To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny

To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny is a 174-page science fiction novel originally published by Doubleday & Company in January of 1973. The book is actually the second in the Francis Sandow series–I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the series now! The book can stand alone, though, as it’s not *technically* a sequel. I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing any information about characters, plot, or setting. I read To Die in Italbar as a part of Vintage SciFi Month.

To Die in ItalbarThe story revolves around the journeys of a mysterious man called “H” who has a unique power that allows him to heal even the most terminal of illnesses. Another important point of view is that of Malacar Miles, a military man who is determined to find H to use the horrifying flipside of his healing power–the ability to spread diseases that H has contracted–in order to strike at Malacar’s old enemies. There is one female POV of note–a girl who works in a brothel but secretly idolizes the military prowess of Malacar and wishes to meet and help him take revenge on their mutual enemies. I loved her raw anger, but I can’t remember her name.

The story switches back and forth between points of view so often with no indication of who is the current POV that I was continuously just trying to figure out whose story I was reading. This is in part because four of the main characters are all relatively similar male points of view. What kept me going was the overarching plot and divine nature of H’s gift and the fact that he waivered back and forth between periods of healing and periods of diseasing people near him.

I also really enjoyed Malacar’s plotline. There was a deep political background to the novel through Malacar’s history of war with a planetary alliance that overtaxed and refused to accept his planet as a part of that alliance. His story grounded the otherwise fantasy-like tale of H. Malacar also had a friend of an alien race named Shind that had telepathic powers and was just truly fascinating. I would have been happy to read an entire book about Shind, who helped to give Malacar a little emotional depth.

The resolution of the novel tied up all the loose ends that I didn’t think Zelazny would even bother with. It was a bit surprising but completely satisfying. The cameo by Francis Sandow intrigued me enough to want to read Isle of the Dead (Francis Sandow #1). Sandow is a planet builder, and his story reminded me a bit of the Magratheans from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is one of my favorite space-faring series.

To Die In Italbar was a quick read, although I originally only read 10 pages before putting it down. Vintage SciFi Month encouraged me to reread those pages and finish the book. I’m glad I did, because it was seriously intriguing! This was the first book I’ve read by Zelazny, and I’ll definitely be picking up more books by him. I’d recommend this novel to fans of sci-fi and fantasy that has military and religious overtones.

TITLE: To Die in Italbar
———————————————
AUTHORRoger Zelazny
———————————————
PAGES: 174
———————————————
ALSO WROTE: Chronicles of Amber, Lord of Light
———————————————
FIRST LINE: On the night he had chosen months before, Malacar Miles crossed the street numbered seven, passing beneath the glow-globe he had damaged during the day.

 

 

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling is a 464 page novel, published by Harper Paperbacks in 2013. It’s the first in the series of the same name.

The Queen of the Tearling Cover

Much scientific (especially medicinal) knowledge was lost during the Crossing—three centuries previous to the events in this post-apocalyptic tale. I believe the Crossing was from America to Europe, partially due to a legend of an entire ship full of doctors and medical equipment sinking during the Crossing.

In the new feudal world, Queen Kelsea–who has spent 19 years being raised and trained to rule the Tearling–is herded onto the throne in place of the Regent who happens to be her slovenly uncle, desperate to keep his place on the throne. More

The Courtesan By Alexandra Curry

I received The Courtesan from First to Read (a Penguin program). It was published by Dutton in September of 2015.

24611456

After her mother dies in childbirth and her father is executed, Sai Jinhua is sold to a brothel and expected to learn the art of pleasing and pleasuring men. Along with many other young girls, she is repeatedly and brutally taken advantage of. However, one day, a gentleman comes and tells Jinhua that she was his lover in a past life and proceeds to purchase her and install her as his concubine. More

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone was recommended and lent to me by a friend. It is a 418 page fantasy/magical realism novel by Laini Taylor. It is also the first book in the series of the same name.

The plot of the novel focuses on a 16 year old girl, Karou, who grew up in Prague in the presence of three chimaera and strange men who bring teeth to the chimaera named Brimstone to trade for wishes. Needless to say, her childhood was a little odd. Karou attends a school for the arts; she studies drawing and painting alongside her best friend Zuzana, who studies more physical arts–like puppetry.

