Sunday, August 24, 2008

King's Property by Morgan Howell

King's Property

Queen of the Orcs: King's Property
by Morgan Howell

Mass Market Paperback: 302 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from library sale

Back Cover Blurb:
Born into hardship, Dar learns to rely on herself alone. When her family betrays her, Dar is conscripted into King Kregant's army and his brutal campaign to conquer a neighboring country. Now she is bound as a slave to a dreaded regiment of orcs, creatures legendary for their savagery and battle prowess.

Rather than cower, Dar rises to the challenge. She learns the unique culture and language of the orcs, survives treachery from both allies and enemies, and struggles to understand a mystical gift that brings her dark, prophetic visions. As the war, escalates--amid nightmarish combat and shattering loss--Dar must seize a single chance at freedom.

I guess I'd call this "dark fantasy" since there is little hope throughout the book. It's also not a book I, personally, would give to anyone under 15 years old. The book clearly implies, though never actually states, that Dar was raped repeatedly by her father and both Dar and a young girl come very close to being raped on several occasions. While most of the sex, rape, brutality, and killing occur 'off screen' and none of it is explicit or gratuitous, the horror and danger of her surroundings is nearly unrelenting.

Understandably, Dar doesn't trust men and doesn't really like them. I was a bit turned off by the apparent "all men are scum" message but, near the end, it becomes quite clear that Dar doesn't hate all men--just the ones that really are scum.

That being said, all of the characters were very interesting and realistically drawn. The story was suspenseful, and the world-building was excellent. Overall, I'd call this "a good, clean fun" novel for grown-ups.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Dar walked alone down a mountain path, bent beneath a load of firewood. The trail she followed hugged steep rocky walls that blocked the morning sun, so the air and ground still held the night's chill. Nevertheless, she walked barefoot and wore only a tattered, sleeveless shift with a rag to cushion her shoulders. Dar moved quickly to keep warm, but the sound of a distant horse stopped her short. None of her neighbors owned one, nor did anyone in the tiny village beyond the far ridge. Only strangers rode horses, and strangers often brought trouble.

Dar listened. When the hoofbeats died away, leaving only the sound of wind in bare branches, she continued homeward and arrived at a hollow devoid of trees. Its stony ground had been prepared for spring planting. At the far side of the hollow lay the only building--a rude hut, built of rocks and roofed with turf. The horse was tied nearby. Dar was considering leaving when her father's wife emerged from the low building with a rare smile on her face. The older woman called out. "You have visitors."

The smile heightened Dar's wariness. "What kind of visitors?"

Dar's stepmother didn't respond, except to smile more broadly.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Enna Burning

Enna Burning
by Shannon Hale

Trade Paperback: 317 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
First Released: 2004

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Enna's brother, Leifer, has found the secret to an extraordinary power--to make fire without a spark. It's an ability that could be used for good...if he can control it. But Enna can't decide if it's a power she wants for herself or one that should be extinguished forever. And when their home country of Bayern goes to war, the choice becomes unbearable. Enna never imagined the warm, life-giving energy of a fire could destroy everything she loves, but now she must try to save Bayern and herself before fire consumes her entirely.

This book is a sequel to a "fairy tale re-telling" book, but it isn't based on a fairy tale. The story is a bit darker than "The Goose Girl." Everything feels out-of-control and morally murky. For example, Enna must decide whether she should use her fire-talking to kill enemy soldiers (she decides it's not right or smart to do so but does it anyway because she feels she has to). Though the reasons for her actions were convincing, I wasn't comfortable with how often Enna chose to do what she knew was wrong. (Note that she does do what is right in the end.)

The pacing and world-building were good. The characters were engaging and changed realistically throughout the book. The romance in the story develops slowly. There are a few kisses, but no sex. I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Enna let the fire burn out.

She was not used to this duty. For the three years she had lived and worked in the city, the hearth had been the hall mistress's responsibility. And when Enna had returned to the Forest a year ago at the onset of her mother's illness, her mother had continued to tend the fire. After her mother's death in the spring, Enna had become the mistress of this little forest house, but with a garden to tend, wood to chop, and a brother, a goat, and chickens to feed, she often forgot the fire.

It was not hard to do. A fire in a kitchen hearth was a quiet beast.

Of course, Enna thought, she would overlook the coals on a night when her brother and, more important, the flint in the kindling box were out wandering in the deep woods. So she walked to the house of her nearest neighbor, Doda, and borrowed a spade's worth of embers in her milking pail. She struggled home, gripping the hot handle with a rag and the end of her skirt.

The embers drew her eyes. They were beautiful, pulsing red in the bottom of the dark pail like the heart of a living thing. She looked away, and the orange coals stayed before her eyes, burning its image over the night. She tripped on a tree root.

