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Book Review: The Dragon’s Lair by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: Dragon’s Lair

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme #3

Genre: Middle Grade

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Barely one day after fulfilling his second mission for King Vandemere as Royal Reporter of the land of Serendair, young Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme—known as Ven—is off on another adventure. To keep them safe from the wrath of the Thief Queen, whose rage at their escape from the Gated City knows no bounds, the king sends Ven and his friends on an important mission. Their journey takes them across a wondrous land filled with marvels—and danger. For the mission the king entrusts to Ven is a delicate one: to discover the cause of a dispute between two warring kingdoms—and the answer leads Ven straight into the lair of a very angry dragon…. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is a fun middle grade adventure, but I can’t help but wonder if the author could’ve taken things a bit further.

For example, the majority of the first half of the book dealt with the characters gearing up for an adventure, whereas I think the page count might have been better spent experiencing things on the adventure itself. It seemed like a lot of buildup for a relatively short payoff. I did like the discoveries made along the way and the new places we got to visit, but finished the book wishing we’d spent more time exploring.

That seems to be the resounding theme of the series for me so far – much less adventure (and fewer dragons) than I was hoping for. The concept of the series promises visiting lands far and wide, and while I feel the first book delivered, these second two paled a bit by comparison. The next one promises and underwater adventure, so I’ll definitely finish out the series to see if as a whole the juice is worth the squeeze.

The characters in this book were quite rude to one another, in a manner that felt a little forced and inconsistent. It bugged me, and I can’t tell if it was more the rudeness itself or the inconsistency, but either way this is the first time I’ve found anything critical to say about the characterizations in this series.

Overall, my favorite thing about it is still the concept – the author is presenting herself as an archeologist in this land who found remnants of Ven Polypheme’s journals and sketches from his adventures and is attempting to piece them back together and fill in the gaps. It’s quite clever, and I support the initiative if not always the specific execution.

Recommendations: Symphony of Ages fans might delight in tales from the same world of Serendair (I know I am). Whereas middle grade readers might appreciate the adventurous main character, fun drawings, and interesting races and creatures found within the pages. At this point in the series I’m glad I’m reading it but it’s not standing out as a favorite.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Title: Joust

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Series: Dragon Jousters #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Vetch was an Altan serf working the land which had once been his family’s farm. Young and slight, Vetch would have died of overwork, exposure, and starvation if not for the anger which was his only real sustenance–anger that he had lost his home and family in a war of conquest waged by the dragon-riding Jousters of Tia. Tia had usurped nearly halt of Alta’s lands and enslaved or killed many of Vetch’s countrymen. Sometimes it seemed that his entire cruel fate revolved around dragons and the Jousters who rode them. But his fate changed forever the day he first saw a dragon…. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m thrilled to say that Joust held up to the test of time.

I’d first read it some 15 odd years ago, back when I’d done more than dip my toes into the fantasy, but didn’t yet consider myself a well-rounded reader of the genre. I was worried a reread would showcase a story I’d given a lot of concessions to because of how much I love dragons. While that’s probably still the case today, time and distance didn’t alter my enjoyment of the book in the slightest.

Having buddy read Joust both times, it’s clear I’m always the one in the group who rates it the highest. Others like the story well enough, but sometimes struggle with the pacing. As someone who loveslovesloves the idea of following along the minutia, day-to-day monotony of taking care of a dragon, every part of this story sang to my soul. I even loved the few parts where he’s organizing his master’s chambers, lol. It was an immersive experience and I loved it.

The book does a great job at showcasing the dragons. They are the focal point of the story and Lackey doesn’t take a lot of extra time, save at the beginning, to highlight the external plot of this world. It was there, for sure, but the focus was ever on the dragons themselves. At this point in the series, I really couldn’t have cared less about what was going on beyond the walls of the dragon stables, but do concede that the conflict felt rather thin. I do remember it getting a bit more important and more well-done as the series progressed, but I’d have to continue my reread to be sure.

