The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia (republished title The Knights of Crystallia), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2009 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Scrivener’s Bones.

When Alcatraz and Grandpa Smedry make a pilgrimage to the Free Kingdom city of Crystallia, the Smedry home base, Alcatraz is shocked to see that he is a legend. When he was a baby, he was stolen by the Evil Librarians—and his mother, a Librarian herself, was behind it. Now, with his estranged father, who is acting strange; his best friend, Bastille, who has been stripped of her armor just when they need a good knight; and Grandpa Smedry, who is, as always, late to everything, Alcatraz tries to save a city under siege. From whom? Why, the Librarians, of course! And, in particular, an especially evil Evil Librarian who has followed the Smedrys to Crystallia in hopes of shattering the city: Alcatraz’s very own mother!

Rating: 2/5

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia is as fun-filled and crazy as the first two books. Sanderson continues to build up the mystery and suspense by revealing things in small increments and hinting at bigger mysteries to come. Knowing Sanderson, everything will come to a whiz-bang finish and all the foreshadowing will make sense—after things get worse, as Alcatraz-the-narrator states in the book.

Overarching-plot-wise, I don’t really have too much negative to say. Sanderson is clearly setting things up in this book, introducing new faces and new mysteries for our heroes to solve. I know some of what is coming, so I can also tell he’s weaving in lots of foreshadowing and clues.

However, while I don’t have much to say about his plot technique, I do have quite a bit to say about the way he chose to develop it. Frankly, I found Knights of Crystallia too short of a book—the main conflict began and ended quickly, the pace was all over the place, and after reading it, I set it down and thought, “Wow, I feel like this was a waste of a book.” Even with all the plot building he’s doing in this book, it still feels like it is twenty pages long rather than almost two hundred, or at least, it feels as if the important parts only encompass twenty pages.

The book is clearly a bridge between plot points, a way to have the characters advance in knowledge without revealing too much at once. It’s too short, yet oddly long for what little happens. It’s stuffed with filler, even more filler than what the Alcatraz series is known for. There’s also no satisfying moment to make the book seem worthwhile. And the annoyance is that the book has to be read to understand some plot points; it’s not skippable, yet it begs to be skipped.

The Knights of Crystallia is basically a paradox. Too short, yet too long. Too important, yet not important enough. The whole novel is a plot device to bring the characters to a certain point, something that would take too long to do if entwined with more plot. I love Sanderson, but this book was difficult to get through.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“So…what does this have to do with me?” I asked.

“Everything, lad, everything!” Grandpa Smedry pointed at me. “We’re Smedrys. When we gave up our kingdom, we took an oath to watch over all of the Free Kingdoms. We’re the guardians of civilization!”

“But wouldn’t it be good I the kings make peace with the Librarians?”

Sing looked pained. “Alcatraz, to do so, they would give up Mokia, my homeland!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BraGCi

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2013 Newbery Medal: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, was published in 2012 by Harper.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living in a shopping mall, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Rating: 3/5

The One and Only Ivan is apparently based on a true story. The real Ivan, like the one in the story, was in a circus-themed mall for twenty-seven years before enough information circulated about it that he was transferred to Zoo Atlanta. As an animal fantasy, The One and Only Ivan crawls into the head of book-Ivan and explores a similar story from the perspective of the gorilla.

It’s a very sentimental story, and it would be especially heartwarming if you really loved animals and don’t mind good zoos. For me, I found the whole thing a little bit too sentimental for my tastes. I also had a hard time accepting the point of view of a gorilla. I get it, it’s an animal fantasy, but it still rang false in my view.

That’s not to say the story isn’t good. Applegate does raise awareness of inappropriate and unsafe conditions for animals, and she does emphasize that good zoos are beneficial for animal welfare. The story, as a story, is lovely and heartwarming and has a good happy ending. It has a good lesson about treating animals correctly. But, at times, its sappiness sours the story. I’m glad it’s not all gloom and doom like some Newbery Medals, but the overt sentimentality of this book is almost as bad, in my opinion.

The One and Only Ivan is a good story, perfect for children who love animals, and has some good things to say about taking care of animals, but I found it to be too sentimental throughout. I’m not calling for Newbery Medals to be full of darkness and sorrow, but I would prefer a balance, and this book, though it has some sorrow in it, goes too far in the sappiness category for me to really like it.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy, Realistic

When the Big Top Mall was first built, it smelled of new paint and fresh hay, and humans came to visit from morning till night. They drifted past my domain like logs on a lazy river.

