Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans

Title: Of Bone and Thunder

Author: Chris Evans

Information on series: Not part of a series

Audience: Adult

Rating (scale of 1-10): 9

TL;DR: An excellent rendition of a soldier’s eye view of war, Of Bone and Thunder places fantasy features like dragons and wizards into a setting reminiscent of the Vietnam War.

Longer review:  The Kingdom is the world’s preeminent power, but its powerful military confronts a serious challenge when they begin an occupation of Luitox.  Their enemy, the Forest Collective, is almost indistinguishable from friendly Luitoxians, and expertly melt into the jungle which blankets Luitox’s high peaks and wide, swampy river valleys.
        The action follows several narrators, from ground-pounding crossbowmen Carny and Listowk, to rag (dragon) pilot Vorly, and inexperienced thaum (wizard) Jawn.  The novel jumps between narrators, and sometimes significantly forward in time.  Through a series of interconnected episodes, the soldiers recount their experiences while trying to make sense of their part in a conflict that is too large and complicated for them to understand.  Some seek solace in thoughts of home, or by embracing religion or the patriotic rhetoric of their leaders – others turn to apathy, or to drug abuse, or begin to embrace the violent work they have been conscripted to do.
        The world of Luitox feels fascinating and deep, in part because of the obvious, and very well-executed, extended metaphor with American involvement in Vietnam.  It is rewarding to come across historical similarities that the author has taken pains to incorporate, like the racial tension amongst the Kingdom’s soldiers - here between human and dwarf rather than between white and black.  Even the fantasy elements have historical parallels, right down to the whup whup whup sound of dragon wings echoing the rotor blades of Vietnam’s helicopters.
        While there is character development, this isn’t a bildungsroman; no one grows from boyhood to manhood, or rises from humble farmer to world savior.  Further, while the book ends with some resolution for the characters, it contains neither the beginning nor the end of the conflict in Luitox as a whole. The reader’s view of the big picture is restricted to the knowledge that the characters themselves possess.  This will make Of Bone and Thunder completely unsatisfying to people looking for high fantasy, but the book is no less great for that.  Author Chris Evans has created a really intimate and harrowing look at war as seen through the eyes of a common soldier, a perspective that is almost unique in the fantasy genre, and is well worth the read.

Read alikes: The novel’s point of view meant that the first read alikes that sprang to my mind were outside of fantasy.  Here are three books with similar perspectives – the points of view of regular soldiers during war.

Seven Men of Gascony, by R. F. Delderfield:  This is a classic work of military, historical fiction, which follows seven young Frenchmen conscripted into Napoleon’s army.  Through the victories, the horror of the retreat from Russia, and the reckoning of Waterloo, the friends fight to keep each other alive.  A bit older now, the novel shows some age in the more formal-sounding language, but does a far better job than more modern authors like Bernard Cornwell in illustrating the effects of war on ordinary soldiers.

Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi:  Great military sci-fi in which a squad of geriatrics is enlisted to fight humanity’s wars amongst the stars.  Though some characters go on to do big things later in the series, in this first volume they fight for survival and their squadmates as humans try to win colonies from a myriad of strange and sometimes violent inter-stellar races.  

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien:  Perhaps the preeminent novel of the American soldier’s experience in Vietnam.  Of Bone and Thunder doesn’t include anything similar to O'Brien's interesting musings on the role of story in life, and probably isn’t destined to be a classic, but both books see the war intimately through the eyes of soldiers on the ground, and both have an episodic feel.

If you need a read alike from within fantasy, here are some books with action that falls outside the sword and sorcery fantasy tradition even if they don’t feel quite the same.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik:  Very much a military fantasy, even if it is more character driven, Novik introduces dragons into Napoleonic era warfare.  Probably would be really interesting to anyone who enjoyed the dragons and action in Of Bone and Thunder.  But it is pretty evident, even in this first of a nine-volume series, that Laurence and Temeraire are destined to great things and a leading role in their world.
Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan: An entertaining mix of mages and muskets.  This first book in a trilogy also follows several different warriors through their battles, and is also a bit of a change from the usual fantasy fighting conventions.  The characters involved, however, are clearly the major players in the overall story, so the feel is more like traditional fantasy.  Chris Evans, author of Of Bone and Thunder, has a trilogy (starting with A Darkness Forged in Fire) that sounds similar to McClellan’s books, but I haven’t read them, so I don’t know.

Review by: By Seth Warburton Ames Public Library

Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

jackaby.JPGTitle: Jackaby

Author: William Ritter

Information on series: Book 1. Book 2 September 2015

Audience: Young adult; may appeal to adults and even higher elementary aged kids.

Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 4.5

TL;DR: Who could resist a book that says “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” in its jacket blurb?

