Book Review: The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick

The Red Wolf Conspiracy by  Robert V.S. Redick

This is a story of The Chathrand. Built six hundred years go, the great ship is a towering palace on the seas and the last of her kind. Now she sets sail on a mission of diplomacy, carrying the only daughter of the Emperor’s Ambassador to a marriage that will ensure the peace between two nations. The rest of the passenger list is diverse, including the ship’s psychotic captain, a tarboy with a magical gift for languages, a spymaster and his six deadly assassins, a hundred imperial marines, and a small band of gremlin-like Ixchel stowaways. All look on with wonder and pride as The Chathrand embarks on this most important voyage…and then the great ship goes missing.

The Good



I loved how this book started — right away, the reader is informed through a “special notice” that the great ship has vanished at sea, along with the 800 souls she was carrying. (Souls…the choice of that word in the report had a chilling effect on me). Immediately, you’re drawn into this mystery and you’re flipping to the first page of the first chapter, eager to start the story which would tell you what happened. 



I was also impressed with just how much is in this book. There’s so much magic and different races and different creatures in this book. Everyone seems to have an element of fantasy surrounding them, like Pazel the tarboy who has been blessed/burdened with a gift/curse that allows him learn and understand any language after only being exposed to them for a short time. But this power, however, also frequently gives him debilitating fits that interferes with his job aboard the decks. 



Then there are the Ixchel, a race of tiny people that sailors often consider nothing more than pests because their tendency to stow away aboard ships. There are also the Flikkermen, Murths (like mermaids), and a race of gigantic, enormously strong humanoids called the Augrong, among others. Not to mention the presence of special animals that are “awakened” with self-awareness and the power of intellectual thought and speech. The book is a trove of new and interesting ideas for people who love fantasy fiction.



The So-So

There is such thing as too much of a good thing. The plus of having so much going on in this book can also be seen as a minus. There are a lot of ambitious ideas in this ambitious story set in an ambitious fantasy world, and sometimes it can all get just a little too overwhelming. 

The first few chapters were done really well, telling a sequence of events through the eyes of several characters, with each point-of-view picking things up right after where the last one left off. Unfortunately, it also made me feel so disoriented that I had to go back and read through them again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. At this point, there were still a lot of things I didn’t understand, but I just made do with telling myself to trust the author, that hopefully there will come a time when everything will be made clear.

Ultimately, everything was explained, which was good, but I still thought it was a lot in the intro to heap upon your reader so quickly. 



The Not-So-Good

This is more of a personal preference, really, but I just don’t think “maritime fantasy” is for me. Reading about great ships and pirates and the ocean and sailing and all that puts me more in mind of historical fiction, and so I had a really hard time bringing myself back to the fact I’m actually reading a fantasy. It’s just really weird. No matter how long I’d been reading this, there was always a moment of discombobulation and confusion when I picked up the book again to continue where I left off.



Unfortunately, it really kept me from being immersed in this book and enjoying it fully. That said, those who love maritime settings and stories about ships would probably really love this. But even though that aspect wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, I do have to say I was completely enchanted by the book’s fantasy elements.

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Book Review: Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

This is the fourth and final book of the Rain Wild Chronicles series, bringing a close to the story of the dragons and their keepers…for now. In the last book, we saw the characters arrive at the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra, only to find it accessible only by flight.

At the start of Blood of Dragons, many of the dragons have managed to learn to fly, with the rest well on their way to achieving it. The dragonkeepers have also been transformed, becoming beautiful Elderlings. Expeditions have been made into Kelsingra; every day more artifacts are discovered, and more memories are lifted magically from the city’s stones. It’ll all be for naught, however, if the one thing the dragons and their Elderlings need to stay healthy and survive cannot be found — silver, a substance that has the power to heal and rejuvenate, among other mystical properties.

I think I’ve finally gotten into the flow of Robin Hobb’s writing. I love her style, but what I’ve discovered is that her books are not so traditionally structured, which can sometimes make them feel lacking in direction. But unlike the three previous books in the series, this is the first one where I can distinctly identify a climax and a definite ending. Well, this being the last book and all, I would have certainly hoped so.

