“The Dagger’s Path” by Glenda Larke

daggers-path-coverI read The Dagger’s Path immediately after finishing the first book of this series, The Lascar’s Dagger. I enjoyed the first book, but this one really made me want to read other books by Glenda Larke.

I love fantasy books with non-traditional settings (Throne of the Crescent Moon, Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy), and this book includes a lot of that. The first book is set in a fairly standard European-inspired fantasy setting (albeit with a secondary character that’s most definitely not European), but in this book, the secondary character becomes one of the main protagonists, and we visit his home and see it through both foreign and native eyes. The Chendarwasi islands and the Spicerie are inspired by Indonesia and Malaysia, and there are quite a few literal references to their language and culture (I read in an interview that the author’s husband is Malay and his culture inspired this book).

I also liked the characters quite a bit. The three main protagonists are Saker, the rakish priest/spy who usually has the best of intentions but ends up in pickles regularly, Ardhi, the titular “lascar” who is atoning for the terrible consequences brought upon his people by his naivete, and Sorrel, the woman that accidentally murdered her abusive husband and is finding that she is an incredibly tough and resourceful person. The secondary characters also feel like people I’ve gotten to know pretty well, despite the shorter page time – Mathilda, the princess that will do anything to gain power in a world that refuses to recognise that women can be trusted to hold it, Ryce, the prince that struggles with feeling weak for doing the right thing, Gerelda, the unflappable lawyer and her charge Peregrine, who has a burden beyond his years, Fritillary Reeding, the tough religious head who is determined to keep darkness from claiming her lands, Lord Juster the flamboyant privateer who is pragmatic until someone threatens his beloved ship.

I was worried about some elements of the plot in The Lascar’s Dagger – the generic evil seemed a bit too derivative,  and some characters that we were supposed to like made some questionable decisions. After this book, though, I’m no longer worried – Larke uses the “generic evil” tropes rather cleverly, and the characters in question either realized that their decisions were suspect or fully committed to the dubious path. The book moved pretty quickly, and most of the outstanding questions from the first book were answered (something I always appreciate in a middle book of a trilogy), but of course, they raised a whole bunch of new ones.

The Dagger’s Path isn’t flawless – some of the characters flip-flop between attitudes too often (Sorrel’s emotions regarding Ardhi and Ardhi’s conviction regarding his ultimate fate, for example), everyone likes Saker way too much and too quickly, but it’s compelling and fun. This book isn’t even officially out, but I’d really like the third book now, please.


The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke (The Forsaken Lands, #2)
Orbit Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Lascar’s Dagger” by Glenda Larke

the_lascars_daggerAnother mini-review. The Lascar’s Dagger was my first book by Glenda Larke, and I liked it. A religious spy investigating the politics of the discovery of a new spice route realises that there’s a larger darkness brewing. This didn’t seem like a particularly innovative fantasy (see “larger darkness brewing”), but the characters are good, the intrigue is intriguing, and I started the second book despite having a new Brandon Sanderson book to read, so it’s pretty darn good.

I have more to say, but most of it applies to the second book too, so I’ll save it for my full-size review of the second book (I’ll update this post with a link when it’s ready).

Update: here’s my review of Book 2 with more about the setting and characters.


The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke (The Forsaken Lands, #1)
Orbit Books, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Dark Currents” by Jacqueline Carey

darkcurrentsA mini-review – I don’t usually read urban fantasy, but I really like Jacqueline Carey, and I recently read and loved Santa Olivia and Saints Astray, so I decided to give Dark Currents a shot. (It’s not really urban fantasy anyway, it’s Midwest small town fantasy, and I love the small Ohio town I live in, plus it’s supposed to end after three books.) I was not disappointed – there are definitely some genre tropes (the umpteen hot guys, the female protagonist with unique powers that doesn’t quite think she’s capable yet) but it was much darker than I expected, while still having moments of levity. And Carey is a master at steaminess (although the book was surprisingly devoid of actual action). The hot guys were all actually decent not-quite-humans, too – usually I can’t stand the people that the heroine finds attractive.


Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey (Agent of Hel, #1)
Roc, 2012 | Buy the book


“The Providence of Fire” by Brian Staveley

providence-of-fireThe Providence of Fire is the sequel to Brian Staveley’s debut novel, The Emperor’s Blades, which came out last year to a lot of acclaim. I read The Emperor’s Blades when it came out, but didn’t review it – I liked it enough to want to read the sequel pretty much immediately when I got it, but I had forgotten who most of the characters were.

In The Providence of Fire, we’re following the three children of the murdered Emperor of Annur as they try to save their empire from forces that are trying to tear it apart. Adare is in the capital, still reeling from the shocks she has just received, and Kaden and Valyn have barely escaped with their lives, and are fleeing from the forces that continue to pursue them.

First, the good things: I enjoyed this book, I couldn’t wait to get back to it whenever I had to take breaks from it. The worldbuilding in this series is excellent – it has a long mythology/history, distinct cultures and empires, and the way magic and gods work is pretty cool. The plot moves along quickly, and revelations come in quick succession. There are some awesome action scenes too – I love the concept of the Kettral (which the author has described as a fantasy version of special forces strike teams).

However, I was irritated by a number of things, mostly to do with the characters. All three protagonists – Valyn, Adare, and Kaden – were incredibly reactionary and kept making major decisions about their future every time they were presented with new information, regardless of the source’s trustworthiness. I wasn’t ever sure what motivated them and what their ultimate goals were. To be fair, I think some of that was intentional – all three of them are very young and inexperienced, and think they have to save the world single-handedly, but it sometimes came off like an utter lack of conviction, which made it hard to root for or care about the outcome. Adare especially seemed like she just went with whichever way the wind was blowing, and felt vaguely guilty after it, but never grew from it.

I wasn’t too enthused about the gratuitous violence either – while I’m not the biggest fan of violence, it’s not a dealbreaker. The thing that bothered me was that all the protagonists killed innocent people, or allowed the murder of innocent people to be acceptable collateral in their plans. This is not inherently a bad thing, but all three siblings are convinced that they’re being nobler than the Csestriim they’re fighting, whose chief failing is that they do not value human life, and just see them as pawns.

I’m not sure if these are flaws, or intentional on the part of the author, though – the next book will tell me that. The series is otherwise pretty great, and I’m looking forward to the next book coming out.


The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, #2)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis

DoomsdayBook(1stEd)I’ve heard a lot about Connie Willis, but my first exposure to her was her story in the Rogues anthology, which I absolutely loved. I bought this book, and To Say Nothing of the Dog immediately.

Doomsday Book is one of Willis’ shared universe books about a 2050-era Oxford University that sends historians back in time to study the past. Kivrin, an enthusiastic medieval scholar, is the first person to visit the Middle Ages (a few years before the Black Death), but her extensive research and carefully planned identity falls apart the moment she gets there. Meanwhile, back in 2048 Oxford, Kivrin’s professor is convinced that something is wrong with her time travel drop, but he can’t do much about it since an epidemic is breaking out.

Kivrin’s sections in the Middle Ages are definitely the most interesting part of the book – the people she meets are pretty ordinary, but they’re ordinary for their time, which still makes them a wealth of historical information. The portrayal of everyday life is fascinating, and the characters seem utterly real. The sections in 2048 are slightly less fun – the characters are the best part, but it got a bit repetitive and there were some overdone gags. (Plus, landline phones being common!)

Overall, this was a good book, just much more depressing than I had anticipated. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.


Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Bantam Spectra, 1992 | Buy the book


“The Just City” by Jo Walton

thejustcityI’ve been wanting to read Jo Walton for a while – her books always get great reviews, and she loves the Vorkosigan Saga as much as I do! Tor sent me an advance copy of The Just City, and I dove right in.

This book has one of the most fascinating premises of any book I’ve read – the Greek goddess Athene gathers up people from all eras of history to recreate Plato’s Republic (with the aid of robots from the far future). Of course, the experiment doesn’t go exactly as planned, especially when Socrates shows up asking questions. And mixed into this is Athene’s brother Apollo, who has chosen to join the city as a mortal to learn more about humanity.

This is a pretty slow-burning book (it’s about a bunch of philosophers!) but it’s lovely. We follow three people, each with a unique perspective – Apollo, Simmea (one of the children), and Maia (one of the masters) through the founding of the city and all the logistics that happen as the initial batch of children grow up. The protagonists manage to keep their ideal of being their “best self” alive, even struggling through the dilemmas of being real people at odds with Plato’s understanding of humanity.

Highly recommended – I’ve already pre-ordered the follow up, The Philosopher Kings.


