Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review: Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Arrows of the Queen
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: DAW Books
Series: Heralds of Valdemar Series, #1
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: March 1987
How Received: Own


Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a run-away, has now become a trainee Herald, destined to become one of the Queen's own elite guard. For Talia has certain awakening talents of the mind that only a Companion like Rolan can truly sense.

But as Talia struggles to master her unique abilities, time is running out. For conspiracy is brewing in Valdemar, a deadly treason which could destroy Queen and kingdom. Opposed by unknown enemies capable of both diabolical magic and treacherous assassination, the Queen must turn to Talia and the Heralds for aid in protecting the realm and insuring the future of the Queen's heir, a child already in danger of becoming bespelled by the Queen's own foes!

My thoughts:
I should start out by mentioning that I’ve been enamored by the Heralds of Valdemar Series since I was 10. I’ve loved these books so much that I re-read them every summer, without fail!

This time around was just as enjoyable as every other time I’ve read my very worn-out copy. The country of Valdemar is unique compared to other worlds I’ve been introduced to in fantasy. Each area has a set of customs and a general persona surrounding it; the Holderkin folk are more reserved, and frown upon unseemly behavior, while the fisherfolk in Lake Evendim are more rowdy.

The main character, Talia, originally hailed from the Holderkin folk. Due to this, she’s a very reclusive, shy, and fearful creature being thrust into a world of Heralds. Heralds are those who are chosen by Companions (can be likened to a horse) and form an intense bond with them. What I loved most about Talia is that she isn’t your average “Mary-Sue” character: she’s been described as not pretty and has her fair share of flaws to balance her strengths. There were a lot of times where she was average at best, and was humble enough to recede “winning” to her other classmates. Throughout the entire novel, you could visibly (well, okay, not visibly, but you get what I mean!) see her transform from this tiny, mouse-like thirteen-year-old into a reasonably sure, confident woman of sixteen years who knew where her place was.

I was always a bit put-off with where Talia started at: the Hold. The idea of a woman’s inferiority was like a slap in the face, since I’m very much for equality between genders. I know it probably didn’t reflect Lackey’s personal beliefs, but I had to shake my head in disgust every time I read the beginning of the book and see how broken Talia had become because of the males’ superiority complexes in the Hold. She lost so much spirit that we heard of her fear of men on a recurring basis. It lifted a bit towards the end, but I felt for Talia on such a profound level. Poor thing.

There were four major storylines in this novel: Talia’s encounter with the Heraldic world and being accustomed to the Collegium, her misfortunes with the Blues, reforming “The Brat” into “Elspeth”, and lastly, honing her abilities of her gift. There was a noticeable shift between them – you’d be reading about the Blues, then all of a sudden we’re thrust into Talia’s new roles with The Brat – yet it was discreet enough to not realize we were venturing into another “plot” in the book until later.

Interactions with characters were... pleasant, for lack of a better word. Being a Herald entitles the fact that you can’t be evil or else your Companion would repudiate you, so everyone was pretty friendly with each other. However, I felt that a lot of the characters personalities meshed together. I could never distinguish between Teren’s or Kyril’s “voices”, and almost everyone spoke similarly. I suppose I shouldn’t be nit-picky about that, because Heralds are inherently personality “readers”, but it put me off a little bit. The only characters that stood out, really, were Skif and Elspeth.

My favorite characters HAD to be Jadus and Skif. I loved the emotional stability they gave to Talia. It was hard not to like Skif: he was a trouble-maker that knew how to put a smile on my face. With Jadus, though, I mostly sympathized for him. If I were in Talia’s position, I know I would have quickly befriended him, as well. There’s something about elderly folk that just screams at my heart-strings, and Jadus certainly needed a friend in his lonely days.

