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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-12-17 14:29
Age of Assassins - RJ Barker
Age of Assassins - R.J. Barker

First off, for those who care about those kind of things, Age of Assassins is the first book in a trilogy, with the next (Blood of Assassins) due out next year. Secondly, although I enjoyed this book quite a bit, I didn't love it as much as some people I know did and I've been trying to figure out just why that is - more on that later...

 

Age of Assassins is told from the point of view of Girton, a teenage boy with a clubfoot who just happens to be apprenticed to a female assassin called Merela. We first meet the two of them as they are sneaking into a castle to find out what they've been hired to do, only to discover that Merela has some personal history with the person who's hired them and that what they've been hired to do is not to kill someone but instead to keep someone from being killed. For that, Girton needs to infiltrate the castle as a member of minor nobility while he and Merela (disguised as a jester) try to figure out who the other assassin is (and ideally, who hired them). 

 

All this is set within a world where anyone possessing magic is ruthlessly hunted down and their blood used to try and stem the results of the magic wielded by a previous rogue sorcerer. I found the overall worldbuilding much more accomplished than the dynamics going on within the castle itself - the corrupt prince they've been hired to protect was just a bit too much of a moustache-twirling villain to be anything but one-dimensional and I couldn't see why exactly Girton and Merela should work that hard to keep him alive. Likewise, the moment a female stablehand is introduced as one of the few female characters Girton's age, it was pretty obvious she was there as (doomed) relationship fodder. 

 

And that, I think, along with a general lack of caring about teenage angst, was why Age of Assassins didn't quite work for me. Well thought-out overall worldbuilding let down by much more stereotypical relationship shenanigans closer to hand. Token female love interest who sees beyond Girton's disability - check. Character who is not who he seems - check. Trusting relationship that will probably come back to bite Girton in the next book - check. 

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review 2017-12-17 07:16
Earthsea Cycle: The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula Le Guin)
The Tombs of Atuan - Ursula K. Le Guin

Synopsis: At the age of six, Tenar was taken from her home and made High Priestess of the Nameless Ones, dark powers of the Tombs of Atuan. But when the wizard, Ged, comes to steal the tombs' greatest treasure he also comes to bring Tenar out of darkness.

Review: Ursula Le Guin is known as one of the greatest names in fantasy literature, partly for her Earthsea Cycle, and its not hard to see why from this book. Its pretty short, only 180 pages or so, but the deeper plot involving the rescue of Tenar fills out the volume of the book really well. If it had been longer, I think it would have become tedious. There isn't much more to say except that the plotline of pulling a lost soul out of the mire resonates with me strongly.


Next up is the second book of Alastair Reynolds' Inhibitor Trilogy, Redemption Ark. This is a long one at 700 pages, and a re-read from way back, but its good to remember why I love reading this guy.

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review 2017-12-16 22:01
Book Review of Chase Tinker and the HOUSE OF DESTINY (The Chase Tinker Series, Book 3) by Malia Ann Haberman
Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny (The Chase Tinker Series, Book 3) (Volume 3) - Malia Ann Haberman

For eight agonizing months Chase Tinker's guilt over the despicable act he committed on Halloween night has been eating away at his heart and mind. His life gets even more complicated when secrets about the ancient Relic in the attic are revealed, right before an unwelcome caller arrives on Chase's birthday.

 

Despite these problems, his biggest concern is that his family's Dark Enemy, the Marlowe Family, is becoming more powerful with each passing day, fueled by the magic they continue to pillage from the many magical beings in the world. If Chase and his family are ever going to win, they'll need a whole lot of magical help. They must destroy the most evil threat the world has ever known.

 

Review 5*

 

This is the third book in The Chase Tinker series. I absolutely loved it!

 

Chase Tinker is a wonderful character and I really liked him from the first time I met him in the first book. I have enjoyed watching his development from a frustrated teen into someone who I would be proud to know.

 

In this third book, which is told mostly from Chase's point of view though other characters also have their say, Chase is still having to deal with new magical powers that he struggles to control. Not only that, the Marlowe's are still intent on finding the Relic hidden in the attic of the Tinker house. But now one of their own has turned on them too, leading the Tinkers to find assistance from other magical beings. However, there's a problem. The Marlowe's are stealing all the magic and if Chase and his family don't stop them, all will be lost. Can they stop them before it's too late?

 

This is a wonderful story full of adventure, danger and mystery, and I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat as Chase, Andy, Nori and Persephone face danger once more. There are several twists and turns that keep a reader guessing. I found myself on a roller coaster of emotion from beginning to end. The story is full of imaginative prose that guides the reader in such a way that it runs like a movie in the mind's eye and is easy to picture. I love the way the secrets of the house were revealed and what it means to be a Tinker. I also love the way the characters' grow and develop throughout this series. This book doesn't end with a cliffhanger, but it still left me looking forward to reading the last book in the series, Chase Tinker and the House of Mist, as soon as possible. Though I am dreading it too, as I don't want the series to end.

 

Malia Ann Haberman has written a entertaining and exciting story for middle grade children. I love her writing style, which is fast paced and imaginative. The flow is wonderful too. I would definitely read more of her books in the future.

