Worlds Clash and a Hero Arises

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fire study

Maria V. Snyder

You guys, I’m floored.  This book is everything I wanted it to be and so much more.  Snyder weaves her tale through two countries and into a couple different worlds and through it all her characters are astounding.  Yelena and Valek continue to be the most selfless people I have ever read, constantly making the decision to help others instead of taking a much deserved vacation.

In the review of Book Two, I said that Snyder flawlessly builds her settings, which is true, but that’s not the only thing Snyder does.  Not. Even. Close.

The first thing I want to hit on is her ability to build suspense.  It’s incredible.  I felt like I was sitting on the edge of my seat the entire time.  There are some books that are too suspenseful and others that completely miss that target, resulting in the literary equivalent of unflavored oatmeal.  Snyder, however, hits the nail on the head.  Her level of suspense is just enough to make you fly through the pages, but then get sad when you realize that there are only a few left.  She captured me with the suspense.

The second is her ability to take the story in a direction that the reader doesn’t expect, but is frakking fantastic nonetheless.  I was stunned with how much happens in just the first 40% of the book.  To be honest, it’s pretty much impossible to give you any details of this book without giving spoilers for the second book.  (Admittedly the second book has been out for 3 years, but just in case, I’d rather not spoil the end.)  I will say, every step of Yelena’s journey in this book is completely surprising.  There are twists and turns and it’s all for the best.

Once again, Snyder gives you characters that are living, breathing people.  However, since this book takes place in both Sitia and Ixia, literally the entire cast of characters gets at least a cameo if not a starring role.  I think that was my favorite aspect of the book.  I got to have all of my favorite characters for most of it, instead of having to have two sets of favorite characters.

This is a short review because I have nothing negative to say about the book.  The story is compelling, astounding, and addictive.  I know Snyder has a few other series out there and I will definitely be procuring them in the near future.

5 ink bottles.  Once again, that doesn’t seem like enough for this book.

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Warm Sunshine, Bright Colors, and Daggers Abound

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magic study

Maria V. Snyder

A-freaking-mazing!  Snyder must be completely immune to the sophomore slump.  Magic study is of the exact same quality as poison study and it is of the highest caliber.  I was looking for a story to enthrall me.  I didn’t realize that I had found one that would do so as thoroughly as this one.  At the end of the fourth paragraph Snyder had me.

Yelena is in Sitia in this book and the story hooks into you immediately.  You see, it begins in a jungle, a jungle which just happens to be the home of Yelena’s family.  You guys, they live in trees.  Because of course.  The girl who escaped capture by covering so much distance climbing through trees.  Of course her family lives in trees.  Yelena meets her mother, father, and brother straight off.  Though she is welcomed home with open arms by her mother and her father, her brother immediately distrusts and hates her.  He thinks she’s a spy.

The Sitian characters Snyder crafted are as equally compelling as the Ixian characters of the first book.  Snyder does a mind numbing job of making characters into people, but she does it to the exact right degree.  There’s no over-share, but all of the characters were fully fleshed out.  Her mother immediately becomes the worrying mother who’s made human by the fact that she hides in a tree if Yelena is in danger.  It makes sense that a mother whose daughter was kidnapped would hide if they were returned and then immediately placed in danger again.  Leif, her brother, he hates Yelena, but in the end the hatred makes sense.  Snyder shows a stunning knowledge of human psychology.

It’s completely impossible to pick out a favorite character in this book because there were so many I love.  The two horses, Kiki and Topaz, are at the top of my list, but then so are Yelena, Valek, Ari, Janco, Moon Man, and Dax.  Moon Man and Dax always made me smile whenever they entered the stage.  Actually, pretty much all of those characters made me smile.

The one thing I am truly jealous of that Snyder does flawlessly is her ability to build a place in a way that doesn’t frustrate the reader with a ton of description.  She somehow manages to show you exactly what she’s seeing in her mind’s eye without bogging down the story.  For example, I don’t think she ever pauses to say “this is what Sitia is like”, but I found the map at the beginning of the story to be extraneous because I already had it in my mind.  I knew the people and their culture.  I could see the glaring white marble of the Citadel and the tan, blue, and brown grasses of the Avibian Plans blowing in the breeze.  She created those pictures for me in a way that way that I can only term exceedingly pleasant.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  It doesn’t matter what genre you prefer.  If you like a good story, this will blow your proverbial socks off.  Snyder earns 5 inks bottles.  If I had more, she would absolutely deserve them.

Book Links:

Book One Review, poison study

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Nefarious Plots and Poison

I’m going to try a new format today.  Let me know what you think of it in the comments.

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poison study

Maria V. Snyder

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this story.  It has all the components of my favorite stories: knights and swords, magicians, assassins, kings (though in this case the King is dead and the Commander is in charge, and rightly so), and a lead character that you don’t just invest in, you want to be them a little bit (minus the history of severe abuse and the poisoning).  This story is an epic adventure that is impossible to put down.  If consumes your thoughts.  I was working out, listening to the Nerdist, and this story completely crowded him out of my brain, which is pretty damn hard to do.

Yelena is magnificent.  You meet her just as her life changes forever.  She has suffered greatly at the hands of the family who took her in when she was an orphan, General Brazell.  She has murdered the son of the General. We meet Yelena on her way to execution because there are no excuses in Ixia and murderers are always executed even if it was in self-defense.  Immediately, she shows her strength.  She sheds no tears over her impending death, but sits straight-backed, listening to the head of security and intelligence, Valek, offer her a chance to keep living.  She must choose between becoming the Commander’s food taster or immediate death by hanging.  Of course, Yelena chooses life.

I have to say the life of a food taster is far more complicated than I had ever envisioned.  Yelena is caught between all of the forces at play:  a General who wants her dead, a very powerful magician who wants her either trained or dead, and a head housekeeper who writes threats in the dust in her room, all while tasting every single thing the Commander eats to make sure none of it is poisoned.

Snyder gives all of her characters the same depth that she imbues Yelena with.  Valek is a former assassin whose office is entirely filled with stacks of books, which I found to be nothing but endearing.  However, the most refreshing character Snyder crafted is the Commander.

Snyder succeeded in creating a leader that I wouldn’t hesitate to give my loyalty.  In our current world, where even the leaders who were elected based primarily of hope turn out to be exactly the same as all the others, it’s a cool breeze on a summer evening to read of a leader who gives people jobs based solely on skill and acumen.  Where women and men are treated the same and literally everyone had a job to do.

This is my favorite part about the commander:  There is a point in the story when shortly after Yelena arrives in the Commander’s office, a teacher bursts into the room dragging along one of his pupils.  The teacher tells the Commander that this little girl has been correcting his math in front of the class and he demands that she be punished for this behavior.  He wants her to be demoted to a servant’s life.  The Commander says that he’ll take care of it and sends the teacher away.  As soon as the door shuts behind the teacher, the Commander leans down to the girl and asks for her side of the story.  She tells him that she is good with numbers, but the teacher is bad with them.  She had gotten so bored in class that she came up with faster, easier methods to solve the same problems.  She promises the Commander that she won’t question the teacher again, just so long as he doesn’t have her whipped.  The Commander sends Yelena to fetch his chief accountant.  Upon his arrival, the Commander tells the student that she will be the accountant’s assistant.  She has one day to prove herself or she has to go back to the teacher’s class.

Now here’s the impressive thing about that:  there is no chance that our current President would ever take the time to listen to a little girl’s side of the story, believe her, and take the necessary steps to ensure that her skills are used properly.   Hell, I would argue that most principals wouldn’t listen to her.

Artfully crafted, I highly recommend this tale to anyone looking for an escape.  5 ink bottles.

