magic

Review: The Burning Sky, Sherry Thomas

The Burning SkyThe Burning Sky (Goodreads)
Author:  Sherry Thomas (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he’s also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

Details

Series: The Elemental Trilogy #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, in a historical setting
Published: Balzer & Bray, September 2013
Pages: 464
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

The Burning Sky is a story about Elemental Mages set partially in Victorian England. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this one after hearing about it! I was even more delighted to discover that the English setting is none other than Eton College, just up the road from where I used to live in the UK. Any book that mentions Windsor Castle is a winner for me, and as it turns out, this is a very enjoyable story as well.

Iolanthe Seabourne is a gifted Elemental Mage. When trying to fix a light elixir, she calls down a bolt of lightning, which draws attention to her from a variety of directions. Suddenly she is The Realm’s most wanted person, hunted by the mages of Atlantis and nearly captured. Much to her surprise, she is instead whisked away to the non-mage realm of mid-1800s England with Prince Titus of Elberon, the rather attractive but cold and driven sixteen-year-old ruler of the Realm. Realising her potential from visions by his seer mother, Titus hides Iolanthe within his school disguised as Archer Fairfax – a fictional student who has supposedly been on a leave of sickness. Can Iolanthe pull off the public school boy masquerade, while training her magic abilities and avoiding the notice of the agents of Atlantis?

In preparing for this review I discovered that not only is Sherry Thomas an acclaimed Romance author, but she also writes in English as her second language. The romance part I can see in the way Titus and Iolanthe interact, but wow, she really writes in English like a native speaker. This is a beautifully written story, told in the slightly formal style of classical literature – a style that fits very well with the Victorian English setting.

The story is told from both Titus’ and Iolanthe’s points of view, sometimes switching after just a few paragraphs. At first, this jumping between heads was quite distracting and a little confusing at times, but it draws out the tension well and gradually becomes less annoying as the story goes on.

The world building here is amazing, although not everywhere. We don’t hear a lot about the Realm or Atlantis, but we do get a good sense of the interior of the magical construct of the Crucible, and also of the Eton School and surrounds (although perhaps that’s because I’ve been there!). What wasn’t made particularly clear was how the mage realms relate geographically to the non-mage world. Are they just integrated into each other as in Harry Potter, or are they actual separate countries? There was quite an information dump at the start that made the whole Atlantis situation unclear. I’m hoping that will be explained a little more as the story progresses.

My only real disappointment with the story was the magic system – magic performed by uttering a few words, with or without a wand and no energy expended. To make a spell more potent you just add “forte!” to the end of your command! As I’ve said before, magic without consequences or price is just not my cup of tea.

Despite my magical concerns, the story is action-packed and exciting all the way through. The romantic aspect was really quite predictable but ended up being subtle enough not to be annoying. Titus was a bit of a flirt all the way through which went against his aloof public persona a bit, but I loved Iolanthe’s rebuffs and the way she gradually warmed to him again.

I’d highly recommend this story to young adult fantasy readers – while perhaps not as gritty as Throne of Glass or Graceling, The Burning Sky has the same epic feeling about it. Bring on book two!

What did others think of The Burning Sky?

  • “With strong world-building, a rich magical infrastructure, consistent characters, and a touch of romance, The Burning Sky is exactly the sort of book that effortlessly pushes the rest of the world to one side.” – Realm of Fiction
  • “This beautiful story, and especially the romance, had me flailing around on my bed, seriously stifling sobs and squeals. It struck me in the heart like Cupid’s arrow.” – Snuggly Oranges
  • “Oh Titus, you adorable princeling. Let me love you.” – Writer of Wrongs

Review: Black Sun Light My Way, Jo Spurrier

blacksunlightmywayBlack Sun Light My Way (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Jo Spurrier (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

Sierra has always battled to control her powers, but now her life and Isidro′s depend on keeping her skills hidden from the Akharians as they draw closer to Demon′s Spire. In the relics left by Ricalan′s last great mage, Isidro hopes to find the knowledge Sierra needs to master her powers, but instead uncovers his own long-buried talent for magecraft.