Lately, a day might go by without a single visitor. Mack says he’s worried. He says I’m not cute anymore. He says, “Ivan, you’ve lost your magic, old guy. You used to be a hit.”

It’s true that some of my visitors don’t linger the way they used to. They stare through the glass, they cluck their tongues, they frown while I watch my TV.

“He looks lonely,” they say.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2EhEHHq

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson, was published in 2015 by Greenwillow.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more. She also has a secret. Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it. When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

Rating: 3/5

Some of my least favorite tropes (and probably everyone else’s favorite tropes) are present in Walk on Earth a Stranger: a girl who dresses up as a boy, a girl who doesn’t follow historical/traditional female roles, and enough modern-day social justice to satisfy the people who want modern thought imposed on their historical fiction.

Leah is not my favorite type of protagonist, but Carson is a good enough writer that I didn’t immediately dislike her despite the presence of tropes I dislike. I did find her overbearing, patronizing, and at times almost narrow-minded. Someone so compassionate about slaves while growing up in the South is also completely dispassionate in terms of religion and traditional female roles. The former could have to do with Carson’s portrayal of Reverend Lowrey, which was almost laughable in its extremes and stereotypes. As for the latter, well, Leah herself seemed to hold contradicting points: at one point, she decried anything that would make her beholden to a man and then the next minute, she was thinking about her relationship with Jefferson and wanting to marry him.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. I did enjoy the book, though I can’t imagine how Carson is going to make a trilogy out of it. In my mind, the book could have been a stand-alone (with some slight changes, of course). I suppose there’s a little bit to explore in sequels: the mystery of Leah’s parents’ past and the presence of Uncle Hiram. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a trilogy without a love triangle, so I’m fully expecting some new character to come in and sweep Leah off her feet before she realizes in the third book that Jefferson is The One.

I do love Oregon Trail stories, though, and this one is a good one—lots of danger, realistic scenarios, and compelling enough characters to carry the plot through when it could have slowed down.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is full of tropes I don’t like, but despite all that, I ended up enjoying this Oregon Trail/Gold Rush adventure. I’m hoping Carson doesn’t fall prey to more overused tropes in the next two books, and also that Leah becomes a character that I can actually relate to, but at least I’m intrigued enough to see what happens next.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“I have a gold half eagle in one hand. Which is it?” There’s a twinkle in his eye that reminds me so much of Daddy that my chest hurts.

The coin sings to me clear as spring runoff from his left fist. I point to the right.

He smiles. “You can’t keep secrets from me, Leah.”

I sigh and point to the left.

“That’s my girl.” He opens his fist, and there it is, shining yellow-bright.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BPc1iP

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, was published in 2003 by Scholastic.

Imagine it were possible to bring the characters from a book to life. Not like when someone reads a book with such enchantment that the characters seem to jump off the pages and into your bedroom…but for real. Imagine they could actually climb out of the pages and into our world! Then, imagine if those characters brought their world into ours. One cruel night, young Meggie’s father, Mo, reads aloud from Inkheart and an evil ruler named Capricorn escapes the boundaries of fiction and lands in their living room. Suddenly, Meggie is smack in the middle of the kind of adventure she has only read about in books. Somehow, Meggie and Mo must learn to harness the magic that conjured this nightmare. Somehow they must change the course of the story that has changed their lives forever.

Rating: 3/5

I read Inkheart way back in the day when it, and its two sequels, were incredibly popular. I remember liking it; I must have, since I own this book and its sequel, Inkspell. However, the only thing I remembered about it was that Mo had the ability to read characters out of books. I remembered nothing about the plot (and the things I thought were from Inkheart must be from Inkspell, since none of what I remember happening actually happened in Inkheart). So, in a way, it was like I was reading this book for the first time.

As with Dragon Rider, I thought this was a fairly well-written book. It’s entertaining, there’s suspense, there’s a plot with twists and turns. The characters are fine, though I wish they said “OK” less. Dustfinger tended to get slightly annoying, but we didn’t get many chapters from his point of view, so it was bearable. One thing I enjoyed the most is how very European this book is; it was translated from German and the setting shows its European roots, from villages in the mountains to the names used.

The main problem with Inkheart is that there wasn’t any “wow” factor with me. In fact, I thought the book was overly long; some cutting of extraneous materials would have been beneficial for quickening the pace, especially in the middle. It never got incredibly boring, but there were definitely parts that dragged more than others. I’m not actually sure why this book got as popular as it did, to be honest; it’s remarkably simple, for a book about someone who brings characters from books to life, and there’s nothing terribly exciting that happens for a majority of the book.

