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Book Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Title: Throne of Jade

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces. Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await. -Goodreads

The Review:

Throne of Jade offered a relaxing continuation to the story, containing all of the elements I enjoyed in His Majesty’s Dragon. “Relaxing” might seem like an odd term to attribute to a military dragon story, but the smooth writing and slow pacing had me snuggling into my seat under a pile of blankets, enjoying what I would earnestly call a true “armchair adventure.” Exciting action scenes are spliced throughout the tale, but for the most part my expectations for this series has developed into a knowledge that I can just ease back into the immersion and trust that the gradual flow of the story is taking me somewhere worthwhile.

This series is playing havoc on my expectations for it. In His Majesty’s Dragon, I got a beautiful dragon/human bonding story that focused on their budding relationship… when I expected a full-blown military showdown and very little character development. In Throne of Jade, I got a nautical adventure with some great inter-character moments… when I was expecting most of the book to focus on some sort of military conflict with China (are you seeing the pattern here?). Honestly though, a lot of that has to do with marketing. If they really wanted to represent the contents of this book, a more accurate title would’ve been “Voyage to the Throne of Jade,” lol. Slight discrepancy aside, it was still a journey I was on board to take (pun), and the payoff with wonderful things experienced at the end of the book was worth the wait. The beautiful imagery surrounding the unique dragon culture Novik created was stunning, and I love the dynamics it added to the overall story and to Temeraire’s character profile. I can’t wait to see what surprises like this I’m in for in future books. :)

As impressed as I was with the story-weaving and world building, Temeraire and Lawrence are still the selling points of this series, and I imagine that will always continue to be the case. There was a lot of introspective dialogue between them in this installment, and I love how the dragon is beginning to shape some of his convictions. I also love how much I’ve learned about Novik’s vision for dragon culture evolution in this alternate world, and, as with fun surprises, look forward to seeing how she develops this throughout the series.

Series status: Temeraire is currently my #1 priority at the moment, and I’m trying to strike a balance between satisfying my cravings for them with my desire to also avoid burnout lol. Good stuff. :)

Recommendations: I would recommend this series to fantasy readers who don’t mind a slow-moving, character-focused plot. It’s a bonus if you like alternate history stories, but so far that aspect seems to be taking a backseat to general dragon awesomeness.

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: The Last Dragonlord by JoAnne Bertin

The last Dragon LordTitle: The Last Dragonlord

Author: JoAnne Bertin

Series: Dragonlord #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: First published in 1999, the Queen of one of the Dragonlords’ subject realms has suspiciously drowned and two regents vie for control of the vacant throne. At the same time, a secret society led by a sinister image has dark plans of its own. Linden realises that the deadly magic that holds him may make him the last dragonlord…ever.

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The Review:

I first read The Last Dragonlord and its sequel about ten years ago but decided to reread them because the final book in the trilogy (The Bard’s Oath) came out last year, and I’d been waiting so long for it that I’d totally forgotten what had happened in the first two books. I normally have pretty decent book-recall, but I didn’t seem to remember much of anything about this one other than that I liked it. While I enjoyed the story throughout this reread, it was not nearly as good as I remembered it. This was probably one of the first dragon books I read, so that may have positively influenced my initial rating, but since I’ve now become Dragon Obsessed, I can name at least a dozen titles I liked better.

That’s not to say that there was anything wrong with this book, necessarily, just a handful of things I thought could’ve been better. It was an incredibly unconventional story, which worked both for and against the author. On one hand, nothing about it followed along the same old cliché story lines, so that in itself was refreshing, but the choices that were in it place were just a little too odd for my taste.

To start with, Linden, the hero of the story, was kind of an ass. I found him selfish, impulsive, and severely lacking in compassion and common sense. He definitely didn’t inspire any confidence in his ability to handle the broad conflicts, and I found myself unable to really get behind him. The good news is that all of the other characters (at least, the ones on the “good” side) were absolutely delightful. So, even though the main protagonist was kind of a flop in my book (pun intended), all of the other interesting characters kept me reading long after I would have thrown in the towel. There were a ton of different POVs from which the story was told, which may have helped me ignore Linden, but I’m still on the fence as to whether I liked them or not.

You see, the story starts out by bouncing around a dozen different perspectives – all within the first fifty pages. I found it frustrating and a bit difficult to keep track of them all as the story progressed… that is until I finally started seeing some of them on a consistent basis. So on one hand it’s great because if you have a character you don’t like, you’re not with them for very long, but on the other hand all of those perspectives means there’s not much left for the reader to discover. And that brings me to my next observation:

The interesting thing about this book is that the first third of it was a perfect case study in dramatic irony (when the audience knows something characters do not). I’m typically not a fan of that writing tactic because it takes away almost all feelings of suspense and discovery, and I wind up impatient and antsy for the characters’ knowledge to catch up with my own. It kind of keeps the reader at an arms distance because, while the characters were feeling the stress and tension, I already knew what was really going on so it didn’t affect me as much. On top of that, there were quite a few scenes that didn’t really add to either character growth or plot advancement, so I had to wait even longer for the characters to figure out the things that I’d learned a hundred pages ago. Needless to say, reading this book was a bit more of a struggle than it could have been. 

I have a whole bunch of reasons why I didn’t value the book is highly as I could have, but I finished it, so that should speak to some positive attributes. I enjoyed the overall arc of the story, the writing itself, and the creativity and vividness of the scenes and the people. While this won’t go down as the best book I’ve ever read, it still sits comfortably in the “enjoyable” slot, and I will definitely be continuing on to reread the second and finally get the conclusion I’ve been craving with the third. If you’re in the mood for something dazzlingly unconventional, The Last Dragonlord definitely fits the bill.

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

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Coming Soon: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

shadow ScaleTitle: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Series: Seraphina  #2

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Release Date: March 10, 2015

The Overview: The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

shadow Scale 2

Hosted by Breaking the Spine

Seraphina was one of our Escape Reality Book Club picks earlier this year and I’m grateful it finally gave me the chance to read it – I enjoyed it thoroughly. How a book containing dragons managed to escape my attention for so long is beyond me, but  I am happy I only have to wait a year to pick up the sequel  (it’s been a long time in the making). Seraphina provided a different take on dragons and I quite like where the story is headed. While this won’t be at the top of my list of have-to-have books next spring, I’ll definitely still want a copy.

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes