The Novice: Book 1 of Summoner by Taran Matharu

The Blurb:

Fletcher was nothing more than a humble blacksmith’s apprentice, when a chance encounter leads to the discovery that he has the ability to summon demons from another world. Chased from his village for a crime he did not commit, he must travel with his demon to the Vocans Academy, where the gifted are trained in the art of summoning.

The academy will put Fletcher through a gauntlet of gruelling lessons, training him as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against the savage orcs. Rubbing shoulders with the children of the most powerful nobles in the land, Fletcher must tread carefully. The power hungry Forsyth twins lurk in the shadows, plotting to further their family’s interests. Then there is Sylva, an elf who will do anything she can to forge an alliance between her people and Hominum, even if it means betraying her friends. Othello is the first ever dwarf at the academy, and his people have long been oppressed by Hominum’s rulers, which provokes tension amongst those he studies alongside

Fletcher will find himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with nothing but his demon Ignatius to help him. As the pieces on the board manoeuvre for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands …

My thoughts:

I don’t know what it was about this that appealed to me, but I devoured it like a starving wolf at a butchers shop.  There were several cliched tropes here.  Orphan hero finds out he has mysterious powers to summon demons, could be the son of a nobleman, wins out against all odds.  It should have been a tired story that only mildly interested me, but by golly I loved this.  I couldn’t get enough of the hapless hero Fletcher who always seemed to rub his enemies the wrong way.  When he comes across an old scroll he reads it out only to find that he has summoned a demon.  Now in this world, demons don’t seem to be evil, they are more the extension of their summoner, so if the summoner is a douche, then they are too.  Fletcher’s little demon is Ignatious, a Salamander, and I loved the little critter.

What follows is a series of adventures where Fletcher learns the extent of his powers (not a superman thank god) and the friends he makes.  It was a lovely tale for middle schoolers and aside from a few dodgy moments there isn’t anything too horrible in here that would frighten a younger reader either.  The characters are likeable and the pacing is strong.  I would have liked a bit more originality with the other races, we have elves, dwarves, and orcs, standard fantasy fare but I couldn’t complain about it too much.  Deals with issues of racism and greed for power as well as having several bad guys to contend with.  it also would have been nice to have at least some of the nobles to be nice, it was pretty black and white commoners against nobles.  Even with all its problems, this book was captivating, and dang it, it finished on a cliffhanger, my least favourite ending!!

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas: Review

Blurb on book:

Feyre is a huntress. She thinks nothing of slaughtering a wolf to capture its prey. But, like all mortals, she fears what lingers mercilessly beyond the forest. And she will learn that taking the life of a magical creature comes at a high price . . .
Imprisoned in an enchanted court in her enemy’s kingdom, Feyre is free to roam but forbidden escape. Her captor’s body bears the scars of fighting, and his face is always masked – but his piercing stare draws her ever closer. As Feyre’s feelings for Tamlin begin to burn through every warning she’s been told about his kind, an ancient, wicked shadow grows. Feyre must find a way to break a spell, or lose her heart forever.

My thoughts:

I was quite impressed with Sarah J. Maas’ debut novel Throne of Glass so I was expecting good things from this first in a new series.  I was not disappointed.  Maas impresses with her lyrical style and the vivid descriptions of the Spring court where our heroine Feyre finds herself bound.  This is an alternate take on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, and I for one, have never read anything like it.  Yes the author has sampled from fairy mythology quite heavily but she has put an original take on it by setting it in a completely different yet strangely familiar world.  Once I worked out it was based on Beauty and the Beast (that only took until someone translated Feyre’s name to mean Beauty) I was impatiently waiting for the denouement where she declared her love for Tamlin.  The author keeps you hanging, and although my hunger for the end made me rush through certain parts, I did the book and injustice by that, as the beautiful descriptions of Feyre’s struggle with her lifelong hatred of the Fairies and her guilt at killing one of them were wrenching.  Time and again, you both wanted to strangle her and cuddle her, as she hadn’t had a great life.  Still, the series of trials at the end of the book were perhaps my least favourite part.  I enjoyed most those halcyon days at the Spring court, where Feyre learns about herself, learns tolerance and discovers beauty, before it is wrenched away from her.

I recommend this one to lovers of fairytales, Sarah J Maas fans and for examples of how to convert a tired old fairytale into a beautiful tale.  Thoroughly enjoyed this.

The Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge

Well, I am going to do two challenges this year.  Challenge my apathy and the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge.  For those of you unaware of the Challenge please click on this link http://www.australianwomenwriters.com/p/australian-women-writers-book-challenge_25.html or copy and paste it into your browser.

I think the challenge is something everyone can easily accomplish.  We are readers anyway aren’t we?  What is the difference between reading a book in the genre you love if it just happens to be by an Australian female author?  I have a list of a few different books I would like to read, and my friend Lucy Sussex (another fine Australian author) has given me a couple of books to start off my list.

I am going to try the Franklin Fantastic Challenge (why not aim high?) which is to read at least 10 books and review at least 4 of them.  I am also going to try to mix it up with a couple of different genres.  I already have several books on my shelves waiting to be read so there won’t be any trouble in fulfilling that promise I think.  The books I am going to read are the ones below (not necessarily exclusively these but these are the ones I have at hand at the moment)

The Reformed Vampire Support Group – By Catherine Jinks – YA Fantasy

Ruby Blues by Jessica Rudd – Chicklit comedy

The Siren’s Song by Miranda Darling – Crime Thriller

The King’s Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniells – Fantasy

Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies by Lucy Sussex – Short Story Collection Fantasy

Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres – YA Science Fiction

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood – Crime Historical ( I especially want to read this one before the series starts on the ABC next year)

The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon – Fantasy (I actually think Jennifer is a NZ author but she stays on the list anyway 🙂 )

The Dark Griffin by KJ Taylor – YA Fantasy

Witches Incorporated by KE Mills – Fantasy

Well, the challenge is set and the games begin January 1st, let the reading begin 🙂

The Anticipation is Killing Me

Well, I finally got the notice from the library yesterday the Ghost Story by Jim Butcher was ready to be picked up.  I have been dying to read this ever since it has been published but being on a savings kick and only allowing myself a certain amount of dollars to put toward my reading addiction, I certainly could not afford a hardcover edition (not at Australian prices anyway)

So I put my name down for the book at my local library (yay Moonee Valley council – you rock) as they have a great range of SF/F and generally get the latest books in pretty quickly, but shock horror, I was number 5 on the list.  When you multiply that by 3 weeks each person, it is generally a long wait to read it.

Instead of getting frustrated by just going out and buying it, which I nearly did but stopped myself in a dramatic moment online (well it was dramatic for me and I stand by that tale) I decided to reread the series from the beginning.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Dresden Files series, Jim Butcher has written one of the most wonderful Urban Fantasy series I have read in a very long time.  Ever since I picked up the first novel at Borders (back when they had cheap SF and were still open) I have been obsessed with this series.  Fortunately Jim Butcher is quite prolific and there is generally less than a year to wait for the next book.

It is also quite a long series, with Ghost Story the 13th book released.  It is quite a task to go back and reread the whole series and I bogged down at book 4.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still enjoying them, but I kept getting distracted by shiny new books that I hadn’t read before, and I kept telling myself that my booking of Ghost Story was ages away so I had plenty of time to get the rest read.

Well, I have it now, and I can’t decide whether to jump to the book preceding it and read that first or just go ahead and start it.  The second one I hear you all calling out, why would you bother rereading something?  The thing is, I read so fast and so many books, that a lot of it doesn’t really stick the first time out.  I do like to revisit books, especially those I loved, and I continually find new and interesting things about the characters and the worlds the author has created.

This has been very much the case with the Dresden Files.  Everytime a new book comes out I find myself revisiting the whole series.  Maybe in this case, the anticipation will get the best of me, plus I only have the book for 3 weeks and if I don’t read it now I will find myself running out of time and not finishing it before it needs to be returned.

That’s it, I’m decided, I am reading it now, anticipation be damned!

The joys of rereading old favourites

Over the years, due to several moves, space constraints, money troubles and other reasons, my personal library has been pared down to my all time favourite books that I cannot bear to part with.  These books are the ones that stand up to multiple reads and never lose their appeal.

These books are full of favourite characters who, after all this time, almost feel like family that I can return to during various moods.  A lot of the new books that I read are eminently forgettable and indeed I have no interest in rereading them, not even when a sequel comes out (indeed most times the sequel won’t even get read), but these books that have stayed with me over the years are the ones that contain the best writing, the most amazing characterizations, and the most imaginative world building.

Over the next few months, as I will be busily saving for an overseas trip, my new book reading will be seriously curtailed.  I will be using the library, sponging off friends, the collection at the MSFC (a seriously wonderful genre collection at the Melbourne Science Fiction Club – I recommend any genre reader to join and access it) and of course, rereading old favourites.  This will mean that any reviews that I do will most likely not be current books (unless they are given to me). 

But that is ok.  People may not have read certain books when they came out.  They may now be out of print and only available at libraries.  It will be a pleasure to introduce these books to other people, perhaps get some opinions on what they thought of them.  I certainly think a lot of them for them to still be on my bookshelves.

Review of The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

One look at the cover art to this book and I knew I had to read it.  Oh not the insipid, appeal to teen girls cover that appeared on the Australian edition,

but the radical, oh my god this book will be awesome, cover art that appeared on the American edition.

I grew up on tales of Changelings, faeries who were left in place of a stolen human baby, and that image of dangling iron above a crib spoke to something inside me.

The blurb starts off like this:

“Mackie Doyle is the Replacement.  Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, Mackie comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess.  He is a Replacment – left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago.  Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is slowly dying in the human world.”

There was so much potential in that one paragraph, so many what ifs that my brain practically exploded.  Unfortunately, while the book was extremely enjoyable, and it certainly held my attention (not an easy thing to do these days) I felt that its potential was not quite realised.  My initial excitement at the possibilities inherent within this idea did not eventuate.  Maybe the lead characters were too young for me to relate to, although I normally don’t have a problem relating to YA fiction (being so very young at heart while at the same time having the right to say ‘Kids these days!’)

Perhaps it was the fact that I was brought up on the faerie changeling tales, so very much a part of my Irish heritage.  My expectations were very high and they weren’t fulfilled.  Please understand, I am not saying this was a bad book, in fact it was extremely well written and kudos to a new author for coming out with such a great first novel.  It is an achievement to get into print that I am extremely jealous of and I don’t make any pretensions that I could have done a better job, I couldn’t.

It is just that when you get to a subject that you love, you so, so want it to be your ultimate book.  Your expectations are so high that you cannot help but be disappointed.  I find this happens a lot with sequels.  The author is such a favourite of yours that you automatically buy the next novel sight unseen.  You wait months for it to come out, tensions mounting, until the day it is published and you can go and finally purchase it.  You read it in one sitting, devouring the prose of your favourite author, delighting in meeting favourite characters again, but thinking in the back of your mind that perhaps the author is coasting a little, perhaps they are resting on their laurels a touch?  Perhaps this could have been better?

But you persevere, knowing that the quality will come back, that perhaps they had a bad year, perhaps the deadlines were too tight and they didn’t get a chance to review as much as they usually do.  Perhaps they simply have nothing left to say about the characters, but the publishers want more, more, more.  Needless to say, I will buy, and keep on buying this author purely for their past brilliance and the hope of future brilliance.  It will take more than one lame book to turn me off a whole series.

This post was longer the first time round, in fact I had my rant up and going at a million miles an hour but the internet went down half way through and the autosave didn’t work so now my rant has fizzled and I can’t even remember what I wrote before.  What I will say is that I can recommend The Replacement, although it is a YA book and, unlike most YA books, you can really tell.  The print is extra large, like they think the young have bad eyes?  It is beautifully written and I did enjoy it but I think if you want to read about things that go bump in the night I would recommend Faerie Tale by Raymond E Feist, one of the most chillingly scary stories I have ever read.  (In fact I should reread it and do a review!)