Thursday, March 31, 2016

March Site Update

Wow, the year's just flying by, isn't it?

The previous 11 reviews have been archived and cross-linked on the main site.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George)

My Side of the Mountain
(The My Side of the Mountain trilogy, Book 1)
Jean Craighead George
Fiction, YA Adventure
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Like many boys (and some girls), Sam Gribley dreamed of running away from home to live in the woods, like something out of an old story. Unlike most, he actually set his mind to do it. The Gribley family owns a plot of land in the Catskill Mountains, though the place was abandoned generations ago: it's here that Sam means to live his dream. He sets out with a head full of book-learned survival knowledge and a pocketful of supplies... but the wilderness isn't a library book, and the old Gribley property is nothing like Third Avenue. Can a boy raised in New York City survive in the forest, or will he turn back at the first sign of hardship, as everyone seems to expect?

REVIEW: First published in 1959, My Side of the Mountain is a classic tale of wilderness survival and the beauty of nature. Sam's adventures are, to a certain degree, wish fulfillment, emphasizing the bounty of the forest and the many delightful surprises of life beyond civilization, with minimal true danger or hardship. He makes a home inside an ancient tree, "befriends" a few animal neighbors such as the Baron Weasel and a scrawny raccoon, and even trains a wild falcon chick, Frightful, a loyal companion every child (or former child) would love to have. For all the wonders of living out his fantasy, though, the civilized world always lurks at the edge of Sam's experience: a boy just can't up and disappear into trackless wilds in modern times. Dealing with this persistent pull figures into the climax of the story. Without spoilers, the ending isn't quite what I might have hoped, though it works okay within the tone and context of the book. It's a decent tale all in all, with many delightful details and some memorable moments.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Before Adam (Jack London) - My Review
Hatchet (Gary Paulsen) - My Review
Wolf Brother (Michelle Paver) - My Review

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Six-Gun Snow White (Catherynne M. Valente)

Six-Gun Snow White
Catherynne M. Valente
Saga Press
Fiction, Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Once upon a time, in a land where white men stole and killed and conquered in a ceaseless effort to quench their thirst for power, wealthy prospector Mr. H coveted a Crow maiden named Gun That Sings. They had a single child before she escaped by the only means left to her, leaving Mr. H a widower and her half-blood daughter alone in a world that had no place for her, not among the white men or the native tribes. The girl was hidden away from the world, left free to run in the wilds of her father's estate... until Ms. M came to be the new Mrs. H. Raised in Puritan hellfire, with a strange black mirror that holds the moon, she mockingly names the child Snow White after the skin and racial purity she'll never have, not for all the torments the woman lovingly bestows upon her. Thus unfolds a tale of love and hate, of magic mirrors and dark pacts, of wicked witches and not-so-innocent maidens, of the wild and harsh Old West and curses that even death cannot break.

REVIEW: Valente promises a unique, Western twist on the familiar fairy tale, and delivers that much in full. This story reaches beyond the sanitized Disney portrayals to the dark roots first recorded by the Brothers Grimm, where keeping a song in one's heart and having animal friends doesn't guarantee happy endings and handsome princes aren't always available for rescues. This Snow White is no fainting flower, but a girl born to a world that hates her, further broken and twisted by the warped, abusive attention of a woman who herself was warped and abused in the name of the Puritan God... a woman who only found some measure of escape by turning to the very forces her religious upbringing forbade. It's not a life for a lily-handed princess, and Snow White isn't a paragon of virtue herself, doing whatever it takes to survive with the imperfect tools and stunted, bruised heart she's been given. The tale takes several downright surreal turns, with wild Western towns and traces of Native American mythos amid elements of the original fairy tale, reworked yet still recognizable: the huntsman is a Pinkerton agent, the "seven dwarves" are a town of other broken women fleeing a world that has no place for them, and the infamous heart sequence makes for an unexpected plot twist. It ends on a peculiar note. Overall, while I enjoyed Valente's style and remarkable imagination, I was just a trifle too disturbed by some parts of the story to justify a full four-star rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Sisters Brothers (Patrick deWitt) - My Review
Wicked Women (Chris Enss) - My Review
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente) - My Review

