Friday, August 20, 2010

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Posted by Simcha 6:21 PM, under | 6 comments

Sydelle Mirabil is living proof that, with a single drop of rain, a life can be changed forever. Tucked away in the farthest reaches of the kingdom, her dusty village has suffered under the weight of a strangely persistent drought. That is, of course, until a wizard wanders into town and brings the rain with him.

In return for this gift, Wayland North is offered any reward he desires—and no one is more surprised than Sydelle when, without any explanation, he chooses her. Taken from her home, Sydelle hardly needs encouragement to find reasons to dislike North. He drinks too much and bathes too little, and if that isn’t enough to drive her to madness, North rarely even uses the magic he takes such pride in possessing. Yet, it’s not long before she realizes there’s something strange about the wizard, who is as fiercely protective of her as he is secretive about a curse that turns his limbs a sinister shade of black and leaves him breathless with agony. Unfortunately, there is never a chance for her to seek answers.

Along with the strangely powerful quakes and storms that trace their path across the kingdom, other wizards begin to take an inexplicable interest in her as well, resulting in a series of deadly duels. Against a backdrop of war and uncertainty, Sydelle is faced with the growing awareness that these events aren’t as random as she had believed—that no curse, not even that of Wayland North, is quite as terrible as the one she herself may carry.

After reading so many reviews effusively praising Brightly Woven I found myself curious about this book and I decided to read it even though the description didn’t particularly grab me. But about a quarter way into it I went back to check if I had gotten the correct title because this book did not seem to merit all the wonderful things I had read about it. Since it was a relatively easy read I decided to complete the book and suspend my judgment until I finished, but even after doing so my opinion remained unchanged.

At first I was easily drawn into the story by the engaging narrative and the interesting scene that the story opens up to, of a town receiving rain for the first time after a long drought. Soon afterwards the narrator, Sydelle, runs into a wizard who has suddenly appeared in the town and who seems to have been the cause of the much-needed rain. Sydelle’s parents are so grateful to the wizard, Wayland North, that they offer him a reward and he chooses their daughter. Sydelle is horrified when she discovers that her parents have given her to the wizard, although North promises her that after they complete the journey on which has is embarked, she may chose to leave him if she wishes to. And so Sydelle and North leave behind the village and head towards the city of Provincea in order to meet with the head sorceress and try to avert the forthcoming war.

Up until this point I was enjoying the story very much and looking forward to discovering more about the two main characters, North and Sydelle, who I had already come to like. But instead of getting to follow the two on their journey out of the village the next chapter finds North and Sydelle at a pub, a week later, and the dynamic between the two characters has changed. Sydelle still appears to hate North for dragging from her home against her will, but she has also softened towards him somewhat. North has started calling Sydelle by nicknames and teasing terms of endearment, and occasionally gives her hair an affectionate tug. At this point the interactions between the two suggest that their relationship has changed based on experiences shared over the past week which the reader was not privy to, and this really irritated me. From this point on the relationship between the two is clearly moving towards an eventual romance, which turns out to be a central element of the story, but for me the romance feels contrived because I didn’t really see it develop. Sydelle quickly goes from hating North to loving him, without a satisfactory transitional stage in between. While North seems to have liked Sydelle all along I didn’t really catch when it is exactly that he fell in love with her, or why. Because their romance was a main part of the story the whole story fell flat for me because of my dissatisfaction with the way it was presented.

The main story line didn’t really do much for me either. I didn’t find North and Sydelle’s journey, or the little side trips that they took, to be particularly interesting and I had a hard time following the political crisis that was taking place. The author also didn't do much world building so I had no sense of what a
ll the places that North and Sydelle passed through were like, so the outside world ended up feeling rather colorless.

The one thing I could say that I liked about Brightly Woven is the character of North, who strongly reminds me of one of my favorite book wizards, Howl from Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. He is appealingly roguish and charming but also cocky and vain, though these qualities often mask the vulnerabilities which he tries so hard to hide. And even though he is a powerful wizard, North is hopeless when is comes to directions and would constantly be getting lost if not for Sydelle, which added to his appeal.

But one likable protagonist is not enough to salvage this book for me and overall I found Brightly Woven to be a disappointment, nothing like the brilliant debut novel I had been expecting. It was not memorable or magical and even those elements that had a bit of spark ended up falling flat because they were not developed properly, such as Sydelle and North’s romance. Considering all of the raving reviews that had read I must suppose that there are many reads who quite enjoyed this book, but I am certainly not one of them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

Posted by Simcha 9:43 PM, under | 6 comments

The Adamantine Palace lies at the center of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemicly was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-players that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses. The Empire has grown fat. And now one man wants it for himself. A man prepared to poison the king just as he has poisoned his own father. A man prepared to murder his lover and bed her daughter. A man fit to be king? But unknown to him there are flames on the way. A single dragon has gone missing. And even one dragon on the loose, unsubdued, returned to its full intelligence, its full fury, could spell disaster for the Empire. But because of the actions of one unscrupulous mercenary the rivals for the throne could soon be facing hundreds of dragons ...

