Book Review – From a High Tower

Title: From a High Tower

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Format: eBook

Year Published: 2015

From a High Tower is the tenth book in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series. As with most of the books, it’s based upon fairy tales/folklore – in this case, Rapunzel. Or well, it starts out with Rapunzel, but then it takes a hard left into Germanic tellings of the Wild West, based upon the books of Karl May, an author I’ve never heard of (not unexpected, as Lackey includes a foreword in the front of the book to give an overview of May’s books).

The novel begins with a heavy focus on the Rapunzel story-line: a husband with a heavily-pregnant wife, who steals food – specifically rampion – from an old, run-down, apparently abandoned house. He is caught, but in return for the food, the child his wife is carrying is demanded in return.

Unlike most versions of the story, Rapunzel – also known as Giselle – is not freed from the evil witch by a handsome prince, or cast out once it is discovered that she has been consorting with him. Instead, the evil witch is an Earth Master – kind and caring (though I spent the *entire* book waiting for something bad to come out about her) and the handsome prince – a rapist who wants Giselle’s power as an Air Master.

The story-proper begins as Giselle is traveling from town to town, entering and winning shooting contests to support herself. Done in the guise of a man, this plan goes awry when she is forced to kill an army officer – eventually resulting her joining a traveling Wild West Show as one of the stars. Not only does the show need her ability to shoot, her magical abilities are not out of place either.

They are joined by Rosamund, a Hunt Master of the Bruderschaft, a local organization that handles magical problems and creatures (and, had I read the series in order, I would have ‘met’ Rosamund in Blood Red) and together they travel with the show.

They have several adventures on the road, and end up wintering at Giselle’s tower, where the ‘handsome prince’ who had previously attacked her attempts to get her and her power again, this time with the help of his family. They are defeated with the combined power of Giselle, Rosamund, and the other two magicians with the show.

I’m… lukewarm on this book. I enjoy the series, for the most part (though honestly, the earlier books are my favorites), but felt that this one relied heavily upon the knowledge of Karl May’s books and therefore, I didn’t connect to it. I also dislike the recent trend in the books where the main character has a person who ends up being a romantic interest for them, but they barely interact or seem to connect.

I like the learning of magic that happens in the book, but there is very little of it, in total, and most of the magic Giselle performs is little, and things she already knows. I also felt that Giselle stayed naïve for far too long in the story, and could have done with far more seasoning earlier on.

Still, once I got going on the book it went fast, so I’ll rate this one 3/5 stars.

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Book Review – Beyond Redemption

Title: Beyond Redemption
Author: Michael R. Fletcher
Format: Paperback
Written: 2015

A dark and twisted fantasy story, Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher is one of the rare stories that succeeds at creating a gritty fantasy world while still giving us an intriguing story. It is a world full of Geisteskranken, men and women whose delusions and psychoses twist into reality, and the theocratic government that would use them for their own malicious intent.

Fletcher’s world is one driven by faith and corruption, calling to question the very nature of belief, religion, and power, and which drives which. It is the story of a young boy, destined to Ascend and become the God of a new religion, founded by the malignant High Priest Konig–a man who is quickly losing his grip on reality as the story progresses. However, the actions of a Slaver Geisteskranken and a gang of degenerates–an aging warrior, a kleptomaniac, and the self-proclaimed Greatest Swordsman alive–throw Konig’s careful plan into chaos.

Fletcher’s world is a truly intriguing one, and his view of religion and it’s use in Beyond Redemption, combined with the delusions and magic of the Geisteskranken, make for a thought-provoking story with an unexpected ending. It is a story about perseverance and determination in the face of terror and the crushing weight of a broken, dystopian world, which drags the reader along through the grimness if for no reason other than to see how it could possibly end.

The story does starts at a painfully slow pace, with a waterfall of information dumped on the reader to establish this world, the characters, the faith, and the Geisteskranken. The pacing issues continue throughout the book, with some chapters whisking by with high action and intensity and others trudging through waist-deep mud, which, combined with cliched characters and increasingly bizarre Geisteskranken make it hard for the reader to stay immersed in the story.

