The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

This is a retelling of a lesser-known fairytale (Maid Maleen) that I have been meaning to get my hands on for some time. I finally found a copy while perusing a new used bookstore in Sedona, AZ (where the parents and in-laws live) and read it over the end of last year.
 
The Premise: Dashti is a mucker girl who gets a job as a lady’s maid on the very day that her lady is imprisoned in a tower for seven years. This is because Lady Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar, claiming a prior engagement with another nobleman – Khan Tegus. While Lady Saren’s father shouts and the other maids run away, Dashti vows to stay beside her lady. The two girls are holed up in a small tower, and Dashti begins a journal detailing their days. Both Lady Saren’s suitors come by: Lord Khasar to taunt and torment them, and Khan Tegus to speak, but Lady Saren commands Dashti to impersonate her with Khan Tegus. As months go by and turn into years,  the food supply dwindles and Lady Saren settles into a dark depression. Only Dashti’s no nonsense attitude and faith in her gods keeps her from losing all hope herself.
 
My Thoughts: This is a epistolary novel told through Dashti’s entries in her journal, which she names “The Book of A Thousand Days”. From the get go, Dashti proves to be a heroine familiar with having to persevere when times are tough. She is a mucker – used to a nomadic lifestyle that depends on things beyond human control. She’s weathered a few hardships before selling her last animal for a job in Lady Saren’s household.  When Lady Saren, a young girl like Dashti herself, is put in a tower by her own father, Dashti is the only servant willing to take care of her lady.
 

    My lady was squeezing my arm so tightly now, my fingers felt cold. One of her cheeks was pink from his slap, her brown eyes red from crying. She reminded me of a lamb just tumbled out, wet all over, unsure of her feet and suspicious of the sun.
She’d be alone in that tower, I thought, and I remembered our tent when Mama died, how the air seemed to have gone out of it, how the walls leaned in, like to bury me dead. When Mama left, what had been home became just a heap of sticks and felt. It’s not good being alone like that. Not good.
Besides, I’d sworn to serve my mistress. And now that her hair was fixed and her face washed, I saw just how lovely she was, the glory of the Ancestors shining through her. I felt certain that Lady Saren would never disobey her father lightly. Surely she had a wise and profound reason for stubbornness, one blessed by the Ancestors.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll stay with my lady.”
Then her father up and slapped me across my mouth. It almost made me laugh.

I liked Dashti a lot. Not only does she have skills for survival, but she also knows how to write and how to sing mucker healing songs. She’s self-sufficient, unlike her lady, who falls apart inside the tower. Dashti is the one looking at how much food they have and rationing it, worrying about the mice, cleaning, fetching water, and going about the day to day tasks of survival. Faced with a problem, Dashti doesn’t sit around – she does something. She’s just as worried as Lady Saren is that they may not survive, and yes, every so often she cries and despairs, but she picks herself up and carries on.

Day 528
Today I thought I would like to die, so I went into the cellar and smacked a few rats with the broom. It helped some.

As much as Dashti has skills that her lady does not, Dashti considers herself a servant and of a lower class than her lady. The class boundaries are very clear in her mind, and while others would think ill of Lady Saren for her uselessness in the tower, Dashti does not. Dashti believes in the gods and that the gentry have the mark of the Ancestors on them. It is Dashti’s job as a servant to obey and make her lady’s life easier. In many ways, Dashti’s unwavering belief make her something of an innocent, but I found her faith and heart endearing. It made her character very pure of heart, which fit well within the fairytale structure of this story.
 
When Lady Saren’s suitors pay them a visit at their tower, Dashti begins to realize why Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar and prefers Khan Tegus. While Khan Tegus is likable, Lord Khasar is terrifying. Lord Khasar is a power hungry ruler who wants to take over all the Eight Realms. In this fairytale retelling, Lord Khasar is very clearly the bad guy while Khan Tegus is the Prince Charming of the tale, but the story puts a little twist to both the concepts. There is both a romance and a vanquishing in this story, and I don’t want to go into it and spoil anyone’s fun, but I have to say that both had me cheering.  I think that the structure of the story, as a series of journal entries, forces the narrative to sometimes focus on the mundane details over action, but I never found myself bored. Instead I was charmed by Dashti’s voice and her evolution from an ordinary lady’s maid into someone who could be the Hero of the story. I couldn’t predict what way the story was going to go, but I loved the way it unraveled.
 
I also loved that this story had a Mongolian influence. The Eight Realms and the Gods as Dashti knows them are clearly from Hale’s imagination, but the clothing, the animals and landscape, and many other details are very Asian.  There are also a lot of charming drawings that pepper the text which underline that these characters have Asian features. I really enjoyed reading a story that was so steeped in this sense of place.
 

 
Overall: This could be my favorite Shannon Hale story. I like a lot of Shannon Hale’s stories, but The Book of a Thousand Days had such an endearing heroine: a maid with a big heart who is determined to take care of her lady. It was heartwarming to see such a good character get her happy ending. This hit the right “fairytale” note while mixing in fantasy and Mongolian inspired story elements. I’m calling it a keeper.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Stephanie’s Written Word – positive
SFF Chat – positive
My Favourite Books – positive
need_tea – B
christina-reads – positive
temporaryworlds – 5 out of 5 stars

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater

So I have never read Maggie Stiefvater before. Despite the lovely trailers and generally good reviews, I just haven’t been interested in the teenagers and werewolves or the teenagers and the faerie. But, killer seahorses? I am interested in that. I picked up a copy of The Scorpio Races as BEA, and still, for some reason or another, I held off on reading the book until the reviews started to trickle in and everyone whose taste I trust loved this book. Finally, finally, I started to read it, and was so happy to find that it lived up to all the hype. I loved this one.
 
The Premise: Every November on the wild and remote island of Thisby, there is a race. Every year, tourists and locals watch riders race deadly water horses known as the capaill uisce on a small strip of beach. And every year, someone dies. The Scorpio Races can mean a lot of money if you are lucky and skilled enough to win, but injury, or more likely, death, occurs for the not-so-blessed. For three of the last four years, Sean Kendrick has won the race for his employer, Benjamin Malvern, the most wealthy man on the island. Sean’s father died at the races, but Sean has worked at the stables since he was ten and is the island expert when it comes to the capaill uisce.  This year, Puck Connolly has also decided to join the race, even though she never had an interest in the races nor any love for the creatures responsible for her parents’ deaths. No interest until her brother Gabe announced his intention to leave the island, making Puck desperate for any excuse to keep him around. Puck has no experience, no capall uisce, and no idea what she is in for.
 
