Tag Archives: Fantasy

Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

You might have seen these fantasy themes before: An overpopulated community stuck within the confines of a certain set of boundaries due to the threat of a plague which has destroyed the outside world with the home-bound population being controlled by magic and death/execution – a common occurrence meant to keep everyone in line. In Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta, that’s not enough, the King requires an obedience bond between himself and his subjects, administered when they become “adults”. Thus our rebels are teenagers who know there is something out there worth risking everything, even their lives, to discover.

Of course, each has their own motivations. Faris Locke originally wanted a better life than one of eking out an existence in the Brim, a slum like community, but now she is forced to fight her way to the prize to save her sister from being used as a drone at the workhouse. Princess Bryn is determined to be Queen of Brindaigel, so she magically binds Feris to her as a servant to not only protect, but to serve as a virtual “whipping boy” who absorbs any pain the princess experiences (even if maliciously self-inflicted). Upon entering the forbidden Avinea they immediately get captured, but are rescued by North, a nomadic magician who wants to free his beloved homeland from the deadly sickness which is creeping throughout the kingdom.

I’m thinking this book should be included under the Steampunk Category. This is a YA fantasy novel full of intrigue, violence, greed/self interests, and a bit of romance, all entangled with the power of magic which can both protect and destroy. While the premise has a few twists using this common theme, the concept is muddled enough to require a bit of an explanation instead of simply leaking details on the fly as the plot unfolds. After a few attempts, I gave up trying to make sense of events by rereading passages which leave out the clues necessary to provide any cohesiveness. While the characters are intriguing, there are so many secrets and scams, it is easy to get confused about their motivations. These young people all have complicated relationships with their parents, most of whom are out of the picture for one reason or another, but who influence their actions, which makes discovering who’s who and what’s what requiring the skills of a detective.

However, the book is readable if unpredictable (for various reasons), just don’t expect a definitive conclusion as the ending is a cliff hanger leading to book 2 of the series. Three stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Elves (Volume 1) – Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte, Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi

A few years ago Elves was published in France (Elfes) and now it’s making its appearance here in the United States. Volume 1 contains two separate stories, Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte about the Blue Elves who live by the sea and Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi dealing with the Sylvan or Forest Elves. There are three other subsets of Elves to be published in a future edition.

The trouble with this series is that it takes awhile to grasp the cast of characters. While the graphics are spectacular and help the reader interpret the story, there is still a lot of confusion. Part of the problem in the first story is that these are three plot lines which eventually intersect, however, the story flits from one to another in a jarring fashion, taking a moment or two to figure out which part of the plot is front and center. While in the second story there is also a bunch of back and forths which make it difficult at times to figure out who’s who or what’s what. Too many gaps in the story only adds to the confusion, requiring an explanation which is nowhere to be found. It’s as if there was a prequel we all missed. Some backstory please before you throw us into the mix. Eventually we get the drift, but only after a frustrating start.

In both stories there’s a lot of backstabbing and double crossing along with a few deceptions which change the outcome of the saga, although there are some honorable characters who leave us with hope for an eventual resolution. The various evil creatures such as the ork mercenaries are horrifying, but as least they are easily identifiable as the enemy. It’s when the “good guys” turn out to have a hidden agenda and double cross their so called friends that the stories reflect a dark theme.

Full of blood, violence, and death, not everything turns out with a happily ever after ending. It’s just not that kind of book. With a better narrative and smoother transitions, this would be a superior series. The colorful, intricate art work illustrating the two stories could easily be developed into an adult animation (there’s nudity along with the violence) for the small or large screen. Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Insight Comics for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Sixteen by Jen Estes

Here is a tale of teen angst with a twist. You have the social misfit who despite her lack of popularity, is best friends with the prom queen and dating the Captain of the Football Team that she met while fulfilling her court mandated community service as punishment for buying drugs (sleeping pills) from an undercover cop. To complicate matters, the one person who provides emotional support has run off with her obnoxious foster sister. Sounds like your typical YA novel, yet there is a whole other story written between the lines which moves Sixteen by Jen Estes up a notch from normal expectations.