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Watership Down (Richard Adams)

Watership Down
Richard Adams
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: When little Fiver has his strange visions and unaccountable feelings, his brother Hazel long ago learned to heed them... but the Chief Rabbit of their warren refuses to believe a premonition of doom. He even sets his Owsla, the chief enforcement guards, after them when they try to flee on their own. Along with a handful of other bucks, Hazel and Fiver make good their escape - but surviving isn't easy for homeless rabbits in the English countryside. Aside from men with guns, there are elil - the "Thousand" predators - not to mention injury, illness, and exposure to contend with. Fiver's visions insist there's a safe haven to be found... but even if Hazel and the rest reach it, will they be able to build a home, not just for themselves but for does and kittens for generations to come?

REVIEW: In a special anniversary edition of this title, Richard Adams talks of how he conceived this tale in a series of car trips with his children, stories of rabbits and their adventures in the English countryside to entertain and pass the time. Since publication, however, it's been hailed as a modern classic, inspiring numerous other "animal epic" fantasies (including one of my all-time favorites, Tad Williams's Tailchaser's Song - which borrows quite heavily from this book) and additional material, not to mention generations of fans more numerous than rabbits on the downs. Others insist it's a profound work, a symbolic examination of civilization and humanity (er, animality), or otherwise worthy of display on literary pillars of ivory and gold. When I started reading, therefore, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, aside from having once seen the movie (and suspecting a fair bit was cut from the script.) It moves at a fair pace, with some lulls and rough patches now and again, as the characters slowly grow from simple names and flat descriptions to more rounded beings... beings who don't always think or act as a human would, limited by lapine mentalities that preclude much abstract thought (beyond their numerous myths of the creator Frith and the first rabbit El-ahrairah, not to mention the Death figure, the Black Rabbit of Inlé), the bucks often reducing the does to vague entities required for breeding. (I admit this last point grew subtly irksome over time, despite does playing some part in later events of the novel.) They can learn, though; indeed, the balance of tradition with novelty, good new ideas with bad ones, makes a running theme through the book, as Hazel and company encounter various problems and warrens who have fallen into snares of their own innovation. The omniscient narration, though, tends to float above and beyond the rabbits, often contributing human observations and trivia of little use or concern to the rabbits themselves as they travel through the countryside. Sometimes, the descriptions get too detailed for their own good, thick with wildflowers and grasses, though Adams does an interesting job describing the flow and character of light. There are moments of tension and lightness, heroism and cowardice, cleverness and blundering. Ultimately, it may not be the great epic novel of the ages that some make it out to be, but it's a decent story, best thought of as Adams himself describes it: an adventurous tale of English rabbits, told to while away the hours.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling) - My Review
Tailchaser's Song (Tad Williams) - My Review
Watership Down (Deluxe Edition) - Amazon DVD link

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury)

The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury
Fiction, Collection/Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A Martian woman's strange dreams provoke a strong reaction from her husband... an expedition to Mars inexplicably finds a small town from the 1950's American Midwest waiting at the landing site... a man has a strange encounter on a lonely road one long Martian night... an automated house patiently awaits the return of its masters... The story of humanity's exploration and conquest of Mars unfolds in this classic series of short stories and vignettes by noted sci-fi author Ray Bradbury.

REVIEW: I've read a couple short stories from this classic collection over the years, but never the entire volume, so I figured it was worth a try when I found the eBook version at a discount. Bradbury's work pushes into poetry, riddled with ethereal descriptions of both ordinary and extraordinary things. Though characters rarely return, the whole collection works as a narrative, as well as an examination of two civilizations doomed by their own inescapable flaws. The Martians, already in their twilight, refuse to accept what the coming of Earth-men means until it's too late, while the young hot-blooded humans, fleeing their own collapsing planet, fail to realize that the seeds of their own self-destruction are within them all along. Moments of wonder and otherworldly beauty punctuate a slow-motion tragedy, with glimmers of hope all too often quashed by Martian denial and human ignorance. It's more allegory than hard science, a space-age myth, in which the future Earth consists of hermetically-sealed 1950's white Midwestern American people, values, and lifestyles, and Mars is an especially exotic New World for human progress to destroy, plunder, and exploit. Men are independent scientists and explorers and doers, while women are needy and emotional tag-alongs. One wonders how much of this was a deliberate conceit on the part of Bradbury and how much was a result of cultural blinders of the era in which he wrote, the assumption that cultural norms (not to mention American dominance of space travel) would remain intact through interplanetary colonization. I have to admit some of those assumptions irked me, but such was the era in which Bradbury wrote these tales. They weren't meant to be literal scientific speculation anyway, but more a literary mirror to explore and expose our own flaws, not to mention the likely outcome if those flaws remain unacknowledged and unchecked. On the whole, despite some aging around the edges as the mid-century America he waxes poetic about fades ever further into history, this collection becomes more than the mere sum of its stand-alone parts, still well worthy of its classic status.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury) - My Review
Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson) - My Review
The Martian (Andy Weir) - My Review