My Thoughts: The Scorpio Races begins with a prologue where Sean Kendrick is a ten year old boy who watches as his father is trampled in the annual races. The images of crowds of men and flesh-eating capaill uisce, then his father’s body lying on the beach are violent and memorable. Sean’s reaction, that fear was his father’s mistake, lingered in my mind long afterward. Clearly, Thisby is not a place for the weak of heart.
 
The island is a harsh and unyielding locale, and those who live on Thisby are no strangers to death and heartache. People often move to the mainland, where work is safer and more profitable. Sean lost his mother to the mainland, and his father to the Races, and has been working at the Malvern stables ever since. A man of little words, Sean keeps to himself but is respected for his way with the uisce and for being the returning champion. There is only one living thing he really loves: Corr, the water horse that he rides for his employer. On another part of the island, Puck Connolly elks out a meager living with her older brother Gabe and younger brother Finn. Her story has a similar tale of loss – both her parents were out fishing when they were killed by the uisce. Puck just wants to keep what’s left of her family together, but making a decent living is hard, and Gabe wants to leave. That’s when desperation takes over and Puck announces she’ll be riding in the Races.
 
The story takes its time, alternating viewpoints between Sean and Puck. Usually, I am not a great fan of alternating viewpoints but in The Scorpio Races it was done very well. I loved how this place is reflected in Sean and Puck’s characters and in so many people in Thisby. This wasn’t a story where I’m told something is dangerous but nothing dangerous ever happened. No, here, people die, bad things happen, and you hold your breath while reading because the story is often a hairbreadth away from something awful. The capaill uisce are the real deal. Yet, these terrifying creatures are a part of Thisby – the only place in the world where these creatures come to shore. Sean muses that it is because this is the only place where they are loved. I think that Stiefvater succeeds in creating an atmospheric setting, one that feels magical but also very real and dangerous, but also made me believe people would pick the island and flesh-eating water horses over safety.
 
As Sean and Puck prepare for the races, their reasons for wanting to win become more serious, and both have big obstacles in their way. I won’t get into these reasons or obstacles, but let me say: I couldn’t decide who I wanted to win more. And as they meet and get to know each other, I don’t think Sean and Puck know who they want to win either. Along the way, they’ve begun an attachment that is of the quiet but deep variety. Theirs is a romance of little words but their gestures speak volumes. A single touch or a family dinner carries great meaning and had me swept up in their relationship. When Sean does speak and make his move, it hits you like a ton of bricks.
 
All of this atmosphere and quiet romance and struggle culminates in one thing: the Scorpio Races themselves. This is the part of the story where I was feverishly flipping the pages, and it is over quickly, but oh, is it awesome. I finished off this story with a mix of elation and contentment.
 
Overall: The Scorpio Races is quiet perfection. It was one of my top reads of last year (honestly, it ties for number one). This is an incredibly well-crafted tale set in a fierce and beautiful island, with just the right touch of the otherworldly and steadfast characters that persevere. It’s a story that is thoughtful and gradually builds up it’s characters and relationships, and it’s not for those that require instant gratification. My kind of story.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Angieville – “perfect”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “One of my favorite books read this year”
The Book Smugglers –  8- Excellent and leaning toward 9
Escape In a Book – 4 (out of 5)
Jane of All Reads – positive
Book Harbinger – “in the running for my favorite book of the year”
 
Book Trailer:

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Brightly Woven
Alexandra Bracken

The Premise:  All Sydelle Mirabel has known her entire life is her village, a place far from the beaten path and suffering under ten years of drought. Then one day a rogue wizard named Wayland North arrives in her desert, bringing with him rain and warnings. Sydelle’s village is caught on the cusp of a war, and Wayland has to return to the capital to prevent their country being drawn into needless fighting. When asked for what he wants in return for ending their drought, Wayland chooses Sydelle. Before she knows it, Sydelle is traversing the country with the somewhat disreputable and secretive wizard and trying to dodge the efforts of Wayland’s enemy. Despite a rocky start, Sydelle begins to discover all of Wayland’s secrets, including the ones about herself, and she’s not just the simple weaver she thought she was.

My Thoughts: I went into this book expecting a fantasy story with adventure and perhaps romance and while this is enjoyable and has these elements, it doesn’t quite meet my expectations. But before I go into what didn’t work for me, let me go into what did. The world building was of your typical fantasy fare (and a very wholesome one at that), but the magic systems and beliefs of Palmarta and its neighbors were nice ideas. It liked discovering how magic worked alongside Sydelle as Wayland use his different colored capes to cast spells. It was interesting to have Sydelle’s perspective – that magic is a gift from their goddess, clash with Wayland’s, who doesn’t pray or think that his gift is for defeating wicked things. I also liked the idea of ranking amongst wizards and how the wizards they met upon their journey would more often than not pompously declare their ranking number. The non-ranked, hedge witches who came into existence because women were not allowed to be ranked was another thoughtful detail, as was Sydelle’s own connection with magic.

The big problem was that although I found the story enjoyable, it always felt a little superficial – like I was catching glimpses of what the story could be, but wasn’t. It just didn’t feel like the execution matched the promise.  Maybe part of that is the pacing of the story – Wayland and Sydelle are on a journey and have little time on their pit stops to their final destination. Instead we get a blurry impression of places before their goal or their pursuer pushes them to rush to the next place. Still, I should expect to feel a connection to Wayland and Sydelle from following them on their journey, and I don’t. I got the impression that Wayland is supposed to be something of a mischievous charmer, but instead he came off as just young and irresponsible. Yes he can do magic and is trying to prevent a war, but he also gets drunk at the drop of a hat (in the middle of his mission), can’t be straight with Sydelle about what’s going on, gets sullen when confronted with his mother and goes off to sulk when Sydelle hugs another man. When Wayland’s secrets are revealed in the story, for me, they didn’t quite explain away his behavior. For her part, Sydelle tries to be Wayland’s conscience and proves to be a heroine who acts bravely in bad situations, but she also get upset in ways that felt more than the situation warranted. She got annoyed at Wayland at one point and ran into the rain by herself in a strange town. I should understand why she is so upset and feel a connection to her feelings when she is going through this, but I don’t. Instead I feel like she’s overreacting because it seems to happen out of the blue. Maybe she’s only sixteen and Wayland is just eighteen and it shows, but I don’t think that it’s just that I’m too old to relate to them. I think there just isn’t enough there to relate to.

