Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson

Dark Breaks the Dawn

Information

Goodreads: Dark Breaks the Dawn
Series: Untitled #1
Source: City Book Review
Published: May 30, 2017

Summary

The forces of Dark and Light must remain in balance on the island of Lachalonia, or the consequences could be dire. Dark King Bain has no qualms, however, and is bent on extinguishing the royal family who bears the power of the Light.  When he succeeds in killing Princess Evelayn’s mother, she becomes responsible for the fate of her people much sooner than she had planned, and she will have to take great risks to keep her kingdom safe.

Review

My feelings about Dark Breaks the Dawn are complicated.  Reading it now, as an adult, I find parts of it cliché and almost absurd—yet I can’t help thinking that if had read this book in middle school, I would have thought those “absurd” parts fabulous.   But, then again, I would have found them fabulous partly because they’re things I might have written about myself in middle school…but I think that I’ve learned better by now.  I guess my main conclusion can only be that I personally thought Dark Breaks the Dawn fairly flawed, but there’s probably a younger audience out there just waiting to gobble it up.

Some of these clichés include people with rainbow colored hair, people who have jewels literally embedded in their bodies that give them magic, and a royal family that is all-powerful simply because they are royal (divine right of kings or something, I guess).  None of these things are inherently bad; they just lack some of the subtlety or nuance that I think can be found in a lot of today’s YA fantasy.  And, as I said, in seventh grade I probably would have thought a character with purple hair and a magic jewel in her chest was the coolest thing ever, so maybe it’s all a matter of perspective.

I think the more objective flaw is the book’s pacing.  There’s instalove, to start, which makes it difficult for readers to feel invested in the romance.  Protagonist Evelayn also solves many of her problems with extraordinary ease.  This mean that things that are hyped up as big, dangerous, impossible events by the characters do not come across that way to the reader.  Instead of feeling that Evelyan was performing epic feats, doing things that no one had ever dared to do before, I got the impression that was she accomplished was hardly difficult at all.  I wish scenes had been more drawn out and built more suspense.

Otherwise, however, Dark Breaks the Dawn is pretty solid fantasy.  There’s a clear battle of good vs. evil, plus a badass princess, and a decent amount of plotting and intrigue.  There’s supposed to be some Swan Princess influence, but that only comes in at the end of the novel and looks as though it will be more of a focus on the sequel.   The book isn’t really for me, but I could imagine other people liking it.

3 Stars Briana

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The Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente

Information

Goodreads: The Glass Town Game
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Sept. 2017

Summary

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë have spent countless hours imagining stories in the room at the top of the stairs.  Now, however, Charlotte and Emily must go off to school–where their two older sisters died from fever.  But just as it seems separation is inevitable, they find themselves in a magical world where the Duke of Wellington still fights Bonaparte.  Even stranger, the world seems to be the one they themselves have created and it is populated with their toys.  At first they imagine they can stay there forever.  But when Branwell and Anne are kidnapped, the siblings realize that this world may be out of their control.

Review

Catherynne Valente is one of my favorite authors.  She possesses a talent for creating whimsical worlds and for writing breath-taking prose.  For her to write a fantasy based on the juvenilia of the Brontë siblings is thus a dream come true.  And The Glass Town Game does not disappoint.  It takes readers to a magical land where toy soldiers come to life, words are surprisingly literal, and romance and danger intermingle.  Any fan of fantasy will be sure to enjoy it, but fans of the Brontës may also be surprised at how engrossing Glass Town can be.

A caveat before we begin: hardcore fans of the Brontës who feel that any imaginative work based on their lives and writings is a desecration will probably not be amused. The playfulness of a land where Brown Betsys are actual women, “Old Boney” is made of bones, and the Duke of Wellington rides a lion made of water may be lost on these individuals.  I delighted in the creativity and the oddity of it all–but if you’re looking for madwomen in the attic or a brooding Rochester, you may be disappointed.  This is first and foremost a fantasy–one with nods to the writings of the Brontës and one based on their lives–but still a fantasy.