It’s been many years since I last read a book featuring dragons because for some reason dragons just don’t appeal to me now as much as they did when I was younger. But after reading The Adamantine Palace I found myself wondering what I might have been missing out on over the years because this books was really fantastic. The Adamantine Palace is one of those books that remind me of why I was attracted to fantasy in the first place, though it is rather more sophisticated than those fantasy books of my youth.

In addition to the engaging writing style, the wonderful world building and the steady pacing which kept me completely hooked all the way through the book, I was particularly impressed by the way the characters are presented. The story is told from the perspective of each character so the reader comes to intimately understand and sympathize with each one, even though many of them are enemies of one another.The dragons receive similar treatment as well. At first we only view them through the eyes of the humans but eventually we get into the head of the one of the dragons and receive a new perspective of the unfolding events. Initially I had felt sympathetic for the plight of the dragons, for their having been drugged and enslaved by humans for the past hundred years, but once it becomes clear what the dragons are like in their natural form I felt my sympathy shift to their human captors. There is no black and white in The Adamantine Palace, no clear lines separating villains from heroes, which is part of what makes this story a complex and deeply satisfying read.

The only complaint I have is that none of the various story-lines are actually resolved by the conclusion of the book and, in fact, the book ends just as events get even more heated. This means that you will want to have the sequel, The King of the Crags, close by so that you can immediately delve into it once you finish The Adamantine Palace. I certainly wish I had been properly prepared as now I have to wait impatiently for the week, or so, that it will take The King of the Crags to be delivered to my mailbox.

I highly recommend The Admantine Palace to all readers of fantasy. Even if it has been years since you last read a book about dragons, don't hesitate to give this one a try. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Turn To Brag

Posted by Simcha 10:20 PM, under | 5 comments

Almost every book blog that I follow dedicates one post a week to listing all of the books that the blogger had received over the past week, either from publishers, other blogs or the library. I have never put up such a post myself because I don't receive new books that frequently and I usually don't even read those posts because they just serve to make me jealousto of all the awesome books everyone else is getting. But in the two week that I have been in America I have accumulated an impressive selection of books which I am quite proud of, from the various second hand shops and flea markets I have visited ( boy how I've missed flea markets!) and now it's my turn to do a bit of bragging...

At today's trip to the flea market I picked up
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (because one can never have too many copies) and Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett (my favorite of the Discworld books, so far), for 25 cents each! I would probably have gotten more books if my two year had not decided that he was done waiting for me, and knocked all the books on the ground.

By Philadelphia's Franklin Mills Mall there is a wonderful second hand shop where, in addition to some great clothes and toys, I bought these books for 50 cents each:

Marley & Me by John Grogan (I don't usually read dog books but I've heard great things about this one and have been wanting to read it.)

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

by Michael Chabon

Wicked: Witch & Curse
by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie

by Gregory Maguire

Sideways Stories from Wayside School
( I love Wayside School!)

And for review I received
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is a book I've been really interested in reading. I also received the following books for review from author Danielle Ackley-McPahil:

I also received my first graphic novel,
Foiled,by Jane Yolen, which is signed by both Jane Yolen and
Mike Cavallaro, the artist. My mother had bought it for me when Jane Yolen did a signing in Philadelphia and I am really looking forward to reading it, since I have never read a graphic novel before.

And finally, these are the books that I had gotten out of the library, which I had dragged my brother to (since he has a car and a library card) on my first full day in the US:

Sasha by Joel Shepherd
Ice by Sarah Beth Durst ( I started this one but didn't feel like finishing it)
The Enchanted Emporium by Tanya Huff
The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt
by Pam Bachorz

The Anvil of the World
by Kage Baker

Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
by Galen Beckett

Toads and Diamonds
by Heather Tomlinson

Await Your Reply
by Dan Chaon (The only non-genre book I let myself get out and I really hope I get the chance to read it)

The Adamantine Palace
by Stephen Deas

Yes, perhaps I did go a little crazy at the library and I probably won't get around to reading all of the books that I had gotten out (though apparently the library lets you get 50 books out at one time, and had I been able to carry more I would have tried to do so) but I just love looking at them on the shelf and knowing that they are nearby. I only wish that I could read faster...(plus I have to squeeze in time to spend with family) So far I have read three of them and I'm currently in the middle of
The Adamantine Palace, which I am enjoying tremendously.

So that's it. I'm done with my bragging and now I have to figure out how the heck I'm going to get all my newly acquired books into the suitcases (and I haven't even mentioned the 42 books that my in-laws bought me from a bookstore that was going out of business) But it is a challenge that I don't mind attempting.

Now I'm off to do some reading...


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