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review 2017-01-13 20:34
Black Wolves by Kate Elliott - My Thoughts
Black Wolves - Kate Elliott

The Black Wolves Trilogy - Book 1

I.  LOVED.  THIS.  BOOK.

Black Wolves has been on many 'best of' lists since it's publication back in November of 2015 and I'm here to say it's totally earned.  :)  This is epic fantasy done right.  780 pages of it and none of it was tedious.  (That can happen a lot even in the best of epic fantasies.)

The setting of Black Wolves is an Asian-flavoured world as we're seeing more and more of lately - and that's okay because it's fresh and often surprising in unexpected ways.  Yes, it's reminiscent of Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings but I think a large part of that is that I've read few fantasies in this setting.  Kate Elliott's world-building is amazing!  She brings this world to life with deft artistry - really! - we learn through the actions, thoughts, speech and memories of the characters and it never feels burdensome and as a reader I was never tempted to skim.  

The characters were delightful and even the bad ones had depth and motivation and shadows and even lightness at times.  I LOVED that two of the main antagonists were a woman in her fiftes - late fifties, I would say, and a man of over seventy!  And they're both wonderfully vibrant and wise and rigid and biased... and their bones ache.  :)

The young characters were just as marvelous in their own ways.  We grow with them and feel their triumphs and their pains and their uncertainties and their sometimes blind beliefs.  They all rang true to me.  And there is still so much more to learn about them and more for them to grow (or not in some cases, I guess.).

I am in awe of the plot.  How the author managed all those twists and turns and didn't really give anything away until the story wanted it given away was masterful.  I was surprised time after time.  I had suspicions, sure, everyone will I think, but the few times my suspicions were confirmed there was always a little thing, a little twist that I had never even thought of!  Amazing plotting.  Amazing.

This is a terrific beginning to a new fantasy epic and I can't WAIT until the next book in the trilogy comes out!

If you loved A Song of Ice and Fire and The Dandelion Dynasty, you must read this book!  You won't be sorry.

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review 2016-12-07 00:11
Review: Black Wolves
Black Wolves - Kate Elliott

Yeah, not gonna rate this one because my reaction is too all over the place. 

 

I don't read a lot of epic fantasy, but every so often I give it a try. The first part of this book is really not for me. From the glorious king who united the land to his haven't-we-seen-this-too-many-times headstrong daughter who doesn't want to do girl things. Yes, yes, duty is such a hardship for the privileged or whatever.

 

I was on a lengthy drive, and had basically decided that I was done with this as soon as I was stopped for long enough to download something else when suddenly it skipped ahead a few decades and 2 generations of rulers. And suddenly it was a lot more interesting, with POV characters I didn't roll my eyes at. The clever young woman who figures out how to leverage her lack of position into an escape from her stagnant life behind walls. The reckless boy who's first thought upon finding a dead body is to sell it for drinking money. That same girl from the first part, but now at the tail end of a long career. 

 

Then it bounced back and forth between sections I was super into, and sections of tedium. And just when it felt like it was really getting going, it ended. 

 

I think this is likely a very good book for people who aren't me. It wasn't that there wasn't a plot, but that the court politics that form the plot weren't my thing. Though the larger plot of the series, and several of the characters very much are my kind of thing. 

 

I honestly have no idea if I'm going to pick up the second volume in this trilogy when it's published. I'm pretty sure I'd have preferred reading the notes taken building this than the actual book. But, whatever. I remain not an epic fantasy reader, I suppose.

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review 2016-11-24 12:46
Review: Cold Steel (Spiritwalker Book 3 of 3)
Cold Steel - Kate Elliott

This is the final book in Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.  It was more entertaining than the middle book, which I thought had a lot more boring and tedious parts.  There was one aspect of the story that I feared would be stretched out for the entire book, but it was wrapped up earlier than I expected so I was happy about that.  The story held my interest better than the second book and equally as well as the first book.  There was a minor thread or two that never really got tied up, but the ending wrapped most things up pretty well and I was satisfied with it.  

As far as the series itself goes, it was pretty good, but it had several annoyances as I’ve mentioned in my reviews for the previous books.  The story was entertaining, for the most part, and I liked the characters.  I also enjoyed the character-driven humor which seemed to increase as the series progressed.  I did think things often happened too conveniently, and with a few niggling inconsistencies here and there.  I think, if I hadn’t had such fond memories of this author’s Crossroads trilogy, I might have enjoyed this series a little more for what it is because my expectations wouldn’t have been as high.  I did enjoy it, but I was a little disappointed by it too.

 

As a side note, for those of you who have been waiting for me to get to Hogfather… that one’s next up on my list. :)  I have to leave in a few minutes to spend Thanksgiving with family and I’m not sure how late I’ll get back.  I doubt I'll be able to get very far into it until tomorrow.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the U.S., and Happy Thursday to those of you who aren’t! ;)

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review 2016-11-18 02:52
Review: Cold Fire (Spiritwalker Book 2 of 3)
Cold Fire (Spiritwalker Trilogy) - Kate Elliott

Cold Fire is the second book in Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.  Some of the things that annoyed me about the first book were less evident in this book.  On the other hand, the story didn’t hold my interest quite as well.  There were times when I was glued to the Kindle, but there were also many times when I was restless and kept putting it down to do other things.

