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Book Review: The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon

The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: The Floating Island

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme #1

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Long ago, in the Second Age of history, a young Nain explorer by the name of Ven Polypheme traveled much of the known and unknown world, recording his adventures. Recently discovered by archaeologists, a few fragments of his original journals are reproduced in this book. Great care has been taken to reconstruct the parts of the journal that did not survive, so that a whole story can be told… Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme–known as Ven–is the youngest son of a long line of famous shipwrights. He dreams not of building ships, but of sailing them to far-off lands where magic thrives. Ven gets his chance when he is chosen to direct the Inspection of his family’s latest ship–and sets sail on the journey of a lifetime. Attacked by fire pirates, lost at sea and near death, Ven is rescued by a passing ship on its way to the Island of Serendair. Thankful to be alive, little does Ven know that the pirate attack–and his subsequent rescue–may not have been an accident. Shadowy figures are hunting for the famed Floating Island, the only source of the mystical Water of Life. They think Ven can lead them to this treasure, and will stop at nothing to get it–even murder. In a narrative that alternates entries from his journals and drawings from his sketchbooks, Ven begins the famous chronicles of his exciting and exotic adventures–adventures that would later earn him renown as the author of The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic. –Goodreads

The Review:

Middle grade books have a special place in my heart, but I’ll admit that it’s difficult to find titles that give me the same overall satisfaction as adult novels (for obvious reasons). So when one comes along with substance and depth, I geek out. Aside from Harry Potter, Fablehaven, and a handful of others, my list of MG favorites is a short one… and now Floating Island is among them!

Not that I’m terribly surprised. As a longtime fan of Haydon’s Symphony of Ages series, I’d hoped the quality of writing and storytelling would be on par with her adult fantasy, and it was. What’s more, this series takes place in the same world as SoA, which solidified my interest in it even more because I have the mechanisms and histories of the world as a solid baseline. That said, it does stand really well on its own for those new to Haydon’s works.

What I liked most was the sense of adventure and discovery the pages offered. And the concept: a young boy traveling to new places and documenting his findings along the way. Granted there wasn’t a ton of discovery in this first book, but it set the stage nicely for what I hope will be a wild ride in future books.

The writing was anything but simplistic. Told in an almost lyrical fashion, the tale is spun with a distinctive elegant voice that somehow elevates the fantastical nature of the story. It’s a lot more sophisticated than I’ve seen from the genre, but not in a way that makes it any less accessible to kids. It’s a true testament to quality that it can appeal to a wide range of ages. I loved the delivery – which included a bunch of passages from Ven’s Journal, the art, and also loved that the plot had enough twists to keep me guessing.

I’ve only one gripe, and it’s a marketing critique: there aren’t any dragons in this first book. I mean, I’ve read the adult series, so I still felt their presence to a small degree, but for anyone who’s only read this series I imagine the cover art doesn’t seem relevant at all. But dragons sell books. Just look at me. I’m pretty sure I bought these before knowing what they were, solely on the cover art. But misrepresentation for sake of sales is a new personal gripe of mine.

Recommendations: Floating Island was a great little adventure and one of the best I’ve read from the genre in a long while. It has great writing, interesting world building, and fun characters, all adding up to a story that will appeal to both kids and adults alike. It’s set in the same world as Haydon’s Symphony of Ages series but can be read independently. I enjoyed it so much, it is now among my personal favorites for the middle grade genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Weaver’s Lament by Elizabeth Haydon

the weavers lamentTitle: The Weaver’s Lament

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: The Symphony of Ages #9

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: For a thousand years, the lands ruled by the Cymrian Alliance have been at peace. When the brutal death of a dear friend catapults the kingdom to the brink of civil war, Rhapsody finds herself in an impossible situation: forced to choose between her beloved husband, Ashe, and her two oldest friends, Grunthor and Achmed. Choosing her husband will mean the death of thousands of innocents. Siding against him will cost Rhapsody the other half of her soul, both in this life and the next. – Goodreads

 The Review:

“The Weaver’s Lament”, the ninth and final book in the “Symphony of Ages” series by Elizabeth Haydon, takes place over 1000 years after the conclusion of the previous book (“The Hollow Queen”). The first third of the book was an account of how the characters’ lives had progressed over the millennia. It read much like an extended epilogue, which I didn’t mind because I’m always clamoring for more “where are they now?” content at the end of a good series. Even though this catch-up-the-reader storytelling wasn’t particularly eventful, it was enjoyable.

Then Haydon used the remainder of the book to rip out my heart… and I’m still reeling.

I love this series first of all for the characters – it’s one of the few that boasts nonhumans as main POVs, a trait which demands much more creativity on the author’s part. The series also has dragons (which is always a win in my book), and they’re represented in a way I’ve never seen before, so major kudos to Haydon for originality. I also love it for its total immersion into this world’s rich culture and histories. The world is so well conceived it feels like a real place, and I will probably miss the overall “feel” of it more than anything else.

I admit I hadn’t enjoyed the last couple of books as much as I’d wanted to, even though they were good stories. I think the reason might be the multiple perspectives used to tell the tale. For me, the selling point of this series has always been about the Three – Rhapsody, Grunthor, and Achmed. While the other POVs were interesting, they just didn’t bring the same flare to the story. In “Weaver’s Lament”, Hayden recaptured the magic of the series by focusing solely on the Three and bringing their epic saga to an end.