Everything seems “normal,” or as normal as it can get for Karou, until Brimstone sends her on a mission to get more teeth in Marrakesh (Morocco) and she is interrupted by Akiva, an angel bent on closing the portal doors to Brimstone’s shop and cutting Karou off from her only family, for reasons unknown to her. When Karou tries to stop him, she sets on an unstoppable course to finding the true, awful, source of magic and the unending war in another world known as Eretz between angels and chimaera.

More

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. It is a 496 page YA sci-fi/fantasy romance. Well, it is classified as a romance, but I think I would actually call it a non-romance. Not lacking romance, but having non-romance. This may sound silly, but it will be explained in the review. The review will have some spoilers for the first book, so if you haven’t read it yet, you may want to either wait to read this or just accept that you would have found out the information eventually, anyway.

Insurgent is a direct continuation of Divergent, starting where the previous book leaves off. Tris and Tobias are together and are getting out of Dauntless after the simulation attack. The first stop on their journey is the Amity compound. The Amity value peace above everything else, so in this war-time, they are pressed into some sort of action towards the Erudite/Dauntless/Abnegation conflict. Our heroes visit other places as well, but I won’t give away the entire plot. While Tris and Tobias are trying to solve the faction problems, they also face a rift between them as their secrets start growing and never really stop.

The book jumped back into the action quickly and effectively. After about 75-100 pages, however, things started going downhill for me. I enjoyed learning more about both Tris’s and Tobias’s families, and more characters in other factions, but the inner thoughts of Tris made me quite angry. Although it is through her that I learn about Tobias–and don’t get me wrong, I love his character–it is also through her that I have to listen to constant complaints that he’s keeping secrets, when the book begins with her keeping a huge secret from him. Instead of being open about it, she literally complains for 300 pages about this.

The action in this part is still good, and I still cared about the plot and really wanted to know what was going on with the factionless (those people who did not make it through initiation into a faction) and the Erudite. However, Roth didn’t see fit to give me the information I wanted, but instead made me read through Tris’s inane thoughts for multiple chapters. This is where the non-romance comes in. Rather than furthering their relationship and having the characters become more emotionally mature, they seem to backtrack into childish secret keeping and what seemed to me a version of the “who can keep silent longer” game. This felt extremely non-romantic to me, and didn’t make me desire their union but some sort of resolution that would just get Tris to mentally shut up about Tobias.

The final 20% of the book redeemed it for me; reading the end was a thrill. It felt like Roth remembered that she had to keep people interested for a third novel, so she kicked the action into gear and started doing things about the Erudite attackers and Dauntless traitors. It brought up something bigger than the factions, and a possibility that truly made me want to read the final novel in the trilogy. It is really ONLY this fact that I recommend this novel. The final chapters are good enough for me to forgive the middle of the book. So if you enjoyed the first book, or want to find out what’s going on in a dystopian sense of this world, I do recommend at least reading the first and final 100 pages of Insurgent. Other than that, I would say you’re not missing much and you should just wait for the movie (which I am actually a little excited for).

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is a 487 page, young adult, dystopian fantasy. It is the first novel in a trilogy, also called Divergent (creative, eh?), and is on the verge of being released as a feature film. A few of my friends really enjoyed this book so I added it to my reading list. As my computer has been out of commission these past few weeks — I lost my power cord in the move and didn’t have the ambition to get another — I decided to get started on it.

Divergent is about a 16 year old girl named Beatrice Prior. Every year, the 16-year-olds are given an aptitude test of sorts that places each person in their most fitting faction. A faction is a sort of society of people who all value a similar basic trait, and there are five such factions: Candor (truth), Erudite (knowledge), Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peace), and Dauntless (bravery). Each year, all 16-year-olds are given the aptitude test and are allowed to choose the faction they will spend the rest of their lives in.

Our main character, Beatrice, was born into Abnegation, but she has never felt that she was selfless enough to truly fit in. Even her brother Caleb, who is also 16, has always seemed infinitely less selfish than Beatrice feels. When she takes her test, the results are astounding. While most young adults are suggested one faction, Beatrice comes out with three. The tester, a Dauntless female with tattoos, demands that Beatrice never tell anyone that she got an almost impossible result–Divergent. I won’t give away what this means, but I will say that it’s a deadly secret, and creates agony for a 16-year-old on the verge of making her first life changing decision.

While training for her initiation after choosing her faction, Tris (the newly coined Beatrice) meets some new people, including our second main character, Four, and a few malevolent characters as well. From here, the plot of Divergent moves incredibly fast; I finished the book in two sittings. I devoured this story. Even though some of the writing was a little too fresh for me (I believe this was Veronica Roth’s first novel), I enjoyed getting to know about the factions.

However much the factions seemed to make sense in the world Roth created, I thought it odd that everyone showed such essentially good traits. Maybe I’m also just not cut out for Abnegation or maybe the factions seem a little too idealistic. Although the story says it is dystopian, I wonder how long after the fall of what I can only assume is the original government that this book takes place. How long does it take a society to stop being primarily scavengers to figure out an entirely functional (if not completely benevolent) government that works enough to have someone who is Divergent be considered different and dangerous? I really hope this gets hashed out in the following books. Dystopian novels are a thrill for me, as much for the new world as for the destruction of the old.

I loved most of the characterization in this book. Beatrice was, even fresh out of Abnegation, a strong female lead. Four was probably my favorite character — an instructor of the Dauntless — does it get any more dangerously attractive than that? Thanks to the idea that people can learn to hide their original factions, it became interesting to learn whose parents started out in different factions than you might expect. I believe Roth succeeded in building a lot of character intrigue. Although, to be honest, there was some mushy happenings between Tris and her male lead, I believe that was to be expected in a YA novel about 16-year-olds. Even with the cute romance, the dystopian story still shines through.

Overall, while I had some squabbles with the writing, Divergent is a pretty strong debut novel and a good start to an interesting world. After finishing the book, I started Insurgent, the second in the Divergent trilogy. I am eager to learn more about the world Roth created, and maybe see the characters shake things up in their factions. The future of this series is exciting, and it doesn’t hurt that the third book in the series, Allegiant, is due out this October.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a 552 page fictional novel about a young German girl who lives near Munich during the height of Nazi Germany. I picked this novel up on a whim at a sale (garage sale? library sale? I’m not sure–it was quite a while ago). I was hesitant to read it because it seemed like a very popular book, and I’m always pretty hesitant about joining the masses in enjoying something.

The Book Thief

One interesting thing about the novel is that it is narrated by Death. Death is pretty fed up with humans and their many ways and reasons they find to kill each other. In fact, one might say he is tired of it. However, it is still his job to take the souls of the dead with him, and it’s a job that never ends. I both loved and hated Death as a narrator; loved because it was new and interesting, hated because it was a little sad knowing even at the beginning of the novel who dies and how they do so. This was extremely effective though, and didn’t take away from the novel even a little bit.

Although during World War II, Death was pretty occupied, he had a special interest in Liesel Meminger, a young girl who was given up by her mother at the age of 11 to a foster family–Hans and Rosa Hubermann–in Molching, Germany. He read the book she wrote when she was young, and kept an eye on her from then on. This is how we get Liesel’s story. The plot of The Book Thief is centered around Liesel’s foster family and the Jewish man they hide in their basement. The tension here is well done and fascinating, while Liesel’s innocence brings a new point of view to Nazi Germany.

It’s been a little while since I finished this novel, so most of the details aren’t fresh in my mind. I do still have a lingering feeling of delightful sadness. While that may be an oxymoron, it’s true for this story. Death hangs over everyone, literally, and helps prepare you for eventual sadness so that you can enjoy the small happiness that Liesel has in her child’s world, like “stealing” books from the governor’s wife, playing ball with Rudy Steiner, and learning to read and write by painting on basement walls. This truly is a delightful book–though a better description might be bittersweet–even with the incredibly dark tones brought about by WWII.

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

The Blinding Knife is the 671 page sequel to The Black Prism. It is the second book in the fantasy Lightbringer four book series by Brent weeks. This story continues the narrative of the seven Satrapies and the Chromeria.  For a fuller explanation of the government and magic system–chromaturgy–see my review of The Black Prism.

The Blinding Knife (Lightbringer, #2)In this novel, the story focuses on developing relationships between Gavin, the Prism of the Chromeria, and the people closest to him–Kip Guile (son), Karris White Oak (ex-fiance), Andross Guile (father), and Dazen Guile (prisoner/brother). Brent Weeks really does some great characterization in this novel. I actually began to like Kip, who was really bullheaded in The Black Prism. Well, he’s still bullheaded, but now he has goals and sticks up for himself. We also meet some new characters, like Teia, a small slave girl who has been sponsored to train and be tested as a Blackgaurd, and gain a deeper understanding of Chromaturgy and secret draftable colors thanks to Kip’s training in the Blackgaurd.

