Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Traitor’s Game (The Traitor’s Game, Book 1) by Jennifer A Neilson

The Kingdom of Antora has been taken over by Lord Endrick, a self proclaimed king, Lord of the Dominion, who leads with an iron fist with the magic stolen from the Endorians who he conquered (along with the Halderians) in the war which won him the throne. The Dallisors, the rightful rulers, bow down to the power of their Lord, with Henry Dallisor, Endrick’s enforcer, responsible for much of the devastation placed upon the people of the kingdom who are now basically slaves to the whims of this evil overlord. Anyone who dares to complain is swiftly “taken care of” since the common townsfolk are considered expendable often rounded up with the rebels and executed for crimes they did not commit. The Coracks are waiting in the wings, ready for their chance to overthrow the government and the Halderons are keeping their heads down trying to stay out of trouble, although a few have their eye on the prize. The various factions distrust one another and it’s every man for himself. Unfortunately, all the Endorians have been wiped out by Lord Endrick, but if any were still left their lives would be in danger since their kind are hated by everyone for the evilness inherent in their magical powers.

Enter Kestra, daughter of Henry Dallisor, who has been sequestered for three years in Lava Fields after an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt by the Halderians. The event, however, has left her scarred, so her protector, Darrow, has taught her some battle moves, including how to wield a knife. When out of the blue her father sends the Dominion Soldiers to bring her home, Kestra is able to use her survival skills when her carriage is waylaid by the Coracks, but she is forced to give herself up in order to save the lives of Darrow and her lady’s maid, Celia.

Grey Tenger, the leader of Corack rebels, has a task in mind that Kestra is uniquely able to accomplish – finding the Olden Blade, the only weapon which can destroy the immortal king. This mythical object is supposedly hidden in her castle home and she has four days to find it or forfeit the lives of her “friends”. Accompanied by Simon and Trina, disguised as her protector and lady’s maid, they are there to make sure the job gets done. Yet when she arrives “home” she discovers her father has plans for her which threaten to interfere with her stated mission. Lord Endrick also plays a role in determining her future, although from the looks of things she, too, has become expendable in the vast intrigue of palace politics.

The plot of The Traitor’s Game is a YA Fantasy which advances via the points of view of both Krestrel and Simon. The two teenagers have somewhat of a past, since Simon. served as one of her slaves when they were young, but through a series of unpleasant events, he was able to gain his freedom. Their parting left an unpleasant taste in both their mouths, but their close proximity in some fretful situations has softened their mutual feelings of hatred leading to some romantic interludes as their mission progresses. Kestrel is headstrong, acting out without thought to the consequences which sometimes are quite swift and severe. Simon is conflicted, trying to remain loyal to the cause but questioning how he can protect Kestra while staying true to his oath of fealty. Trina, also a teen, is thoughtless and careless, but her determination to succeed at any cost makes her a worthy adversary. All three have daddy issues and each has their own agenda resulting in twists and turns as they move towards their mutual goal.

I thought this was, for the most part, a fast paced story with lots of action and unexpected detours. I didn’t mind the romance (a few kisses) since the two seventeen year olds were in a life and death situation which heightened their emotions, plus they were probably hormonal. The author, Jennifer A Neilson, took her time getting to the climax and, with only thirty pages left, I was afraid there would be no resolution at all, just a cliff hanger to be taken up in book two of the Traitor’s Game series (aptly named because everyone seems to turn on each other whenever it seems expedient). However, there was a somewhat satisfying ending which, although a little rushed and a bit confusing, was mostly unexpected.

I liked it! Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Ice Wolves (Elementals, Book #1) by Amie Kaufman

Through the use of two rugrats, Amie Kaufman has found the means to introduce a new world. In Ice Wolves, Book One of the Elementals Trilogy, twelve year old orphans, Anders and Rayna, are swiftly making their way over the garden-like rooftops, avoiding the increasing number of check points on the streets, to the town square where a large group has assembled, perfect for their daily antics. Pick pocketing is an indispensable lifestyle to ensure survival on the streets where Rayna distracts while her twin brother extracts some coins from the victims’ pockets. Unfortunately, circumstances necessitate a change of plan and the two find themselves amongst others their age reaching for the staff which will determine their fate. So far none that day had been successful in their quest to become a part of the Wolf Guard, so Rayna, without a family history (at least none of which she is aware), is stunned when she shape-shifts into the enemy, a Scorch Dragon. Anders, beside himself, reaches for the staff, expecting to follow her as the same, but instead he shape shifts into one of the revered, an Ice Wolf.

How can this be? The role of Ice Wolf is inherited while only traitors become Scorch Dragons. Anders must muster up all his courage and find his sister who he knows is not the enemy, even though as an Ice Wolf he is required to destroy the evil dragons. Assigned to Ulfar Academy, full of the luxuries (like food, clothing, and a warm place to sleep) his former way of life lacked, the shy Anders must learn all that he can to find a way to rescue his beloved sister. He develops some friendships in his pack where loyalty and obedience are a key requirement. Yet, where should your loyalty lie when you discover that there’s more to the story and the fight against the Scorch Dragons might be based on politically motivated disinformation and prejudices? All Anders knows is that his fealty will always be with Rayna, and his number one goal must take precedence over his role as Ice Wolf.

Ice Wolves follows the basic formula for preteen readers – youngsters (after discovering the deceit of adults) take it upon themselves to save the day. Kaufman has a talent for bringing the characters alive and connecting them to the readers who find themselves rooting for a successful outcome. This will definitely appeal to the middle school crowd, including some advanced elementary aged students, as well as those in high school. Its short length is a plus with an ending which will draw them into the next book of the series. Adults, once they accept the premise that twelve year olds rule, might also appreciate this well written tale.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Grimm’s Manga Tales by Kei Ishiyama

Grimm’s Manga Tales by Kei Ishiyama lives up to its Manga status. While some of the titles might be familiar, the stories themselves only have a nod to the original Grimm. In Little Red Riding Hood there is a romantic interest between the handsome wolf and Little Red. Grandma was never in danger and the dear grand daughter has to intercede to save her true love’s life from the woodcutter’s axe. There’s a happily ever after for the wolf and his savior. In Hansel and Gretel, the handsome Hansel finds true love with the witch and poor Gretel fears that the beautiful woman who is keeping her brother “captive” wants to fatten him up to eat, while the two lovebirds have something else in mind. Hansel finally realizes that he owes Gretel a better life, so he guides her home via those convenient shiny stones he dropped, their pockets filled with gems from their generous benefactor. The evil stepmother is gone and their dad, who had been searching for them in vain, tearfully welcomes them home overwhelmed by their new found wealth. Additional stories feature Rapunzel, The Two Brothers, The Twelve Hunters, Snow White, The Frog King, Puss in Boots, and the Singing, Springing Lark – all containing Manga style twists. For example, Rapunzel’s companion in the tower appears to be female, although there must have been some male contact because the formerly long haired beauty ends up pregnant.

I found this ebook physically difficult to read. One reason was the online format which cut off the ends of panels leaving off important parts of the story, plus it was hard to make out the rich illustrative details. In addition, the condensed story lines were complex and even the well known fairy tales were changed just enough to be barely recognizable. Without any narratives, the dialogue and art work had to be interpreted to determine the plot. Sometimes this was so challenging it took away from the normal enjoyment found in a fantasy world where anything is possible. This volume would definitely be better purchased in paper format. Perhaps an expanded plotline for a few selected stories would have been a wiser choice instead of tackling such a broad inventory.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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.

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.