Posts tagged ‘Young Adult Fantasy’


Calamity.jpgTitle: Calamity
Series: Reckoners #3
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781511311748 (audiobook) 9780385743600 (hardcover)
Pages: 421 pages
CDs/Discs: 10 CDs, 12 hours
Publisher/Date: Audible Inc., and distributed by Audible, Inc. and Brilliance Audio. c2015. (audiobook) Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016 (by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC) (hardcover)

“I’m fine,” I said. “But they spotted me.”
“Get out.”
I hesitated.
“There’s something in there, Mizzy. A room that was under lock and key, guarded by drones–I’ll bet they moved in there as soon as our original attack happened. Either that, or that room is always guarded. Which mean . . . ”
“Oh, Calamity. You’re going to be you, aren’t you?”
“You did just tell me to, and I quote, ’embrace my nature.'” I fired another salvo as I caught motion at the end of the corridor. “Let Abraham and the others know I’ve been spotted. Pull everyone out and be ready to retreat.”
“And you?”
“I’m going to find out what’s in that room.” I hesitated. “I might have to get shot to do it.” (27)

David is now the defacto leader of the Reckoners, or at least what is left of them. Their fight against Regalia in Babylon Restored did not go expected. Then again, when do David’s plans ever go as expected? After breaking into the Knighthawk Foundry to get supplies, they follow a lead to Ildithia, an ever shifting city made of salt. Their bare bones basic plan is to find out how to defeat Calamity while recovering one of their own team members. But the powers of the Epics are not what they seem, and as David fights to save people who were once allies, he may put in jeopardy the team members who have always stayed loyal.

Sparks, it is hard to talk about this third book, the conclusion to the trilogy, without giving away anything that has happened in the first two books. So forgive my vagueness. Beginning about two months after the end of Firefight, David has truly evolved into a leader, running team missions and being looked to by other team members for guidance and instruction. His bad similes/metaphors are back, and they seem to have leaked into the rest of his team. While that may be true to real life (speech patterns evolving based on who you hang out with most), it was less amusing when more and more people started spewing bad similes. I still have two really great favorites. The first one is David trying to describe his nerdiness/obsession about Epics:

“I’d call him obsessed, but that doesn’t do it justice.” […]
“I’m like . . . well, I’m like a room-sized, steam-powered, robotic toenail-clipping machine.” […]
“I can basically do only one thing,” I explained, “but damn it, I’m going to do that one thing really, really well.” (57,61)

The fact that person actually allows him to finish his metaphor so many minutes/pages later proves how much they have grown on each other. You really see David’s romantic side in this next quote. I wish I had someone to describe me like this.

“You,” I said, tipping her chin up to look her in the eye, “are a sunrise.” […]
“I would watch the sun rise, and wish I could capture the moment. I never could. Pictures didn’t work–the sunrises never looked as spectacular on film. And eventually I realized, a sunrise isn’t a moment. It’s an event. You can’t capture a sunrise because it changes constantly–between eyeblinks the sun moves, the clouds swirl. It’s continually something new.
“We’re not moments [redacted]. We’re events. You say you might not be the same person you were a year ago? Well, who is? I’m sure not. We change, like swirling clouds and a rising sun. The cells in me have died, and new ones were born. My mind has changed, and I don’t feel the thrill of killing Epics I once did. I’m not the same David. Yet I am.”
“I met her eyes and shrugged. “I’m glad you’re not the same [redacted] I don’t want you to be the same. My [redacted] is a sunrise, always changing, but beautiful the entire time.” (137-138)

However, David also develops a distracted internal monologue as a result of his more pronounced love interest that proved unnecessary and seemed out of character, especially with these happening in the heat of battle.

“I imagined her cursing softly, sweating while she sighted at a passing drone, her aim perfect, her face . . .
. . . Uh, right. I should probably stay focused. (16)

One of the things I admired about this book was Sanderson’s handling of the fight scenes. The team does take damage. While with the technology existing in the book not everything they undergo in the sense of physical injuries is permanent, there is a character death that I didn’t see coming and that seriously affects the team, not only emotionally but also in their ability to run future missions. Other readers/reviewers have mentioned the drawn out nature of the planning and the fighting, but I’m glad that time passes. Fights aren’t won in an instant, wars take time, and the exhaustion that the characters suffer as a result is mentioned repeatedly. We also see the aftermath of a battle, with bodies lying around, and David actually considers taking action to prevent a repercussion of war, before being convinced otherwise by his team that it would be too risky. His world view has expanded to not just consider his own goals, but also what sort of implications the end result would have on the citizens of this new city, which his focused way of thinking in Newcago would have never considered.

