Book review: Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice by Robin McKinley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I have loved almost everything I’ve read by Robin McKinley, and “Chalice” is no exception. On the surface, this is a conventional fantasy with magic and villains and heroes. The author lifts the book out of its conventional genre with lyrical–almost poetical–writing (as is typical of her work). She also defies the stereotypes of heroes and heroines by making both the hero and heroine of this novel people who are uncertain about their places in the world. There is no strong sense of destiny in the main characters, no inner conviction about the righteousness of their actions. Instead, they are two people who are lifted from their previous lives and thrust into a greater role. And neither one of them is certain that they are suited for those roles. It’s actually a refreshing change to watch main characters flounder and feel inadequate about their lives.
The author is skilled at world building without utilizing overly descriptive phrases. In a few austere strokes, she creates emotional resonance about the world she is building, and the reader follows. There are flamboyant extroverted fantasy novels, and then there is this one–a seemingly unobtrusive nugget that slowly reveals its hidden jeweled splendor as the novel progresses.
I highly recommend this book!



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Book review: The Black Company by Glen Cook

The Black Company by Glen Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is a departure from what I often read. It’s fantasy, yes, but it’s a gritty, mercenary fantasy–all sharp edges and plot-driven. I liked it a lot–it’s a little magical, a lot gory, generally unsentimental, and a tad dystopian. For some reason, it worked for me. The book is told from a first-person perspective by the historian and physician in the troop. It is well-paced, well-plotted, and a fun read.
Characters range from the stereotypical to the dysfunctional to the fantastical. Plot twists are littered throughout the book, and characters go from evil to ally to enemy (and vice versa).
It’s the first in a series, a fact that I’m delighted by because it means I have many more books before I reach the end of the series.



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Book review: Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell

Fire in the Blood (Shards of a Broken Sword #2)

Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is the second of a trilogy (the first book being “Twelve Days a Faery.” Both books are standalone in the sense of despite the fact that there is an overarching narrative arc for the trilogy, the stories stand on their own (at least so far).
Rafiq is a dragon who is being held in Thrall by Prince Akish. He’s not a fan of this state of affairs but has resigned himself to his fate. They are off to rescue a princess in an enchanted keep and encounter the princess’s servant, Kako, who offers to help with their quest. Despite the suspicions of both men, they accept her offer, and she accompanies them as they go through the Seven Circles (seven quests) to rescue the princess.
The story is fairly straightforward as is the puzzle. But the author’s strengths are building a world of consistent magic, surprising you just when you think you have everything all figured out, and the depth of her characters. She’s not much on romance, but I forgive her this minor flaw because the characters are so interesting and compelling.
The book is more a novella than a full-length book. It is a fast-paced and easy read. I highly recommend it!



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Book review: Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

Twelve Days of Faery (Shards of a Broken Sword #1)

Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is an original take on a traditional fairy tale plot where unfortunate accidents happen to a prince’s girlfriends/fiancees, and the king has offered a reward to whomever breaks the curse. I enjoyed the first person narrative of the king, who is simultaneously shrewd about ruling his kingdom and oblivious about personal relationships. There is the obligatory mystery of who or what is causing the accidents and delightful world building of the faery world. Interesting backstories are hinted at although not fleshed out.
In fact, my biggest criticism of the book is its novella length. There was so much more in the story that could have been elaborated on, but the short length of the book prevented that from happening. While this book is in no way equal to the author’s Two Monarchies series, it is a pleasant, fun, and unusual story. And the author’s writing is, as always, a pleasure to read.
3.5 stars.



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Book review: Blackfoot by W.R. Gingell

Blackfoot (Two Monarchies Sequence, #2)

Blackfoot by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the second book of the Two Monarchies Sequence. (“Masque,” which I reviewed earlier, was the first book written but is the last book in the series.) “Blackfoot” starts essentially right where “Spindle” left off, although the actual story starts several years later. The book starts Annabel’s story and continues Melchior’s story. And while there is no actual fairy tale inspiration for this book, it has all the requisite fantasy elements: an interesting heroine who is smarter than she gives herself credit for; a sarcastic and mysterious hero who is wise but not too wise; and an annoying but lovable best friend. The magic remains complex but internally consistent, and the villain is quite scary.
My only disappointment after I finished this book is that there is only one more unread book in the series for me. (I may just have to re-read “Masque” to get all of the inside baseball references.) I can’t wait to see what the author writes next and the rest of her books are on my list to explore.