When Sierra′s untrainable powers turn destructive, she has nowhere to turn for help but to the uncertain mercy of an old enemy. What will Rasten do when she returns to his hands at last?

When Isidro believes he has lost all he loves, he finds comfort in the arms of the Akharian mage Delphine. But soon he is called into battle once again to stand against the greatest evil the north has ever known.

Details

Series: Children of the Black Sun #2
Genre: High Fantasy
Published: Harper Voyager, June 1 2013
Pages: 480
My copy: library

Paper copies: Bookworld • Booktopia
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Bookworld (epub)

Please note: This review is for the second book in the Children of the Black Sun series and so contains spoilers for the first, Winter Be My Shield. You may wish to read my review for that book first!


Review

The second book in the Children of the Black Sun series delivers even more excitement, suffering and sparkly magic than the first book did, in rather unpredictable ways. I had a lot of trouble putting it down – certainly no second-book curse to be found here!

It was a full year ago that I read Winter Be My Shield, so the details of the story were a little hazy. Unfortunately there is no recap at the start of Black Sun Light My Way so I struggled for the first few chapters to remember what had just happened. I’ll try to summarise.

Isidro and Mira have been captured and are now slaves belonging to an Akharian mage scholar, Delphine. She knows Isidro is a “sensitive”, so is using him to help her to find the lost cache of lore left by the great mage Vasant. Sierra has agreed to help her former tormentor, Rasten – to train with him to use her corrupted powers properly and help him bring down their master, the great mage and general psychopath, Kell. She is about to allow herself to be captured by the Akharians to join Isidro and assist him to find the lost mage lore, to expand her powers and hopefully be able to use that over Rasten when next they meet.

This story is certainly not for the faint-hearted. There’s a LOT of torture and rape is frequently mentioned even if it’s not described in explicit terms. I can’t quite remember if the first book was quite as dark as this instalment, but wow, I certainly needed to read something a bit lighter once I got to the end of it all!

Despite the darkness, this is an absolutely enthralling world. The magic system is amazing, with corrupted sympaths drawing power drawn from pain or pleasure – usually through torture and humiliation of others. The system has painstakingly detailed rules and rapidly expanding lore – I hope we get to learn more about the Akharian mages, as well as the lost Ricalani magic.

The characters are what makes this story really come to life. Poor Sierra! With her power draining everyone around her, she is forced to leave her friends. I found it a little off-putting that she would immediately run into the arms of another, but even more strange to me was the path that Isidro took as soon as Sierra left – without spoiling anything, I suppose depression can make people do unexpected things, and Isidro does spend a fair amount of time down in the dumps. Rasten’s growth as a character is brilliant – I was really cheering for him there by the end! Delphine being part of this story lent an interesting cultural contrast between the Akharian and Ricalani cultures, with the Ricalani’s communal living and multiple wives baffling her.

There were so many unexpected turns in this story, I have no idea where it can all go next, but I can’t wait to read more in this cold and cruel world, although I am slightly worried about what more Jo Spurrier can put her characters (and readers) through! Highly recommended to high fantasy fans, but just be forewarned about the grisly nature of the story.

Warnings: Plenty of graphic violence, torture, sexual scenes (some abusive)

What did others think of Black Sun Light My Way?

  • “This series is also perfect for those looking for something outside of the usual sword-and-sorcery of high Fantasy, and it is a great entry point for newcomers to the genre.” – Speculating on SpecFic
  • “The numerous characters really shine in this book. They are full of personality and felt so real. Their bravery and loyality is unshakable, willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the people they love are safe.” – R. L. Sharpe

Review: The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie, Kirsty Murray

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!


The Four Seasons of Lucy MckenzieThe Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Kirsty Murray (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Lucy McKenzie can walk through walls. Sent to stay with her aunt Big in a hidden valley, Lucy discovers the old house is full of mysteries. One hot night, she hears a voice calling from inside a painting on the dining-room wall…

On the other side of the painting, Lucy meets three children. Together they race horses through the bush, battle fires and floods, and make friendships that will last a lifetime. But who are April, Tom and Jimmy Tiger, and what magic has drawn Lucy to them?

Details

Series: Stand alone
Genre: Middle grade Urban Fantasy (Time travel!)
Published: Allen & Unwin, 24 July 2013
Pages: 199
My copy: the publisher for review (thanks!)

Paper copies: Book Depository (Aug 1) •  Booktopia (Aug 1) • Bookworld
E-copies:   Not available yet..

Review

The room was full of moon shadows and dancing light. But it was the wall around the window that Lucy couldn’t stop staring at, the one with the painting of Spring. It was as bright as a sunny day, and the tiny yellow flowers that covered the fields were moving, as if a breeze had blown through the painting and set all the petals dancing.

When her sister is injured overseas, Lucy McKenzie is sent to stay with her Aunty Big in her old country house west of Sydney for a while. At first, Lucy hates the remote location and lonely old house of Avendale, until one night, she finds she is able to walk through one of the beautiful paintings that cover the walls in the dining room and finds herself in a different Avendale, with a strangely familiar young girl called April. Over the next few nights, Lucy is able to move through different paintings into the different seasons of that other Avendale, experiencing bushfires, floods and the advent of war, and discovering amazing things about her own family past and present.

Throughout the whole story, Lucy develops a love for Avendale and the beautiful valley surrounding it. The images of the bushland around the house, the river and of Pulpit Rock, up in the hills, are very evocative and it reminds me of childhood camping holidays spent exploring bushland (although we didn’t have any horses to ride!).

This story is like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe for Aussie kids. The idea of being able to walk into a wall-sized painting is a brilliant one – I remember being about eight years old myself, wishing I could walk through a picture of a forest covering one wall of a house we stayed in for a short time! I just loved that the old Avendale house was still standing all that time later – it makes me wonder what stood on the site of my own house some eighty years ago – possibly an old house like Avendale!

Children of all ages (including grown-up children) will love this story.

About the Author

Kirsty MurrayKirsty Murray writes books for children and teenagers. She was born in Melbourne where she first discovered the power of a good story. Kirsty now spends most of her time reading, writing and hanging out in libraries all around the world.

Kirsty’s works includes ten novels as well as many other books for young people. Her novels have won and been shortlisted for many awards and published internationally. Kirsty writes for young people because they are a universal audience. Not everyone lives a long life but every human being was once a child and the child inside us never disappears.

(Bio and photo from kirstymurray.com)

Review: Long Lost Song, Stephen C Ormsby

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!


Long Lost SongLong Lost Song (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Stephen C Ormsby (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

A virus is decimating America today and Michael Decker is the culprit. Or is he? Is it the work of a curse recorded into a song by 1930’s blues musician Ricky Jensen?

Long Lost Song tells the story of Ricky and Michael as they battle their personal and real demons while the world reaches end times of biblical proportions. One question remains. How do you stop a devil of a song made to break a crossroads deal?

Details

Series: Stand alone (for now)
Genre: Adult Paranormal Thriller
Published: Mythos Press, 2013
Pages: 244 (large format paperback)

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

Review

Long Lost Song is a modern take on the Faustian “selling one’s soul to the Devil” story. The story starts with the young musician Ricky Jensen, making a deal with the Devil in exchange for musical success. Ricky’s story of the 1930s is woven in and out with other stories from the present day, in which the retired rock musician Michael Decker is pulled from his quiet home in rural Victoria and convinced to travel back into the industry in the USA.

Meanwhile, a terrible pandemic has struck in both the US and Australia, spread by one of Ricky Jensen’s old recordings recently uncovered and spread like a virus via the internet and radio. Listening to the original track will kill outright, but watered-down remixes merely mind-control the listener so that the song can be spread further. Soon the whole world will be infected or dead, ready for the Devil’s final showdown. Michael is the only one who can stop the song’s spread, but he is being framed by the enemy as the instigator of the deadly virus, and he has no idea why he is suddenly America’s Most Wanted.

With plenty of unexpected turns, Long Lost Song is a story of the “end times” with a musical twist. There’s plenty of American and Australian music and pop culture references throughout and it’s clear that Stephen Ormsby must have an extensive playlist!

The pace stays high through the story – Michael gets more and more terrified the deeper he finds himself, and although the reader knows what’s going on with the song and its viral spread, most of the characters have no idea what’s really happening until right at the end of the story. This creates an air of fear and impending doom throughout – it’s very exciting storytelling and I found it difficult to put the book down. The jumping around between points of view (sometimes several times within a chapter) can get a little overwhelming and hard to keep up with at times, but each section helps to flesh out how the song is affecting people around the world.

The final chapter is very exciting and leaves plenty of opportunity for a sequel. Do you like the idea of a  fast-paced thriller with a rockin’ twist? Give Long Lost Song a try.

Warnings: Graphic violence including torture, sexual situations

About the Author

Stephen C OrmsbyStephen C Ormsby was an IT professional for twenty years before deciding to lead a more creative life. He has always loved the idea of writing novels and had written four when Long Lost Song came along, demanding to be published.

2013 looks to be a busy year with potentially three books coming out.

He lives in South Gippsland with his wife, two children and a mad cat named Smudge. He has travelled extensively, is an avid reader and enjoys listening to a wide range of music. He also plays guitar really badly.

(Bio paraphrased from Goodreads)

Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan

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!


The Brides of Rollrock IslandThe Brides of Rollrock Island (Sea Hearts in Australia) (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Margo Lanagan (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic – the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells – and brings forth girls from the sea – girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness – the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen.

But magic always has its price. A fisherman may have and hold a sea bride, and tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she is. He will be equally ensnared. And in the end the witch will always have her payment.

Details

Note: This book was published by Allen and Unwin in Australia as Sea Hearts, but is named The Brides of Rollrock Island overseas. I’m not sure why my library had a UK edition but that’s the one I’m reviewing.

Series: Stand alone
Genre: YA Fantasy/Fairytale
Published: Sea Hearts published Allen and Unwin, February 2012. Published in the UK by David Fickling Books Feb 2012, in the US by Knopf Books September 2012.
Pages: 320
My copy: Library

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

Review

The Brides of Rollrock Island is a dark fairytale concerned with the consequences of dealing with witches. It’s a strange book – rather slow moving, but the writing itself is very beautiful with lyrical descriptions that put you right into an exposed seaside town.

The story is told from several points of view throughout the book. Firstly, the story of the childhood of the sea witch Miskaella is told, and of her discovery of her powers. She is treated terribly by the townsfolk on Rollrock Island and when she discovers a way to bewitch the men of the island, she is delighted. Thus follows the stories of various families of the island as the men-folk succumb to the lure of the beautiful sea wives Miskaella is able to summon. These are no run-of-the-mill mermaids, mind you – these are Selkies, beautiful and ethereal women called to human form from their seal-forms. The men cast aside their own wives, and hide away the seal-skins so that the seal-women cannot return to the sea.

Make no mistake, this is no happy story – just about everyone in the story is desperately sad most of the time, except perhaps for Miskaella and her apprentice Trudle who take an evil delight in everyone else’s misery. The menfolk of the town seem very easily enchanted. Is the magic that strong or is Margo Lanagan trying to show that all men are fickle and weak-willed? Either way, the treatment of the human women on the island did leave a bad taste in my mouth, but I suspect that was the intended reaction.

I first decided to read this after I learned it had won both the Best Young Adult and Best Fantasy categories in this year’s Aurealis Awards over a few other short listed books that I enjoyed. Margo Lanagan has also recently won the Ditmar Award for Best Novel and the Norma K. Hemming Award (for exploration of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in science fiction or fantasy – wow, that’s a mouthful) for this book. I do believe the awards are well-deserved – the storytelling is exquisite, even if the subject material is rather dark. Here’s a small excerpt from Miskaella’s story:

Time and again I must force myself to see that no actual wind frayed or bent the air. I feared that at any moment I would be caught up bodily and thrown high away, or dissolved grain by grain up into this invisible wind. Surely my mind would break soon from seeing this, from seeing through the skin of things to the flesh and the bone, to the breath gusting through and the blood pouring about? I would die of it, or fall into some kind of terrible fit. For the first time I was seeing life truly, and the truth would overwhelm me; a person couldn’t bear this sight for long – a girl of nine should not be expected to bear it. Look at the power all but bursting from every cobblestone and grain of grit between! See how it was loosed in dribs and drabs so measuredly, moss crawling there in a corner, a schoolboy here running along his lane to join us, his greetings peeping within the roar-that-was-not-a-roar. Oh, the sky! I was glad of the clouds, the glowering light, for they seemed to my timid eyes to contain this ongoing event, though another, fresh-born, braver Misskaella behind those eyes knew that cloud of clearness was nothing to the purposeful flaring. It would leap regardless, pushed on outward by the forces from below.

