dragons

Review: Dragonkeeper, Carole Wilkinson

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


DragonkeeperDragonkeeper (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Carole Wilkinson (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

In the year 141 B.C., Ping is an illiterate Chinese orphan who lives on the edge of one of the Emperor’s least-used royal palaces. Her master is a boorish drunk who neglects his duties as Imperial Dragon Keeper. Under his watch, the Emperor’s dragons have dwindled from a magnificent dozen to a miserable two. When the next to last dies, the remaining dragon, Long Danzi, coaxes Ping into helping him flee to the faraway ocean.

Early on in the journey, Ping knows the dragon and the mysterious purple stone he carries are very special. But how is it that a grubby slave girl has come to be the keeper of the last imperial dragon? Only when the friends reach their destination will Ping be able to see herself as Danzi sees her, and learn to use the unique talents she alone possesses.

Details

Series: Dragonkeeper #1
Genre: Middle grade High Fantasy
Published: Black Dog Books (Walker Books Australia), 2008 (originally published 2003)
Pages: 343
My copy: Library

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository • Barnes & Noble
E-copies:  Amazon.co.uk • Bookworld (epub)

Review

In ancient China, a young slave girl lives at one of the Emperor’s palaces, looking after the animals and her cruel master. She doesn’t mind most of the animals, but finds the two dragons particularly ungrateful creatures. When one of them dies, she discovers that her master plans to sell the last dragon to a dragon hunter, and she decides to free him, freeing herself in the process. She soon discovers, much to her surprise, that she can understand and speak with the dragon.

The dragon, Long Danzi, tells the girl that her name is Ping and she must travel with him to the Ocean and look after him and the mysterious dragon stone. On the journey, they encounter many strange obstacles including necromancers, the evil dragon hunter and the Emperor himself. Ping must learn to control the power of Qi if she is to keep herself, Danzi and the dragon stone out of trouble and get them to the Ocean.

Dragonkeeper was the winner of the Aurealis Award for best young adult book, and also the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in 2004. It’s not hard to see why – this is a tale of a young girl realising her own worth, discovering her powers and beating overwhelming odds. The ancient China of the story is brought to life, not just through the beautiful descriptions of the land and the scenery, but also through the people and creatures who populate it – some cruel and downright evil, others kind and gentle.

The story is told in a simple way without over-complicating anything, and even the most serious moments are made lighter by witty comments from Ping or Danzi from time to time. I loved how their relationship developed and was heartbroken at the end – but I’ll be catching up with the next part of the story to find out what happens.

There are some pretty harsh themes in this story – human sacrifice, animal cruelty, using body parts for magic and slavery might all be a bit much for the very young to cope with, but I think that any older middle-grade reader would devour this book. Don’t be put off by its 340-odd pages, the print in my edition was rather large so it was a quick read.

Children’s literature should have more dragons in it! I loved this book, and any other dragon-lover (of any age) should too.

Warnings: Violence (including towards children)

Dragonkeeper series

Dragonkeeper gardenpurpledragon dragonmoon bloodbrothers

About the Author

carolewilkinsonCarole was born in England. Her family moved to Australia when she was 12. She now lives in Melbourne, with her husband John.

Carole didn’t start writing until she was nearly 40. Before that, she worked as a laboratory assistant, working with a lot of blood and brains. Once she’d decided to try and become a writer, she went to university. She wrote a lot while she was there including her first novel. She showed it to a friend who worked in publishing who asked if she could write a teenage novel. Her first published book was based on something her daughter, who was at high school at the time, was doing.

Carole says she has lots of ideas and so far she’s never had ‘writers’ block’. She might have got a late start, but she’s been trying to make up for lost time and has written more than 30 books, some short stories, a telemovie and some TV and planetarium scripts.

(Bio and image from Goodreads)

Review: The Scrivener’s Tale, Fiona McIntosh

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


scrivenerstaleThe Scrivener’s Tale (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Fiona McIntosh (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant… until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems. 

As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe’s life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

Soon, Gabe’s world will be turned upside down, and he will learn shocking truths about who he is . . . and who he can – or cannot – trust.

