The Shadowing: Hunted, by Adam Slater

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Publication date – September 13, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Once every century, the barrier between the human world and the demon realm begins to break down. Creatures gather, anxiously waiting to cross the divide, to bring death and destruction from their world to ours. This time is called The Shadowing.

Callum Scott has always known that there is a supernatural world out there—he’s seen ghosts for as long as he can remember. Lately, he’s had visions of children being brutally murdered by a terrifying creature. Then the visions start coming true, and Callum realizes that he’s being hunted, too.

Driven by a dark destiny, he must stand against the demons that threaten our world.

And The Shadowing is almost here…

Thoughts On the surface, this is a fairly standard ghost story involving a young teenager, one of many that you can find on the bookshelves today. Dig a little bit deeper and you’ll find a surprisingly disturbing tale, not just in regard to the supernatural but also the more brutal and tragic sides of mundane teenage life. From the image of a skinnless humanoid figure and bloody murders involving the removal of eyes, to violent bullying and a painful hidden family legacy, this book has a good deal to make teens and adults alike think hard.

The story itself is a fairly simple one, when you get right down to it, but it is still an interesting read, with some interesting takes on folklore and legends. His storytelling style is fairly smooth, though I often found myself picturing the characters as somewhat younger than they really were, due to the tone of the writing. It wasn’t quite a mesh, but was close enough that I can’t complain too loudly about it.

My only real complaint about this novel was the way some things were established without really being introduced first, so to speak, in such a way that it occasionally felt as though I must have blinked and missed a character’s name being mentioned. A perfect example of this is when Callum introduces his friend as a “translator”, somebody who can’t interact with the spirit world but who knows plenty about it. It sounds at first as though he’s using the word as a way to describe what she does, but immediately afterward it starts being used almost as a title, as though a translator is something that a person is instead of something a person does. Other characters just accept it, but to the reader it comes across as clumsy, like something got skipped over.

Other than that, Hunted is a quick and decent beginning to what I’m hoping will continue to be an entertaining series. I look forward to seeing what the sequel will contain.

(Provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)

Nostalgia Friday: Huntress, by L J Smith

Yes, it’s the return of Nostalgia Friday! I started doing this last year, and didn’t so much lose steam as get distracted by a hundred and one other things. So I’m reviving it. For those who missed the original goal of Nostalgia Friday, I’m going to try to post each Friday with a book that I read first years ago and have recently reread, to see how well the book stacks up against my memories of it. In some cases it ends up being more enjoyable, and in others, less so. But no matter which way my opinions go, it’s kind of fun to look back on the books I used to read and see just how much my reading tastes have changed or stayed the same.

And so, on with the show!

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Author’s website
Publication Date – September 1, 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Jez Redfern is unique. She’s a vampire hunter…who’s half vampire. Raised in the Redfern family, the girl with fiery hair and silvery-blue eyes was the undisputed leader of a gang of vampire raiders. Then came the discovery that shattered her life – her mother was a human. Now, Jez hunts her former friends, protecting humans from the Night World.

But when Circle Daybreak sends her on a search for one of the legendary Wild Powers, Jez has to rejoin her old gang. They want her back — especially Morgead, the gorgeous green-eyed vampire who used to be her second-in-command. Jez wants to stay faithful to Hugh Davis, the human she loves. But Morgead swears he’s her soulmate and he’ll do anything to lure her back to the old ways. With danger and temptation around, Jez finds herself irresistibly drawn to him. And she’s afraid that if she tastes blood again, she’ll become the evil huntress she once was…

Thoughts: My rather lackluster opinions of the Night World books isn’t dramatically improved by this book, but I did enjoy it more than I expected I would, and even more than I remembered doing when I first read it all those years ago.

Part of my improved opinion of this book is due to the fact that in this, there are demonstrated consequences to a teenager living a secret double life as a vampire hunter. Not many consequences, I’ll grant you, as Jez’s family don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “discipline”, but some, and that was a favourable comparison to other books in the series.

Comparing to books these days, however, it’s nothing. More authors are actually giving the time needed to put reality into their fantasy and urban fantasy, and making a point of showing that when a high school kid skips class and stays out all night and doesn’t give their parents and teachers a damn good reason why, they get in massive amounts of trouble. Really, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed this, and that show was on TV at the same time that the Night World books were being written.

