The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller

The Dark Intercept

Information

GoodreadsThe Dark Intercept
Series: The Dark Intercept #1
Source: City Book Review
Published: October 31, 2017

Summary

Violet Crowley is the daughter of the president of New Earth, a utopian society built in the skies of Old Earth. The peace is kept by the Intercept, a computer program that tracks everyone’s emotions and can weaponize them if necessary, stopping crime before it’s committed. As Rebels arise questioning the Intercept, however, Violet must determine whether she believes safety is worth the intrusion on her emotions.

Review

I’ve been stumbling across various YA dystopian novels lately that are being quietly marketed as general science fiction than as specifically dystopians; The Dark Intercept is one of them. While I don’t think publishers need to stop releasing dystopians, I do think authors need to do a lot more to make their stories stand out in the wake of The Hunger Games fad, and The Dark Intercept simply fails to offer anything new.  The book is fine, particularly for younger readers who may have missed the original dystopian craze, but personally I was bored.

I don’t like “emotions dystopians” in the first place because it seems pretty far-fetched to me that the government would have a real interest in controlling things like love.  In The Dark Intercept, readers are faced with a world where the government has determined that they can control people through emotional memories.  Basically, if someone looks like they might commit a violent crime, you initiate a bad memory and Boom! they’re on the ground sobbing, incapacitated.  No crime is committed, and the police don’t need to deal with things like guns themselves.

This whole premise seems unlikely to me, but, okay, I guess.  My bigger issue is that, although I agree having the government track your emotions is invasive, the stakes seem so much lower here than in other dystopian novels.  You see, the government doesn’t actually do anything with your emotions unless you are actively committing a crime.  Legally, no one is allowed to look at your file, and it seems no one does.  Yes, I would still push back against this system because it has the potential to be abused by the government in the future, but in the heat of the moment of the book itself, things don’t seem “too” bad.

The characters that inhabit this world are well-developed, ranging from the president of New Earth to the Chief of Police to the rebels and various Intercept employees.  Violent, as a protagonist, is curious and smart, though honestly I thought a lot of the plot read as her being overly nosy and naïve.  Her love interest seems to have a fascinating life, but he doesn’t interact with Violet all that much in the book, so the romance isn’t really a selling point.

I did really appreciate that the book seems to have just about wrapped everything up because standalone dystopian novels in the YA market are rare.  However, this is apparently supposed to be a series anyway.  I have no idea where it will be going from here and, frankly, don’t personally care.  This book is fine but just not a stand out in any way.
3 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

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Vassa in the Night

Information

Goodreads: Vassa in the Night
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: September 20, 2016

Summary

Everyone knows not to go to the BY’s convenience store. Shoplifters are beheaded there, and it seems that everyone who enters leaves a shoplifter.  But BY’s is the only store in Brooklyn open throughout the night, which has been getting longer and longer.  Just one minute feels like an eternity.  So when all the light bulbs in Vassa’s home go out one night, her sister asks her to pick up a pack at BY’s; waiting for the morning and another store to open will take too long.  Against her better judgement, Vassa goes, but she finds herself caught up in a much bigger plot than she expected–and sentenced to work three nights at BY’s before she can go home.

Review

Vassa in the Night is…an interesting book. It’s something like magical realism set in an alternative Brooklyn, so readers should expect some things to be taken for granted and never explained. That seems to be the way of magical realism in general. However, my personal struggles with the book weren’t really because I couldn’t follow it–but because I was following it, and basically nothing the characters said or did make sense.  Magical realism should mean that magic just is in the universe, that there’s no explanation of magical rules and such, not that the characters are also completely baffling in terms of actions and motivations.

So, sure, the book is confusing at times, as many readers have pointed out.  For instance, there are several characters who speak in Alice in Wonderland-esque dialogue, which sometimes Vassa can decipher into something reasonable and sometimes she cannot.  When Vassa doesn’t get the message, she ignores it, so I decided to do so, as well.  There’s also the confusion of the world-building.  Vassa implies that there’s a decent amount of magic in the world (and that Manhattan has cool, good magic and Brooklyn has annoying magic?), but all readers really see is the magic convenience store that’s the focus of the novel.  It’s actually not clear what other magic exists in Brooklyn that humans are aware of.

Mostly, however, I was irritated by the fact that practically every character in the story makes big, life-changing decisions apparently on a whim.  Sure, explanations are given for a lot of the characters’ actions, but the motivations never seem solid or believable.  The most obvious example of this is that Vassa herself goes to a convenience store known for beheading its customers simply because her sister suggests she go–and Vassa delights in the idea that if she dies, her sister will have to live with the guilt of it all. That’s right, she’s willing to die in order to stick it to her bratty sister.  This is a passing fancy, a gut reaction, something someone would think in the heat of a moment but not actually go through with! Yet Vassa does.  And several other characters takes similarly large risks based on thoughts that should have just been passing, not acted upon. (I won’t name them to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve read the book, you probably know whom I’m talking about.)

I did like some of the characters, sometimes.  Vassa is undeniably brave.  She basically has the same moment of revelation as Moana–that sometimes there’s no big hero coming to save you, so if you want something done, you have to pick yourself up and do it yourself.  That’s pretty admirable.  However, her wooden doll sidekick has a bit of an attitude I found obnoxious rather than quirky or charming, and a lot of scenes are colored by her snide remarks.  The nicest person in the book is perhaps Vassa’s older stepsister, but she’s mostly absent.  I wish I had more people to root for and connect with.  Instead, I just felt as though I were watching people I only mildly cared about.

The book is original. I give it points for not really being like any other YA book I’ve read. Ultimately it just wasn’t my taste.  Porter has suggested there might be a sequel, and I think that’s great for her, but I have no desire to read a series in this world, which is one of my primary tests of how much I enjoyed a book.

2 stars Briana

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker


WarbreakerInformation

Goodreads: Warbreaker
Series: Warbreaker #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 2009

Official Summary

Warbreaker is the story of two sisters, who happen to be princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, the lesser god who doesn’t like his job, and the immortal who’s still trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago.

Their world is one in which those who die in glory return as gods to live confined to a pantheon in Hallandren’s capital city and where a power known as BioChromatic magic is based on an essence known as breath that can only be collected one unit at a time from individual people.

By using breath and drawing upon the color in everyday objects, all manner of miracles and mischief can be accomplished. It will take considerable quantities of each to resolve all the challenges facing Vivenna and Siri, princesses of Idris; Susebron the God King; Lightsong, reluctant god of bravery, and mysterious Vasher, the Warbreaker.

Review

Warbreaker seems overlooked compared to Brandon Sanderson’s other books (in a very relative way, mind you; people are definitely reading it).  The fact that people seem far more obsessed with the Mistborn books, The Stormlight Archives, The Reckoners series, etc. gave me a pause, however. I wondered if Warbreaker is secretly known to be less well-written than Sanderson’s other books, and I just wasn’t in the know.  However, after reading it, I can say with sincerity that the novel fully lives up to typical Sanderson standards.

With characteristic detail, Sanderson builds a wildly imaginative world in Warbreaker.  Here, color and Breath is the foundation of magic. It’s complicated, and the world hasn’t quite figured everything out, but Sanderson avoids bogging the story down with too much explanation. It’s actually a nice change from all the detailed magical fight scenes in the Mistborn series.

That leaves quite the right amount of focus on the characters and the plot, both of which are extraordinary.  Sanderson has a talent for inventing cultures that push things to the extreme, and here he introduces readers to a city obsessed with attention and color  that brings to mind parallels with the Hunger Games Capitol.   Contrasted with the bright city, however, is a “rebel” town that values modesty, moderation, anything but standing out.

The real show is the characters, however, including the gods that the city puts on display.  I admit I pretty much despise Lightsong and didn’t find him funny at all.  He seems to think he’s witty, if annoying, but his jokes really aren’t that clever.  I struggled with finding him a character to root for.  Many of the other characters grated on me, as well,  even as I appreciated the skills with which they are drawn.  Siri and Vivenna, the two princesses, resonated with me better.

Warbreaker isn’t my favorite book, mainly because I didn’t like half the characters in it.  However, it says a lot of interesting things about human nature, and I enjoyed watching various characters struggle with learning to respect the religions of others, and struggle with trying to follow their own. That, combined with a plot full of magic and intrigue, earns this four stars from me.

4 stars Briana

Secret History by Brandon Sanderson (Mini Review, Spoiler Free)

Secret HistoryInformation

Goodreads: Secret History
Series: Mistborn #3.5
Source: Purchased
Published: January 26, 2016

Official Summary

Mistborn: Secret History is a companion story to the original Mistborn trilogy.

As such, it contains HUGE SPOILERS for the books Mistborn (The Final Empire), The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. It also contains very minor spoilers for the book The Bands of Mourning.

Mistborn: Secret History builds upon the characterization, events, and worldbuilding of the original trilogy. Reading it without that background will be a confusing process at best.

In short, this isn’t the place to start your journey into Mistborn. (Though if you have read the trilogy—but it has been a while—you should be just fine, so long as you remember the characters and the general plot of the books.)

Saying anything more here risks revealing too much. Even knowledge of this story’s existence is, in a way, a spoiler.

There’s always another secret.

Review

As you can see from the official summary, saying basically anything specific about this book is considered a spoiler (I’ve seen bloggers agree), which makes it really hard to write a review. However, I’ll try to be as vague as possible while still being helpful.

I’m torn on this book because on one hand I thought it was fascinating to read–not necessarily because of the secrets revealed but just because it has a really great plot. Sanderson knows how to write excitement, and he doesn’t fall short in this novella.  It’s just a really good read.

On the other hand, I’m a little sad I read this because it really exemplifies Sanderson’s need to try to explain everything about his fantasy worlds.  I follow the school of Tolkien in thinking it adds something to a fantasy to have some things left unexplained, to believe there’s also something more, wonderful and mysterious, just back another layer.  Sanderson is all about stripping away mystique to prove to readers he has an explanation for everything, and I don’t always want one. However, I’m a sucker for anything he writes, so he could publish something titled “How Exactly My Entire Cosmere Functions” and I would buy it.

I’ve seen other readers suggest reading this only about Mistborn #6, which is what I did. However, I think I personally would have been fine reading it after Mistborn #3 and perhaps would have preferred that.  It’s been a while since I read the original Mistborn trilogy, and I would have liked to remember more of the details from that in order to read this novella.  That said, a general knowledge was sufficient, if not ideal.

4 stars Briana

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

words of radianceInformation

Goodreads: Words of Radiance
Series: The Stormlight Archive #2
Source: Purchased
Published: March 4, 2014

Official Summary

Six years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.

Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.
Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status “darkeyes.” Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

Review

Words of Radiance continues to immerse readers in the world of Roshar that Sanderson set up in The Way of Kings.  All the best characters are back and, even better, their paths truly begin to converge.  This is really just the beginning but it is clear that eventually, the most powerful people from across the world will meet and things are going to be epic–if the world doesn’t end first.

I will admit that the opening of Words of Radiance is a bit slow.  Sanderson loves to describe things in exquisite detail, and while that means his world building and magical systems are incredibly well-imagined, it also means the story can get bogged down while Sanderson tries to perfectly set things up.  I also found Kaladin–my favorite character from The Way of Kings (after Syl?)–to be insufferable for the first half of this novel.  His determination to be perpetually disgruntled is certainly part of his character development, but it also reminded me a lot of Harry in Order of the Phoenix, lots of irrational anger and unnecessary angst.  Thankfully, Kaladin eventually pulls himself together.  The other characters also continue to find themselves and transform.

And, in the end, the characters are really the main draw.  The overarching plot certainly progresses–but it is also difficult to judge what it is progressing toward.  The Stormlight Archive is a projected ten-book series, and from what readers know now, I can really only predict the plot for two additional books.  Sanderson, of course, is a master of pulling off twist endings (see the Mistborn trilogy), so I’m certain he’ll eventually pull off something wild and unexpected. For now, however, all I know is that the Voidbringers will probably come back and there is no way Dalinar and company are going to spend eight books trying to defeat them.  The journey of this series is fascinating, but it’s hard to feel as if you’re really progressing if you have no idea what the end goal is.

I will, of course, continue to read the series anyway.  I love the characters and the world and am dying for Sanderson to surprise me!  Sanderson usually shines with the structure of his writing, and I’m sure I’ll be impressed once I figure out what the structure of the Stormlight Archive is.  I can’t wait until 2016 and Book 3!

Briana

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of KingsInformation

Goodreads: The Way of Kings
Series: The Stormlight Archives #1
Source: Gift
Published: August 31, 2010

Official Summary

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

Review

Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is the start of an epic fantasy masterpiece. A shrouded past, a world at stake, and a plethora of character who barely realize their own power make the world of Roshar a frightening, fascinating place to visit. Sanderson’s characteristic attention to detail and insight into human nature add to the immersive experience.