The book also showed that people have their own weaknesses and motivations, regardless of whether they are an Epic or a regular human. By the end, we definitely see that some people will never change, while others, especially David, have evolved over the course of the series, sometimes out of necessity but other times due to their own inevitable growth.

It’s the last about 20% of the book where the plot starts to fall apart. Sanderson has backed himself into a corner, with Reckoners falling back, falling down, and falling out of the fight. There is an epic (pardon the pun) showdown between David and the book’s major Epic (who for…. reasons I can’t name). Several new Epics are introduced, and one resurfaces from a previous book. From the beginning I felt like there was more to one of the new Epics than meets the eye, and his role/reveal in the final fight felt VERY convenient. The team’s interactions with him felt out of character, and this is where things start to get muddled. Then David has a last minute Hail Mary opportunity (literally, the last 50 pages of a 400 page book) to take out Calamity, which was never the primary goal of the entire plot of the book even though the book is named after him.

I love how Jessica from Rabid Reads posted on Goodreads that the problem is solved “just like that”, which is literally the words Sanderson uses.I went back to check, page 411. REALLY? Less than 10 pages to the end of the book and “just like that” problem solved. There’s no other way to describe it, that’s just lame Sanderson. You spend three books setting up this epic battle and circuitous rationale behind the powers, the weaknesses… everything. And then you go and pull (really great turn of phrase omitted because of spoilers) fake-out on us and refuse to answer any of the questions that result. It’s the epitome of “and then they woke up, and realized it was all a dream”.

Regardless of my anger towards Sanderson over his inability to provide closure or a straight answer to close off this series, Macleod Andrews continues his phenomenal job at voicing the series. I found myself by the end of this third book comparing his voice for David to a young Michael J. Fox, overly ambitious but still cautious about what’s to come. Meanwhile, the altered Epic they face off against seemed like the newest incarnation of Batman, where the voice gets gravely when assuming his alter ego. Seriously, listen to the audiobooks for these, but be prepared to be scratching your head and throwing the discs across the room by the end.


Firefight.jpgTitle: Firefight
Series: Reckoners #2
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781501278099 (audiobook), 9780385743587 (hardcover)
Pages: 416 pages
Discs/CDs: 9 CDs, 11 hours 41 minutes
Publisher/Date: Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC c2014. (Audible, Inc. and distributed by Audible, Inc. and Brilliance Audio)

I pass through the crowd and knelt beside the corpse. She’d been a rabid dog, as Prof had put it. Killing her had been a mercy.
She came for us, I thought. And this is the third one who avoided engaging Prof. Mitosis had come to the city while Prof had been away. Instabam had tried to lose Prof in the chase, gunning for Abraham. Now Sourcefield had captured Prof, then left him behind to chase me.
Prof was right. Something was going on. (31-32)

David and the Reckoners have fought off three new Epics successfully, but something isn’t adding up as to why they are making the effort to travel to Newcago and engage a team of Epic assassins. All clues point to Babylon Restored, formerly known as Manhattan but currently ruled by a mysterious High Epic named Regalia, who flooded the city in order to maintain control. David, Tia, and Prof leave the rest of the team behind and join up with a new team that has become entrenched in the city. Their plan involves taking out Regalia before she takes out them, but with Regalia seemingly one step ahead of them at every turn and secrets being kept on all sides, David’s famous improvisational skills may be put to the test.

If you enjoyed Steelheart, you’re going to love Firefight. MacLeod Andrews is back as narrator, and the one scene that swept me away was when David is getting choked to within an inch of his life by an Epic. You hear the distress, you hear the rasping, frantic breath leaving his body, and you hear the fear. We leave behind in Newcago Cody and Andrew, and get Mizzy, a manic pixie like character who is a new recruit training to be sniper and point who also does equipment repairs, operations leader Val who is just as close mouthed and serious as Jonathan, and Exel, an ex-mortician giant of a man who is half gregarious infiltrator/reconnaissance  and half big man of muscle. Each new character and Epic are given equally appropriate voices. Mizzy is delightful in terms of comic relief. In one of my favorite scenes early in the story, she is given “scribe duties” during a meeting, and her notes include:

Reckoner Super Plan for Killing Regalia at the top of the sheet. Each i was doted with a heart. […]
Really important, and we totally need to do it on the paper, with three big arrows pointing at the heading above. Then after a moment, she added Boy, it’s on now in smaller letters beside that one. […]
Regalia totally needs to get with the business. […]
Excel needs to pay better attention to his job […]
Step One: find Regalia, then totally explode her. Lots and lots. […]
Step Two: put Val on decaf. […]
Step Three: Mizzy gets a cookie. […] (131-135)

She plays off David extremely well, maybe because they are both the newest ones to their teams, or maybe because they are closest in age to each other.

“Well, trust me,” I said. “I’m more intense than I look. I’m intense like a lion is orange.”
“So, like . . . medium intense? Since a lion is kind of a tannish color?”
“No, they’re orange.” I frowned. “Aren’t they? I’ve never actually seen one.”
“I think tigers are the orange ones,” Mizzy said. “But they’re still only half orange, since they have black stripes. Maybe you should be intense like an orange is orange.”
“Too obvious,” I said. “I’m intense like a lion is tannish.” Did that work? Didn’t exactly slip off the tongue.
Mizzy cocked her head, looking at me. “You’re kinda weird.” (115)

And yes, David’s bad metaphors are back, but it seemed like they were less frequent than in the first book, which is okay by me. Although as someone determines near the end of the book “You’re not actually bad at metaphors […] because most the things you say are similes. Those are really what you’re bad at.” (414) It, among other things, shows David’s growth from the last book. The intensity of the Reckoners’ situation has also changed, as they fight not just one but two Epics that are intertwined in a long term goal that no one sees coming. David starts questioning what they are doing as more information about Epics comes to light and he starts to wonder what makes Epics go bad and if there is a way to prevent them from being consumed by their powers. We see David in true assassin mode, questioning his motives and beliefs as he tries, usually unsuccessfully, to come to grips with his feelings and hatred towards most Epics but with an ever growing list of exceptions.

We get way more information about the creation of Epics then I ever expected. All the pieces of the puzzle start coming together, and the ending simultaneously wraps up the problems found and creates whole new ones that we need to face in the recently published third and final book in the trilogy. We may have lost some friends in the process (shhhh, no spoilers here), but knowing David, he’ll figure something out, and being in a tight spot just makes him try harder to succeed.


SteelheartTitle: Steelheart
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Reckoners #1
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781480569133 (audiobook), 9780385743563 (hardcover)
Pages: 386 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 12 hours 20 minutes
Publication: Brilliance Audio, c2013. (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. c2013.)

Eventually the Reckoners led me around a corner that looked like every other one–only this time it led to a small room cut into the steel. There were a lot of these places in the catacombs. […]
I took a hesitant step backward, realizing I was cornered. I’d begun to think that I was on my way toward being accepted into their team. But looking into Prof’s eyes, I realized that was not the case. He saw me as a threat. I hadn’t been brought along because I’d been helpful; I’d been brought along because he hadn’t wanted me wandering free.
I was a captive. And this deep in the steel catacombs, nobody would notice a scream or a gunshot. (48-49)

Ever since his father was killed by the Epic Steelheart, David has been spending the last decade studying these super powered people who inevitably battle each other for control over the cities and populations of the dystopian United States. They all have a weakness, and David knows he holds the key to Steelheart’s, if he could only figure it out. David’s not the only one fighting the Epics, and he’s been following the Reckoner’s efforts for years. After intentionally stumbling into an assassination attempt and helping (sort of) he’s able to convince the team of Reckoners to let him join them on their quest. But convincing them to go up against the most powerful Epic ever is going to take a lot more than hunches and guesswork. It’s going to take stealth and strategy, neither of which David is particularly good at imbuing.

