Saturday, 25 May 2013

Magic Study

Title: Magic Study
Series: Study Series #2
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Pages: 419 (paperback)
Published: May 16th 2008 (first published 2006)
Published by: MIRA Books

You know your life is bad when you miss your days as a poison taster... 

With an execution order on her head, Yelena has no choice but to escape to Sitia, the land of her birth. With only a year to master her magic - or face death - Yelena must begin her apprenticeship and travels to the Four Towers of the Magician's Keep.
But nothing in Sitia is familiar. Not the family to whom she is a stranger. Not the unsettling new facets of her magic. Nor the brother who resents her return. As she struggles to understand where she belongs and how to control her rare powers, a rogue magician emerges - and Yelena catches his eye.
Suddenly she is embroiled in battle of good against evil. And once again it will be her magical abilities that will either save her life...or be her downfall.

When we left Yelena in Poison Study she was on her way to returning to her home country of Sitia. Escaping a death warrant in the process, but also leaving behind her friends Ari and Janco and her soul mate. But this move is supposed to be a good thing. She hopes to be reunited with the family she doesn't remember and also to finally have the chance to learn about her magic rather than just fearing it and trying to hide it from those around her. Unfortunately, not everything goes to plan. Her brother is less than welcoming, and it isn't long until Yelena finds herself in trouble once more, though at least it wasn't her fault this time. Now she and the other Magicians of Sitia have just a few weeks to track down a serial killer bent on becoming an unbeatable magician through stealing the magic of others.

This book pretty much sticks to the same formula as the last one. Yelena is thrust into a new situation and everyone hates her, for one reason or another. She ignores this and gets on with what she has to do, gradually winning people to her side while working on the solving a mystery. And hey, it worked last time round - don't fix what isn't broken and all that. There is more depth this time though - not only is she missing those back in Ixia, but the people who don't like her are (or rather, should be) closer to her and the bad guys she's dealing with are a lot more dangerous.

Yelena really is a great leading lady, though. She's strong willed, knows what she wants and isn't afraid of doing in, no matter what others say. She softens some in this book; between meeting her family and her vulnerability when it comes to Valek there are more things that can hurt her, and more people she's trying to look out for.

There are a whole bunch of new characters introduced, and while the bad guys are a step up from Poison Study, most of the new friends Yelena (eventually) makes don't have a patch on Ari and Janco. Luckily, we are not deprived of their presence for the entirety of the book, and we get more of Ari's big-brother-over-protectiveness and Janco's rhymes and the banter between the two of them, and Yelena.

Of the new people she meets, most of them just seem like tide-overs. People for her to interact with (and get help and information from) until her Ixian posse show up. The one notable exception in my mind is Fisk - a beggar boy whom Yelena befriends and helps. He's clever and quick and is one of my favourite new characters. Yelena's brother Leif is another interesting character, and getting to know him and see and understand his behaviour and motivations is a nice aside to the central story. He hates Yelena, mistrusting her from the off, and is one of the fiercest believers in her status as an Ixian spy. It was nice that not everyone instantly welcomed her back with open arms and provided a nice counter-point to all the people who were quite easily won over.

When it comes to the story, there's quite a lot of wending around before things really get going. There are plenty of double-blinds, which made it less easy to guess what was coming but also a little frustrating. Even for me at a third read, I'd forgotten most of what happened in the years since I last read it and I didn't remember most of the major plot points - and twists.

This is a book which keeps you guessing, with some pretty good bad guys. The best characters are (for the most part) those brought forward from the first book, but I still enjoyed this book overall.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Illearth War

Title: The Illearth War
Series: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever #2
Author: Stephen Donaldson
Pages: 480 (paperback)
Published: 1978
Published by: Fontana/Collins

Returning to the Land, after forty years of its time, Thomas Convenant finds the powers of evil, under Lord Foul the Despiser, fully unleashed and assumes the responsibility of finding a way to defeat Lord Foul.

At the end of Lord Foul's Bane, Thomas Covenant had just awoken from his journey to The Land. At the start of the Illearth War, we rejoin him as he attempts to readjust to a life of being a leper, of having to beware of every potential threat to injury, of being outcast by his town and abandoned by his wife. He soon returns to The Land to find that 40 years have passed, not the weeks that have passed for him since his time there. A lot has changed, very little for the better.

