Saturday, December 31, 2016

December Site Update and Year in Review

Well, the last ten reviews of 2016 have been archived and cross-linked on the main site.

Looking back, it wasn't the greatest of years on many levels (perhaps the understatement of all time). I thought I'd take a look back on my reading year.

January
The year started off with some decent reads that linger well in the memory. Jess E. Owen's Song of the Summer King, a magical tale of gryphons, still has me wanting to read the sequel. Kennedy Warne's Let Them Eat Shrimp introduced me to yet another global environmental disaster, with some few shreds of hope that people might wake up in time to change things. And I remembered why I loved Katherine Applegate when I read her delightful, deceptively simple The One and Only Ivan.

February
I went on a Princeless binge this month, enjoying the first two volume collections of Jeremy Whitley's trope-inverting fantasy comic books. Thanks to a discounted eBook, I finally read the first published Discworld novel by the late, great Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic. And I had my greatest reading surprise of the year when a nonfiction book about sports and history became one of my favorites: Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat, about the underdog college rowing team that went all the way to the Berlin Olympics.

March
This month, I ranged from new publications to classics. Behind the Canvas, Alexander Vance's middle-grade art fantasy, was the first 2016 publication I read in the year. Then I ranged back to the mid-20th century with Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. I also finally explored the world of English rabbits in Richard Adams's Watership Down... little realizing that Adams would be following the Black Rabbit at the end of the year.

April
April proved a generally disappointing month. High hopes were dashed when I read the first Sharing Knife book by Lois McMaster Bujold, Beguilement; after reading so many positive things about it, my own reaction was profound disappointment.

May
After a dull April, my reading selections picked up in May. James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small remains a classic worth revisiting. Jeff Vandermeer's peculiar writing advice volume Wonderbook informed and inspired.

June
This month brought me one of the year's most amusing reads, Platte F. Clarke's Bad Unicorn. It also marked a personal reading milestone as I finally crawled across the finish line on the unabridged Moby Dick, Melville's "experimental" classic... an experience I now never have to repeat.

July
Not all classics need be tiring slogs though; July introduced me to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which still brings thrills and twists more than 70 years after it was published. I also took a trip down memory lane when I found a half-price copy of Dragon Magic, an Andre Norton fantasy my impatient childhood self never finished. And I discovered how lyrical an autobiography could be in Beryl Markham's West With the Night.

August
Another month running the gamut from old works (Clifford D. Simak's City) to new (Anthony Ryan's The Waking Fire.) Erin Bowman's Vengeance Road gave new life to Westerns, and Jack Horner's How to Build a Dinosaur explored new and exciting discoveries and possibilities in paleontology. I also finally "met" the noted, popular author Sherman Alexie with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

September
I learned the hard way that nostalgia should sometimes be left alone when I read Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, and found the book less wondrous than my memories of the movie. I also explored the roots of modern fantasy with Fritz Leiber's still-readable first collection of tales about the iconic heroes Fafhyrd and the Grey Mouser in Swords and Deviltry. And I got around to George Orwell's Animal Farm, blissfully unaware how prophetic it would prove.

October
Old-fashioned adventure yarns are alive and well in David D. Levine's throwback-style space fantasy Arabella of Mars.Mac Barnett's picture book How This Book Was Made made for delightful reading. And Elizabeth Bear's Range of Ghosts explored beyond the usual pseudo-European roots of fantasy as it mined Asian and Mongolian myths. Finally, I hit the nostalgia bin once more to reread a childhood favorite, Norma Fox Mazer's Saturday, the Twelfth of October.

November
A gut-punch of a month, all in all, in which I only managed to read four books, about the lowest monthly total since I've been keeping this blog. Wade Albert White's The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes provided some much-needed levity, as did Joshua Hale Fialkov's King: The Graphic Novel.

December
The year closed out with another graphic novel binge, this time Joshua Williamson's and Andrei Bressan's Birthright series. Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine, struck a little close to home with its alternate-future fantasy world in which knowledge is controlled by a corrupt global force. And Peter Brown, whom I'd only known from picture books, moves to longer-form middle grade work with his imaginative The Wild Robot.

And that wraps up the year in review. The previous summaries glossed over several excellent (and less-than-excellent) titles, naturally, but they're a rough look back at what stands out in my memory after twelve months and numerous reviews.

Onward to 2017!