The Just City by Jo Walton (The Just City, #1)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Fool’s Assassin” by Robin Hobb

rhho2s1qbzbzymfhn3niI took entirely too long to read Fool’s Assassin. I originally won it on LibraryThing Early Reviewers, but the book never arrived – I finally broke down and bought my own copy about a week ago. And then I ended up rereading all the previous six Fitz/Fool books.

This is another one of those books I knew I would like before I even read it – I’ve read the previous twelve books set in this world, and I love Robin Hobb. I didn’t think that there would be another book about Fitz – I’d figured he’d gotten his (well deserved) happy ending. I should have known better (and after rereading the previous books, the clues are there).

I’m not going to do a real review, but here are a few things:

  • There’s a new narrator in the book, and that was pretty interesting.
  • Fitz is way younger than I thought he was, he’s been through so much. He can totally carry a few more trilogies.
  • As usual with Robin Hobb books, this book is heartbreaking.
  • I still miss Nighteyes.
  • I really hope two of the new characters introduced redeem themselves (like Malta from the Liveship books), because I really didn’t like them.
  • Fitz is really stupid sometimes. However, this isn’t new – he’s always been horrible at seeing the obvious.
  • I hate cliffhanger endings.
  • I guess I’m glad I read this book a few months late because I don’t have to wait a whole year for the next book. Only eight months. Why isn’t it August 2015 right now?

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb (The Fitz and the Fool, #1)
Del Rey, 2014 | Buy the book


“Jumper” by Steven Gould

JUMPER_Steven_GouldThis is going to be a short review, since I’m catching up on reviews (as always).

I was recently sent a copy of Jumper by Tor as part of their promotion for the fourth book in the series, Exo. I’ve seen the movie, and although I thought the premise was interesting, the movie was terrible (although, Hayden Christensen does a much better job than he does as Anakin Skywalker). Luckily, the book is almost nothing like the movie, and was actually very good.

Davy Rice has a pretty horrible life – it’s a good day when his father doesn’t beat him senseless. One day, he discovers that he can teleport, and his life changes drastically. That’s the basic premise of Jumper.

The book mixes a few genres – the section where Davy explores his powers and builds a fancy new life for himself is kind of like the movie Catch Me If You Can (social engineering, heists, etc.) and there’s a lot of action towards the end. The major theme is self-discovery, though – Davy slowly comes to terms with his past, starts to take responsibility for himself, and becomes a well-adjusted person. And it’s all very well-written. All the characters are three-dimensional, and their relationships are believable. Davy is a great protagonist – even though he was pretty sympathetic in the beginning of the book, the person he turned into at the end was immensely satisfying.

I still haven’t read the next book, Reflex, but I’m pretty excited about it.


Jumper by Steven Gould (Jumper, #1)
Tor Books, 1992 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

secret gardenI’ve been in a big reading slump lately, but I recently went to see a stage production of The Secret Garden, and it inspired me to reread the book. I used to read this book a lot as a kid; I bought it a library sale at my school. I had never heard of it before, but the title immediately intrigued me. I hadn’t read it for about ten years though, so I was wondering how it would hold up.

Before I talk about the book, a quick review of the play. The Oberlin Summer Theater Festival produced it, and as usual, the sets, direction and acting were all top-notch (although adult actors playing ten year old characters was a bit jarring). I thought the adaptation into a play could have been better though; it was vastly simplified (the characters were all one-dimensional) and some of the events didn’t quite follow. I didn’t remember it being that way in the book, so that’s partly what prompted the reread.

I ended up enjoying the book a lot. Burnett has an engaging writing style, and even though her exposition can be a bit preachy, it rings true enough to be entertaining. The characters are (mostly) pretty complex, except for Dickon who’s basically magical, but that’s okay. Mary and Colin’s friendship made me smile – they’re both lonely, selfish and spoiled, but paradoxically they’re the only people that can help each other become a better person. Everyone else is just too normal.

I definitely picked up on a lot more of the subtle characterisation now that I’m older. The characters are all products of their experiences – Mrs. Medlock seems unsympathetic at first, but she’s just used to minding her own business, Dr. Craven is not terribly invested in his patient’s recovery, but he still holds to his Hippocratic Oath pretty strongly. I’d forgotten about the wonderful character of Mrs. Sowerby, who is responsible for everything sensible that happens in the book (the play omitted her entirely!)

