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Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Title: His Majesty’s Dragon

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire. -Goodreads

The Review:

Woe is me for not having read this years ago!

I had this amazing dragon book sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years… and I’m surprised no one revoked my membership to the dragon obsession club (not a real thing). In all fairness, the way people described this book and series gave me a very different impression than what the first book actually entailed. They’d say, “it’s an alternate military history, but with dragons.” I’m sure that description is completely accurate for the series as a whole, but had someone mentioned even briefly that His Majesty’s Dragon was less about alt-history as a focus (even though that was an essential setting component) and more about the forming bond between a man and his dragon, I’d have been on board the Temeraire ship years ago. Unfortunately first impressions caused me to hold off. When it came out I was in the middle of college and the last thing I wanted to do was put down one text book and pick up another (even if the new one had dragons). I thought I’d be bored with the historical elements and recycled battle scenes. All the discussions I’d had about it with customers made me think I was getting into a dry historical retelling that took itself too seriously. This is SO NOT THE CASE!!

The relationship between man and dragon is 100% the appeal of the book for me. It’s a slowly paced plot that focuses on the bond and establishes the groundwork for what’s to come. Because of the aforementioned expectations for the series, I’m certain some ventured in looking for battle sequences, military strategy, and loads of historical references, but were bored with their lack (which is an irony considering my boredom might have stemmed from those things being present if I’d read it 10 years ago). As I said, perhaps the series as a whole will offer those things, but for me this book offered perfect immersion into what it’s like to be a dragonrider (or Aerialist) in training.

Now that my tastes have broadened, I’m actually looking forward to seeing the historical immersion in future books, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to get me to pick up the series. The dragons are my main motivation. Not only was Temeraire a fascinating creature, but so were the many other varieties of dragons (aka Niki’s dragon heaven). I loved the training aspects and can’t wait to see those put into good use, I loved the commander of the training encampment (you’ll see), and I loved the relationships and dynamics beginning to form between all the trainees and their dragons. Basically, this is the book I’ve been hounding to find all my life. 😭

The slow burn of this novel might have bored a few people, but I reveled in every single moment. It had me so wrapped up, I even shed a tear or two (I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry). The combination of a fantastic main character, sentient dragons (filled with awesomeness), and the overall theme of the series set His Majesty’s Dragon up as one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one!

Recommendations: Read this book if you like dragons. It’s a bonus if you also like alt-history. ;P

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Title: An Accident of Stars

Author: Foz Meadows

Series: Manifold Worlds #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war. There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest. Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic. Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying? -Goodreads

The Review:

There were many aspects I enjoyed about An Accident of Stars even though the story never developed to its fullest potential. It’s a fun, light read for those who like classic portal-fantasies.

The diverse cast of characters (boasting some LGBT awesomeness) were easily the best component of the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed reading each POV (which bounced around in almost an omniscient style at times) and appreciated how well developed they all were. Even during the slower moments, my interest in the characters kept me engaged.

The book also impressed me with its creatively constructed clash of original cultures. Primarily two very distinct peoples with clear customs, religions, and styles. They were so interesting to read about that I wish all of the other world building elements had reached this level of development.

Most of the settings and overall atmosphere creation were decent, but there were definitely a few elements that could’ve been pushed further. The author had the framework and creativity to present a completely original world, but seemed to choose the easy way out when it mattered the most. The use of horses as mounts (when there was already a substitute built into the story – see cover image) is a great example of what I mean. I’m not gonna lie, seeing the Roa on the cover was one of my main reasons for picking up the book, as I was hoping it was an indication that the story would contain a plethora of original flora and fauna. The presence of horses (and a few other blatantly “our world” elements) dissolved the magic for me a bit. It was on the cusp of being what I wanted so many times before pulling back that I can’t help but feel it an opportunity wasted.

Another element that fell shy of my expectations was the politics. As I mentioned, Meadows did a great job setting up unique cultures and religions, and even set the stage right off the bat for an interesting government… but then really didn’t do anything with it for the rest of the book. I was expecting something so much more complex, but the focus was definitely on looking from the bottom-up (how everyone is affected) than from the top-down (how to affect everyone else), so the plot came off as reactionary. This may not bother some readers as much as it did me. I’ve just been immersing myself in fantasy novels abundant in political intrigue and complex plotlines lately that the straightforward non-involvement of political movement really stuck out as a deficiency to me.

