This is a review of a book provided to me by Strange Chemistry (the YA imprint of Angry Robot books).
The Premise: The Toland siblings, Natividad, Alejandro, and Miguel, have fled from their home in Mexico, all the way across the United States, and have just reached their destination in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Their father’s old enemy, Malvern Vonhausel, still stalks them despite already destroying their village and murdering their parents. Now the siblings are making a desperate gamble: that Dimilioc, a stronghold for shapeshifters called black dogs, will take them in. They have very little to convince Dimilioc’s Master — only that their father was once a Dimilioc wolf, and that Natividad is Pure. Their father told them that Dimilioc protected the Pure, but it never tolerated strays. Miguel may be granted amnesty because he’s human, but Alejandro is black dog and may not be treated so kindly.
Read an excerpt of Black Dog here
My Thoughts: Before reading Black Dog, the other books I’d read by Rachel Neumeier were two-thirds of The Griffin Mage Trilogy, and House of Shadows. These are all straight fantasy, and for some reason (probably my own obliviousness), I thought Black Dog was the same. I didn’t realize that until I began reading it that this is urban fantasy. This was not a bad thing. It felt nice to be surprised that Black Dog was Neumeier’s own riff on werewolf mythology. The world is not far off from our own as it is now, but Neumeier alters all we know by setting Black Dog right after a war. This war is one that is not necessarily fully explained, but what we do know is that it has wiped out all vampires, and vampire magic happened to hide the supernatural from regular people. It also has the devastating consequence of Vonhausel tracking down the Toland family and slaughtering everyone in their village. Black Dog opens in the midst of the siblings’ flight from home, with the plan to be taken in by the group of black dogs that their father once belonged.
Black Dog is narrated in the third person but focuses on Natividad and Alejandro, and as you would expect when a supernatural murderer is after you, this story has a desperate edge. First there is the fear of getting caught before they reach Dimilioc, and then there is the stress over what to say that would most likely keep them alive once they get there. After that the challenges just keep coming. So this has a quickly moving plot, but beyond that, the world building and the characters kept me engaged as well. The Tolands’ Mexican upbringing is part of the narrative (the dialogue is peppered with Spanish), and that mixed with their having to grow up quickly kept these characters real and vulnerable.
What black dogs and the Pure are, are organically introduced as necessary. It isn’t difficult to catch on that a “black dog” is a shapeshifter that turns into a monstrous dog, but Neumeier throws in her own touches, from the superficial (like their black fangs and claws, intense heat, eyes of “fiery gold and red”, and black ichor of their wounds) to the fundamental (that they are two separate selves, one human, one shadow, housed within the same body). The Pure, which Natividad is, is more difficult to grasp. Natividad demonstrates that she has powers that she uses to protect and hide her brothers from their pursuers, but as the story moves forward, it becomes clear that’s not all she’s useful for. Adding to the mystery is the strange relationship the black dogs have with the Pure. Black dogs are drawn to the Pure, but while one half of their nature wants to protect them, the other wants to destroy. It’s not certain that even the Pure and the black dogs know how they are linked.
The Dimilioc wolves believe in protecting the Pure. In fact, they are prized, which is one of the reasons Natividad and her brothers have decided to go to them. Here is where things get sticky though, because Natividad is willing to sacrifice herself in exchange for her and her brothers’ survival (“I’m not a puta; I won’t lie down with them all. But if you take us into Dimilioc, I will take any one of your wolves you say”). Whether Natividad really has any agency is one issue, that she is only fifteen years old (while the youngest of her options seem to be in their twenties, there are men much older than that here), is another. I suppose I should feel better that it’s one of the youngest who is most aggressive in the pissing contest over Natividad, but when you are fifteen, a five or six-year age difference is significant. Any further romance or consent would be questionable. On the other hand, things don’t progress far enough for me to really question what is happening. All this is sort of there, in the background, percolating, while the Toland siblings deal with more immediate life or death situations. Yes, there is attention and Natividad isn’t immune, but there is the sense she wonders whether it’s real. I feel hopeful, because of the thoughtfulness of the writing, that when this series continues I won’t be disappointed by what happens to Natividad. I am not completely against a romance, but I’d feel better if Natividad got to grow up first. I also wonder whether the controversial romance is deliberate. It’s interesting when you pair the situation with Natividad’s nature, which involves a lot of placating of the black dogs and defusing aggression with teasing jokes made at the right moment. I also noticed a mirroring of Natividad’s situation in another (male) character. Needless to say, I’m very interested in finding out where this is going to go. Unfortunately, Strange Chemistry has been discontinued, but it sounds like Rachel Neumeier still expects to be able to publish the sequel, Pure Magic, one way or another.
Overall: Every time I read a book by Rachel Neumeier, it becomes my new favorite by this author. I think this is because of a mix of super thoughtful writing plus an element of surprise. Black Dog is no different. This was the kind of read that you gobble up quickly, with a lot of life-threatening action squeezed into the space of the few days, but it was the quieter moments between the life-or-death situations, where the characters are planning and anticipating and arguing, that lingered long after the book was closed. For those looking for no more than action and adventure, you will find it here. For those looking for something deeper – Black Dog sometimes made me uncomfortable in a way that is never resolved. Depending on how things go, I think this series has the potential to be more subversive than you’d initially expect.
Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository
Bunbury in the Stacks @ Tor.com – “Black Dog is, like the characters within its pages, frightening and beautiful and solid right down to its core.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “Rachel Neumeier made a successful foray into urban fantasy with Black Dog.”
On Starships and Dragon Wings – “I was excited to get to know some characters a little different from the typical young adult cast, but I was completely unable to connect to them for reasons I’m honestly still not able to pin down.”
Hi everyone! I’d like to introduce Rachel Neumeier, author of the recently released Black Dog (watch this space for a review soon), as well as The House of Shadows, The Griffin Mage trilogy, The Floating Islands, and The City in the Lake.
I love hearing recommendations from other readers, and today Rachel has a fantastic list of books that might not have gotten the attention they deserve. There’s a few here I’ve not heard of that I have to get my hands on now, and I can tell you she’s not wrong about the books that I have read.
Thanks for inviting me over to Spec Fic Romantic – it’s a pleasure to be here!
I’ve been writing a good many guest posts about Black Dog lately, so this time I’d like to try writing on a topic that’s slightly removed: I’d like to share with you a handful of my favorite books that should be right at the top of your TBR pile, but that you might not have heard of because they are old, or have been “flying under the radar,” or are simply outside your normal reading range.
These days, I think many of us get most of our book recommendations from blogs and Twitter. Certainly I do, especially now that I have a Kindle. One enthusiastic recommendation from a blogger whose taste matches mine, and I may very well just pick the book up immediately. Naturally, following book-review blogs leads to a huge TBR pile and promotes some excellent books, but I suspect it also leads to a concentration of social-media attention, so that a handful of new releases pick up the lion’s share of notice. Often those books are great and deserve every bit of the attention they get, but all too often an equally great title languishes because it didn’t happen to get that initial buzz. And, of course, anything published before the social media Phenomenon is simply out of luck. With all the new, shiny titles hitting the shelves, it’s almost impossible to generate buzz for anything published more than a year ago, much less more than a decade ago.
On the other hand, blogger recommendations can lead you straight to titles or authors you wouldn’t ordinarily try, which is an unmixed blessing.
So, here we go. I think that anyone whose taste runs toward character-driven stories with beautifully drawn settings ought to consider trying the following titles.
1. I thought I’d start with the oldest. How many of you have ever read anything by Rumer Godden?
Godden wrote a whole lot of books from 1936 right up through 1997, an amazing career that ended a trifle in advance of the social media explosion. In This House of Brede was published in 1969. It is not fantasy. It is not adventure. It is not a romance. It is a contemporary novel (not actually contemporary anymore, true, but set in our world).