Also partially thanks to that training, the fighting and focus on battle in this novel was more intimate and more involved than in the first novel. Kip trains and plans to try out for the Blackgaurd, the elite force that guards the Prism’s life and answers only to the White (basically the head of the Chromeria). While Kip is training, Gavin is attempting to defeat the bane — a “god” of a certain color. Gavin first attempts to find and tackle the blue bane, which has been causing many oddities such as blue snowflakes around the world. While searching for the blue bane, he is also trying to stop war from happening. During his search, we see a lot more of his relationship with Karris, which was one of my favorite things to read about in both novels. Whispers of betrayal and regret make their interactions electric.

While in The Black Prism there were whispers of color wights (drafters gone mad after they draft too much) answering to a higher calling, this novel actually presents the real threat. The Color Prince, known as Lord Omnichrome, is a polychrome wight–a drafter of many colors who has “broken the halo” on all of them, meaning he should have gone mad from drafting so much light. Instead of madness, he has taken to leading the wights and people who believe that wights can still be sane. This goes against everything the Chromeria teaches, so Gavin has to deal with both the wight banes and the Color Prince in order to attempt to stop a war.

In The Blinding Knife, Weeks does some more amazing work with his light magic system, introducing a new draftable color and new concepts of drafting and alternate theories of wights. Along with those improvements, his fictional world grows even more; we are introduced to Seer Island, a remote location that houses a mystical Seer that sort of helps, in the vague way that Seers do, Gavin search for the blue bane. These aspects, and the excellent character building that Weeks does, make this an even more fantastic book than the first. I could hardly put it down. He even throws in a fascinating card game–Nine Kings–that I really hope he explores more in the next book. This series is one of the best that I have read in a long time, and if you haven’t started reading it, I ask… Why not?!

The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore

The Crystal Shard is the first book in the Icewind Dale trilogy and the fourth book in the Drizzt Do’Urden series (after his original trilogy, Legend of Drizzt). It is a 344 page fantasy novel set in the Forgotten Realms, a popular Dungeons and Dragons campaign verse. Although this trilogy was actually written before Drizzt’s origin trilogy, it is in fact chronologically AFTER the Legend of Drizzt trilogy by R.A. Salvatore.

The Crystal Shard (Forgotten Realms: Icewind Dale, #1; Legend of Drizzt, #4)This novel follows Drizzt Do’Urden, a dark elf who forsook his evil brethren in their dark home of Menzoberranzan for the cold lands of Ten-Towns, Bruenor Battlehammer, a stalwart dwarf and one of Drizzt’s only true friends, Regis the halfling, a cunning thief who owns a mysterious pendant that helps other see his point of view, and Wulfgar the barbarian, who is rescued by Bruenor after the battle of Ten-Towns.

The main plot of The Crystal Shard focuses on a wizard, Akar Kessel, and his discovery of none other than… the Crystal Shard! It is a malicious, magical Shard that gives its rightful wielder immense power. Kessel intends to use the Shard to unite all the goblins, orcs, giants, and beasties in the Icewind Dale in order to take over Ten-Towns–home of many citizens and our heroes.

Another threat to the towns are the barbarians that have been putting aside their differences in order to attack the towns and steal their wealth. While these threats are obvious to our heroes, the people of Ten-Towns will never admit something is wrong — so it is up to Regis, the cunning halfling, to try to gather the towns’ forces in order to save the people. There are, of course, character developments and fun training sessions from Drizzt, the ultimate fighter, but the majority of the novel deals with the impending battles and then the battles themselves.

What I really love about Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels is that they are so straightforward that they make for incredibly fast reads. The story is not slow paced or fast paced–it just is. The fighting is done well, it doesn’t take too long and isn’t too brief. The characterization is deep throughout the novels but not overdone. These are just solid fantasy novels about pretty typical RPG characters–a cunning and precise drow, an easy to anger and Mithral-loving dwarf, and a brutally strong and single-minded warrior. It is enjoyable and excellent at getting to the point.

If you haven’t read the Legend of Drizzt trilogy, don’t fret. This book catches you up on all the plot points and characters you missed. Although I enjoyed that series a lot, as I really loved Drizzt’s character development and homeworld, it is not necessary to read before reading The Crystal Shard. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys fantasy or role playing worlds.

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

The Daylight War is the third installment in the Demon Cycle, a planned five-novel series by Peter V. Brett. It is a 639 page fantasy novel. The story continues to follow the main characters of the previous novels and adds a new main POV — Inevera — the woman (should I say seductress?) on the cover on the novel.