Behind the Canvas (Alexander Vance)

Behind the Canvas
Alexander Vance
Fiewell and Friends
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Middle-schooler Claudia Miravista loves nothing more than a good art gallery - which, combined with her shyness, hardly makes her the most popular girl in class. It's not like she's a great artist herself, no matter how her grandfather praises her doodles and sketches... but she can still enjoy gazing into a painting.
She never expected anyone to gaze back.
Pim first appears in a painting at the small art museum in downtown Florence, Indiana, during a school trip, a blue-eyed boy nobody else saw. It's only later, when he "follows" her home to an oil painting in her room, that she learns his story. For three centuries, he claims, he's been trapped in a world created ages ago by mages known as Artistis, cursed by a witch. When it seems she might help him break free, Claudia willingly agrees; he's the first real friend she's ever had, after all. But art, like reality, has many more layers than meets the eye... as do people, a lesson she learns all too quickly when she steps into the world behind the canvas.

REVIEW: With a great concept and a reasonably interesting (if occasionally stubborn) heroine, Behind the Canvas makes for a fast, adventurous read. Claudia starts with the usual middle grade baggage of shyness and insecurity, her love of painting tempered by fear that she'll never be any good at art herself, plus her chronic social awkwardness. Her adventure starts fairly fast, with little of the usual dithering and foot-dragging. Naturally, she learns important life lessons in her journey, but not without a few false turns and setbacks and the odd relapse - most of which play out believably, given the often-intense situations she's in. Pim seems a simple victim of circumstances at first, but along the way, as more of his story comes out, Claudia must make some hard choices about how much to trust him. The evil witch, Nee Gezicht, is a nasty villainess and formidable foe whose taste in minions and decor has a disturbingly Surrealist streak. Defeating her is no easy task, as she has several tricks up her sleeve. Along the way, a decent helping of real-world art history is sprinkled into the tale, often with helpful footnote "excerpts" from Claudia's favorite art book, Dr. Buckhardt's Art History for the Enthusiast and the Ignorant - excerpts with the humorous touch the title implies. I read this with an internet browser window open; it was rather interesting to look at the art and the styles as Claudia encountered them. But this isn't just a thinly-disguised attempt to force-feed culture into reluctant young brains; it's a decent story in its own right, whether or not it inspires any genuine art appreciation in its readers. The ending has a few nice twists, and there are some moments of true wonder. For now, it looks to be a stand-alone tale, but I wouldn't mind exploring further behind the canvas if Vance finds more stories lurking back there.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Bruce Coville) - My Review
Stoneheart (Charlie Fletcher) - My Review
The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson) - My Review

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge)

