became clear that this book relies less on academic or even historical sources and more on fancy. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but buyers looking for a more serious text for research purposes may want to look elsewhere.

       The book itself is beautiful. The font is a nice, calming purple and the illustrations scattered throughout the work are very crisp and whimsical. There is definitely some information to be found in this book, but although there is a bibliography most of the sourcing is weak and barely present, and the vast majority of the sources are from fictional works published in the fantasy genre. There were many instances in which the author would lead with something like, “according to legends”, but fail to back the legend up. If anything, the book draws more on the authors own understanding of the things she has learned and believes and her subsequent interpretation of that understanding rather than providing a catalogue of recorded information. Even now I'm not entirely sure if this book should be treated as a work of fiction, non-fiction, or a reference work.

      Now, I don’t have anything against this per say. Aside from being pretty, the book is fairly well written and at the very least it can give aspiring writers inspiration and enthusiasts of mythology and folklore a light, entertaining read. There were a couple of interesting ideas and concepts, and some region specific terms that I hadn’t come across before. Just know that if you’re planning to purchase this book that it’s written more in the vein of Candlewick Press’s Ology series and less in the vein of a Norton anthology.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fallings Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is a Young Adult fantasy series that splits it’s narrative between three kingdoms and several characters from each kingdom all while a massive war is brewing and old prophecies are coming to pass.

The book starts off with a kidnapping years ago marked by bloodshed, committed by two witches in search of a child prophesized by the stars to reclaim ancient magic artifacts long lost. The child is taken faraway to be raised under close supervision while her powers develop.
     The story then shifts to Princess Cleo of Auranos—a stubborn, hot-headed princess who often leads too much by impulse and not enough with her wits. While on a trip to the neighboring Paelsia, the drunk, haughty noble she is accompanying murders a wine seller’s son during a haggling dispute, and Cleo is left haunted by a crime she feels she could have prevented. In truth she hates the noble who committed the crime, but must tolerate him lest he reveal a dark secret that could ruin her reputation.
       Jonas is the brother of the murdered boy. He swears vengeance on the noble ruthlessly murdered him, as well as the princess he believes to have been cold and indifferent to the tragedy. Having grown up in a land filled with poverty, Jonas has always hated the rich. Now, however, he has a reason to kill them.
        Magnus and Lucia are the prince and princess of Limeros—a kingdom under the rule of a bloody King who polices his people using brutal and unforgiving means. Magnus and Lucia, however, both harbor secrets and these secrets drive a wedge between their once close relationship as their father drags them into a bloody war with Auranos.


I think that this book has a lot of promising ideas. I like the notion of charting three different perspectives from three different feuding kingdoms, and letting the readers see into the minds of each kingdom before they all come to a bloody head. Unfortunately, the execution of this novel was incredibly chaotic. The narrative hop-skips between different characters so swiftly that there’s no real time to develop any of them satisfactorily. In addition to how quickly perspectives change, what we do get for each character amounts to a lot of telling and not enough showing. We’ll be told that a character is upset without seeing them be upset, we’ll be told that a character is really strong and not irresponsible, even when the only evidence we’re shown is that character being irresponsible. When the characters in the story do stupid things—which happen quite frequently—I was left feeling frustrated because what they did often contradicted what the author told us about them. This leads me to another problems: false climaxes.

Now, I don’t mind a few of these in a story. I actually think they can be pretty clever when used occasionally because it’s smart of defy the reader’s expectations now and then. There is one point in the book where a romantic interest dies, and it was completely unexpected and not the cliché for this genre at all, which made for a really enjoyable turn of events. That having been said, it was obviously meant to be a sad moment when in reality I didn’t really care that this character had died because the romance they had participated in was really rushed from the get-go. Still, I was surprised. The problem is, when you use these false-climaxes too much it makes the reader feel like they’re on a ride that keeps stopping. It makes your blood rush in the beginning, but once it happens too many times you’re just left wanting to get off. And this story has an abundance of false-climaxes. Characters will have something go their way and then be interrupted, only have things go their way and be interrupted again. Readers will be led believing that a certain change is going to occur and it does—for two pages.

