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.

Book Review – Hunter

Title: Hunter

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2015

I’m on record for how much I like Mercedes Lackey (generally). Hunter is no exception to this rule, though it definitely falls into the category of brain candy. Which was fine, since I was reading it on the beach – a good beach read.

Hunter is the story of a world where the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and civilization is only now starting to recover. One of the reasons for this recovery is the Hunters, people who are gifted with magic and the ability to fight the creatures that come through from the Otherworld.

Joyeaux Charmand has been training to be a Hunter since she was very young, but now has been taken from her small, tight-knit community to the big city. The Apex is the hub of civilization, where Hunters are supposed to come and be trained, and, as Joy soon discovers, where they are also celebrities and reality stars.

Determined to make her mentors and uncle proud and to protect the Cits of this new world she’s in, Joy throws herself into the fight. But it’s not as straightforward as it seems, for she has enemies she doesn’t expect, and when an attack against her goes awry, she finds herself in a fight that she isn’t sure she can win, and where not-winning means death.

I enjoyed Hunter, though, as I said, it’s brain candy. It’s written in first-person (I know! Shock!), but I was able to push past that. I will say, despite the fact that Lackey’s best writing skill is character creation, I found Joy to relatively unflawed, and not flawed with things that really affect her or other people. She is very advanced (though she is aware she must hide how she becomes so advanced), and yet this never seems to make other people suspicious (though she should be a novice at the start, despite being trained for “six months”).

Instead of connecting strongly with Joy, I connected strongest with her trainers/mentors, and with her uncle (though he gets relatively little screen time). And though I am not necessarily anti-romance, I did not feel that the romance between Joy and Josh was necessary and did, in some ways, detract a bit from the main plot. I adored all of Joy’s Hounds, supernatural creatures that come from the Otherworld to help her fight, and I loved the bits we get about Joy’s life before coming to the City, and about the training she went through there.

Over all, though, I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading Elite in September. 3/5 pages.

Book Review – Closer to Home

Book Review – No True Way (All-New Tales from Valdemar)

Title: No True Way (All-New Tales of Valdemar)

Editor: Mercedes Lackey

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2014

As I’ve previously established, I’m a big fan of Mercedes Lackey, and I try to always pick up the short story collections, even though I’m not always a short story fan. No True Way is the latest collection, and is a mix of excellent stories and some less-than stellar ones (some authors are better at the format than others – and for the record, I’m really bad it, so I admire those who do it well).

In this particular collection, the story that I would classify as the one that had the strongest punch was “Written in the Wind” and reading it was like being punched in the face. Though not explicit stated, it’s set in Vanyel’s time, and two twins are Chosen, but they have the mage gift, and something or somebody has been killing off the mage-born for years.

I also love “Ex Libris” which involves setting up the first public library in Haven – I’m a bookworm, I think I’m contractually obligated to approve – and “A Brand from the Burning” which involves Solaris before she becomes the Son of the Sun. It’s an interesting look at such a powerful figure before she has experienced so much of what forges her.

I did not flat out hate any of the stories, but quite a few were bland-to-unforgettable. Not, in my experience, unusual in these collections. Still, there were a fair number I wished had been full novels, or that we’ll get a follow-up story in a later anthology, so I’ll rate this at a 3/5.

Book Review – The House of the Four Winds

Title: The House of the Four Winds

Author: Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2014

As I’ve said before, I am a long-time fan of Mercedes Lackey, and I loved her previous collaborations with James Mallory (The Obsidian Mountain, The Enduring Flame, The Dragon Prophecy [full disclosure: I haven’t finished this series yet]), so I was fully expecting to adore this book.

I was disappointed. The world-building was very weak, the characters were unbelievable, and the main villain of the story isn’t introduced until half-way through. (And, while I can’t blame the authors for this, the official dust-jacket gives away the first 2/3 of the plot.)

The book starts interestingly enough, laying out the framework for the series – the Duke and Duchess of Swansgaarde have twelve daughters and one son, and are unable to provide dowries for them all. Therefore, on each of their eighteenth birthdays, the Princesses must go out into the world to make their own way. The book specifies that each has been trained in a “trade” of some sort since the age of ten, in case the Duchy is overthrown and they must hide in plain sight, and Clarice (the oldest daughter and the heroine of the book) has chosen the sword. (Perhaps I’ve just spent too much time listening to my mother go “get a degree in something useful” but I couldn’t really buy that her parents really thought that one through.)

So Clarice becomes Clarence and heads off to have adventures. She ends up on a ship and we’re treated to learning the ins-and-outs of ship work (since she’s never been on one before) and then she joins in a mutiny against the cruel captain (all of which is detailed in the summary). Arriving at the pirate haven, they are set a task to retrieve a mysterious magical object, which brings the villain into the picture.

There often appear to be so many obstacles in their way throughout the story, however they mostly seem to resolve without Clarice having to act to fix them. She’s an observer rather than actively involved.