I loved the plot, especially the bondings with Companions. It was slightly reminiscent of Impressing a dragon in The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. I’ve always been fascinated in having a bond with another being that transcended all boundaries, and the Companions were no different! The pacing of the novel wasn’t too shabby, although I did get a little sidetracked after the Elspeth arc (but that was due to personal issues). Tragedies and fast-paced events littered the pages of Arrows of the Queen, but I liked it that way. In a world of fantasy, I expect to be thrown every which way without getting a full impact until after it’s over, so I like a “busy” plotline.

Cover Musings: I’m not too crazy about the cover. I never have been. I should be nice since it was released in 1987, and I suppose the cover would have been pretty cool back then. But present-day, I totally blanch when I look at it. I love the picture of Rolan, and the blue /purple color scheme, but I disliked the portrayal of Talia. It’s just a personal pet-peeve of mine: I dislike having an image distort what I perceive a character looks like. I think the only thing I thought was really awesome about this cover is the castle in the back (but only because I wasn’t sure how to picture it!).

Memorable Quotes:
Yes—at last—you. I Choose you. Out of all the world, out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of my heart! You are mine and I am yours—and never again will there be loneliness—
It was a feeling more than words; a shock and a delight. A breathless joy so deep it was almost pain; a joining. A losing and a finding; a loosing and a binding. Flight and freedom. And love and acceptance past all words to tell of the wonder of it—and she answered that love with all her soul.” (pg. 24

“Abstract thought takes a poor second place to berry pies when you’re only thirteen.” (pg. 128)

“‘If you think it’s worth wasting your time on me—’
He put a finger under her chin, tilting her head up so that she had nowhere to look but his earnest, kindly eyes. ‘Time spent with you, my dear, will never be wasted. Believe it.’” (pg. 157)

“‘I knew that she and Dantris were good, but I have never seen anyone move like they did—I never even knew you could slingshot into a dive from the back of a Companion in full gallop.’” (pg. 175)

“‘[...] The official story is that he was killed in a hunting accident along with his friends.’
‘I suppose that’s marginally true. They were hunting Selenay.’
Jadus grimaced. ‘Child, you have a macabre sense of humor.’” (pg. 203)

“They were all of them, more than friends; they were kin—the important kind, soul-kindred. Her family. Her real family. This was where she’d belonged all along; as she’d told Skif, it had just taken her this long to see it.” (pg. 320)

Overall & Final Comments: Even after this re-read, I still love the Heralds of Valdemar series as much as I did when I picked it up ten years ago. I love the storyline, the incorporation of Companions and the lore behind them, the characters, the pacing, the events (albeit some sad ones) that happened, just... everything! I could talk forever and ever about Arrows of the Queen and never be satisfied. I’ve always loved Mercedes Lackey’s writing, and probably always will. I’d recommend this series to people who aren’t even into fantasy, but that may be only because I’m a bit biased towards this novel.

Rating: 5/5

An excerpt of Chapter One can be found here: Chapter 1 Exerpt

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Challenge: Sword of Truth Reading Challenge!

Everyone loves a good fantasy, so Erica and Chelsea have teamed up to host the Sword Of Truth Reading Challenge! The Sword of Truth series is written by Terry Goodkind, and the first book was published in 1994.

The Challenge:
Read and review all 12 of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth books (well 11 books and 1 prequel) by 
September 1, 2010 the release of The Omen Machine in early 2011.

The Books (in order):
Wizard's First Rule
Stone of Tears
Blood of the Fold
Temple of the Winds
Soul of the Fire
Faith of the Fallen
The Pillars of Creation
Naked Empire

Debt of Bones (prequel, can be read at any time throughout the series).

If you've read the series by the release of 
The Omen Machine, you can win some really awesome prizes. Just keep checking their blogs for updates, as they'll be posting a review for every book they read.

Sign up by commenting here or here :)

Promote the challenge by grabbing this nifty button! Erica also has one she made up on her blog post, or you can always feel free to make your own! (If you do, send it to one of us and we may add it to the collection! But if you want to use this one, just right click and save to your computer, and then post it in your sidebar, on your facebook, etc) You can also click this button to head to Erica's blog, where you can also find out about the challenge - we'll both be giving away prizes, talking about the books, etc, so make sure to check back if you're signing up for the challenge!