The Daylight War

The first two novels in this series were focused on two powerful men who learn the secrets of defeating corelings, Arlen Bales and Ahmann Jardir. This novel focuses heavily on the women behind the scenes of the men, Renna, Leesha and Inevera. The main plot centers around the tensions between all these people, and the fact that each community believes either Jardir or Arlen are the Deliverer-come-again to rally armies and save humanity from the corelings. In the meantime, the mind demons become aware of these two powerful minds and aim to destroy them before they can make a difference in the world. Unfortunately for the demons, Jardir is equipped with ancient weapons of immense magic and power that protect him, and Arlen — thanks to consuming demon meat and tattooing himself with wards — is learning the secrets of their power, and starts traveling through the core and virtually teleporting around the world.

Along with the demon battle going on, the namesake, The Daylight War, is finally getting a little more exciting. The Krasians have left the desert and are coming to the north to gather everyone into one great force to fight the demons. In order to rally forces, first they must “convince” the northerners to come to their side. This shows the culturally real side of the Krasians; they rape, pillage, set fire to food supplies and force their women-as-second-citizens culture onto the greenlanders. We get to see this in-depth when Leesha and some of her company travel to the Krasian fort. Seeing the culture push was a wake up for how brutal most Krasians can be. I loved these sections of the book, though–the Krasians are and have been my favorite to read about in the second and third novels. Brett is excellent at exploring and describing different cultures.

While this story follows Arlen and Renna, Rojer, Leesha, Jardir, the mind demons, and pretty much all the characters from the previous novels, my favorite character in The Daylight War was the new main POV, Inevera. Because she was so mysterious in the first two novels, I was always curious about her training as a Krasian dama’ting, a healer and fortune teller of sorts. While most dama’ting are born into the life, every once in a while the dice, mystical pieces of carved demon bone, foretell a Damaji’ting–the predicted wife of Kaji, the original leader of the Krasians (and therefore wife of the Sharum Ka, first spear and leader of their country). Because the other nie’dama’ting have known each other and have been training since birth, Inevera is not only behind in knowledge, but also an outsider and a pariah in her group of peers. Her struggles are endearing — I applaud Brett for being able to make me sympathize with someone I once detested.

On the lighter side of things, we also get a POV from Abban — the Krasian trader and friend of Arlen. Smaller perspectives like his–while not a huge source of plot movement–kept the story fresh, because by the end of the novel, I wasn’t sure if I could stand to read, “Love you Arlen Bales” another time. The romance is fun for a while, seeing Arlen being more of a normal human, but Renna’s character seemed like she was trying too hard to please him. She becomes sort of a wild woman, hunting all the time, eating demon flesh, a generally violent and feral woman-beast. It seemed Arlen was more a temperance for her than she for him.

The coreling battles, while less numerous, were outstanding in this novel. Corelings start coordinating, and the mind demons act as generals to the lesser demons. Their attacks on major human settlements were both disturbing and fascinating. This is where Jardir’s and Arlen’s powers truly shone; Brett did a fantastic job narrating the battles. At the end of the novel, when the demons have been at bay for the waning of the moon, there is a human battle of sorts (supporting the title!), and is all too brief for my tastes. It was thrilling, but the ending felt unfinished. Perhaps that’s because I am now anxious to read the next novel and don’t want to wait.

Overall, I would say this book is an improvement in point of view on The Desert Spear, and moves along much quicker, if only because you’re hurrying to get to Inevera’s next section. This installment of the Demon Cycle is a great addition, so if you’ve read The Warded Man and The Desert Spear, this is definitely a must-read. If you haven’t had a chance to get into the series, what are you waiting for? This series is incredibly creative and fun.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

When I was desperately in need of some well done fantasy, I went looking for a new author. Peter V Brett led me to Brent Weeks, and I tried out The Black Prism on a whim. It is a 629 page sort of epic science fantasy novel, the first in a planned four book deal known as the Lightbringer series.

The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1)

Before I detail the plot and characters, I want to give a little description of the magic system which centers around light and the ability to “draft” physical objects from it. Each drafter can draft different colors — each color has certain strengths and weaknesses; green can be incredibly durable, but will also weigh you down and can induce mania, superviolet may be invisible to most, but it can be used in secret messaging, and so on. When someone can draft, which not everyone can, they can be a monochrome (one color), bichrome (two colors), polychrome (3+ colors, usually in successions: red-orange-yellow), or if they can draft every color, they are known as the Prism.

Only one person can be the Prism at a time. They last for years in increments of 7 — they die out after 7, 14, or if they’re lucky, 21 years. Gavin Guile is the Prism at present. Unfortunately, due to unknown circumstances, his younger brother Dazen was also granted prismatic drafting abilities. This spawned the Prism’s War (or the False Prism’s War, if you were on Dazen’s side). Gavin won the war 16 years ago, and has been the religious figurehead, sort of emperor, and High Luxlord Prism of the Chromeria ever since. The Chromeria is a neat, sort of oppressive ruling body and elite school where anyone who can draft, and can afford it or earn a sponsor, goes to learn the magical craft.

The Black Prism follows Gavin and a few other key characters, like his bastard son, Kip, his prisoner and brother, Dazen, his ex-fiance Karris, a general who fought on Dazen’s side in the False Prism’s War, Corvan Danavis, and Corvan’s daughter, Liv. I honestly can’t talk too much about plot without giving away a huge spoiler that happens about 1/3 of the way into the book. Though I will say that watching Kip and Liv, both from the same town originally, learn and grow so differently based on how the Chomeria affects them when they go there was a great dynamic.

Spoilers aside, the plot focuses on Gavin’s great purposes that he sets out to accomplish before his final 7-year span finishes and how each of the other characters eventually help or hinder him. In the land, there are seven satrapies (sort of territories/countries) that are loyal to the Chromeria. Unfortunately, one of them–Tyrea, has had their head satrap (diplomatic leader) go rogue and insist he is the King of Tyrea. Gavin has to enlist the help of everyone to try to figure out why this occurred–aside from the fact that Tyrea suffered major losses 16 years ago in the (False) Prism’s War–and how they can put an end to the senseless massacres of innocent citizens.

I loved this book, and the magic system was incredibly fun to learn about. Of course, once you think you have a handle on it, Weeks throws in some curveballs that the characters don’t even understand, but that just adds to the whole mystery of chromaturgy (drafting powers). The only real complaint I have about the book is Kip’s POV. Even from the beginning of the novel, I wasn’t a huge fan of his sections. At first, I thought he was a boring weakling, but even after he started becoming more powerful, he was just awkward. It was obvious that it was part of his appeal, but I didn’t find it that appealing. The shifts from third person narration to first person in his sections was a little jarring at times, and sometimes just felt unnatural. Fortunately, it was a rare occurrence that the rest of the brilliant narrative easily makes up for. Balancing his incredibly awkward teen vibe, Gavin Guile absolutely shines in the book as a debonair, clever, handsome, and extremely powerful ruler who is actually wily and more humble than he likes to admit. His character was incredibly fun to read as a POV and I am excited to get more of him in the next book, The Blinding Knife.

With The Black Prism, Brent Weeks spins an incredible tale of secrecy, intrigue, loyalty, and questionable faith. If you enjoy high/epic fantasy with incredibly intricate and clever magic systems, I highly recommend The Black Prism. It’s through the magic and worldbuilding that the book really shines. With plenty of character growth in the second half of the novel, the Lightbringer series is a promising one.

Crimson Rising by Nick James

Crimson Rising is the 360 page science fiction sequel to The Pearl Wars, the first of the Skyship Academy series by Nick James. I was browsing in Barnes and Noble, just looking for something to spend a $10 gift card on, when I saw this! I was not even aware that the The Pearl Wars had a sequel, so it was very exciting. Anyway, onto the review…

Crimson Rising (Skyship Academy #2)

After the showdown in Seattle at the end of Pearl Wars,  Jesse Fisher and Cassius Stevenson realize there is a lot they have yet to uncover about their home planet and family. The Skyship Academy is now basically holding Jesse prisoner, assigning him an older-brother-type gaurd and sentencing him to what basically amounts to a time out. Cassius is now on the run — from his original home of the Unified Party, and also from his original enemies, the Academy itself.

This story jumped straight into the action, similar to the first novel. Jesse, the Pearlbreaker, finds a new red pearl that he is unable to break, or even touch. A new character is brought into the mix — Theo — a young child who is incredibly dangerous and has an even more deadly secret (that I won’t spoil). Along with Theo, Jesse and Cassius have to deal with enemy aliens who are trying to exterminate humanity and take over the planet. They are, what some might call, in over their heads.

Crimson Rising was incredibly fast-paced. The action is well-done and interesting, and even stepped up a notch from The Pearl Wars. Though it had been a few months since I read the first one, the narrative did a great job at bringing me right back into the world of the characters. I loved every bit of Avery and Jesse’s interactions; Cassius, on the other hand… I will say I liked his parts — he is a fugitive on the run from the domineering woman he thought was his mother! However, while I feel Jesse was definitely the main character of the story, I wish I would have gotten more of Cassius’s side.

I would have to recommend reading the The Pearl Wars first, for obvious reasons, and because it was a great start to an intriguing world. Crimson Rising made me want to invest even more time into the world that Nick James created. Learning about the aliens’ home planet and the manipulations of a fascinating and dangerous element, Ridium, satisfied my inner sci-fi desires. If you enjoy sci-fi or post apocalyptic worlds, I would absolutely recommend this incredibly fast paced action novel.

Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons

I started reading Watchmen during second term of last school year, and finished reading it for my graphic novel class during May term. I forgot that I had started a review until I got into listening to Bob Dylan and the song “The Times, They Are A-Changin” came on. For those of you who don’t know, that is the title song for the film adaptation of the graphic novel. Back when graphic novels were, shall I say, less accepted and more ‘edgy’, Watchmen was a must-read for many followers of the medium. Now, it seems cliche to list it as a favorite graphic novel, but I will preface the review by admitting it has become one of mine. I was unsure of how long it really is until I searched it — my book is broken into the original 12-issue series, and so each issue starts over at page 1. According to goodreads, Watchmen is 408 pages.

Watchmen

Watchmen is incredibly complex and has many, many threads of narrative. One of the main threads is that of the people who used to make up the Watchmen and their lives. There is Jon, as most everyone would recognize as Dr Manhattan, his girlfriend Laurie (Silk Spectre II), Dan (Nite Owl II), Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), and Rorschach.  Rorschach, the only one from the Watchmen that still wears his mask, is convinced there is someone killing off masked heroes. He travels his old haunts and alerts his old comrades of his hypothesis. While this is occurring, the world these ex-heroes live in is illuminated. In a political struggle with the Soviet Union, scientists count down a giant clock to midnight — how close they think we are to nuclear war.

A second thread occurs as a series of stories and flashbacks. We are told the story of the original Minutemen, and their exploits and fall into disrepair as many members met horrible ends (death, insanity, etc.). This is a sort of parallel to the present, post-Keene Act. The Keene Act outlawed vigilantes, forcing heroes to hang up their costumes.

A third thread is a separate story entirely. Included throughout the novel is metacomic sort of story. From Tales of the Black Freighter, we get “Marooned,” a story about a man who is marooned on an island with his crew. I won’t get into this thread much — though it is interesting and a great commentary on the rest of the novel, it is grisly.

A fourth (sort of) thread we receive are chapters from “Under the Hood”, a novel written by Hollis Mason (original Nite Owl). It is interesting as well, and adds a lot of back story to the novel, but I won’t go into much detail here. In a similar fashion, we get to read some of Adrian Veidt’s letters and ideas.

If you thought I was kidding about an insanely complex story, I think you might see now that I was being completely serious. Everything in the novel is clearly written or illustrated with intent. There are so many subplots that while I want to rant about how I enjoyed each one, I will resist. Moore himself even said, “we spend a good deal of time with the people on the street. We wanted to spend as much time detailing these characters and making them believable as we did the main characters.” So I hope you can understand that every character was deep and well thought out.

Due to the fact that I read this for a class, I have lots of things I would like to talk about, but for brevity’s sake I will pick just one. In small groups, we discussed the polarity of characters Rorschach, who sees life in black and white, and Veidt, who has a much more subtle view. I personally preferred Veidt’s views, and though many who saw the movie see him as an ass, I believe the novel puts his views into perspective and show how he really is a genius (his ‘power’ is being the most intelligent man in the world).

One of my favorite things about this novel is the excruciating amount of detail. I really mean that; if you look through the book after reading it multiple times, I am positive you would still find new symbols or background images that comment on the story. My favorite chapter of the book is titled, Fearful Symmetry, and rightly so. I was incredibly pleased (tickled pink, you might say) to find that the first and last page, second and second to last, third and third to last, etc. pages were symmetrical — in color, size, and many times even in content. This is just one example of the time put into the amazing illustrations. Every panel seems painstakingly put together with tiny details that are only revealed through multiple readings, once you have a grasp on plot.