While I found Wayland and Sydelle difficult to connect to, the secondary characters were just one dimensional. There’s the jolly friend, the evil (and physically scarred) bad guy, the young queen, some throw-away side characters. I felt like they were mostly there for convenience to carry to story forward and none left me with much of an impression.  I wanted more there, especially Wayland’s mother, who I think could have an interesting back story is just as cardboard – horrible one minute, then having a convenient change of attitude the next.

The romance felt like it lacked that initial spark. I think that I’m supposed to infer some attraction when Wayland swoops into Sydelle’s life and whisks her away within his cape, but it felt like his magic was magical to her, not his presence.  When Sydelle gets angry at Wayland, it is not the banter of two people falling in love. It is a scared, half-hysterical girl redirecting her anger at only person she can. Still not romantic. Then suddenly,  Sydelle likes Wayland, and Wayland is touching her hair and getting possessive. I wished I could have seen more behind this relationship, but if I put that aside, there are sweet moments, and the story does end on a nice romantic note. I just (again) wished for more there.

Typing out this review, I feel more critical of the book now than when I was actually reading it. While I was in the middle of Brightly Woven, I found it a pleasant read even though I wasn’t connecting to the characters. The writing is good and there’s a lot of promise. It’s not there yet, but the bones are. I liked the concepts and what there was, I just wanted more.

Overall: This is a young adult fantasy that is a light and a pleasant diversion, but it didn’t fully meet my expectations. While enjoyable, it felt underdeveloped in many ways and I felt a lack of connection to the main characters. That said, there are a lot of people that loved this one, and I do see enough in this book that I liked to understand why.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Karissa’s Reading Review – 4/5 stars
The Crooked Shelf – loved it
Sophistikatied – positive
christina_reads – “not bad, but it’s not great either”
The Allure of Books – loved it
Debbie’s World of Books – “disappointed”
SFF chat – “a disappointment”
The Hiding Spot – B
Books and Other Thoughts – “enchanting”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “satisfying fantasy read”
The Book Harbinger – “a fun and light YA fantasy”
Brooke Reviews – “really fun read”
Angieville – “a lovely surprise of a story”

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Froi of the Exiles
Melina Marchetta

It was a few weeks ago that I read Finnikin of the Rock, and although I found the book dark, there was enough light bits in the story for me to finish without trouble and overall would say I enjoyed it. Since Froi of the Exiles was up on Netgalley, I decided to request it to see how the story would continue. Since I’d already known the second book would be about Froi, I paid attention to his character in Finnikin and I was curious if I would like a story about a character I found darker than Finnikin or Evanjalin.
 
This review will have minor spoilers for the first book, so if you are interested in this series, I suggest you start there (https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg). I also warn you that this is an advance review for a book that doesn’t come out till March 2012.
 
The Premise: A few years have passed since Finnikin lead his people back to their beloved homeland, but Lumatere is still struggling with the horrors its people have seen.The new King and Queen focus on rebuilding and starting afresh, but have a desire for justice still burning in their hearts. They know that the ones behind their country’s ‘five days of the unspeakable’ and the ten year aftermath is the kingdom of Chayrn. So when Charynite refugees and resistence fighters say they have a plan to kill their despot king, Lumatere sends in one of their favorite sons – Froi, to do the job.  It seems that Lumatere is not the only country with a curse, for Charyn is suffering its own form of hell which may or may not be broken by its loony princess Quintana. Not quite understanding this curse, but seeing an opportunity, Froi impersonates a Last Born and infiltrates the palace. In the meantime, there is unease in Lumatere as those closest to the border, the Monts, deal with a slow and steady influx of refugees from Charyn and must battle with their own latent hatreds.
 
My Thoughts:  In this second book, things are somewhat different from the first. It’s much longer (a little over 600 pages on my nook) and wider in its scope.The main character is Froi, but the book constantly switches its focus from him back to individual Lumaterians in Lumatere – mostly Lady Beatrice, Lucian of the Monts, and Phaedra, Lucian’s Charynite wife. This is a book that’s about Charyn and Lumatere.
 
But since the book begins with Froi, I’ll start with him. His character is that of a unlikeable boy-thief rescued from the streets who has now grown into an accomplished young man. He still has trouble with his temper, but he is loved by those who raised him and eager to prove his loyalty to his Queen. When the opportunity to kill the Charyn king who was behind Lumatere’s years of grief presents itself, Froi is the one to go.
 
It’s from Froi’s point of view that we are introduced to Charyn, and it is a dark place. The people are desperate, the king is a tyrant, and it has a recent history of a terrible genocide. When I read Finnikin of the Rock, rape was alluded to, but not directly shown. Here, rape and sex with questionable consent is a common trope. In order to alleviate Charyn’s curse, princess Quintana, an obviously mentally ill girl must have sex with the last born sons of Charyn. I was pretty disturbed by this. I continued to be disturbed when I read the description of Quintana’s lack of care (unwashed hair, often wearing the same dress), coupled with her childlike airs and the voices she hears. The prologue described in heartbreaking detail her penchant for disconnecting during the sex act by making shadow figures on the wall. To warn those who avoid rape in the books they read: Quintana is raped in a scene that squicked the heck out of me, and she is of course, hated and called a whore by her whole country. I don’t think I can begin to describe the way reading this affected me.
 
While Quintana is introduced as a character who is abused, she is also clearly set up to be Froi’s love interest. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, because on her side, we have an abused, mad child, and on his side, Froi is the person who in the last book tried to rape Evanjalin/Isaboe. Part of me has a very, very hard time rooting for Froi after this act, but this story does not try to rewrite history or deny that Froi is a dark character. He is a person tainted with the darkness of his past, and in many ways his darkness makes him a match for Quintana’s own demons. But it was very difficult for me to connect personally to these characters and their romance. I think that while I rooted for their happiness, I could never really love them. They were too alien for me. Quintana is too shifting in her moods and manner, and Froi too self-serving. I did believe Froi’s attraction to a dirty, mad princess with dark calling to dark, but on a logical, not visceral level.
 
I also think that the romance was difficult to get lost in with all that happens in the story. This was an incredibly heavy book. A sense of either shocked horror or utter despair pervaded my whole experience. As the story continued, I hoped for better things to come, but one calamity seemed to follow the next. When innocents are not being killed in Charyn, we’re treated to the problems in Lumatere and its border. This includes the drama of unfinished business between Beatrice and Trevanion, who are letting their pain stand between them, and the constant friction between Monts and the Charyn refugees.  Lucian of the Monts struggle as a leader and husband through an arranged marriage was particularly compelling and at times heartbreaking.  I think that there is room here for things to eventually turn out right, but as a reader I felt the balance of this installment of the story slide more towards hopeless over hopeful. When things started on an upward swing, it wasn’t for long. And if you are someone sensitive to rape, this book is a hard hitter.  While Quintana’s rape is on the page, she is not the only one. There are at least 4 other characters that have had this experience, and it is common for the females to be labeled as sluts and whores. This left me full of anger, which I think is the point. I don’t think that Marchetta wants to keep the reader cocooned from the horrors of war and strife, but I was pretty worn out emotionally. There ARE bright spots in the story (like when Finnikin and Isaboe make cameo appearances), but overall, I found this to be a grim book.
 
As with Finnikin of the Rock there are revelations in Froi of the Exiles which are alluded to by prophecy. Again, these secrets weren’t too difficult to guess, but I did have fun being right. The truth of what brought about Charyn’s curse wasn’t as much fun though. More horror and needless killing by the corrupt, basically. It got to the point where I was numb and unsurprised by the evil of those behind the curse, but it was disheartening to read about the past pains of the characters who lived through Charyn’s dark history.
 
OK, so I’ve talked a lot about how dark this book was. Is this a dealbreaker? I think it depends on the reader. Froi of the Exiles ends on an unfinished note, but I am glad I have a year to recover for the next one. I do plan to read it. I wouldn’t have found this story so dark if I wasn’t so caught up by these people and their struggles, and I really want to see all of this end in something good. I’m not eager to reread this book, but I am eager for a happy ending. I hope to see one in the next book, Quintana of Charyn.
 
Froi of the Exiles comes out in March 2012
 
Overall: Compelling but not for the faint of heart. Froi of the Exiles continues where Finnikin of the Rock left off but brings more heartache and strife to the tale, making this story more painful than enjoyable. It widens the scope to focus not just Froi and the kingdom of Charyn, but also on multiple characters still coping in Lumatere. Now the story is no longer standalone and the darkness will hopefully make way for better times, but we’ll have to wait for the next installment to get to them.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
No one in my circles have reviewed this yet. Let me know if you have and I’ll link to your review.

Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman

Sword of Fire and Sea
Erin Hoffman

I was sold on this one by the promise of fantasy with a touch of romance in it. Also – look at the cover. A guy. A girl. A griffin. It looks a little like a video game poster, but it’s pretty.  Sadly, my expectations of romance and a swash-buckling adventure fantasy were not met with this one. Let me tell you why.
 
The Premise: Captain Vidarian Rulorat, scion of a well-known sea-faring family, is asked by the fire priestesses to transport one of their member, Ariadel Windhammer, to a water temple far away. A trip through dangerous waters is made more perilous by those pursuing Ariadel for what she knows. Vidarian would love nothing more than to decline and be on his way, but because of an agreement his grandfather years ago, Vidarian is forced to take Ariadel where the priestesses want.  Of course, things do not go well, and before long Vidarian finds himself embroiled in world-changing events. Events that involve the Goddesses and their elements and could change the way magic in the world works.
 
My Thoughts: This book begins in fairly typical fantasy style with the start of a journey. Vidarian meets with fire priestess Endera, who offers him two sun emeralds, nearly priceless stones, in return for passage for someone on his ship. Vidarian would be set for life, but he says no when he realizes the passenger would be a fire priestess.  That’s when Endera reminds him of the pact his grandfather made many years ago, and Vidarian has no choice but adhere to it.
 
Sun emeralds. Fire priestesses. Perilous sea journeys. All by maybe page five. Great in theory, but unfortunately, I was already confused. I found it difficult to grasp Endera’s status amongst the priesthood (leader? spokeswoman?), why Vidarian would say no to allowing a fire priestess on his ship (superstition? politics? actual danger?), or what exactly his grandfather’s pact was (????). And I’m afraid those details aren’t really directly explained ever (unless I count the back blurb which explains more than the story did). This is a repeated pattern for the rest of the book.  Maybe I missed it or I’m supposed to make some educated guesses (which I did), but the story just swooped off to the next scene, making my questions moot.
 
Without much transition, the story moves to the sea, and Ariadel is on the ship. I was hoping that during the time at sea we would get to know Ariadel and Vidarian’s characters, but there is no time for any character development. Weeks go by in a blink and then the ship is attacked.  Vidarian and Ariadel are forced to travel by land. There were a lot of details about Vidarian’s ship and crew that we learn along the way, but much of it ended up being irrelevant to the plot because we hardly see them ever again. After that, I wasn’t sure what to pay attention to and what not to. I tried to orient myself by looking at the map provided in the book, but the locations mentioned in the story were more often than not, not on the map. This isn’t very far into the book so I am using it to give you an example of the general trend of the story. Variations of “journeying”, “interrupted by outside forces”, “reacting”, “change journey plans” are repeated over and over until the book ends.
 
When I look at other reviews of this book, people say that it is fast moving. I would say that this is true, except that it felt to me that the only thing that kept the story moving was that the characters were always reacting to something which kept them doing something. But the plot had no clear direction to the reader until we get to the end of the story. Because the goal of the characters was abstract (their plans were undecided before they got to their destination), I had trouble caring. And speaking of uncaring, I have never felt so much apathy towards characters as I did with this book. Vidarian is a ship’s captain, who loves his ship and the sea. That is pretty much his character. Ariadel was a young, relatively inexperienced, fire priestess. They seemed like nice people, but I never got a chance to get to know their personalities. When they start a relationship, it felt like it came out of left field. I had no idea either was even interested in one another because there was zero build-up.
 
What actually kept me interested is that there are a lot of great ideas and pieces of world building in here that I really liked. The griffins and their accoutrements were fascinating. And because the book was short (277 pages) and I had read 100 pages already, I stubbornly shouldered on hoping the story would become more clear. Unfortunately, so many ideas were tossed into the pot I felt like I was reading the fantasy equivalent of everything and the kitchen sink. New and pivotal characters and concepts are introduced late into the book, and older ones are discarded. Things changed at breakneck speed. Fierce editing and focusing more on character growth would have helped this story a lot.
 
