Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ever by Gail Carson Levine


by Gail Carson Levine

Hardback: 244 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Falling in love is easy...
...even for Kezi, though she knows her days are numbered. And head-over-heels, come-what-may love is inevitable if her heart's desire is Olus, the Akkan god of the winds.

But accepting death is hard, especially when romance is new.

Falling in love is easy for Olus if his beloved is Kezi, a beautiful mortal, a dancer and rug weaver from the city of Hyte. But facing Kezi's approaching death is unbearable.

Love brings Kezi the will to fight her fate. Love gives Olus the strength to confront his fears. She questions her faith and seeks truth in dark places. He suffers a god's trial when she needs a champion. Together--and apart--they encounter spiders with webs of iron, the cruel lord of the land of the dead, the mysterious god of destiny, and the tests of the Akkan gods. If they succeed, they will be together; but if they fail, Olus will have to endure the ultimate loss, and Kezi will have to make the supreme sacrifice.

This story follows the fairy tale style. It is written in first person, present tense. Most stories are written in past tense, and I could never quite forget that this was a story I was reading--I wasn't able to become immersed in the story. I also frequently had trouble following what was going on, particularly when dancing was described. Perhaps due to the use of present tense, the story also seemed a bit more simplistic than I am used to reading in YA.

The worldbuilding is good and the idea is fairly clever. However, the characters aren't very deep. There is kissing in this book, but no sex. The magic in the book is confined to the powers of the gods. The story encourages the conclusion that if a god can't be seen or touched, then it can't be found...or isn't real at all. I'd rate this book as "clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One

I am huge in my mati's womb, straining her wide tunic. She is Hannu, Akkan goddess of the earth and of pottery. My pado, Arduk, god of agriculture, sits at Hannu's bedside, awaiting my birth.

It is too tight in Hannu's belly! I thread my strong wind into her womb, and my strong wind thrusts me flying out. Fortunately, Arduk catches me in his big, gentle hands.

Although Hannu lies in bed and Arduk stands holding me, we are also floating above the earth. In the air over volcanic Mount Enshi hovers Enshi Rock. From its center the temple rises: our home, a tower of porous white stone mounted on four stout stone legs. Never has there been such a temple!

When my diaper cloth is tied in place, I kick. When I'm lowered into my sleeping basket, I cry. If a blanket is tucked around me, I bellow. I am the god of the winds, and I hate confinement. Shame on me! I fear it.

Hannu and Arduk name me Olus. I call them by their own names, as is the custom.

Soon I can see and hear and smell across great distances and through objects, just as the other Akkan gods can. I hear the prayers of our worshipers, which are like the rattle of peddle in a pan, too numerous to sort out.

When I am a month old, I smile from my parents' bed at the faces of the other Akkan gods and goddesses as they pass by above me. Meanwhile my merry wind tickles their ankles.

But when Puru, the god of destiny, tilts his head down at me, my merry wind fades away, and I wail. His face is swathed entirely in orange linen, as is the rest of him. I can see through ordinary linen, but not Puru's.

Perhaps he can peer through his linen, or perhaps he smells me or only knows I'm there. When he speaks, no constant breath pushes his words, so he stops after each one. "Olus...will--"

"Hush, Puru," Hannu says, frowning.

"He's too young to hear about his fate," Arduk adds.

Puru says, " happiness until he gains what he cannot keep."

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

The Two Princesses of Bamarre

The Two Princesses of Bamarre
by Gail Carson Levine

Hardback: 241 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
First Released: 2001

Source: Library

Back Cover Blurb:

Brave and adventureous, Princess Meryl dreams of fighting dragons and protecting the kingdom of Bamarre. Shy and fearful, Princess Addie is content to stay within the safety of the castle walls. The one thing that the sisters share is their unwavering love for each other.

The tables are turned, however, when the Gray Death leaves Meryl fatally ill. To save her sister, meek Princess Addie must find the courage to set out on a dangerous quest filled with dragons, unknown magic, and death itself. Time is running out, and the sisters' lives—and the future of the kingdom of Bamarre—hang in the balance.

This is a "fairy tale re-telling." The pacing is good, and the characters change realistically throughout the book. The relationship between the sisters and between the sisters and their friends is well written. However, the reason Addie falls in love with one of those friends is not very clear or convincing in my opinion.

I did like how Addie manages to defeat a series of monsters without suddenly gaining expert swordsmanship skill without any training (well, at least not until the very, very end).

There are a few kisses, but no sex. There is magic in this story, generally in the form of magical objects known from other fairy tales. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One

Out of a land laid waste
To a land untamed,
Monster ridden,
The lad Drualt led
A ruined, ragtag band.
In his arms, tenderly,
He carried Bruce,
The child king,
First ruler of Bamarre.

So begins Drualt, the epic poem of Bamarre's greatest hero, our kingdom's ideal. Drualt fought Bamarre's monsters--the ogres, gryphons, specters, and dragons that still plague us--and he helped his sovereign found our kingdom.

Today Bamarre needed a hero more than ever. The monsters were slaughtering hundreds of Bamarrians every year, and the Gray Death carried away even more.