Overall, “Weaver’s Lament” was one of the more satisfying series enders I’ve read in ages. The series as a whole is well worth your time if you like fantasy. Even so, I find it a little difficult to recommend with confidence. The first hundred pages or so of book one are hard to get through (not including the awesome prologue), mostly because it’s a bit confusing and drawn-out. The series also has a ton of story recap and discussion which, while integrated seamlessly, sometimes takes away from plot advancement. Between all of that, however, are moments of pure brilliance which make the whole series worthwhile. All the rehashing might make for a long-winded story, but after reading this series over the course of fifteen years, I can honestly say I remember almost everything about it quite vividly. My recommendation is, if you love fantasy and have a bit of patience, pick up The Symphony of Ages series – it won’t let you down.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: The Weaver’s Lament by Elizabeth Haydon

the weavers lamentTitle: The Weaver’s Lament

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Symphony of Ages #9

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: June 21, 2016

The Overview: For a thousand years, the lands ruled by the Cymrian Alliance have been at peace. When the brutal death of a dear friend catapults the kingdom to the brink of civil war, Rhapsody finds herself in an impossible situation: forced to choose between her beloved husband, Ashe, and her two oldest friends, Grunthor and Achmed. Choosing her husband will mean the death of thousands of innocents. Siding against him will cost Rhapsody the other half of her soul, both in this life and the next. In The Weaver’s Lament, the lines between the past and future are irrevocably blurred, and the strength of true love is tested in unthinkable ways. Bestselling author Elizabeth Haydon has delivered a spectacular conclusion to the Symphony of Ages.

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

What’s that, you say? The final Symphony of Ages book is on its way? Well, it’s about time! :-)

I feel like I’ve been reading and rereading this series for half my life, so it’s nice to finally have a conclusion in sight (I was being facetious, but I think I first read Rhapsody when I was 16… I’m 30 now, so I literally HAVE been reading this series for half my life… weird). There certain things about The Symphony of Ages that make it super brilliant and memorable, and others that make it very difficult to recommend with confidence. I have to say, book 8 (The Hollow Queen) was my least favorite of the series so far (too much dialogue and recap, not enough plot advancement, and the resolution of a major conflict that was very anti-climatic). Because of that, I’m a little wary of what the end might bring – hopefully it will be every bit worth the long wait.

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: The Hollow Queen by Elizabeth Haydon

June 30, 2015

Title: The Hollow Queen

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Symphony of Ages #8

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: June 30, 2015

The Overview: Beset on all sides by the forces of the merchant emperor Talquist, the Cymrian Alliance finds itself in desperate straits. Rhapsody herself has joined the battle, wielding the Daystar Clarion, leaving her True Name in hiding with her infant son. Ashe tries to enlist the aid of the Sea Mages. Within their Citadel of Scholarship lies the White Ivory tower, a spire that could hold the key to unraveling the full extent of Talquist’s machinations. Achmed journeys to the reportedly unassailable palace of Jierna Tal, to kill emperor Talquist—all the while knowing that even if he succeeds, it may not be enough to stop the momentum of the war. As they struggle to untangle the web of Talquist’s treachery, the leaders of the Cymrian alliance are met with obstacles at every turn. Rhapsody soon realizes that the end of this war will come at an unimaginable price: the lives of those she holds dearest.  

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

After several years of wondering if this series would ever reach its conclusion (there was about six years between the release of Assassin’s King and Merchant Emperor), I am thrilled that the story seems to be winding up for one hell of an ending. It looks like this is the third installment of the final “War of the Known World” Trilogy, bringing the series to an end (I think), and I am really looking forward to it. This is a world I have completely enjoyed being immersed in, but find it difficult to recommend because they are a little long-winded. Regardless, I will miss it when it’s over.

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: The Assassin King by Elizabeth Haydon

Assassin KingTitle: The Assassin King

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Symphony of Ages #6

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The Assassin King opens at winter’s end with the arrival by sea of a mysterious hunter, a man of ancient race and purpose, who endlessly chants the names of the pantheon of demons that are his intended victims, as well as one other: Ysk, the original name of the Brother, now known as Achmed, the Assassin King of Ylorc. At the same moment of this portentous arrival, two gatherings of great import are taking place. The first is a convocation of dragons, who gather in a primeval forest glade–the site of the horrific ending of Llauron, one of the last of their kind. They mourn not only his irrevocable death, but the loss of the lore and control over the Earth itself that it represents. The ancient wyrms are terrified for what will come as a result of this loss. The second gathering is a council of war held in the depths of the keep of Haguefort: Ashe and Rhapsody, rulers of the alliance that protects the Middle Continent; Gwydion, the new Duke of Navarne; Anborn, the Lord Marshall; Achmed, the King of Ylorc, and Grunthor, his Sergeant-Major. Each brings news that form the pieces of a great puzzle. And as each piece is added it becomes quite clear: War is coming, the likes of which the world has never known.

The Mini Book Review:

Even though The Assassin King came out several years ago, I stalled on reading it until book #7 was announced. There are so many bits of brilliance within this series that the fact that it can be rather repetitive and long-winded doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. I really love where the story has developed, especially regarding the dragons. They play an integral role in the framework of this world (and always have, even when it wasn’t obvious to the reader), and I’m excited to see what impact they will have going forward. Along with dragons, these novels offer several original races that are quite possibly my favorite elements – especially since two of the main characters (Grunthor and Achmed) are of those alternate races, making them especially memorable. Overall, I enjoyed this novel as much as the ones before it. This series is not easy to recommend because the first hundred pages of book #1 are bit of a struggle to get through. However, if you have patience and are willing to wade through a lot of words for a big payoff, I think it is definitely worth your time. Especially if you’re looking for something a little different.

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