Those of you who read Fifteen, the first novel in the Dreamwalker Diaries Series by Jen Estes are familiar with Ashling Campbell, a Dreamwalker who is the only one that can stop the depraved Jumlin from achieving immortality for himself and his spawn, thus gaining the ability to enslave or destroy mankind. Luckily this can only be attempted once every fifteen years and requires the help of the reincarnated Laughing Bear who is human despite being a descendent of the Jumlin. The Dreamwalker is able to travel 15 years forward through time in order to find a way to thwart these potential cataclysmic events. Their progeny is then burdened with the same task until the Jumlin either succeeds in his task or is destroyed.

In Fifteen, Ash discovers that the Jumlin is actually, Walker Smith, the supposed father of best friend Skykar (who was actually switched at birth with his real daughter – Nadette – by the predecessor Dreamwalker). In order to prevent her horrific recurring nightmares from becoming true, Ash convinces Nadette (her foster sister) to run away, not realizing her buddy Tate would go along for the ride. It’s not that she totally resents his attraction to her malicious “adopted” roommate, it’s that she doesn’t have anyone else with whom she can share her most intimate nightmares without being declared insane.

Sixteen advances the saga as Jen tracks down her half brother who has the key to finding another way to “redo” her previous feat in order to “undo” the accidental shooting death of her mother. Success in this quest would result in a boring plot, so the unexpected repercussions of her actions alert the Jumlin to her presence, endangering her friends and family. Forced to expand the circle of individuals who know the truth, they must band together and make some difficult decisions on how to keep the demon Walker from unearthing any further secrets while destroying the minions who make up his empire – all without being thrown into prison for murder or ending up hospitalized/dead.

The trouble the author, Jen Estes, faced was how to weave the two stories together. It’s been two years since Fifteen was published, so a little refresher was welcome, but as Ash explains the whys and wherefores to a widening circle of people in the know, the reader is forced to hear the details over and over. Flashbacks and old diary entries fill in additional blanks as Ash solves some of the remaining riddles. While the repetitions get annoying at times, the plot has enough booby traps to keep it interesting along with some gratuitous violence to appeal to readers who additionally enjoy stories with vampire or dragon slayers. Of special interest was the blending of past, present, and future as Ash interacts with various individuals from her life at different stages in their existence.

Expect an abrupt culmination with a cliffhanger ending leading into the next novel where the teens, armed with what normal people would consider insane facts, are determined to spend the summer tracking down and destroying this evil which threatens the world.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the first novel, three and a half stars and a thank you to Curiosity Quill for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island created by Bruce Lee, written by Stuart Moore, illustrated by P H Marcondes

I must admit, I’ve always been fascinated by the Chinese Zodiac and the idea that each of the twelve signs could imbue powers on select hosts is definitely an intriguing concept for a comic book/graphic novel series. Add in the brilliance of Stan Lee, the imaginative writing talents of Stuart Moore, the detailed illustrative abilities of P H Marcondes, and the support of Disney, resulting in the start of a promising series.

To fully appreciate the comic book The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island, I recommend you read Stan Lee’s introductory novel, The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence which lays out the groundwork for the series. Even though Tiger Island has some background information, the format doesn’t allow for the detail necessary to explain all the nuances of the various characters. As the first issue in this continuing saga, graphics are used to identify the various powers of the good guys on “Team Steven Lee” as they search for a place to set up a command post in their fight against the Vanguard who are plotting to steal their special Zodiac powers to add to the power of their boss, the insane evil genius Maxwell.

At the prospective headquarters on the technology savvy Tiger Island, the reader is able to glean some insight into the inner workings of “the players” as they visit the Holodeck Wishing Rooms to live out their dreams via vertical reality. These fantasies are interrupted by a very real invasion of dangerous wild animals who have been sent by Vanguard to attack the island. While our heroes are saving the day, one of their compatriots disappears. What happens next can be found in The Zodiac Legacy #2: Power Lines.