I decided to give Funke another chance after Dragon Rider, but now, after Inkheart, I’m not so sure that was a wise decision. Inkheart had all the same problems as Dragon Rider, but also suffered massive pacing problems and seemed way too long overall. If I get bored, I might read the sequel, Inkspell, but nothing else is compelling me to continue the series.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade

“Meggie, listen to me!” Dustfinger looked at her intently. His scars were like pale lines that someone had drawn on his cheeks: two slightly curved marks on the left cheek, a third and longer line of the right cheek running from ear to nostril. “Capricorn will kill your father if he doesn’t get that book!” hissed Dustfinger. “Kill him, do you understand? Didn’t I tell you what he’s like? He wants the book, and he always gets what he wants. It’s ridiculous to believe it will be safe from him here.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2DlbGGd

The Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones (republished title The Scrivener’s Bones), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2008 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians.

Alcatraz Smedry has an incredible talent…for breaking things! It generally gets him into a lot of trouble, but can he use it to save the day? In this second Alcatraz adventure, Alcatraz finds himself on a mission to meet Grandpa Smedry when he gets swept up by a flying glass dragon filled with his unusual and mouthy Smedry cohorts. Their mission? A dangerous library-filled one, of course! They are on their way to the ancient and mysterious Library of Alexandria (which some silly people think was long ago destroyed!) where they must find Grandpa Smedry, look for clues leading to Alcatraz’s potentially undead dead father, and battle the creepy, dangerous soul-sucking curators who await them.

Rating: 4/5

I found Evil Librarians to be annoyingly self-indulgent, but either I was more prepared for it in Scrivener’s Bones or I didn’t notice it as much, because I enjoyed the tone much more in this book. The humor is definitely pointed at a select group of people (I think you have to enjoy a certain type of humor to really enjoy these books), but Sanderson utilizes the humor to give some important (and funny) lessons on author manipulation and other plot devices, all while selling his Alcatraz narration as someone who desperately wants everyone to know how much of a liar he is, even while telling a story he wants people to believe.

Sanderson also starts peeling back at his intricate plot in this book. Most of the book takes place in one location, the library of Alexandria, but you tend to forget that because it’s so fast-paced and interesting once the characters reach that point. There’s the overall plot being developed, as Alcatraz and Bastille wonder about and puzzle over the nature of technology and magic in general and Alcatraz’s Talent in particular. Then, there’s the “book plot” being developed, as they make their way through traps to rescue Grandpa Smedry and discover more about Alcatraz’s father along the way. Even while being funny and self-indulgent, Sanderson knows how to craft a plot.

Perhaps the one thing holding this book back from a higher rating is, well, for one, I do tend to do the gymnastics-judge thing of holding back higher scores for later books, but, for another, a few things struck me as a little odd and out-of-place that kept me from really enjoying this book.

It wasn’t so self-indulgent as before (or I didn’t notice it as much), but there were still points when Alcatraz backing away from the action to wax philosophical about bunnies and bazookas was a little annoying. However, the one thing that struck me the most at the end was Grandpa Smedry’s apparent lie that no one bothered to correct, or even appeared to think, “Why did he lie?” The only thing I can think of is that I’m misremembering details and that what I thought was a lie really wasn’t; if not, it means that Sanderson goofed up. I’m willing to guess it was my mistake, but still, that didn’t stop me from being completely and utterly thrown at the end of the book by an apparent authorial error.

I found Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones much more entertaining and much less self-indulgent than the first book. I was able to get into the tone of the book more easily and enjoy myself throughout the adventure, admiring some of the more prominent bits of foreshadowing Sanderson is throwing in (as I’ve mentioned, I’ve read this series before, up until the most recent book). Some things still threw me off a bit, but, overall, this book was an improvement over the first.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Do you really have the Talent of Breaking Things?”

I shrugged. “That’s what they tell me. What’s your Talent?”

Australia smiled. “I can wake up in the morning looking incredibly ugly!”

“Oh…how wonderful.” I still wasn’t certain how to respond to Smedry Talents. I usually couldn’t ever tell if the person telling me was excited or disappointed by the power.

