Saturday, October 31, 2015

Review: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Title: Court of Fives

Author: Kate Elliott

Information on series: First in Court of Fives trilogy

Audience: Teens, though some adults will enjoy as well

Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 4

TL;DR: A novel about presumptions, prejudice, and incredible athletic feats (think Ninja Warrior). A good mix of action and character-development that should appeal to dystopian fans, despite it's fantasy setting.

Longer review: If you love action-packed dystopian novels, especially those featuring rebellious teens in a battle against repressive societies, but you're feeling burned out on futuristic wastelands, this might be the book for you. Court of Fives is set in a world based in part on the societies of ancient Egypt, the Aztec empire, and ancient Rome. This is Elliott's first young adult novel, but she's written several popular series for adults.

I loved the setting, and the complex relationships between the different cultures. The city of Saryenia is ruled by a rigid class structure, where the elite are conquerors from a foreign empire (or refugees from an empire shattered by Civil War) and the commoners are the remnants of a once powerful, darker skinned native society. Intermarriage between the two groups is strictly forbidden, which puts the main character's, Jessamy's, family in a precarious position. Jessamy's father is an accomplished military commander, and her mother is a low born commoner, placing Jessamy and her sisters somewhere in between.

The story is told from Jessamy's perspective, as she struggles between her love for her family and her dreams to be a champion at the Fives, a dangerous sport similar to Ninja Warrior. If you're not sure what Ninja Warrior is, I recommend checking out this video. The fact that we see Jessamy's world so tightly from her perspective sets up some nice surprises later in the novel as we learn that Jessamy's assumptions about her sisters and their goals were not always based on truth.

There is a romantic sub-plot to the novel, and of course it is a forbidden romance. Some readers will enjoy the lack of a love triangle (at least in this first volume), but I found that the love story added a layer of distraction to a fairly packed plot. It's likely that, were I still a teen reader, I would've loved this element of the book, but as an adult, I was rolling my eyes.

Read alikes:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: The big name action-packed dystopian novel, with a capable female lead on a quest to save her family.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: Seraphina's incredible musical talents bring her to the attentions of the royal palace as murder and political intrigue threaten to collapse the fragile peace between humans and dragons. SPOILER ALERT: Everything becomes even more complicated as Seraphina realizes she is the child of a forbidden romance between a human and a dragon.

~Sarah, Carnegie-Stout Public Library

Monday, October 19, 2015

Vote for the 2016 Genre Study!

The Readers' Advisory Round Table's Fantasy Genre Study will continue until the end of December, and then in January we'll begin our new genre study. Voting has begun to pick our genre for 2016. Be sure to make your picks:

Not yet an RART member? It's free to join our subdivision when you join the Iowa Library Association. If you'd like to be added to our roster, be sure to let us or ILA know.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Information on series: 1 in a series. Second book set to come out in 2017

Audience: Teen

Your rating: 5 of 5

TL;DR: Joel has wanted to be a Rithmatist, a person with the power to animate chalk drawings into Chalklings, his entire life. The son of a chalk maker, all he can do is watch those with that power prepare to defend the American Isles from Wild Chalklings.

Longer Review:

The Rithmatist is one of the most original works of fantasy I have read in quite awhile. Brandon Sanderson always seems to come up with fun and interesting new ideas for systems of magic. The Rithmatist is probably one of my favorites.

Joel goes to school at the elite Armedius Academy where wealthy and powerful "ordinary" students learn alongside those studying to be Rithmatists, strategists and soldiers with the ability to animate chalk drawings called Chalklings that pose the only defense against the Wild Chalklings that threaten the American Isles. Joel is neither wealthy nor a Rithmatist and his deep fascination of the art of Rithmatics makes him an outcast as someone who can't actually do it.

When students start disappearing from Armedius Academy, Joel is assigned to help the professor tasked with investigating the disappearances.

Joel is the best part about this book. He's a flawed character who desires things that are not possible and Sanderson doesn't give him the easy way out. Can't wait to read the next one in the series.

Brandon Sanderson's many other novels, mostly for adults. The Mistborn Series is probably a good place to start.

Harry Potter is probably another good choice. It's another story of a kid at a school of magic who doesn't quite fit in (although for very different reasons).