The book is complex, divided into multiple points of view. There are, of course, the four main characters, but intermittent chapters are also narrated by other characters, some of whose perspectives obviously are not going to be of primary importance until later in the series. Personally, I did not find the number of points of view overwhelming; however, the book does suffer from the usual annoyance that as soon as I would get into one character’s story, the book would be off to another. The perspectives switch chapter by chapter and it is rare to stick with any one character for any length. Also, I enjoyed some characters more than others; it was not until nearly the end of the book that I was particularly interested in Shallan’s chapters, though she did grow on me and I would like to see more of her in Words of Radiance.

The sheer number of characters and plot lines, which begin to converge only in the final chapters, also mean the pacing is slow. Again, however, I have no issue with this. I am deeply invested in most of the characters, their stories, and their struggles. Sanderson does a masterful job of creating characters of great nobility and great potential who still have fears and flaws. So while the overarching plot progressed somewhat, the main attraction of this series is going to be watching it unfold slowly from many perspectives. As the saying goes, journey before destination.

The pacing also means that there are not quite as many wild plot twists in this particular novel, something I have come to expect from Sanderson’s books. There are a couple unexpected turns—again, near the end of the book—but I suspect the series will have to get a bit further before Sanderson really throws my predictions on their heads. Right now, I know some things are not quite what they have seemed, but do not really know what the implications of these revelations are. Of course, this is not a bad place to leave readers at all, if an author wants readers to keep reading the series!

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors, and The Way of Kings does not disappoint. Vivid, imaginative, wild, and wise, it is all the things I could hope for from an epic fantasy—or just a good book. Highly recommended.

Let Discuss!

Have you read The Way of Kings? Tell me who your favorite character is in the comments!

Briana

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of AscensionInformation

Goodreads: The Well of Ascension
Series: Mistborn #2
Source: Purchased
Published: August 21, 2007

Official Summary

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a healthy new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.

Review

As readers of the blog know, I’m becoming a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson.  I had nothing by praise for Steelheart, Elantris, and Mistborn.  So suffice it to say that The Well of Ascension showcases the same great writing: tight prose, incredible world-building, etc.  Just assume Brandon Sanderson is amazing at all times so I can get on to a few observations that are more specific to this book.

First, Sanderson continues with very strong character development.  He throws Vin, Elend, and company into entirely new roles in The Well of Ascension, and they react very realistically: with effort, but with doubts.  They are attempting to build an entirely new society, and they have to figure out how they fit into it.

To that end, the book asks a lot of deep questions—about what it means to be a good person, what it means to be a leader, and if the two can ever be the same.  It prods at the question of what it means to be an assassin, if killing can ever be a good skill, if there are different kinds of killing.  And it asks how much one owes society and how much owes oneself.  In a sense, the book keeps asking how people can find balance in their lives, and how they can accept who they are.  The answers are all different but all very good.

One flaw that I have not experienced with Sanderson’s other books (because they are either standalones or the first in their series!): The Well of Ascension does at times feel like a middle book.  The pacing is a little slow occasionally, and there is a definite sense—despite there being a plot arc specific to the book—that we are really waiting to get the somewhere else, the meat of the entire series.  It is not too overwhelming of a problem (after all, seeing how the characters plot to do the impossible, again! is actually interesting), but I was kind of disappointed that Sanderson did not write an absolutely perfect book for once.  Apparently he actually is human. 😉

That said, Sanderon completely makes up for the slow bits with a mind-blowing ending.  A second time.  Usually when authors pull off crazy, clever plot twists, they have difficulty replicating the process.  Not Sanderson.   He entirely upends readers’ expectations in Mistborn and he does it again in The Well of Ascension.  And, again, the stakes suddenly skyrocket.  Vin and her friends are having a really hard time saving the world here.

Sanderson is simply a fantastic writer, one who can deliver both good content and good prose.  He knows how to write a story that is interesting in terms of plot, but which also teaches readers about human nature and asks them to think about how they themselves fit into the world.  Definitely an author to continue watching.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

MistbornInformation

Goodreads: Mistborn
Series: Mistborn #1
Source: Purchased
Published: July 17, 2006

Official Summary

Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.

He failed.

For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.

Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.

Review

Brandon Sanderson immerses readers into a layered and well-imagined world in Mistborn.  Everything, from the history to the politics to the magic is planned and explained.  Sanderson even weaves in excerpts from an ancient text, enriching the imagined past of the novel (Better yet, these excerpts are actually interesting!  Not every author achieves that.).  Fantasy readers will be caught at this intricate world-building, but that is only the tip of the iceberg for Mistborn.