I read mostly fantasy, with some science fiction, mysteries, and historicals thrown in. I don’t read many contemporary novels. But this one? This one is simply one of the best and most powerful novels I’ve ever read, of any genre.
For those who particularly enjoy YA, Godden’s Thursday’s Children is one you should really look up. Especially if you love dance. I don’t know anything about ballet, but this perfect little novel had me completely enthralled with the story of a gifted boy who tags along with his sister to ballet class. Read it the first time for pure enjoyment and a second time as a character study, because the depth of characterization is amazing.
2. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson is a true contemporary published only a year or so ago. This one is a good example of a single blogger recommendation leading to an out-of-the-usual purchase for me. Ana at The Book Smugglers raved about this book, so even though it’s a YA contemporary, I picked it up. It is a very intense book and you should have a box of kleenix handy when you read it – but you should read it. And then go back through and read all the scraps of poetry:
At 4:48 pm on a Friday in April / my sister was rehearsing the role of Juliet / and less than one minute later / she was dead. / To my astonishment, time didn’t stop / with her heart.
This is a story about grief and recovery, but it is also a story that celebrates friendship, family, and love. I think absolutely everyone should have this title right at the top of their TBR pile.
3. I really don’t read many romances, so this next one, a contemporary romance series set in Paris, represents an even greater departure from my normal reading range. In fact, this is another example of a series I tried solely because of a blogger’s review. But, whether romance is your first love or not, you just have to try Laura Florand’s Chocolate mysteries.
The first is The Chocolate Thief, which is light and fun; the series deepens as you go on. My favorite is the third, but all of them are wonderful. Florand can make any character sympathetic; it’s amazing. The poor little rich girl? Yep, sympathetic. Anyone could learn plenty about characterization and using backstory to deepen character from this author. Luckily, she is a fast writer and has brought a good many titles out over just the past couple of years.
4. I do like mysteries and read a fair number of them, but one mystery series that has completely faded from view is the “Dolly” series by Dorothy Dunnett. You’ll also find them referred to as the “Johnson Johnson” mysteries. I think a lot more people have read Dunnett’s fat historicals – which I like a lot – than have even heard of her mysteries. Dunnett wrote these in the seventies, but they’ve all been recently republished under different titles.
I discovered this series when I was just starting to think seriously about writing, and I found Dunnett’s technique fascinating. Every book in this series is told in the first person by a different young woman, but the real protagonist is arguably Johnson Johnson himself – famous painter, owner of the yacht Dolly, and perhaps a bit more than he seems at first glance – whose point of view is never shown to the reader.
5. RA MacAvoy wrote a good handful of fantasy novels in the eighties, of which one of my favorites is Tea With the Black Dragon. This is a wonderful little gem of a novel, with just the most subtle fantasy elements laid into what seems on the surface a straight contemporary. I mean, is Mayland Long really a dragon or isn’t he? (Personally, I’m positive he is.)
Plus, Tea is one of those vanishingly rare stories where the romance involves middle-aged people. How often do you see that, right? I can’t really talk, because most of my protagonists are young, too. But I really enjoy seeing a great story where one of the central characters is an older woman.
6. While on that topic, anybody who hasn’t read Martha Wells is missing out. Her standalone fantasy Wheel of the Infinite is a great story, with wonderful worldbuilding – wonderful everything, actually, but Martha Wells just excels at worldbuilding. This one has a Southeast Asian feel to it. Plus, the main protagonist in Wheel is an older woman who is at the height of her power and basically doesn’t ever need to be afraid of any ordinary threats. How often do you see that in a fantasy novel, right?