I think this book might have been aided greatly by a rearranging of the content. Instead of having the perspective shift every other chapter, each kingdom could have been given a quarter of the book so that readers could really understand the characters that lived there and the politics, religion, etc. The quarters could then end with each character entering the climax of the book, which the last quarter could be dedicated too.

Overall, I think this book had a lot of potential that was lost in some bad techniques and poor management. I really like the basic idea behind Falling Kingdoms, and I can see what the author was trying to do, but by the time I closed the book I felt almost relieved to be done with it.

Buy, Borrow, or Bypass: I'd bypass this one, or at the most borrow it. I initially paid $10.99 for this book, which was a little steep for such a short read to begin with, and given my overall impression of it I wouldn't recommend paying full price.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima


"Wolves were said to appear to the blooded queens at turning points: times of danger and opportunity."

The Demon King is the first book in the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, of which there are presently four installments. This Young Adult fantasy novel utilizes many tropes familiar to the genre, at times rendering it very predictable. However, it also boasts several unique, world-building features that make it stand out amongst the masses, and the story’s simplicity does not prevent it from being entertaining.
        The book centers chiefly around the lives of two characters: reformed thief Hans Alister and princess heir Raisa ana’Marianna. The two spend most of the novel without interacting with one another, although their paths cross through a series of circumstances and the novel ends on the note that the two will most certainly be drawn together again. The book opens with Hans and his friend Fire Dancer collecting rare plants to sell at market. Before returning home, they decided to try their hand at hunting but are quickly met with a wall of magically fueled fire. Their subsequent confrontation with the young wizards in training responsible for the flame and the capture of a peculiar, seemingly cursed amulet set Hans’s seemingly placid life into a frenzy that carries him through the rest of the story, plaguing him with personal loss and revealing his unsettling destiny.
        Meanwhile, princess Raisa’s world also begins to unravel as her name day—the book’s version of a birthday—quickly approaches and her hand will officially be available to suitors looking to secure a place in the royal family. Along the way however, Raisa is forced to face some unsettling truths, including her ignorance of the true going-ons around her. Little by little she’s lured into a trap and made victim to a political game that could set the entire kingdom aflame with war, and threaten to revive the legendary conflict known as the Breaking—a time in the kingdom’s past where a legendary figure known as the Demon King wielded a magic so powerful that he almost broke apart the world. Not all of the old tales are as they seem however, and as the story progresses both Raisa and Hans begin to learn terrible truths about their pasts and their present.
      One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was the intriguing world that was built around it. The ruling structure is matriarchal in nature, so much so that the land is called a queendom instead of a kingdom. Furthermore, the people known as the Clan—who are based on First Nations—provide the story with both cultural and racial diversity. The princess herself is part Clan, and the line of queens descends from Clan blood. It’s always refreshing to see novels representing different groups of people, and the representation of women is also very refreshing. More than anything, I’m intrigued by the world that Chima has created.
      The story itself is, as I said, rather predictable. The heritage of a certain character was all too obvious, as was the deception of another. The plot itself was fairly straight-forward, with no real surprises or unexpected twist. Overall, it was interesting enough to keep me wanting more but not so much that I couldn’t put it down. As this is the first entry in a series, it isn’t really surprising that The Demon King would be spent going through the motions and laying down the groundwork for the rest of the series. I do wish that there had been a little more content, maybe delving into the history of the world. I also found that the characters could be a little flat at times, and I found myself wanting them to do more or to at least be privy to more of their thoughts. Part of the problem lies in the fact that Chima sometimes does a bit to much telling and not enough showing.However, as this is the first in an on-going series and as the book was an enjoyable read I'm definitely interested enough to buy the next installment.

Buy, Borrow, or Bypass: I'd recommend this book to most YA fantasy fans, especially those looking for a world with a lot of strong female characters and racial diversity. It's widely available in paperback and isn't too expensive, and I've seen plenty of used books floating around for those on a tighter budget.