Australia, it seemed, was excited by pretty much everything. She nodded perkily. “I know. It’s a fun Talent—nothing like breaking things—but I make it work for me!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2CTNZ7q

The Shepherd of Weeds by Susannah Appelbaum

The Shepherd of Weeds, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2011 by Knopf. It is the sequel to The Tasters Guild.

Back in the Kingdom of Caux after her journey to its sisterland, Ivy wakes up in a dismal orphanage alongside her friend Rue. Accompanied by a strange woman named Lumpen—who looks suspiciously like a scarecrow—the girls make their way back to Templar to plan a massive battle against the Tasters Guild, where Vidal Verjouce is making ink out of the deadly Scourge Bracken weed. Rocamadour grows darker and more dangerous with every drop. With an army of scarecrows, a legion of birds, and her friends and uncle by her side, it’s up to Ivy—the true “Shepherd of Weeds”—to wage war against the Guild, defeat her own father, and restore order to the plant world. Susannah Appelbaum’s imagination soars in this stunning and utterly satisfying final volume of the Poisons of Caux trilogy.

Rating: 2/5

I’m semi-glad that I finished The Poisons of Caux trilogy, if only because I’m a completionist at heart and I like seeing story lines wrap up—plus, if I’ve invested in the first two books, I may as well read the third, no matter how I felt about the first two (a la the trainwreck The Selection).

I did enjoy seeing all the characters unite together to defeat the Big Bad(s), and I liked the slight twist at the end in the hierarchy of villainy. Each hero got his or her own little moment to shine, even the ones whose loyalties were in question until that moment. Everything was wrapped up quite neatly—more neatly than I expected, considering the sloppy ending of The Hollow Bettle.

However, my main complaint of the story is still the jumping around, the darting from scene to scene and filling in the gaps later. I’m still unsure as to why the novel started the way it did, or how Ivy got in that situation. I’m still not sure how Lumpen ended up in the city, and then in the catacombs. Characters jump around from place to place with almost no explanation as to how they got there. Ivy leaves one city before her uncle and flies to another, only to ask if her uncle has arrived—as if she expected him to magically be able to travel faster than her. Also, characters end one scene doing one thing, and then, when we catch up to them again, they are doing something completely different. Is Dumbcane at the city wall with Clothilde, or is he in the Tasters Guild making ink? Apparently he travels between both in mere minutes, being able to do Clothilde’s bidding at one scene and then sneak up on Rowan in the next one.

The Shepherd of Weeds, and the trilogy in general, is a creative fantasy, which I like, and has some interesting characters, but the whole thing is such a mish-mash of time jumps, strange characterization, and at times sloppy plot, that though I was compelled enough to finish the trilogy, I also didn’t much enjoy myself at the very end. The cover art is quite eye-catching, though, which is what drew me to the books in the first place, and I liked the use of different color ink in the books. Appelbaum is creative, but the story was a mess.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Where did you get this?” Her voice cracked.

“Dumbkin,” Lumpen Gorse confirmed. “That scoundrel paid me with it the first time he came scrounging around.”

“Hemsen Dumbcane gave you this?” Ivy asked sharply. She knew the scribe’s troves of valuable parchments were stolen from ancient, magical texts. “Are there others?”

“Lumpen Gorse shrugged.

“I’ve got to go—” Ivy was suddenly, overwhelmingly worried about the safety of her stones. “I need to show this to my uncle.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2F3Atj5

Winterling by Sarah Prineas

Winterling, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2012 by Harper.

With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and incites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land. Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the Mór rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter.

Rating: 2/5

I kind of have this love-hate relationship with Sarah Prineas. On the one hand, I love her Magic Thief series. On the other hand, her fairy-tale retellings (like Ash & Bramble) have been somewhat disappointing. Winterling falls a little bit in the middle for me, or perhaps, if you go by the rating that I gave it, much further away from even Ash & Bramble.

One reason is that I’m simply not a fan of the genre of this novel. I don’t like reading fantasies involving fairies, or animal-human hybrids/melds/whatever, or really any sort of “portal” fantasy involving fairy-type lands. That’s part of the reason I had difficulty really enjoying The Evil Wizard Smallbone, because of the human-animal transformations going on. I can’t really say why I dislike this genre. I just don’t like it.

(Mild spoilers follow)

I’m also not a fan of the protagonist-type that Fer is. Fer does some really dumb things in this novel, and the dumbest ones are when she knows that the Mór is evil and is planning evil things, yet somehow thinks going along with her is a good idea. Part of that is the magic talking, but there’s a part towards the end when Fer has more or less thrown off the glamorie and still thinks, “Well, you know, I need to bring back the spring and the Mór says doing this will bring back the spring, so I should do what she says,” despite the fact that she knows the Mór is not helping things at all. Then we get this tiresome hunt scene (which is immediately followed by two others) only for Fer to figure out what she’s known all along.