Wheel has been out for more than a decade, but Wells’ more recent Raksura trilogy, starting with The Cloud Roads, was only completed in 2012. Again, spectacular worldbuilding, this time of a world that is completely unique among fantasy settings. You trip over an ancient city built on an immense turning platform, or whatever, everywhere you go. The nonhuman shapeshifter protagonists are equally unique; these are not just funny-looking humans who sometimes have wings, but a different species with their own body language and ways of thinking.
Plus, people, let me tell you, you really don’t want to miss the giant zombie sea serpent.
7. I wonder how many people know that Jacqueline Lichtenberg wrote two books as Daniel R Kerns? Hero was first published in 1993 and Border Dispute in 1994, and it’s a crying shame Lichtenberg didn’t go on to write half a dozen more. I don’t know whether to call these books space opera or military SF, but either way, if nonhuman protagonists appeal to you, these slim little novels will make you stand up and cheer. It’s not that there aren’t humans in these books, but the protagonist, Indiw, certainly is not human. His confusion at human behavior is endless, and Commander Falstaff is certainly equally confused by Ardr behavior. I don’t know of anyone who has ever done this kind of culture clash better than Lichtenberg.
8. Speaking of military SF, Tanya Huff’s Valor series is amazing. If military SF doesn’t normally appeal to you, well, pick up Valor’s Choice and see if that doesn’t change your mind at least for this one series. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is a wonderful protagonist, smoothly handling her superior officers so that she can do her best by her mission and her people. I don’t know what inspired Huff to make the protagonist a sergeant rather than the commander, but it was an excellent choice. Every book stands pretty well on its own, but there’s also plenty of room in this five-book series for another installment, and I sure hope Huff has one in the works.
9. Nick O’Donohoe wrote a handful of widely disparate books in the eighties and nineties, of which the best, if you ever thought you might like to be a veterinarian, is the Crossroads trilogy. The first book, and probably the best, is The Magic and the Healing. If you’d like to know how to repair the horn of a unicorn or diagnose gout in a griffin, this is the series for you. The veterinary medicine is well done (says my vet, who borrowed these books from me), and the actual story is top notch as well. I have a soft spot for The Magic and the Healing, which demonstrated to me the difference between an author declaring a character is smart when she is actually stupid as a post; and the author actually writing a smart character. Obviously, this is book offers an example of the latter. BJ Vaughn is one of the most perceptive characters I can think of, in her quiet way.
The griffin in this book also directly inspired the griffins in my Griffin Mage trilogy. Though O’Donohoe’s griffin is actually nothing at all like mine, he made me fall in love with griffins.
10. I don’t usually read self-published books, but enthusiastic reviews from The Book Smugglers and from Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks made me pick up And All the Stars by Andrea Höst. That one was good enough that I went on to pick up Höst’s Touchstone trilogy. And that was so good it was my top read of 2013 and led me to pick up the rest of Höst’s backlist.
Lovers of romance should particularly look for her Medair duology and And All the Stars, both of which offer stunning plot twists that will leave you absolutely dumbstruck. Everyone should read the Touchstone trilogy, which is a wonderful portal SF story that explores issues of technology and privacy while following the battle of, um, psychic space ninjas against extradimensional monsters. Sort of. Anyway, Cassandra’s voice is wonderful, the slow-burn romance is wonderful, the setting is wonderful, and this trilogy (plus the Gratuitous Epilogue) belongs right at the top of everyone’s TBR pile.
So there you go, ten excellent authors that might not be the subject of a lot of current buzz, but are well worth a look. I hope you’ll look up one or two of them no matter how many new titles you have cluttering up your TBR piles. Enjoy!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.
She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.
This is a review of a book provided to me by Orbit books.