Details

Series: Stand alone (but set in the world of the Quickening series)
Genre: Urban/High Fantasy
Published: Harper Voyager, November 2012
Pages: 499
My copy: the publisher via Edelweiss

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

Gabe is living in Paris after running away from the ruin of his life in England. One day, a customer at the bookshop where he works asks him to see a young girl as a patient, but Gabe insists that has given up his career as a psychologist. Reynard is not to be deterred though, and when Gabe finally meets Angelina, he is drawn to her in a most disturbing way.

Meanwhile, in Morgravia, the reclusive monk Cassien is drawn out of his forest home and tasked with protecting Queen Florentyna from a mysterious demon, due to return to their world and bent on the destruction of the entire kingdom. In his travels he runs into the youth Hamelyn. The stories of the three men are intertwined throughout this story, as each must come to terms with their own magic and work together to locate and destroy the demon threatening the world.

The Scrivener’s Tale is a return to the world Fiona McIntosh first wrote about in her Quickening series, set several hundred years later. When I first heard about this book and realised it was a stand-alone story in a previously created world, I was assured that I didn’t need to read the previous series to know what was going on.

This is true to a certain extent – there is quite a lot of story set-up at the start to help the reader to understand the history of Morgravia and the magic of Myrren and Wyl Thirsk (who, I understand, the Quickening is about). I did feel, however, that because this world has been written about before, I didn’t get a chance to explore the settings and really get much of a feel for the place. Instead I was given a set of locations – the Forest, the Wild, the city of Pearlis – without really getting any description of what they are like.

The slight lack of atmosphere was made up for by the characters – each of them are unique and endearing, and I especially liked Queen Florentyna and the kind way she rules Morgravia. Gabe brings a certain “down-to-Earth” nature to the story, but after the first few chapters where he features heavily we really don’t hear that much more from him. The way the cover blurb is written it sounds like the whole story is centred on Gabe, and I’ll admit I was disappointed by the fact that it really wasn’t. It was great to hear his confusion over ending up in a new world and I would have liked to read a bit more of that.

I’ve read a few reviews of this book describing it as having “non-stop action”. While there are exciting and action-packed parts, on the whole the story is fairly slow-moving and took me quite a while to read – it just didn’t grab me for some reason. Despite that, I felt it was very well written and I’d like to look into some of Fiona’s other works – perhaps her historical fiction. She certainly has a variety of genres on her shelf!

The Scrivener’s Tale is a well-told stand-alone story. I think I would still enjoy reading the earlier series, starting with Myrren’s Gift – not too much of the earlier story is given away in this one. Those that have already read the Quickening series should enjoy this return to Morgravia.

Warnings: Violence, sexual references

About the Author

fionamcintoshFiona McIntosh writes best selling historical adventure-romance alongside the heroic-romantic, often brutal, fantasy she built her career upon. She lives in Australia but frequently roams the world meticulously researching the locations and gathering material for her historical novels that have international settings. Her books are published worldwide and in various languages.

Her most recent historical fiction The Lavender Keeper has gathered such a following that she is now hosting a tour in 2014 to Paris and Provence so eager readers can walk in the footsteps of her characters.

(Bio from Goodreads, image from www.fionamcintosh.com)

Review: Jack Templar: Monster Hunter Academy, Jeff Gunhus

JT2banner

Welcome to The Oaken Bookcase’s stop on the Jack Templar Monster Hunter Academy tour! Following my review, there are links to the rest of the tour, plus a great giveaway. 

Warning: Only proceed if you are absolutely sure you want to find out about Monster Hunters. Reading this book will almost certainly cause a load of monsters to descend on your house. There’s no backing out if you suddenly get scared of zombies or vampires! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.



Monster Hunter AcademyTitle: Jack Templar and the Monster Hunter Academy 
(Goodreads)
Author:  Jeff Gunhus (@JTmonsterhunter)

Rating: ★★★½☆

After barely surviving the onslaught of monsters that tried to kill him the day before his fourteenth birthday, Jack Templar leaves his hometown on a quest to rescue his father and discover the truth about his past. Joined by his friends Will and T-Rex, and led by Eva, the mysterious one-handed monster hunter, Jack sets out for the Monster Hunter Academy where he hopes to find answers to his questions. Little does he suspect that the Academy is filled with dangers of its own, many of them more terrifying than anything he’s faced so far.

Details

Series: The Templar Chronicles #2
Genre: Middle-grade/Teen Fantasy
Published: Seven Guns Press, April 3, 2013
Pages: 375

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk 
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & NobleIndieBound

Review

Please note: This review is for the second in this series, and so may contain spoilers for the first book. You may prefer to read my review of Jack Templar Monster Hunter instead!


I’ve managed to deal with the Creach that find me from time to time after reading the first Jack Templar book – long enough to bring you this review of the second, anyway.

Jack is the son of Monster Hunters, who has just survived past his fourteenth birthday after being attacked by zombies, werewolves and worse. After surviving his encounter with the Creach Lord Ren Lucre, Jack and his friends go with Eva and travel to France to the Monster Hunter Academy. What they find there is not the warm welcome Jack had hoped for.

I had very high hopes for this second tale from Jack Templar, since I really enjoyed the first. I was let down a bit though- once the group reach the Academy, the story falls into the usual boarding school woes, a mysterious challenge that Jack mysteriously gets signed up for, and so on. With Jack also being the only one who can save the world from the forces of darkness it started to feel a bit Harry Potter-ish, and I think it’s for this reason that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first book. It’s almost as though Jeff Gunhus has tried to pack too much into this story – castles, dragons, werewolves, discovery of Jack’s power – that’s a lot to cover in a reasonably short book.

Despite these things, Jack Templar is still a funny storyteller. The action is fast-paced and quite unrelenting – I felt like I needed a rest by the end of it since Jack was so busy through the whole story. Not a dull moment to be seen, which is perfect for middle-grade and young teen readers.

Monster Hunter Academy is a well-written and enjoyable story, but it lacked a bit of the originality that made the first Jack Templar book stand out for me. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next instalment – the series promises to be an interesting journey after the recent events at the Academy!

Warnings: Some rather grisly violence.

 

About the Author:

Jeff Gunhus grew up in Cyprus, Greece, and Saudi Arabia where there was a distinct lack of television. He quickly found books were the gateway to incredible adventures, fascinating characters and unbelievable discoveries. Now, with five children of his own (all who watch too much television, in his opinion), he has enjoyed revisiting his old books and reliving those adventures all over again.

 

The Tour and Giveaway

Visit the tour site at Girl Who Reads to see the full tour information. The giveaway is at the bottom of this post!

 

April 4
Classic Children’s Books Excerpt
Larkin’s Book Bloggers Review
Brooke Blogs Excerpt

April 5
The Oaken Bookcase Review
Italian Brat’s Obsessions Featured Book

April 6 Lubs Book Chatter Review

April 7 My Devotional Thoughts Review

April 8 Here’s the Story Review

April 9 Library Girl Reads & Reviews Excerpt

April 11 What Shall We Blog About Today? Top Ten & Review

April 12
Paperback Princess  Review & Top Ten List
Girl Who Reads Excerpt

April 13 Alli’s World Excerpt

April 14 Ohana Day Academy Review & Excerpt

April 17 Keeping Up With The Rheinlanders Review & Top Ten List
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: A Storm of Swords, George RR Martin

A Storm of Swords, GRR MartinTitle: A Storm of Swords (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa George R.R. Martin (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King’s Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world.

But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords…

Details

Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #3 (of 7, 5 published so far)
Genre: High Fantasy
Published: Bantam Books, 2000
Pages: 1128

Paper copies:  Book Depository (pre-order) • Booktopia • Bookworld
E-copies: Amazon.com   Bookworld (epub)

Review

Please note: This review is for book 3 in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers for the earlier books but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

This book is also published in two separate parts – A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow and A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold. My copy and this review is for the combined edition.


Where to begin with such an epic tale? I’m not even going to try to summarise the plot. There are several storylines, all intertwined, some converging, others diverging. Let’s just say that the Lannisters are in control, Stannis is still plotting with his Red lady, Jon is north of the wall and Robb is winning all the battles but losing ground rapidly.

If you haven’t read the first two books in this series then you need to know that this story is told from a rather bewildering number of points of view – no less than ten different characters in this particular book.  The great thing about so many different people telling the story is that a very detailed picture is built up of events all over the world, as they are happening. Occasionally the narrative jumps forward or back in time to cover events happening simultaneously. It sounds a bit overwhelming and at times, it is, but this structure gives an incredible depth to the story. Unfortunately, at times it also means that things get bogged down in the detail.

A Storm of Swords contains less of the gory murder, rape and torture that I disliked in the earlier books, and instead contains rather a lot more character growth. Even though there is a lot of manoeuvring in the first half of the book, there is still enough action in each chapter to make for very compelling reading. At about the two-thirds mark, all hell breaks loose and the rest of the book is one bombshell after another – with about 200 pages remaining I found I couldn’t put it down!

Another thing I really liked about this book over the previous ones was that some of the “baddies” actually got what was coming to them! No spoilers, but if you’ve read it you know who I’m talking about, right?!

It’s important to try not to get too attached to any of GRRM’s characters – you just never know when they might meet a nasty end. That said, I still have my favourite characters – Tyrion and Daenerys, plus I have a soft spot for Jon Snow, although after this book I’m starting to like Jaime more and more.

This story continues to get bigger and more complex at every turn – everyone has their ambitions and most will stop at nothing to get whatever it is they’re after. Knights, kings, war around every corner, magic, dragons, zombies, alchemy, kick-arse heroines and honourable as well as nasty men, this series has pretty much everything except elves. It’s still very dark and heavy going at times, but there are plenty of light-hearted moments sprinkled throughout.

Season 3 of the HBO series is coming very soon and it will be interesting to see what changes they make to this storyline and how much gratuitous sex they can include. In the meantime, I heartily recommend this book, it’s my favourite of the series so far!

Warnings: Graphic violence including towards children.

Game-Of-Thrones-Season-3

 

gameofthrones clashofkings A Storm of Swords, GRR Martin feastforcrows
dancewithdragons 6: The Winds of WinterExpected 2015 7: A Dream of SpringExpected… who knows?

Review: The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde

lastdragonslayerTitle: The Last Dragonslayer (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk Jasper Fforde (website)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery.

Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer.

If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic.

 

Details

Series: The Last Dragonslayer #1 of 3 (so far)
Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Published: Hodder and Stoughton, 2010
Pages: 283

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:
Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

Dragons? Sorcerers? Set in the English countryside? Everything about this book had me expecting to love it to pieces. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, the world Jasper Fforde has created in The Last Dragonslayer is an amazing one. Once-great sorcerers are forced to get work rewiring houses and charming moles out of gardens to pay their bills. The kingdoms of Hereford and Brecon are poised to go to war over the stretch of wilderness that will suddenly become available when the last dragon, Maltcassion, dies this coming Sunday (according to the soothsayers).

This world is an enchanting mixture of the modern world and a Potter-esque magical society, where strange beasts exist (I loved the Quarkbeast!) and magic-users must make sure to remember to fill in form B2-5C after casting minor spells. There are some very funny moments, as well as some thought-provoking ones about the state of society and the control of corporations and media.

The main problem I had while reading The Last Dragonslayer was that I had almost no attachment to the characters, and especially to Jennifer. They all carry on with their funny and silly banter, but show almost no emotion at all. Add to that the fact that the two foundlings, fifteen and thirteen years old, speak and act as though they are much older. The adult characters were all very comical and fit perfectly well into the story, but Jennifer and Tiger just seemed a little out of place and I felt the story was much less enjoyable because of that.

I couldn’t help but feel that would could have ended up as a really awe-inspiring story, didn’t quite make it because Jasper Fforde got a bit carried away with the silly. However, I’m pretty sure that that very thing will make it appealing to the middle-grade audience it’s intended for. I’m not sure I’ll continue with the series, but I’ll recommend it to my son when he’s old enough!

Warnings: Mild violence.

The Last Dragonslayer series

lastdragonslayer songofquarkbeast The Return of Shandar  

(Expected September 2013)

 

 

Review: The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Title: The Hobbit (Goodreads)
Author:  J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: ★★★★★

Bilbo Baggins is a reasonably typical hobbit: fond of sleeping, eating, drinking, parties and presents.

However, it is his destiny to travel to the dwarflands in the east, to help slay the dragon Smaug.

His quest takes him through enchanted forests, spiders’ lairs, and under the Misty Mountains, where he comes across the vile Gollum, and tricks him out of his ‘Precious’ – a ring that makes its bearer invisible, and wields a terrible power of its own.

Details

Series: Stand-alone (but a prequel of sorts to Lord of the Rings)
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Published: First published by Allen & Unwin, 1937. My edition by Unwin paperbacks, 1981.
Pages: 285

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

The Hobbit was many people’s starting point into fantasy as a child – in fact my father read it to me and my siblings when we were small. It was originally written by J.R.R Tolkien for his own children, but don’t be fooled – this is Epic Fantasy disguised as a children’s book.

Included in this tale are many favourite characters and creatures – hobbits, dwarves, elves and men, as well as Gandalf the wizard and Gollum. Creatures such as goblins, spiders, trolls and the great dragon Smaug round out the cast, and all are characterised and described in great detail.

The journey of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins and the twelve dwarves is no walk in the park – the party have a rough time of it, getting into trouble time and time again as they pass the Misty Mountains, through the dark and dangerous Mirkwood and to the Lonely Mountain, where the dragon has made his lair. They are constantly grumpy and complain of lack of food and comfort, are miserable most of the time and Bilbo even gets a bad cold at one point – all rather realistic reactions for a journey of such length and hardships! They do find some comfort along the way though – in Rivendell with the elves, with the great skin-changer Beorn, and with the men of Lake-town.

Even with all the trials faced by the company along the way, The Hobbit is told in a more light-hearted tone than the often grim The Lord of the Rings. There are several songs and jokes, and even the section where Bilbo is trading riddles with Gollum in the darkness is not as dark as it could have been.

The tale of the journey itself is fast-paced but still rich with description of each area visited.  I was surprised to find, though, that the story is told almost like a verbal storytelling, with a narrator breaking the fourth wall every now and then with phrases such as: “As you can well imagine.” or “Now we will return to Bilbo and the Dwarves”. It doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story at all, I just thought it unusual in Fantasy – but then this was published well before any conventions were established!

Bilbo is a very unlikely hero, taken unexpectedly from his comfortable home off on an adventure, and although he saves the dwarves multiple times, he isn’t really given the recognition he deserves until the very end of the story when the Elvenking and Gandalf praise him for all his accomplishments.

This re-read has confirmed The Hobbit as one of my favourite books of all time. If you’re looking for a Christmas present for a small (or not-so-small!) person in your life, you really can’t go wrong with a copy of The Hobbit. For a seventy-five year-old story, it stands the test of time remarkably well. Make sure you read (or re-read) the book before seeing the film!

Warnings: Violence and war, but nothing too graphic. Scary creatures (trolls, goblins, giant spiders).

 

The Film

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be released in cinemas on December 14, 2012. I cannot wait!

There’s word that they have split the story into not two, but three movies. The second part, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is due in December 2013, and the third part, The Hobbit: There and Back Again is due in July 2014 (source). I’ll be interested to see how they flesh the story out – apparently they are using extra material from Tolkien’s appendices to add content, and from the cast list it looks like several characters from LotR are included that don’t actually appear in The Hobbit book at all.

From what I can gather, the movies are geared more towards the adult Middle Earth fans than to children, which is a shame in some ways, but does allow the writers to give the story the full epic fantasy treatment it deserves.

I really enjoyed most aspects of the Lord of the Rings adaptation so I have faith in Mr Peter Jackson – and I just love the Kiwi-Middle-Earth settings. Here’s the trailer – I am sooo excited!

Review: Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects, Christie Golden

Title: Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects (Goodreads)
Author:  Christie Golden

Rating: ★★★½☆

When Azeroth was young, the noble titans appointed the five great dragonflights to safeguard the budding world. Each of the flights’ leaders was imbued with a portion of the titans’ vast cosmic powers. Together, these majestic Dragon Aspects committed themselves to thwarting any force that threatened the safety of Azeroth.

At the Maelstrom, the center of Azeroth’s instability, former Horde warchief Thrall and other accomplished shaman struggle to keep the world from tearing apart in the wake of Deathwing’s attack. Yet a battle also rages within Thrall regarding his new life in the shamanic Earthen Ring, hampering his normally unparalleled abilities.

Unable to focus on his duties, Thrall undertakes a seemingly menial task from an unexpected source: the mysterious green Dragon Aspect, Ysera. This humble endeavor soon becomes a journey spanning the lands of Azeroth and the timeways of history itself, bringing Thrall into contact with ancient dragonflights. 

