Fantasy

Mistborn Trilogy – Brandon Sanderson

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Mistborn Trilogy Brandon SandersonVin lives in a repressive empire where the nobles have everything and the slaves, also known as the skaa, live in slums and are constantly afraid of the oppressive mists and what may happen to them.  Sixteen years-old and part of a thieving crew of skaa, Vin gets a break in her depressing life when the legendary Kelsier comes to tell her she is a mistborn, an allomancer who can burn ingested metals for incredible powers.  He also has a job for her and other mistings in the city – overthrow the Lord Ruler who for one thousand years has led the people into oppression. Vin agrees, and she and the other allomancers put into motion a set of events that changes the face of the Final Empire.

I had actually never read Sanderson before (I know, I know, throw rocks at me) and decided to test the waters a bit with The Final Empire. Dozens of hours listening to the three audiobooks later and I am a converted fan.  Sanderson somehow manages to craft a world so real that you are left wondering if we could swallow metals and burn them ourselves.  His explanation of allomancy, the ability to burn metals, and feruchemy, the ability to store abilities in metals, are so detailed that you understand the concept completely. It seems perfectly logical and scientific that if you give Vin the right blend of pewter she can burn the metal to become incredibly strong. Sanderson does a great job of making his world grounded in some kind of science, keeping it real and never too “out there”, which can often make fantasy feel a bit too, well, fantastical.

Vin as our heroine is standoffish, untrusting, and the last person in the Final Empire who would want to wear a dress.  At sixteen, she has already witnessed her mother kill her baby sister, her mother die, her brother beat her and then disappear, and suffered beatings by several thieving crew leaders over the years.  But she has born them, is hard because of her trials, and suffers no fools.  And I love her.

In a world of fiction – both filmed and written – where women are so often shallow or two-dimensional, it was refreshing to have such a strong character be the hero of the story. Vin progresses fast with allomancy, becoming a great warrior who causes fear in the hearts of those who come against her path. But it is not her violent abilities that really appealed to me, but rather that she was not just the assassin or body guard. As part of their plan, Vin must imitate a noblewoman, wearing intricate gowns and attending parties where dancing and idle gossip gets you in the door. She might hate the idle gossip, but Vin proves to be a fine dancer, skilled conversationalist, and even begins to love the gowns she wears. Secretly. She maintains a tough exterior, but the reader gets to witness Vin transform into Lady Valette and her love for the other side of her new life.  Vin never really softens, but over the course of the trilogy, she begins to accept and understand that she can be more than the assassin; she can like beautiful gowns and still relish a good fight. Definitely not something you see every day.

It’s hard to talk about The Well of Ascension or The Hero of Ages without giving away plot details from The Final Empire, but they were so in keeping with the first novel that they all felt like a separate volume in one giant story. The books are undoubtedly long, but if you want a great, sweeping fantasy epic, Sanderson is definitely the way to go.

Rating: 8/10

Audiobook Rating: 7/10

Read The Mistborn Trilogy

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Seraphina – Rachel Hartman

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Seraphina Rachel HartmanSixteen year-old Seraphina is the new assistant to the Court Composer, a grumpy old man riddled with gout.  As she tries to navigate her new daily duties and dealing with the royal family, she also hides a secret.  Seraphina lives in a world where dragons and humans have peace based on a tenuous treaty and dragons can take the shape of humans.  Actual humans are still weary of these dragons-in-hiding and the dragons are mostly content to study this unusual culture.  Seraphina manages to get caught up in the middle of the dragon-human relations and must rush to keep the treaty intact.

Seraphina is a great novel that pulls you in, makes you wonder why Seraphina is different, what she is hiding without giving it away too soon.  By the time the reveal came, I sort of expected it but definitely was not sure that was really going to be the answer.  The novel is engrossing from the start and the plot and characters equally keep you involved until the very last page.  I read Seraphina in just a day and a half, the first time I’ve neglected other things to really read for quite awhile.

During the first portions of the novel, I wanted Seraphina to tell me more about herself.  Provide more about how these situations were making her feel.  I felt it was so guarded that when things were happening it was only plot, no character.  That was until a pivotal moment when Seraphina finally breaks, and at that moment I realized the first-person narrative was so guarded because Seraphina herself is guarded.  She opens up more then, sharing more with the reader and more with the others around her.  It is wonderful to watch this scared girl blossom into a far more comfortable-in-her-own-skin adult.

The other thing this book does well is provide a list of rounded characters.  From Seraphina’s father to her tutor to the engaged Prince Lucian and Princess Glisselda, all are written with a surprising amount of depth for being supporting characters.  These characters were probably the strong-poing for Seraphina, driving the story forward not because of plot points but because of the characters’ actions.

My only complaint was the climax; it felt a bit rushed and like Hartman wasn’t sure how to deliver something more compelling.  It was good, but with just a few paragraphs, the “final fight” was over too quickly to create much tension.  But Seraphina was written so well besides that I am desperately hoping there will be more forays into Hartman’s world.

Rating: 8/10

Quintessence – David Walton

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Quintessence David WaltonSet in an alternate history where the world is flat, Royal Physic Parris is caught dissecting human bodies in the name of Science.  His unusual punishment is to accompany the slightly crazy, world-wandering alchemist on a voyage to the mysterious island of Haven.  After a shipful of men returned and died shortly after arriving in England, Parris has little hope for the journey to end well, but the scientific discoveries possible pique his curiosity.

Quintessence focuses around the ground-breaking Science coming out of the 16th century, with a bit of a mystical twist.  It was obvious that the book was meticulously researched, with intersecting pieces of history and scientific discoveries that came to light in the 16th century.  The plot was intriguing enough to keep the story moving forward, with a unique look at magical beings from a more Scientific slant.

Personally, it is this unique look at alchemy and magic that dragged Quintessence down for me.  The details were compelling at times, but often caused the story to stall moving forward.  I also am not the most interested in Science, so this view of things could just not be my cup of tea, either.  I felt the overabundance of technical things cut out a majority of a potential audience, myself included.  I also felt the characters were a bit flat, making the plot the driving force of the novel.

Without dynamic characters, Quintessence was a novel that just did not work for me, but would be great for those readers that love diving into the details and want to find an intriguing twist on our past and our understanding of how the world works.

Buy Quintessence by David Walton

Writing Tips from J.K. Rowling

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Did you check out last week’s post about our virtual writing groups? Don’t forget to sign up before Friday 15 March.

J.K Rowling Writing CafeToday’s featured author is none other than the creator of the boy wizard himself.  As everyone knows, Rowling got her start writing in a cafe in Edinburgh, hoping to turn her imaginings into something that could pay the rent.  What she gave the world was beyond magic, and it shaped millions of childhoods (and adulthoods, too).  While her adult novel may not have lived up to the hype, we can all agree that when it comes to crafting an enchanting story, Rowling knows how to do the job.  And it’s hard not to admire a woman who was once on benefits and now has influenced the lives of countless readers and encouraged many stubborn readers to pick up other books as well.  So, let’s check out J.K. Rowling’s 5 Writing Tips:

 

JK Rowling 5 Writing Tips

  1. Write in whatever time you have.
  2. Planning is essential.
  3. Rewriting is just as essential.
  4. Be aware of plot and pacing.
  5. Write your passion.

Seraphynx – Emily Wilson

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Seraphynx Emily WilsonFifteen year-old Evie is frustrated.  It seems everyone around her is keeping something from her, whether it be her best friend or his brother or even her own father.  With her sixteenth birthday rapidly approaching, she wants to know just what it is that has made everyone nervous around her.  A Seraphim, Evie knows she could be powerful, but she has yet to realize just what fantastic destiny awaits her.

I picked up the sample for this book and could not get enough.  A young adult fantasy, I expected some of the traditional components – secrets, protagonist has special ability, love triangle – but was pleasantly surprised by those things I did not expect.  For one, Evie is a Seraphim, or fallen angel, sent to the world to protect humanity from Drache (the devil?).  In a book-sphere populated by witches, vampires, fae, and now mermaids and zombies, it was nice to get something different.  However, because Seraphim are not a well-known entity, the author’s need to explain the mythos is pretty strong.  While I felt Wilson did a decent job of explaining, I did struggle a bit when it came to the class system that existed at the school, particularly with her best friend Kyla.  Was she a Seraphim, or a human who serves them?  And if she’s Seraphim, why is she merely a servant?  Nitpicky details, however, when for the overall story the message came across loud and clear.