But, oh, what a fantasy!  I wish I could return to Glass Town already!  It may be full of danger and death and deception, but it also has the handsome Duke of Wellington and the alluring Lord Byron.  Jane Austen, Marie Antoinette, and a host of other historical characters intermingle with women made of flowers and of metal, luggage that can come to life, and a potion that raises people from the dead.  The “real” and the fantastic coexist in the chummiest way.  It makes you believe in magic all over again.

And the Brontës are excellent guides through this new land.  You just have to fall in love with them, from the moment you learn about the stories they create and the way they wish they could bring back their dead sisters and avoid potentially sharing the same fate.  Glass Town is bizarre, but so, so much better than those terrible boarding schools!  But the Brontës do not really feel sorry for themselves.  Not for long.  They are brave and bold and daring–and maybe just dishonest enough to get themselves out of Glass Town alive.  Even Branwell, who typically comes off as annoying loser in these types of tales, is sympathetic.  He wants to be bold and bright.  He wants to be admired.  He just…isn’t.  He’s too self-absorbed to really be the type of man anyone could depend upon.

If you have already read Valente, you will not need my recommendation to read her again.  If you have not, you are missing out.  She is one of the best fantasy writers out there today, one whose prose is as magical as her worlds.  So whether you enjoy fantasy or Valente or the Brontës–pick up this book.

5 stars

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Enchantment of Ravens

Information

Goodreads: An Enchantment of Ravens
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 26, 2017

Summary

Isobel is renowned for her portrait painting, and the beautiful, deadly fair folk are her most prestigious patrons, being unable to engage in any creative Craft themselves without losing their immortality. She has perfected her dealing with them and their tricksy wish-granting to an art itself—until the day she paints human emotion into the Autumn Prince’s eyes—a weakness—and must stand trial for her treachery.

Review

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into An Enchantment of Ravens, but I think I anticipated that this would be more of a fantasy adventure novel and less of a paranormal romance. I like romance in books but not when the romance is the entire book of the book, which was one of the primary reasons An Enchantment of Ravens did not quite work for me. The other issue is that the book is fairly generic and just doesn’t stand out from the YA crowd or even from other human/Fae romances I’ve read.

The book starts intriguingly, with a description of a town called Whimsy and a fairy folk who have zero ability to perform Craft (which apparently includes “making” literally anything, from clothing to art to writing to food; don’t ask what these people eat since they can’t cook). However, as the book progresses, the world building gets more and more muddled, as Rogerson springs an increasing number of magic rules, customs, and creatures onto the readers. And, frankly, I still don’t understand how the world works at large, such as how one gets into the Fae lands or how one gets into the World Beyond (which seems to be the rest of the human world besides the single town of Whimsy?)

The romance is equally baffling at the beginning, since it’s not really clear how or when the protagonists fall in love.  In theory, they have days of interaction; in reality, Rogerson fails to actually describe their conversations or what might have led to their romantic feelings. It’s not necessarily instalove because there is some build-up; it’s more that the build-up is bafflingly off-page.  As the book progresses, the romance gets better, and I do think Rogerson has some talent in writing romantic tension and declarations of love. I simply wish she had used more of that talent at the start of the story.

Plot-wise, it seems as though things happen primarily because they are obstacles to the protagonists’ love.  There’s not really a larger story here, even though there are hints about the transformative power of Isobel’s Craft that I would have loved to see further explored.  I have seen some readers complain about the episodic nature of the beginning of the book.  Episodic quests don’t inherently bother me, but it does seem here as if there’s no real purpose to a lot of the challenges that Isobel and the prince face.

Overall, the book is fine but not remarkable. If you’re normally a fan of Fae/human romances, like the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, An Enchantment of Ravens could be something to look into.  If, like me, you want more adventure than romance, this might not be for you.

2 star review Briana

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

Information

Goodreads: Calamity
Series: The Reckoners #3
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

David is facing the greatest challenge of his life.   His own friend has turned against him and now wreaks vengeance upon the world.  David will do anything to get him back.  Even if it means facing Calamity himself.

Review

Brandon Sanderson knows how to write a fantasy/action novel.  The stakes have been raised increasingly higher as the series progressed.  Now, in the final book of the Reckoners trilogy, things are about to get insane.  Not content with killing or saving individual Epics, David wants to go to the source itself: Calamity, who burns brightly in the night sky.  Teleporting to outer space to face down the greatest evil of them all?  No problem.  David lives on crazy.

Part of Sanderson’s appeal is that he tends not to pull punches.  Things are looking grim.  David and his crew are essentially alone.  Many have died.  They fully intend to die next.  Unspeakable horrors have happened and unspeakable horrors have been caused by them.  Sometimes, you see, saving the world gets messy.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is a hero and who is not.  As the final showdown approaches, David and the others are going to have to figure out who they are and what they are fighting for, as well as how far they are wiling to go.

The moral questions raised by Sanderson’s characters help to raise the Reckoners trilogy beyond an action story.  The point is not that things are explode–even though Sanderson’s action scenes tend to be pretty cool.  Rather, the point seems to be that everyone has a choice.  To good or to do harm, to stand up or to crawl away.  The story asks: what kind of choice will you make?

5 stars

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Information

Goodreads: Firefight
Series: The Reckoners #2
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

David did the impossible.  He killed a High Epic.  But in the process he lost another.  Now he’s on his way to Babylon Restored, formerly Manhattan–to try to find answers.  He needs to know that Epics can be redeemed.  But Regalia, ruler of Babilar, is waiting.

Review

If there is one thing Brandon Sanderson knows, it’s how to write a thrilling fantasy.  Firefight contains all the action, drama, and detailed worldbuilding a fantasy fan could want.  Combined with its cast of compellingly sympathetic characters, it’s sure to keep readers up all night.

Firefight expands the world of the Reckoners, bringing them out of Newcago and into Babylon Restored.  A new setting,  new crew, and new villain all ensure that the story stays fresh.  This is no repeat of Steelheart.  The Reckoners may kill High Epics, but each Epic is different.  And Regalia, ruler of Babylon Restored, seems to have bigger plans in mind than simply lording over what used to be Manhattan.  It’s a race against time as David and his friends attempt to solve the mystery before they find themselves in a trap they cannot escape.

Fans of Sanderson will need no urging to read this book or start the series.  They will know his unique ability to create complex worlds, intriguing systems of magic, and plots with twists it is hard to see coming.  This book contains all that while also delighting in its ridiculous adherence to all the best tropes of action films.  It almost feels campy–in the best possible way.  This is one of the few series that I wish contained more than three books.

5 stars

Tortall: A Spy’s Guide by Tamora Pierce

Tortall A Spy's Guide-min

Information

*written with Julie Holderman, Timothy Liebe, and Megan Messinger

Goodreads: Tortall: A Spy’s Guide
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: October 31, 2017

Official Summary

The secrets of Tortall are revealed. . . .

As Tortall’s spymaster, George Cooper has sensitive documents from all corners of the realm. When Alanna sends him a surprising letter, he cleans out his office and discovers letters from when King Jonathan and Queen Thayet first ascended the throne, notes on creating the Shadow Service of spies, threat-level profiles on favorite characters, Daine’s notes on immortals, as well as family papers, such as Aly’s first report as a young spy and Neal’s lessons with the Lioness. This rich guide also includes the first official timeline of Tortallan events from when it became a sovereign nation to the year Aly gives birth to triplets. Part history, part spy training manual, and entirely fascinating, this beautiful guide makes a perfect gift and is ideal for anyone who loves Alanna, King Jonathan, Queen Thayet, Kel, Neal, Aly, Thom, Daine, Numair, and the unforgettable world of Tortall!