This is the beginning of what the previous books in the series were really building up to. The start of the prophecies being fulfilled, the countdown to the millennium, and the truth behind all the hints about the changes in the Night World that have been taking place.

Prophecies are old hat and have been done to death. More annoying is the fact that one of the twists on the prophecy’s interpretation relies on the assumption that the word for sight and prophecy were just as interchangeable in English (“vision”) as they were in whatever language the prophecy was originally written in. This sort of assumption that the reader will either overlook these things or not notice them seems to be very common in Smith’s books, and is one thing that particularly annoys me.

But still, Huntress was a decent book, as far as the Night World series goes, and was an interesting way to kick off the more action-filled part of the series. Jez’s story is an interesting one, as is her struggle to fit into two worlds while not really feeling like she belongs to either. Also interesting was the way that Jez and Morgead, the established soulmates of the tale, were resistant to their bond at first. Jex had her heart set on someone else and experienced an internal struggle over the issue, though admittedly not much of one. Still, much like one of the earlier novels in the series, it was interesting to see a connection between two people who didn’t want to be connected, showing that the soulmate principle isn’t an instant recipe for “happily ever after.”

The Bookman, by Lavie Tidhar

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Author’s blog
Publication date – Spetember 28, 2010

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) A masked terrorist has brought London to its knees – there are bombs inside books, and nobody knows which ones. On the day of the launch of the first expedition to Mars, by giant cannon, he outdoes himself with an audacious attack. For young poet Orphan, trapped in the screaming audience, it seems his destiny is entwined with that of the shadowy terrorist, but how? Like a steam-powered take on V for Vendetta, rich with satire and slashed through with automatons, giant lizards, pirates, airships and wild adventure, The Bookman is the first of a series.

Thoughts: Speculative alternate history with a steampunk literary twist, The Bookman is one book that aptly fits the name “genre,” mostly because classifying it more specifically might give one a headache. The plot is multilayered, factions working against factions, with pawns doing the dirty work for who knows who by the end of things. It’s a book that’s rich in creative thinking and creative license.

The pacing of the plot is steady and even, but still fairly slow. Many things are hinted at and revealed that, in all honestly, would probably make the most sense to people who have had a taste of the literary characters this book is filled with, but unfortunately leaves those without a classical literary education in the dust. I’m sure there were plenty of plot twists in here that would have been glaringly obvious to many but for me came completely out of left field, simply because I have not read certain great works of fiction. I was left with the feeling of a book that I could have considered great, but the lack of an insider’s view left it only on the high side of mediocre.

Which is a true shame, because it’s clear that Tidhar put a great deal of effort into developping the world in which this book takes place. Far from your average piece of steampunk fiction, The Bookman combines politics and a rather twisted sense of alternate history (England’s royal family consists of a load of extra-terrestrial lizards) into a deep story that really makes you think to wrap your head around some things. Throw in the mysterious protagonist with an unknown past and developping identity issues, and a host of characters from well-known literature, and you’ve got a cast of characters that makes the tale a page-turner despite its slow pace. You keep wanting to read just to see what crazy thing happens next.

Though it did take me a while to really get into the novel (and even then I’m not sure I was able to get as much into it as I would have liked), I have to say that I am impressed by Tidhar’s writing style, which was descriptive and endlessly witty. Even if it doesn’t rate as one of the best books I’ve ever read, I was intrigued enough to want to pick up the second book of the series, curious as to the things that Tidhar will surprise me with next.

Tankborn, by Karen Sandler

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Author’s website
Publication date – September 15, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Best friends Kayla and Mishalla know they will be separated for their Assignments. They are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, and in their strict caste system, GENs are at the bottom rung of society. GENs are gestated in a tank and sent to work as slaves as soon as they reach age fifteen.

When Kayla is Assigned to care for Zul Manel, the patriarch of a trueborn family, she finds secrets and surprises; not least of which is her unexpected friendship with Zul’s great-grandson. Meanwhile, the children that Mishalla is Assigned to care for are being stolen in the middle of the night.

