Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: Catteni Series by Anne McCaffrey

Title: Catteni Series (or Freedom Series)
Freedom’s Landing
Freedom’s Choice
Freedom’s Challenge
Freedom’s Ransom

Author:  Anne McCaffrey
Information on Series: Four books, I’m reviewing them as a whole. 

Audience: Adult with YA appeal
Rating: (scale 1-5 with 5 being the highest): 4

TL;DR:  Fast-paced series about a strong female protagonist abducted by aliens, dropped on a planet with other captives, and their fight to survive.  Uncomplicated world building, surprisingly upbeat and at times romantic.  A good introduction to the writings of Anne McCaffrey with nary a dragon in sight.  

Longer Review: Kristin Bjornsen was kidnapped by the alien Catteni and forced into slavery on the planet Barevi.  Kris did not meekly accept her fate, she stole her master’s flitter and escaped into the forest.  After months of living, and surviving on her own, she sees what looks like another Catteni hunting party in flitters flying towards her location. When she looks closer, she realizes on of the flitters is being pursued by the others.  Kris saves the Catteni in the pursued flitter, knocks him unconscious, and then tries to return him to the main city on Barevi. They are both captured by the Catteni, put to sleep by some drug, loaded into spaceships and then dropped, along with hundreds of others, on yet another planet.  This, my friends, is when the story really begins. 

Initially the other dropped people (some human, some not) want to kill the Catteni, Zanial. Kris and a handful of other drops see the wisdom of keeping a Catteni alive for the time being.  Zanial can provide insight as to what their purpose is on this new planet.  Plus, Kris feels somewhat responsible for his situation even though his race is completely responsible for her situation. Kris is a good person despite what has happened to her. The Catteni deposit slaves on a planet and if they survive then the planet is safe to inhabit and colonize.  If they don’t survive, the Catteni move on and drop slaves on another planet.  The Catteni civilization operates as a caste system, and Zanial is of the highest caste.  A Catteni has never been dropped before, let alone one of his ranking.  Zanial, being pragmatic, says “I dropped, I stay”.  He accepts his fate and helps the rest of the drops survive. 

The new planet they land on isn’t quite as uninhabited as the Catteni think.  Yet another alien race, one nobody has heard of, uses the planet as a giant farm. There are cow-like creatures, terrifying native birds, and something that sucks all the garbage into the ground at night keeping the planet clean.  The garbage cleaner doesn't exactly differentiate between "garbage" and anything else on the ground.  When Kris and the others were first dropped, many were sucked into the ground by the garbage cleaner before they woke up from their drugged state.  The first three books chronicle the survival and colonization of this new planet, dubbed Botany, and Zanial’s desire to spark a rebellion amongst his own people against the alien race that controls the Catteni.  Yes, the Catteni are acting under orders from a superior race, the Eosi, and Zanial isn’t too happy about being under their thumb. The problem is, Zanial is stuck on Botany with no way to communicate with his fellow Catteni dissenters.  Or is he?

This was my first foray into the writing of Anne McCaffrey.  The Catteni series provides some interesting world building without being totally overwhelming.  There is a huge cast of characters and with each book that cast just gets bigger and bigger.  I found that if I just focused on Kris, Zainal, and a few other main characters, I didn’t get too lost or bogged down by who was who.  The books were written in the late to mid-1990s (with the exception of book 4) so I enjoyed the pop culture references.  These books are tame enough for the YA crowd, but they may or may not get some of these references.  

The fourth book, Freedom’s Ransom, was written about 4 years after the third. It provided a nice wrap up to the story while still leaving some questions open to the imagination.  There wasn’t much action and a whole lot of talking.  The story could have easily ended after book 3, but there wasn’t any harm in finishing off the series.  If you are curious about how Earth survived the Catteni invasion, then book 4 is a must read. 

The Catteni series is about life on other planets and the will to survive. The drops are of different races, but they quickly learn that by working together they will have a better chance of survival. Zanial, as the lone Catteni, manages to make the best of his terrible situation.  Imagine being the only member of the race that forced everyone else on Botany into slavery.  By accepting his fate, and following another leader instead of lording over the others, he is accepted as one of the group.  I love that Kris is a strong, capable, well respected female character. She stands on her own two feet and her strengths are applauded and recognized by her fellow drops.  

I read all four books in about a week making them feel like one long novel which is why I chose to review them as a whole.  After Freedom's Landing, each subsequent book contains a preface that summarizes the events from previous books. That would come in handy if you read the series over a long period of time and can't quite remember what happened in a previous book.  

Read Alikes:

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

While on a mission to the planet Gethen, earthling Genly Ai is sent by leaders of the nation of Orgoreyn to a concentration camp from which exiled prime minister of the nation of Karhide tries to rescue him.   

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

An expert at simulated war games, Andrew "Ender" Wiggins believes that he is engaged in one more computer war game when, in truth, he is commanding the last Earth fleet against an alien race seeking Earth's complete destruction. 

The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro

Kamoj Argali is the young ruler of an impoverished province on a backward planet. To keep her people from starving, she has agreed to marry Jax Ironbridge, the boorish and brutal ruler of a prosperous province. But before Argali and Ironbridge are wed, a mysterious stranger from a distant planet sweeps in and forces Kamoj into marriage, throwing her world into utter chaos.

Amy Muchmore, Carnegie-Stout Public Library

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Title: Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Information on series: Part 1 of the Kingkiller Chronicles, an incomplete trilogy.
Audience: Adult
Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 5

TL;DR: A talented and charismatic hero takes his first steps toward greatness, power, and a dark destiny.

I may have my nerd-card revoked for admitting this, but I have an astonishingly hard time finding fantasy novels that I can tolerate, let alone like. I don’t dislike the genre. I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons for years and am more than happy hold forth on gnomish subspecies or the relative merits of wizardry and sorcery (in fact, every time I go to the reference desk I’m secretly hoping that today will be the day someone comes in with a meaty question about orcs or displacer beasts). After some consideration, I’ve determined that the problem is usually one of tone. Many authors seem to confuse “epic” with “self-serious.” Others veer in the opposite direction and produce novels that are just long strings of dwarf and elf jokes. In The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss strikes a refreshing balance between dour and frivolous and spins an engrossing tale of monsters, magic, and intrigue.

As the book opens, we learn that the main character, Kvothe, is a man of legendary power, known by such awed appellations as “Kvothe the Bloodless,” “Kvothe the Arcane,” and “Kvothe Kingkiller.” However, fate has turned against him and, following some undisclosed calamity, he’s holed up in a backwater hamlet waiting to die. When he’s discovered by a collector of legends, Kvothe agrees to relate his story and the book takes off, careening through forests, alleys, taverns, and palaces, detailing the creation and destruction of a hero.

The story that follows definitely prioritizes atmosphere and narrative voice. Rothfuss doesn’t aim for action movie pacing, but instead takes his time building complicated characters in a fully realized world. Plot elements move into place slowly and deliberately, forming a complex structure.

Rothfuss balances self-importance and self-effacement in a very concrete and effective manner. The young Kvothe of the main story is clever and ambitious, convinced of his own brilliance and eager to prove it to the world. At the same time, the older Kvothe of the framing story is all too aware of the tragic folly of his younger days and undercuts the heroics with a wry fatalism. This duality is riveting, drawing the reader in for both the vicarious thrill of success and the train-wreck voyeurism of defeat.

Not that anyone knows the full extent of Kvothe’s power or the exact nature of his downfall. The Name of the Wind is the first book of a trilogy. The second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, was published in March of 2011. The final book, tentatively titled The Doors of Stone, doesn’t have a release date and can’t come soon enough.

Read alikes:
The Magicians by Lev Grossman: Another trilogy-opener in which a powerful hero heads off to a magic academy. Good for the many fantasy readers who like that particular vein of world building in which theories of magic are detailed.

The Neverending Story by Micheal Ende: Though written for a younger audience, The Neverending Story may appeal to readers who enjoyed story-within-a-story structure of Name of the Wind and its grand mythic elements.

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb: For readers looking to delve further into high fantasy. Captain Althea Vestrit fights to protect her magically sentient sailing vessel from pirates and slavers. Hobb’s story unfolds at a leisurely pace, making room for plenty of world-building detail and character development.

Readlikes suggested by Jillian: 

Blood song by Anthony Ryan
The Warded man  by Peter Brett
A lot of Robin Hobb’s other books would appeal, as well.

*back to impatiently awaiting book #3* 

Review by Andrew Fuerste-Henry --Carnegie-Stout Public Library

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

 Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Author: Holly Black
Audience: YA--Some romance, fairly chaste
Series Information: Holly Black is a very prolific YA fantasy author, but this is a stand alone volume.
Rating: 3/5
The town of Fairfold is famous for the weird things that happen there. Tourists come to see the horned boy in the glass casket who has been sleeping in the forest for generations (think Snow White or Sleeping Beauty). Rumors of fairies and other supernatural creatures attract the tourists as well. For the citizens of Fairfold, the creatures of the forest are known as the Folk. The people and the Folk have struck a deal that the Folk will leave the people of the town alone, but tourists are not so lucky. Occasionally, a tourist may show up dead or disappear in the forest.  All appears to be at a more or less copacetic place until one day the glass coffin is broken and the horned boy inside is free. Now the town is in a tailspin and bad things start happening to even those who have lived in Fairfold their entire lives.

Hazel and her brother Ben were born and raised in Fairfold. As children, they took it upon themselves to defend the people of the town and the tourists from the dangerous tricks of the Folk.  As a child, Hazel fancied herself to be a knight and even killed some of the Folk. As a child, the lines of justice seem clear cut. Now in her teen years, she will learn that not everyone (or everything) would view her actions as justice.

For the most part, this was an entertaining read. I cared about what was going to happen to the characters. Hazel is a strong female character to root for, but she also has flaws, which is refreshing. Characters solve mysteries in a realistic way (well, you know, realistic enough once you accept that their friend is a changeling). There are definitely enough fairies, elves, and changelings to satisfy seasoned fantasy readers. However, the reader (for the most part) is still in a world they would recognize. This nicely saves space for story instead of world building (which some might lament, others praise).  I would have given this book a higher rating, but the ending lost me. In the last chapter, every. single. sentence was dripping in meaning which results in very unnatural language usage. 

Read alikes: (Thanks to some crowd-sourcing)
Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr
Holly Black books
Cassandra Clare books
Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa
Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater

Review by Olivia of the Ericson Public Library, readalikes by RART