Recommendations: if you’re as enamored with dragons as I am, you’ll have a lot of fun with this series. It remains one of my all-time favorites, perhaps even more so after my reread. Venture in expecting a slow, intimate plot centered on a boy and his dragon. :)

Other DRAGON books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Title: Eragon

Author: Christopher Paolini

Series: Inheritance Cycle #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: One boy…One dragon… A world of adventure. When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands. -Goodreads

The Review:

I first picked up Eragon when I was 19 – two years after the book came out in 2003. I was reading it in anticipation for the second novel, which was one of my first ARCs as a bookseller. At the time, I’d been reading adult fantasy for a few years, but was by no means well-versed in the genre. Eragon satisfied all my basic expectations for a book of its type, and I was enamored with the fact that it was written by a teen (something I’d probably cringe away from now). I remember finding it inspiring – if he could do it, then I could too. I had a bit of trouble with pacing somewhere in the middle, but after cresting that hill I enjoyed it thoroughly until the end. My archaic, handwritten review at the time claimed, “Anyone who likes fantasy should read this. It would make a very entertaining movie one day (I should’ve specified: if done well, lol).”

Fast forward almost 10 years to 2014, I snagged an audio copy for a reread with the intention of making it beyond the second book to finish the series (…which I still haven’t done). Ten years of avid fantasy reading and a plethora of writing experiences under my belt, and I’ll admit all the things about Eragon that captured me when I was young just didn’t hold up to my aged scrutiny. The writing was clunky and, while massively impressive considering the author’s age, it was clear there were a lot of things that needed work (especially in the opening chapters). I also noted the story itself wasn’t all that original, and could name half a dozen dragon books I thought did the concept a bit better. However, I could still appreciate the appeal it had to me as a teen. It’s an inviting story for a younger audience, and great for easing them into the genre. Excitement for books like this is what drove my own reading ambitions, so I seldom discount them.

Series status: I have yet to finish the series, despite several copies in various formats at my disposal and plenty of opportunity. I finally had to admit the story just doesn’t sing to me like it did when I was younger. I really wish the wait between books hadn’t been so long because I think I’d have continued in earnest had they been published earlier.

Recommendations: Eragon provides a fun way to get the younger crowd engaged in the fantasy genre, but it probably won’t hold up to scrutiny to the more seasoned fantasy readers. Or writers. Even so, it’s now what I would consider a classic in the genre for how many kids it entertained (myself included), so I’d still mark it a good recommend.

Other (dragon) books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Title: Part-Time Gods

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Life in the magical mess of the Detroit Free Zone is never easy. When you’re laboring under the curse of a certain prideful, overbearing dragon, it can be down right impossible. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner. At least, I used to be. Thanks to the supernatural bad luck that turns everything I do against me, these days I’m more of a walking disaster. Getting rid of this curse is the only way to get my life back. Unfortunately, dragon magic is every bit as sneaky and deadly the monsters behind it, and just as hard to beat. But I’ve never been one to take her doom at face value. Cornered doesn’t mean defeated, and in an awakened city that rules herself, dragons are no longer the biggest powers around. -Goodreads

The Review:

More adventures in the DFZ!! This delightful spinoff series is shaping up to be even more solid than Heartstrikers… I’m loving it.

I binged Part-Time Gods in a single day – its one of those fun, lighthearted books that function as palate-cleansers between heavier fantasy novels. The story revolved around MC Opal going to creative extremes trying to shake off a dragon curse laid on her, which was my favorite element of the book. It added on to the already interesting premise (reminiscent of the show Storage Wars), and gave a much more in-depth exploration the DFZ – a place/entity that has captured my attention since the first Heartstrikers book. And I haven’t even mentioned the dragons and how much I love their haughty, stubborn personalities (the hard-headedness between Opal and her father is a really satisfying contest of wills – I can’t wait to see it played out). All the things, people. This is a killer series.

The only thing holding me back from full praise is the budding love story… I have a few reservations. The characters are adorable and a total perfect fit, but the romantic tension isn’t working well for me. The characters are behaving almost unnaturally to avoid that “getting together” moment and I feel like there’s a lot of extremely forced and unnecessary conflict in play to keep them apart (plus a dose of uncharacteristic stupidity). It’s coming across as more of a writer’s construct to save some of the tension for the next book (which I can appreciate), but there was so much clear chemistry between the characters in this book (also a good thing) that dragging it on felt contrived. Hopefully this means the next book will be on fire.

Recommendations: If you like dragons, fun characters, and books that don’t fit the mold, this is my pick for you. Heartstikers was awesome – containing some of the best “omg!” moments I’ve read in ages, but it lacked a little consistency (I thought books 4 & 5 should’ve been tightened into a single story). This DFZ spin-off is so far much more even, and I’m loving every moment. Rachel Aaron/Bach is among my shortlist of favorite authors for a reason. Give her books a try for some fun!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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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