Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

Title: The Rook

Author: Daniel O’Malley

Information on series: First in a series (book two will be released January 2016)

Audience: Adult

Rating (scale of 1-10): 8
TL;DR: Endlessly entertaining and engrossing, The Rook has a great set-up that the rest of the book almost entirely lives up to.

Longer review:  She gains consciousness in a park, shivering in the rain, bloodied and bruised, surrounded by a ring of lifeless bodies, and with no knowledge of who she is.  In her pocket is a letter with only a large number one written on the outside.  “Dear you,” the letter says, “the body you are wearing used to be mine, … and along with this body you have inherited certain problems and responsibilities.”  
She, it turns out, is Myfanwy Thomas, a member of the Checquy, the secret organization that keeps Britain safe from the supernatural, the paranormal and the just plain weird.  In her position as a Rook, a high-ranking member of the Checquy leadership, Myfanwy discovered a traitor in the ranks but was unable to expose them before being attacked and having her memory obliterated.  Thankfully she’s the sort of person to think ahead, hence the letter in her pocket - and that’s not the only one.  Further letters direct the new Myfanwy to a safehouse and provide information about the Checquy and her own past. If she wants to survive the traitor's next attempt on her life, Myfanwy will have to go into work as if nothing happened, and find a way to expose them.
But when you work for the Checquy, even a normal day means fighting all sorts of weirdness: like a cult that unleashes a man-eating fungus, or a hatching dragon egg.  Few of the crises she faces, however, are more terrifying than her co-workers. There's the vampire, the guy who can excrete nerve gas, the one being that inhabits four separate human bodies, and even Myfanwy herself, who finds that in times of great stress she can disrupt the bodily functions of other people - make them go blind, or stop moving, or even stop their hearts beating.
Normally, amnesia as a plot device leaves me cold, but the letters that Myfanwy reads from her past self provide a great way for the author to outline the Checquy’s history, and provide details about how his world works.  Myfanwy goes into each new situation with just as much ignorance as the reader does, so even though the world of The Rook feels complex and deep, you get to experience it for the first time right along with the main character.
The tone of the novel is rather light and fun; if this were a Bond movie, it would be from the Roger Moore years and have lots of bad puns and innuendo.  The dialog is snappy, sometimes a little too unrealistically crisp, and Myfanwy is thrown from crisis to crisis fast enough that she doesn’t do much in the way of seriously connecting with other characters.  Hopefully the second book will see Myfanwy build some relationships and experience some development to go along with battling whatever new supernatural horror may threaten the British Isles.

Read Alikes:

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett:  Con-man Moist von Lipwig is saved from deserved execution for his crimes and is subjected to a punishment that amounts to a fate worse than death - he’s put in charge of the decrepit post office system.  This is the first of Pratchett’s Discworld novels featuring Moist who, like Myfanwy, is thrust into an inscrutable government institution and just has to learn as he goes along.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: Thursday Next is an officer in the government department of Literary Detection, where she chases forgers and plagiarists.  But one conniving baddie is bent on messing around with classic novel Jane Eyre, by kidnapping characters out of the original manuscript.  To preserve England’s literary heritage, Thursday must jump into the pages of classic literature where, it turns out, she finds a shadowy agency which polices books from the inside.

Reviewed by Seth, Ames Public Library

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Information on series: First in The Inheritance Trilogy

Audience: Adult, though with appeal for some older teens

Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 3.5

TL;DR: A dark love story set against a complicated backdrop of political intrigue where the stakes are life or death.

Longer review: N.K. Jemisin's debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, introduces a complex world of political intrigue where it is deadly dangerous to be among the elite or too far outside the norm. Unfortunately Yeine, our protagonist, is a descendant of both the ruling Arameri and the "barbaric" Darre. Centuries past, the Arameri conquered the world with the aid of the god of light, Itempas, and suppressed all other religions- and gods. Yeine's mother gave up a position of power as the Arameri heir to marry a Darre man, and lived out her life in exile for her choice. But shortly after her mother is murdered, Yeine is called to the capital by her grandfather to join the competition to become his new heir.

This is not an easy read. It is dark and sometimes confusing. I almost abandoned The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms before I finished it, but I stuck with it from a combination of sheer stubbornness and the appeal of the twisted romantic subplot. I am a sucker for any variation on the story of Psyche and Cupid, though this is more of a hint than anything close to a retelling. Fair warning, this book does contain a sex scene and there are no warm fuzzies. Everyone has hidden motivations; if morality is a spectrum, most characters lean away from the good end of the scale.

While The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms stands well on its own, readers will probably appreciate seeing how the story of these characters and their world plays out over the next two books in The Inheritance Trilogy. There is a diversity of cultures to this world that we are first led to believe is a mono-culture under the strict control of the Arameri. That Yeine's Darre people secretly hold some of their ancient beliefs and practices along with their darker complexions is easily assumed to be an exception. Jemisin created a very detailed world for this series, and it was difficult to appreciate or (for me, at times) to even grasp all of the meaning in a single reading. By looking at the same world, and some of the same events, from different perspectives in the second and third books, I gained a much clearer picture of the larger story.

That said, the murkiness of this book, where I was never quite sure of the motivations behind various characters actions or what their goals were, fit the themes of balance between light and dark or order and chaos rather well. That Yeine is trying to navigate this precarious, ill-defined space in her identity as outsider and elite, serves to emphasize the theme. This is one of several themes that Jemisin continues to examine and expand on throughout the series. I may've picked up The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for a romantic fantasy, but I love The Inheritance Trilogy for a complexity that continues to make me think.

~Sarah, Carnegie-Stout Public Library

Read alikes:

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: The first book in her third series, which was just published in August, The Fifth Season also features unique worldbuilding (the main magical power is literally worldbuilding or at least a power over mountains, earthquakes, etc.), and a main character whose powers make her an outsider.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik: For readers who are looking for a more typical (thought not entirely predictable) romantic subplot, this might be a good fit. I also might just really like this book (see previous review here).

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson: A novella length story featuring an unusual female protagonist trapped by the ruling elite. A faster-paced story with more of an emphasis on action, but still featuring well developed, complex characters that touches on some interesting questions of identity.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Genre Study Review: A Study in Silks

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Title: A Study in Silks
Author: Emma Jane Holloway
Series: The Baskerville Affair
Audience: Teen / New Adult
Rating: 5
TL;DR: Evelina Cooper, Sherlock Holmes’ niece, must discover a murderer while concealing her magical talents from London’s ruthless Steam Barons.

Longer review:
Imagine yourself a young Victorian woman who has been raised in a traveling circus, taken in by an estranged grandmother when your parents died, and discovered that you have magical talents in a society that still burns witches at the stake.
Evelina Cooper has many secrets which would get her ostracized from “proper” London society, should they become known. Fortunately, she has an understanding best friend in society darling Imogen Roth, daughter of Lord Bancroft.
It becomes very hard for Evelina to keep her secrets, however, when a servant is viciously murdered at Lord Bancroft’s estate. When Evelina finds the body, she discovers that the murdered woman was carrying an envelope with traces of magic on it. Determined to protect Imogen and her family, Evelina conceals the evidence, and plots to find the murderer.
Things get much more complicated when Nick, a close friend from Evelina’s circus days comes back into her life, and Tobias Roth, Imogen’s older brother, realizes that Evelina might be more than just his little sister’s best friend.
Evalina’s investigation leads her into a world of murderous marionettes, a manipulative evil sorcerer, and the cut-throat politics of the Steam Barons of London. Even with the help and protection of the renowned Sherlock Holmes, Evelina may be out of her depth.

Author’s Website:
Read alikes:
Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

Reviewed By: Teresa Dahlgren, Waterloo Public Library

Review: Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe

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Title: Long Black Curl
Author: Alex Bledsoe
Information on series: Third book in series, after “The Hum and the Shiver” and “Wisp of a Thing.”
Audience: Adult
Rating: 4
TL;DR: Exile Bo-Kate Wisby returns to Needsville, intent on uniting the Tufa and bringing them out of hiding and into the modern world. The problem? She doesn’t care how many people she has to murder in order to do it.
Longer review: This is the third book by Bledsoe set in the Tufa community of Needsville, Tennessee. The Appalachian setting brings to mind bluegrass music, the majestic isolation of mountain valleys, and shades of the feuding Hatfields & McCoys, creating the perfect atmosphere for an exiled Fairie community to take root in North American soil.
As has been slowly revealed in the previous two books, the Tufa are an Americanized splinter group of the Tuatha de Danann, cast out long ago for the sins of their leader, Rockhouse Hicks.
In the previous book, the tyrannical Hicks lost much of his former power over the community. While many of the Tufa were happy when this happened, exile Bo-Kate Wisby had reason to be the ecstatic. Rockhouse’s fall from power broke the enchantment that kept the psychopathic Bo-Kate from being able to return.
Bo-Kate is full of fury, and determined to take her revenge on the community that cast her out, stole her voice and separated her from the love of her life. She is more than willing to kill anyone who stands up to her, and leaves a trail of bodies through the community as she tries to win enough support to destroy Needsville, once and for all.

Author’s Website:

Read alikes:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Almost anything by Charles de Lint
War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Reviewed by: Teresa Dahlgren, Waterloo Public Library

Review: The Thorn of Dentonhill

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Title: The Thorn of Dentonhill
Author: Marshall Ryan Maresca
Information on series: So far no series, but a 2nd book set in the same world is due out soon.
Audience: Teen/Adult
Rating: 3
TL;DR: In the city of Maradaine, vigilante Veranix Calbert takes on the drug dealer who destroyed his family.

Longer review:

Veranix Calbert seems to be an ordinary student of magic at the University of Maradaine. Few people know of his tragic history. His father was killed by drug-lord Willem Fenmere, who then forcibly addicted Veranix’s mother to effitte, which destroyed her mind. Veranix will do almost anything to bring down Fenmere’s empire before it destroys more lives.

Fortunately, his early (and convenient) training as an archer and acrobat in the circus comes in handy. His magical abilities help him jump to the tops of buildings in a single bound.

Things get more interesting when Veranix accidentally steals a magical rope and cloak, rather than an effitte shipment. He discovers that wearing the cloak allows him to do much more magic than he normally can, and the rope can be directed magically by his thoughts.

Unfortunately for Veranix, the powerful Blue Hand Circle of mages were the intended recipients of the rope and cloak. Now, they’re out to find the mysterious “Thorn” in Fenmere’s side, too.

While the premise of this book is novel, the execution had problems. The dialogue seemed either clunky or cheesy most of the time, and it kept me from enjoying the flow of the story. The names of the characters felt overly contrived. I also had problems overlooking the Veranix’s clichéd background. All I kept thinking was that it was a weird mash-up of Batman and Robin’s backstories.

The one bright spot in this novel, and the reason that I *might* read another book of Mr. Maresca’s was his portrayal of the Rose Street Princes, one of the street gangs mentioned in the book. I enjoyed the character of Colin, one of the street captains of the Princes, who is also Veranix’s cousin. Colin provided a glimmer of hope that Maresca can create a real character, and not just a caricature.

Author’s Website:

Read or view alikes:

Any of the “Batman” graphic novels, although especially the ones in which Bruce Wayne remembers his parents.

The TV series “Arrow”, or Netflix series “Daredevil,” for their vigilante themes.

The Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne for its pacing and adventure.

Reviewed by: Teresa Dahlgren, Waterloo Public Library