Review

As a longtime Tamora Pierce fan, I was delighted to hear about the release of Tortall: A Spy’s Guide.  It’s a beautifully designed and illustrated book that is supposed to be composed of papers from the files of George Cooper, the Whisper Man, himself.  This means that the collection of information is a bit more random than I expected (they’re seriously just papers he found jumbled together in a room next to his office), so I think the title A Spy’s Guide is slightly misleading about the content of the book, but overall this is a fantastic reference for fans and a lovely addition to any Tamora Pierce collection.

There’s an introduction by Pierce at the front of the book that welcomes fans and newcomers alike, but the book relies on reader recognition of allusions to characters and events from practically all of Pierce’s different Tortall series, so I see little value in recommending it to someone who hasn’t read Pierce’s other books.  For readers who do get the allusions, the volume is a treasure trove of information, including everything from letters from members in Alanna’s family to spy reports on characters like Thayet and Buri before they entered Tortall to the guide to how to spy itself.  Some of the information is more of a reference guide than something worth reading straight through, such as the descriptions of various Immortals and the timeline of Tortall’s history.

If you like Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series (and especially if you like George!), you will not regret buying this book.  It’s a great blend of new, exciting information and beautiful design, so it will be worthwhile addition to your shelves.

5 stars Briana

Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson

EdgedancerInformation

Goodreads: Edgedancer
Series: Stormlight Archives #2.5
Source: Purchased
Published: October 17, 2017

Official Summary

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, a special gift edition of Edgedancer, a short novel of the Stormlight Archive (previously published in Arcanum Unbounded).

Three years ago, Lift asked a goddess to stop her from growing older–a wish she believed was granted. Now, in Edgedancer, the barely teenage nascent Knight Radiant finds that time stands still for no one. Although the young Azish emperor granted her safe haven from an executioner she knows only as Darkness, court life is suffocating the free-spirited Lift, who can’t help heading to Yeddaw when she hears the relentless Darkness is there hunting people like her with budding powers. The downtrodden in Yeddaw have no champion, and Lift knows she must seize this awesome responsibility.

Review

I get the impression that Edgedancer is going to prove its value primarily after I read Oathbringer.  As I was reading the story, I thought that it was entertaining but not necessarily as special as a lot of Sanderson’s other work.  However, the book made more sense to me after I read Sanderson’s postscript: he wrote it because he realized he needed to offer more character development for two characters who will be prominent in Oathbringer.  In one sense, then, I’m not sure I can fully judge this before continuing to read the Stormlight Archives, but I’ll offer a few thoughts anyway.

Protagonist Lift is, admittedly, annoying, but I think one of Sanderon’s strengths is that he writes a wide variety of characters, and they are often realistically flawed.  In Lift’s case, she’s a bit hard-headed and determined to believe in her own vision of the world, no matter what other people say to her or what evidence she sees to the contrary.  Part of this, we learn, is defensiveness, which suddenly makes it more understandable.  So while she’s not necessarily my favorite book character of all time, and we certainly wouldn’t be BFFs, she’s interesting, and I think a lot about her is very real.

Plot-wise, the book is fairly straightforward with just enough small twists to remind me that Sanderson is generally a master of taking me by surprise.  This isn’t quite as mind-blowing as some of his novels, but since it’s a novella meant to fill in some gaps of the main series, I think the amount of surprises is fair.

Mostly I appreciated this book for prodding my memory about some of the primary events that happened in The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance.  I’m probably still going to need to read a more detailed recap of the first two books before jumping into Oathbringer, but before reading Edgedancer I remembered practically nothing about the start of the series, so it was nice to get some reminders about what the major developments are and what a couple of the major characters were up to.  (So, yes, Edgedancer is going to be spoilery if you have not read the first two Stormlight Archives books yet.)

I purchased this because Sanderson is basically an auto-buy author for me now, and even though it’s fairly short and not 100% on the level of most of his other work, I think it was money well-spent, and I think it’s going to be worth having read before I get to Oathbringer.

4 stars Briana