Personal Thoughts: I'm excited for this challenge! It's my very first, so that makes it all the more special. I've always meant to get around to reading the Sword of Truth series, especially since I've heard such great things about it from my friends. This challenge makes reading this series a good incentive! <3 

Review: The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Daughter
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Series: Iron Fey #2
Pages: 368
Genre: Young Adult
Release Date: August 1, 2010
How Received: Library

Summary: Half Summer faery princess, half human, Meghan has never fit in anywhere. Deserted by the Winter prince she thought loved her, she is prisoner to the Winter faery queen. As war looms between Summer and Winter, Meghan knows that the real danger comes from the Iron fey—ironbound faeries that only she and her absent prince have seen. But no one believes her.

Worse, Meghan's own fey powers have been cut off. She's stuck in Faery with only her wits for help. Trusting anyone would be foolish. Trusting a seeming traitor could be deadly. But even as she grows a backbone of iron, Meghan can't help but hear the whispers of longing in her all-too-human heart.
My thoughts:
I wasn’t blown away by the Iron Daughter.  Well, let me go back and say I wasn’t blown away by the Iron King, which is its prequel, either. The main reason I say this? The pacing of the book. A lot of the book really dragged on, with lengthy descriptions or a stale plot (not that I’m saying the former is bad!). While I was reading, I kept getting up from my seat, or got distracted by Facebook. Don’t get me wrong: I love the series, but it didn’t hold my attention for long.

That being said, I stuck the book out because I absolutely love the concept of the story and looove the characters. The world of Nevernever is introduced to the readers once again, thrusting them into a somewhat familiar landscape. The book opens up with Meghan in the icy, treacherous Winter Court this time, as opposed to the vibrant Summer Court.

I found Meghan absolutely whiny in Winter, and she just nearly pissed me off a couple of times. Honestly, she did. She kept going on and on about whether or not Ash really did love her, because he was being so cold and aloof towards her. HELLO?! She knows that Ash can’t favor her in the Unseelie court. She knows that it’s forbidden for Summer and Winter to be in love, and his title as prince sure doesn’t help. It was even more annoying, because Ash had specifically told her in Winter’s Passage that he couldn’t show her how he felt towards her – that showing emotion in Winter Court is a weakness. Meghan, you’re supposed to be a strong character – stop doubting the one you love!

Even after the whole Ash-ignoring her thing, she kept being whiny throughout the entire book about him, and wanting to be around him. I suppose I like the fact that she kept her head up and pursued Ash despite how many times he “rejected” her, but I wish she could have done so in a less whiny manner.

The other characters, however, made up for our whiny heroine. Out of nowhere, Puck returned on the scene! Thrusting him back into the story without any warning at all was... actually, it was pretty damn awesome! You guys have no idea how much I jumped, started to dance, partied, etc. when Puck randomly waltzes in to save the day. I slightly wish we had more back-story on how he recovered and how he even found them. Meghan didn’t even seem inquisitive at all as to how Puck returned to them. She just acted as if him returning from the dead was a daily thing.

Grimalkin’s reappearance also made me really happy. Puck and Grim were my two favorites in Iron King, so it was nice to have them back (especially since I wasn’t sure if Grim was coming back). I had almost forgotten his end of the bargain in the Iron King, so I hadn’t been expecting his reappearance, either.

The last character I have to mention is the reappearance of a familiar face, but this time, he’s on the good side: Ironhorse! I wasn’t too thrilled that Meghan allowed him to join her “group”. He didn’t even need to convince them that much: all of a sudden he was an ally and a friend. Just like that. But then he started becoming one of my favorite characters. He’s so gallant, loyal, and truly never backed out on his word.

Towards the end of the book, a lot of things that I thought had been dragged out came to a page-turning climax. Around page 320 (not exact), I couldn’t put the book down, which made up for its slow progression. Meghan’s new abilities and her encounter with the scepter really left me intrigued, and wanting more – what in the world is going to happen?! I thought something would have happened with the shedding of a new plot, but had my hopes crushed when Meghan made her final decision at the end.