The story itself is a gripping one, and one that will continue to pull you back each time you put the book down. If you are looking for an original fantasy story, it’s worth the read. Overall I would give it three out of five stars.

 

Book Review – An Artificial Night

Title: An Artificial Night

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: eBook

Year Published: 2010

An Artificial Night is the third Toby Daye book, and a heart-wrenching ride from start to finish. Somebody is stealing children, both Fae and human, and the children of some of toby’s best friends are taken. In order to get them back, she must travel into a magical realm reachable only by three roads, and where dangers rest round every corner.

Toby is sharper in this book than she had been in the previous stories – the mistakes she makes aren’t ones that make you want to shake her, and even when events get the best of her, you mourn with her, rather than have a little voice going “well, it’s nothing more than you deserved” in the back of your mind. (Or is that just me?)

Not only does Toby have to find the missing children, she has to face the fact that her Fetch – the harbinger of her death, has shown up and made herself comfortable in Toby’s life. While in some cases this makes her reckless, it’s not something that is maddening – every mistake has a base where you can see how the decision was made. And the ending feels satisfying and well-earned – it doesn’t come cheap or easy, but it is what needed to happen.

(One of the things that this was story does is set up threads that are paid off several books down the line – in looking it over again, I see how the seeds have been sown. Some of these are ones that I enjoyed – others, not so much.)

Quentin remains one of my favorite characters – he’s a teenager, but he behaves believably not only as a teen, but as one who is growing up and maturing.

May, Toby’s Fetch, is a fun character – a glimpse of who Toby could possibly have been if all of the tragedies in her life hadn’t happened. even though her role should have been clear-cut, she’s allowed a chance to grow and develop over the course of the book.

Overall, a very good book.4 /5 stars.

Book Review – A Local Habitation

Title: A Local Habitation

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2010

The second of the Toby Daye series, A Local Habitation sends Toby out of San Francisco to Fremont, CA to check on her liege’s niece. Toby is sent off with Quentin, a teenaged foster at Lord Sylvester’s, as her backup.  What they discover when they get there is death – not only death, but murder, and suddenly Toby must figure out what is going on, before she’s next.

This book has a different feel than Rosemary and Rue does – while Toby is run ragged (again), she’s clawing her way out of her depression finger by finger, and therefore things seem less to happen *to* her, and more like she’s actively inciting them. (But, once again, how many times can one character get “mortally” wounded? Although in this case, that actually becomes part of a plot point.)

The murder/mystery part of the plot is hard for me to explain, as it doesn’t really follow any kind of “investigating” really on the Toby’s part – at least, not according to all the detective stories I’ve read over the years. She stumbles on the answer almost by accident – or at least, until she can’t ignore the clues anymore.

I didn’t enjoy this book necessarily as much as I’ve enjoyed others of the series, and some of that was the character of Alex, as Toby seemed to ignore all the hints about who his was until far too late – I called it early on. (Not necessarily his heritage, but the other big secret he had.) So every time there was a scene with him, I wanted to shake her.

On the flip side, I did like April – the Dryad daughter of January, who now has a tree made up of a computer and as such, has a very different outlook to everything that’s happening.

I also loved that Toby called the night-haunts – creatures that “eat” Fae bodies and leave behind human-simulations for the humans to find and see. It sets a up plot events for the future, and it also is exactly the kind of reckless action we expect her to take.

Plus it’s a great scene.

Overall, not my favorite book, but certainly an enjoyable read. 3/5 stars.

Book Review – Rosemary and Rue

Title: Rosemary and Rue

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2009

Rosemary and Rue was the very first Seanan McGuire book I tried to read, and as I’ve said before, I slammed hard against the first-person POV and couldn’t finish. But since I’ve been blazing my way through her other books, I decided to give it another try.

This time it grabbed me and I raced through it. Overall I enjoyed it, though there were some quibbles I had that are probably my own personal hang-ups. (Full disclosure here: the only one I have not read at this point is Once Broken Faith.)

The story starts with October “Toby” Daye, changeling and Knight, on the hunt for her Liege Lord’s wife and daughter, before she gets turned into a fish and looses fourteen years of her life.

And that’s just the start of Toby’s adventures. Staying as far away from the world that cost her the daughter she loves dearly, Toby is dragged back in when a friend is killed and casts a curse on Toby that forces her to investigate the murder, or die herself.