A Fire Upon the Deep
(The Zones of Thought series, Book 1)
Vernor Vinge
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Over the countless eons of the Milky Way's existence, civilization after civilization has struggled from planet-bound primitive to higher power... each discovering, in their own time, the Zones of Thought that govern everything from native intelligence to technological capabilities. From the Unthinking Depths at the galactic center, through the Slow Zone and Beyond, to the Transcendence where essential godhood and more awaits, sophont species rise and fall in endless tides. But some who rise high have less than altruistic intentions. Though transcended Powers often have limited lifespans, they sometimes leave gifts or traps behind for those who come later - and the humans of Straumli Realm just triggered the most terrible trap the galaxy has ever known. Even as the Blight spreads, enslaving the minds of whole species, one sliver of hope remains: a single ship escaped the closing jaws, headed for an obscure spot on the edge of the Beyond. If there's a countermeasure to be found, it's there.
Jefri and Johanna Olsndot were aboard the fleeing vessel when it came to the primitive, unnamed world - and the sole waking survivors when the doglike natives attacked. While nine-year-old Jefri was taken by the fighters, his older sister Johanna was smuggled away by their enemies. Each thinking the other dead, they find themselves alone among the peculiar Tines: pack intelligences unlike anything they've ever known, embroiled in an ongoing battle between two powerful leaders for control of their medieval world. Neither side wastes any time exploiting the aliens and their technology, with the starship becoming the ultimate prize - and none, not even the children, suspect its true value.
Meanwhile, the human Ravna Bergsndot, employee at a hub of the galactic communication network called the Known Net, finds herself embroiled in the plots of a transcended Power known as the Old One. When the enemy forces strike, she and a pair of treelike Skroderiders, along with a man who may or may not be a living relic of a lost human age, become part of the rescue crew dispatched to the Tines' world... with the Blight and other enemies hot on their trail.

REVIEW: This one lingered on my Currently Reading list for quite some time, for reasons that are part of what narrowly cost it a full fourth star in the ratings. Vinge presents some excellent ideas and a rich galactic milieu with deep history (even the Known Net is a relic of long-vanished civilizations, passed down and rediscovered and maintained through the ages) and very alien races, among whom humans are a middling-at-best species. The pack minds of the Tines in particular, and their civilization that has grown because of, and often in spite of, their limitations and abilities, makes for something nicely different. I also liked the idea of the Zones of Thought, evidently inspired by ancient notions of godhood being tied to distance from the ground and expanded to a galactic scale. However, it can't help but be thick going, overwhelming at times, with the deep space distances and almost mind-boggling switches between Zones. The humans claim to have risen (or re-risen, as species often experience numerous setbacks) from a matriarchal society and a near-legendary Age of Princesses, yet the weakest, most blubbery character in the book is the lady Ravna; she's perpetually overshadowed by the old-school spacer Pham Newen, whose memories may (or may not) be mere fabrication but whose raw nuts-and-bolts mentality gets them through far more scrapes than Ravna's emotional breakdowns. The "female" of the Skroderider pair also takes a back seat to her more forceful partner. A slew of characters compete for attention, in space and on Tines' World. Ultimately, the higher struggle with the Blight and the down-to-earth struggle planetside are resolved in a single battle that's as much about gunpowder and space-age weaponry as it is about the nature of Powers and the galactic zones of thought. Meanwhile, throughout the book, snippets of traffic from the Known Net add information and occasional local color to the tale; no matter the century or species, it seems like internet capability is an irresistible temptation to spout one's half-baked theories (and propagate viruses and spam) at the universe at large. In the balance, I liked it more than I didn't, but it just grew too dense at times for me to truly enjoy, plus the subtle sexism started grating on me somewhere past the halfway point. I'd still recommend it to anyone wanting a galaxy-spanning hard SF tale with interesting ideas.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Foundation (Isaac Asimov) - My Review
Star Rigger's Way (Jeffrey A. Carver) - My Review
Dune (Frank Herbert) - My Review

Monday, March 7, 2016

Princeless: Short Stories Volume 1 (Jeremy Whitley)