Details

Series: World of Warcraft #9
Genre: Fantasy
Published: Simon & Schuster, February 2012
Pages: 432

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Barnes & Noble

Not available on Kindle in Australia, but might be in other countries!

Review

This is a World of Warcraft book, so I wrote this review assuming that you have some knowledge of Azeroth and the general timeline of the Cataclysm expansion. If you don’t, this book is probably not for you, but the earlier WoW books may help you to catch up.

After the Shattering of Azeroth by the evil dragon Deathwing, the elements are in turmoil. A group of Earthen Ring Shaman, Thrall among them, are at the Maelstrom trying to calm the raging elements and prevent the fabric of Azeroth from being ripped apart.

Elsewhere, after a horrific attack on the dragons while they are meeting at Wyrmrest Temple, the dragon flights are all but defeated and the Aspects are scattered. Malygos has been slain so the blue dragons are without a leader. Alexstrasza is devastated by the loss of her mate and brood, Ysera the Awakened is still unsure what is reality and what is a dream, and the bronze aspect Nozdormu is missing in the timeways. Ysera requests Thrall’s aid to bring the flights back together and unite them against the Twilight Cult and dragons that are threatening the frozen north and the whole of Azeroth.

The timeline of the events in this book as they relate to the Cataclysm expansion itself is not explained all that well in my opinion, but from what I can tell the events take place after Deathwing’s arrival, but before the Bastion of Twilight has been faced. Some of the events that take place are reminiscent of the Hour of Twilight heroic dungeons introduced to the game at the same time as the final battle against Deathwing, but by the end of this book the “Hour of Twilight” has not yet arrived. It doesn’t seem to quite tie in with events as they are in WoW, especially with the Elemental Bonds quest chain involving Thrall and Aggra that was introduced with the Firelands patch.

Overall, there is a lot of Lore crammed into this short-ish book. Such an epic tale feels slightly rushed and lacks the detail that could have made this story truly amazing. In addition, I don’t really like Christie Golden’s storytelling style. It’s very grandiose, and while that is fine for the discussion of world-changing events, doesn’t make the characters very relatable. She also uses “Too,” at the start of sentences. I have no idea if that’s grammatically correct or not but it looked all kinds of wrong to my (un-trained) eye!

Grammar and continuity quibbles aside, I enjoyed reading about Thrall’s journey around Azeroth in his quest to help the Aspects and, ultimately, to save the world. I loved reading about the characters and places I’ve been visiting in-game for several years. There are also some very emotional events and some exciting battle scenes that really bring the plight of the dragon flights to life.

I’d recommend this one to any Warcraft Lore-nerds who could like to know more about the dragon flights and the events just after Deathwing’s return.

Warnings: Graphic violence and abusive situations.

 

World of Warcraft books

  1. Cycle of Hatred, Keith RA DeCandido
  2. Rise of the Horde, Christie Golden
  3. Tides of Darkness, Aaron Rosenberg
  4. Beyond the Dark Portal, Aaron Rosenberg
  5. Night of the Dragon, Richard A Knaak
  6. Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, Christie Golden
  7. Stormrage, Richard A Knaak
  8. The Shattering, Christie Golden
  9. Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects, Christie Golden
  10. Wolfheart, Richard A Knaak
  11. Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, Christie Golden

Review: The Tolkien Years of the Brothers Hildebrandt, Greg Hildebrandt Jr

Title: The Tolkien Years of the Brothers Hildebrandt (Goodreads)
Author:  Greg Hildebrandt Jr

Rating: ★★★★★

The million- selling Lord of the Rings calendars created during the ’70s by renowned fantasy artists Greg and Tim Hildebrandt are now considered artistic masterpieces. This coffee table art book, “The Tolkien Years of the Brothers Hildebrandt,” collects all that fantastic art, while telling the untold story behind the creation of those cherished illustrations. A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the work of two renowned fantasy artists, written through the eyes of their closest family member, providing Tolkien-lovers with a fantastic treasury of Lord of the Rings art.

Details

Series: Stand alone
Genre: Non-fiction Fantasy artwork collection
Published: Dynamite Entertainment, October 16, 2012
Pages: 144
My copy: From the publisher via Netgalley

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository • Barnes & Noble
Not available for e-readers.