The characters in this book were fantastically complex, particularly the main three of Evie, her best friend and romantic interest Evan, and Evan’s brother Kaidan.  Even Evie’s father, Sir Kendrick, who in most stories would warrant few details felt real by the end.  I thought Evie herself was a protagonist easy for anyone to get behind, and exhibited some pretty realistic reactions for a teenage girl with greatness thrust upon her.  While some of her actions seemed a bit strange (she loves Evan, but goes after Kaidan, too), they did feel like they worked.  My only real complaint is that I wanted more explanation for each character and their abilities, something that would help to piece everything together a little bit better.

The novel has a lot of potential, as does the first-time author Wilson.  One flaw I noticed was that sometimes the narration might make a jump, and not take the reader with it.  It’s a common mistake – forgetting that the reader’s are not inside your head, too – but one that can confuse and turn off readers.  Overall, however, I found Seraphynx to be an enjoyable read, and look forward to getting to finish the rest of Evie’s story.

Purchase SERAPHYNX (Fallen Hosts) from Amazon.com

The Hobbit – Film Review

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The Hobbit Movie PosterMain Cast:

Bilbo Baggins – Martin Freeman
Gandalf – Ian McKellen
Thorin Oakenshield – Richard Armitage
Balin – Ken Stott
Gollum – Andy Serkis

Sixty years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins is approached by the wizard Gandalf and embroiled in an adventure almost against his will.  Along with thirteen dwarves, Bilbo embarks towards Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, to reclaim their ancient home from the terrible dragon Smaug.

(You can also read all of The Hobbit recaps.)

I have already seen the film twice, so you can guess where this review is headed.  The film opens with Old Bilbo (played again by Ian Holm) writing his version of events down for Frodo, promising to tell him the whole story as he has never told it before.  We learn that he has sat down to write on the day of his infamous 111th birthday party, and we get to see that it was Frodo (Elijah Wood) who hung the sign on the gate – “No admittance except on party business).  He asks Bilbo about Gandalf, and decides to go wait for him.  Bilbo sits down on his bench in the front garden, smoking a pipe.  The camera follows an excellent smoke ring, then zooms back on to young Bilbo.

I have never before seen such a beautiful framing device.  It was a great way to explain the context of the events of The Hobbit versus those in Lord of the Rings, giving fans of the movies who haven’t read the book a clear introduction.  Having just read the book, I was also tickled that the opening exchange between Gandalf and young Bilbo was almost word for word of that in the book.  The only thing they left out was Bilbo’s last second decision to invite the wizard for tea.  But you know what?  It worked anyway.

There were of course several small changes in the film, because films and books are simply not the same medium.  Most of The Hobbit was written with insights into Bilbo’s mind that we cannot get in the movie.  Being Tolkien, there is also a lot of background information related by the narrator to the reader, but not necessarily between characters.  I thought Peter Jackson did a great job of taking all of the information in The Hobbit and Tolkien’s additional background and really fleshing out the movie.  While a few things might have been changed, I could see the reason for all of it, and I honestly agreed with most of his changes.  I especially liked seeing the meeting of the White Council and the urgency that was added with the Necromancer.  I’ll try not to say anymore for those who have yet to see the film.

I did not particularly understand the inclusion of a certain orc (that in Tolkien’s lore was killed by another dwarf), but I do realize that it helped with the pacing of the movie.  Let’s be honest, in the book there is a lot of walking, riding, and moving.  That’s not the most interesting thing to show on screen, so the added tension with the dwarf helps pick up the pace and keep things from getting choppy.  So while I was a bit confused when I left the first time, I appreciated it far more the second time.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was a wonderful return to Middle Earth and a great reminder of the talent of Peter Jackson.  I for one am grateful that he was able to direct instead of Guillermo Del Toro; the film feels like a seamless addition to any of the “Lord of the Rings” films with him behind the camera.  Add in the dashes of Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, and other characters, and you are firmly planted again within Middle Earth.

Rating: 9/10

Hobbit Read Along – Return of the King Appendices

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Hobbit Read Along Lord of the Rings AppendixSince this Appendix mostly hold a timeline and some facts, I’ll just summarize those that are interesting to The Hobbit’s timeline – things that may appear in the movie.  It’s kind of dense, just as a warning.

Recap:

The third age begins with Sauron’s fall.  The Eldar (elves) only live in the past and do nothing new, wielding the Three Rings.  The Dwarves hide and guard treasures, but evil began to stir and brought dragons, scattering the dwarves.  Moria remained secure until its people merely dwindled.  When around a thousand years had passed, and the first shadows came, the Istari or Wizards appeared.  They came from the Far West as messengers sent to contest Sauron’s power, and to unite those who would resist him.  They were forbidden to match power with power or to dominate men and elves.  They came as men, but they were never young and aged slowly.  They were gifted with powers of mind and hand.  The Wizards also only revealed their true names on rare occasions, instead letting themselves be called by the people (Gandalf for instance was Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, to the elves and Gandalf to the men.  Saruman and Gandalf were the two highest of their order.  Gandalf was the closest with the elves, and kept himself mostly in the west, never settling as Saruman did in Isengard.  Gandalf is given his ring of power, Narya the Ring of Fire, by Cirdan, a leader of elves who was the only one to know of the wizards’ true purpose and origin.  He gives Gandalf Narya so that it “may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill”.

Isildur dies in year 2, losing the ring in the Disaster of the Gladden Fields.  In 1100, the Chief Eldar and the Wizards notice a dark power makes a stronghold at Dol Guldur; they believe it is one of the Nazgul.  In 2060 Dol Guldur’s power grows, and the Wise now fear it is Sauron taking shape.  Three years later, Gandalf goes to Dol Guldur and Sauron retreats, hiding in the east.  In 2460, Sauron returns to Dol Guldur with more strength.  Again, three years later The White Council is formed.  Deagol finds the One Ring and is murdered by Gollum.  Seven years later, 2470, he goes to hide in the Misty Mountains.  In 2590, Thror (Thorin’s grandfather) returns to the Mountain and stays until 2770 when Smaug attacks.  When Thror is killed by an orc twenty years later, the battles between Dwarves and Orcs begin, lasting for ten years.  Thrain and Thorin go west after the loss of Moria, beyond the Shire.  Thrain tries to go out to visit the Mountain in 2841, but is pursued by Sauron’s servants and eventually imprisoned in Dol Guldur.  Sauron takes the last of the Seven Rings from him.  Five years after Thrain’s capture, Gandalf infiltrates Dol Guldur, discovers that it is indeed Sauron who is gathering all of the rings of power and looking for the One, along with Isildur’s heir.  Thrain gives Gandalf the map and key of the mountain and dies.

Shortly after discovering Sauron’s plans, the White Council meets.  While Gandalf wants to attack, Saruman overrules him, instead going to search near where the Ring was lost.  (A note in the appendix states that it became clear later that Saruman wanted to possess the One Ring himself, and hoped that it would reveal itself, seeking its master, if Sauron were let be.)  Bilbo is born in 2890, and it is 2941 when the events of The Hobbit take place.  During this time, Saruman agrees to finally attack Dol Guldur, fearing Sauron might find the Ring first.  Sauron abandons Dol Guldur, his plans already in motion.  When Bilbo returns to the Shire, Sauron has also returned to Mordor.  It is in 2949 when Balin and Gandalf visit Bilbo.

Discussion Questions/Thoughts:

  1. I really need to read all of these.  There’s a ton of information here, and a lot of it is really interesting.  For instance, Aragorn didn’t know his own lineage until he was twenty, Elrond having concealed it from everyone his entire life.  It’s in that same year he’s given the shards of Narsil and he meets Arwen, who’s like 2700 years older than him.  What a year for a kid.  Someone please write Aragorn’s story.  Make it a movie Peter Jackson!  Plus, the kid is 10 when The Hobbit is happening, so why can’t we see him running around Rivendell in the last movie???
  2. Why did no one guess Saruman’s treachery earlier?
  3. I really wish there was more about the ousting of Sauron from Mirkwood, but I suppose Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, and Peter Jackson will fill in the gaps.

< Chapters 18 & 19