I was no hero. The dearest wishes of my heart were for safety and tranquility. The world was a perilous place, wrong for the likes of me.

Once, when I was four years old and playing in the castle courtyard, a shadow passed over me. I shrieked, certain it was a gryphon or a dragon. My sister, Meryl, ran to me and held me, her arms barely long enough to go around me.

"It's gone, Addie," she whispered. "It's far away by now." And then she crooned a stanza from Drualt.

"Step follows step.
Hope follows courage.
Set your face toward danger.
Set your heart on victory."

I quieted, soothed by Meryl's voice and her warm breath on my ear.

Meryl was my protector, as necessary to me as air and food. Our mother, Queen Daria, had succumbed to the Gray Death when I was two and Meryl was three. Father rarely visited the nursery. Bella, our governess, loved us in her way, but her way was to moralize and to scold.

Meryl understood me, although we were as different as could be. She was fair, and I was dark complexioned. She was small and compact, a concentration of focused energy. I was always tall for my age, and loose-limbed, and my energy was nervous and fluttery. Meryl was brave, and I was afraid of almost everything--from monsters to strangers to spiders.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale

Hardback: 306 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
First Released: 2007

Source: Library

Back Cover Blurb:
When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren's refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment.

As food runs low and the days go from boiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. With the arrival outside the tower of Saren's two suitors--one welcome, the other decidedly less so--the girls are confronted with both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.

This little-known classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm is reimagined and reset on the central Asian steppes.

This is a "fairy tale re-telling" based on a Grimm's fairy tale. The story is written in a "diary entry" format, which I usually find distracting (you're never really "there as it happens" and boring minutia is often added which slows the pacing).

Since this story covers almost four years, the diary-entry style actually works fairly well. It allowed the author to give us a sense of their lives in the tower, then focus only on the exciting parts. The entries were never boring and were always written from the point of view of "as it happened" rather than "what I think about what happened," which kept the excitement and suspense up.

The world-building in this book is good and the characters act and change realistically throughout the book. The romance in the story develops slowly. There are a few kisses, but no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Day 1
My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years. Lady Saren is sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, and hasn't moved even to scratch for an hour or more. Poor thing. It's a shame I don't have fresh yak dung or anything strong-smelling to scare the misery out of her.

The men are bricking up the door, and I hear them muttering and scraping cement. Only a small square of unbricked sky and light still gape at me. I smile back at its mean grin to show I'm not scared. Isn't it something, all the trouble they're going to for us? I feel like a jewel in a treasure box, though my lady is the--

My lady suddenly awoke from her stupor and sprang at the door, clawing at the brick, trying to shove her way out. How she screamed! Like an angry piglet.

"Stay in!" we heard her honored father say. He must have been standing near the opening. "Stay until your heart softens like long-boiled potatoes. And if you try to break your way out, I've told the guards to kill you on sight. You have seven years to think about disobedience. Until you are meek with regret, your face turns my stomach."

I nearly warned him that such words would bring him bad luck and canker his own heart. Thank the Ancestors that my lady's fit stopped me from speaking out of turn. When I pulled her back, her hands were red from beating at the bricks and streaked with wet cement. This isn't exactly a happy-celebration morning, but I don't see what good it does to thrash about.

"Easy, my lady," I said, the way I'd speak to a feisty ram. It wasn't too hard to hold my lady back, even squirming as she was. I'm fifteen years, and though skinny as a skinned hare, I'm strong as a yak, or so my mama used to say. I sang the calming song, the one that goes, "Oh, moth on a wind, oh, leaf on a stream," and invited the hearer into dreaming. I feared my lady was so angry she wouldn't heed the song. But she must've been eager to sleep, because now she's snoring on my lap. Happily the brush and ink are at hand so I can keep writing. When you can't move, there isn't much to do but think, and I don't much want to think right now.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Dragon Wing by Weis & Hickman

Dragon Wing

Dragon Wing (The Death Gate Cycle, Vol. 1)
by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Mass Market Paperback: 430 pages
Publisher: Bantam Sepctra
First Released: 1990

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
Ages ago, sorcerers of unmatched power sundered a world into four realms--sky, stone, fire, and water--then vanished. Over time, magicians learned to work spells only in their own realms and forgot the others. Now only the few who have survived the Labyrinth and crossed the Death Gate know of the presence of all four realms--and even they have yet to unravel the mysteries of their severed world...

In Arianus, Realm of Sky, humans, elves, and dwarves battle for control of precious water--traversing a world of airborne islands on currents of elven magic and the backs of mammoth dragons. But soon great magical forces will begin to rend the fabric of this delicate land. An assassin will be hired to kill a royal prince--by the king himself. A dwarf will challenge the beliefs of his people--and lead them in rebellion. And a sinister wizard will enact his plan to rule Arianus--a plan that may be felt far beyond the Realm of Sky and into the Death Gate itself.