 

I highly recommend this book to middle grade readers aged 9 to 14. However, I also recommend this book (and series) to adults who love reading middle grade fantasy, or to those who are fans of books like Harry Potter. - Lynn Worton

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review 2017-12-16 20:10
Find a comfortable spot and settle in
The Dragonbone Chair - Tad Williams

Disclosure:  I obtained my copy of this book from my local public library.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with him about this book or any other matter.  I am an author.

 

(Trigger warning: Some animal cruelty.)

 

My house is cold this morning, cold enough that I had to turn on the heat for a while.  After making a couple of early trips to the studio -- 30 strides from my back door and 30 strides back -- I was so chilled I went right back to bed just to get warm again.  I used the time wisely: I finished the last 100 pages of The Dragonbone Chair.

 

As mentioned in previous status updates, I first read this series well more than two decades ago.  A few details remained in my memory along with the basic plotline, but 98% was as new as if I had never read it.

 

Had there been a decimal rating, I might have gone with 4.75 stars, but I backed it off to 4 1/2 because it wasn't quite up to the full five, for a couple of reasons.  And I'm going to hit those reasons first.

 

The saga is set in a medievalish earth-like world, with castles and kingdoms and kings and princesses. . . . and a medievalish church that too much resembles medieval christianity.  The monks and priests and bishops, churches and cathedrals, saints and relics, rites and writings are creepy and weak.  Pagans give lip service to "God" and "His son" the holy Usires Aedon (aka Jesus) who was martyred by hanging upside down on the "Execution Tree."  Instead of the sign of the cross, believers make "the sign of the Tree."  The whole Aedonite religion seemed forced and almost silly, right down to holidays called "mansas" like Christian "-mas" and the wearing of jeweled or golden or wooden "tree" symbols around the neck like a crucifix.  Williams offers no opinion of christianity in his creation, whether for good or ill, so it seems kind of pointless and lazy.

 

Other than that, the world-building is fine and relatively consistent in terms of the various kingdoms and rivalries and languages.  Some of the human groups/ethnicities are vaguely teutonic, some are vaguely celtic, some a little more original; none, however, seem to reflect Asian or African or other non-European groups.  The only exception is the "Black Rimmersmen," who seem to be bad guys, but they haven't played enough of a role in this first volume to determine what the designation really means.

 

The non-human races are kind of stock, though the use of the troll Binabik as one of the good guys is a nice change.  The Sithi and Norns are vaguely elvish on the Tolkien model; the giant Hunen are rather like hairy Middle-Earthling cave trolls.

 

The cast of characters is huge, and this makes keeping them straight a bit difficult, even with the full listing at the end of the book.  Where Tolkien introduced the various groups more or less one at a time as the Fellowship passed through their lands, Williams brings all of his onto the stage at once.  The ensuing war encompasses virtually all of the vast uber-kingdom of Osten Ard, so the action shifts between the Erkynlanders in Erchester, the Hernystirimen, the Nabbanai in Nabban, the Rimmersmen from Rimmergard, and so on.  As some of the main supporting characters change allegiance, the whole thing becomes a bit confusing, and I suspect that will continue through the succeeding volumes.

 

The main character, Simon, is your typical young male who has greatness thrust upon him.  Orphaned at birth, he's been raised by the chambermaids in the great castle of the Hayholt in Erchester.  Still in his teens, he gets swept up in the mighty and magical machinations of the High King Elias, whose quest for power is only thwarted by his brother Prince Josua . . . and mysterious bits of mythical lore.

 

By the end of The Dragonbone Chair, we've got lots of guys, one evil woman super villain, one possibly evil woman, and one princess who keeps disappearing.  Women aren't well represented.  This might not have bothered me nearly as much 25 years ago as it does now.

 

Okay, those are the negatives, the things that brought the rating down.  The positives were that the writing is delicious, and there's lots of it!  (There are also a surprising number of typesetting errors, but I've found that to be a frequent problem with paperbacks from the 1980s, and I don't know why.)

 

If you're a lover of the long, long, long epic fantasy, this is a pretty good example, with better world-building and stronger characterizations than others.  Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series had more and maybe better female characters, but I lost interest in that after about seven volumes.  I haven't tried the Game of Thrones books yet, though I have them.

 

I've only read the first few pages of the next book, Stone of Farewell, and I remember far less about it than I did about The Dragonbone Chair, so we'll see how it goes.  I think it's even longer.

 

 

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review 2017-12-16 01:01
The Power of Narrativium
The Science of Discworld - Terry Pratchett,Jack Cohen,Ian Stewart

Murder by Death and BrokenTune have essentially summed up a lot of the points I'd want to make about The Science of Discworld.  (What a misnomer that title is, incidentally -- and not only because the science part is really concerned with "Roundworld," i.e., our world ... the science part in this book expressly negates what chiefly makes Discworld tick, namely narrativium, which is described here as the narrative imperative, but actually stands for so much more.  But I'll get to that in a minute.)  And there is quite a bit of more discussion in MbD's post here and in the comments sections of BT's posts here and here, so little remains for me to add. 