Review

During the 1970s Tim and Greg Hildebrandt, twins and fantasy illustrators, produced three calendars for Ballantine Books featuring paintings inspired by The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien.

This coffee-table collection gathers all the art pieces for those calendars, along with a variety of sketches and photographs used in the creation of the paintings. These are accompanied by a delightful commentary written by Greg’s son, Greg Junior, who was the chief model for the hobbits featured in the artworks. Greg Jr was only between five and seven years old at the time the calendar art was being created and he shares a child’s delight and sometimes terror at living in a house with two rather eccentric artists, who he believed were friends with wizards and with Tom Bombadil.

When I was small, I remember reading over and over my parents’ copy of David Day’s Tolkien Beastiary, with its horrible monsters and beautiful places and creatures. I feel the Brothers Hildebrandt’s collection could be another of those – a book to be admired and pored over by dreamers of all ages.

The book contains 134 full colour images covering all the artwork for the three calendars, plus 100 black and white images. Forget the pre-conceived pictures in your mind from the LotR movies – these paintings were produced well before that and show an often quite different interpretation of Tolkien’s world. The images are beautiful – using real-life models and armour and props the Hildebrandts designed and built themselves allowed the brothers to paint with an amazing level of realism. Each picture is finely detailed and I think you might find new hidden things each time you look at them! This review e-copy only contained a selection of the paintings and none of the photos so I’m going to have to get my hands on a real copy soon so that I can admire the full complement. Christmas is coming, after all!

I can’t post any of the artworks here, but you can see a small selection of the Tolkien-inspired paintings at the brothers’ website.

This book will be sure to be enjoyed by all fans of Middle Earth, new or old.

Warnings: None, this is squeaky clean.

Review: Seraphina, Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina (Goodreads)

Author:  Rachel Hartman (@_rachelhartman)

Rating: ★★★★★

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

Details

Series: Seraphina #1
Genre: YA Fantasy
Published: Random House Books for Young Readers, July 10, 2012.
Pages (Hardcover): 467
My copy: From Random House via Netgalley, thanks!

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.ukBook Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble

Review

When I first heard that Seraphina was a YA fantasy about dragons, I knew I had to get a hold of it. I didn’t realise that on top of that, Seraphina herself is a gifted musician and assistant to the court Composer! As a lover of dragons, music (sometimes I make it too!) and romance in my fantasy, I was in absolute heaven reading this book.

Seraphina is certainly one of the most eccentric books I’ve read recently. It is set in such a complex world, peopled with several nations worth of humans plus, of course, the dragons. The religion of this world is quite complex as well, with an enormous pantheon of saints available to swear by. There is so much going on, in fact, that the first few chapters are quite slow to get going as we learn about this world and the relationship between the humans and dragons. I’ll admit I started to get a little lost around the time she started wandering through her mental garden. Fortunately things start to pick up as soon as Seraphina gets involved in solving the Prince’s murder, and don’t let up until the end.

Seraphina herself is a rather tortured individual, being a despised dragon-human half-breed. She and her father keep this fact very secret and because of this, she is very lonely, sees visions in her head and seems to be generally grumpy most of the time. It’s actually quite refreshing to see such a non-perfect heroine and her growth during the course of the story is delightful, as she learns more about her mother and the sacrifices she made.

Kiggs, Princess Glisselda and each of the other supporting characters are gorgeous and well-written. The dragons are especially interesting – they take human form in order to communicate with humans, but human emotions are viciously suppressed and so are completely misunderstood when they actually do begin to feel them.

Rachel Hartman has certainly created a beautifully told story that is a delight to read. The complexity of the world may be too much for some, but if you like your fantasy fairly light, witty and full of dragons, get a hold of Seraphina!

Warnings: None, it’s squeaky clean.

Did you know that there’s a free prequel available for Seraphina? It’s called The Audition (Goodreads) and is available on Scribd! It’s only 17 pages long so make sure to check it out!

What did others think of Seraphina?