The force of the curse is, truthfully, what pushes the story through at what is really a breakneck paces. Some of that is warranted – Toby would never go back into the world of Faerie of her own volition – but it does create a book where it feels like Toby never gets a break.

One of the things that this brutal pace does is to put Toby in mortal danger multiple times – but truthfully, how many times can she almost die in one book? After the first couple, suspension of disbelief is slim. (It doesn’t help, mind, that I knew that there were 9 more books.)

The romance is heavy in the book, too, with Toby going between two old lovers, with a third (though this is  more subtext than anything) hanging in the wings. Of the three, though I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to like Connor, he’s the one I felt the most unfavorable toward – I don’t like people who cheat, and his actions made it obvious it was only his respect for Toby that prevented him from cheating on his wife. (Who is, yes, evil, but my opinion still holds.)

The author ties up the story with skill, pulling little hints here and there that play off big later (and, minor spoilers, play off much later in the series). It took a while to suspect the Big Bad, and his ending felt satisfactory.

A strong start to a strong series, 3/5 pages

Book Review – Black Horses for the King

TITLE: Black Horses For The King
AUTHOR: Anne McCaffrey
PUBLISHED: 1996
FORMAT: Mass Market

According to the introduction, Black Horses for the King is an Arthurian Legend, but from a direction that we don’t normally get the story.  I’m not a huge fan of Arthur stories, but I thought that a combination of McCaffrey and a new angle would make this interesting.

The story follows Galwyn, apprenticed to his uncle because his father sucked at life.  Lord Artos crosses his path and Galwyn jumps ship (literally) to get away from his uncle and go on an adventure like he wants.  He has an ease with language and is considered an asset to the group.

I liked the writing style for the most part, although there were some wordings that were a little clunky because she was trying to sound old fashioned with how she talked.  But the blatant “screw everything that isn’t my way” was totally unpalatable.   At one point, for instance, Galwyn makes a big deal out of being thankful that his Uncle was only his mother’s sister’s husband and not actually a blood relative because he was pagan.  And no wonder he was a bad person because, duh, he was pagan.

And I’m totally of the opinion that I don’t care what a character is or isn’t, but there better be a damn good reason for making fun of everything.  And there was’t a lot that justified the total pagans-are-shit treatment.  (Because they’re not me and my way is right doesn’t cut it)

In the end, I decided that the book was way too soap box and way too unpalatable to finish. I decided the review was valid, but because I only got through the first 40ish pages, I’m not going to give this a number review.  Voice good, soapbox bad.  Rating ?/5.

Book Review – Chaos Choreography

Title: Chaos Choreography

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2016

Chaos Choreography is the fifth (and newest) book in the InCrytid series. After two books focusing on Alex Price, Verity’s brother, we’ve returned to Verity (not, surprisingly, their little sister Antimony, who has several short stories but not a full novel) and her husband Dominic (married in Vegas on their way across country back to Verity’s parents, in an attempt to keep her parents from killing him due to his status of an ex-Covenant member).

The plot starts in earnest when Verity receives an email from Dance or Die, the reality dancing contest that she was in before moving to New York. They’ve decided to do a “returning stars” type of show, and she’s invited. Verity agrees, and finds herself thrust back into a world she thought she’d left behind.

Unfortunately, her old world is about to collide head-first into her new one. Coming back from an elimination round, Verity stumbles across the bodies of the two people eliminated. The problem is, nobody else finds the bodies and when she (and the two Cryptids who are also in the competition with her), go to look again, the place where the bodies were have been cleaned by magic.

Unable to ignore it, Verity’s family sends back-up in the form of her grandmother, who spends her time traveling between dimensions and therefore looks no older than Verity, with Dominic close on-hand.

There were several twists in the story I didn’t see – I called the leader of the big bads fairly early on, but the henchman I didn’t see coming – and I loved Verity’s relationship with her roommate – the way that they are so close, but that Lyra doesn’t really let Verity get away with everything’s she’s doing that’s outside the character of a normal dancer. The big climatic scene was loads of fun and ultimately satisfying. 4/5 stars

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