Think of the X-Men world, but only with the Magneto team and not Professor Xavier’s humanity; then add Superman’s obscure weakness, only it’s different for every Epic, and you’ll have a good approximation of the world Brandon Sanderson has created for his Reckoners series. And what a world it is, with adaptations to the culture while still maintaining enough recognizable references to modern day to orient readers. It’s a bloody existence being a Reckoner, surrounded by war and death. The opening scene of David’s father’s death is also gritty and gruesome in it’s realism, which might turn off some more sensitive readers. I was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t see more of the day-to-day life during an Epic’s reign, but what we do glimpse is impressive. With only one or two chapters of info-dumping back story, readers are submerged into David’s internal monologue.

David’s life after his father’s death is like those of kids during the Industrial Revolution, working grunt jobs due to his size and ability to be exploited, although he doesn’t mind as it guarantees him a roof and food. Much has been said about David’s horrible yet humorous metaphors, and they definitely are memorable and add to his personality.

I tried not to stare, but that was like trying not to blink. Only . . . well, kind of the opposite. (48)
Megan’s eyes could have drilled holes through . . . well, anything, I guess. I mean, eyes can’t normally drill holes through things, so the metaphor works regardless, right? Megan’s eyes could have drilled holes through butter. (103)
“It’s like . . . a banana farm for guns.”(142)
They looked so dangerous, like alligators. Really fast alligators wearing black. Ninja alligators. (149)

But there is also depth and incredible insight from David. He objects to being called a nerd because not only does he make a distinction between smarts and persistence, but he also realized that the smartest students lost their freedoms by being scrutinized and under surveillance working for an Epic. He recognizes he’s been living a life motivated by revenge and death, but isn’t quite sure how to focus on anything else.

Not just David, but all the characters are multidimensional, and readers focus on what little information they can gleam from the narrative about everyone. MacLeod Andrews has been added to my list of top narrators. David’s youthful and playful but committed demeanor, Cody and Abraham’s back-and-forth banter, the more serious and solemn tones of Prof, the skeptical and scholarly Tia, and Megan’s sarcastic quips are all captured with precision and excellence. Cody is the spot of humor, with his southern accent, Scottish vocabulary, and intentionally insane side-comments. He throws you off guard leaving both readers and David wondering just how much of this is an act and how much of what Cody says does he actually believe, but rest assured he is much more than the village idiot. Abraham is a mystery, with Andrews alluding to a James Bond character with his clipped accent, but Abraham’s personality is probably the most predictable and stable out of all of them. Megan is the stereotypical unrequited love interest for David, who hasn’t had much past experience with girls. But Megan is anything but stereotypical, as David realizes when she turns out to be an extremely capable point-man with an astonishing knowledge of weapons. She challenges him, which is good for both of them. Rounding out the team is Tia, the typical brains of the bunch who holds information and her cards close to her chest, and the esoteric and reclusive leader Prof, who leads with equal parts discipline and democracy. The whole cast is memorable, not just because of Sanderson’s writing but Andrews’ portrayal of them.

Like the movie Saving Private Ryan, team members share only the basics about their life in an effort to avoiding tipping off the Epics if one of them ever gets captured. Prof actually asks David how old he is and if he would have anyone who would come looking for him if he were to disappear. By the end of the book, we’ve realized not everyone is as they appear, and it’s questionable where and how the story will continue. We know more about all the members of the team then we did when we started, but there is one big question that needs answering, and hopefully will be resolved in the sequel.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Sleeper and the Spindle.jpgTitle: The Sleeper and the Spindle
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Chris Riddell
ISBN: 9780062398246
Pages: 69 pages
Publisher/Date: first published in Rag & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, published in 2013 by Little, Brown. c2013, Illustrations c2014. Originally published in the U.K. in 2014 by Bloomsbury. Published in U.S. by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2015.

The smallest dwarf tipped his head to one side. “So, there’s a sleeping woman in a castle, and perhaps a witch or fairy there with her. Why is there also a plague?”
“Over the last year,” said the fat-faced man. “It started in the north, beyond the capital. I heard about if first from travelers coming from Stede, which is near the Forest of Acaire.”
“People fall asleep in the towns,” said the pot-girl. […]
“They fall asleep whatever they are doing, and they do not wake up,” said the sot. “Look at us. We fled the towns to come here. We have brothers and sisters, wives and children, sleeping now in their houses or cowsheds, at their workbenches. All of us.”
“It is moving faster and faster,” […] “Now it covers a mile, perhaps two miles, each day.” (18)