Overall: Almost a DNF. I wanted to like this one, but I just couldn’t get into it. The characters had no development and I was always confused by what their goals were. I didn’t like how the story’s momentum was all forced and that so much was thrown in there with little pause. That just got boring after a while. With little to keep me connected to the story, I struggled to keep reading past the midway point.  What kept me from disliking the book completely was a detailed and imaginative world, but I wish that the world building didn’t compete so much with the plot that it was hard to tell the difference between a plot point and backdrop.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Calico_reaction – 6 (worth reading, with reservations)
Fantasy Literature – DNF
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell – “Surprised me in the end, in a good way”
My world.. in words and pages – ” I think this could be a good series, but a shaky start for me.”

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock
Melina Marchetta
Ah, the awesomeness of the internet. I bought Finnikin of the Rock at that Greenwich Library sale I went to earlier this month, and Chachic commented that she had the book too and we should do a readalong. Before long, Hollyjoined in. So last week we all read Finnikin and used goodreads and twitter to discuss the book as we read it. So much fun, you guys. Who says reading is a solitary activity? 🙂
 
The Premise: When Finnikin was a boy, he lived an idyllic life in the kingdom of Lumatere. His father Trevanion, was heroic Captain of the King’s Guard. His childhood friends were Prince Balthazar and the prince”s cousin, Lucian of the Monts, and they dreamed of being heroes and ruling the kingdom. Then ‘the five days of the unspeakable’ happened. The royal family is murdered, Balthazar is missing, a false king is placed on the throne, and Travanion is imprisoned. A curse hangs over Lumatere, closing it off from the outside world. Half the kingdom is trapped inside a dark and impregnable force. The people who escaped before the kingdom was sealed are miserable refugees left wandering in lands where they are not welcome. Ten years later, Finnikin is apprentice to Sir Toby, who was once advisor to the murdered king and now looks out for the Lumaterian refugees. One day, they get a message to travel to a remote temple. There they find the novice Evanjalin who claims she walks the sleep of the people still living within Lumatere and who may be the key to bringing Lumaterians back home.
 
My Thoughts:  There was a little bit of a learning curve getting into the story (the prologue took me a little time to understand), but by the time I reached the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, I was up to speed. Present time is now ten years after Lumatere was shut closed, and Finnikin, Sir Topher, and Evanjalin find themselves traversing the neighboring kingdoms as they progress in their desire to help Lumatere. The world building is fairly generic (mostly semi-Medieval societies with the exception of the tribal Yuts) with religions and magic that isn’t explored with great detail. What sets Finnikin of the Rock apart was its unique take on displaced people.
 
With such a serious message, Finnikin of the Rock has some aspects that are darker than your typical YA – rape, torture and suffering are things alluded to, if not directly described. The story tended to hold back from going to far on most things, but the plight of the refugees was very affecting. In particular, there is a pretty surreal scene within a fever camp that is mind-numbing.  There is also an attempted rape which left me cold. Do not let this dissuade you from reading the book! I tend to avoid these things and didn’t find this book as disturbing as I think it could have been. And on the flip side there is a lot of love and hope in this story too. Finnikin was raised by his father and his men when his mother died in childbirth, and the love and protectiveness that the hardened killers feel for this boy as he grows into a man is a reoccurring theme. Finnikin is a product of their hope for Lumatere – outwardly cynical because of what he’s seen, he is still soft when it comes to what he loves. It takes some time to see his character, but it is one of the stronger ones in the book.
 
Evanjalin on the other hand, is not always so easy to read. Secretive but sharp, she feels no remorse in holding back or bending the truth to “do what needs to be done”.  What she hides eventually comes to light, but while I understood the need to keep some things a secret, by the time I was halfway through the book I was tired of her hiding things after there didn’t seem to be a reason to. I found her strong for keeping her own counsel, but on the other hand, too much of it made her overly secretive when she didn’t always need to be.
 
There was a similar problem with the romance being more complicated than was necessary. I could allow for a little less getting-to-know-each-other time than I’d like because the romance was rather sweet, but I couldn’t overlook the number of unnecessary roadblocks. There were hang ups and hesitations when just talking to one another would have solved the issue. It is disappointing not to see deeper communication because it took away from a romance that was thisclose to being very good.
 
Another problem I had was that the story seemed to propel forward during the traveling portions so the characters would be in a new country or town without a sense of how far they traveled or how long it took. I understand that this was to condense the story to the important parts, but the transitions felt too sudden.
 
Maybe I’m sounding very critical of this story, but I did enjoy it. Following the fulfillment of the curse/premonition and the struggle of the characters was compelling stuff. There’s something about Marchetta’s writing that makes me eager to read more. I want to see what happens in the next installment, Froi of the Exiles, which will follow the adventures of a character introduced in this book, and I do plan to read more Marchetta.
 
Overall: This is a fast moving young adult fantasy with a romantic subplot that I liked, but hesitate to recommend it to others because of its sometimes abrupt transitions and over complication of certain parts of the story. If there was time spent on developing intimacy between characters I would have been a lot happier. I did end up enjoying the serious Finnikin and self-assertive Evanjalin, loved the way Finnikin’s father loved his son, and was invested in Lumatere’s survival. Your mileage may vary.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Angieville – “There was so much potential that just never found a grounding point.”
 
Chachic’s Book Nook – “[…]definitely a worthwhile read if you’re an epic fantasy reader or a Melina Marchetta fan but it’s the kind of book that would make you pick up something light and fun afterwards”

The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin

The Kingdom of Gods
N. K. Jemisin

After the first two installments of The Inheritance Trilogy, The Kingdom of the Gods was one of my most anticipated reads this year. I requested (and received!) a copy for review from the publisher.
 
First two books:
Book 1: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: The Broken Kingdoms https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
Unlike the previous book, I don’t think you can read The Kingdom of the Gods without reading the first two books in this trilogy. There’s a lot that happens in the earlier books that has an impact on the characters, so if you haven’t read them, I recommend you skip back to my review of the first book.
 
The Premise: Sieh is the oldest of the godlings – the first child created by the Three. As such, he has loved his parents as gods love one another, but knows that he could never be part of what they have. More and more, he’s felt a loneliness which he cannot fill but tries to keep hidden, and one day during one of these episodes, Sieh returns to Sky, his prison for many centuries. Here he encounters two Arameri children in the now-empty spaces within the palace. This innocuous meeting turns out to have surprising consequences, particularly within Sieh. This is not well timed nor well-advised. The children, twins Shahar and Dekarta, are the heirs to the Arameri throne and not the best playmates for a god. Meanwhile, an enemy Sieh never knew he had is gaining power when Sieh may be at his weakest and most vulnerable.
 
