Greta is the daughter of a female blacksmith and has grown up learning her mother's craft. One day, she saves a Jasmine tea dragon. The dragon's caretaker, Hesekiel, offers to teach her about caring for tea dragons. Each dragon has its quirks, but, when properly cared for, they produce magnificent tea that carries the memories of their current caretaker. Greta's visits to Hesekiel also allow her to get to know Erik, Hesekiel's long-time friend and partner, and Minette, a shy girl who is approximately the same age as Greta and who is closely bonded to a Chamomile dragon.
I didn't realize until I had the book in my hands and saw the little blurb on the cover that this was by the same person who created Princess Princess Ever After. Thankfully, the printing for this volume was better than it was for that one - all of the artwork was bright, clear, and lovely. I'm tempted to get a copy for my own collection, even though I have no idea where I'd keep it.
The story was simple and quiet, focused on the characters' relationships and the details of tea dragon care. The most action-filled moment was a tea-induced flashback to the beginnings of Hesekiel and Erik's relationship as
a pair of adventurers who eventually settled down for a quieter life after Erik was badly injured and ended up in wheelchair.
The entire volume dealt with things that took time and patience, from developing relationships with others to blacksmithing and tea dragon care. The inclusion of both older and younger generations worked really well in this respect. With Greta and Minette, readers could see the beginnings of a sweet and occasionally awkward relationship, while Erik and Hesekiel were a great example of a couple that had had years to get to know each other and settle into life together. There was a little of that when it came to the tea dragons as well, although that was more unbalanced. The process of establishing a relationship with a tea dragon was mostly covered in lectures, because Erik, Hesekiel, and even Minette had already gained the trust of their dragons and bonded with them fairly well.
While I wished this had been a bit longer (Minette's backstory, in particular, felt like it needed more closure), I really enjoyed this. The artwork was lovely. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that CLAMP, particularly their work Chobits, was one of O'Neill's influences - one panel featured Minette in a pose that reminded me a great deal of Chobit's Chi.
Also, the "Tea Dragon Handbook" at the end, which contained more information about various tea dragons and their care, was fabulous. I'd happily read an expanded version of it featuring even more kinds of tea dragons. I wonder what a Pu Erh dragon would look and act like?
If you're hesitant about getting this, it looks like the entire story can still be read online (minus the "Tea Dragon Handbook").
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
As soon as I saw the blurb for The Poppy War, I was sure I was going to want to read it - it's a great time to be a fantasy reader, as there's so much out there now which is not just farmboy-is-secretly-a-prince set in a faux-medieval European setting. Read plenty of those in my time!
Anyway, The Poppy War starts off feeling quite familiar as we're introduced to the character of Rin and the situation she finds herself in at the start of the book - a war orphan taken in by opium traders, Rin is about to be sold off into marriage unless she can find a way out. In this case, her way out is to pass the country-wide examination and get herself a coveted place in one of the empire's military schools. If she manages this (which, of course, she does otherwise it'd be a very different book!) then Rin can decide her own fate in the longer term.
So far, so good. The next third or so of the book follows a pretty well-worn track, especially where moving into a fantasy academic setting is concerned: the outsider maybe makes one or two friends, but also at least one enemy whose vindictiveness will come back to bite her later on. Where The Poppy War diverges from this pattern is with the introduction of a strong theme of shamanism alongside the military training, even if it's heavily frowned upon by the majority of the people Rin comes across. This ability allows someone to channel the power of a deity, at the risk of their own sanity, and if there's one thing Rin wants, it's power.
The whole setting of The Poppy War is more faux-China than faux-medieval Europe and this is made clear when the neighbouring islands (Mugen) mount an invasion. Rin finds herself shipped off to join the other misfits and hone her abilities in defence of a port city, only to discover that their involvement there has not prevented a terrible slaughter taking place in the capital. It's around this time that my willingness to give The Poppy War 5 stars and my accompanying desire to re-read it in the future took a bit of a knock. Things get a bit grisly and, to my mind at least, unnecessarily so - it's too easy to go for graphic rather than thinking about how to use your writing to imply things that are even more horrific, since your reader's minds will make all sorts of connections.
Since this is the first book of a trilogy, it will come as no surprise that Rin finishes the book by making a choice and taking a terrible revenge on the people of Mugen, who are responsible not just for the recent slaughter but apparently also for the genocide of Rin's people. She may be starting to realise just what she's let herself in for, but maybe not, so I guess the next volume will tell us which way she's going to go? The Dragon Republic is due out next year.
The Light Fantastic is a direct sequal to The Colour of Magic. The Discworld needs saving and only Rincewind can do it - something to do with one of the 8 Great Spells slinking around in his head. The adventures of Two Flower, Rincewind and The Luggage continues in this entertaining romp through the Discworld. DEATH is also just starting out as what will one day be a main character. This is an early novel by Pratchett, and also an early Discworld novel. It is quite evident that the author is still trying to find his voice and take his tour around the Disc. The first two novels come across as something of a tour through the Discword, but I still found them enjoyable and the seeing how the Discworld novels develop as a concept is very interesting.
The art on my paperback copy is by Josh Kirby. I love his wild illustrations of the Discworld!