Three dwarfs tunnel under the mountain range in search of a wedding gift for their queen, returning with news of a horrible sleeping sickness plaguing the neighboring lands and heading closer every day. The queen, having previously faced her own sleep spell, postpones the wedding and attempts to break the spell and save both kingdoms. Although this might sound familiar, Neil Gaiman’s twist ending flips the story, and you question who is really being held captive. The queen’s confidence is obvious in both narration and illustration, and is the most welcome adaptation to the traditional tale. Two illustrations specifically catch my eye, the first has the queen standing with the dwarfs ready to embark, and the second is the full-spread gorgeously rendered drawing of the kiss. It doesn’t seem enough though to warrant publishing a previous short story as its own book, but U.S. fans will enjoy Gaiman’s newest import.

Slade House

Warning: This review contains things that some may consider minor spoilers.

Slade House.jpgTitle: Slade House
Author: David Mitchell
Narrators: Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues
ISBN: 9781101923672 (audiobook), 9780812998689 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs, 7 hours
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015.

Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door. Down the road from a working-class pub, along a narrow brick alley, you just might find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the residents of Slade House extend an invitation to someone who’s different or lonely; a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside? For those who find out, it’s already too late… (back cover)

I don’t think I could have more efficiently summarized the plot or the tone of this novel which is why I quoted the back cover rather than reveal any of the details that are slowly spooled out. David Mitchell’s story is masterful and I need to add him to authors that I need to read more often. The suspense and intrigue are palatable, as readers slowly gain knowledge of how Slade House works. In the first chapter, we meet Nathan Bishop and his mother, and every subsequent story builds on the first. That I think is the first mistake, as the connections between the events every nine years spiral outward.

Narrators Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues invoke an appropriately eerie mood and captures the unique personalities with equal skill. Judd’s younger Nathan Bishop has the naiveté of a young man, possibly with Asperger’s, who doesn’t understand social cues and probably makes him the most humorous character:

“The next three windows have net curtain, but then I see a TV with wrestling […] Eight house later I see Godzilla on BBC2. He knocks down a pylon just by blundering into it and a Japanese fireman with a sweaty face is shouting into a radio. Now Godzilla’s picked up a train, which makes no sense because amphibians don’t have thumbs. Maybe Godzilla’s thumb’s like a panda’s so-called thumb, which is really an evolved claw.” (5)

Detective Inspector Gordon Edmunds is the stereotypical English “copper”, with clipped, no-nonsense, jaded sarcasm who takes his job seriously, even if it’s just to avoid his boss. Chloe Chetwynd’s voice is also appropriately whispery and tentative. Rodrigues’ is tasked to provide not only the majority of the book, but also has her voice slightly modulated to provide voice to electronic recordings. Between Sally’s confusion, Freya’s trepidation, and the cautious professionalism of Marinus, she showcases an impressive range. The shift in narrators for each chapter is understandable but the choice in narrator for the last chapter is jarring and questionable until the chapter progresses, and especially when you get to the last page and fresh goosebumps arise at the ending’s implications.

The only quibble I have is that the nature of Slade House necessitates huge revelations of information in the guise of investigations, by both amateurs and professionals. It’s like watching a spider weave its web around the prey, and then gloating about how easy it was to catch the fly in the sprung trap. The reason these summaries don’t grow boring is that new information is always provided, leading readers to a nesting dolls affect where each layer is unveiled. Readers are yelling at the victims the entire time to get out, watch out, and just when you think you have it figured out, the next layer is revealed. While I was slightly disappointed by how that last chapter progressed and the new information that explained everything seemed slightly contrived, that previously mentioned last page almost makes up for the easy out. When you get to the end, you realize just how much foreshadowing has been sprinkled like breadcrumbs through the entire novel, and you want to go back and identify the clues. I predict this might end up on Adult Books for Teen Readers lists. There’s definitely appeal for those intrigued by the mysterious, spooky, and unexplained horror found in the plot.