Longer review: I initially picked this book up because it is the June 2015 selection for my Forever Young Adult book club. Although I am not normally an audiobook listener I decided to give this one a try on a long drive. It was instantly hooked. It also helped that the narrator has a British accent. In 1892 England the main character is expected to go seek a husband. She convinces her parents to send her to college before marriage. As school is approaching Abigail steals her tuition money and takes off on a grand adventure. Her age is never stated but I would guess it’s around 18 (although I know in England you attend university at a younger age than in America). Her first adventure doesn’t go according to plan so she ends up on a ship headed to America. On her first day in America she meets R. F. Jackaby. You never do learn what R.F. stands for. Everyone just calls him Jackaby. Jackaby doesn’t have the best reputation and is a little eccentric. I instantly pictured Benedict Cumberbatch. Jackaby is a private investigator who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with the police department because of his strange methods. He is in need of an assistant and Abigail needs a job. Jackaby isn’t sure she is right for the job but he does give her a chance. Jackaby isn’t always paid with money. Some of his clients pay him with things like a house. It’s not your average house. It’s rather eccentric like Jackaby. I can’t say more without spoiling some things for you. One the first day of work Abigail finds herself in the middle of a case involving a serial killer. The police are (of course) looking for a human killer but something tells Jackaby this isn’t your ordinary serial killer. I got to disc 4 out of 6 on the trip to my destination. I wanted to keep driving and finish the audiobook. Or get the print copy and finish while on my vacation. I did manage to wait until my drive home. I was sad when it came to an end but excited because I know book 2 comes out in September. But now I’m not sure if I want to listen to the audio of that or read the print book in one sitting.  

Read alike (there may be others but I only want to list books I have actually read and can vouch that it is in fact a read alike):

infernal.jpgClockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: First book in a prequel series to The Mortal Instruments. The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them... (

Review by: Jenny Ellis Glenwood Public Library

Friday, May 8, 2015

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Half a king

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Information on series: First of Shattered Sea trilogy, second book Half the world published 2015; final installment Half a war expected 2016.

Audience: Young Adult/New Adult, with Adult crossover potential

Read alikes: Traitor’s blade, by Sebastien de Castell; The Emperor’s blades by Brian Staveley; Prince of fools by Mark Lawrence; Grace of Kings by Ken Liu;Assassin’s apprentice by Robin Hobb

Rating (scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the highest): 8

Recommended to: Reluctant fantasy readers as it is light on fantastical elements; fans of political/royal thrillers set in a different world; someone looking for something similar to but shorter and less violent than A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)

Tl;dr:  A page turning coming-of-age tale set in a Nordic/Viking world with a fair share of deception and betrayal, but with redeeming themes of friendship and loyalty.

“I spent half my childhood in the shadows. Hiding from my father or my brother. Creeping from a place of solitude to another. Seeing while unseen, and pretending I was a part of what I saw. Making up a life where I wasn't an outcast.”  


Yarvi was never supposed to be King of Gettland. Born with a malformed hand he spent his time studying languages and maps, reading ancient texts and learning plant lore while preparing for life as a Minister, adviser and counselor to the royal family. But when his father and his older brother are murdered by a rival country’s king, he suddenly finds himself seated upon the Black Throne. Despite his physical handicap Yarvi is determined to prove his worth as a ruler and swears an oath to avenge his father and brother’s killers. When things don’t go quite as planned he finds himself in hostile environments far from home fighting for his life.

This book has it all: adventure on the high seas, treachery and back-stabbing, vengeance and violence, twists and turns aplenty. There’s a very minor romantic element but the true relationships are developed between the cast of well developed (though not necessarily likeable) characters. There’s enough action and dialogue to keep a reluctant fantasy reader engaged and the world-building is solid but not overbearing (no footnotes or family trees needed here). The overall tone is more melancholy and bleak which goes against more traditional epic fantasy. There are also few fantastical elements or magic, only a couple passing mentions of elves that used to inhabit the land long, long ago.

Though it is technically part of a trilogy (the third and final installment expected in 2016), there is enough closure that it could easily stand alone. It is also fairly short when compared to other fantasy novels, which will also appeal to reluctant readers or those new to the genre that may be overwhelmed by the prospect of beginning a lengthy series. The protagonist is implied to be in his late teen years, though his actual age is never mentioned. For this reason it could be promoted as Young Adult despite lacking many traditional YA tropes. Additionally, the violence and gore that is ubiquitous in Abercrombie’s earlier works has been significantly toned down. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Title: The Wishing Spell
Author: Chris Colfer
Information on series:   The Land of Stories:  Book 1
Audience:   Ages 9-12
Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest:  3
TL;DR:  A fast-paced story where fairy tale characters and people from our world interact.

Longer Review:   It’s been a rough year twins, Alex and Connor.  Their father who told them fantastical stories to cheer them up died and their Mother has to work double shifts to make ends meet.   Their grandmother gives them a special gift on their 12th birthday, a book called “The Land of Stories”.  This book includes the stories their father told them.  They end up going into the book into the real Land of Stories where Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and many other fairy tale characters live.  In order to get back home they need to gather things like Cinderella’s glass slipper.  While gathering things they find themselves in all sorts of trouble.
This was a fun book.    How fun would it be to find out all the stories you’ve heard are real?  It was predictable in many parts but it is written for 9-12 year olds.

The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley:  First book in a series.  Sisters Daphne and Sabrina Grimm find out they are related to the famous Grimm brothers and their town is full of fairy tale characters.

The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale:  First book in a series.  At Ever After High, a boarding school for the sons and daughters of famous fairy-tale characters, students Apple White and Raven Queen must choose whether to follow their destinies