 

There is one point in particular that is bothering me about the assertions made by the scientist co-authors, though, and that is their constant poo-pooing of any- and everything that isn't scientifically quantifiable or measurable, even though (in one of their many contradictions) they do admit in the book's final chapters that the "How-to-Make-a-Human-Being" kit we have inherited and are, ourselves, passing on to future generations (both individually and collectively) includes "extelligence", which constitutes not only collectively shaped knowledge and experience, but also virtually every abstract concept known to mankind today ... as long as -- according to Stewart and Cohen -- a person's response to such a concept can be measured and recorded in some way, shape or form.  That, however, still doesn't stop them from talking down the concept of a soul (human or otherwise), or from insisting that narrativium doesn't exist in our world.  I disagree, and largely in lieu of a review I'm going to throw their co-author Terry Pratchett's own words right in their teeth (and incidentally, Pratchett was, for all I know, an atheist, so religion -- which seems to be a key part of Stewart and Cohen's objection to the notion of a soul -- doesn't even enter into the discussion here):

"I will give you a lift back, said Death, after a while.

'Thank you.  Now ... tell me ...'

What would have happened if you hadn't saved him?' [the Hogfather, Discworld's  version of Santa Claus.]

'Yes! The sun  would have risen just the same, yes?'

No.

'Oh, come on.  You can't expect me to believe that.  It's an astronomical fact.'

The sun would not have risen.

She turned on him.

'It's been a long night, Grandfather!  I'm tired and I need a bath!  I don't need silliness!'

The sun would not have risen.

'Really?  Then what would have happened, pray?'

A mere ball of flaming gas would have illuminated the world.

They walked in silence.

'Ah,' said Susan dully. 'Trickery with words.  I would have thought you'd have been more literal-minded than that.'

I am nothing if not literal-minded.  Trickery with words is where humans live.

'All right,' said Susan.  'I'm not stupid.  You're saying humans need ... fantasies to make life bearable.'

Really?  As if it was some kind of pink pill?  No.  Humans need fantasy to be human.  To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

'Tooth fairies?  Hogfathers? Little --'

Yes.  As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

'So we can believe the big ones?'

Yes.  Justice.  Mercy.  Duty.  That sort of thing.

'They're not the same at all?'

You think so?  Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy, and yet-- Death waved a hand.  And yet you act as if there is some ... some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.

'Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point--'

My point exactly.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

There is a place where thwo galaxies have been colliding for a million years, said Death, apropos of nothing.  Don't try to tell me that's right.

'Yes, but people don't think about that,' said Susan.  Somewhere there was a bed ...

Correct.  Stars explode, worlds collide, there's hardly anywhere in the universe where humans can live without being frozen or fried, and yet you believe that a ... a bed is a normal thing.  It is the most amazing talent.

'Talent?'

Oh, yes.  A very speccial kind of stupidity.  You think the whole universe is inside your heads.

'You make us sound mad,' said Susan.  A nice warm bed ...

No.  You need to believe in things that aren't true.  How else can they become?  said Death, helping her up on to Binky."

(Terry Pratchett: Hogfather)

So you see, Messrs. Stewart and Cohen, there is narrativium everywhere where there are humans.  It may not have been part of the universe from the time of its creation (however we attempt to pinpoint or define that time).  And we don't know whether any of the long-extinct creatures who populated our planet millions of years before we came along had it -- if they did, it seems they at any rate didn't have enough of it to create a lasting record beyond their fossilized physical remains.  But humans wouldn't be humans without narrativium.  Because that's how the rising ape becomes something more than a mammal (call it a falling angel or whatever you will).  Because that's why it is the sun we see rising every morning, not merely a ball of flaming gas.  Because that's why the stars are shining in the sky at night, not a collection of galactic nuclear reactors that just happen to be close enough so we can see them with our naked eye.  And because that's what enables us to hope, to dream, and to consequently make things come true that nobody previously even thought possible.

 

It's narrativium that got us where we are today.  Not alone -- science, technology, and a whole lot of parts of the "How-to-Make-a-Human-Being-Kit" helped.  A lot.  But narrativium is the glue that holds them all together.

 

And since as a species we also seem to be endowed with a fair share of bloodimindium, maybe -- just maybe -- that, combined with narrativium and scientific advance all together will even enable us to survive the next big global catastrophe, which in galactic terms would seem to be right around the corner (at least if our Earth's history to date is anything to go by).  If the sharks and a bunch of protozoons could, then one would hope so could we ... space elevator, starship Enterprise, or whatever else it takes, right?

 

P.S.  Like MbD's and BT's, my love of the Discworld wizards is unbroken.  And clearly there is no higher life form than a librarian.  (Ook.)

 

P.P.S.  I said elsewhere that I'd be replacing Val McDermid's Forensics with this book as my "16 Festive Tasks" Newtonmas read.  I'm still doing this: at least it does actually have a reasonable degree of actual scientific contents; even if highly contradictory in both approach and substance and even if I didn't much care for the two science writers' tone.

 

 

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