Monday, October 12, 2015

Guest Post: "Through the Looking Glass: Adult Fantasy Novels for Voracious Readers" by Kameron Hurley

When we heard that author Kameron Hurley was offering guest blog posts as part of the promotion for Empire Ascendant, the second book in her Worldbreaker Saga series, we asked if she had any tips for librarians who might not be as familiar with fantasy as a genre. She kindly agreed to share her advice with the RART, which is posted below:

Through the Looking Glass: Adult Fantasy Novels for Voracious Readers
Most of us are familiar with children’s fantasy classics, because for many they were part and parcel of our formative years. For me it was The Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth, Alice in Wonderland, and Tamora Pierce’s transformative The Song of the Lioness series.

The huge boom in YA novels has also given librarians and other book lovers a wealth of new work to recommend to teen readers, The Hunger Games, The Mazerunner, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Red Rising, and many more alongside classics like The Giver.

But the waters start to get a little muddy when it comes to adult fantasy. If you don’t read as much fantasy now as an adult and have folks coming to you for adult fantasy recommendations, it can be tempting to just recommend Game of Thrones and endless Sword of Shannara books. What to recommend when readers want something primarily featuring adult characters and – for lack of a better term – adult coming-of-age tales?

When I was growing up, there simply wasn’t a YA section at my local library. Sometime in my early teens I tentatively graduated from the “Kids” section of the library to the “adult” section, inching my way closer to the adult stacks and hoping nobody noticed. That meant I was reading Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series fairly early on, and I started Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series when I was fourteen or fifteen.

Now that I’m writing my own fantasy novels like The Mirror Empire and Empire Ascendant, I find myself steeped in new novels from my peers, more than I can ever get to.  There’s funny fantasy and adult fairytales and fantasy that takes us to bold new worlds and dark, gritty, grim fantasy that makes us happy we don’t live there.

Here are just a few books I’ve enjoyed or been recommended, bucketed up into some categories that you can use to try and tease out precisely what type of fantasy a particular reader is looking for:

Modern Adult Fairytales
Fairytale retellings are the meaty marrow of fantasy, and these are a few that are all grown up.

  • Ash by Malinda Lo
  • Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Fun, Humorous Fantasy
Wry, clever, and never afraid to poke fun at themselves, these books take old fantasy tropes and turn them on their heads – with amusing results.

  • The Paladin Caper, Patrick Weekes
  • No Hero, Jonathan Wood
  • Geekomancy, Mike Underwood

Military Fantasy
Most of us have heard of military science fiction? But military fantasy? Yes, it’s a thing!

  • Control Point, Myke Cole
  • American Craftsman, Tom Doyle

Silk Road Fantasy
Explore fantastic realms inspired by ancient Arabia, Persia, and Mongolia in these engaging fantasy tales.

  • The Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed
  • The Desert of Souls, Howard Andrew Jones
  • Range of Ghosts, Elizabeth Bear
  • The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu

Secondary World Fantasy
Explore weird and exciting new realms with extraordinary humans… and the not-so-human.

  • Updraft, Fran Wilde
  • The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells
  • Barsk, Lawrence M. Shoen

Epic Fantasy
Huge stakes. Tricky politics. Government coups. Magic that will take your breath away. These ones have it all.

  • Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan
  • Cold Magic, Kate Elliott
  • A Crown for Cold Silver, Alex Marshall
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
  • City of Stairs, Robert J. Bennett

Dark Epic Fantasy
The world can be a dark place, and so can these novels. It’s the epic with all the blood, horror, and grit of real life.

  • Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle
  • Gardens of the Moon, Steven Erikson
  • Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie
  • The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
  • Empress, Karen Miller

Dark Fantasy/Horror
For those who like a little horror infused with their fantasy.

  • Miserere, Teresa Frohock
  • Chapelwood, Cherie Priest

Contemporary Fantasy 
These books take us into the magical underbelly of our own world, a grown-up Narnia that isn’t all sleigh rides and Turkish delight.

  • The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins,
  • A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab

Historical Fantasy
What if the past really was a magical place? These novels ask what the world would be like at different points in history if magic was part of everyday life.

  • Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho
  • The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard
  • Bitter Seeds, Ian Tregillis

About the Author
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire and Empire Ascendant and the God’s War Trilogy. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer; she has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, the Gemmell Morningstar Award and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, Year's Best SF, The Lowest Heaven, and Meeting Infinity. Her nonfiction has been featured in The Atlantic, Locus Magazine, and the upcoming collection The Geek Feminist Revolution.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Review: Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Title: Beastly Bones

Author: William Ritter

Information on series: This is book 2. Book 1 is Jackaby (which I previously reviewed). There's also a novella (book 2.5) available as e-book only. There is no information available on future books but I highly doubt this is the last one.