After weeks of toiling in their Assignments, mystifying circumstances enable Kayla and Mishalla to reunite. Together they hatch a plan to save the disappearing children. Yet can GENs really trust humans? Both girls must put their lives and hearts at risk to crack open a sinister conspiracy, revealing secrets no one is ready to face.

Thoughts: There are a multitude of themes in this YA novel, all of them worth paying attention to. From racism, caste systems, the effects of bioengineering, slavery, corruption wihin the government, religious differences (and the issue of man creating god instead of the other way around), and more, this book has many of the earmarks of a typical dystopian tale without actually being typical. Tankborn feels new and fresh, not another copy of an oft-retold story in a new pretty package.

First off all, the vast majority of characters have dark skin tones. Second, rather than society having strong Western overtones, many of the cultural and societal traits demonstrated here bear a strong Indian influence, which alone would set it apart from a vast majority of other novels of its genre even if its plot didn’t show enough creativity to impress the reader. Which it does.

Central to the plot are the GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, who are essentially slaves to the upper class. Created to have specific skillsets that would benefit them in their later roles, GENs make up a rich and complex culture of their own, having their own religion (the belief that their god created them to serve and so serving is the only way to achieve paradise after death) and linguistic terms that we see them use that are not typically used by the upper classes. GENs are supposed to have rights and limited freedoms under the law, but it comes as no surprise to discover that those rights are frequently ignored by those in power. Of course, unsurprisingly, the origin and purpose of the GENs is not what in initially appears to be, though there are some definite twists thrown in that I didn’t quite expect, when all was finally revealed.

The majority of the plot revolves around two GEN girls. Kayla, assigned to serve an aging man in an incredibly important family, is bitter about her life and her role in the world, and comes to find kindness in places she didn’t expect. Mishalla, kidnapped from her original assignment and forced to play caretaker to frightened babies and toddlers, falls in love outside of her class, and ends up in the middle of a illegal plot to give the upper classes yet more power and control. The two of them find themselves drawn into a plot for revolution and equality that neither of them could have predicted.

Sandler does an excellent job of putting the reader in the mindset of the downtrodden lower class as well as showing the viewpoint of the privileged upper class, giving us a good way to compare and contrast and to form our own opinions instead of having opinions forced down our throats. The writing style is smooth and easy to follow, the pacing is fantastic, and the story engaging and very creative. For fans of dystopian fiction who want something that isn’t “white-bread”, this is the book to have.

(Book received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

The Thirteen Hallows, by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman

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Michael Scott’s website / Colette Freedman’s website
Publication date – December 6, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The Hallows. Ancient artifacts imbued with a primal and deadly power. But are they protectors of this world, or the keys to its destruction?

A gruesome murder in London reveals a sinister plot to uncover a two-thousand-year-old secret.

For decades, the Keepers guarded these Hallows, keeping them safe and hidden and apart from each other. But now the Keepers are being brutally murdered, their prizes stolen, the ancient objects bathed in their blood. Now, only a few remain.

With her dying breath, one of the Keepers convinces Sarah Miller, a practical stranger, to deliver her Hallow—a broken sword with devastating powers—to her American nephew, Owen. The duo quickly become suspects in a series of murders as they are chased by both the police and the sadistic Dark Man and his nubile mistress.

As Sarah and Owen search for the surviving Keepers, they unravel the deadly secret the Keepers were charged to protect. The mystery leads Sarah and Owen on a cat-and-mouse chase through England and Wales, and history itself, as they discover that the sword may be the only thing standing between the world… and a horror beyond imagining.

Thoughts: And did those feet in ancient time… It didn’t take long for me to realize that this book was heavily based around the old legend that Jesus went to England, though it surprised me how long it took the book to state it explicitly. There were very strong hints throughout, interestingly from the viewpoint of Jesus/Yeshu’a himself. (Something here I’d like to point out is that he was alternately called Yeshu’a and Yeshua, and I’m not sure if they were printing/copyediting errors or if the authors couldn’t decide whether or not to actually include the apostrophe.)

The plot revolves around Sarah, a woman who seems to have perpetually bad luck when it comes to those around her being killed by a group of people bent on recovering the sacred Hallows for a mysterious man bent on using the Hallows for his own purposes. Sarah is on the run from the police, who believe that she is the one committing the murders, while she unravels the mysteries of the Hallows and races against time to keep her Hallow from the hands of the aforementioned mysterious man. The plot has many layers and many viewpoints which really add to the excitement and tension of the tale.