The romance in the story should be central to the plot (as it resolves one of the plot points), however it ends up more incidental – Clarice falls in love with Dominic, and he starts to develop (while never suspecting that she’s female and not male), Clarice’s secret is reveal, and then they confess their love.

Clarice herself is a character that is hard to buy – she’s naive in many ways, but always seems to know what to do and doesn’t make many mistakes (she doesn’t bore full-stream ahead the way many teens/young adults tend to), and if she has to ability to do something that seems unusual, it’s blamed on her Princess training in one manner or another. It would have been nice to see her get into a situation where she flounders and actually feels over her head, or in a situation where she actually makes an incorrect choice and has to learn from it. (I also didn’t get the feel of the oldest of thirteen from her – based on the little snippets we get, she is close with her family, and yet there is no “my sisters would love this” or “I must remember to tell so-and-so about this” or “such and such reminded her of her sisters.”)

Dominic is a very bland character – while we get his history and backstory, it’s all filtered through Clarice. With that filter, he’s all kind, willing to listen, handsome/charming, etc, but we don’t see what really lies underneath, what really drives him, and as a consequence, there’s really very little subsistence to him.

(My favorite character, to be honest, is the ship’s doctor, but I apparently have a thing for crabby characters with hearts of gold.)

There are quite a few elements that are introduced that seem to either go nowhere or like they should have gotten more fleshed out in the backstory (like the brooch Clarice gets for her birthday. What’s the point of specifying that it will always guide her home if she NEVER USES THAT FEATURE? I’m hoping that one comes up in a later book), and, as I said earlier, weak world-building. You get a lot of country names thrown at you with very little to distinguish them from each other, and though the magic is explained, it’s not necessarily delved into (to be fair, this is likely because the second daughter will focus on the magic as her “trade”).

Despite the (apparently many) problems I had with the book, I enjoyed the story for the most part. The pacing had a few problems, but once the action actually started, I flew through the remaining pages, and I will certainly pick up the second book whenever it is released.

3/5 pages

Book Review – Closer to Home

Title: Closer to Home: Book One of the Herald Spy

Author:  Mercedes Lackey

Format: Hardback

Published: 2014

As a long-time fan of the Valdemar series, I hated to admit that I was disappointed in the last few offerings in the world (The Collegium Chronicles). However, when a book (or books) is full of filler, with an ending that was rushed and completely reeked of deus ex machina, I kind of have no choice. But since I have always been such a fan, despite that disappointment, I decided to check this book out from the library and was pleasantly surprised.

The story picks up where the Collegium Chronicles leave off, and relies upon previous knowledge from that series (especially at the beginning, as there is really very little introduction of the characters), but quickly heads into its own plot. The Collegium mystery arc has been resolved, which leaves room for a new arc to begin.

Mags and Amily are home, and starting to settle into their lives. Then Amily’s father is nearly killed, and Amily’s life is sent in a completely different direction. She is quickly swept up in the political intrigues of the highborn, while Mags is learning the steps of being the official Herald Spy.

While the Romeo and Juliet subplot felt a little trite at times (and at others made you want to shake all of the characters involved), it resolved in a (mostly) unexpected way. The ‘main plot’ of the book (which got much less screen time than the Romeo and Juliet plot) was mostly laying groundwork for the Herald Spy mystery arc, but what little we got was interesting and well-written.

The story holds together well and unlike its predecessor series, I did not walk away from the book feeling that I had read 200 pages of filler with 50 pages of action.

Though there were places that made me roll my eyes (just because your *mind* knows how to do something does not mean your *body* has the muscle memory to do so), and other places where I wished that there had been more of a focus on, Lackey’s writing covers many of the minor problems. Fans of Valdemar do not need to fear picking up this newest offering.

3/5 pages

Writer Wednesday – Nichelle Rae

Let’s start with the basics.
Who are you?

 Nichelle Rae

 Tell us (briefly) about you and a bit about what you’ve written and what you’re working on right now.

 I’m a new independent/self-published author of the epic fantasy book called Only A Glow. Only A Glow is the first book in a 7 book series on its way out called The White Warrior. I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I spent a little over a year living in Tennessee before coming back home for family reasons. I loved the time I spent in Tennessee. My next move will be to California this coming summer with one of my best friends. I need to get out of these confounded New England winters. 🙂

 What are your earliest book-related memories?

 I read Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews when I was in 7th grade. Since that book I have read at least another thousand or more. I love to read. Wouldn’t you know it, epic fantasy is my favorite genre, but a great epic fantasy is hard to find. I also love mysteries and young adult books.

 What are your three favorite books?

 I have so many favorites. If I have to narrow it down I would have to say: Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, and The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. (Other honorable mentions include Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordian, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, and The Dark Elf Trilogy by R. A. Salvatore.)

 How many books to do you read at any given time?  What are you reading now?

 I can only read one book at a time because when I read a story, I want my complete and utter attention on it. I want to get to know the characters, their story and really absorb what the author is saying. Lately though I haven’t had much time to read because I’ve been busy with getting my own series out and trying to promote it.

 Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I _________.

 …feel content and happy and love where my mind goes with the story.

 To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.