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: Chicago Tribune called this book "Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Longer review: As you know from my review of book 1, Jackaby, I adored the audio book. Sadly the audio for book 2 isn't releasing until a month after the print book. For the sake of our genre study I read the print book of book 2. (And yes, I'll listen to the audio when it comes out).  I decided to pick up this book at just the right cable/internet/phone all were out one evening so I read this entire book in one evening. Picking up shortly after the events of book 1 I quickly fell back into the world of Jackaby and Abigail. I had forgotten how much I liked them. Just like with book 1 I couldn't help but picture Benedict Cumberbatch as I was reading this book. I love the quirkiness of Jackaby. You never know what he'll say or do next. I like how Abigail (much like Sherlock's Watson) tries to bring Jackaby back down to Earth. Yet she is brainy, independent and can handle things on her own. As we learned in book 1 Abigail has dreams of being a paleontologist so when dinosaur bones are found in a nearby town she can't wait to help. Jackaby and Abigail are called in when some of the bones are missing. I like the mix of their worlds. Abigail gets to use her knowledge of paleontology while Jackaby uses his detective skills.  Of course there's a splash of supernatural activities going on. Maybe the dinosaur bones aren't dinosaur bones. Some of the characters from the previous book appear. You also meet some interesting new characters including some shape shifters that appear as kittens the first time we meet them. Like I said I read this in one evening. It's a nice, quick read with some hilarious moments sprinkled throughout. I think it would appear to guys and girls since there's a nice mixture of both sexes. I also think it would appeal to readers of all genres. There's something for everyone in this book/series.

There's a trend of Sherlock inspired young adult books. The ones listed below aren't fantasy, just Sherlock inspired. 

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly  (available now)

Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty (available now)

Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro (releases in March 2016)

Review by Jenny Ellis 

Review: Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch

Title: Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery

Author: Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe, Art by Roc Upchurch

Information on series: Volume 1 of an ongoing series

Audience: Adult. Very adult.

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

TL;DR: A crazy thrill-ride of blood and feminism.

Longer review:
Betty, Dee, Hannah, and Violet are The Rat Queens, a party of brawling, boozing, sexing, swearing adventurers in the vaguely Euro-fantastic town of Palisade. In this first volume, they defeat an army of orcs and save the town. But the orcs were only there because they were friends of an ogre the Rat Queens viciously murdered. But the Rat Queens only murdered the ogre because the mayor of Palisade sent the ogre to kill them. But the mayor only wanted the Rat Queens dead because they kept getting drunk and starting fights. At first glance, it’s hard to figure out who the good guys are.

Ultimately, we end up siding with the Rat Queens for the simple but very compelling reason that they are a band of complex and flawed but sympathetic characters who, despite all other failings, display a sincere and contagious affection for each other. I cannot stress how rare and enjoyable this is. As a rule, filthy, bloody, drug-fueled adventure comics do not feature an all-female case. Or, if they do, the women are adolescent sex fantasies first and actual characters second. And their stories certainly don’t feature a sincere emotional core.

Rat Queens shows a mix of humor, violence, vulgarity, and heart that is absolutely atypical for fantasy comics, and I suspect it had a rough road to publication. But its reception has been great. It was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series in 2014 (that’s essentially an Oscar for comics) and a Hugo for Best Graphic Story in 2015. It also picked up a 2015 GLAAD Media Award for its LGBT representation (that, more than anything else I’ve said, should quiet your worries about whether a comic with this much crass-ness can also manage some compelling character work).

The series has seen a couple artist changes since it started (for a variety of disappointing reasons that I won’t get into here). For this first volume, all the art is by co-creator Roc Upchurch. First off, his character designs are great. He splashes in modern touches like Hannah’s rockabilly-inspired hair, but melds them with more traditional fantasy elements for a good, consistent aesthetic. All four of the Rat Queens are presented as sexy at times, but they’re far from the chainmail bikini cliche of so much fantasy art.  