If you’re looking for an unique and beautifully told fairytale, I do recommend The Brides of Rollrock Island, but perhaps steer clear if you’d rather not read a depressing story!

Warnings: Sexual references but otherwise very clean

About the Author

Margo LanaganMargo Lanagan, born in Waratah, New South Wales, is an Australian writer of short stories and young adult fiction.

Many of her books, including YA fiction, were only published in Australia. Recently, several of her books have attracted worldwide attention. Her short story collection Black Juice won two World Fantasy Awards. It was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and the United Kingdom by Gollancz in 2004, and in North America by HarperCollins in 2005. It includes the much-anthologized short story “Singing My Sister Down”.

Her other fantasy works for younger readers includes the award-winning Tender Morsels.

(Bio from Goodreads)

Review: Mudlark, Chris Matthews

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!


MudlarkMudlark (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Chris Matthews (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

On the outskirts of the city, a young orphan boy, Lark, is forced to scavenge the muddy flats of the river for treasure in order to survive. When he finds a magical box that cannot be opened, his life changes forever. Lark soon learns that he is destined to battle the Capposeign – the corrupt and evil theocracy that rules the city of Perous with fire magic.

However, Lark soon discovers that he has his own sort of magic, earned through a childhood spent in the water. He must quickly learn how to use his power or die trying. In his quest to take down the Capposeign, Lark must ally with a witch, an artist, a revolutionary, and a strangely familiar and beautiful courtesan. Facing the powerful fire mages will push Lark and his friends to the very limit as they fight to save the city but will their efforts be enough, or will it all go up in flames?

Details

Series: Stand alone
Genre: YA/NA High Fantasy
Published: Momentum Australia, July 1, 2013
Pages: 430
My copy: the publisher via Netgalley

E-copies only:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Momentum books

You can read a sample of Mudlark on the Momentum books site!

Review

A hundred years ago, the magic-users of Perous relinquished their magic to one man to save the land from an endless winter. The Capposeign Fire mages were not happy with giving up their power, however, and took it back forcibly, taking over the city and keeping the other magics of Earth, Air and Water locked away in a box.

Now, a mudlark boy finds a mysterious box in the mudflats along the end of the river. He doesn’t think much more of it as he is literally grabbed from the scavenger’s life. He is given the name Lark and is taken into a company of artists and free-thinkers who are preparing to instigate a rebellion against the Capposeign rulers and take back control of Perous city. Lark and his strange wooden box will eventually play a key part in the rebellion and the return of the other magic to the people.

Alongside Lark’s journey from young boy to young man, there are a host of other characters throughout this story – the young girl Fleur learning the courtesan’s trade on a pleasure barge, the earth witch and mother figure Magda, the charismatic ladies (and man’s) man Azule… At times the sheer number of named characters was overwhelming and I occasionally had trouble remembering who each person was, but by the end of the story each of the main characters were as familiar as friends – fabulous character writing in Chris’ debut work!

Mudlark incorporates a guy-girl-guy love triangle of an unusual type for most high fantasy, where the mutual love interest is one of the guys in the triangle, and the two guys fall in love. It’s quite romantic and a very natural progression – this isn’t an LGBT-targeted book in particular, it just happens that some of the relationships are of that nature. Just like real life, in fact!

I was a little confused with the nature of the magic in this world – all magic except Fire magic was supposedly taken away during the Relinquishment, but the adherents to each deity still have some ability to call up mists, become invisible, and other various skills. Is that not magic? That wasn’t explained so well, but apart from that, the magic system seems quite complex. Each spell costs energy and gifts are bestowed by the four deities. Even though this is a stand-alone story, I’d be interested to know whether there was more planned for this world, just to see the magic in action at full power.