This book is a lot easier to read than the first, and there's a lot more going on. Without all the introductory stuff you're more straight into the story. And in terms of the former, there wasn't quite as much spent in the head of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever/Idiot with some changes of POV in there too. A fair portion of the book is told from the viewpoint of Hile Troy, a new and quite interesting character who is the new Warmark of the Warward

Though, to be fair to T.C., he didn't come across as as quite as much of an idiot in this book. Maybe also because we're not in his head quite so much and don't have to listen to him complaining so much of the time. Of course this means the times when he's the focus of Hile Troy, T.C.'s actions are unexplained and often made no sense to me. Although, there doesn't seem to have been a huge amount of development in him even after all that happened in the first book. He still refuses to act in any way for most of the book, refusing to see The Land as anything but a delusion and trying to distance himself from it as much as possible despite all that links him to it. Having said this, in the pages before he returns to The Land there are certain things which occur which did make me feel quite sorry for him. I think in all the defences he throws up it's easy to forget just how much of a struggle his life must be with everything that's happened, and indeed is still happening.

In terms of the story itself, it's a lot more engaging and exciting in places, with stuff happening throughout rather than a slow build to the finale with odd other events scattered throughout. Plus there were some quite major developments at the end of the book and I'm really rather intrigued to see what happens next. I often find that the second book in a trilogy is the weakest as it serves as setting up for the big finale rather than being a story in its own right, but not so this time. Yes, there was plenty of set-up, but it didn't feel like the book had been sacrificed for the benefit of the third.

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Secret Hour

Title: The Secret Hour
Series: Midnighters #1
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Pages: 297 (paperback)
Published: March 1st 2005
Published by: Eos

Nobody is safe in the secret hour.
Strange things happen at midnight in the town of Bixby, Oklahoma.
Time freezes.
Nobody moves.
For one secret hour each night, the town belongs to the dark creatures that haunt the shadows. Only a small group of people know about the secret hour -- only they are free to move about the midnight time.
These people call themselves Midnighters. Each one has a different power that is strongest at midnight: Seer, Mindcaster, Acrobat, Polymath. For years the Midnighters and the dark creatures have shared the secret hour, uneasily avoiding one another. All that changes when the new girl with an unmistakable midnight aura appears at Bixby High School.
Jessica Day is not an outsider like the other Midnighters. She acts perfectly normal in every way. But it soon becomes clear that the dark creatures sense a hidden power in Jessica . . . and they're determined to stop her before she can use it.
A story of courage, shadowy perils, and unexpected destiny, the secret hour is the first volume of the 
mesmerizing Midnighters trilogy by acclaimed author Scott Westerfeld.

Jessica Day moves to Bixby, Oklahoma, when her mother gets a new job at the local aeroplane science centre or whatever. Small-town Bixby is a bit of a shock to the system after living in Chicago, but what is an even bigger shock is finding out she is a 'Midnighter' - one of those rare people who were born on the exact stroke of midnight, and who can access the secret hour claimed by the technology-hating dark creatures. But the big question is, what is her ability?

This book is pretty cool for many reasons. The idea that days are in fact 25 hours long, but that the darklings reclaimed the 25th for their own protection after humanity began developing technology (fire, initially) and fighting back is really inventive. And actually has something to it...if left alone without cues from daylight or clocks, the body falls into a 25-hour-day rhythm. Cool, huh?

Then there's all the maths stuff, just 'cos I'm a bit geeky like that. But in all honesty, I think most people would be impressed with the level of detail reached in the maths-y stuff going on in this book. Everything revolves around numbers in the book - most often the number thirteen. In fact, I was often disappointed when things didn't add up to the number thirteen. Like he'd missed a trick when everybody's names didn't have thirteen letters. Come on, Westerfeld, if you're going to do something, take it all the way! Though I still had a couple of pretty serious geek-out moments when he revealed some things.