Read the first three chapters of The Kingdom of Gods: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3
 
My Thoughts: Sieh was a character first introduced in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, book one of this trilogy. In that book, Sieh has an innocence that comes from his being seen through the eyes of the narrator, Yiene who has motherly instincts towards the godling. Now, with Sieh as narrator, we get a very different perspective.
 
Sieh is the embodiment of the abstract concept of Childhood. For a being that is hundreds of thousands of years old, Sieh’s very essence is to be immature, and he does act like it. He considers himself a trickster, but his tricks are the petty pranks of a thoughtless child with a horrifying amount of power.  Sieh can only really focus on what’s happening to himself or what is in front of him. He doesn’t pay attention to anything outside that limited view, and so, has a black-and-white view of what happened between his parents. In Sieh’s mind, Itempas was wrong and Sieh cannot forgive him.
 
This at least the mindset where Sieh starts the narrative with. As the book continues, it becomes apparent that Sieh is no longer what he once was. He has begun to change.
 
The change begins with Sieh and his unique relationship with the Arameri heirs, Dekarta and Shahar. I looked at the back blurb for this book, and it suggests that Shahar is the main character alongside Sieh. This is sort of misleading. Sieh has relationships with Shahar and her brother Dekarta. It all begins when Sieh meets the two when they are children, makes a profound impression on them both, and agrees to see them again in a year and to grant one wish. That wish is what begins Sieh’s transformation.
 
When I look at this trilogy as a whole, they’re rather disjointed by the change in viewpoints in every book, but there is a cohesion because each installment does influence the next one. With three narrators telling different parts of the same story, each one of the books in the trilogy has a different feel. This installment feels to me the most character driven. It’s all about Sieh’s growing pains. The current looming disaster that threatens to end the world is part of the story, and it does concern Sieh, but it feels very secondary to the story compared to Sieh’s own issues. Maybe that is intentional – as Sieh grows and matures, the story focuses more on the fate of the world, but before that, it’s all about Sieh.
 
What’s clever is that Sieh’s problem brings a lot of introspection and interaction with other Gods and godlings. This means a lot of new details about Gods, godlings, demons, and the War of the Gods. I especially liked the worldbuilding here, and I liked that this was a story about the Gods and their evolution. It felt like what began with the death of Enefa was getting a proper resolution in this installment because Sieh has a unique perspective of his parents. I was also happy to get answers to questions I had about characters in earlier books, like what happened to the man who was once Nahadoth’s vessel, and what became of the daughter of Itempas and Oree Soth.
 
I liked Sieh a lot as the narrator. He doesn’t give off the same grounded feel that the last two narrators did (he’s more of a brat, really), but I liked that we got an unvarnished view and saw Sieh with all his many imperfections. I could see him rubbing other readers the wrong way, especially since he is old enough to know better, but I thought that his selfishness was in character. He is also a god and thinks and acts like a god, even if he looks like he’s eight or eighteen or eighty. He’s more flexible in his ideas about sex for instance (incest is not a problem for gods). There were times that his actions were alien to me, but I empathized with him when things began to go south. I had a suspicion about who Sieh’s enemy was early on in the book (I was right too), and it made me very anxious on his behalf. I lay awake in bed, thinking of the possibilities. There were so many.
 
I am not sure how to describe what didn’t quite work for me in this story. I think the problem was how the story was laid out – focusing on Sieh for the majority of the book, and then in the last third, on the possible destruction of the world. There was something that felt unbalanced in this, and I would have liked more time spent on the secondary plot. As part of this, the relationships with Dekarta and Shahar felt like it could have been further developed than it actually was. I felt that the love and complicated feelings that Sieh had for his three parents clearly, but I did not feel like I had enough time with Dekarta, and Shahar to be convinced of their bond. Lastly, I found the climax very abrupt. The real ending seemed to happen in a epilogue-ish bit, and I think this just added to my general feeling of unbalance. Even though this book was long, I would have liked a longer ending, if that makes any sense.
 
Overall: This is just a great series and I’m really happy I read it. Gods as central characters, influencing and wrecking havoc on a world and its people – it’s fascinating stuff. I loved visiting this world and the cast of unique characters, and I’m a little sad that this is the last book. This installment was a little more divided in its focus than I would have liked, but it does satisfactorily conclude the series and tied up loose ends.
 
Look out for a short story that answered that last lingering question I had after The Broken Kingdoms, and an excerpt from the beginning of Jemisin’s new series.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – 7/10
 
Interesting Links:
About the doodled appendices at the end of the book
Sieh character study (warning: spoilery)
Shahar character study (warning: spoilery)

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice
Robin McKinley

This has been a book I bought which languished on the TBR for a while, but when I wanted a simple fantasy story, this standalone with a modest 263 pages seemed the perfect fit.
 
The Premise: Mirasol has had a simple, uncomplicated life as a beekeeper. She has had nothing to do with the governing of her demesne. That has been something she left to the Master, his Chalice, and the other other members of the Circle. Then one day, both the Chalice and the Master are killed in one fell blow. Suddenly Mirasol finds herself as the new Chalice, with no idea what she’s doing or how she’s going to keep her demesne from falling apart.  The new Master is the old Master’s younger brother, but they called him back home as he was about to become a fourth level Fire Priest, and he barely remembers how to be human. Now these two inexperienced and unlikely stewards somehow have to settle their land. Failure means severe hardship for the demesne, if not utter annihilation, and many don’t think they can do it. They must not fail.
 
Read an excerpt of Chalice here
 
My Thoughts:  This is a fantasy story told in the third person, but with very subjective narration focused on Mirasol’s character. Despite it being a third person POV, there’s a dreamy, stream of consciousness feel to the writing. Some of the writing is almost poetic in the way McKinley plays with the rules to tell the story. The reader is very close to Mirasol’s thoughts, which are often a jumble of wondering how she got where she is now and how she should proceed. There’s a lot of stress but at the same time, Mirasol is has a natural knack for her work and she she throws herself into researching her Chalice duties to expand this knack.
 

