Book Review: “The Chosen of Anthros” by Travis Simmons

September 29, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Epic Fantasy, Fiction, mythology-based | By

The Chosen of AnthrosThe Chosen of Anthros by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

“The Chosen of Anthros” is the 4th book in Travis Simmons’ “Harbingers of Light” series and picks up where “A Lament of Moonlight” leaves off – with our heroes having finally found their way through the forest and ready to head into the Harbinger settlement.

This entry in the series is full of surprises as we learn more about both the Harbingers and the plague in general and the characters specifically. Once they reach the settlement, each of the characters is given training and tasks that keep them separate much of the time, and Simmons does a nice job of spreading the story between them, giving each the chance to grow individually. There are also the beginnings of what might turn out to be a sweet love story, which is a nice touch amongst the seriousness of the rest of the events.

As a lover of Norse mythology, I like how Simmons uses various aspects of the stories to tell an original tale – not just a retelling of established lore. While he uses different names for some of the gods, it’s still pretty clear who they are (especially if you’re at all familiar with the myths) but it allows him to endow them with different characteristics, making them fresh.

This installment ends with a shocking cliffhanger – which sometimes can be rather off-putting. In this case, however, it just makes me that much more eager to see what happens next.

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Book Review: “Bitter of Tongue” by Cassandra Clare

September 19, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Epic Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

Bitter of Tongue (Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy)Bitter of Tongue by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite entries in the “Tales From Shadowhunter Academy” series. This book helps set up the next book in the Shadowhunter series by giving us a closer look at the Blackwood family. In the “Mortal Instruments” series, young Mark Blackwood is kidnapped by the Fairies and forced to join the Wild Hunt. Because the political situation with the Fairies is so tenuous, however, the Clave decides not to try to rescue him.

In this story, Simon has an encounter with Mark, one which is both deeply moving and deeply troubling, and helps show what it is about Simon that sets him apart from so many of the other Shadowhunters. His response to the situation is surprisingly mature and shows us more of the strength that gave Simon the ability to survive his transformation into a vampire (and back) and the loss of so many of his memories.

Most of the books in the series have really been quite good, but I think of the ones released so far this one is easily my favorite. It presents a very difficult situation that has no easy answers and serves as an excellent reminder as to why Simon has been such a fan favorite in the series.

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Book Review: “The Darkling Tide” by Travis Simmons

April 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based | By

The Darkling TideThe Darkling Tide by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This reviews contains spoilers for the first book in the series, “A Plague of Darkness.” 

In “The Darkling Tide,” the 2nd book in Travis Simmons’ “Harbingers of Light” series, we rejoin Abigail, Leona, Rorick and Daphne on The Singer’s Trail as they travel through the Fey Forest in search of the elf city and the community of Harbingers that they hope will help Abigail learn how to control the Wyrd powers that accompany the plague. Celeste, the Light elf who had been guiding them has been recalled to the elf city. With Celeste gone and the others new to this world, Daphne is their only guide. The further they travel, however, the harder it gets to resist the pull of the darklings along the sides of the warded trail.

Simmons continues to develop the characters, with each of them facing difficulties that challenge them in unique ways and force them to make choices for which they may not truly be ready. And while Abigail is undergoing a transformative change due to the plague she carries, in many ways, it is little Leona who faces the greatest hurdles. In the first book, she had to sacrifice her beloved doll, Skuld – who frequently spoke to her and gave her guidance –  in order to save her sister and their friends – killing the attacker in the process.  Now we start to see how the experience is weighing on her.

The story had a lot of action to it and moves at a nice, steady pace. We learn more about Agaranth, get a chance to see the elf city, catch a glimpse into the politics between the dark and light elves and meet a few new characters, including Daniken a dark elf who causes trouble between Abagail, Rorick and Leona.

The middle book in a trilogy is usually the trickiest. We’ve already been introduced to the main characters and had the world established in the first volume, and the its ending is really only a resting point, since the third book contains the climax and denouement. As a result, middle books can sometimes feel flat.  Simmons has managed to avoid that here. The characters experience a number of gains and setbacks, while the tension slowly builds to lead us into the final episode. I’m really curious to see how it all turns out!