But cool background stuff aside, there were some things that let this book down. Namely the characters. Jessica is the lead, and is just a normal girl. She's under pressure from her parents to do well and school, is constantly infuriated by her younger sister and just wants to fit in at her school. This aspect was nice, but my problem was that she wasn't fleshed out any. She was just those things. There didn't seem to be anything to her past that. Maybe we'll get more of a feel for her in the next two books, but that's not really a good enough excuse.

Then there were the supporting cast - the rest of the Midnighters. Rex was pretty good, and you kinda get that the whole Midnighters and their lore thing is pretty much all he is about. He obsesses over it and is constantly thinking about it it seems. Then we have Melissa and Dess - one's a polymath and one's a Mindcaster, and I honestly can't remember which is which. I struggled throughout the book with differentiating between them, because although their powers are very different, they themselves are pretty interchangeable I thought.

The story itself was easy enough to read, but it never really grabbed me. Some books, you start and you never want to stop. Some pick up towards the end, racing to the conclusion and pulling you along with them. Some books you just read, intrigued to find out what happens but not driven to. Unfortunately, this book was one of the latter. This book served well as an introduction to the world of Midnight and I think the other two books in the trilogy will probably benefit from the firm base this one provides. But building that base has unfortunately left the story lacking a little umph.

Really cool idea which hasn't been taken to it's full potential due to other issues. An interesting book, and a series that I may continue with eventually, but I'm by no means certain.

Friday, 3 May 2013

The Princess Bride - Competition!

Title: The Princess Bride
Author: William Goldman
Pages: 400 (paperback)
Published: October 20th 1999 (first published 1973)
Published by: Bloomsbury

Beautiful, flaxen-haired Buttercup has fallen for Westley, the farm boy, and when he departs to make his fortune she vows never to love another. When she hears that his ship has been captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts - who never leaves survivors - her heart is broken. But her chars draw the attention of the relentless Prince Humperdinck who wants a wife and will go to any lengths to have Buttercup. So stars a fairy tale like no other, of fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, bad men, good men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts, chases, escapes, lies, truths, passion and miracles.

"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Buttercup is the most beautiful woman in the world, but when the love of her life, Westley, is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts - who never leaves any survivors - she despairs and vows to never love again. She agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck with the understanding that she doesn't love him and never will. Many crazy things ensue when she is kidnapped by the cleverest person in the world with the aid of his henchmen: the world's most gifted swordsman and the world's strongest man.

I was a little confused going into this book. The full title is The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure; The "Good Parts" Version, Abridged by William Goldman. So I was a little confused. Because obviously the story wasn't real, so why was it pretending to be an abridgement of a historical book that didn't even exist? But I went with it, and ended up very much enjoying it. "Morgenstern's" parts were very funny, particularly at the start of the book, and the little asides that Goldman adds explaining things or giving brief descriptions of the 'excisions' he has made were often very entertaining as well. Plus there's a Zoo of Death. This name amused me greatly, and probably more than it should have done.

The characters are pretty much all wonderful. Buttercup is rather ditzy and a little over-dramatic, but it fits with the whole tone of a book where everything is a little over the top. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a whole lot of depth past loving Westley, enjoying riding horses and being very very pretty. Some of the other characters provided a little more depth and allow you to get to know - and care about them - more. Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo Montoya (Buttercup's kidnappers) are all great characters, and hearing about Fezzik's and Inigo's histories were wonderful. You can't help but feel sorry for them, and how they've ended up where they have. Inigo's story I thought was particularly good, and he's probably my favourite character from the book.

When it comes to the story it is your typical adventure story, though there are a nice couple of twists in there that I for one didn't see coming. Once it gets going and all the set-up introductory stuff is done with, which doesn't take too long thanks to the 'abridgements', the story goes along at a nice rate, and there isn't ever very long where something isn't happening. The whole everything is very creative, and the torture machine that is devised is quite ingenious, though really quite unpleasant when you think about it. Which, I suppose, is the entire point of a torture machine, so job well done there!

I didn't have any particular problem with this book that jumps out at me and thoroughly enjoyed it, but there was just that spark of something missing that stopped me from falling in love with it. Still, a book I'd definitely recommend with wonderful characters that will stay with you.

If you would like to win this book (in very good condition) just leave a comment below. I'll leave it open for two weeks and then randomly select a winner!