My final thoughts are on the general pacing of the novel. The first half of the book contained a lot of “organizing,” where it sort of felt like the plot stalled while key players were moved into position. Generally speaking, I don’t usually mind this as long as the characters and their dynamics are interesting, as was the case here. What I ultimately object to is that if the book is going to build towards something, there’d better be a payoff. Unfortunately I don’t think the juice was worth the squeeze in this instance. The story didn’t really do anything after all of that preparation that it couldn’t have done by just jumping straight into the action. In summation: I didn’t mind it while I was reading (because the characters were bomb), but in hindsight I’m not really happy with where the story went. That is, until the very end. So many interesting things were introduced within the last 5% of the book that I’m actually excited to continue on. Hopefully all the things on the cusp in this book will slam dunk in the next one.

Overall, as my points emphasize, I think this could’ve been something truly amazing, but in the end it was just a solid “I liked it” kind of book. I have a positive attitude towards the author’s writing and look forward to seeing if she’ll develop her ideas to the next-level in future books.

Recommendations: I’d hand this to fantasy readers who love that classic portal-fantasy storyline. It gets bonus points for equally interesting and diverse LGBT characters who carry the story through some slower moments. A fun read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien De Castell

Traitor's Blade by Sebastien De Castell

Title: Traitor’s Blade

Author: Sebastien De Castell

Series: Greatcoats #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike. Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn… -Goodreads

The Review:

This is one of those books that improves as it goes. My initial impression from just the first chapter was not fantastic. The story was told in a very over-the-top sarcastic voice that was almost condescending to the reader. It made me question whether the book would offer enough substance, or if I was in for a whole lot of bolstering and nothing else. Thankfully, about the point I would’ve gotten fed up, it started to tone down and I had just enough interest to keep going.

Then I hit about the halfway point and magic happened. I’m still not sure exactly what changed, but I was shocked to find myself suddenly unwilling to put it down. Who’d have thought a 1 or 2 star beginning would turn into a 4 to 5 star ending? And the second book was even better (RTC on that).

I’ve heard Greatcoats described as an alternate take on the Three Musketeers, and can’t say I disagree with that assessment. It has the same spirit of camaraderie, loyalty, and humor. But it definitely differs in delivery by amping up the sarcasm and humor to just shy of tolerable at times (this definitely relaxes as the story progresses, turning into much-needed comedic relief for some of the more intense scenes). Eventually it finds its balance, but the dynamics between the three Greatcoats was definitely a consistent highlight throughout.

Traitor’s Blade introduced some cool plot ideas I don’t think I’ve seen before, and I really liked how the story developed. It truly surprised me how much I ended up loving the second half of the book. This is one of those rare instances where I’m glad I stuck with it.

Recommendations: Traitor’s Blade had a very Locke Lamora attitude (on crack) that I think will appeal to fantasy readers who like a mix of humor and grit in their books. I think it’s safe to say that the beginning suffers a bit from being overdone, but if you stick with it, the payoff is well worth the effort.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Teckla by Steven Brust

Teckla by Steven Brust

Title: Teckla

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The third to be published, this is actually the fifth entry in the timeline of the VLAD TALTOS books, and it represents a darker, more serious turn in the series. Vladimir Taltos is a short-lived, short-statured Easterner (what we would call a human) in a world mostly populated by the long-lived, extremely tall Dragaerans. He is also an assassin and petty crimelord. His lifestyle and career require some difficult moral choices. When his wife Cawti joins an uprising of Easterners and peasant Dragaerans (the Teckla of the title), it causes a severe strain in their marriage, and Vlad begins to question those choices. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is one of the few series where I spend most of my time enjoying rather than analyzing. It’s complex enough to keep my interest (with random splashes of sarcasm that usually make me laugh), but easy-flowing enough that I can sit back and relax into it.

Nothing about this series is typical. Of the three I’ve read, so far Teckla was the least unconventional, but still boasted 100% world immersion. The author never explains anything, choosing instead to throw you into the deep end. It works though, because I pick up many intricacies of the world without having to be expressly told a thing. A good comparison is the principle behind the Rosetta Stone language program (where you learn the language organically as if it’s the only one you’ve heard). Brust’s storytelling works a lot alike that, which is why I feel so immersed with these books. Each novel seems to focus on a different culture/race, and as I read and recognize their names as titles of future books, making me all the more eager to get to those and find out more.

Overall, I’m in for the long haul of this series. They’re perfect palate cleansers between other novels and I appreciate what seems to me like a true merging of genres (with fantasy being the most prominent).