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Wild Robot (Peter Brown)

The Wild Robot
Peter Brown
Little, Brown Books
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: A hurricane, a sinking ship, and a cargo crate washed upon the shore of a remote island... thus begins the story of Roz the robot. Activated accidentally by a curious otter, she finds herself alone in the wilderness, surrounded by animals, with no apparent purpose but those she discovers for herself. As she learns the languages of beasts and the ways of nature, Roz becomes more than a mere metal tool - and when she hatches a gosling, she becomes a mother.

REVIEW: This is an odd, fast-reading tale, a science fiction fable of sorts, with more going on beneath the surface than the simple storytelling language indicates. As a robot, Roz was programmed to learn and adapt to help humans - but, without humans and a clear task before her, she becomes much more than her makers intended, even as she teaches the animals to become more than instinct and habit have made them. Around the edges are hints of a global warming devastated future, more fully revealed by the migration of her goose "son" Brightbill. When civilization tries to reclaim its wayward creation, the climax reveals just how much Roz and her friends have changed - a promise, perhaps, of a future beyond humanity. The end is a little bittersweet and a touch inconclusive, and the characters felt a little simple now and again, but overall I liked it enough to give it the benefit of the doubt with a full Good rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate) - My Review
Sky Coyote (Kage Baker) - My Review
The Iron Giant (Signature Edition)- Amazon DVD link

Friday, December 23, 2016

Eurekaaargh! (Adam Hart-Davis)

Eurekaaargh!: A Spectacular Collection of Inventions That Nearly Worked
Adam Hart-Davis
Michael O'Mara Books Limited
Nonfiction, Science
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Steam engines, powered flight, flush toilets... all these revolutionary inventions helped create the modern world of wonders we live in. But for every patent that changes civilization, countless more fall into quiet obscurity. Some had admirable ambitions but weak execution. Some were simply ahead of their time, requiring manufacturing capabilities or infrastructure that didn't exist yet. And some were seemingly entirely fanciful from the beginning, ideas that could never work beyond the patent application description. The author examines a range of lost ideas and the people who created them, from the first inflatable tires and "difference engine" computer to impractical swimming devices and flying machines more akin to rocks than eagles.

REVIEW: Everyone loves those old stock footage clips of failed flying devices and other fanciful creations by inventors more skilled in imagination than engineering (or basic practicality). Funny as they are to modern eyes, though, the quest to innovate and explore and push scientific boundaries is what ultimately led to many things we take for granted; it's a given that every step forward involves innumerable sidesteps and missteps. Hart-Davis combed the patent archives and history books for the unusual, the innovative, and otherwise unique. However, this book can't quite seem to find a tone. Early entries, such as umbrella-like hand attachments for swimming (an attempt to improve the power of each forward stroke that might've looked good on paper but failed in practice), are light and amusing as the author points out flaws in the designs and other reasons they faded into obscurity. Other entries, particularly those that were ahead of their times or represented moments when today's technology might easily have skewed in another direction, come closer to history lessons than anything else. Despite the subtitle, several of these inventions did indeed work. They were simply created before sufficient infrastructure (manufacturing ability, access to proper materials, market demand, etc.) allowed them to succeed. A few - such as a failed attempt to create a mathematical model for human thought in the early 1800's - found success later on (modern computers depend on Boolean algebra, the results of those speculations.) I'm not sure they really belonged in the same book as impractical bicycle modifications or attempts at indoor golf games. The book also becomes word-heavy and descriptive for an otherwise light read; I would've preferred more illustrations or diagrams of the inventions described, as it was sometimes hard to visualize what he was talking about, particularly amid webs of names and machinery parts. Some of these inventions the author seems to have tested, while others are simply speculated on based on the patent descriptions. It's not a bad book, but it didn't seem to know quite what it wanted to do with the broad subject it chose to explore, tending to wander.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Extreme Science (Phil Clarke) - My Review
The World's Most Incredible Stories: The Best of the Fortean Times (Adam Sisman, editor) - My Review

Monday, December 19, 2016

You Slay Me (Katie MacAlister)

You Slay Me
(The Aisling Grey, Guardian series, Book 1)
Katie MacAlister
Penguin
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: If Aisling Grey hadn't been desperate for money, she never would've taken a courier gig with her uncle. so she needs this first job - delivering an antique to a Parisian client - to go off without a hitch. Finding the client dead and having the antique stolen by a mysterious stranger lurking suspiciously at the scene isn't exactly helping... especially when she becomes the number one suspect. Whoever murdered the woman wanted it to look like an occult act, but Aisling refuses to believe there's anything to all that magic and demonology and talk of dragons walking the streets of Paris in human form. Now total strangers insist she's not only a "Guardian", whatever that is, but a born life-mate to a wyvern - as if! As she struggles to unravel the mysteries and dangers, Aisling is plunged into a world of magic she never knew existed, a world of demon lords and immortal beings and the world's sexiest, and least trustworthy, dragon: Drake Vireo, a man (er, wyvern) of many secrets. Who knew Paris in June would be hotter than Hades?

REVIEW: I needed something frothy and fun to distract me, so this supernatural romance looked like a good fit. Aisling's not always the brightest heroine, but she's not entirely worthless, having a fair bit of pluck and and often hilarious narrative voice. As for Drake, he's dangerous, domineering, and of course a perfect match to Aisling - much as she tries to deny it. The characters aren't especially deep, but often fun, particularly Aisling's first failed attempt at a demon minion (the talking dog, Jim, whose summoning was a lesson to the fledgling Guardian that cut-rate supplies in magic create cut-rate results.) The mystery relies on information about the "Otherworld," the hidden-in-plain-sight community of magic workers and immortal beings and such, that Aisling often doesn't have until someone helpfully informs her; it's less about solving the murder(s) than about Aisling being thrown into the deep end of destiny and struggling to stay afloat. Things move decently, with almost no dull moments, and the climax wraps up enough for satisfaction. I clipped it a half-star for Aisling being a little too clueless too often; she just plain doesn't know enough about magic in general or her role as Guardian in particular to solve problems without being led by others, which undercut some of her independence and gutsiness. I also felt the romance angle was a little iffy, almost like it was shoehorned in on top of everything else Aisling had to deal with. On the whole, though, I read it looking for fun escapism, and for the most part that's what I got - minor quibbles aside.

You Might Also Enjoy:
An American Werewolf in Hoboken (Dakota Cassidy) - My Review
Hounded (Kevin Hearne) - My Review
Bedlam's Bard (Mercedes Lackey with Ellen Guon) - My Review

Unbound (Richard L Currier)

Unbound: How Eight Technologies Made Us Human, Transformed Society, and Brought Our World to the Brink
Richard L Currier
Arcade Publishing
Nonfiction, History/Science
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Many millions of years ago, our ancestors were indistinguishable from other primates... but something changed us from tree-dwelling creatures to tool-using, upright-walking beings, from opportunists to active manipulators of our surroundings, from dwelling in scattered groups to founders of vast nations. That "something" was closely tied with our ability to adapt and use new tools to feed ourselves, expand our range, and improve our own existence, eventually transforming us from victims of our environs to controllers - and, all too often, destroyers. The author examines eight pivotal developments, from "digging sticks" and simple spears through spoken language and precision engineering, that irrevocably altered the course of our species and the planet we live on... and what those innovations suggest about our future.

REVIEW: Given the backward slide our world seems to be entering, with growing nationalism and denial of science and ever-increasing indications of another global conflict on the horizon, this probably wasn't the best choice of reading material. Still, it's an interesting look at how we humans became what we are, for better or worse. Our abilities to adopt new technologies (the term not limited simply to tools and machines - Currier includes spoken language as a "technology") and remake our social structures has brought us far in a remarkably short time. That speed forms part of the problem - our "traditional" definitions of societal roles, genders, power distribution, and so forth stem from earlier eras, and don't necessarily work or make sense in an increasingly urban, increasingly connected, and undeniably overpopulated world. As for the future, Currier seems fairly optimistic that we ingenious ape-kin will inevitably shift and adapt to preserve ourselves and our only natural habitat, the Earth - indeed, he sees several signs that this shift is not only possible, but ultimately inevitable, if still rough and rocky (as transitions tend to be.) I wish I could share that optimism, though I think he underestimates the drag factor at work against change; for instance, he saw Rome as a good example of a large, blended society, conveniently ignoring the many cultures and potential society-altering innovations Rome destroyed to maintain its own status quo. I also was a little miffed that the book itself ends a little after two-thirds of the way through, the rest being footnotes and acknowledgements. Overall, though, it provides a decent, even hopeful examination of our species's long history of technological innovation and major leaps forward. (Whether we're capable of clearing the hurdles so swiftly approaching is another matter entirely...)

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Before Adam (Jack London) - My Review
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Perspective Made Easy (Robbie Lee)

Perspective Made Easy
Robbie Lee
Impact Books
Nonfiction, YA Art
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Learning perspective is one of the most important keys to creating good art... but also one of the biggest obstacles. Horizon lines, vanishing points, distortion, proportion - who can make sense of it all, and who wants to when there are robots and monsters and more to be drawn? Author and artist Robbie Lee uses numerous diagrams and exercises to break the complex topic of perspective into bite-sized portions, so your next robot-versus-monster battle will be that much better.

REVIEW: I found this title on clearance at a craft store; since perspective is a perennial weakness in my own artistic efforts, and since half price is almost always the right price, I picked it up. Lee's comic book approach appeals to kids as well as us grown-ups who don't always have the patience we should with long blocks of text and complex angle formulas. Via his robotic avatar and many fun drawings, Lee offers clear demonstrations of one-point, two-point, and three-point perspective, including how to properly draw a square and circle in perspective, how to create a "cone of vision" that eliminates unrealistic distortions, and other useful information. He also includes some shorthand tricks and cheats, because not every doodle needs an elaborate set-up and drafting tools. Once in a while, it gets a bit complicated, but such is the nature of perspective, and the many drawings help clarify just what Lee is doing, and why, in each step. For beginner artists (or intermediate artists who still struggle with perspective), especially those inspired by comic books, this has plenty to offer. The rest is down to practice, and with this book at hand there are many useful exercises to try out.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Perspective Drawing Handbook (Joseph D'Amelio) - My Review
How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (Stan Lee and John Buscema) - My Review
Fantastic Realms (V Shane) - My Review

Monday, December 12, 2016

Birthright Volume 3: Allies and Enemies (Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, creators)

Birthright Volume 3: Allies and Enemies
(The Birthright series)
Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, creators
Skybound
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Mikey Rhodes continues his quest to hunt down the four remaining fugitive mages, who fled Terranos for Earth and have lived in exile ever since. His brother Brennan now knows of the Nevermind infecting him, but follows anyway - Mikey's his brother, after all, and he can't turn his back on family. Besides, as he's quickly learning, the truth isn't as black and white as many believe; there may well be good reason the mages deserve death. But their current target, a shadowy assassin hiding in Chicago, may best even the hero of Terranos.
Wendy Rhodes, now in the company of the winged girl (and Mikey's friend and lover) Rya, sets out to find her sons - and finds herself up to her neck in magic and forces she can scarcely comprehend. Can Mikey still be saved, or is it too late for him and the world of Terranos... and if Terranos falls, what will Earth's fate be?
Meanwhile, the imprisoned Aaron Rhodes continues to defy the authorities to protect his children - but Agent Kylen promises leniency if he talks Mikey into peaceful surrender. Little does he realize the man's hidden agenda...

REVIEW: This third volume continues the action-filled, often dark tale of Mikey, the lost boy who became a broken hero. Brennan now has his own magical secret, and his awareness of the Nevermind only makes him more determined to stick by and help his formerly-younger brother. Meanwhile, the boys' parents become caught up in their own Terranos-tainted entanglements; this isn't a story that leaves the "grown ups" by the wayside like so many fantasy adventures. More twists arise, and more of Mikey's backstory of his time in Terranos comes to light via flashbacks. A revelation at the very end almost made me waver on the rating, but I'm willing to trust the creators to see where things are going. Hopefully, Volume 4 appears on Hoopla soon...

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Fairy Quest: Outcasts #1 (Paul Jenkins) - My Review
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100 Cupboards (N. D. Wilson) - My Review

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Birthright Volume 2: Call to Adventure (Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, creators)

Birthright Volume 2: Call to Adventure
(The Birthright series)
Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, creators
Skybound
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Mikey Rhodes was an ordinary boy - or so he thought, until he was abducted into the magical world of Terranos to fulfill a prophecy by slaying the evil god-king Lore, slave of the twisted Nevermind. Many years later (but only one year on Earth), a now-grown Mikey returns home... but not as the victor he told his family. As tool of the Nevermind, he hunts down five escaped mages with the help of his (formerly older) brother Brennan, who remains unaware of the corrupting force poisoning Mikey from within. Meanwhile, Wendy finally believes that the barbarian "madman" found by the FBI was indeed the child she thought her husband had killed - and, with the help of Mikey's Terranos-born friend and lover, sets out to find her fugitive son.

REVIEW: The story of fallen hero Mikey, his faithful brother-turned-sidekick Brennan, and the shattered Rhodes family continues to be filled with action, magic, twists, and some truly emotional moments. Brennan begins to see what his brother has become, yet cannot bring himself to lose faith in the Mikey he knew. Back with the parents, a new team of agents with an unknown agenda step in to take over the case, just as Wendy and Agent Brooks begin to believe in Mikey's wild tales... helped by the arrival of the winged "gideon" woman Rya, Mikey's former friend from Terranos and mother of his unborn child. I had been afraid that this would be a "boys only" tale, with women relegated to back-burner roles, but Wendy isn't going to be left at home to pine and grieve, and neither is Rya. This volume delivers another interesting and engaging tale, violent at times but toward a purpose, not simply for the sake of it; indeed, Mikey's fall from grace can be tracked to when he finally learned to kill in pursuit of fulfilling the prophecy everyone told him he was destined to fulfill. I look forward to discovering where this story is going.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs) - My Review
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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Birthright Volume 1: Homecoming (Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, creators)

Birthright Volume 1: Homecoming
(The Birthright series)
Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, creators
Skybound
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: The day young Mikey Rhodes disappeared was the day the family shattered. Many suspected his father, Aaron, of killing the boy and hiding the body... even his wife Wendy. Only Mike's older brother Brennan stuck by the broken man, refusing to give up hope. One year later, the FBI summons the Rhodes to their offices. A strange man, dressed and armed like some bizarre fantasy barbarian, was found by the highway... and, according to fingerprints, that bearded man is the boy Mikey. He claims he was abducted to a fantasy world to fulfill a prophecy by destroying an evil lord, and has returned to Earth to hunt down five mages who might let that evil take root on Earth - but is he telling the truth, or has he been corrupted by the very entity he was prophecized to destroy?

REVIEW: Birthright offers a nice twist on the usual "Earth kid gets whisked away to become a hero in another world" story, showing the devastation left behind as his family struggles to come to terms with his disappearance... and the changes that being forced into a warrior life can wreak on even the nicest boy. Deep within the heart of the battle-hardened and compromised man he has become, Mikey is still a little lost boy at heart who wants nothing more than to go home, and he's not about to let anything get in his way. Meanwhile, Aaron refuses to let this opportunity to reconnect with his son slip away, even if it means becoming a fugitive, and Brennan (once the older brother, now just a kid beside his Conan-like sibling) can't help falling in as an impromptu sidekick, still somehow hoping that his broken family can be mended... though even he begins to wonder if he truly recognizes Mikey anymore. Flashbacks show the young Mikey's journey and its inauspicious start in Terranos, introducing characters that look to come into play in future volumes. It's an interesting story, moving at a fair clip, with great artwork (that leans a little gory at times, as a warning to younger or more sensitive readers.) I'm looking forward to the next volume already - I'll have to see if Hoopla has it available yet.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Everworld: Search for Senna (K. A. Applegate) - My Review
King: The Graphic Novel (Joshua Hale Fialkov) - My Review
Shadowbloom (Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan) - My Review

Friday, December 9, 2016

Ink and Bone (Rachel Caine)

Ink and Bone
(The Great Library series, Book 1)
Rachel Caine
New American Library
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: From birth, Jess Brightwell's life has been defined by books - contraband items outside the all-powerful Great Library, which has controlled the flow of information worldwide for centuries. His father's trade in illegal original tomes puts Jess and his family in constant danger, with the Library's well-armed High Garda and cruel, alchemy-powered automata mercilessly hunting down traders. While Jess loves books, he cannot reconcile himself to dealing with the often unsavory clients of the family business... which is why Jess's father has decided that he'd better serve the Brightwells as an insider, joining the ranks of the Library to learn of new treasures and impending threats. Much as Jess has learned to fear the Library, he can't help but be excited: after all, to the average citizen, the Library represents the knowledge and wisdom of the ages, the bright light that guides all of humanity toward a better tomorrow, and just think of the countless books hidden away in the archives! But Jess soon learns that the gilded cover hides a rotten heart, as he's plunged into a world where nobody can be trusted and no secret is safe.

REVIEW: If knowledge is power and power corrupts, does absolute control of knowledge corrupt absolutely? Rachel Caine posits a near-future world where alchemy is real, exploited by master librarians to limit the vital resource of information. Several familiar assumptions (particularly for "Western" readers used to English- or American-centered stories) get tweaked, here; English-born Jess was proud of how intelligent his childhood spent around illegal books has made him, only to realize he's barely average compared to the rest of Europe, who themselves pale in comparison to Middle Eastern nations who have had centuries longer to enjoy access to the Great Library's fruits (it having been founded in Ancient Egypt.) As for America, it's essentially a police state, considered a lowlife hotbed for rebels and Burners, a violent faction espousing the dangerous view that human lives should matter more than books. No institution has clean hands in this world, and no characters here are free from faults or sins. Jess must navigate a maze of traps, not just those set by his stern, borderline-cruel teacher Wolfe - a man who also has a hidden past and his own agenda and who isn't above endangering lives to pursue it. Jess's upbringing among criminals serves him in surprisingly good stead as he finds himself surrounded by untrustworthy peers and questionable superiors, not to mention his own family and their contacts who make periodic demands of him; Jess's twin brother Brendan, who aims to follow in their father's illegal footsteps, proves a strange mix of ally and rival. It's a trial by fire for Jess and the rest of the students he's training with as they compete for a limited number of openings within the Great Library, all for their own reasons. The tale moves at a good clip, with several turns (many of them dark), setting up what looks to be an intense series. Once in a while, Jess seemed a little naive given his background and what he should've already known, but on the whole he made a believable, if flawed, character, as did the rest of the cast. I expect I'll pursue the next volume in the series, at least.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

The Accidental Highwayman (Ben Tripp)

The Accidental Highwayman
(The Kit Bristol series, Book 1)
Ben Tripp
Tor
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Orphan Kit Bristol thought his prospects were looking up when he was bought from a circus by Master Rattle, to serve as house boy and errand runner for the nobleman. Little did he suspect, until he found his master dying of a musket wound on the kitchen floor, that Rattle was really Whistling Jack, notorious highwayman of the English countryside. He thought he was doing Rattle a favor by dressing in the highwayman's costume and riding Midnight, his horse, to throw pursuers off the trail. By donning the mask and boots, Kit has not only made himself a target of a ruthless colonel, but has taken up obligations he knows little of, obligations tied to the fairies of England and the schemes of their mad king. Now the fate of a halfblood princess, a former circus colleague, and England's fairies and humans alike rest on this accidental highwayman's young shoulders.

REVIEW: It looked fun and lightweight, an old-school yarn of highwaymen and magic. Early on, that's what it seemed like it would be. Kit's young and naive, but he does his best when confronted with his master's true occupation. Then he faces his first challenge, rescuing the halfblood fairy Princess Morgana from a marriage to England's young king-in-waiting George III, and the story grows shaky as it relies on too many coincidences and last-minute deus ex machina saves while Kit proves inept at basic tasks (though, to be fair, nobody tells him enough about fairy magic for him to anticipate its effects - then they often berate him for not knowing.) Before long, the inexperienced boy finds himself caretaker of not one but two overemotional and helpless women - one of them the self-same fairy princess, whose inexperience in the real world I could buy but whose utter ineptness about her own powers (plus her general uselessness for most of the story) I just couldn't swallow. Yes, this was written in the style of the 1700's, but for a twenty-first century audience... I would've hoped we'd be a little beyond the cliche of the helpless damsel(s) in distress who must rely on a man, even an underaged man, for protection and guidance. There's supposed to be a budding romance between Kit and Princess Morgana, but none of their interactions are anything but stilted, full of stereotypical girlish mood swings and boyish obliviousness and confusion, with not a smidgen of chemistry or genuine affection. There are also a number of fairy folk flitting about, who behave largely as comic relief (particularly in their light-up behinds, which seems like the kind of silly detail a younger target audience would enjoy more but which gets far too much page time in this longer, slightly more grown-up story) but also can pose serious threats, if somewhat watered down by ridiculous appearances. The tale lurches along, veering from plot point to plot point as Kit wavers between clever hero and bumbling idiot, before coming to a drawn-out finale that really drives home how helpless women are and how lucky they should be that they have an English boy to save them. I never did connect with the characters, who too often seemed like flimsy plot constructs, and I only enjoyed their adventures in fits and starts, not helped by the forced faux-period storytelling style. I liked a few of the period details, and now and again the tale gained interest and momentum, but it never lived up to its potential.

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