Cover Musings: I can’t even convey how much I love the Iron Daughter’s cover. The swirls on the edges of the book seem almost magical. The colors meshed together well, and the inscription at the bottom made me want to grab the book (I was in the bookstore at the time) and run out to read it immediately. I love the model they used for the cover – I normally don’t like having people on covers, but I’ll make an exception for this one: she’s gorgeous!

Memorable Quotes:
I actually had a lot of these, so it’ll be tough to pick just a few. (Oh, and yes, a LOT of my quotes are Puck-heavy, haha.)

“Puck glanced from me to Ash and back again, looking confused. ‘Erm, so you’re saying you don’t want to go back home?’ he asked me. I glared at him, and he shrugged. ‘Wow, so that totally makes the whole rescue plan a wash. You wanna throw me a bone here, Princess? I feel somewhat out of the loop.’”

“‘This isn’t a game, Meghan! The shit is about to hit the fan, and you’re right in the middle of it without knowing enough to duck!’”

“‘Things are going to get screwed eight ways from Sunday, and you’re making goo-goo eyes at the enemy!’”

“I could handle goblins and bogeymen and evil, flesh-eating horses, but giant freaking spiders? That’s where I drew the line.”

“‘You know, I’m really starting to hate the insect life around here,’ he muttered. ‘Next time, remind me to bring a can of Off!’”

“‘You didn’t have to kill it,’ I told Ironhorse, dusting off my pants. ‘It was like three inches tall!’
‘Yeah, but you don’t need a machine gun to kill a fly.’”

“‘I would kiss you, cat,’ Puck said as we crowded through the doorway, ‘if we weren’t in such a hurry. Also, the hairballs could be unpleasant.’”

“After everything we’d done, everything we’d gone through, to have some faery bitch accuse me of lying was the last straw.”

Overall Thoughts/Final Comments: I really enjoyed the Iron Daughter. I love the storyline, the characters, and the humor that Julie Kagawa can manage to incorporate in a seemingly dire circumstance. I had a bit of trouble reading the book in one sitting (it actually took me three days! That never happens!), but I love the series, so I was able to finish. I enjoyed Julie Kagawa’s creativity when it comes to the Iron fey, and I’m really curious as to how she’ll wrap the series up.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Author: Maggie Stiefvater 
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Series: Wolves of Mercy Falls Series #2
Pages: 362
Genre: Young Adult
Release Date: July 13, 2010
How Received: Library (finally! <3)

Summary: In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past... and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves... and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love - the light and the dark, the warm and the cold - in a way you will never forget.

 My Thoughts
Linger really danced to its own tune -- the overall tone and atmosphere of the book radically transitioned from a desperate, urgent love story in Shiver to a more passive, heart-breaking tale of four emotionally crushed teenagers that delves into the complexities of their backgrounds and personalities. Sam and Grace are forced into fighting for their love, overcoming one burden, only to be presented with the next, all the while dealing with the pain of separation and the looming knowledge that something's happening to Grace that neither are willing to admit. Isabel, making a reappearance as a new POV, has her own demons to deal with: self-inflicted guilt over Jack, conflicting emotions over Sam and Cole, and her unwillingness to feel the pain that's subsiding within her. We're introduced to a new character, Cole -- a boy who chose the 'werewolf' lifestyle -- who turns out to be as damaged as Sam; he comes off as aloof, cynical, and cocky, but redeems himself towards the end of the novel.

I only recently got a recommendation for the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and by the time I got around to Shiver, Linger had come out. As a new reader, I was able to read the stories back-to-back, which I think really helped me fall in love with Linger. Reflecting on it, I realized that Linger barely had any transitions from its prequel. The reader is suddenly thrust into a story with characters that are already molded and barely summarized. Sure, that's the way series are meant to be read, but what about all the readers that didn't re-read Shiver before picking up Linger? Don't they deserve some love? Also, I didn't like that we got lengthy descriptions of Mercy Falls and the intricacies of the teenage mind, but barely any character descriptions. I kept having to refer back to old passages to re-claim the way a character looked.

