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Book Review: The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan

The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan

Title: The Waking Fire

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: The Draconis Memoria #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The Waking Fire is set in a vibrant new world where the blood of drakes—creatures similar to dragons—is valued beyond reckoning, and can be distilled into elixirs that grant fearsome powers to those who are “blood-blessed.” The novel follows an unregistered blood-blessed as he searches for an elusive variety of drake so potent, its capture would mean unrivalled riches; the second in command of a blood-burning ironclad ship; and a young woman in a lifelong contract to a trading syndicate, whose espionage mission places her on the front lines of a newly declared war. As empires clash and arcane mysteries reveal themselves, these characters are tested again and again and soon discover that the fate of the world rests on their shoulders. -Goodreads

The Review: 

Have you ever read a book that felt like it was written just for you? That’s how The Waking Fire made me feel. It had everything I love in fantasy novels and then some. And it was also one of the best dragon books I’ve ever read – nice!

The Waking Fire was a cool merge of dragon-centric high fantasy and 1920s era steampunk. It was filled with an abundance of exotic settings – everything from the high seas to ancient ruins deep in the jungle. It took a while before dragons really became the champions of the story, but they were definitely integral to the plot from the very beginning. The entire novel revolves around dragon blood and how each type can provide magical properties to a handful of gifted humans. It read very much like Sanderson’s Mistborn saga (where metals provide these properties rather than dragon blood), which is why I think fans of that series would most definitely enjoyed this one (and vice versa).

The Waking Fire is a multiple POV story, and I’d have a hard time telling you which perspective I enjoyed the most – they were all good! One thing I’ve always appreciated about Ryan’s work is that his female characters are always strong harbingers of change equal to his male characters. I wouldn’t say I found any of the women in The Waking Fire particularly relatable, but they were all equally kickass and interesting.

This book is one amazing armchair adventure that will give you one surprise after another. There were many passages I reread because the content was so dang cool, especially near the end. This book will punch you in the gut the entire way through and make you love every moment.

Overall, with the combination of dragons, exotic settings, amazing characters, great writing, and surprising plot, The Waking Fire is officially one of my new favorite books. I highly recommend it to fantasy fans, especially if you loved Blood Song – the first book in Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow Trilogy.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

a natural history of dragonTitle: A Natural History of Dragons

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Overview: All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever. 

The Review:

I’ve been stalling on writing this review because I have so many conflicting emotions about it – it has been hard to get my thoughts straight. Up to about a third of the way through the novel, I was certain it was going to be one of my new all-time favorites. Every last element sang to me in a way that only a handful of novels ever have:

  • A young girl who dreams of studying dragons in a society that considers that a very unladylike endeavor.
  • A memoir narration from this girl many decades later indicating that she broke through all of the societal constraints and is now considered the foremost expert in the field.
  • A sweet love story where she meets someone willing to accept and share her passions.
  • The promise of adventure as she sets out to study her first specimen at an exotic location.
  • And of course, an abundance of dragons!

All of these elements were in line with my personal passions – books, dragons, and nature – and brought them together in a way that made me lose myself within the pages. It was magical!

But, alas, the magic didn’t carry through the entire story. ::sobs::

There were several issues that arose as the novel progressed, and I lament because ALL OF THEM could’ve been avoided with a different outlining strategy/focus on the author’s part.

The major one was the main conflict of the story. In a book about a dragon-nut going on a wild adventure to study dragons in a way never before attempted, I feel strongly that the main conflict SHOULD HAVE REVOLVED AROUND THE DRAGONS. Instead, the dragons remained on the periphery of the story and were only loosely related to what drove 2/3 of the book. It focused on a mystery surrounding a small village, a larger village, some old ruins, a handful of bandits, and some politicking between all of them – none of which had absolutely anything meaningful to do with the dragons and, frankly, could have been easily adjusted to omit the dragons altogether. What an opportunity wasted!!! I’m still agonizing over it.