  • “I have read quite a few stunning Young Adult fantasy novels this year and Seraphina is definitely another one to add to the recommend list. ” – 4/5 – Phillipa of Tea, Daydreams & Fairytales
  • “The imagery alone was breath-takingly beau­ti­ful. The prose were pol­ished and ele­gant. It was a plea­sure to read.” – 5/5 – Kat of Cuddlebuggery
  • “This dazzling debut has everything I love about the Fantasy genre; it features heartwarming characters, is set in a vivid new world (with dragons!) and deals with conflicts that I could immediately relate to. ” – Speculating on SpecFic

 

Review: Memory’s Wake, Selina Fenech

This review is part of the Discover Australian Fantasy feature, running all July on The Oaken Bookcase. Please visit the Aussie Fantasy page to see the other reviews and articles and also to enter the giveaway!

Title: Memory’s Wake (Goodreads)

Author:  Selina Fenech (@SelinaFenech)

Rating: ★★★★★

Lost in a world full of monstrous fairies, a troubled sixteen year old has to find out who she is, and why her memories were stolen, before she is found by those who want her dead.

She takes the name “Memory” and knows she has just one goal – to find her way home, wherever that is. But the land she’s found herself in is completely unfamiliar. No technology to be seen, and iron is banned, thanks to a pact the humans have with the magical creatures who share their pre-industrial era world. In her t-shirt and torn jeans, Memory knows she’s different, even before she performs impossible magic.

As the fragments of her troubled past are pieced together, even her newly found friends question her humanity. Memory just wanted to know who she is. She never thought she’d have to question what she is.

Details

Series: Memory’s Wake Trilogy #1 of 3
Genre: Young adult Fantasy
Published: Fairies and Fantasy Pty Ltd, June 2011
Pages: 320

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Selina Fenech.com (epub)

Review

From the very beginning of Memory’s Wake, the reader is dropped into the action as Memory appears in the land of Avall with no memories of who she is or where she came from. She remembers things about another world, but it’s clear from the soldiers chasing her and the monsters she encounters that this is not the world she thinks it is.  Befriended and helped by Eloryn and later by Roen and the mysterious Will, Memory travels across the land in search of a safe haven, as well as the secrets of her identity.

I loved reading Memory’s Wake. The action was almost non-stop, and in the quieter sections, romance or an amazing discovery pushed the story onwards – I didn’t want to stop reading. I’m not just saying this because Selina’s lovely artworks are making my banners look great this month!

The first thing you’ll notice when starting to read this book is that it’s illustrated – Selina has included 44 black and white illustrations throughout this book, some full-page, others small drawings at the start of each chapter. They translated very well to the kindle version and helped me to visualise an already very visual story.

Memory herself is a fantastic character – with just the right amount of absolute confusion with her amnesia and disorientation in a new world, she still comes out with the occasional witty remark that often the other characters don’t understand. Her magic is quite terrifying – I am looking forward to reading more about that in future stories.

The ending left me with a lot of questions – Who ends up with Roen? What’s Will’s story? What happened to Memory in our world? How did Thayl find her there? and plenty more. I was pleased to discover that there are two more books planned in this series so hopefully some of my burning questions will be answered!

If you love fast-moving fantasy with a touch of swoony romance, nasty fae and plenty of magic, you’ll love Memory’s Wake.

Warnings: Dark themes and violence.

Memory’s Wake Trilogy

  1. Memory’s Wake
  2. Hope’s Reign (planned for 2012)
  3. Providence Unveiled (in planning)

 

About the Author

Born in 1981 to Australian and Maltese parents, Selina lives in Australia with her husband, an unnamed cat, and a lorikeet who’s far too clever. During her life Selina has found ancient Roman treasure, survived cancer, had knights joust at her wedding, been mugged for doughnuts and eaten every bizarre and wonderful food put in front of her. And now, she’s also written and published a novel.

It’s an undeniable truth that Selina Fenech has been lost to the realms of fantasy since she first laid hands on books. Faced with overwhelming heartache that our own world wasn’t so full of magic and adventure, Selina did the only thing she could. She began creating her own worlds of magic by painting and writing.

Then one day, the other children told her that books weren’t cool. Selina turned away from books and writing and submerged herself in her visual art. She became a successful fantasy illustrator, supporting herself with sales of her art that now have a worldwide following. Australian readers will recognize Selina’s fairy and fantasy artwork from bookmarks available in most major Australian bookstores. But the desire to tell stories remained. Because books are cool. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

You can see Selina’s beautiful artwork at her website, selinafenech.com.

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