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Book Review: Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan

Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan

Title: Turning Darkness Into Light

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: N/A (yet… and technically it’s a next-gen continuation of the Memoirs of Lady Trent)

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late. -Goodreads

The Review:

Marie Brennan delivers again! Although the first Memoirs of Lady Trent book garnered mixed emotions from me, the series quickly developed into one of the most personally meaningful ones I’ve ever read. It spoke to me on so many levels, foremost of which was Lady Trent’s passion for understanding dragons. The whole caboodle was summarized beautifully with this quote:

“It’s the way we find the things we’re passionate about and then chase them with everything we’ve got.”

It’s precisely what I love about the series because it focuses on highly skilled people with a relentless determination for following their passions, having grand adventures, and making epic discoveries. The specific focus for Turning Darkness Into Light was on transcribing ancient Draconian texts, and I have to say I ate up every detail. The only downside to this spinoff is that if had absolutely nothing to do with dragons, which was a bummer, but I frankly was so absorbed that I didn’t notice their absence until well into the book.

The characters were great. I love that they felt relatable because they all had prominent flaws. Flaws that risked making them unlikable at times (which for me always makes them far more interesting to read about… Robin Hobb’s Elderling series comes to mind as a prime example of this aspect). But they were also focused and impassioned, and the magic of the book was experiencing the highs and lows of their discovery journey.

The format was also a positive aspect. Told using an epistolary technique, it broke up the same old story presentations and was done cleverly enough that I didn’t feel anything lacked because she didn’t utilize more traditional layouts. It added more personality to an already effervescent read.

If I had any one complaint about the story, it was that I didn’t find the content of the text they were translating very interesting. The whole book kind of revolved around it, and I appreciate what it added to the story, but I would’ve preferred something different (I have a specific in mind but I don’t want to give any spoilers. The discovery is half the fun of this read!). As far as objections go, that one’s pretty minor.

Overall, If I could have one job, dragon naturalist would be at the very top of the list. Lady Trent allowed me to live vicariously through the characters, and will always have a special place in my heart. I’m so glad the storyline continued, even if it had a new focus with the next generation of researchers. It appealed to my highly organized and detail-oriented bookseller self on another level. Brennan seems to get what makes me tick… I think we’d get along.

Recommendations: this would be a rather difficult book to fully appreciate if you haven’t read Memoirs of Lady Trent first. It’s a next-generation continuation focused on the development of Lady Trent’s most famous discoveries. I’d recommend reading that series first, and please give it a bit to get going. I had a love/hate relationship with A Natural History of Dragons, but eventually came to adore the series as a whole. It’s dragon-tastic and completely endearing to obsessed souls like myself. Dragons rock. Even though this continuation wasn’t about dragons, it still had all the same appeal as the first series channeled into even more of an academic focus. So this one was kind of book-tastic instead, and I didn’t hate it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

Title: League of Dragons

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #9

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Temeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good! -Goodreads

The Review:

Whelp, I finally finished this series. I can’t say League of Dragons knocked my socks off, but that’s pretty much par for the course for most of the series. The conclusion had a lot of fun story components, but ultimately it lacked any sort of momentum.

I think I was expecting more of a climactic ending. Anything, really, to make me FEEL something… but League of Dragons was just as casual in its events as most of the books before it. Things got going towards the last 25% of the book, but it didn’t carry out. Just my imaginings on what I thought could happen were more eventful, and I’m generally not very creative when it comes to plot design.

Saying I didn’t feel anything at the series ending isn’t precisely true. I felt a bit sad that I wouldn’t get anymore time with Temeraire and the other dragons. They’re really where the magic of the series lies, and I’ll miss the fun they brought. If you could par everything down to just the bits involving them, you’d have pure gold. They exude personality and animation, with this humorous, sometimes frustrating practicality that only Novik’s dragons embody. I love that their rationale and thinking is so different than ours. It makes them authentic. And delightful. They saved some of the slower books entirely for me and they’re the only reason I don’t feel remorse at spending so much time with this series. They’re also why I’m continuing to recommend at least the first three books.