The plot must unfold quickly since this book is only 66 pages long, so don’t look for a lot of specifics, although the colorful graphics, with some incredible “special effects”, do enhance the story. Still, if you go into this book familiar with the numerous characters, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. While the cliffhanger is on the mild side, it does leave you wanting more.

This continuation of the original Legacy trilogy lends itself to a comic book format, especially since too much explanation detracts from the action. Perfect for middle schoolers or fans of super heroes.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Papercutz for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Robota by Doug Chiang, Orson Scott Card

First off, Robota doesn’t necessarily prescribe to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. On this alien influenced earth, robots carry the ability to think and they want to take over the world. Whereas once flesh and metal lived side by side, over time they became enemies – each striving for survival. While not all robots are bloodthirsty, Kaantur-Set, the general of the robot army, is obsessed with destroying all carbon based life forms on the planet. Enter Caps, a man whose amnesia leads him to search for the truth. Cap ends up joining a rag tag team, consisting of a monkey-like creature, a young woman raised by robots, and a yeti-looking gorilla, all out to get revenge. It’s kill or be killed, yet they discover not every enemy is set on destruction, when they add Elyso, a robot whose sect refuses to harm humans, to their team.

While this world at times represents the Earth we know, the majority of the planet is fascinatingly bizarre yet somehow enticing, encouraging the reader to try and decipher the underlying meaning behind the fast paced, albeit confusing events. The stunning illustrations by Doug Chiang (who has numerous film credits to his name including Star Wars) creates a breathtaking fantasy world. Unfortunately, the narrative by Orson Scott Card, well known for his work in the SF genre, is totally perplexing, like a rough draft that has left out some pertinent details. Perhaps Chiang’s prologue would have helped set the stage, but it was blurred and unreadable in my ebook. Luckily Wikipedia has the complete backstory, filling in the numerous blanks and providing the reader with enough details to obtain somewhat of a grasp on the plot line.

I find it especially annoying that there was no attempt to revise the written portion of the 2003 publication for this new 2016 edition of Robota, although there is the addition of a forward by Garett Edwards and some extra concept artwork by Chiang to enjoy.

At one point there was a promise for the creation of a video game using the Robota theme, although I would prefer to see an action movie visually bringing Chaing’s conceptualizations to graphic life. There are a few glimpses of the possibilities on utube, where several 2 minute vignettes (with and without sound) are available to view. As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help visualizing the animation possibilities which were more exciting than the written word. Yet, while the illustrations remained stupefying, they didn’t always jive with the narration, despite their astonishing content.

Five stars to Chiang, 2 stars to Card for a total of 3.5 stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Dover Publications for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

We all know that King Henry VIII was obsessed with his legacy which is one of the reasons he ended up with six wives. It also led to England’s break with the Pope who refused to annul Henry’s first marriage. When the King died, his only son Edward became the new King of England at the age of nine, with the crown being controlled by a series of “advisers” whose chief purpose was to line their own pockets, profiting from pilfered land and the titles and funds associated with those properties. Whether King Edward VI, at the age of fifteen, died of TB or was poisoned is still up to conjecture, but immediately prior to his death he signed a proclamation naming his cousin, Lady Jane Grey and her progeny, next in line to the throne in order to keep his older half sister, Mary, from taking control of the country. Mary had different ideas about the succession, imprisoning Lady Jane and eventually beheading her for treason. Jane’s total term as Queen lasted only nine days. Queen Mary I, a devout Catholic, sought revenge for her father’s persecution against the priesthood by beheading self proclaimed Protestants, earning her the title of Bloody Mary. After five years on the throne, Mary died childless, possibly of ovarian or uterine cancer, and her younger half sister Elizabeth ascended to power and ruled for forty five years undoing the damage of Mary’s fanaticism by encouraging the Protestant Church to grow and flourish.

Many writers have replicated these events in books and various theatrical events. However, when three YA authors got together, they decided it would be fun to create an alternative interpretation of these historic events and present an irreverent version of the fate befalling the Tudors in the 1550’s. Instead of dealing with a religious conflict in My Lady Jane, the authors, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, elected to bestow an alter ego to the population, allowing select individuals to have a separate “personality” in the form of an animal. These Edians were discriminated against by the Verities – those individuals who did not have the shape shifting gene.

In this fantasy, King Edward barely manages to escape a death by poison, changing into a kestrel and flying to safety. Lady Jane finds herself married to Lord G who is a horse by day, while she morphs into a ferret each night. Using their animal forms, the two are able to allude their executioners. Filling in the blanks with real and imaginary details, the three authors painstakingly paint an absurd portrait of love, romance, betrayal, and conflict as Edward seeks a path back to the throne. Unfortunately, the fantasy portion is in direct conflict with reality, so they also need to develop an imaginative conclusion which somewhat coincides with the realm of possibility.

The readers can tell the authors had a good time ad-libbing an amusing variant to English history. They did their research, visiting such locales as the Tower of London and interviewing historians about the sequence of events. They even threw in some salacious tidbits, such as the scandalous behavior of Lady Jane’s mother running off with the horse master, which sounds like fiction, but is actually true. Unfortunately, I found the entire book too silly for my taste, and at times annoying, especially since the plot dragged on and on for close to 500 pages. While I normally have a sense of humor, (I enjoyed Spelled by Betsy Schow, a twisted version of The Wizard of Oz) and am no stranger to books featuring shape shifters or alternate paths (Think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith), this book fell short.

Now don’t let me keep you from reading this novel. There are many who loved the premise and its implementation (it was even voted the Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2016), I’m just not one of them. However, kudos for introducing a whole generation of readers to the little known historical event where Lady Jane Gray served a brief stint in the monarchy of England. So for finding a unique way to educate the average reader – three stars. (If you want to read a superior fantasy, although not written to be humorous, that involves animals and humans – please check out Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy).

Bera the One Headed Troll Written and Illustrated by Eric Orchard

In Bera the One Headed Troll by Eric Orchard, Bera is what one would call a gentle soul whose life evolves around growing pumpkins for the King of Trolls. Somewhat of a hermet who has never left her island home, Bera finds herself on an adventure after she rescues a baby from the malicious mermaids. With her pet owl, Winslowe, acting as scout she travels across the sea to the forest in order to find a hero who can return the small child back to her home. With the help of a handy guide full of maps and tales of the woodland folk, Bera travels through the night (since daylight will turn her into stone) on her quest. Unfortunately, the villanous troll magician Cloote, planning to turn the baby into a monster to impress the Troll King, is on the prowl ready to intercept Bera and her “bundle”. To make matters worse, many of the so called heroes turn out to be conspirators instead of friends. Bera, a one headed troll, eventually locates Nanna, a kindly but elderly three headed troll, who attempts a rescue in spite of her age related infirmaties. Ultimately, Bera is the one who must save the day with the help of Winslowe, some kindly Hedgehog Wizards, and a talking rat named Vince.

The brownish hued, sepia toned comic panels drawn by the author are uncluttered focusing on the creatures who inhabit the Troll World. Orchard’s unique style perfectly complements this faerie tale. While the good guys are cute, those intent on harm tend to be more sinister. A big plus is a female protagonist for the main character who discovers the inner courage to do the right thing. In this way she becomes a true hero, a nice change from the typical male dominated scenarios. Besides the good versus evil overtones, the reader learns that a troll must be careful whom she trusts since not every creature’s character can be taken at face value, a good moral for any age.

I felt the storyline of this graphic novel, even with its simple test and fast pace, was confusing at times and I often had to reread sections in order to figure out what was going on. Good for middle schoolers. Three stars.

A thank you for this ARC from Netgalley and First Second Books in exchange for a honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.