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Book Review: “A Plague of Darkness” by Travis Simmons

April 1, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based | By

A Plague of ShadowsA Plague of Shadows by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Travis Simmons has put together nifty combination of Norse mythology and his own imaginative world-building, creating a unique universe in which to spin tales with familiar touchstones and wholly new ideas. He has taken element of the Noise cosmos and given them original names, which I found was a nice way of signalling that while this universe may be inspired by the Eddas, Epics and Sagas, it was not a retelling of any of the older stories.

“A Plague of Shadows” is the first book in the “Harbinger of Light” trilogy, in which we meet Abigail – a young woman who has found herself having to step into a more adult role of caring for the home and honey farm after her father is injured in an accident – along with her younger sister, Leona, and their neighbour Rorick. They live on the world of “O” which has been under attack from darklings – shadowy creatures capable of performing evil magic and tend to leave death wherever they’ve been. Touching or otherwise coming in contact with a darkling puts a person at a high risk of being infected with the darkling’s shadow and become a darkling themselves.

When Abigail shows symptoms of the plague, her father decides it’s best to send her to Agaranth, the world he originally came from and where his brother and sister still live. That world is also beset by darklings, but unlike O – where the Light Guard “cleanses” anyone who comes down with the plague and punishes people for even talking about the magical or mystical – people on Agaranth have learned to control the plague and even make use of the magic abilities it brings. Because Leona it’s showing signs of becoming a budding seeress, which is, of course, heavily frowned upon by the Guard, and Rorick’s parents are dead, Abagail’s father sends them with her on the journey.

Of course, things don’t go quite as planned, and that’s where the meat of the story kicks in. I was actually surprised how fast the book went. At one point, I’d thought I was no more than maybe a third of the way through, only to find is been reading longer than I’d thought and was nearly 3/4ths done. It’s a truly engrossing story.

The scene where Abigail and friends travel from O to Agaranth is remarkable in describing the World Tree and the rainbow bridge connecting to each of the nine worlds and a heavenly-like plane (with hints of something much darker below.) A guide they meet on the bridge tells them (and us) about this universe and some of what may lie ahead, but because the information is presented while the characters are also exploring this core of the cosmos, it flows more naturally than such expository passages sometimes can.

I have to admit part of the fun for me was in recognizing where’s he’s included Norse elements in somewhat different guises and under somewhat different names and how the old and new mesh together – but he’s done this smartly so that even if you’ve never heard of the Norse, you can still enjoy this tale.

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Book Review: “Crimson Bound” by Rosamund Hodge

February 19, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based | By

Crimson BoundCrimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

I was really eager to read “Crimson Bound” after having read Rosamund Hodge’s “Cruel Beauty” and “Guided Ashes.” There were a number of things in those books that made them really stand out: characters you didn’t expect to empathize with but did (and vice versa), challenges brought on by the unanticipated consequences of deals made with an clever spirit, a tightness to the stories that kept the action moving and a certain kind of intimacy afforded by the use of fairly small casts. And while much of that was present in “Crimson Bound,” it didn’t seem to fare as well this time.

One thing I was surprised to find is that this book does not take place in the “Cruel Beauty” universe in spite of the similarity in the titles and the book cover designs. Instead, “Crimson Bound” takes place in an alternate version of middle-ages France. In this world there exists a Great Forest which seems to exist in a slightly different dimension. It was a concept that in someways I found a bit difficult to grasp because the rules by which it worked seemed unclear. Apparently, if you go far enough into the woods, you may find yourself in this magical Forest, and creatures from the Forest can cross into the real world and interact with humans at any time. There are also areas of the Forest that reach into the areas humans inhabit, but only those who have been Bloodbound or Forestborn can actually see it there. The Bloodbound are people who were marked by one of the Forestborn, after which the must kill someone within 3 days or die. If they do kill someone and become Bloodbound, they will have increased strength, speed, stamina and healing, and will find themselves being pulled to give themselves over completely to the Great Forest. One they do that, they become Forestborn themselves, in essence losing their humanity and becoming wild humanesque creatures.