”   Every day her mind swam and struggled while her face and body demonstrated serenity and control. She went home exhausted every night, with the Master’s exhaustion haunting her. What a pair, she thought sadly. Poor Willowlands. Furthermore she had even less time to pursue her studies — and she urgently needed to continue her studies. She had grown accustomed to sleeping badly as a result of not being able to turn her thoughts off; now she slept worse on account of the pain in her hand. She lay awake in the dark, thinking about what she could be learning if she sat up and lit a candle, and too bone-weary to fumble for her tinder-box.
But since the Master came, she thought, am I not putting out fewer fires?
Perhaps that is only because I am spending too much time bearing Chalice to a Circle who will not let me bind them together?
Is that my failure or theirs?
She should be asleep now. But you could pick at a dingy bandage in the dark and put off making even the tiny additional decision of lighting a candle.”

 
The world building happens organically as Mirasol tries to adapt herself to her new position. What we learn is that the Chalice is the second most important person in an eleven person Circle which is lead by a twelfth, the Master. She (for the position is always a female one) holds a chalice and mixes the right ingredients into it for every ceremony and occasion, which then all circle members sip. The concoctions the Chalice makes have special significance, and have potent powers (Mirasol can mend the damage of an earthquake and calm agitated animals among other things). She and the Master are most closely connected to the land and their task is to keep their land calm and happy. The land itself is like a living breathing animal, or maybe many living animals, which Mirasol and the Master have a connection to. When the connection is broken, so is the land.
 
Mirasol is unique as a Chalice both because of her abrupt appointment and lack of knowledge (in a strange oversight, the neither the last Chalice nor the last Master had an official Heir), and because her affinity is for honey.  This is a strange affinity, but the talk of Mirasol’s bees and her relationship with them is sweet and wondrous. The writing here makes this part of her life is warm and golden; a summer day. In contrast, her dealings with the Circle have a stressed out, jagged feel.
 
The only person who seems to be on the same page, albeit in a incredibly quiet way, is the new Master, a man who everyone is more than a little afraid of. His skin has been blackened by fire, his eyes are red, and his touch has burnt the Chalice, leaving her with a wound will not heal. He’s a dark and mysterious figure, but when he was fully human he loved the land, and even now he wants to help it. Mirasol and he have a quiet relationship that grows because they keep finding themselves in the same place, and have to face the same threats. But I’m not sure I’d categorize the story as romantic. What romance there is, is so subtle if you were to blink, you’d miss it.
 
Overall: This is not a story that really made my heart race – it was more of a story that centered me: a comfort read, a nice fantasy story to escape in for a few hours, leaving me with a pleasant but ephemeral aftertaste. While I wished that there was a little more, it was a good read.
 
P.S. I ADORE the cover of the Firebird trade paperback I own. So pretty and matches the dreaminess of the inside pages.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Tempting Persephone – mixed
Charlotte’s Library – positive
Em’s Bookshelf – 4 stars (out of 5)
One Librarian’s Book reviews – 4 stars (out of 5)
Books and Other Thoughts – positive (but wanted more)

Relic Master: The Dark City by Catherine Fisher

Relic Master: The Dark City
Catherine Fisher
I was offered a copy of this book from the publisher at the same time they pitched a giveaway for the whole series on my blog. I’d never read Catherine Fisher before, but I had heard murmurings about Incarceron, and I remember a glowing review from the Book Smugglers. Intrigued by the premise and this praise for the author, I said yes. Although this book is out now, my review is of an ARC copy.
 
The Premise: Raffi is a teenager who lives on Anara, a world with seven moons. A long time ago, it is said, the Makers came from the sky, and made the seas, the salt and soil, the trees and the animals. They left a long time ago, but they left ancient relics with sublime powers behind on Anara. The Keepers are those who safeguard the relics, but twenty years ago, their Order was destroyed. Now those of them left are in hiding, while those in power, The Watch, continue to root them out. Raffi is an apprentice Keeper, learning magic under the tutelage of his gruff mentor, Galen. They have been careful for a long time, but recently Galen has been reckless and unhappy. Raffi is concerned when a man shows up at their secret hideout, asking for their help. Things don’t seem right, but Galen accepts the job anyway. This kicks off a journey that takes them far from home in search of a powerful relic that could save the world.  If they get to it before anyone else does.
 
My Thoughts: This is the type of story that just begins and lets the world building occur organically. People spoke of Keepers and Watchers and Makers without qualifying what they were, and I gleaned their meaning from the words themselves and the context. Often clues about the world come as quotes from religious texts and scholars of Anara that serve as placeholders between chapters. In order to review the book I had to at least explain what the Keepers and Watchers were, but I did leave a lot out so that people can figure out things on their own. Part of the charm of the story is the puzzle that is Anara, although this technique also has its drawbacks (I’ll come back to that later).
 
The Dark City is told in the third person but the focus is mostly on the teenager Raffi, occasionally switching focus to a Watcher that is following the two of them across Anara. My ARC was 372 pages, but I easily read the story in a few hours. What made this such a fast read was that the language is very simple and readable. The writing and the story’s focus primarily on adventure puts the story on a middle grade to young adult level. I think I could easily recommend this to my ten year old nephew and be fine, but an older teen (not to mention me), could also read this without feeling bored.
 
I think the simplicity of the language brings to mind the writing of Megan Whalen Turner, particularly in comparison to her book, The Thief, which also a “journeying in search of a special item” story. In terms of characters, The Dark City doesn’t have the same complexity though. It may be because the story has been broken up into four installments, but in The Dark City, we only begin to go beyond the surface of the main characters. By far the most complex is Galen, Raffi’s tutor, who is very obviously scarred by something that happened to him. Raffi is his worrying, cautious apprentice who we get the story from, but he’s a simpler to understand character. The Watcher is the third member of their group, and their character is one that gives us a glimpse of the other side and what the Watchers believe. There is an interesting dynamic once the Watcher shows up because of the web of lies and suspicion that results, but it never becomes truly diabolical.
 
I think that the story is more plot centric than it was character centric. And the plot surrounds the mystery of Anara. Throughout the story I wondered why the Watchers originally attacked the Order and the original Anaran rulers, and who the original Makers were. The Order of the Keepers could do magic, and Raffi does show magical ability throughout the story, but the relics that he and Galen safeguard seem awfully familiar. I am certain the relics were technological in nature, but Raffi and Galen treated them as powerful sources of magic. I was very curious about that – are these relics really advanced technology or magic? If it’s not magic, how is the magic that the Keepers can do (not to mention the magic that the race of Cat people that also live on Anara can do) explained? Can they be both? This is where the drawback in the storytelling comes in. I think that it is the intent to hold back information from the reader and to give small pieces of the puzzle as the series goes on, but it can be frustrating. I am used to having my world building established within the first book of a series, but in this series, it is the draw for continuing. A great device for reluctant readers (I also noticed that each chapter ended in a mini-cliffhanger, another technique for keeping a reader reading), but it can feel a little manipulative.
 