AfterworldsTitle: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Narrators: Heather Lind and Sheetal Sheth
ISBN: 9781442372467 (audiobook),
CDs/Discs: 12 CDs, 15 hours 16 minutes
Pages: 599 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, c2014.
Publication Date: Sept. 23, 2014

“The thing is, I want to defer college for a year.”
“What?” her mother asked. “Why on earth?”
“Because I have responsibilities.” This line had sounded better in her head. “I need to do the rewrites for Afterworlds, and write a sequel.”
“But. . .” Her mother paused, and the elder Patels shared a look.
“Working on books isn’t going to take all your time,” her father said. “You wrote your first one in a month, didn’t you? And that didn’t interfere with your studies.” (15)

This is the story of Darcy Patel, a newly graduated high school student who forgoes college in order to move to New York and focus on her publishing career. This is also the story of Elizabeth, a high school senior and the only survivor of a terrorist attack at an airport that leaves everyone else dead and Lizzie seeing ghosts, including a hunky Hindu god named Yamaraj. Elizabeth is the character in Darcy’s story, written over the course of a month-long writing challenge and then rewritten and revised over the next year. Each girl suffers from distractions of their first romance, life’s interference, and their own insecurities about their ability to handle their situations.

First, the negatives. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, which impedes the flow of each story. Elizabeth, or Lizzie, will be running away from a ghost at the end of one chapter, and then readers are flung back to Darcy’s substantially tamer life. If there were parallels between the plots it might have made more sense, but the transitions are disconcerting and seem arbitrary in nature. In one instance, a plot point is portrayed in Lizzie’s story before Darcy finishes the rewrite of it, which makes it all the more jarring when the subject is broached in Darcy’s because we already know what she decides.

I think this may be the first time that the audiobook quality negatively impacts my enjoyment of the book. Each chapter gets only one track, making the tracks close to 30 minutes long, and quite frequently running onto a second disc. That proves frustrating when you’re listening in your car and reach your destination before the track ends. There are also small clicks in one narrator’s enunciation for Darcy’s parts, which may have been included intentionally to emphasize her accent, but are occasionally distracting.

The parts I enjoyed the most are the exposition on the publishing process and the thought-provoking asides as a result. Darcy’s advance, rewrites, edits, marketing efforts, and fearful expectations are all covered, although we aren’t privy to the actual release of her book. There is a well-quoted portion where Darcy’s friend introduces the Angelina Jolie paradox, which forces your mind to really think about how much suspension of belief we have when reading or watching movies. Darcy is questioned about her appropriation of cultural figures for her novel, and she revisits those thoughts again and again. Darcy’s friend Imogen also reveals that some symbolism in a writer’s work may not be as intentional as you might think, pointing things out that Darcy never realized she was doing. There are beautiful turns of phrases throughout the novel that capture your attention.

“Their bodies fit perfectly like this, two continents pulled apart eons ago but now rejoined.” (264)
“The surface of the snow was frozen into glass. Wind-borne flurries uncoiled across it, the high sun casting halos in them, like gray rainbows.”(428)

But the dialogue in places seems stilted and the characters’ reflections make them seem wise beyond their years, even while you’re waiting for character development to happen. Westerfeld even addresses this, when Darcy realizes that her book characters can be boiled down to a few pithy adjectives. It also strikes me as odd that Darcy, on her own for the first time, receives so little parental supervision or inquisition, especially as she keeps stressing the strictness of her immigrant parents. One bright spot is we refreshingly see a character out of school who is forced to make her own decisions and mistakes about budget, including food and living arrangements, no matter how pie-in-the-sky that life may be after Darcy’s six figure advance is paid out.

Personally, I think Westerfeld should stick with the science fiction/fantasy genres. I’ve raved about his Leviathan trilogy several times on this blog, and this seemed like a disappointing departure from what he does well. However, it’s a “chicken and the egg” thought process, because any complaints about the writing style could be attributed to Westerfeld’s portrayal of Darcy’s inexperienced writing and faults, as when someone falls on the ice and claims they meant to do that to show other people the sidewalk is slippery. Tasha Robinson says it better in her NPR Review:

And Westerfeld has an easy out for any flaws in Lizzie’s side of the book: Darcy is a young, inexperienced author. For instance, her relationship with Yamaraj seems insubstantial and heavily romanticized because it’s being written by an 18-year-old who’s just learning about love herself.