When we meet Rachelle, our heroine, she is training with her aunt to be her village’s next woodwife – a wise-woman who can make medicines and is able to work charms that help protect the people of the village from the dangers of the Great Forest. When we jump ahead a few years, we find Rachelle has become one of the Bloodbound and has entered the King’s service which protects her from being killed by fearful townsfolk. She seems to have an on-again/off-again thing going with Eric, her superior officer, and is assigned to be the bodyguard to the King’s bastard soon, Armand, who was marked by a Forestborn, but neither killed anyone nor died. As a result, he is viewed by many villagers as something of a saint or miracle-worker. Rachelle has also learned that the Devourer – an evil creature most consider to be a myth – will be returning soon to swallow the sun and moon, plunging the world into darkness, unless someone can find one of the only two swords in the world that can kill it. Of coerce, Rachelle is determined to be that someone.

This is a much more complex story than Hodge’s previous books, and sometimes it almost feels like there’s too much going on. The biggest problem I had, though, was with Rachelle. She is deeply burdened by guilt and lets that guilt determine how she thinks others see her, often leading her to see genuine fondness from someone as mockery and dismissing kind words and actions because she feels unworthy. Unfortunately, this causes her to sometimes trust the wrong people – or worse, mistrust those she should rely on. Her tendency to wallow in her self-disgust also keeps her from noticing things about people around her that – once revealed – are things you’d expect her to have at least suspected, if not intuited, much sooner. And even though she’s a strong, determined young woman who can more than hold her own in a fight, she frequently seems unable to make up her mind or stick to a decision once she’s made it. This leads to a number of scenes feeling repetitive. Had Hodge made her less wishy-washy, much of the apparent repetition could have been avoided and the story would have been much tighter.

In spite of the complaints, however, the book’s not all that bad. While reading the book, it was only the repetitive nature of some of the scenes that I found irritating. The rest of the issues really only surfaced when I was reflecting on it after having finished it. And she did add some interesting touches that I really liked – in particular how she wove the Norse legends of Tyr and Zisa and the Fenris wolf with the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tail. The Fenris wolf in Nordic lore is a very big, very bad wolf, indeed, and having him symbolically represented here by the Devourer is a nifty way to tie the two stories together. We learn about Tyr and Zisa as there story is sprinkled between events in Rachelle’s life, and it all dovetails very nicely into a good conclusion.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the book. What it does well it does quite well, and I had no trouble finishing it. In many ways, though, it feels a bit like how someone’s first book might – bursting with ideas that might have worked more smoothly with a bit more restraint. Still, it’s worth reading, and I’m looking forward to what Ms Hodge comes up with next.

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Book Review: “The Paper Magician” by Charles N. Holmberg

November 16, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction | By

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1)The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an absolutely delightful story! “The Paper Magician” is probably one of the most imaginative tales I’ve come across in quite some time. I certainly can’t think of any other books in which the main character actually journeys through the physical heart of another character.

Ceony Twill is a magician’s apprentice – not a stage magician, but someone who can create real magic using specific materials. In her case, she uses paper. Shortly after being assigned to a her mentor, he is attacked and his heart is removed from his chest. She quickly uses her magic to give him a paper heart in the hopes that it will keep him alive while she goes to track down the thief. Upon finding the thief, however, Ceony finds herself suddenly thrown – literally – into her mentor’s heart where she must journey through all four chambers – each containing the secrets of his life – to reach the other end and exit before the thief catches up with her.

The imaginative and inventive ways that Ceony and her mentor are able to use paper to create a variety of spells – from bringing a written story to life to animating life-like creatures, and so much more – is amazing, and the detail of the journey she takes through her mentor’s heart is beautifully written, easily visualized and quite moving.

Quite simply, this is an absolutely charming book with well-rounded characters, a light sense of humor, strong dramatic scenes and well-crafted plotting. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for a bit of whimsy and wonder in the world.

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