One thing that really bothered me was the timeline for Linger. I'm a bit obsessive compulsive with time and I've gotten used to actually having a timeline in a story (e.g. Harry Potter or House of Night). A school isn't always required for a timeline -- months are great, too. But in Linger, all we have are seasons. I was a bit frustrated at the beginning of the series because I didn't know where I was compared to Shiver. There were a couple of places that said, "A few months" and then Grace had commented on making her New Years' Resolution, throwing me off balance yet again. After thinking on it, I realized it meant that Grace had made her Resolution a few months later, but it had been confusing, nonetheless.

The pacing was slow enough to frustrate/bore me at times. As a writer myself, I loved the fact that she incorporated a plethora of details about the world around her. Maggie's writing is phenomenal, and her prose was what drew me in initially (alongside the plot, of course). I love the fact that we get to read about the mundane aspects of the characters' relationships, as it gives insight to the characters, how they strengthen their bonds, and their overall personalities. However, it lagged. I kept getting up for breaks and my mind kept wandering to Facebook. The only time I was ever engaged in the book (to the point where I couldn't put it down) were the last forty or so pages.

The alternating POVs were a fresh contrast to Sam's and Grace's POVs. I'm not that fond of books with shifting POVs; however, I didn't mind it as much in Shiver or Linger because it gave us further insight to the budding relationships of our teenage lovers. Isabel and Cole had me laughing, empathizing, crying -- it was really engaging, and the pair almost usurped my love for Sam and Grace. Almost. I can say with a definite declaration, though, that Cole is now my new favorite character in this series. <3

Linger's ending was amazing -- ironic, urgent, and leaving you yearning for more! My only [very small] problem with the ending was that it was too reminiscent of Shiver's ending. The characters have 320 or so pages to contemplate the situations at hand -- Sam turning into a human and Grace turning into a wolf -- yet only do so the last 20/30 pages in spur of the moment decisions. But alas, it's a very small, nit-picky concern. I knew it might have happened at some point, but the fact that Grace had finally transformed into what Sam attempted so desperately to escape was undeniably ironic. "The cure" left me wondering and suddenly very eager for Forever's release. I can't wait to see how Maggie Stiefvater will wrap this series up!

Cover Musings: The cover was what made me decide to move this series up to my TBR list. As for Linger itself, wow. Just wow. I loved seeing the woods that Grace's "wolf-self" seemed so entranced with. I always assumed the girl walking through the trees was foreshadowing, so it made me love the cover even more. The red blot above the "i" sticks out with the rest of the color scheme -- not just the black letters for the titles, but the green as well -- and it really reels you in. I have to agree with Maggie's acknowledgement to her jacket designer, Chris Stengel: he is a graphic god! Aesthetically, Linger is up there in my favorites.

Memorable Quotes
This is a love story. I never knew there were so many kinds of love or that love could make people do so many different things. I never knew there were so many different ways to say good-bye.
I rolled my eyes toward her and she added, "It’s like you never wear clothes. You’re always naked when I see you."
Could I believe the science concocted in a hospital cafeteria over lukewarm coffee and crumpled napkins? It was all I had.
"Or even tell me it’s because you could not live without The Boy’s stunning Boyfruits for another night."

Rating: 5/5

Overall & Final Comments: I have a love/dislike relationship with Linger.  I fell in love with Shiver, and I felt for it on a deeper, more profound level in Linger. I love the plot, the characters (old and new), and the mystery revolving around the wolves. There are things that I disliked about the novel, such as pacing and lack of timeline, but honestly, they're negligible compared to the novel overall. I was SO happy to finally get a chance to read this, and I can't think of a better way to sum up my final thoughts other than this: I loveloveloved it! <3