The second issue was with characterization… particularly that of the main character. She was a bright woman who wanted nothing more than to study dragons. This obsession made her a bit reckless at times when dragons were concerned, which is consistent with her character (and an element I appreciated). What isn’t consistence is how she kept making harebrained decisions when no dragons were involved at all. Stupid stuff. Stuff that leaves you going “no half-intelligent person would do that! What is wrong with this woman?!” It was frustrating, to say the least. The only thing I can figure is that the author orchestrated these odd decisions because she couldn’t figure out another way to advance the plot and get the character from point A to point B any other way. But that’s just me theorizing…

Ugh. Overall, I both fawn and agonize over A Natural History of Dragons, and am really nervous to pick up the second one. I’ll keep in mind that Brennan has the ability to dazzle me and what was done well was done brilliantly enough to give me hope going forward.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

Title: Blood of Dragons

Author: Robin Hobb

Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The dragons’ survival hangs in the balance in the thrilling final volume in the acclaimed River Wilds chronicles fantasy series. The dragons and their dedicated band of keepers have at last found the lost city of Kelsingra. The magical creatures have learned to use their wings and are growing into their regal inheritance. Their humans, too, are changing. As the mystical bonds with their dragons deepen, Thymara, Tats, Rapskal, and even Cedric, the unlikeliest of keepers, have begun transforming into beautiful Elderlings raked with exquisite features that complement and reflect the dragons they serve.

But while the humans have scoured the empty streets and enormous buildings of Kelsongra, they cannot find the mythical silver wells the dragons need to stay health and survive. With enemies encroaching, the keepers must risk “memory walking”- immersing themselves in the dangerously addictive memories of long-deceased Elderlings – to uncover clues necessary to their survival. And time is of the essence, for the legendary Tintaglia, long feared dead, has returned, wounded in a battle with humans hunting dragon blood and scales. She is weakening and only the hidden silver can revive her. If Tintaglia dies, so, too, will the ancient memories she carries – a devastating loss that will ensure the dragons’ extinction.

The Mini Review:

I can’t say enough good things about Robin Hobb. If she’s not my favorite author, she’s at least in my top three. Blood of Dragons concludes her Rain Wild Chronicles, a series which takes place on the periphery of her FitzChivalry books. My favorite thing about these “spinoffs” is the expansion of the world I love and the most excellent portrayal of dragons. Many authors write dragons with human personalities, desires, and motives. Hobb’s dragons are bestial and almost alien in their behaviors and thoughts; in my opinion, every bit as authentic as good dragons should be. It was awesome! I don’t know that we’ll see a continuation anytime soon, but after finally learning more about Elderling lore (often alluded to throughout the entire Farseer saga and finally just scratching the surface of possibilities here) I can’t see her just leaving it at that. If you’re a Hobb fan, The Rain Wild Chronicles is a must-read. If you’re a fantasy fan, this author is well worth your time! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a new Fitz and the Fool tale to dive into…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Elvenbane by Andre Norton & Mercedes Lackey

ElvenbaneTitle: Elvenbane

Authors: Andre Norton & Mercedes Lackey

Series: Halfblood Chronicles #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Two masters of epic fantasy have combined in this brilliant collaboration to create a rousing tale of the sort that becomes an instant favorite. This is the story of Shana, a halfbreed born of the forbidden union of an Elvenlord father and a human mother. Her exiled mother dead, she was rescued and raised by dragons, a proud, ancient race who existed unbeknownst to elven or humankind. From birth, Shana was the embodiment of the Prophecy that the all-powerful Elvenlords feared. Her destiny is the enthralling adventure of a lifetime.

The Review:

The first half of this book is a perfect case study in how “telling” versus “showing” can be wildly entertaining. The authors took a lot of time to build this world and explain the dynamics between the races within it, and I found myself devouring the pages, eager to learn as much as I could. It was such a cool concept for a story – all-powerful elves who came to the world from another realm and basically took over, forcing the humans to cater to their every whim. Enter the shape-shifting dragons, also fleeing another world, who were trying to keep their existence secret from the elves but couldn’t resist dabbling in their affairs. Then put a halfbreed girl in the middle of all of this, and I’m on board.

It was unique, to say the least, and the best part was the spin on traditional race roles within fantasy novels. Not to mention the abundance of dragons! Sure, they behaved more like humans than dragons, but there was enough dragon lore involved that I didn’t mind it. Watching a small girl grow up among them was easily my favorite segment of the entire novel. It really is a shame it only lasted a couple of chapters…

The thing that knocked this book off of its five-star rating for me is that I got about 80% through it, then had to stop and figure out what the arc of the story was supposed to be. You see, the authors took a couple of weird tangents – ones I enjoyed reading, but I couldn’t figure out how they advance the plot or developed character. Now, I love tangents as much is the next girl, but to have them loaded near the end of the book? And to have them be so jarring? I kept thinking maybe I had missed something only to flip back a page and realize: nope… It really did just take a left turn. Had it been any other time during the novel, it would’ve been okay, but in this case it pulled me out of it when I felt I should’ve been the most engaged. I’m betting it had something to do with the difficulties of coordinating a book between two authors. This is the only time I’ve noticed a definite discord within a dual-authorship involving Mercedes Lackey, so it was probably a fluke.