The Premise: In the town of Lonne, in the country of Lirionne, a merchant dies, leaving behind his eight daughters. The women can’t own their father’s business, and without their father, they’re destitute. The only path is for the oldest to marry so her husband could own the business and let her level-headed sister run it. This way they should make profit in a few years. The only problem is that no marriage can take place without a dowry. To save their sisters, two of the women volunteer to be “sold”. Karah, the second oldest and everyone’s favorite, secures a remarkable price at Cloisonné House, the best keiso house in the candlelight district. Eccentric Nemienne, the other sacrificing sister, turns her oddness into an asset when she goes the Lane of Shadows to become a mage’s apprentice. Meanwhile, a bard named Taudde is caught in Lonne (in violation of the the treaty of Brenedde) and is forced by his captors to carry out their agenda. As war looms between Lirionne and its neighbor, Karah earns a protector in Leilis (a young woman who is not a servant but also not a keiso) against the jealousy of the other deisa, Nemienne explores the mage’s house and is led to unexpected places, and Taudde struggles to escape the conspiracy he’s been entangled in.
My Thoughts: House of Shadows is a multi-protagonist story where the point of view cycles between three main characters. The first chapter’s focus is on the sisters and their decision to sell two of their number, the second’s on Leilis of Cloisonné House, and the third’s on Taudde and his difficulties. Because of the rotating points of view, it takes a third of the book (about 100 pages) before a unified plot makes itself known. (This review is going to talk about the threads, but not necessarily explain how they interweave because I try not to give away specific details on plot if it happens after page fifty).
There’s always the danger with multiple protagonists that I’ll end up invested in one character’s storyline and want to skim everything else. At first I was afraid this would happen here because I really liked Karah and Nemienne’s storyline. The death of a merchant father, the eight sisters–each with their own unique ability, and the necessary sacrifice to sell their loveliest and their strangest, infused the story with a fairytale quality I wanted to explore. I saw Beauty and the Beast in the sisters trading themselves in for their loved ones’ comfort. I wanted to dive into a story that revolved around their training to be a keiso and a mage. The shift to Leilis, a servant who is not really a servant was a surprise, but she was still in the same orbit as Karah, and smooths Karah’s transition into the House, so it wasn’t a bad shift. Also, Leilis is mysterious and I wanted to figure out what was behind someone who could be unobtrusive and also navigate the in-house politics of Cloisonné. It was when the the story moves to Taudde in the third chapter that I struggled the most. That’s when I really had to accept that the focus wasn’t just on the two sisters forging new lives. On the other hand, with Taudde, the the scope of the story widened from personal drama to political intrigue. This wasn’t the story of two sisters that I was expecting, but the world building combined with wanting to know what was going on lured me forward.
What I liked about the world building in House of Shadows is that you can feel the influence of other stories on it, but it still remains distinct from them. I’ve already mentioned fairy tales when I talked about the sisters’ story, but there’s also hints of it elsewhere: an unexplained curse, enigmatic animal guides, a man with an iron will. The sense of fairy tale also compliments how the magic of Lirionne is described. Lonne seems to be seeped in magic, yet most of the city is totally unaware, so when it is encountered, it’s strange and secret. I felt like there was a sense of wonder and mystery because here was something complex and unpredictable. The best example of this (and my favorite) is the mage’s “oddly outsized” house built into the mountain, where rooms may move and hallways stretch and bend. I love the “magical buildings that grow at will” trope.
Another influence I could see was Japanese culture — appearing here as the keiso, Neumeier’s version of geisha, with an emphasis she says, on “their roles as artists and high status women”. Beautiful, respected, and independent thanks to their artistry, keiso are sought after and could even marry, becoming “flower wives” to wealthy men (their sons would be acknowledged by their fathers). I liked that this suggests a different kind of world building than the default Western-based one. The cover reflects that, depicting a girl with with Asian features, but in the book, race is actually hazy: Karah has blue eyes, “creamy skin”, and “clouds of twilight hair”, Leilis has “storm-gray eyes” and hair “so dark it was almost black”, while another character has “dark eyes” and “straw-pale brows”, his hair, “a shade lighter”. That this story nods at Japanese culture, but it’s only a facet of the world building, not all of the world building, is good too.
Overall: This was a nice multi-protagonist story and bonus: it’s standalone, which isn’t too common in Fantasy (the ending leaves the door ajar for further adventures, but I haven’t heard any news about a sequel). The one complaint I have is that I wouldn’t have minded getting to know individual characters more, but it didn’t feel like there was room for that and to have the plot threads interweave so neatly and so well-synchronized. Character development is a big part of my personal scoring system, but I loved the world building, so in the end this fit into a middle-ish “liked” category for me.
The Book Smugglers – 8 (Excellent)
Bunbury in the Stacks – ” I enjoyed the fairy tale beginning, but it was from halfway through to the end of this book that I was truly glued to the pages and unable to put it down.”
This is the second book in the Griffin Mage trilogy. I think you could probably read this book without reading the first one, as the main characters are different and it focuses on a different country (Casmantium rather than Feierabiand), but there are reappearances from characters in the first book and it does continue a wide-reaching story arc. Land of the Burning Sands was sent to me for review by Orbit books.
My review of the first book, Lord of the Changing Winds can be found here:
The Premise: The story begins with Gereint Enseichen, a geas-bound man in Casmantium, who, when his master’s town is being evacuated, sees an opportunity to escape his magical bounds. Eventually his escape through the desert around the town of Melentser creates consequences that reach further than he would have expected.
My Thoughts: Since Land of the Burning Sands starts its focus with Gereint rather than any of the characters from the first book in this series, it initially doesn’t feel like a continuation and more like a separate standalone. Gereint has a layperson’s idea of what happened in Feierbiand, but it’s only relevant to him because it means the evacuation of Melentser, and a means to escape his geas. What we focus on when we begin Land of the Burning Sands on isn’t the griffins, but whether Gereint is going to escape or even survive.
Because I’m more drawn to character-driven stories, this focus on Gereint’s journey made the first half of Land of the Burning Sands faster read to me than Lord of the Changing Winds. I think the more limited scope just appealed to me more, at least from this writer, and while I did like the dreamy descriptions of the searing desert and alien griffins in the first book, they do their job too well sometimes, and can wear me down as a reader. There was less of that here. I enjoyed reading about Gereint, who despite his status came off as well read and educated (it made me smile that he included the theft of a book in his survival supplies!) I was curious about his human problems – whether he’ll be identified for what he is and caught, and what will happen to the people who helped him. I also liked that along the way we learn more about the magic system. This book sheds light on the Casmantium affinity for making (the people of Feierbiand have instead an affinity for animals, and Linularinum for words), the geas binding that Gereint tests every chance he gets, and further along, the Casmantium’s Cold Mages.
Of course, this isn’t just the story of Gereint. Over the course of the book his path merges with the larger story of Casmantium and the griffins, and the scope of the story begins to widen. He meets Tehre Amnachudran Tanshan, a brilliant but absentminded maker/scientist, and after this, the focus shifts back and forth between their two characters. It is after her character is introduced that the King of Castmantium, and the last Cold Mage, Beguchren Teshrichten, both characters that first appeared in Lord of the Changing Winds are brought into the story. They bring Tehre and Gereint into the ongoing issues brought on by what happened in Lord of the Changing Winds. Gereint and Tehre’s stories split up. They both make separate journeys, Gereint with the Cold Mage, and Tehre, frustrated with being labeled ineffectual when she is not, follows with Lord Bertraud, the Feierabiand king’s advisor and principle character in the first book.
At this point of the book, where the focus is once more on the wider scope of a country rather than an individual’s problems, that the book began to slow down for me. I found it obvious where the book was going. There were hints throughout, but the author takes the long route to reveal the repercussions of the end of Lord of the Changing Winds to the main characters in Land of the Burning Sands, and I felt really impatient with that. I thought the details of their days journeying to save their country were somewhat tedious, but the climax, which involve the griffin mages in book one, caught my interest again. I really liked that we got to see Kes and the griffins from a different point of view in this installment. There was a stark difference in who I was rooting for here, and I was struck by how well the author changed my perspective. I also liked how things were ultimately resolved. I’m not sure what will happen in the third book but there was a teaser for it at the end of this one which has piqued my interest. My guess is we will be learning about Linularinum. The third book, Law of the Broken Earth, is coming out in December.