As a series conclusion, I was pretty satisfied. Still, maybe it’s just me, but so much of it felt driven by pure relationship drama. Of course, there’s a positive side to this; I was extremely looking forward to see how this book will end up dealing with Hest Finbok, for one. Despite being jilted by Alise, he’s still a despicable human being and needed to get his due. There were also the usual conflicts, but the love triangle between Thymara, Tats, and Rapskal seemed to dominate a lot of it. Even the dragons were are getting into the action with their mating quarrels.

And on the topic of the dragons, even after four books I have to say I still haven’t managed to find much sympathy for the arrogant, belligerent creatures (with only a couple exceptions). Take the least flattering stereotypes about cats, and dragons are like that but about a hundred times worse. Is it horrible of me, that I actually wanted to see doom come to Tintaglia when she was caught in the trouble with the human hunters? I definitely wouldn’t fault this against the book though; it’s to Hobb’s credit that she was able to give her dragons such severe qualities and evoke these reactions from me.

My main issue, however, was probably with the subject of the silver wells. I don’t remember them being an important factor in this series at all until this book. All of a sudden, there’s this need for silver, and why is this matter just coming up now? Wouldn’t something like this have been helpful for everyone to know earlier in the expedition? Seems weird that it only came up once the characters are actually in Kelsingra. It’s possible I’m missing something because I haven’t read all the books in the Realm of the Elderlings, but the problem with the search for silver still feels like it came out of nowhere, thrown in as a conflict at the last minute.

Speaking of which, I probably should read the other books. I definitely have the interest and the desire to after reading this series, plus I should really try and finish off the Farseer Trilogy since the second book has been in my to-read list for almost two years. However, Liveship Traders probably interests me more at this point.

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Book Review: Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

I have to praise Nazarian’s artistry when it comes to the written word. She seems to enjoy the language and it felt like she was painting with her words. But after about thirty pages, it started to very much feel like the canvas was growing much larger than necessary and the painting started to get very, very repetitious.

As the story goes, Death appears to a dying monarch and demands his Cobweb Bride. The monarch, who should have breathed her last when Death arrived, instead rattles on. Simultaneously, he visits a battlefield and the warring soldiers find themselves missing blood and body parts, but they are not officially dead. Then there is a celebration for the sixteenth birthday of the Infanta. Celebration turns to murder, but the dead won’t die until Death finds his Cobweb Bride. And there is another dying woman, this the grandmother of our heroine, Percy, who is able to see the shadows of Death, who visits Percy’s grandmother and makes his demands there as well.

In case we missed all that, we get to revisit all of these places and go through the details of the undead and the conversations of those around them several more times before all come to the conclusion that Death won’t let anyone die until he gets his bride. Buuuuut just in case it wasn’t clear, let’s also throw in one butchered pig that continues to squeal.

After 100 or so pages … I get it. Death. Cobweb Bride. Or else zombies forever.

Someone finally figures out that the solution must be for eligible ladies to make their way to Death’s Keep. One of these young women is Percy – Persephone, whose name, from Greco-Roman mythology, should already link her to Death. Percy is, apparently, a rather plain, perhaps even ugly protagonist. I point this out, because it is repeatedly pointed out within the story. I am all for heroines (and heroes) not being typical beauties, but I was disappointed in the need to have her appearance juxtaposed with her beautiful sisters who are the favourites of her beautiful mother and her formerly beautiful grandmother. I feel that if a writer wishes to portray a “plain” heroine, there shouldn’t always be a need to point out how plain or even ugly she is, by ensuring that there are always paragons of beauty available for comparison. If the point is that heroes can be everyday people who aren’t gorgeous examples of humanity, then why not allow everyone in the story to reflect reality in that way.

But I digress. As does the story, which moves on to the women traveling to Death’s Keep. Many of them band together, but their journey is hindered by the soldiers who have decided not to die. As with the earlier encounters with Death, this section drags with repetition and a collection of unmemorable characters (save for Percy, and two others whose relationship takes an interesting turn.)

About fifty pages from the end of the book, we finally get the plot twist that is actually quite interesting. It sets  up nicely and obviously for the second book in the planned trilogy, but after slogging through the other 200+ pages, I am convinced that three is not a magic number. This story likely would have done well as a duology or even a longer single novel, if it had more focus and less repetition.

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Graphic Novel Review: Batman: Red Hood – The Lost Days by Judd Winick

Batman: Red Hood – The Lost Days by Judd Winick

Before watching Under the Red Hood, I knew very little about Jason Todd. I knew there was a Robin that had died, but being as I was never a big DC fan growing up, I never read about his death or even had much insight on the character. I enjoyed the movie Under the Red Hood, and it prompted me to read more about the history of the character and find out about his return.

I’m not a fan of comics bringing back characters whose deaths have such a strong impact on the other characters involved. To me, that cheapens a character’s death and the changes that he/she brought about in this fictional world. But I’m going on a whole different tangent.

This comic chronicles the years leading up to Jason Todd’s return to Gotham. He’s found barely alive by Talia al Ghul who has an unhealthy obsession with Batman and at first sees Jason as a means to getting to Batman. After being put in a pit by Talia to be made whole (an overall bad decision), Jason spends the rest of his years training for his return and his revenge, acquiring new skills that he hadn’t learned during his time as Robin, funded by Talia.

Jason is an interesting character. I don’t think he can be called a true villain. He does things that go against the “good” standard, but in his own twisted way, he is trying to do what Batman taught him. However, unlike Batman, he feels that a hero has to serve the same cruel punishment as the scum they fight, that doing the things they do doesn’t make him any less “heroic.” He believes it makes him “realistic.”

Jason can’t be called a true hero either because of his actions that go beyond that “good” standard. He’s also not afraid to take out anyone who stands in the way of his goals of wiping out the criminal element. For him, it’s less about protecting the people who need protecting and more about getting rid of the criminals using their own tactics. It’s better to sacrifice a few to the greater cause than allow these criminals to hurt the masses.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Jason coming back, but the stories that are written about him show a character who obviously still wants to impress Batman and still has strong familial ties to the Bat Family and vice versa. He annoys them, but they still care about him and treat him like the wayward son that needs saving.

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Wendy’s Book Haul

I’m focused on World Without End’s Women of Genre Fiction reading challenge and my local library has been good to me. I did my best to walk out with only the books I had requested, but got caught right at the check out desk with the “book of the day”: The Red Chamber by Pauline A. Chen.

The Red Chamber by Pauline A. Chen

In this lyrical reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace. When a political coup overthrows the emperor and plunges the once-mighty family into grinding poverty, each woman must choose between love and duty, friendship and survival.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

Sixteen-year-old Maya is just an ordinary teen in an ordinary town. Sure, she doesn’t know much about her background – the only thing she really has to cling to is an odd paw-print birthmark on her hip – but she never really put much thought into who her parents were or how she ended up with her adopted parents in this tiny medical-research community on Vancouver Island. Until now.

Aaaand as I was writing this post, this just popped up on my Goodreads radar (Amazon’s one-click buy button wins again!):

Eye of the Goddess by M.J. Faraldo

Kyra St. Clair’s life is about to change. Terrible events will thrust her head first into a world unknown to her, a secret world where ancient Egyptian gods are not myth but in fact very real. With the help of an unexpected friend she will come to terms with who she is, and in doing so they will both discover that there is much more to the story than meets the eye.

Graphic Novel Review: Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman

Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman

If you have a weak stomach, do not read Chew. It is a foodie’s worst nightmare drawn and spelled out in vivid, disgusting detail. It is, plain and simple, gross.

With that warning out of the way, I sit here enjoying my shrimp fried rice while my husband makes yummy hamburgers and I can happily inform you that I love the entire concept of this comic and continue to be impressed with Image Comics for their promotion of such amazing, off the wall creator-owned books.

Chew is a detective story starring Tony Chu, a cibopath. Tony can read psychic impressions from anything he eats (except beets). Such a “gift” could make a solid vegan out of anybody, but Tony’s line of work ensures that won’t be happening any time soon. The story occurs during a time when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the most powerful authoritative body. Poultry products have been banned due to avian flu epidemic threats, creating a black market for chicken and chicken substitutes. Many radical groups are up in arms against the government and the FDA, serving as a backdrop to Tony’s personal adventures that all start when he takes a bite out of a serial killer to track down his victims.