Princeless: Short Stories Volume 1
(The Princeless series)
Jeremy Whitley, illustrations by Various Artists
Action Lab Entertainment
Fiction, YA Collection/Comics/Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: This collection of short stories explores various characters from the Princeless comic series. Included are:
The Thing in the Dungeon - Young Adrienne and Devin find something strange in the castle dungeon.
The Merry Adventures of Young Prince Ash - The boy who would be king undertakes a bet to race through the beast- and elf-filled forest.
The Runaway Prince and The Girl with the Giveaway Ears - Thrown into the dungeon for failing to rescue Princess Adrienne, Prince Wilcome makes a new ally who may be more trouble than she's worth.
The Smiths - The history of Adrienne's half-dwarven sidekick Bedelia.
The Princess's New Clothes - After being "rescued" by Adrienne, the vain Princess Angelica wonders if she could do more with her life than simply look gorgeous.
Nightlight - Melancholy Princess Angoisse, abandoned in a tower in the middle of the swamps, meets a dashing young man with peculiar habits.
Waiting - The waitress Aisha seizes an opportunity when a pair of adventurers and the fugitives they seek arrive at her restaurant simultaneously.
Kira's First Hunt - The wolf-girl Kira participates in a pack initiation rite that takes an unexpectedly dangerous turn.
Girls Who Fight Boys - Adrienne and Bedelia rescue Raven from under righteous Sir Zachary's nose. (Previously reviewed as part of Princeless: Get Over Yourself).

REVIEW: Yes, I know it's been a rather Princeless-heavy review streak this month. I had a Barnes & Noble coupon to burn off... This is the last one for a while, I swear. Anyway, this collection is a mixed bag. Some of these stories are interesting and fun, foreshadowing future developments in the series. A couple hint at possible spin-offs. But others seem oddly pointless, with less of the wit that makes the Princeless series so enjoyable. The changing artists also made it a little hard to track who was who, particularly in The Girl with the Giveaway Ears, and several of the wolves in Kira's tale were difficult to tell apart. Some images were tough to decipher for being so dark, as well. Overall, it's not bad, worth reading if you're following the series.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Cinder Edna (Ellen Jackson) - My Review
The Paper Bag Princess (Robert N. Munsch) - My Review

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Princeless: Be Yourself (Jeremy Whitley)

Princeless: Be Yourself
(The Princeless series, Volume 4)
Jeremy Whitley, illustrations by Emily Martin and Brett Grunig
Action Lab Entertainment
Fiction, YA Comics/Fantasy
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: After a seafaring side trip, Princess Adrienne and her sidekicks head to the swamps to rescue Adrienne's middle sister, Angoisse. She was always the broody one, pining for boys she couldn't have and joy she'd never feel for the perpetual gloom of her soul... a real ball of sunshine and roses. But even as Adrienne and company fight their way through beasts and goblins and Sparky's patented crash-landings, Angoisse may have finally found the man of her dreams - if he's truly a man, and not a nightmare...
Meanwhile, in a last-ditch effort to make a "proper" man and future ruler out of his only son, King Ashe brings Devin to the place where the queen's carriage was ambushed by the possible-traitor Black Knight; maybe the anger will put some fire in the weak child's guts. But Devin doesn't think the evidence points to murder. The boy determines to set off on his own quest to find his mother - along with some unwanted help, the wolf-girl Kira.

REVIEW: With Volume 3 devoted to launching Raven's spinoff, I enjoyed getting back to Adrienne's quest. A hilarious, heart-filled adventure awaits in the swamps, as they cross paths with goblins and deal with swampland politics, with more surprises and snicker-worthy moments awaiting at Angoisse's tower. The dragon Sparky even gets a turn as heroine, loaned out to help the locals deal with a troublesome monster. As before, Adrienne's direct method of heroism isn't always the most effective, but she's learning, as are those around her. Back home, Devin finally gets a chance to come into his own. The new illustrators are nice, without the odd pink fetish from the previous issue. I'm looking forward to future installments.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Fairy Quest: Outcasts #1 (Paul Jenkins) - My Review
Heroics for Beginners (John Moore) - My Review
Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud) - My Review

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Someone Else's Fairytale (E. M. Tippetts)

Someone Else's Fairytale
(The Someone Else's Fairytale series, Book 1)
E. M. Tippetts
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Romance
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Chloe Winters doesn't know why she let her roommate Lori talk her into being an extra with her on a Jason Vanderholt movie shooting in town; Lori's the one with the crush on America's hottest star, not her. She certainly didn't do anything to attract the man's attention. Working on a double-major at the University of New Mexico and angling for a career in forensics, she doesn't have time for a love life, and being the daughter of a teen mother via a married man makes her disinclined to sleep around, a trait that's cost her a few relationships. But Jason didn't get the memo, and somehow an awkward conversation becomes a movie premiere and Skype calls. Anyone else would be swooning over their fantasy come true, but "anyone else" isn't Chloe Winters. She's not the Hollywood type, and he has a reputation as a partying man. As nice as he proves to be off-camera, romance would be completely disastrous for both of them. Besides, Chloe's seen what love does to people's lives, and she just plain can't afford it. Not even with a man like Jason Vanderholt.