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Book review: Spindle by W.R. Gingell

Spindle (Two Monarchies Sequence, #1)

Spindle by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale but to say that is like saying that Shake Shack is just another burger joint. This re-telling of Sleeping Beauty is original, intricate and complex. The magic (or, more accurately, the magics) are complicated and internally consistent. Poly, the heroine, suffers from imposter syndrome (people think she’s a princess) and is courageous and resolute. Luck, the hero, is enigmatic and occasionally annoying (in a good kind of way). Their relationship is simultaneously amusing and touching. The allies and enemies that Poly and Luck meet on the way are well characterized, and the time travel element fits well within a fantasy story (as opposed to a science fiction story). The prose is elegant and accessible, and the foundational elements of the fairy tale are recognizable while, at the same time, the author imaginatively expands the story line.
I read the first two books of this series out of order, but they are both standalone books. W.R. Gingell is a gifted author, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.




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Book review: Masque by W.R. Gingell

Masque (Two Monarchies Sequence)

Masque by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


To say that this book is the retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale does the author an injustice. So, yes, “Masque” is a retelling of the traditional fairy tale, but it is one of the most fun and original retellings I’ve ever read. To begin with, the story is set in a setting where both magic and technology exist. But, more interestingly, a murder happens, and the heroine decides she wants to solve the murder. The heroine (who is the narrator of the story) is, in turn, sarcastic, irreverent, funny, and perceptive. I love her. The hero is also a strong character in his own right, but it is the heroine whose story it is and who tells it as she wishes.
The secondary characters are fully formed and engaging in their own right, and the love story is reluctant and adorable.
The only minor flaw in the book is that the mystery is not that complicated–I figured it out shortly after the first murder (and I hate figuring out the murderer before the end). But this book is so much more than the murder mystery and well worth the read.
Note: this is the first book I’ve read by this author, and it looks like this is not a sequential part of but tangential to the Two Monarchies series. I am excited that I have 3 more books (and fairy tale retellings) to investigate!
I highly recommend this book!



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Book review: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool's Assassin (The Fitz and the Fool, #1)Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I inadvertently entered this series in the middle of the narrative arc (this is the first of this particular series but not the first in the narrative, if that makes any sense). I plan to go back and start at the beginning, which is to say that this book was good enough to make me want to go back and start at the very beginning. Some of the carefully constructed world was a bit unclear from a new reader’s perspective, and there is clearly context that I missed because I picked up the story mid-thread. However, the story was well-crafted and well-plotted, the characters were interesting and three dimensional, and the world was consistent and credible. My only complaint is that there was no real ending–merely a cliffhanger with many plot lines left open–but that’s a flaw that is common in the fantasy genre, especially one that spans so many books. I especially like the author’s willingness to move contrary to the reader’s expectations. In other words, the author will deliberate set up a character and narrative arc so that the reader expects one outcome and then zags to produce a completely different outcome. It’s cleverly done.
Off to find Book #1 of the series!

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Book review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rarely give a book 5 stars, but the rating is well-deserved for this one. Recommended by Lin-Manuel Miranda via my daughter (who’s not much of a fantasy reader but who also loved it), this is the first volume of a trilogy describing the life of Kvothe who is part magician, part musician, and part assassin. Building a convincing and consistent fantasy world is difficult, and though it took 722 pages to do so (and that’s only volume #1), those 722 pages were well utilized. The world is gritty and realistic, the magic is complex and consistent, and the narrative is multi-layered and compelling. The book is told mostly in first person by Kvothe, with bits and pieces of a third person narrator thrown in to deepen the narrative. Despite the length, the author leaves you with questions unanswered and mysteries still to be solved. (This is the one weakness of a planned trilogy, which is that the ending leaves you incomplete.) It’s worth it.
All in all, this is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in quite some time. I look forward to reading the second in the series and wait impatiently for the final volume to be released.

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Book review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1)A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an unusual cross-genre book–part fantasy and part romance. There is deeper character development and more sparkling dialogue than you find in most fantasy novels. The author also takes care in developing her world, although much of it is by inference and implication rather than narrative. The advantage of this, of course, is that the novel moves much faster, and you learn about the character at the same time you learn about the world.
The story is told in first person by the heroine, Cat. She is an accomplished, snarky, and flawed character. I liked her immensely. The hero, Griffin, too, is very appealing. I also like that the romance is turned on its head, and it’s Cat who is reluctant to move the relationship forward, rather than Griffin. The secondary characters are well-developed and have their own personalities, especially Griffin’s team.
The weakness of most cross-genre books is that it does a mediocre job of both genres, and it’s the combination that makes such a book unique. The length of this book enables the author to treat each genre with the attention it deserves, so that fantasy and romance readers are both satisfied. And if you’re like me and love both genres equally, this book is deeply satisfying. Or, as satisfying as a swords-and-knives bodice ripper can be. (Which is, to say, quite a bit.) I am looking forward to reading the second book in this series!

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