"Ah, ah," she said, trying to regain her balance and keep the hot pail from touching her of spilling to the ground. She cursed herself for the hundredth time that night for being so careless, sought out the dark outline of her house, and headed for it.

"Strange," said Enna, blinking hard to clear her vision. There appeared to be a light in her window, and it was getting brighter. Enna ran through the yard and looked into the open window.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

And Only to Deceive

And Only to Deceive
by Tasha Alexander

Trade Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Released: 2005

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Emily agreed to wed Philip, the Viscount Ashton, primarily to escape her overbearing mother. Philip's death while on safari soon after their wedding left Emily little grief, for she barely knew the dashing stranger.

But her discovery of his journals nearly two years later reveals a far different man than she imagined--a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who apparently loved his new wife deeply. Emily's desire to learn more of her late husband leads her through the quiet corners of the British Museum and into a dangerous mystery involving rare stolen artifacts. To complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond matrimony into darker realms...

This book is a historical mystery set in the later part of Queen Victoria's reign. Though this book and the second book can be understood quite well when read out of order, information given in the second book does somewhat spoil the suspense in the first book. For maximum reading pleasure, I'd highly recommend reading this book before A Poisoned Season.

The world-building in this book is excellent. The problems Emily faces flow out of the historical culture (i.e. the story isn't simply a modern mystery occurring in a historical setting). The characters are interesting and change realistically throughout the book. There is kissing, but no sex. I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Few people would look kindly on my reasons for marrying Philip; neither love nor money nor his title induced me to accept his proposal. Yet, as I look across the spans of Aegean Sea filling the view from my villa's balcony, I cannot doubt that it was a surprisingly good decision.

The Viscount Ashton seemed an unlikely candidate to bring anyone much happiness, at least according to my standards. His fortune, moderate good looks, and impeccable manners guaranteed that hapless females would constantly fling themselves at him in the hope of winning his affection. They missed his defining characteristic, ensuring that he would never pay them more than the slightest polite attention: Philip was a hunter.

I mean this, of course, literally. Hunting possessed him. He spent as much time as his fortune would permit pursuing wild beasts. The dignified (although I would not choose to describe it so) English hunt amused him, but he preferred big game and passed much of his time stalking his quarry on the plains of Africa. He could be found in London only briefly, at the height of the Season, when he limited his prey to potential brides. The image he presented could be described as striking, I suppose. He played the part of daring adventurer well.

My encounter with the dashing viscount began as such things typically do, at a soiree. I found the conversation lacking and longed to return home to the novel that had engrossed me all morning. Philip differed little from other men I met, and I had no interest in continuing the acquaintance.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander

A Poisoned Season

A Poisoned Season
by Tasha Alexander

Trade Paperback: 315 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
London's social season is in full swing, and Victorian aristocracy can't stop whispering about a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. But he's not the only topic of wagging tongues. Drawing rooms, boudoirs, and ballrooms are abuzz with the latest news of an audacious cat burglar who has been systematically stealing valuable items that once belonged to the ill-fated queen.

Light gossip turns serious when the owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Lady Emily Ashton. It will take all of Emily's wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, while faced with a brewing scandal that threatens both her reputation and her romance with her late husband's best friend, the dashing Colin Hargreaves.

This book is a historical mystery set in the later part of Queen Victoria's reign. The world-building in this book is excellent as is the pacing. The characters are interesting and change realistically throughout the book. The romance in the story develops slowly. There is kissing, but no sex. I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
There are several things one can depend upon during the London Season: an overwhelming barrage of invitations, friends whose loyalties turn suspect, and at least one overzealous suitor. This year was to prove no exception.

Having recently come out of mourning for my late husband, Philip, the Viscount Ashton, I was determined to adopt a hedonistic approach to society, something that I imagined would involve refusing all but the most enticing invitations and being forced to cull disloyal acquaintances. This would allow me to enjoy the summer months instead of trudging from party to party, feeling like one of the exhausted dead, finding myself the subject of the gossip that fuels young barbarians at play.

However, it became clear almost immediately that my theory was flawed. Declining to attend parties proved not to have the desired effect. Instead of dropping me from their guest lists, people assumed I was in such demand that I was choosing to attend events even more exclusive than their own, and there are few better ways to increase one's volume of invitations than by the appearance of popularity. So for a short while--a very short while--my peers held me in high esteem.

It was during this time that I found myself at the home of Lady Elinor Routledge, one of the finest hostess in England and a long-standing friend of my mother's. By definition, therefore, she was more concerned with a person's societal standing than with anything else. Despite this, I had decided to attend her garden party for two reasons. First, I wanted to see her roses, whose equal, according to rumor, could not be found in all of England. Second, I hoped to meet Mr. Charles Berry, a young man whose presence in town had caused a stir amongst all the aristocracy. The roses surpassed all of my expectations; unfortunately, the gentleman did not.