 

One of the things that annoyed me in the first book was the way the author delivered exposition in the form of unrealistic dialogue.  Now that the characters and the setting have been established, there was far less of that in this book, although there was a little bit of it in the beginning when the author was reminding us of things from the first book.

 

Kate Elliott’s recapping approach in this book was interesting.  The story actually started slightly before the ending of the first book, and the reader gets to see some things that had happened “off page”.  I enjoyed that aspect of it; it was nice to see some of the stuff we’d missed before.  Eventually, we get up to the point of the final scene in the first book and we go through those events again, but it’s told a little bit differently.  The events matched up, but different things were given emphasis and I found myself forming an entirely different (and more accurate) opinion about a character who would be central to this book.  There was at least one thing, though, that did seem like a blatant change.  It didn’t really impact the story, but it was related to something repeated often throughout both books. 

 

In the first book, I complained that the romantic relationship was predictable and occasionally unrealistic, but at least it didn’t overwhelm the plot.  In this book, the romantic relationship gets a lot more page time and it continues to be predictable.  I don’t have as many complaints about lack of realism, but it sure was a lot more melodramatic.  For some reason I usually swallow melodrama better in epic fantasy stories than I do anywhere else in real or fictional life, but this was a bit much.

 

I’m writing mostly about the things I didn’t like, but that’s mainly because I just don’t have as much to say about the things I did like.  I do still think the over-all story is interesting and, with the exception of what I’ve already mentioned, I like the writing.  The action sequences are particularly well-written, I think.  Many of the characters are likeable and fun to read about, with small bits of character-driven humor here and there that made me laugh.

 

Given the way things ended, I expect there is more melodrama in store for the final book, but I’m invested enough now that I want to see how things end.  I’m giving this 3.5 stars on BookLikes, but rounding down to 3 on Goodreads.

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review 2016-11-10 22:59
Review: Cold Magic (Spiritwalker Book 1 of 3)
Cold Magic - Kate Elliott

Several years ago, I read this author’s Crossroads trilogy, beginning with Spirit Gate.  My memory of it is really fuzzy, but I remember it as being a fairly complex story, with multiple points-of-view and storylines.  I also remember that I really enjoyed it, and I’ve wanted to try some of her other books.

 

This book was a little different from what I expected based on my fuzzy memory of Crossroads.  I enjoyed the story and the characters, but there were some aspects of the writing that seemed amateur to me, and I also felt like the story was written for a younger audience.  The “younger audience” aspect probably would have been less of an issue for me if I hadn’t expected something more adult, and it was also partly explained by the author’s Acknowledgments at the end of the book.  As it turns out, she had collaborated on the story with her three children who were in high school at the time.  This doesn’t explain some of my complaints with the writing, though, since she did all of the writing herself.  I briefly wondered if this book was one of her earlier works, but it was in fact published a little bit later than the final Crossroads book.

 

The setting is kind of interesting, set in an odd alternate version of our world in which there are both mages and an industrial revolution.  I’m going to be vague about the story line, because it’s a bit of a slow build-up and I don’t want to spoil any surprises.  Cold Magic is told from the first-person perspective of Cat, a nineteen-year-old girl whose parents were killed in an accident when she was six.  She’s been raised, and well-treated, in the home of her aunt and uncle where she has a great relationship with her similarly-aged cousin, Bee.  Cat has some special abilities, and one of her only memories of her mother is her warning Cat not to ever tell anybody what she can do.  So there’s a bit of a mystery about Cat’s past, but mostly she just lives her life as a normal girl.  Until everything changes, of course. :)  One night a visitor shows up at Cat’s home to demand that a certain bargain be upheld.

 

One of the main reasons I thought this was an earlier work was because the author used dialogue clumsily, particularly in the beginning, to convey background information.  The dialogue was usually well-written and interesting, but there were several passages that completely dragged me out of the story because it was just too obvious.  For example, at one point Cat is pretty much lectured by Bee on her own life history.  People just don’t talk like that.  When they have shared stories and histories, they use shorthand.  They would say, “Remember that time in the elevator?” as opposed to, “Remember that time in the elevator when [long monologue about a story both parties already know]?”. 

 

Another one of my complaints is about the romance.  Fortunately it’s a bit sparse and doesn’t overwhelm the story, but I did think it was very obvious from the beginning how the relationship would develop.  It was also pretty unrealistic, such as the random “oh wow, look at those lips, I really want to kiss him” (I’m paraphrasing!) thoughts at absolutely ridiculous moments.  The friendship between Cat and Bee, on the other hand, was very well done.  I also really enjoyed the character of Rory and his interaction with Cat.

 

The story has a little bit of repetitiveness and a few excessively coincidental occurrences, but mostly I did enjoy the story.  We’re given several questions at the beginning and then the answers are slowly revealed while giving us more questions along the way, and I enjoyed speculating about the answers.  This is the first book in a trilogy, so it doesn’t wrap up all of the story lines, but we do get answers to some of the major questions by the end.  There’s an interesting, if not terribly surprising, twist near the end that sets the stage for the next book and I look forward to seeing what will happen next.  I’m giving this 3.5 stars on BookLikes, but rounding up to 4 on Goodreads.

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