Overall: This is shaping up to be a solid, well-written fantasy series. I’m enjoying the world building and the characters in this story, and the pacing in comparison to the first book was much better, with less parts I found slow. I think that you could probably read this out of order from the rest of the series, even though there are reappearances by characters from the previous book, they are not the principle ones.
My world.. in words and pages – positive review
You know what I love? When an author has a page on their website devoted to recommendations. I’m not saying that this is something all authors should do, but it sure is nice. It caters to my nosiness – what books do you like in the genres you write? Peering at someone’s bookshelves is similar – I want to know what you read, but to have a list of recommendations – I can find out what your favorites are. If I find myself agreeing to an author’s picks I’m inclined to try them out if I’ve never read their books before. I also like how it gives me yet another place to find new-to-me books (as if there aren’t enough places).
I have tried out some books based on author’s recommendations on their websites. Sherwood Smith is why I tried Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Neil Gaiman is why I read The Winter of Enchantment by Victoria Walker (I read the book before I had a book blog, so the review is only on paperbackswap and goodreads – ). I thought The Winter of Enchantment was very lovely imagewise, only OK plotwise, but I’m glad I read it. And Greensleeves I recommend heartily, but it’s sadly out of print and not cheap to find used online.
Here are some Author Recommendations:
Kristin Cashore recommends Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Cynthia Voigt’s Novels of the Kingdom, Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books, Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, and others.
Rachel Neumeier recommends 14 books including The Changeling Sea, by Patricia McKillip, The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, Cukoo’s Egg, by CJ Cherryh, The Warrior’s Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold, and A Certain Slant of Light, by Laura Whitcomb
In 2009, Linnea Sinclair recommended in her fan forums Sara Creasy’s Song of Scarabaeus, Julie Czernada’s In the Company of Others, and C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series and I’ve put those all on my to-read-one-day list.
Holly Black‘s Suggested Reading List has Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’ Engle, Mary Stewart, Peter Beagle, Tanith Lee, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones,and Michael Moorcock on it, to name a few (she’s also yet another one who recommends Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books)
Shannon Hale has a lovely long list of recommendations on her website. So many. I love it. She recommends gems like Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy, by Patricia McKillip, and Tales from the Sisters Grimmer, by Tanith Lee. (I must say I like her husband’s recs at the bottom of her list too).
Ann Aguirre sometimes posts about books she loved on her blog, and I pay attention. She’s recommended Diana Pharaoh Francis’ Bitter Night, and Liz William’s Nine Layers of Sky, both on my TBR, as well as Jeri Smith-Ready and intriguing romances with idiot heroes.
Garth Nix also wrote a long list of recommendations (ah, quite delightful), called “Books Remembered: An Alphabetical Remembrance“. He also has The Winter of Enchantment listed, along with Georgette Heyer, Tove Jansson, Ursula Le Guin and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King (which really should be required reading).
I know I’ve seen more lists on author’s websites, but let’s stop there. Are there lists that you recommend I look at? Do tell!
This was a series that caught my eye by virtue of the cover alone. I just love that griffin eye and the title font, not to mention the title itself. Overall a very striking package which led me to buy the book on impulse (yes, I am drawn to pretty things).
The Premise: This is the first book in the Griffin Mage trilogy and begins with a young girl named Kes watching the arrival of griffins to the land of Feierabiand. She’s drawn to them, but knows her sister wouldn’t approve of her dreaming and strangeness. In the meantime her town is in an uproar about the griffins, and want them out. Just as the consensus begins to be that the army must be called in, a mysterious stranger arrives and asks Kes to help heal his people. What Kes sees right away is that he is a griffin, and when he magically whisks her away, it’s apparent that he’s a mage too. The arrival of his people in Feierabiand marks the beginning of conflict in Feierabiand, as well as the beginning of Kes’s change into something else.