Fer also makes some astounding leaps of logic, like when she reads her father’s letter again and goes from that to immediately knowing that the Mór is a usurper. That whole “revelation” paragraph was written so clumsily that I had to read it multiple times just to try and follow Fer’s logic (which was really her realizing what the reader has known all along, but with a rather impressive logical assumption that doesn’t seem to follow from what she knows).

Basically, I didn’t really like Fer in general. I rarely like female protagonists of her sort. Perhaps they’re perfect for younger readers, but I find them annoying.

There’s also no explanation as to where Grand-Jane got all her knowledge of the other world from. Presumably her son, I suppose, though it’s poorly explained if so.

To be honest, the whole reason I didn’t really enjoy Winterling is probably because of Fer. I simply found her irritating. That, and I don’t particularly like this genre of fantasy. I like Prineas as an author, but this trilogy of hers is definitely not for me.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“The Way is open,” he said. He meant it as a warning.

The old woman blinked, and then scowled. “You must close it again.”

He shrugged, feeling the sharp ache of the wolf bites. “I can’t.” He nodded at the girl, still kneeling on the rug. “It opened for her, not for me,” he said. “You know as well as I do what she is.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2zhiTnV

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2007 by Scholastic.

Alcatraz Smedry doesn’t seem destined for anything but disaster. But on his thirteenth birthday, he receives a bag of sand, and life takes a bizarre turn. This is no ordinary bag of sand…and it is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians who are taking over the world by spreading misinformation and suppressing truth. The sand will give the evil Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them!…by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness.

Rating: 3/5

I need to preface this review by stating that I love Brandon Sanderson. As an author, as a worldbuilder, he really is phenomenal. He’s incredibly prolific and has the knack for developing unique magic in all of his books. And that shows even in his books for younger audiences; The Rithmatist was wildly creative, and Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians is as well, especially the magic system.

The big draw of these books is the voice of Alcatraz-the-author, who interrupts and explains and rigmaroles his “origin” story, complete with cheeky winks and nods at Newbery Medal books and To Kill a Mockingbird. It actually reminded me quite a bit of Lemony Snicket, to be honest. And the reference at the end of the book to Harry Potter was amazing and completely on-point.

However, the one thing I discovered that I don’t like about these books (I’ve read them before, all but the most recent one) is that they are incredibly self-indulgent. You can tell Sanderson wrote these just to indulge his humorous side, the one that’s tamed a bit when he’s writing epic fantasy. And maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much if it wasn’t so obviously self-indulgent. But it is, and if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s authors being blatantly self-indulgent.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The plot is great—did I mention how good Sanderson is?—the reveals are twisty and surprising in all the right places in all the right ways, and Alcatraz is that sort of bumbling, yet oddly competent boy hero that people love. He’s a lot like David in Steelheart, to be honest—I think Sanderson just enjoys writing those sorts of characters. Yet, the plot, when it wasn’t being funny or Snicket-esque (which is most of the time), is gratingly self-indulgent. Maybe some people are fine with that, but not me.

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians is well-written, with a memorable protagonist and the sort of tongue-in-cheek, snide narrator that is funny most of the time. However, I found it a little too self-indulgent to be very satisfying, towards the end, and I actually began to get just a little annoyed. Different strokes for different folks, though. I honestly do like this series, because I think Sanderson is amazing, and I like most of the humor, but the tone hits me the wrong way at times.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Now,” I said, holding up a finger. “I want to make something very clear. I do not believe a word of what you have told me up to this point.”

“Understood,” Grandpa Smedry said.

“I’m only going with you because someone just tried to kill me. You see, I am a somewhat reckless boy and am not always prone to carefully considering the consequences of my actions.”

“A Smedry trait for certain,” Grandpa Smedry noted.

“In fact,” I said, “I think that you are a loon and likely not even my grandfather at all.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BAyotK

Eve of the Morn by Idazle Hunter

Disclaimer: Eve of the Morn, by Idazle Hunter, was provided by the author. All opinions are my own.