REVIEW: At the outset, I enjoyed the promise and the characters. Chloe's been scarred - literally - by a hard life, raised by a mother who never grew up and despised by her wealthy half-siblings to the point of physical attack. Few of her friends can understand her seemingly old-fashioned relationship ideas, especially as she's not chaste for religious reasons. (Indeed, several subplots deal with the role of sex in various people's lives and relationships, good and bad.) Chloe seems fairly on the ball - at first. As the story goes on, though, she becomes more and more oblivious to blatantly obvious clues, particularly about men, jumping to an awful lot of conclusions for someone who aspires to a scientific career. Jason starts off fairly flat, a guy pursuing Chloe because she's the lead in a romance novel and that's what the love interest does, though he gains a little depth later on... only to lose some of that depth toward the end. The relationship between Jason and Chloe has some ups and downs, as one might expect in a romance, many of the "downs" precipitated by Chloe and her unresolved issues about love and her own rocky past. Jason's life is no fairytale, either, dogged by fans and paparazzi, with nearly every moment of his life laid bare by scoop-hungry tabloids. There's a smattering of insight into the cult of fame and life as a Hollywood A-lister, here. Adapting to that kind of lifestyle, especially for a private girl like Chloe, is no easy task, a believably steep obstacle to overcome.
What really held this one back in the ratings were the multiple subplots and peripheral characters, many of which seemed to exist largely to draw out the story. The half-brother who once attacked Chloe comes back... only to go away again long before the end. Chloe's best friend Matthew plays heavily into a possible love triangle... but that fizzles out awkwardly. Other subplots deal with Chloe's immature mother, Jason's family (particularly a teen girl looking to follow in Chloe's mother's footsteps), roomie Lori's relationship, and more. Early focus on Chloe's career choice and personal interest in forensics falls by the wayside, just one of a tangle of competing side-tracks. The later parts of the book feel downright disorganized, as though Tippetts didn't have quite enough romance to fill the word count and scrambled to fluff and stretch the plot with unneeded filler. When I saw that the rest of the Someone Else's Fairytale series transitions from romance to mystery, some of the extra weight made sense, but not within the context of this ostensibly stand-alone tale. By trying to do too much and establish so many extra things for future installments, it becomes weak. The ends a little too neatly, with the finale feeling both stretched and oddly abrupt.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Wicked Games (Jessica Clare and Jill Myles) - My Review
When Lightning Strikes (Brenda Novak) - My Review
Bidding On Brooks (Katy Regnery) - My Review

Friday, March 4, 2016

Princeless: The Pirate Princess (Jeremy Whitley)

Princeless: The Pirate Princess
(The Princeless series, Volume 3)
Jeremy Whitley, illustrations by Rosy Higgens and Ted Brandt
Action Lab Entertainment
Fiction, YA Comics/Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: The would-be hero Princess Adrienne is en route to rescue one of her sisters when she and her companions, dragon Sparky and half-dwarf smith Bedelia, happen upon another girl locked in a tower. It isn't until after the rescue that they learn she's Raven Xingtao, daughter of the Pirate King, long-time enemy of Adrienne's father Ashe and other nobles of the land. The princess's crusade takes an unexpected detour when Raven "borrows" Sparky for a personal project: tracking down the brothers who imprisoned her and usurped her rightful place as the Pirate King's heir.
This volume contains all four issues of the Pirate Princess sequence.