There was a good deal of name-dropping in the book, not so much of people but of brand names. In most cases this added to the atmosphere and the realism of the story, but in some cases seemed excessive and pointless. Maybe I’m just brand-name illiterate, but mentioning that someone has a Dolce & Gabana jacket did nothing for me but tell me that there’s a company called Dolce & Gabana that makes jackets. I can assume by context that it’s a fancy brand, but the same effect could have been given by simply calling the jacket “expensive.”

There were some truly frightening and gruesome descriptions of murder and death here that are not for the faint of heart. While they never went over the top, they did on occasion make me feel a little nauseous, which is a credit to the authors for the realism of the scenes they set up. The killers are brutal and cruel, and the people ordering the killings are a frightening duo who constantly evoked emotions within me. The relationship between Ahriman and his wife was both twisted and touching, and thought it would have been easy to see it as a relationship devoted to sex and power, I think they genuinely did, in their own ways, care about each other beyond that.

Though I do have to comment here on the ultimate stupidity of Ahriman’s scheme. He was no doubt intelligent and cunning, and ruthless when it came to getting what he wants, but really, he was something of a flat villain in that he really was little but a villain. There was very little depth to him, and even less foresight. Really, he couldn’t predict that if he unleashes the hordes of hell, he might get caught in the crossfire. Aside from a protective circle, he didn’t do much to prevent his own destruction, and his death was ultimately a bit anticlimactic.

But the research and effort that was clearly put into the plot, and the creativity in twisting bits of an established legend, made for a highly entertaining book in spite of a shallow villain. The book was full of British history, relatable protagonists, and a fascinating take on a legend that, frankly, doesn’t seem too well-known outside of the UK. The writing style was beautifully fast-paced and smooth, making it a very hard book to put down. Definitely recommended to fans of urban fantasy who want a good taste of England in their novels.

(Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Grave Mercy, by Robin LeFevers

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Author’s website
Publication date – April 3, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Thoughts: Compared to the average YA novel, this book was wonderfully complex, dark, and didn’t pull any punches when it came to sex, death, or violence. That’s to be expected, really, when you’re dealing with a protagonist who’s an assassin. Still, there are plenty of novels that would have glossed over some of the more distressing aspects of death and warfare, where here LaFevers didn’t go out of her way to make everything full of blood and gore but instead gave respectful treatment to the topics at hand.

The premise of the novel is an interesting one. Old gods have been given new faces as Christian saints, but those who acknowledge the old ways still know them for what they are. Mortain, the old god of death, sired the protagonist, and as such it’s her destiny to become his handmaiden in a convent devoted to him. Interestingly, when it comes to a convent devoted to the god of death, you’d almost expect a more modern approach to life there, in an attempt to appeal to the modern female teen. Wearing pants all the time, and that sort of thing. Modern feminism with an old face. Instead, you get a nice little piece of historical accuracy, as the girls and women dwelling there still practice modesty, wear habits, even as they’re being trained in the arts of assassins.

Things that are easily accessible to the modern teen, however, are the ideas that not everything is as it first appears, and that blind obediance without understanding is a bad thing. Those two themes are woven into the story quite often, but not in such a heavy-handed way that leaves you rolling your eyes. The contract between Beast (ugly as sin with a friendly and enthusiastic personality) and de Lornay (almost impossibly attractive but with a cold and aloof demeanor) is a perfect example of this. You almost expect that de Lornay is working with the wrong side, simple because he’s attractive and doesn’t think much of the main character. It’s a stereotype that’s been done hundreds of times. The ugly one who’se nice is clearly good, and the pretty one who’s mean is bad. De Lornay, however, is as loyal to his lord as Beast is, without any thought of betrayal in his head. Stereotype happily broken.

The relationship was also handled wonderfully here, a nice contrast to the still-popular, “I’ve just met this guy but I’m totally in love with him and he loves me back” style that I’ve previously expressed distaste for. Ismae and Gavriel Duval dislike each other at first. This grows to a grudging tolerance, progresses to friendship, and then later on becomes something much deeper than that. The natural and realistic progression of emotions was refreshing to see here, and it made me far more interested in the two characters than I would have been had the other approach been taken.

LaFevers deftly dealth with complex politics in a way that could easily be understood by those who don’t make politics their forte. From a pre-teen duchess trying to hold her duchy intact, to a foul old nobleman who wants to marry said duchess in order to take control of her lands, to a man orchestrating the downfall of the duchy who you still can’t help but sympathize with, the realism of the people and the situations they’re in add wonderful tension to the story, and there are very few things so out of place as to throw you out of the groove you’ll undoubtedly get into while reading Grave Mercy.

Between complex dark themes, a well-done romance, and an interesting twist on conventional religious beliefs, Grave Mercy is a must-have for fans of historical fiction who enjoy a strong realistic female protagonist both by modern standards and by the contextual standards of the story she features in. I’m definitely looking forward to the second book in the series, since I don’t doubt that it’s going to be just as captivating as the first.

(Book provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)

Death by Petticoat, by Mary Miley Theobald

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Author’s website
Publication date – June 5, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Every day stories from American history that are not true are repeated in museums and classrooms across the country. Some are outright fabrications; others contain a kernel of truth that has been embellished over the years. Collaborating with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Mary Theobald has uncovered the truth behind many widely-repeated myth-understandings in our history including:

·Hat makers really were driven mad. They were poisoned by the mercury used in making hats from furs. Their symptoms included hallucinations, tremors, and twitching, which looked like insanity to people of the 17th and 18th centuries—and the phrase “mad as a hatter” came about.

·The idea that portrait painters gave discounts if their subjects posed with one hand inside the vest (so they didn’t have to paint fingers and leading to the saying that something “costs an arm and a leg”) is strictly myth. It isn’t likely that Napoleon, King George III, or George Washington were concerned about getting a discount from their portrait painters.

·Pregnant women secluded themselves indoors, uneven stairs were made to trip up burglars, people bathed once a year, women had tiny waists, apprenticeships last seven years – Death by Petticoat reveals the truth about these hysterical historical myth-understandings.

Thoughts: I’m always interested in historical trivia, so this book seemed right up my alley. It was simple, quick to read, and more than striving to explain the truth behind some of the myths, it also opened my eyes to some of the more ridiculous things that people actually believe about not just Colonial America, but North American history in general.

This isn’t the sort of book that a hardcore historian might want on their shevles, though. It breezes through things, relying more on dispelling eneral myths in the manner of a trivia book than really seeking to go into depth about where most of the myths came from and what life was really like at the time. It tells the facts briefly and with a sense of sarcastic humour, but leaves further research to the reader’s discretion.

The downside to this approach is that most people who are interested in history will already know the truth behind most of the myths mentioned, and those who aren’t interested in history probably won’t pick up the book to begin with. Which is a shame, really, since books like this are actually decent ways to learn a little without getting truly invested in the material. You read, you learn, you move on. But getting this book into the hands of the people who need it the most is usually a difficult task. Not impossible, but difficult.

Nevertheless, in reading death by Petticoat I did learn a thing or two, so I can’t and won’t consider it an evening wasted. This is the kind of book you can get through in an evening, after all. It was worth reading even just for the discussion it generated between my roommate and I. But mostly, I would recommend it to history enthusiasts who want to have a good chuckle at some of the more silly things that people believe about their history.

(Book provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, by Ben Loory

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Author’s website
Publication date – July 26, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Loory’s collection of wry and witty, dark and perilous contemporary fables is populated by people–and monsters and trees and jocular octopi–who are united by twin motivations: fear and desire. In his singular universe, televisions talk (and sometimes sing), animals live in small apartments where their nephews visit from the sea, and men and women and boys and girls fall down wells and fly through space and find love on Ferris wheels. In a voice full of fable, myth, and dream, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day draws us into a world of delightfully wicked recognitions, and introduces us to a writer of uncommon talent and imagination.

Thoughts: I was thrilled to have won a copy of this book, since it was one that I’d wanted since, oh, around the time it was published. Lack of cash always seems to be my downfall in acquiring the new books that I want… But that’s neither here nor there. What is here, there, and all the spaces in between, in Loory’s Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day.

This book, written in the style of fables that call to mind the numerous tales of Aesop, is hard to categorize. Horror, science fiction, speculative, just plain weird, it’s all of these things together, and yet reducing it to just one category doesn’t quite express what’s contained within the pages. One particular story put me in the mind of a Japanese horror film, even (and I wonder if that’s where Loory drew some of his inspiration from, in some cases).

The fables are modern, and aren’t entirely morality plays, though there is a lesson to be taken from each of them. The theme behind most of the stories seems to be along the lines of the world not being what it appears to be and yet at the same time shaped by our perceptions of it, which is a line of thought that I can really get into. The characters are not always human, instead sometimes becoming sentient plants or animals, which is not uncommon for fables, and always a fun change of perspective which can serve to underscore the message that the author or the tale is trying to convey.

Loory shows a great amount of creativity with the stories he wrote for this one, and quite frankly, I think it’s a worthy addition to the bookshelves of anybody who enjoys tales that are just on the other side of the “weird” line.

The Emperor’s Knife, by Mazarkis Williams

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Author’s blog
Publication date – November 29, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike, marking each victim with a fragment of a greater pattern. Anyone showing the marks is put to death. That is Emperor Beyon’s law . . .

But now the pattern is reaching closer to the palace than ever before. In a hidden room, a forgotten prince has grown from child to man, and as the empire sickens, Sarmin, the emperor’s only surviving brother, is remembered. He awaits the bride his mother has chosen: a chieftain’s daughter from the northern plains.

Mesema travels from her homeland, an offering for the empire’s favour. She is a Windreader, used to riding free across the grasslands, not posing and primping in rare silks. She finds the Imperial Court’s protocols stifling, but she doesn’t take long to realise the politicking and intrigues are not a game, but deadly earnest.

Eyul is burdened both by years and by the horrors he has carried out in service to the throne. At his emperor’s command he bears the emperor’s Knife to the desert in search of a cure for the pattern-markings.

As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence and rebellion, the enemy moves toward victory. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who once saw a path through a pattern, among the waving grasses.

Thoughts: Steeped in classic middle-eastern society influence, Mazarkis Williams’s debut novel is a wonderful addition to my shelves. More and more I seem to be coming across books that make me go, “Wait, this is the author’s first book?” simply because it can be hard to believe that so much talent has only just arrived on the scene. This was my impression with The Emperor’s Knife.

The plot is a complex one, full of politics at once deep and twisted and yet still comprehensible without having to twist your mind around multi-layered deceptions. A disease has infected Cerana, showing itself in mysterious patterns upon the skin of the infected. Emperor Beyon tries to hide that he has the pattern on him. Eyul, charged with being the emperor’s assassin, is thrown into a quest to find the source of the pattern, and comes closer to it than he realizes. Sarmin, Beyon’s sole remaining brother, is either mad or incredibly insightful, or both, and holds the key to the pattern in his mind. Mesema, a barbarian girlintended for a man she has never met, follows duty to places she never expected it to lead her. And that just scratches the surface of the richly-developed cast of characters contained within the pages of The Emperor’s Knife. Williams has great skill at writing well-rounded and realistic characters. Each have their place on the board of destiny, a concept that features quite promimently within the book itself.

I felt particular attachment to Sarmin and Mesema. While a large portion of the book centres around Eyul (and with good reason, as he’s integral to the plot), I was more interested in reading the sections from their viewpoints. Sarmin’s views of the world and people were intriguing and insightful, and I found Mesema’s challenge to adjust to the new culture she found herself thrust into was something very relatable. She was a young women trying to find herself while finding the world, and while she was hot-headed and sometimes flighty with her emotions, I liked seeing that she was deep enough to also have more of a level-head when needed. It would have been very easy for her to develop more as a caricature than a well-developed character, but happily, that didn’t happen.

Williams shows good skill with world-building, too. It’s clear that a great amount of time was put into this novel, with all its detail and subtleties. There’s no doubt that a talented hand guides this novel, and I was pleased to see it as I turned the pages.

However, no book is ever perfect, and for all its strengths, occasionally I did find myself a little lost. It wasn’t so much that essential details were omitted or forgotten so much that sometimes things worked a little too subtly to be picked up on. Characters reveal their hands in ways that sometimes seem counter to what the reader has come to think of them as, and it was a little bit disconcerting.