Recommendations: I’d hand this series to someone relatively well-read in the fantasy genre with emphasis on its originality. And humor.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Title: Dragon Hunters

Author: Marc Turner

Series: The Chronicles of the Exile #2

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass from the Southern Wastes into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. Alas, this year someone forgot to tell the dragon which is the hunter and which the hunted. Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords. She has no intention of standing down graciously. She instructs an order of priests called the Chameleons to infiltrate a citadel housing the mechanism that controls the Dragon Gate to prevent the gate from being lowered after it has been raised on Dragon Day. Imerle hopes the dozens of dragons thus unleashed on the Sabian Sea will eliminate her rivals while she launches an attack on the Storm Lord capital, Olaire, to secure her grip on power. But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in Olaire in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. When Imerle initiates her coup, that enemy makes use of the chaos created to show its hand. -Goodreads

The Review:

Dragon Hunters delivered all the elements that were missing from book one, with flare (and by flare I mean dragons). Sluggish plot progression wasn’t a problem here. I wouldn’t say Dragon Hunters was a particularly fast-paced book, but the things that happened within each perspective advanced the plot much more sufficiently than in the first book. Same with the plot-transparency – a lot of the devious plots remained shrouded in mystery until the end, which was not the case in book one (and a major component of my dissatisfaction). I said in my review of When the Heavens Fall that Turner had all of the components I look for in a storyteller, he just made some outlining decisions I wasn’t thrilled about. His skill shows itself nicely in this sequel and confirmed my guess that with a different outline, he’d be awesome.

The only thing Dragon Hunters still lacked for me was sufficiently distinct characters. They were all interesting to read about (and had great backstories), Turner just never took the time to give them any introspection or depth (with maybe one exception). There are two main male POVs and two main female POVs, and I had a hard time telling them apart. With each switch I had to consciously wrap my mind around which one had the spotlight. I probably missed a few details early on due to character confusion. Even so, I still enjoyed their basic profiles. But I can also see how improving them would’ve taken this story to the next level.

Since every other aspect was done to my satisfaction, I still value the book highly. I especially loved the setting (costal/island nations centered around pirates, political intrigue, and powers) and the extra bit of subtle world building in the form of a stone-skinned race and people with gills (both of which I’m eager to learn more about). Oh! And the different religions (specifically the Chameleon one) really sparked my interest. So overall, I had a ton of positive takeaways from this book.

Recommendations: Dragon Hunters was a lot stronger than the first book, containing a good mix of action, world building, religion, politics, and sea dragons. The characters probably won’t make you feel a lot of things, but they’re still fun to read about. This series wouldn’t be my pick for new fantasy readers, but is a good pick for Malazan fans looking for something slightly less intense.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Project Redwall: Rakkety Tam by Brian Jacques

[4/5 stars] I freaking loved these books as a kid. I read every single one of them multiple times and stayed up to date with the series until I graduated high school. Then for some reason, even though 5 more books were published in the series, I felt myself reluctant to pick them up. What if I didn’t like them as much? What if I was too old for Redwall?? What if the characters referenced a character I didn’t remember because it has been so long and I had to go back and reread them all to get the full experience??? Well, thankfully I finally decided to stop freaking out about all the things and took the plunge into my first Redwall book in 13 years: Rakkety Tam.

And you know what? I LOVED it. The storytelling was every bit as special as it was when I was a kid and my biggest takeaway was a newfound admiration for an author who produced 20+ books in a series and still took the same care to create amazing characters, fun situations, and compelling quests in book 16 as he did with book 1. You can truly see how much passion Jacques had for his stories (and how much creativity!).

Rakkety Tam offered a dashing hero, sufficiently wicked foebeasts, brilliant acts of courage, and a good lesson against greed and avarice. I especially liked the many scuffles and battles throughout and was actively cheering for the good guys by the end. And the bird!! This is the first book I can remember where a bird has a role in the story. They’re super funny in their mannerisms and I think I like them almost as much as the moles. Overall, this was a nice addition to the series.

I tried something new with this book: I listened to the audio while following along in the book. Normally I would’ve just breezed through the audio, but I felt the need to really take my time with this series. And after a few chapters, I decided to try both. I admit the decision wasn’t made totally out of nostalgia. The audiobooks contains a full cast of actors for the characters, with Jacques himself reading the narration. People, I couldn’t understand a freaking word he was saying at first (imagine Sean Connery reading to you… without enunciation). I’m used to his dialect now, but I would’ve missed so much had I not changed what I was doing.

It worked out though, because while listening I discovered how much unbridled FUN it was listening to a cast of voices, especially when they start singing the adorable songs & ditties Jacques loved to include throughout his books. It turned the entire story into an experience, and one I’m beyond happy to have had. Overall, I love that I’m finally continuing, and that I’m having as much fun (if not more) than I did as a kid.

Recommendations: these books aren’t like Watership Down or the Fire Bringer where the reader is thrust into the unassuming lives of woodland creatures (snore), but robust, well-spun adventures where the heroes brandish swords and the villains come for blood! It’s brilliant because it has everything you’d expect from a adult fantasy novel, but it’s use of mice, otters, etc. make it accessible to kids. It’s a series with so much fun and adventure that I’d recommend it highly to any middle grade kid looking to discover books she/he could love.

My favorites in the series (so far):

by Niki Hawkes