Upchurch also does a good job laying out his pages and staging action. He’s got enough restraint and faith in the writing to stick to a fairly simple panel grid when drawing dialogue, which gives more impact to the times he throws the grid out for a splash page or action sequence. As in a movie, action in comics really falls apart without a visual storyteller who can subtly guide the reader’s eye, making sure the follow the sequence of events.


  • Dungeons & Dragons by John Rogers - This comics series, published by IDW starting in 2010, matches Rat Queens’ sense of fun and adventure, but dials back the adult themes. As you might expect from an official tie-in to a large media property, these comics are very well made but ultimately play it a little safe. Start with volume 1, Shadowplague.
  • Skullkickers by Jim Zub - An unlikely pair of adventurers seek gold and glory while facing down ever-more strange and deadly foes. Skullkickers matches the weird humor of Rat Queens but loses the emotional core.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set by Wizards of the Coast - Not a book so much as a box that contains several booklets, some loose sheets, and an assortment of dice. If you’re this far into fantasy about parties of heroic adventurers, maybe you should just take the plunge and give D&D a try. One of the best things about Rat Queens is the bond of friendship between the four leads. D&D is all about cooperating with your friends to tell grand stories and defeat hideous villains.

Review: California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

Title:  California  Bones

Author:  Greg Van Eekhout

Series:  Book one in a trilogy

Audience:  Adult

Rating on scale 1-5: 4

TL;DR: California Bones  is a combination urban fantasy and caper novel set in dystopian California.

Longer review:
Daniel Blackland, a  thief and osteomancer, is hired by a crime lord to break into a supposedly impenetrable stronghold and steal a sword. The sword was made by Daniel’s Father, a powerful magician, and  possesses the magical essence of Daniel himself. Daniel’s Father was killed by the the Hierarch, the ruler of the Kingdom of Southern California. Daniel puts together the best thieves to steal the sword.

When I saw that it was an urban fantasy and a caper I was pretty excited. Since it is a caper book, it is fairly action packed. This book is gritty and a little gruesome (it’s not for the faint of heart).

Kraken: an anatomy by China Miéville. This urban fantasy also has group of magicians stealing an object.  (A giant squid fom the British museum.  It also described as gritty.

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. This urban fantasy is described as action packed and gruesome.  The main character gets a job hunting monsters because monsters are real.

Dresden Files series  by Jim Butcher. This action packed urban fantasy series has a Wizard private detective as its main character.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic

Author: V.E. Schwab

Information on series: First of Darker shade of magic trilogy, second book expected 2016.

Audience: New Adult/Adult; possibly YA though there is some language and violence, but nothing gratuitous

Rating (scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the highest): 9.5

Recommended to: Historical fiction readers; fans of political/royal thrillers

Tl;dr:  A gritty urban fantasy set against a backdrop of parallel Londons where dark magic threatens to overtake and destroy everything, and there may be only one person who can stop it.
“Some thought magic came from the mind, others the soul, or the heart, or the will. But Kell knew it came from the blood.
     Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned. Kell had seen what happened when power warred with the body, watched it darken in the veins of corrupted men, turning their blood from crimson to black. If red was the color of magic in balance—of harmony between power and humanity—then black was the color of magic without balance, without order, without restraint.
     As an Antari, Kell was made of both, balance and chaos; the blood in his veins, like the Isle of Red London, ran a shimmering, healthy crimson, while his right eye was the color of spilled ink, a glistening black.” 
Kell is Antari, which means he possesses special magic that allows him to pass between parallel worlds acting as courier to each of London’s different crowns. There are three Londons to which he travels: Grey, White, and Red. Grey London is the one we know with Parliament and Westminster and the Thames flowing through the city. It is a drab place with no magic, though there are those who believe it exists. White London’s river is called the Siljt and the palace is an icy fortress ruled by evil twins (literally, evil twins). In White London magic is a rare commodity, highly and viciously sought after, hoarded by those in power and taken from others at any cost. Red London has an abundance of magic and its people live in lavish luxury. It is there where Kell lives at the palace with the King, Queen and the High Prince Rhy, and is treated by others as royalty himself, though he doesn’t feel as if he truly belongs. There’s a fourth London, Black, but no one comes or goes from there anymore. When Kell journeys to White or Grey London he returns with small keepsakes and trinkets, amassing a private collection of odds and ends. Like a magpie he hoards these objects, despite Rhy’s warnings that dire consequences will come from Kell’s habit…

Lila has been surviving on her own in White London’s rough streets, stealing to stay alive and dreaming of the high seas. She wants nothing more than to be the commander of her own pirate ship, but she can barely stay afloat on land. When her path crosses Kell’s she knows there are greater adventures waiting, and she will do just about anything to be part of them.

Holland is like Kell; he can travel between the Londons and does so at the behest of White London’s rulers, Astrid and Athos Dane. Unlike Kell, Holland has little freedom even though he is Antari, and is at the mercy of the ruthless Danes who will stop at nothing to satisfy their desire for magic.

 A darker shade of magic will appeal to readers of historical fiction and political thrillers who are perhaps interested in Fantasy but aren’t quite ready to submerse themselves in a completely new world.  Though there are elements of more traditional fantasy, including a new language, the fantastical elements and the magical system are not overly complex.

 Read alikes:

  • A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway, (see RART review)
  • A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Grey
  • Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Reviewer: Jillian Rutledge, Waverly Public Library

Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Title: The Magicians

Author: Lev Grossman

Information on series:  The Magicians: Book 1

Audience: Adult

Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 4

TL;DR: A character driven contemporary fantasy about  a high schooler who knows some magic tricks that suddenly finds himself admitted to a mysterious school of magic.

Longer review:
Quinten Coldwater, grew up enjoying a series of books about a magical make believe land called Fillory. Fillory is very similar C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Quintin is thrilled when he is invited to join a University for magicians. Quintin excels in school but loses his innocence when a prank allows an evil being to enter the University. Quintin and his former classmates find out that Fillory is real and their skills are put to the test when they travel there.

I listened to the book and I really liked the reader.  I loved Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia as a child so I loved the fact that Quintin could actually visit Fillory.

The Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire. This series is also a character driven fantasy that re-imagines a fictional world.

The Kingkiller Chronicle series by Patrick Rothfuss. Although Rothfuss’ books take place in a different time, late medieval Europe, the main characters go to wizarding/magician school and along the way lose their innocence when they discover evil.

Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks. Both books deal with magic but they also both deal with the age-old theme, good vs evil.

Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Title: The Lightning Thief
Author: Rick Riordan
Information on series: First of five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
Audience: Middle grade, though with plenty of appeal for readers of any age who love a good adventure story
Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 4
TL;DR: An action-packed quest story whose young hero was written off as a bad kid, but really he has supernatural abilities straight out of Greek myth.

Longer review:
On a recent road trip, we started and abandoned several audiobooks, nothing quite working for both of us. That is until we started The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (as read by Jesse Bernstein). In fact, we loved it so much that when we got home before finishing the last disc, we moved from the car straight to the couch. Neither of us had been terribly excited to listen to this book, I'd started and abandoned the print edition, he'd seen the underwhelming movie adaptation, but in the end it was a highlight of our very long drive. We were looking for a book that combined adventure and humor, and that is exactly what we got.

The Percy Jackson series is based on the idea that the Greek gods of ancient myth are not only reality, they are active forces in the modern world, who still have the bad habit of having half-god children with mortal men and women. Percy Jackson (spoilers) discovers that he is the son of an unknown god, which gives him unusual powers and mark him out as a target for evil forces. That some of his special abilities (a natural aptitude for ancient Greek, hyperaccelerated reflexes) manifest as learning disorders (dyslexia, ADHD) that mark him out as a "bad kid" in the mundane world is an inspiring touch. While your average reader isn't likely to be a demigod, the message that sometimes our strengths lie in what makes us different, even if that means we can never be normal.

While I know this book, series, and author has a very large fan base, I never would've considered suggesting this series to adults before checking out the audiobook myself. That's the magic of a skilled audiobook narrator, they can take a good book and turn it into something even better.

Read alikes:
Rick Riordan: The obvious read alike, he expands on Percy Jackson's world in the Heroes of Olympus series, explores Egyptian mythology, and his newest series, Magnus Chase, which takes on norse mythology.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins: Before she wrote The Hunger Games, Collins wrote a series about a young boy's adventures in a secret kingdom under the streets of New York City (warning: there are rats, cockroaches, and other creepy crawlies).

Hounded by Kevin Hearne: Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles are NOT for children or young readers. This is a decidely adult urban fantasy series set in an Arizona overrun by the gods of Celtic mythology.

~Sarah, Carnegie-Stout Public Library