Sanderson’s characters plot to play out the world’s greatest heist; they are going to kill an unkillable god and rid their people of a tyranny that has lasted generations.  To do so, they assemble an unusual team, one consisting primarily of professional thieves—an unexpectedly idealistic crew.  Their secret weapon: Vin, a skaa girl taken from the streets, a girl who should be too low-born to possess such powerful magic.

There are two results from this set-up.  First, Mistborn has a varied cast, featuring characters from all walks of life and cultures.  All of them are complex, with secret pasts and hidden hopes.  No one here is a fantasy trope.  Second, Mistborn is filled with action and intrigue—the good kind, where the scheming is intricate and the outcome unexpected.  The characters are actually clever, actually almost-qualified to pull off the impossible.  Watching them is both thrilling and inspiring.

Finally, every good magical fantasy book needs a magic system that makes sense, and Sanderson delivers.  Allomancy, a magic that “burns” different metals to achieve different effects, has clear rules and seems almost scientific in its logic.  And Sanderson is never wishy-washy or hand-wavy about its use.  There are, in fact, times when explanation of Allomancy seem overdone, when every detail of a fight seems included and explained, but this demonstrates the thoroughness of the invented guidelines of the system, and there are definitely hardcore fantasy fans who will love (and dissect) the minutia.

Mistborn is fantasy writing at is finest, a complex but highly readable book that brings readers a good story, good characters, and good messages.  It happens to function beautifully as a standalone but readers will be scuttling to finish the trilogy.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the ForestInformation

Goodreads: Daughter of the Forest
Series: Sevenwaters #1
Source: Purchsed
Published: April 1, 1999

Official Summary

Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.

But Sorcha’s joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift-by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever.

When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all…

Review

Daughter of the Forest has a unique voice that will captivate the right audience.  The story follows teenager Sorcha, who must save her six brothers from a curse set on them by their wicked stepmother.  To do so, she must make six shirts from a painfully thorny plant and refuse to speak until the spell is broken.   Marillier draws on Irish culture and history for even the tone of the novel, creating a quiet, mystical atmosphere that focuses on the relationships of her characters.

The quiet tone really sets the pace for most of the novel, and the plot begins slowly.  Personally, I was most invested in the story when it was practically over.  There is something to be said for a fantastic finale—but there is also something to be said for getting readers hooked from the beginning and keeping them there.  It does not help that a number of plot events are cliché, and not always in the “well, this is a fairy tale retelling so certain cliché things must happen” way.  Basically, if anything can happen to thwart Sorcha’s quest, it does, and it is often predictable.

I also found the motivation for the entire plot somewhat unsatisfactory.  Sorcha’s brothers are cursed by their evil stepmother, who happens to be one of the Fair Folk.  No explanation is given for her doing so, besides that she is evil.  I at least would have appreciated some non-answer about how evil fairies must exist to balance the good in the world.  However, readers are not given even that.  I left the book with the sense that Lady Oonagh is evil just because she is, which raises some questions about whether she has free will (at least in my mind).  And she curses Sorcha’s family just because she can?  How pointless.

These complaints aside, however, I did enjoy reading Daughter of the Forest.  The integration of Celtic religion and history is interesting in its own right, but Marillier’s decision to weave in the story of “The Six Swans” somehow manages to highlight the culture.  This story is actually both entertaining and educational.

The romance, which I think will be the main draw for many readers, is also very compelling.  The beginning of it could use a little more grounding, although, ironically, this is not entirely clear until the end of the book, where the love interest describes his own feelings basically as instalove.  Yet from that first moment, his relationship with Sorcha quietly grows and blooms, and readers will love how strong he is, how gentle when necessary, and how competent at his work.  Also, who doesn’t enjoy a long speech by the love interest detailing all his romantic feelings?

Daughter of the Forest is an enjoyable fantasy, if not my favorite.  It has a unique voice and focuses on relationships more than magic and swords.  Perfect for lovers of Celtic mythology and druidism and for fans of fairy tale retellings.

Content Note: There is a rape scene in this book.  It does affect Sorcha psychologically, but I hesitate to say it added enough to the plot to be warranted.  Basically the same story could have occurred without the rape (though the love interest does give Sorcha’s fear of men as a reason he was not more straightforward about his romantic intentions, which leads to some specific plot events).