I look at this series with affection, despite its flaws, but it definitely isn’t perfect. As I’ve mentioned, it’s missing a sustainable plot beyond the first three books, but it also suffers from lack of character depth. We very seldom get more than a surface-level emotion or reaction from the characters. Novik is usually more focused on what’s happening than what it feels like to go through it. The descriptors help us know the characters are feeling things, but beyond the first trilogy I never felt anything but arm’s-distance as a reader.

Recommendations: overall, despite a few flaws, I think the series is worth reading. I only felt a deep connection to the first book, and found rest to be fun, light reads with not much depth. So if you’re going to read fantasy fluff (beyond the first three books, which I believe was only initially intended to be a trilogy but got picked up for more because of its popularity), choose this one because, you know, dragons!!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron

Last Dragon Standing

Title: Last Dragon Standing

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: Heartstrikers #5

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Fantasy [Hybrid]

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Dear Reader, There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last. -Goodreads

The Review:

My thoughts on this final book (reluctant disappointment) are vastly different from my thoughts of the series as a whole (happy feelings). The series is such a unique blend of genres and ideas, with some of the most memorable characters you’ll ever come across. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Book #3) is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. All that said, although I loved where the story ended, I had quite a few issues with how it got there and can’t help but feel let down by the overall execution of the last two novels of this series.

My #1 Issue: pacing. Rachel Aaron is also known for her super insightful 10000 words a day writing technique (one I’ve tried and it really makes a difference!). Unfortunate, I think all of that unbridled word vomit inevitably led to two final books that were unnecessarily drawn out, wordy, and dialogue-driven than necessary. At least 90% of Last Dragon Standing was strictly dialogue – rehashing ideas and other endless explanations and discussions. The 10% of actual plot advancement was amazing 5-star quality writing, it just took FOREVER to get there. I sincerely think the series could’ve turned out amazing had books 4 and 5 been condensed into a single novel. I did not pick up anything new in book 5 that wasn’t explained 10 different ways throughout book 4, and all of that endless dialogue effectively killed any momentum it had going for it coming into the finale. I maintain that a more concise flow would’ve made for an absolutely KILLER conclusion to this series. Overall, it felt very… self indulgent seems to harsh a phrase, but it definitely looks to me as though the story could’ve benefited from an more impartial outside perspective (such as a publishing house) by requiring a more intensive edit. That’s just my personal opinion on the matter based in part on comparing these last two books to her other trad-pub titles (which had perfect pacing).

Whatever the cause, the end result felt an opportunity wasted.

But is the series still worth reading? That’s an easy: absolutely!

I went into this final book with clear expectations, so I was specifically looking for things to go a certain way. At the end of book 4, I stated: “I swear if they try to rationalize and discuss things with the enemy in the final book, I’m going to throw a fit” … which I did. And: “If she can write at least 50% of the final book without endless dialogue and explanation, I’ll be happy” …which I wasn’t. So you can see how I set myself up for a bit of disappointment. However, the friends I read it with over at Fantasy Buddy Reads didn’t dive in with such a picky mindset, and for the most part loved the dialogue and character immersion this book had to offer. They had so much fun with it, and I was the raincloud on their parade (I hate it when I do that). Also keep in mind that this series produced one of my favorite books EVER (#3) and I still absolutely loved the vast majority of it. I am just feeling very over-critical of the final installment. For what it’s worth, I really like how it ended. :)

Recommendations: Heartstrikers is an excellent series to dive into if you like fun characters, dragons, great world-building, more dragons, and awesome moments. My personal issues with the final book aside, it’s a unique series well worth your time of you’re in the mood to have some fun. :)

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: Prophecy by Elizabeth Haydon

ProphecyTitle: Prophecy

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Symphony of Ages #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: In Rhapsody, a fellowship was forged–three companions who, through great adversity, became a force to be reckoned with: Rhapsody, a singer of great talent and even greater beauty; Achmed, an assassin with unearthly talents; and Grunthor, a giant Sergeant-Major whose jolly disposition stands at odds with his deadly skill at weapons. Having fled the F’dor–an ancient, powerful evil–the three emerged on the other side of the world, only to discover fourteen centuries had passed. Their homeland had been destroyed, their people scattered across several continents, and everyone they ever knew had long since passed away…except, perhaps, the F’dor.