It is black comedy at its finest. Hilariously dark situations are peppered with just the right amount of witty one-liners and commentary, with Guillory skillfully complimenting the words with his images.

The cast of characters is spectacular, each uniquely brought to life by Guillory’s art. I love that Tony is the typical new kid on the block when he joins the FDA, but he isn’t completely green. He’s a good and capable detective with morals and conviction and, despite the personal inconvenience of his ability, he’s reasonably willing to do what he has to do – from eating bad sushi to munching on decayed fingers – to catch the bad guy.

What’s a lonely guy without a potential love interest? She comes in the form of Amelia Mintz, a food critic with a special gift of her own that makes her perfect for Tony, but that doesn’t mean their relationship will be an easy sale. She falls into the Lois Lane category of strong, outspoken women who really don’t need (or even notice) the guys who are pining after them.

The different food related powers (link contains spoilers) are like characters themselves and should not be overlooked as mere plot devices.

But let’s not forget that this is a detective story. All the characters and interesting abilities are fascinating, but there actually is a story here and I appreciate the way Layman brings in all the extra details, without weighing things down or venturing too far from the unraveling main plot. There is a mystery to solve and in typical detective story fashion, a seemingly inconsequential case grows into a much, much larger conspiracy that leads to a pretty impressive cliffhanger ending to the first arc.

I am sad to learn that Chew will not appear on television as originally planned, but I’m secretly still holding out hope for a special guest appearance on Hannibal.

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Book Review: Jhereg by Steven Brust

Jhereg by Steven Brust

Guess this is what you’d call an oldie but a goodie. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Steven Brust until a few weeks ago, but he was recommended to me by a gaming friend of mine, and then another good friend jumped into the Twitter conversation to second the recommendation. So, that’s two shoutouts from a couple of people whose opinions I highly value, and that’s when I knew I had to get my hands on this book, posthaste!

Jhereg is the beginning of a whole bunch of books set in Brust’s Dragaera world. It is the first novel to be published in the Vlad Taltos series, even though its place is actually fourth or so in its timeline. It introduces us to Vladimir Taltos, an Easterner (human) working as a killer-for-hire in the House of Jhereg in a setting where his kind are barely tolerated by a race of long-lived, statuesque sorcerers called the Dragaerans (or, as my friend told me, just think of them as “elves”!) Being a Jhereg doesn’t help either, since their faction is like the mafia of the Dragaeran world.

One day, a powerful Jhereg boss offers Vlad a lucrative contract to track down and assassinate a council member who stole millions of gold from the house. It is discovered, unfortunately, that this thief has fled to Castle Black, home of the Dragonlord Morrolan who is also Vlad’s good friend. Now Vlad has to try and figure out a way to fulfill his contract without royally pissing off Morrolan, whose strict rule against the killing of anyone on his premises while they are under his protection is proving to be more than just a minor inconvenience.

At just 200-something pages, this was a very quick read. Despite the volume’s relative thinness, however, there is a lot information crammed in here. You’ll immediately get the sense of hugeness from the world of Dragaera, and I admit I spent much of the first half of this book feeling like I was missing something, because not everything about the setting is explained right away. There will be names of people, animals, factions, cultural traditions, events in history, etc. that are alluded to, but won’t mean anything to you until you get further into the book (or even the series). Even now, I wish I had more room in this review to give examples of all the strange magical spells, weapons, creatures, lore and customs that are in this book, but there’s just too damn much. The good news is, everything you need know in order to understand and follow the story will be there, and it will come in time.


I also really liked the writing style, the fast pace and the lightness of it. Normally when you get high fantasy featuring a world full of magic and so much history, along with noble sorcerers and lords and ladies and such and such, you’d expect the writing style and dialogue to be somewhat serious and austere. Not so much with this book, which includes instances of modern day habits or colloquialisms, and that played a part in making Jhereg easy to get into and reading it so much fun.


It’s got a great story overall, involving a plot about an assassination, but which almost reads more like story about a heist. It has elements of mystery in it too, as Vlad likes to conduct investigations and figure out the solutions from the clues he finds. He as much as admits that he prefers the process of planning an assassination to the actual assassinating, and events in the story reflect that. It just struck me as interesting especially when compared to more recent fantasy novels about assassins, which tend to be darker and more action-oriented, and Jhereg was published before I was even born.


The series is still going on today, with book 14 expected to come out later this year. So glad I discovered these books, thanks to my friends. I’ve got a lot of books in my to-be-read pile, but since all the Vlad novels seem to be such quick reads, there might actually be hope of me finishing up to Tiassa before Hawk comes out. Maybe.


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Mogsy: The Best Book I’ve Read This Year

 

This is where keeping track of my books on Goodreads comes in handy. To narrow down my options for Best Book I’ve Read This Year, I went straight to my 5-star reads. Still, 2013 isn’t even half done yet, and according to my stats I’ve already racked up quite a few of those. Looking over the list, it was a tough choice, but in the end I had to go with Heir of Novron for overall best read.Why? Well, Heir of Novron is actually an omnibus that collects the last two books (Wintertide and Percepliquis) of a six-part fantasy series called The Riyria Revelations. The first two omnibuses are Theft of Swords (collecting The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) and Rise of Empire (collecting Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm), and it’s the gradual building up of the over-arching story in these books that made the stunning conclusion such a joy to read.

This is a delightful down-to-earth fantasy series, filled with adventure, action, and a cast of great characters. Once you start the first book, you just can’t help but keep going; each installment has its own self-contained story, but the series is also meant to be read a whole. As you make your way through it, you will find that the author has dropped hints of what’s to come in the earlier books, WAAAAAY before you even realized it was happening, which is what made Percepliquis such a mind-blowing experience. So many twists and turns, and shocking reveals. Let’s just say the word Revelations in the series title is certainly apt.

And the icing on the cake is that the author is such a nice guy. After you finish the series, Michael J. Sullivan asks that you contact him for bonus material. So I sent him an email about it, along with my thanks and comments about how much I loved his books. This led to a back-and-forth email conversation which lasted a couple days where we talked about the themes of the series and he answered all my questions. To be able to discuss a book that I loved so much with the author right after reading it was one of the coolest experiences ever.

All Female Cast for the New X-Men #1

The much hyped new X-Men #1 is out today! Be sure to grab a copy! No, we’re not going to review it just yet because frankly, while the art was fantastic and we’re loving seeing our favourite ladies doing their thang, the story isn’t quite there yet. No matter, we’ll definitely be back for the next issue to find out what happens!

The (Sort of) 30-Day Reading Challenge

There are many 30-Day Challenge memes for every point of interest out there,which means of course there would be one or ten related to books! They are enjoyable activities that allow people to expound on their love or hate for a particular topic and the various elements that comprise it.

They can also be rather time consuming and difficult to manage for people like us who really enjoy sharing our feelings, but can’t be bound to the implied daily commitment. So we have altered the requirements a bit to post our individual responses to the questions below whenever we please! Look out for our random 30-Day Reading Challenge posts under the “Reading Challenge” category.

Day 01 – The best book you read this year
Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan (Mogsy)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Wendy)

Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Mogsy)  

Day 03 – Your favorite series
The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell (Wendy)
Kushiel Universe by Jacqueline Carey (Mogsy)

Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series

Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (Mogsy)

Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
11/22/63 by Stephen King (Mogsy)

Day 07 – Most underrated book

Day 08 – Most overrated book
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Wendy)

Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (Wendy)

Day 11 – A book you hated

Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore

Day 13 – Your favorite writer

Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer

Day 15 – Favorite male character

Day 16 – Favorite female character
Vergere (Wendy)

Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Wendy)
Sula by Toni Morrison (Tiara) 
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch (Mogsy)

Day 18 – A book that disappointed you

Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (Tiara)
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (Mogsy)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Wendy)

Day 20 – Favorite romance book
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (Wendy)

Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood

Day 22 – Favorite book you own

Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read

Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most

Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something

Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending

Day 28 – Favorite title
Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind by Nicole Knepper (Tiara)
Sweet Dreams are Made of Teeth by Richard Roberts (Wendy)

Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked

Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time