Overall: This is an entertaining adventure story that should appeal to young readers. I love stories that straddle both magic and technology in their world building so that really appealed to me, but I did feel a little frustrated that some information is held back about Anara. This is a technique works for getting reluctant readers into a story, and this is a book whose audience is younger than I am (I’d put this in a high MG to YA range), but I didn’t expect it to work on me too. I feel compelled to keep reading the series just to figure out what’s going on.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library – positive

Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Blessing
Jacqueline Carey
I won a copy of this book at the last readathon I did (Dewey’s 24 hour readathon) plus got a copy (unsolicited) from the publisher. [Psst! Since I was sent two copies of this book, I’m giving the unread one away this week!] Naamah’s Blessingis the third book of this trilogy.
 
Book 1: Naamah’s Kiss  https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Naamah’s Curse  https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
***** This review contains spoilers for the earlier two books *****
 
 
The Premise: Moirin mac Fainche has returned to Terre D’Ange from her adventures in the far away lands of the East. She’s found and brought back her lover (now husband) Bao, but while she was away. Moirin’s beloved Jehanne de Courcel, the D’Angeline queen has passed away, leaving a grief stricken king and a very young daughter. The city of Elua is left without an attentive king, and Desirée, Jehanne’s child is a lonely, isolated little girl. In the meantime, Prince Thierry has left on an expedition to Terra Nova for exploration and glory, and hasn’t returned. Moirin sees Jehanne in her dreams, again tasking her with a Destiny. Things have come around full circle and this time Moirin must fix a disaster of her own making. For when Moirin was younger she naively used her powers granted by the Maghuin Dhonn to further the ambitions of Raphael de Mereliot and the Circle of Shalomon. It has consequences Moirin never imagined, but Moirin must make things right.
 
My Thoughts: Like it’s two predecessors, Naamah’s Blessing is not a short story (this one clocks in at 610 pages), but for its length the story is very readable. I was grateful that the first couple of chapters are ones where Moirin looks back over her adventures, and whenever her past touches on the present, the relationship is summarized. I have a pretty decent memory of what happened in Naamah’s Kiss and Naamah’s Curse but it was nice to have my memory gently jogged without it becoming an info dump.
 
I felt like Naamah’s Blessing was easing me back into the story, which was good. After all that Moirin has been through, especially in the last book, it was nice for this one to begin back in familiar territory, not with Moirin discovering new people and traveling somewhere on an arduous journey (not that that doesn’t happen, but it happens later).  It was nice to see how Elua has changed since Moirin has been away, but more importantly how Moirin has changed. She has an idea of how to comport herself and what people expect of her, and most importantly she is now wiser about how her actions have consequences. If she wants to help certain people, (particularly the king and princess Desirée), Moirin has to take care.  There’s some court intrigue and machinations in Naamah’s Blessing, but Moirin is not so naive that she is unaware of them, and I loved reading about this less oblivious Moirin who wisely seeks advice on what to do about the problems she sees. Moirin’s maturity is a big part of what made this a very good third installment in my eyes.
 
Moirin’s character may be less naive, but she still keeps her open personality and her faith in her gods. As always she consults her diadh-anam which she has as a worshipper of the Maghuin Dhonn, as well as the signals of Naamah, the Bright Lady. Although Moirin wants to stay in Elua and protect Desirée from the ambitions of others and the grief-caused neglect of her father, her diadh-anam calls her away. Compounding that are dream visions of Jehanne that tell Moirin news about Prince Thierry. As before, Moirin follows as the gods will it.
 
Naamah’s Blessing has two distinctive parts followed by an epilogue. The first would be in Terre D’Ange and second, Terra Nova, where the Nuhautl Empire and the Quechua kingdom reside. Both parts of the story are tied together by Moirin’s task to fix things in Terre D’Ange and to fix the disaster she created in her youth. There are (as there always is in these books), fascinating new people and places where Moirin encounters new cultures. I enjoy reading of the lush new worlds Moirin discovers and about the new peoples. One big theme seemed to be “sacrifice” as the people of Terra Nova worship bloodthirsty gods in ways that the D’Angelines and Aragonians find barbaric. As the story progresses, Moirin learns to appreciate the idea of sacrifice being the price to pay to make things right.
 
I really like the epic nature of this series and the world building is fascinating. I liked how Moirin’s religion and the religion and cultures of the people she meets are a big part of the story and how the world is an alternative fantasy version of our own. Particularly tickling – having the D’Angelines alter the course of history by innoculating the natives of the Nuhautl Empire from a disease brought over by the Aragonians. But I have some minor problems with the story as well. I’ve commented on this in previous reviews –  on one hand it is just part of Moirin’s character to be so faithful, but on the other I never really felt like there was any danger of Moirin making a tragic choice because she just has to follow the path set for her. The only difficulty is getting others to follow along with what the gods have told her.  Another problem I had was that although minor characters from the first book return and are more fully fleshed (Balthazar Shahrizai and former King’s poet Lianne Tremain in particular), some felt less so. Bao, Moirin’s husband was one. I don’t know what it is but I couldn’t connect with him.  I had the same problem in Naamah’s Curse because he wasn’t in the story very much. Now that he is, he’s still not really there. I found him a cardboard “perfect husband for Moirin”. The other character I had problems connecting with was Raphael de Mereliot, who was completely unrecognizable in this story. There was no satisfying reason for it other than to have him fit an archetypical role, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t more. I think that for the length of the story, I’d like to have seen more in depth characterizations of these two.
 
That said, this still was my favorite installment of the series. I liked how Moirin’s story was wrapped up in a satisfying way that brought everything full circle and I really liked the growth of Moirin’s character over the three books and how that affected the story. I closed this one without feeling disappointed.
 
Overall: Probably the strongest installment in this epic fantasy series, Naamah’s Blessing concludes the adventures of Moirin mac Fainche with one last journey across the world. Moirin has learned and become a more mature heroine, and I liked her the better for it. Except for minor complaints about secondary characters in this story and the reliance on deus ex machina, I found this one satisfying.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
The Discriminating Fangirl – 5 stars (out of 5)
Fantasy Book Critic – A++
Dear Author – B (I feel like this is the review I most agree with)