 I usually don’t re read a book. The only book I have ever read twice is Wizard’s First rule. However I’m thinking about starting to re-read the Obsidian Trilogy soon.

 How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?

 It depends on how enthusiastic the person telling me about the book is and if they tell me enough about it to spark my interest. If they’re jumping out of their skin excited as they tell me all about it, then it will be worth looking into. But if someone just tells me nonchalantly, “It’s a great book. Got great reviews too,” I mostly likely won’t look into it.

 How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?

 Very likely! If I love a book I’m one of those enthusiastic people I was talking about in the previous question. I go nuts over a book and tell people about it that want to listen. I’ve recommended hundreds of books that people have read and loved.

 What do you look for in a good book?

 That is a tough one. It has to be a combination of a few things. I need to have likeable and believable and interesting characters that I can relate to and empathize with. A good story with a few secrets to be revealed is always good, (I have no problem with unexpected twists and turns.) It needs to be well-paced so it’s not like pulling teeth to try and finish it.

 Why do you write?

 Oh there are so many reasons why I write; I love to write. I’m good at writing. Life doesn’t make sense if I’m not writing, but most of all, I want to touch people. I want to stir emotions in them and make them relate, fall in love with, empathize, and route for my characters. I want to take my readers to places that don’t exist and meet people that aren’t real just because I can, because that’s what books do. When readers love what I write, I feel like I’ve been a small part of their life and them a part of mine.

 If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?

 I would be something fun and adventurous, like a tour guide through the Grand Canyon or the Application Mountains. Maybe even a white water rafting guide. I love the outdoors and fun and adventure.

 Where do you draw your inspiration from?

 I draw my inspiration from other fantasy authors and my own life experiences. My stories are sort of an emotional escape for me. Azrel, my main character in The White Warrior series, is me 10 years ago when I wrote her. The struggles she faced and the emotions she battled and the victory’s she won. Other fantasy authors inspire me because fantasy is a very hard genre to break into because there are so many out there, so those that have made it in the genre inspire me to keep going and plugging away to get my name out there.

 What has writing taught you about yourself?

 My writing and this self-publishing adventure so far has taught me that I do have a gift to offer people, and I didn’t think I had any gifts worth mentioning for most of my life. But based on reviews of Only A Glow from my growing fan base and my friends, I have come to realize, and have confidence in the belief that I have a true gift of storytelling and putting emotions into text. I suck at grammar still, but that’s what editors are for.

 How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?

 Everyone, my closest friends and family and a few of my biggest fans, they all swear up and down that I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer. They say that because, according to them, my book had the rare ability (for them) to suck them into the story and stay sucked in. These people have all told me that they are not easily imprisoned by books, but my book hooked them, got inside them, and made them lose some serious sleep. Those are the best complements anyone can give me. The greatest thing any fan of mine can say to me is, “You’re book kept me up way too late at night. I could not put it down,” because that’s what great books do to me too. I am so honored and flattered when I get complements like that, and I can hardly believe someone is saying that about my work, about something that I created. It’s the best feeling ever.

 Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?

 I haven’t really been in the author world very long to make a call like that. I don’t know of any stereotypes that authors get labeled with because I don’t know very many authors.

 What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?

 Being heard! The hardest thing about writing is marketing your work alone because there are just so many authors out there with the self-publishing industry on a huge incline! It’s difficult to get the word out and have people listen to one person. Fellow authors are usually concerned with getting their own writing out so they can’t pay much attention to other authors, and the general public isn’t going to listen to a nobody debut novelist. It’s very hard to stand out and get noticed.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?

 I’m still too new at being an author to realize any mistakes I made. It is way too early in the process to learn from my mistakes, because it’s too soon for mistakes to be brought to my attention that need to be fixed.

 Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?

 Nothing that I can think of off the top of my head. Again, I blame being a rookie independent author.

 How do you deal with your fan base?

 With humility, gratefulness and kindness. I’m just a regular person like them. I love my fans and have become friends with a few of them. They are some of the greatest people I have met and they really love my book. One fan told me that he loved my book so much he feels like it’s his personal mission to get as many people to read it as he can. My fans are very passionate about my book and they go out of their way to tell me how much they love it, and they promote it to the best of their ability. I love my fans.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.

 HA! I’m not sure. I don’t really have any surprises up my sleeve that I can think of right now. I might have to get back to you on that.

 Anything else we should know?

 I have a book trailer for my book. It’s actually really beautiful! You can view it here: http://vimeo.com/51313772

 I want to connect with you! Let’s chat!  Find me on Facebook (where you can see the book covers of the next 4 novels, and there are 3 more book covers to be unveiled soon) here: http://www.facebook.com/TheWhiteWarriorSeries.com

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Nichelle_Writes

 

My website has more info about me and some fan art and some fun sound bites so you know how to pronounce the names, places, and things in my book. Visit my website here: http://www.thewhitewarriorseries.com

 

I’m currently working on book #2 in The White Warrior series called The Blaze Ignites and it is due to be release March 2013. 

%d bloggers like this: