A Study in Sable by Mercedes Lackey

a study in sable

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is the most recent book in the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey, in which she reimagines classic fairytales with elemental magicians as the main characters. They are one of my favourite fantasy series, since they reimagine classic fairy tale characters as powerful sorcerers commanding one of the four elements. It really adds a cool new spin on stories we have all seen before.

This is a rewrite of “The Twa Sisters”, a little know fairytale, and includes Sherlock Holmes and Mr Watson as characters! Sarah and Nan, the protagonists from two other books in the series, are back with their bird companions, and are assisting Holmes and Watson with a case. While Holmes refuses to admit to the reality of magic, Dr. Watson has being doing some magical detecting on the side, helping those who seek assistance with unusual problems. He has hit upon a mystery that could use the psychic abilities of Sarah and Nan, so they are pulled in to help. Sarah is also called upon to help an Opera diva who is being haunted nightly.

The best thing about being this far into this series (this is the eleventh book) is that Lackey has run out of the famous fairy tales and is now having to delve deeper into the more obscure ones to find material. As someone who has spent a significant amount of time reading fairy tales, this presents the enjoyable challenge of trying to figure out which of the hundreds of possible tales she is using. This one is actually a ballad, but like most of the early tales, has fairy tales and other ballads that roughly follow the same storyline. If you want the ending of this book to remain a mystery, do not read the original tale, Lackey stays fairly close to the source materials!!

What keeps this series from going stale so far is that the books do not have a consistent cast of characters that the author is forced to use and reuse. Sarah and Nan are the most repeated characters, and this is only their third book. Other characters show up in books not their own, but as very minor, supporting characters. The only real binding thread is the world, which is broad enough to fool around in for quite a while.

Sherlock Holmes is actually not a hugely central character in this book, which I really appreciated. When an author takes another author’s character and makes him/her central to the new book and messes it  up, it can destroy a book. By keeping Holmes a minor character, it allows him to be included without disappointing anyone. Anyways, Dr. Watson is also wonderful and deserves to take centre stage once in a while.

This book has much of the same feel as the others in the series. Characters are a little too stereotypically good or evil and the feminism is a little to upfront for the time period, but they are really amusing and hard to put down. For being this far into the series, the quality also has not deteriorated very much and they are still really enjoyable.

 

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Warrior Witch by Danielle L. Jensen

warrior witch

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

*spoilers for the first and second book*

I have also reviewed the first two in the series.

Warrior Witch is a fabulous conclusion to a compelling series. Just to catch you up again, Cecile was captured and married to a troll in the hope that she would break the curse that keeps them trapped in their kingdom under the mountain. By the end of the second book, we learn that Cecile’s mother is the witch who initially trapped the trolls in the first place, Tristan is free of the troll kingdom but is the only one, and his insane brother Roland wants to take the throne but is being controlled by another evil, crazy troll.

One of the main threads in this series is the moral conflict Cecile has with the possibility of freeing the trolls. Most of them are good beings who just don’t want to live trapped anymore, and there are plenty of half-trolls who could use their freedom to stop being slaves to the full bloods. On the other hand are a few insane trolls who would try to conquer and enslave humanity the minute the curse was broken. Cecile struggles with the fact that she either has to leave many of her friends trapped forever, or possibly doom the human race. This conflict does get resolved in this last book and it is done without sidestepping this dilemma  by coming up with a magical solution that takes it away. Cecile chooses and then has to live with the consequences of her actions.

Cecile and Tristan are forced to fight a battle on many fronts, against the Troll King, the troll prince Roland, the witch and the humans, some of whom also have a vested interest in releasing the trolls. The political maneuvering in these books is wonderfully complex and rich. You don’t know until the end all of the endgames and relationships entangled in this series and it is very compelling watching the main characters figure everything out. Some beings are not exactly what you think and it is fun watching it unfold.

Many of Cecile’s troll and human friends are back and the characters and relationships are just as satisfying as they were in the previous two books. Sacrifices are made and not everyone is going to be happy with the results. Both Cecile and Tristan fight to balance their conflicting loyalties and to keep their loved ones safe.

The fact that the characters have to make real sacrifices and that they have to do it with their eyes opens really distinguishes this from other young adult novels. Lots of them have people dying for a cause, but it is usually an accident or side effect, never anyone being deliberately sacrificed. I loved the realism of having that included. War and other conflict should involve hard decisions like that, and having other authors skirt that, but never really address it, seem like a cop out.

This is just as rich and satisfying and complex as the other ones in the series. It finishes on a very strong note and is wonderful throughout. Go and read!

 

 

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

this savage song

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

Victoria Schwab has come out with another wonderful gem. For those who do not know this author, she wrote an excellent series, The Archived, about a library full of souls that librarians with special powers must keep controlled, lest those souls wake up and start causing havoc. It is really cool and my sister absolutely loves it. Like that, this series has well-written characters and an incredible world.

There is a world where violent acts create monsters and a city is divided over how to deal with the influx of creatures. One side constantly fights the monsters, hoping to clear the world of evil. The other has conquered select monsters, promising safety for those who pay for it, but nothing for everyone else. Kate Harker’s father is the head of the gang who have enslaved some monsters, reaping the profit of keeping them under heel. Her greatest wish is to prove herself worthy of her father’s name and legacy. Augustus’ adopted father Fletcher has spent his life trying to wipe monsters from the face of the earth, ensuring safety for everyone, but the battle is an uphill one and his side faces heavy casualties. Augustus and his siblings are their father’s secret weapons, 3 of the most dangerous type of creature that exist. Augustus wants to help, but is deeply worried about maintaining what little humanity he feels he has.