The pacing in Mudlark is just right with action interspersed very well with the planning and travelling scenes, and the travelling parts cut down so there wasn’t days and days of horse riding or walking described. I found it very difficult to put this one down – very highly recommended to those who enjoy a story of revolution and the desperation of a repressed people. Despite having such a heavy subject matter and dark themes such as torture, prostitution and abuse, the overall story remains optimistic and left a smile on my face.

Warnings: Violence including torture, sexual situations (some abusive, but none explicit)

About the Author

Chris MatthewsA Londoner, Chris came to Australia as an unskilled migrant and finished up working as a lawyer, which she thought she’d like, but didn’t.

Instead she decided to write the sort of speculative fiction book she would have liked to read when she was a young adult. One where the women aren’t ‘damseled’ and the gays don’t all end up dead.

She lives with her partner of many years, Maria, and between them they have three children and two grandchildren.

She is a self-proclaimed sports tragic who supports Tottenham Hotspur, Port Power, and, because it is good to support at least one team that wins games, Barcelona FC.

On a gayer note, she is addicted to Eurovision.

(Bio (paraphrased from) and image from Goodreads)

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: Blind Sight, Ermisenda Alvarez


This post is part of the Blind Sight Blog Tour. Blind Sight is an urban fantasy novel written in two volumes, each telling the story through a different character’s perspective.

It is also 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!


blindsightBlind Sight: Through the Eyes of Leocardo Reyes (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Ermisenda Alvarez (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

A blind girl drawing is abnormal even on the magical island of Edaion where leaves brush themselves into piles in the middle of the night. As an immigrant, Leocardo is not biased by accepted rules of magic and determines that Odette’s drawings are premonitions. Aniela grew up with magic and knows premonitions are impossible. She determines Odette is a medium channeling voiceless spirits.

In this volume: Snatched out of their life in Spain, Leocardo and his blind sister Odette find themselves on an island with no recollection of the trip. After foiled attempts to escape, Odette’s strange behaviour gets worse. Even after learning the island has bestowed magic upon them both, Leocardo faces the possibility his sister is having a mental break down. Just as he thinks he is settled in, job and romantic life stable, Odette disappears.

Details

Series: Blind Sight #1
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Published: Self-published, February 2012
Pages: 177
My copy: for the Tour

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble
preview on Barnes and Noble
preview on Amazon

Review

Blind Sight is a tale made up of two separate books telling two sides of the story – Leocardo’s, written by Ermisenda Alvarez and Aniela’s, written by Eliabeth Hawthorne. I have been asked to review Leocardo’s story.

Leocardo and his blind sister Odette live away from their parents in Barcelona. One evening, Leo finds Odette drawing – something she should not be able to do in such detail. Afterwards she is groggy and he is at a loss to understand what is going on, but they both pass out on the couch and end up, inexplicably, in the strange country of Edaion with no memory of the journey there. Leo is horrified to find they have been kidnapped but Odette seems very calm and fine with the whole ordeal – like she is being artificially drugged somehow. Leo finds he is also having to fight feelings of calm – he knows something is wrong with this situation.

As time goes by, Leo and Odette start to try to fit into life in Edaion and discover more about this strange island. Odette continues to draw and have strange episodes, and Leo must put his escape plans on hold to try to discover more about Odette’s condition and help her.

The concept of having a story told in two different points of view was what really drew me into reading this book, and even though I haven’t read Aniela’s side yet I am very interested in doing so. Aniela is the mysterious “princess” who plays a major role in helping Leo discover Odette’s gift, and I think her side of the story would really help in fleshing out the royal family’s function in Edaion.

As with many self-published works out there, I felt this story could do with a thorough editing. There were some instances of awkward grammar and repetitive sections that disrupted my reading from time to time. I also felt that as the story was so short, major plot developments felt rushed, including the small episodes of romance. This is a shame because the story itself is fascinating and will hopefully be expanded in future works. This first instalment felt very much like an introductory chapter rather than a full novel.

My writing critique aside, I thought that Blind Sight was a very imaginative story with passionate characters. I’ll look forward to seeing what’s in store next for the citizens of Edaion.