If you’re interested in trying your own hand at the National Novel Writing Month challenge, which takes place in November, try visiting their website. For more fulfilling books with a writing themed plot, try Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

The Shadow Throne

Shadow ThroneTitle: The Shadow Throne
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy, book #3 (sequel to The Runaway King)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Map by: Kayley LeFaiver
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545284172 (hardcover), 9780545640060 (audiobook)
Pages: 317 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 hours, 4 minutes, 8 CDs
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2014 (Scholastic Audiobooks, c2014)

With an unsteady voice, she added, “Jaron, do you expect to die in this war?”
My thumb brushed over hers. Not for the first time, I wondered how her skin could be so soft. Then I said, “With the kind of threat we’re facing, I will fight to the death before I surrender. And I don’t see a path to victory.”
“But you’ll find a way. You always do.”
“Maybe Carthya will come through this. But mine has never been the kind of life that leads to old age.” (20-21)

Jaron has every reason to be defeated. After returning home from the pirates camp with a broken leg, he knows war is on the horizon, and receives word of its arrival at the same time he learns of Imogen’s capture. He saved her once, he can do it again, right? With his friends scattered, his country surrounded, and a possible spy in their midst, Jaron is flung into the deadliest battle yet. While he recognizes that he might not make it out alive, he refuses to admit or believe that fate might fall on one of his friends. But will his efforts force him to choose between his companions, his country, or his own freedom?

I posted reviews to the first and second books in the series earlier this year. I still recommend the audiobook versions as an enjoyable listening experience, with Charlie McWade literally providing a voice to Jaron. But with the amount of movement going on between towns and countries, readers might prefer having the map in the print version readily available as a reference of everyone’s destinations and locations. The other thing that I noticed this time around is that the Jennifer Nielsen presents conversations quite frequently as summaries from Jaron’s perspective. I don’t know if she does this to speed the plot or to avoid writing dialogue. I also don’t know if I noticed this more because I was listening to the audiobook rather than reading it. For instance, here are two examples of times I wish I could have “heard” the conversation:

To avoid any argument, I explained only what was necessary of my plans. Mott’s mouth was pinched in a think line of disapproval and Harlowe didn’t look much happier. Tobias clearly thought I had gone insane during my time in captivity, and as that wasn’t entirely impossible, I didn’t contradict him. In the end, they agreed to all that I asked, and Harlowe made Mott and Tobias Promise to keep me safe. Mott replied that he could protect me from everyone but myself, which I thought was a fair compromise. (122-123)

The more we talked about it, the more I was certain that something was very wrong. (194)

Listening to the audiobook, descriptions like the ones just quoted feel as if Jaron is breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the reader. Readers also get first hand analysis of Jaron’s physical and mental state, such as “I was neither the biggest nor the strongest in this battle. My only hope was to be the quickest.” (205) These comments might have read more fluidly if the book had been presented in the third person or if someone else had told Jaron, but from Jaron’s perspective such self-awareness can be slightly jarring.

At other times, these asides are some of the most beautiful and heart-felt portions of the book. I can’t quote any of them without giving away way too much of the plot. Suffice it to say, you’ll know what I mean when you encounter them. Swoon! Balancing the more heart-felt moments, Jaron’s biting sarcasm is a welcome constant in the series. For instance, after encountering a friend, Jaron claims “I need to smile. Tell me something not awful.” After hearing his companions were “miserable”, Jaron arches an eyebrow and says “This is the worst good story I’ve ever heard.” The story continues with an evening rain, making it “cold and so dark we could barely see our own fingers, and the night seemed to last forever.” Jaron responds “I’m beginning to wonder if you understand what ‘not awful’ means.” (94-95) That’s the Jaron we know and love, and those times always brought a smile to my face.

While the print copy benefited from the map, the one benefit of the audiobook was the inclusion of an “exclusive scene” that was not included in the print copy. This bonus scene transports readers to a mid-point in the story and shows an event which Jaron is not present to witness. It explains the actions of another character, and I find myself comparing it to the Harry Potter epilogue at the end of book seven. Some people might like it, but I would have rather been kept in the dark about this character’s motivations than receive this somewhat loose rational behind their actions. It definitely adds more intrigue to the situation. Just like the second book, Jaron paints himself into one corner after another, with no possibly way to get out (at least to everyone else) until some miraculous foresight is revealed that propels him to the next problem. You can’t help but admire his intense planning, but it is also hard to believe a plan this complicated and hinged on so many factors is going to succeed. Still a highly recommended series, this book is Inception meets Princess Bride, and I think fans of both would appreciate the complexities.

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