Overall, I liked Elvenbane because I’ve never read anything quite like it. It had so many great ideas that, despite trouble with pacing near the end, I will be picking up the sequel. If you already read a ton of fantasy/dragon books, I’d recommend this one. However, if you’re new to the genre I’d have you read some of my favorites first.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

Dragon songTitle: Dragonsong

Author: Anne McCaffrey

Series: Harper Hall Trilogy #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Every two hundred years or so, shimmering threads fall, raining black ruin on Pern. The great dragons of Pern hurl themselves through the beleaguered skies, flaming tongues of fire to destroy deadly Thread and save the planet. It was not Threadfall that made Menolly unhappy. It was her father who betrayed her ambition to be a Harper, who thwarted her love of music. Menolly had no choice but to run away. She came upon a group of fire lizards, wild relatives of the fire-breathing dragons. Her music swirled about them; she taught nine to sing, suddenly Menolly was no longer alone.

Dragon song 2

The Review:

This is going to be a fairly short review for a really great dragon book. I don’t know that I can honestly claim to have a Dragon Obsession with out having read at least a few McCafferys (although I’d like to note I eventually plan on reading all them). Even though Dragonsong is only the first book of the Harper Hall Trilogy, I can already tell it’s going to be just as good as the original Dragonriders of Pern series.

As with Pern, I initially had trouble getting into the flow of the story because of the writing style – it’s not exactly what I would call accessible. McCaffrey uses a rather high-brow language that can sometimes make you feel as if you’re trying to read a textbook. While I think the more readers you can retain with your writing the better, this particular writing style is part of what makes these books unique, so they get a lot of allowances where other books might not. I only had a difficult time focusing at the beginning of the book, but once I settled into the flow of the language, the story came alive.

I absolutely love Dragonsong’s storyline – it’s about a teenaged girl who accidentally enthralls a bunch of fire lizards with her remarkable music. The main character, Mellony, was as charming as she was atypical. She is not a petite, helpless little waif but a tall, strong, capable young woman who knows what she wants out of life (even though she doesn’t always get it). I found her incredibly likable because of how humble, hard-working, compassionate she was – I can totally see why the fire lizards were drawn to her.

I liked this story so much that I’m kind of kicking myself for not continuing on straight away. I’m eager to see where Mellony’s story takes her next and am secretly hoping for some sort of love story to develop. Overall, if you like McCaffery (or dragons in general) I think you’ll enjoy Dragonsong. It takes place chronologically after Dragonquest of the Dragonriders of Pern series, but right before The White Dragon, so you may at the very least want to read the first two of that trilogy to avoid spoilers. In trying to figure out what order to read the books in, I found the lists on this website very helpful.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

seraphinaTitle: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Series: Seraphina #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high. Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

The Review:

Since I featured Shadow Scale in a recent WoW post, I figured I should probably get around to writing my review of Seraphina. As someone who openly professes to have a Dragon Obsession, I’m surprised it took me as long as it did to read this one. Well, I guess it’s not too surprising. You see, I initially found the overview a bit dry and didn’t think the cover was particularly appealing (and still don’t even though there’s nothing technically wrong with it). Even so, it’s a YA dragon book, so I knew I still wanted to read it… eventually. So, when my Escape Reality Book Club voted it in as March’s selection, I was thrilled to have the excuse I finally needed to pick it up.

As I’ve implied, I’ve read quite a few dragon books in my day, and  Seraphina was not quite like any one of them. The unique take on dragonkind, specifically how they interacted with humans, was as refreshing as it was different: as accomplished scholars, some dragons take the form of humans and more or less integrate into their society. What I liked is that, even though the dragons were in human form, their behavior was anything but human. It was nice to see them stay true to their nature and I especially loved seeing how they interacted and coped with everyone around them. Overall, I think the book had a great atmosphere – some of which was due to the voice and setting, but most of it stemmed from the quirks of these cool dragons.

While the storyline was unique, I have to say nothing particularly epic happens. It’s honestly a good thing the atmosphere, characters, and dragons were interesting because otherwise the story would have really been a drag. In fact, even with all of those cool elements, there were a few places I found a bit boring… specifically the dream sequences. I should point out that I have very little patience for dream sequences in general, which definitely affected my overall rating of the book. I doubt many other readers would be bothered by them, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.

Anyway, I enjoyed Seraphina enough to be interested in seeing where it goes next in Shadow Scale, although I’ll definitely be at risk of forgetting key elements by the time it comes out in 2015.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes