Monday, April 29, 2013

REVIEW: Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars
read April 10-28, 2013

Black Feathers was a very thought-provoking dark fantasy that I had a hard time putting down. Part dystopian, part fantasy, 100% engrossing.

I had so much going on in my life at the time I finished this book that I didn't have time to sit down and write a proper review for it, but suffice to say, it's the kind of story that stuck with me long after I finished reading it, and I found myself going back to it in my mind again and again, reflecting on many of its twists and turns.

It's one I'd definitely like to read again and perhaps the second time around, I can write a more detailed review while all the characters and events are still fresh in my mind. It was really just that good!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

REVIEW: A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars
It is 1903, and the world is divided between light and shadow. On the side of light is a wondrous science that has transformed everyday life by harnessing magical energies to ingenious new technologies. But each advance of science has come at the expense of shadow—the traditional realm of the supernatural.

Now two ancient powers are preparing to strike back. Blood-sucking immortal Nightwalkers and their spellcasting Alchemist allies have a plan to cover the whole world in shadow. All they require is the sacrifice of a certain young woman whose past conceals a dangerous secret.

But when they come after Elle, they get more than they bargained for. This enterprising young woman, the daughter of a scientific genius, has reserves of bravery and determination that even she scarcely suspects. Now she is about to meet her match in more ways than one: a handsome yet infuriating Warlock named Hugh Marsh, whose agenda is as suspect as his charms are annoyingly irresistible.

Part fantasy, part history, 100% steampunk, A Conspiracy of Alchemists is Liesel Schwarz's debut novel and the first in an interesting new steampunk series. A provocative look inside an urban fantasy world where magic and Faerie are alive, and Alchemists fight with Warlocks for power and control. There are many other creatures that live within the Shadow realm, and a force greater than themselves that keeps the Shadow and the Light in balance.

Taking place during late 1903 Britain, the story was rich with vivid descriptions and examples of many of the important inventions of that time--the steam engine and various flying crafts for example--all of which lent a vibrant feel to the landscape and gave the reader a very strong sense of place and time.

The only trouble for me came with the characters, none of which really endeared themselves to me, at least not until much later in the story. I found Elle to be a bit overly combative, to the point where it was actually kind of irritating. Yes, I'm all for a girl who wants to buck the system and doesn't conform to a society's ideals in which she doesn't believe, but I felt she took this a bit too far, to the point where she was almost angry and mistrustful of everyone she met. I don't know, perhaps it was just a sign of the times she lived in, and the opposition she faced being one of the only woman pilots in the world.

Marsh's character grew on me after a while; he was likeable enough in the beginning but it wasn't until the end that I actually started to like him enough to root for his well-being. ;) But I think my favorite character had to be the Baroness Loisa Belododia, a Nightwalker and fairly minor character in the overall scheme of the story. I hope to see more of her in future books.

Overall, I found this was a strong start to what's sure to be an curious new series. Congratulations Ms Schwarz! You've done a commendable job here, and I believe you've definitely accomplished what you set out to:  "write a steampunk novel that resonated with female readers". I look forward to reading the second book in the series when it's released.

Monday, April 08, 2013

REVIEW: Riddle in Stone by Robert Evert

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edmund is an antiquarian and scholar who lives in the small remote village of Rood in the Far North. Though you'd usually find him immersed in his books, Edmund's actually got big dreams of one day leaving Rood and doing something really important with his life, something that will earn him the respect of the townsfolk who think he's nothing but a stuttering, bumbling idiot, and the eye of Molly, whom he's loved from afar for a long time.

When a royal proclamation from the kingdom presents itself, granting Lordship over the Highlands to the person who can locate and bring to the King the long last Star of Iliandor, Edmund thinks this is finally the chance he's been waiting for. For in his own personal library lies the precious diary of Lord Iliandor himself, beloved ruler of the Highlands who fought against and defeated the Undead King and his goblin armies in three hard-fought wars. It was at the end of the third and final war that Iliandor died in combat, and the blue jewel he wore upon his crown was forever lost to history. But a lone squire from Iliandor's army had managed to find his way back back to Rood, and he carried on his person the diary of Lord Iliandor. Written in the ancient tongue of Dunael, a language which very few living people could still read or understand, the diary included the last dying words of Lord Iliandor, and with this arcane knowledge, Edmund is certain he knows where to start looking for the prized jewel. For if he can accomplish this single task, he'll most assuredly earn the respect he's been craving all his life, plus have his own heroic tales to hold a captive audience.

Edmund sets out in the dead of the night on an epic journey to locate the lost Star of Iliandor. Shunted by a strong self of self-doubt and a negative voice in his head that keeps telling him to turn back, Edmund has his own inner demons to battle in addition to those he meets on his long trek across the wide plains and into the mountains of the Highlands where he's certain he'll find the prized jewel... But what he discovers along the way is so much more!

Edmund is definitely not your typical hero. Slightly overweight and with a strong stutter, he's not taken seriously by any of his fellow townsfolk. There's a good lesson here about the underdog being able to overcome all obstacles that stand in his way and come out on top. Though with everything that gets thrown at Edmund along the way, you never really know if he's going to make it out alive or not.

I enjoyed this debut novel from author Robert Evert, and understand that it's to be the first in a new series. The book was fairly long at about 462 pages, but read fairly quickly most of the way through due to lots of action. The world building and vivid descriptions the author uses transplanted me right into the story, where I could almost sense the damp, chill air of all the tunnels through the mountains, and the eerie feeling of never knowing what lay around the next corner. However, during the first half of the book, I would sometimes find myself quickly snapped out of that world because I was starting to get tired of listening to all Edmund's self-doubt--I just wanted to shake him and tell him to snap out of it! Fortunately, Edmund eventually does develop a backbone along with a bit more resolve and and starts to take on the shape and characteristics of a true hero, surprising even himself, and a lot of his negativity ceases with the increase in his bravery.

I'm giving this book a solid 6 out of 10 stars (3.5 for Goodreads). I would've rated it slightly higher if I didn't find Edmund's character a bit grating. I also felt the last 1/4 of the book could've progressed a bit quicker. But that's a bit harder to talk about without spoilers. Suffice to say, the action seemed to slow down a bit in the last 1/4 or so of the book so I felt some pages could've been saved there in keeping it with the pace of the rest of the story. Overall, a very strong debut novel from this author and I look forward to reading the next one.