Warnings: Squeaky clean.

About the Author

ermisendaalvarezAlong with numerous solo works, Ermisenda began writing on role play sites at fourteen and completed her first crime novel at fifteen. Driven by the desire to evoke the kaleidoscope of emotions her favorite authors are able to, she kept writing. Growing up bilingual amongst her Spanish family in Australia, she found a love and deep appreciation for language and the power it wielded.

Now she’s working on a joint project with coauthor Eliabeth Hawthorne. Ermisenda has written Leocardo’s perspective of Blind Sight #1, the first book in an urban fantasy series that changes depending on whose perspective you’re reading. So the question is, “whose eyes will you read through?”

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: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling

hp5Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk J.K. Rowling (website) (twitter)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected…

Details

Series: Harry Potter #5 of 7
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury, 2003
Pages: 766

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

Review

The long summer has dragged on, and despite experiencing a terrible and traumatic event with the death of Cedric and the resurrection of Lord Voldemort at the end of his fourth year, Harry is left horribly isolated with his aunt and uncle at Little Whinging. None of his friends or teachers contacts him or offers him any information about what might be going on in the wizarding world, so it’s not entirely unexpected that Harry, probably suffering from Post-traumatic stress, is incredibly moody and upset at everything in the first half of this book.

To top it all off, not only is the Daily Prophet printing articles calling Harry (and Professor Dumbledore) unhinged and mentally unstable, but the Ministry sends Dolores Umbridge to oversee education at Hogwarts.

Imelda Staunton as Professor Umbridge

Imelda Staunton as Professor Umbridge

Ah yes, Dolores Umbridge. Here is a woman who, despite not being a follower of You-Know-Who, still does an excellent impression of a dark witch – punishing students in horrible and unconventional ways, taking away privileges and has the most outspoken prejudices against “half-breeds” of any villain in the series so far. As she steadfastly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned and that the fifth-years need to know anything about Defence Against the Dark Arts, the students start up their own group called “Dumbledore’s Army”, taught by Harry himself. This gives them a release from the stresses of their school life and gives readers a great opportunity to see more of characters such as Neville and Luna, who are often pushed aside when the action starts. Even Ginny gets more page-time in this book, even if she does spend most of it with Dean Thomas.

The fifteen-year old students are starting to pair up and Harry finally gets together with Cho Chang, his crush of the past couple of years. It’s such an awkward relationship – Cho is clearly rather depressed about the events of the previous year, and Harry has no clue as to how to comfort her. Being in different houses, they hardly ever get to see each other, so it’s really only a matter of time and an extremely awkward Valentine’s Day lunch to break them up again. Ron and Hermione are still delightfully bickering with each other at every opportunity, but I’m not sure even Harry has realised at this stage just how much these two care for each other.

In my review for the Goblet of Fire I wrote that things start to take a dark turn from this book. While this book is certainly dark at times, it is a surprisingly normal school year. The fifth-years do their mountains of assignment work and take their OWL exams with only a few disruptions. Not sure what I was remembering from previous reads – perhaps the memory of Professor Umbridge overpowered everything else!

The confrontation in the Ministry of Magic is a little confusing with all the rooms, objects and injuries involved but it of course leaves Harry with a fresh grief by taking away the father figure he only recently discovered. I always felt Sirius got a bit of a raw deal in the overall story. He’s barely in any of the action and has to stay at Grimmauld Place – a house containing painful childhood memories for him – almost the entire time, then is unceremoniously dumped out of the story again.

At least at the end of The Order of the Phoenix the wizarding world is left with undeniable proof that Voldemort is back and on the loose. What they choose to do about it remains to be seen.

While I really enjoyed re-reading this instalment and seeing all the details left out of the film, I feel this wasn’t the most enjoyable of the stories. The poor kids are swamped with work the entire time and there’s barely any room for the fun that has permeated the previous stories.

On with the re-read!

The Harry Potter series

Harry Potter 1Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in USA)
(1997)

hp2Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
(1998)

Prisoner of AzkabanHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(1999)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(2000)
hp5Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003) hp6Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005) hp7Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
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