Prophecy continues this powerful epic. Driven by a prophetic vision, Rhapsody races to rescue the religious leader of her new homeland while Achmed and Grunthor seek evidence of the F’dor. These three may be their world’s only hope, the heroes spoken of in the Prophecy of the Three, but their time is running short. They must find their elusive enemy before his darkness consumes them all.

Prophecy

The Review:

This is actually my second read-through of this novel. Why I chose to reread one of the most long-winded fantasies out there is beyond me, but at the time it perfectly suited my mood, so no regrets. You see, back in December (yes, it has taken me that long to get around to writing this review… embarrassing) I had signed up for so many NetGalley and Edelweiss ARCs that my life pretty much revolved around “obligation” reading. I finally got fed up and picked up this 700 page behemoth and completely indulge myself in it for two whole weeks. A reading vacation, if you will. It’s not totally as random as it sounds, as I had just finished a reread of the first book for a book club about a year earlier, so I had intended on continuing anyway.

[Jump forward a few months: Haydon is once again writing, and the release of her 7th “Symphony of Ages” bookThe Merchant Emperor, (which I’ve been waiting for for eight years) was finally released. So it turns out my reread couldn’t have come at a better time.]

My impressions of the book this time around are mostly positive ones, reminding me why I’d enjoyed it so much. Knowing what was going to happen obviously took away a little bit of that build up and excitement I felt the first time around, but it also freed up my attention to focus on other things. Ahem:

On one hand, I noted the excellent world building (specifically with the creation of the many nonhuman races), appreciated how thorough and rounded the plot was, and could clearly see how integrated dragons were into the story (because to me it wasn’t always that obvious). I also more than ever appreciate the excellent characters and how each of their stories culminate into a satisfying story arc.

On the other hand, I also noticed how incredibly long-winded and repetitive the writing was. I don’t remember that bothering me the first time around, but I definitely think Haydon could have shaved off a couple hundred pages of reminiscing and still had all of the things that made the story great. I don’t actually consider it a boring book, by any means – there was some really good bits of awesomeness thrown into the monotony that made reading through the rambling all worthwhile. I’m just saying I found several places where Haydon could have just cut to the chase. Furthermore, there were several instances where she would ramble on and on for dozens of pages about things that were secondary to the plot and only to skim over details of something within the immediate story. It was designed to have a more dramatic effect, but I think those moments might have been wasted opportunities to make the book more active rather than passive.

I also was a tad surprised at how confrontational and, shall I say it, downright bitchy the main character acted on occasion. I definitely don’t remember it being that prominent the first time around, but I’m thinking the overall arc of the story was so interesting I was mostly focused on that. In any case, once you get past the part where the characters are bristling at every little thing (say, the first half of the book), they mellow out a little bit and you’re really able to dive into the compelling parts of the story. 

As you can see, I’ve a bit of love/hate with this book… but am leaning more on the love side. Yes, it has some flaws, but it also has moments of brilliance to balance them out. I enjoyed every moment I spent reading it, but will probably stop my reread and jump right into the newest book next (I waited eight years, I definitely don’t want to wait any longer). If you are wondering whether or not this series is a good match for you, I’d say if you don’t mind slow fantasy reads, this book has brilliant world building, plot design, characters, and momentum, it just may take wading through a lot of words to find them.

 Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Dragon Obsession – The Visual Files

dragon1

 It has been a while since I’ve indulged in a Dragon Obsession post, but I found this guy while searching for some clipart and I thought he was too cool not to share! What I love about it is the unique shape of the wings and the beautiful use of color. I think this one would be really for fun to paint if I ever get the time. I tried to figure out who designed it initially, but all that kept coming up in my research were free wallpaper pages, so I guess it’s fair game if any of you want to use it as your desktop photo. :-)

by Niki Hawkes