This is a "mystery fantasy" where the main characters perceive their world in a certain way, but the more they learn, the more they realize they haven't understood the truth about their world. The world-building in this book is excellent, and the worlds are very intriguing. The pacing is good, and the main characters change realistically throughout the book. The magic is of the traditional fantasy type. The really isn't any romance in the story, and I don't recall any modern curse words being used. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

(Note: The other six books in this series also qualify as "good, clean fun.")

Excerpt: Chapter One
The crudely built cart lurched and bounced over the rough coralite terrain, its iron wheels hitting every bump and pit in what passed for a road. The cart was being pulled by a tier, its breath snorting puffs in the chill air. It took one man to lead the stubborn and unpredictable bird while four more, stationed on either side of the vehicle, pushed and shoved the cart along. A small crowd, garnered from the outlying farms, had gathered in front of Yreni Prison, planning to escort the cart and its shameful burden to the city walls of Ke'lith. There, a much larger crowd awaited the cart's arrival.

Dayside was ending. The glitter of the firmament began to fade as the Lords of Night slowly drew the shadow of their cloaks over the afternoon stars. Night's gloom was fitting for the procession.

The country folk--for the most part--kept their distance from the cart. They did this not out of fear of the teir--although those huge birds had been known to suddenly turn and take a vicious snap at anyone approaching them from their blind side--but out of fear of the cart's occupant.

The prisoner was bound around the wrists by taunt leather thongs attached to the sides of the cart, and his feet were manacled with heavy chains. Several sharp-eyed bowmen marched beside the cart, their feathered shafts nocked and ready to be let loose straight at the felon's heart if he so much as twitched the wrong way. But such precautions did not appear to offer the cart's followers much comfort. They kept their gaze--dark and watchful--fixed on the man inside as they trudged along behind at a respectful distance that markedly increased when the man turned his head. If they'd had a demon from Hereka chained up in that cart, the local farmers could not have gazed on it with any greater fear or awe.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Mage's Daughter by Lynn Kurland

The Mage's Daughter

The Mage's Daughter
by Lynn Kurland

Trade Paperback: 378 pages
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Darkness in the kingdom...
Neroche is under assault by a mysterious magic that has stripped its king of his powers and unleashed nightmarish creatures as weapons in a war of evil. Morgan of Melksham is fighting against that menace as well as for her life. Struggling to regain her strength after a near-fatal attack, Morgan realizes that she must decide between two fates: that of being a simple shieldmaiden or accepting her heritage as an elven princess. If only she could forget that she was the daughter of the perilous black mage of Ceangail...

Magic in the blood...
Duty bound to aid his king, Miach of Neroche is torn between what his responsibilities demand and what his heart desires. He is willing to risk his life to rescue Morgan from the darkness that haunts her, but he must do so at the peril of his realm. Forced to choose between love and the burden of his mantle, Miach sets out on his most deadly quest ever.

This book is a "fantasy romance" according to the back cover. However, it's focus is almost purely on the romance. Very little forward momentum happens on the action/fantasy side of things.

Morgan was poisoned at the end of the last book and spends most of this book recovering her strength. Scene after scene in this book is Morgan learning shocking things about her past or people she knows, then she bursts into tears and Miach comforts her (thus winning her love). By the end, Miach finally figures out what's been causing the damage to his spells (which would have been obvious to him sooner if he hadn't been so distracted with Morgan). The end is left as a cliff-hanger, with the big battles just ahead. Only the relationship between Morgan and Miach resolved.

The well-developed characters from the first book are almost completely abandoned (including the king and all of Morgan's fighting buddies). A lot of new characters are introduced, but little time was spent on developing those characters or the world they lived in. For example, the races of the world are humans, dwarves, and elves. Dwarves seem to be short humans, and elves seem to be extremely beautiful humans (they don't even have pointy ears). The new characters seem to have been added solely so that the main characters have someone to interact with, either to briefly aid them or stand in their way (though they're no serious threat). These new characters have so little depth they can be simply identified: noble rival; pitiful enemy; dangerous enemy; protective granddad; understanding grandma; cruel rival; and so on.

There was enough cursing in this book that I noticed it. As previously noted, the pacing was slow and some scenes felt very repetitive. There is kissing, but no sex. The magic is of the typical fantasy sort. I'd rate this as "fairly clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One

Tor Neroche was under siege.

Miach of Meroche stood at his window and stared down into the courtyard below, contemplating the truth of that. It had been a brutal, unrelenting assault on the front gates for the previous fortnight. Now, though, it was only the latecomers who were rushing into the courtyard, come in their finery to witness the nuptials of Adhemar, king of Neroche, to the lovely and very demanding Adaira of Penrhyn.

The inside of the palace showed just how thorough the onslaught had been. There was hardly a scrap of floor within that was not covered by some sort of servant, pile of luggage, or minor noble wishing he had either come sooner or with more money to bribe the Mistress of the Wardrobe into giving him a decent place to sleep. Miach had found himself grateful for a change that he was Adhemar's brother; at least he had a bed.

Unfortunately, even with his ties to the throne, he didn't completely escape Mistress Wardrobe's forbidding frowns or her charms of ward made against him when she thought he couldn't see her.