There are 3 types of creatures in this world, the Corsair, the Malchai and the Sunai. The first two hunt by night and will either eat you whole or drain you, depending on your nature. If you have a Harker medal around your neck, they will spare you, but if you do not, there is little chance you will be able to fend them off. The Sunai look and seem human, but they can only feed on the essence of humans, and they do so by entrancing people with music, then eating their souls. Augustus is a Sunai and spends most of the book resentful of his nature. He hates having to prey on people to survive, but if he gets too hungry he will “go dark” and go on an unthinking killing spree. He tries to mediate his guilt by only feeding on criminals, but he is still being eaten by guilt.

Augustus is sent to school with Kate, on the chance that, if violence erupts, they can use her as leverage against her father. Augustus needs to befriend her, but she quickly starts to notice little signs that all point to him not being entirely human. When conflict does start and he saves her life, she must reconsider what it means to be a monster. Their relationship is sweet, and it is great that it does not immediately devolve into romance. They are friends and allies and impact each other a great deal without having to also be in a romantic relationship. It is a meaningful friendship that makes both of them change.

This novel has a great world, interesting and complex characters and really nice pacing that will keep you reading. Highly recommended.

 

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

tell the wind and fire

2 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a rewrite of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I never liked the original much and this did not change my mind. I really didn’t get a lot from this novel, despite liking some of her other stuff.

Lucie lives in a city divided between Dark and Light. People in the light have richness and privilege, while the Dark has violence and poverty. Lucie is one of the few people to ever make the transition from Dark to Light, and now lives a life of luxury, engaged to the son of the man who controls the city. Her position allows her to care for her aging father and gives her a life free from the threat of violence that rules the dark side of the city. Events in her childhood made her something of a celebrity in the Dark city, and all her new father-in-law asks in return for so much is her help in preventing rebellion. As long as Lucie is prepared to keep the status quo stable by not fomenting rebellion, she has everything she needs.

When her boyfriend Ethan is accused  of a crime, it is revealed he has a doppleganger, Carwyn. Since those are only created when someone illegally saves a child’s life using dark magic, the ruling family now has a dark secret to keep. Lucie is pulled in to help control the damage and starts to get to know Carwyn when she realizes that maybe dopplegangers aren’t the evil beings she has been led to believe.

This novel only concentrates on the developing relationship between Lucie and Carwyn and nothing else. There is a cool universe here with plenty of room for wonderful stories, but the only thing of importance seems to be Lucie and Carwyn. The plot is nothing but the old “antagonism leading to romance”, “will they won’t they?” plot that has been done and redone numerous times. Lucie falls for Carwyn in a very weird way, since she is supposed to be completely in love with Ethan, and Carwyn is basically a worse version of Ethan. The immediate temptation she seems to feel makes her seem like a very flimsy and easily manipulated character. Ethan is too generically good, and Carwyn is one of those bad boys that silly girls seem to fall for too quickly.

Everything in the book seems to revolve around Lucie and Carwyn, and that became boring very quickly. I wanted to see how the rebellion and dark and light magic would effect all of society, not just two people, neither of whom are especially interesting or likeable.

This book was boring. None of the characters are interesting and the world in not explored. Please read something else.

 

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

the queue

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a translation of an Arabic novel that is really neat.Ever since the disgraceful event of a failed uprising, everything in society is now controlled by “The Gate”. People need to visit The Gate in order to meet their most basic needs, but The Gate never opens and the line of people grows steadily longer. People leave their work, homes and family to wait in line. Society starts to crumble as nothing gets done and more and more people require The Gate to function and leave to join the queue.

The story is told through the POV of several different people. One of the main characters is Yehya, a man who has a bullet lodged in his gut and needs permission from the Gate to have it surgically removed. Since the regime in power is denying all rumours that they fired on their protesting citizens, it will be an uphill battle to get the surgery. Tarek, the doctor, is losing sleep because he cannot remove the bullet without risking his career. Yehya’s girlfriend Amani and his best friend Nagy spend more and more of their time trying to figure out how to bypass the Gate and get Yehya his surgery before the bullet pierces something vital.

The real glory of this book is the possible parallel between modern Egypt under Mubarak and the society in the novel. Aziz really does a great job of portraying a society where the government has stopped serving its people, bureaucracy impedes everything, and the entire nation waits and hopes for something to change. There is revolution slowly developing, but because the last one was put down so violently, many people are not willing to risk it. Everyone waits and tries to live their lives as best they can with all the usual structures that hold society together crumbling.

The government in the novel also effectively uses religion as a tool to keep everyone in line. Government decrees are given the status of semi-religious revelation, and being a good person means being a good citizen. Some people become religion zealots for the government and try and keep their fellow citizens in line, fearful of the wrath of God that will befall them if too many people turn to sin.

This novel was an eye-opener for what it means to live in an oppressive theocracy that has decided to stop functioning. It is scary to realize that this is the daily reality for some people, and suddenly you have a lot more sympathy for people in countries with non-functioning and corrupt governments. I would definitely recommend this as a fairly serious read.