My Thoughts: The author does really well in describing the otherness of the griffin. Both in their thinking and in their physical presence which generates desert out of simple farmland. By merely being there the world is changed and there are plenty of passages in the book which illustrate a beautiful poetry in their affinity with fire and the desert: “He dreamed of rivers of burning liquid rock that ran across a jagged iron-dark land and cast droplets of fire into the air when it burst against stone. The air smelled like hot brass and burning stone.” Granted there was a repetitiveness in the descriptions, but I think it added to rather than took away from the inexorable power the desert had on those who didn’t belong there.
The author also gives the griffins their own language and their own culture. The names of each griffin is long (like Eskainiane Escaile Sehaikiu), which makes them harder for me to remember when I’m reading, but the author makes it easier by referring to their first names and their colors and ranks. Their relationships to each other are unique and not easily translated to the human equivalent, and they have different values and way of thinking than humans do. They have different ideas of honor.
Putting Kes, a shy 15 year old girl, in the midst of these creatures was fascinating. When the book begins, the story focuses on Kes, and I was hoping that she would be the primary protagonist. However the narrative shifts between what happens to Kes and to Bertaud, the king of Feierabiand’s right hand man. Bertaud is a a good guy, loyal to his king and does what he thinks is right at the time, despite what cost it may have to himself. At first I was disappointed that we were following someone other than Kes, but he grew on me. The story also widened it’s scope when Bertaud was introduced. Now we don’t only see Kes and the griffin’s world, we see the reactions of the countries affected by the migration of griffins – Feierabiand and Casmantium.
There are three closely neighboring countries involved in this tale – Feierabiand is where the book is set, but it is bookended on either side by Casmantium and Linularinum. The people of each country has certain affinities – Feierabiand for animals, Casmantium for making things, and Linularinum for words, but this is considered an everyday sort of magic – anyone can have an affinity. The rare magic is that of mages, and there are Earth mages, Cold mages (which are a variation of Earth mages), and Fire mages. Humans are creatures of Earth, and griffins are creatures of Fire. Because Kes has been exposed to Fire, she’s losing her connection to Earth. This is one of the many details that are part of a fascinating magic system in this book – the aversion that exists between those of Fire and those of Earth, and it’s something that affects the interaction between griffin and human.
Much of the book deals with Kes and Bertaud’s front row seat perspectives in dealing with the griffins in Feierabiand. Casmantium becomes involved and there is a lot of page space spent on determining the motives of others, and reacting to them in the hope that the best outcome will be reached. This means skirmishes and strategy, arguments and self-questioning. There’s definitely a larger scope to this story than the two people we follow, but it is not an epic story of battle either. I’m not sure how readers will take this. I personally like character driven stories so I wanted a smaller scope, but I think others may like a bigger one. For me, the strategizing and battles made the pace of the book feel slow because I wasn’t so interested in them, but I know this is a personal preference. I’ve been told that the second book (Land of the Burning Sands) will be in a different setting and with different characters (and that it’s better than the first), so I plan to read it soon.
Overall: I enjoyed the dreamy alieness of the griffins and the internal struggles of the individuals in this story, but the wider scope which involved military strategy and skirmishes, didn’t capture my attention as much. It’s a well-written and interesting world, but there were parts that were slow for me.
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The Book Smugglers – 7 (Very Good)
Fantasy Literature – “good solid fantasy”
Unbound – positive review (“a really refreshing, original book”)
Fantasy Book Critic – positive review (“Very impressed”, “After getting through the big portion of descriptions in the first half of the book, the novel seemed to fly right by“)
Persephone Reads – positive review (“is not fast paced; it is quiet at times”)
My world..in words and pages – positive review (“solid fantasy style read”)
Grasping for the Wind – “good but not great epic fantasy”