REVIEW: Raven stars in her own spin-off series after this adventure - and it's quite clear from the outset that she's being set up for her own stories. Indeed, she fairly bowls over most of the cast - even Adrienne - for a good portion of the book. It doesn't help that the new artists lean toward the pink end of the color palette. The hero princess still has a lot to learn about her chosen career, not to mention letting her anger and impulses get her into situations she can't easily get back out of. Raven, on the other hand, knows just what she's doing, merely lacking the means to obtain her goal... at least, until a helpful rescuer introduces her to a malleable lady dragon. After a bit of an uneven start, the tale wraps up in fine form, with a preview that tempts me to explore Raven's standalone adventures. It's more of a detour than a continuation of the Princeless story, but a reasonably entertaining one. I'm looking forward to getting back to Adrienne's quest in Volume Four, though.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Piratica (Tanith Lee) - My Review
Bloody Jack (L. A. Meyer) - My Review
Princeless: Save Yourself (Jeremy Whitley) - My Review

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Last Dragonslayer (Jasper Fforde)

The Last Dragonslayer
(The Chronicles of Kazam series, Book 1)
Jasper Fforde
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Once upon a time, magic was the ultimate force in the world, able to conjure castles in an afternoon or relocate mountains on a whim. Today, there's barely enough wizidrical energy in the Ununited Kingdoms to fly a carpet or unblock a drain, with technology beating it handily for cost and reliability. Some say it's just the way of the world, that magic is a finite resource that will, like the veins of underground marzipan, eventually be used up for good. Others say that magic has always been tied to dragons. Only one still lives - and now, premonitions around the world peg Maltcassion as slain inside a week.
Jennifer Strange, a nearly-sixteen-year-old foundling raised by the nuns of the sacred Lobster, may technically be an indentured servant at Kazam Mystical Arts Management, but in truth she runs the place after the founder, the Great Zambini, literally disappeared in a puff of smoke and never reappeared. For all their powers, wizards are in fact rather childish, relying heavily on their mundane managers to wrangle work and fill out the mountain of government forms, though their egos never permit them to admit it. Only a handful of wizards at Kazam still have enough juice to earn a living, reduced to home and lawn service and the odd pizza delivery - barely enough to pay the bills, and even those contracts are drying up. As she helps settle a new servant, young Tiger Prawns, into life at Kazam, the pre-cogs light up with news of the dragon's impending death, even as surges of wizidrical power well into the megashandars burst through the kingdom of Hereford. Big Magic is stirring, prophecies are on the verge of fulfillment, and everyone from King Snodd to TV talk show hosts turns their eye to the Dragonlands: the last unspoiled wilderness in the land, just begging for development as soon as the big firebag drops dead. All the world waits with bated breath for the Last Dragonslayer to arrive... possibly Jennifer Strange herself.

REVIEW: I've heard nothing but great things about Jasper Fforde, how clever and smart and downright hilarious his books are. Not being literate enough in the classics to attempt his Thursday Next series, I figured a young adult fantasy with dragons would be much more my speed. Unfortunately, having finished it, I still fail to see the clever, smart story I was promised. It feels more like someone yelling random silly things at me, and expecting me to find them funny because they're being yelled, and because they're silly. One wizard is named Full Price - that's FUNNY! He turns into a walrus - walruses are FUNNY! Now there's a kid named Tiger Prawns - that's another FUNNY name! Laugh, already! Silliness alone, sadly, isn't enough for me to find a thing funny. Context is a big part of humor, and the context here is mostly more silliness. The characters are largely childish and unpleasant, few being deeper than the paper they were written on, though the dragon bordered on intriguing. Jennifer often feels like an empty shell of a protagonist, even though she's narrating the tale in first person; she gives lip service to deeper personality, but I didn't feel it myself. As for the story, it just never takes off like it should. I was past the halfway mark before I saw any real depth to the thing, and even that never quite coalesced into anything more than a heavy-handed statement about modern greed and short-sighted consumerism. The conclusion seems to be pulled out of nowhere like a magician's handkerchief chain, and frankly Jennifer's world didn't earn or deserve its outcome. Maybe Fforde's humor just doesn't translate well to the young adult fantasy medium, or it doesn't carry across the Atlantic as well as Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, or it simply isn't my cup of cocoa. Whatever the reason, I didn't enjoy it; had it not read so fast, and had I not been so determined to find the witty story I'd been promised, I doubt I would've bothered finishing it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Goblin Quest (Jim C. Hines) - My Review
The Accidental Sorcerer (K. E. Mills) - My Review
The Princess and the Firedrake (Jim Stinson) - My Review