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Murder Mystery

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Imaginary Girls

Nova Ren Suma

The Story:

It’s hard to know where to start to summarize this book, so I’ll take the cop out and start where Suma did, with Chloe standing on the edge of the reservoir (which you’ll get to know quite personally). Chloe is Ruby’s little sister. Ruby is the big sister every little sister dreams of. When we meet these sisters, Ruby is telling everyone at the party that Chloe could swim all the way across the reservoir and bring back a souvenir from Olive, one of the towns under the surface of the reservoir. Ruby spoke of how it was impossible for Chloe to drown because she would just grown fins and gills. After everyone chipped in the $20 Chloe said she would need to do it, she started across. She swam quickly into the reservoir, long stroke after stroke, until she hit the cold spot. She knew the town of Olive was below here. Ruby had told her the history of that town over and over again throughout her life. The swimming became harder, as Chloe pushed into the cold water. She came upon a row boat, placed quite conveniently. Throwing an arm over the gunwale, Chloe stopped to catch her breath. She listened to the sound of Ruby laughing in the distance. And then she felt something in the boat. Something cold. Someone dead.

The Fantasy Part:

To be honest, it’s hard to talk about anything in this book without giving something away. There’s magic here, sure, but Suma never lays it out for you so that all of your questions are answered, which is exactly what this book needed. In fairness to the book, that’s genuinely all I can tell you without having to cover the blog is spoiler warnings.

The Review:

This book is enigmatic. Just when you think you’ve guessed what will happen next, Suma spins you off in an entirely different direction.

This story is so much more that I could ever describe to you. There’s mystery, magic and a true sense of immediacy. Reading this book felt like walking through a foggy forest, with bits of insight swirling out of the fog every few steps only to swiftly disappear in vapor.

The book isn’t light-hearted in any way, but it is a fairly quick read (thanks in large part to the constant sense of immediacy). However, the characters are built in a way that makes you invest in them immediately. You want Chloe and Ruby to be together. You want them to succeed and to be happy together.

Suma crafted a Fantasy Mystery that hooks into you and doesn’t let go until the very last page. She earns 5 ink bottles with ease: a great book for anyone. Really.

High Adventure Over Violet Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Catherynne M. Valente

Illustrations by Ana Juan

 

The Story:

September lives in Omaha with her mother; her father being away in an unspecified war.  Like most girls, September dreams of leaving her little world behind.  Only instead of aiming for Los Angeles or New York, September yearns for adventure in another world.  Lucky for September, the Green Wind offers to take her on an adventure if she will join him on the Leopard of Little Breezes.  Without a thought, September clamors aboard, losing a shoe in the process.  She is whisked away from Nebraska, over the Atlantic and past Europe and India.  Eventually, September, the Green Wind, and the Leopard arrive in Westerly, meeting Latitude and Longitude there.  To gain entry to Fairyland, a puzzle must be solved.  Fortunately, the Green Wind knows the components of the puzzle and September correctly understands what direction widdershins indicates.  From here, September begins her journey, eventually meeting witches, a Wyverary (he’s half Wyvern, half Library), the Marquess, a soap golem, and a wide variety of other kinds of people who all help her along as she crosses the entirety of Fairyland.

 

The Fantasy Part:

On some level, it’s almost easier to ask which part isn’t Fantasy.  The story reminded me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in that regard.  The entirety of Fairyland and each character you meet pulls you further and further into the incredible world that Valente has created.  There’s magic, certainly, but there’s also ingenuity and tenacity on September’s behalf.  This book reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, Mistress Masham’s Repose, and several fairytales, all at the same time.  In fact there is a point in the book where Valente indirectly claims that all of these other stories also took place in Fairyland (excepting Mistress Masham’s Repose ).

 

This story is magical in every way.  Sure there’s magic in it, but the story, itself works magic on the reader. Every single character is well written, down to the supporting characters who are supporting other supporting characters.  The imagery is nothing short of gorgeous.  It feels like reading a Caravaggio.  Valente has a way with words that makes me feel like I’m watching a movie with my mind’s eye.

 

It was a little surreal to experience this story on so many levels.  It almost felt like there was more than one version of me reading the book.  There was the adult me, who read of September and thought that should I ever have a daughter, I would want her to be very similar to September.  Then there was twelve year old me.  I could practically feel myself sitting on my mom’s floral armchair, wishing I could find an adventure like this one.  Particularly when Valente nods to September’s reading habit.

 

This book is a delightful read.  It feels like going on a vacation, with the guarantee that you will be returned home before anyone will have missed you.  Valente effortlessly earns 5 ink bottles.  If you’re looking for an adventure, regardless of your age, I highly suggest The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.