Sound like I’m gushing? The only thing I really didn’t enjoy about Watchmen was the “Marooned” comic — and that was just because it was a lot darker (in color, not just content) than the rest of the novel. Even this, I could appreciate, if not love. Just about everything else in this novel is worthwhile. I think the questions that arise from this story about humanity, life, and what we are personally willing to do when it comes to saving human life are worth pondering. I have much respect for both Moore and Gibbons for the masterpiece they have created. I urge you to read it. If you enjoyed the movie, read the novel; if you haven’t seen or read either and don’t know what to expect, feel free to watch the film. It is also excellent — many scenes were taken directly from panels in the book. Both are excellent pieces of literature.

Mockingjay

At first, I was POSITIVE I was not going to like this book anywhere near as much as I did the first two. From the mediocre reviews, the hinting suggestions from friends that it just didn’t live up to others, and my own doubts about how Suzanne Collins was going to be able to end the series, let’s just say I was afraid for this book’s safety. I was positive I was going to give it 3 stars, say, “that was decent” and move on. Well…

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)

I will not forget that the cover of The Hunger Games is WHY I got to experience this superb tale.

At first I WAS disappointed. I was disappointed in Katniss. Couldn’t she pick someone and stick with them? I was disappointed in Haymitch. Couldn’t he sober up and help Katniss when she needed it? I was disappointed in the Capitol. Couldn’t they get over their greed for power and realize that so much life was going to be wasted in the coming months? Let’s just say, I was disappointed.

After the original disappointment wore off, what came next was bitterness. I could feel how Katniss had changed since her time in the games. I felt like I understood her — she said something to the effect of not liking anyone that she didn’t have a lifetime to decide about — I felt so similar to her (is that a bad thing?).

Although this book is much more centered on the political rebellion aspect of the world of Panem, I enjoyed it (almost) no less than the other two in the series. There were parts in the first third of the book that felt jumbled to me, a weird mix of long stretches of introspection with sharp bits of action thrown in. It was jarring, to say the least.

I want to say I have not devoured a series as quickly as I did this one (minus the brief break before I got my hands on the other two books– I decided to treat myself on my birthday) in a long, long time. Some may say this book disappoints as a finishing touch to the series. My bitter/angry/desperately sad tears for the last twenty pages beg to differ.

Again, my call is that if you liked The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, you HAVE to read this book. Even if it doesn’t give you the ending you want, you must. I was initially angry about the wild turn of events, but then I realized it was completely realistic and fitting to each characters’ personality. I think Collins knows her characters very well to finish the way she did. I hope you read and enjoy this series as much as I did. It certainly has my stamp of approval.

One of the many amazing posters for the film.

P.S. I cannot wait for the film version of The Hunger Games!

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Though Persepolis is actually broken into two novels, I purchased the ‘complete’ version and will review it as such.

I really enjoyed this — it only took me four days to finish it. In fact, I almost didn’t want to review it, because I was unsure what I would say. This was such a wonderful story that it feels like Marjane is talking to you and only you. It is told comfortable and matter-of-factly. The pictures really do help tell the story, and without them, I think I would have felt lost and a little outside of the story. Satrapi makes you feel like you’re an insider, like you understand her, which now, I feel like I do.

The Complete Persepolis

Another great cover -- I just love simplicity and especially books without live pictures.

She easily outraged me against what the Iranian government was doing and was restricting her to do. I related to Marji in a way that I did not expect or imagine. I loved the character and I am truly glad that I bought this book. One of my favorite parts about Marji is that she is quite logical. When faced with new obstacles or experiences, she always thinks… “Once again, I arrived at my usual conclusion: one must educate oneself.”

Marji is what you might see as a usual teenage kid — but she has a great family backing her and teaching her valuable moral lessons. She is proud to rebel, because the Iranian government is unjust and oppressive, and her parents are proud of her. You can really see her grow and mature throughout both novels.

The first books moves smoothly into the second, which makes me doubly glad that I bought the complete version. I would have felt that I was missing out if I had to wait to finish the story.

I definitely recommend this very personal, but relatable, book. If you’re torn on buying it, I would have to say that it’s a quick read only because it draws you into the intensity of the story and the humanity of the characters. I could not put this down. I wanted to find out where Marji’s life lead her — She moved through Iran and Austria, and it was extremely compelling.

I was really hoping that I could get a hold of Persepolis, the movie, but Netflix only has it on instant. Hopefully, someone has a disc copy that I can borrow so I can review it and compare it to the novels (even though I know you’re ‘not supposed to do that’).