The ending, too, felt somewhat hurried. It reminded me a lot, actually, of Mercedes Lackey’s novels, where 95% of the book is set-up for a very quick confrontation at the end, and while that can work, it does lead to the book’s conclusion feeling rushed and unsatisfying.

Regardless, though, I greatly enjoyed reading The Emperor’s Knife, and while I can’t imagine what’s going to happen in the sequel (there were questions left unanswered at the end, but it wasn’t really cliff-hanger), I look forward to the day I can pick up the next book and continue with the adventure. This book leaves me hands highly recommended for fans of fantasy, especially those who crave a different setting than the standard “based on medieval Europe.”

(Book provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

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Author’s blog
Publication date – May 3, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Beatrice “Tris” Prior has reached the fateful age of sixteen, the stage at which teenagers in Veronica Roth’s dystopian Chicago must select which of five factions to join for life. Each faction represents a virtue: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. To the surprise of herself and her selfless Abnegation family, she chooses Dauntless, the path of courage. Her choice exposes her to the demanding, violent initiation rites of this group, but it also threatens to expose a personal secret that could place her in mortal danger. Veronica Roth’s young adult Divergent trilogy launches with a captivating adventure about love and loyalty playing out under most extreme circumstances.

Thoughts: I felt like I’d been waiting just shy of forever to read this book, when when I finally got myself a copy, I was more than happy to sit down and read through the whole thing as quickly as possible. I’m glad to be able to say that it lives up to my expectations, which were, I confess, flagging in the wake of so many lackluster dystopian novels that seem to be cluttering the shelves these days.

Divergent starts with a concept that’s fairly familiar to readers of dystopian fiction, especially YA dystopian fiction: deperating people into basic categories. In this case, the categories are personality traits. Whether you’re more selfless, or brave, or other such traits will determine your faction in Roth’s future, the section of society in which you will live out the rest of your life past the age of 16. Of course, the main character has a classic case of not quite fitting in, having multiple dominant traits in her personality. This is referred to as Divergence, and must be kept a secret at all costs.

I admit that when I got that explanation, I had a knee-jerk reaction of rolling my eyes and assuming that the only reason that Divergence would be so bad in such a society is because it flies in the face of whatever philosophy declares that people can be reduced to a single personality trait. Reading on, however, reveals that although that is part of it, it only skims the surface of why Divergence is so dangerous to the current regime, and is both more and less than such a simple explanation.

Roth does a wonderful job of showcasing the way that humanity takes things to extremes. Where the Dauntless faction are supposed to embody bravery as a primary trait, this has, over time, come to manifest in a daredevil lifestyle in which peircings, tattoos, and violence are the order of the day. The selflessness of the Abnegation faction has gone beyond charity and modesty and instead teaches that the self is less important than the other, and that not setting yourself aside for everybody else is just selfish and bad. Good in theory, but human nature being what it is, over time people will always take things to the next level and the ritual becomes more important than the meaning.

In much the same way that I praised Mike Mullin’s Ashfall for not shying away from the darker side of life, I must give that same praise to Roth here. There is death in this book, bloody and violent and senseless. There is suicide. There is war, and cruelty, and frank discussions that highlight the way that morals and ethics are a millions shades of grey instead of black-and-white. Roth manages to do all this without being heavy handed about it all, and that works all the more effectively to get her point across. Other writers of YA-oriented novels could do worse than to follow in Roth’s footsteps.

There are a dozen things I could praise this book for, and I can think of only one thing that I really disliked about it. And that is this: it came as no surprise that Tris’s dominant traits were selflessness, bravely, and intelligence. Just about every heroine in every novel, especially ones intended for teenagers, have their main traits be these. It’s getting overdone. Yes, Tris’s personality is rich and layered enough to make her more than just these basic traits, so it’s not a huge flaw, but really, in three words Roth just described the generic heroine, and so it was hard not to wince a little bit there.

But when that’s my biggest complaint, and even I can find counters to my own arguments in the way that Tris was developed, that’s not much of a flaw in the novel as a whole. Really, Divergent is a realistic and exciting ride through a future that’s all too believable, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the books in the planned trilogy. I can’t wait to see what Roth will do next.