Run…That is the only thought that can cross Ammira’s mind. One would think that a Princess would never want to leave her castle, but they have never experienced what life is like with King Corsan, the polar opposite of his brother, the late King Richon. Enter into the kingdom of Cahal, where danger lurks around every corner and even friendly strangers may be hiding a dark secret. Spending too much time in a single place can prove deadly. There is only one thing left to do: Run!

My rating: 2/5

I’m back with the sequel to Dawn of the Night, which once again the lovely Idazle Hunter provided me. I’m surprised I’m still alive after my review of the first book, but here I am to talk about the second one, Eve of the Morn.

Eve is a vast improvement over Dawn; the grammar is better (though still too many awkward turns of phrase), the story is more understandable (though I’m still confused about the mysterious Calvin), and it’s much more tight and focused in plot than the all-over-the-place plot in Dawn. There’s still loads of improvement that could happen, but the quality of the book as a whole is noticeably better than Dawn.

That being said, the book is really long and the pace is agonizingly slow. That might be due to the fact that there isn’t a clear conflict, despite all the running from the king. The problem is that Ammira runs away, gets caught, runs away, get caught, and runs away so many times that everything blurs together. It gets slightly more interesting at the end, when giant snake shadow Luke shows up and starts possessing people—I’m assuming he’s the same being that possessed Paul in the first book, or perhaps a similar being—but by then it feels slightly out of the blue. Not to mention all the mysterious characters whose names begin with “C.” There’s Calvin, who shows up for a hot minute and then leaves, and then there’s Christian, who is the type of character who is mysterious, but you’re also not really sure yet of what they’re supposed to represent (beyond the obvious Pilgrim’s Progress symbol) or what their purpose is beyond being mysterious and super-hero-y.

The characters are still full of dramatic exclamations and contraction-less sentences (which makes some conversations sound really stilted and awkward, and also unintentionally funny). Ammira is a more likeable hero than Paul of the first book, though she doesn’t really do too much in the story as a whole beyond running away again and again. Corsan is supposed to be evil, but he’s more melodramatically cartoonish (dialogue again), plus a great mustache-twirler of a villain.

Eve of the Morn improves on many of Dawn of the Night’s faults, but also shows room for lots more improvement in terms of pacing, descriptions, dialogue, and characterization. It still reads a little too much like a NaNoWriMo novel and not enough like a polished work, but I can see a hope for polish in the future.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2ASb1ii

Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen

Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, was published in 1982 by Delacorte.

Jakkin is fifteen and a bond servant, which is little better than a slave. He labors for Master Sarkkhan in the dragon barns, tending to the beautiful beasts who are raised to fight in the pits. Jakkin’s only hope of freedom is to steal a hatchling, secretly train it as a fighter, and win gold enough to pay his way out of bondage. But does he know enough to train his dragon to become a true champion?

Rating: 2/5

Clearly influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, Dragon’s Blood is a science-fiction/fantasy that didn’t turn out to be anything I was expecting when I picked it up. I thought it would be a fun dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon still makes me squeal in excitement); I was not expecting something akin to McCaffrey’s works. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing—it just caught me off guard.

I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, especially this kind, where strange terms and words are introduced and everything is described in detail—but sometimes not until midway through the book, where it seems strange. So I didn’t love Dragon’s Blood. I have nothing against Yolen’s worldbuilding or plot; there was some neat stuff at the end and as a whole the world made sense and the plot was pretty strong, though perhaps a bit rushed at the end. I simply don’t really like science fiction.

I can’t even say I dislike Dragon’s Blood for being such an obvious tribute/imitation of McCaffrey. I have read some of McCaffrey and liked it, but I had the same problems with it as I do with Dragon’s Blood. I like my dragons in fantasy, not science fiction. I like my worlds less meticulously and strangely described, or perhaps at least more smooth integrations of infodumping. This is a genre issue, not a particular issue with characters, world, etc. In fact, I didn’t even really dislike Dragon’s Blood at all—I just didn’t really love it.

Science fiction. It’s just not my thing.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some innuendo, breeding terminology.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction

All dragons, he reminded himself with the conventional trainer’s wisdom, all dragons are feral, even though they have been domesticated for over two centuries. And especially dragons like Blood Brother.

As if hearing his name, Brother jerked his head up. Deep inside the black eyes there was an iridescent flicker, the sign of a fighter. Involuntarily Slakk stepped back. Errikkin stood his ground. Only Jakkin went forward, holding out a hand.

“Hush, hush, beauty,” he crooned, letting Brother sniff his hand. “It’s the baths for you.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2nja7oG