The book is not without its flaws, some due to its time (I winced at the description of native Indians as “not real people”, although Mary was being particularly bratty at the time). Sometimes Burnett is pretty moralistic, and the serendipitous Magic that everything good is blamed on seems a bit hokey to me (but these days, everyone is taught to take charge of their own life and make stuff happen themselves, not depend on the universe’s goodwill – another sign of the cultural shift since the book was written). It is a book with ten year old protagonists, though, and I can distinctly remember being in awe of the wonders of the world then, so maybe I shouldn’t fault it.

My favourite Burnett book when I was younger was Little Lord Fauntleroy; I think I’m going to reread that next.


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Frederick A. Stokes, 1911 | Buy the book


“A Natural History of Dragons” and “The Tropic of Serpents” by Marie Brennan

12974372When I first saw the cover of A Natural History of Dragons, I knew I was going to love the book. (I know the adage about not judging a book by its cover, but come on, it’s gorgeous!) The book blurb only furthered that impression – a Victorian-style memoir by Lady Trent, who has defied convention to follow her passion and become the leading dragon naturalist of her day.

Isabella has been fascinated with the natural world (but especially the dragon family) ever since her cook taught her how to preserve sparklings in vinegar when she was seven. She knows that this hobby can only ever be a passing fancy for a lady of her station, but as luck would have it, she has the opportunity to travel to the mountains of Vystrana on a scientific expedition to study their fabled rock-wyrms. This journey, of course, turns out to be far more arduous than Isabella imagined it would be – involving not just inflamed dragons but complex politics, vengeful gods, and exhilarating discoveries.

Given this premise and that beautiful cover, I had really high expectations for the book, and they ended up being comfortably exceeded. Isabella is a fantastic protagonist – she tries very hard to reconcile her natural curiosity with what’s expected of her, and although she doesn’t always succeed, it’s still endearing. She’s no rebel with a twenty-first century sense of morals and propriety; she’s a woman of her time that is just very passionate about scientifically studying dragons.

A Natural History of Dragons also has a fascinating world. It is clearly based on 18th-19th century Earth, with Isabella’s homeland being analogous to England, and Vystrana similar to Eastern Europe. There are dragons, but they are just natural beasts – there is no “magic”; although the sense of wonder that Marie Brennan with new scientific discoveries is even better than magic. We learn a lot about the world through the political intrigue and the other mysteries in the book, like ancient ruins of a civilisation known as the Draconeans.

Other than that, the writing is great (I love Isabella’s forthright voice sprinkled with a copious amount of dry wit) and the plot is intriguing but this book really shines because it also packs quite the emotional punch – you really feel for Isabella through her disappointments, excitements, hopes, and sorrows. It’s a joy to see her come into her own over the course of this book. (Also, there’s one moment which you will instantly recognise when you encounter it where you just want to set something on fire.)


Okay, I’m also supposed to be writing about the sequel as well, so I’m going to stop talking about A Natural History of Dragons now.

Tropic Of SerpentsIn The Tropic of Serpents, it has been three years since the very eventful Vystrani expedition, and Isabella is far more confident in her abilities and far less concerned with what the world thinks of her. She jumps at the chance to go on an expedition to the continent of Eriga, home of many little-known varieties of dragons. However, Eriga makes her previous expedition look cushy – strange customs, warring countries (and more politics!), oppressive weather, hundreds of killer species, the list goes on.

All the elements that made the previous book such a success are still present in this one – Isabella continues to be awesome, the writing is beautiful, the worldbuilding is captivating. Eriga is an African analogue (except without as much rampant slavery/exploitation, I think), and there are many cool African-inspired things that this book explores, from stereotypical “big game” hunters to different views on gender and property ownership.

This is not just a series for light, fun reading – Isabella faces some heavy moral dilemmas. She has changed a lot from the first book (mostly as a result of the events of that book) and her character growth is very different. She is not quite as wide-eyed and eager, but her curiosity and competence still make her very compelling. She also takes more of a direct role in events this time; instigating rather than reacting, and you can definitely see her along the path to evolving into the somewhat cantankerous older woman that she is in the forewords.

I really enjoyed the supporting characters in this book; especially Natalie. It’s interesting to see Isabella’s choices already causing ripples in the freedom of other women, and Natalie had a great story arc from being the woman desperate to escape her expected place to society to becoming more mature and confident (all while inventing a glider!) I also loved the burgeoning respect and friendship between Isabella and Mr. Wilker.

I don’t have much to say about the plot except that I do like how the plot always ends up being relevant to major scientific discoveries that Isabella makes. I wish we still lived in a time when science was a new frontier and enthusiasts could make new scientific discoveries and/or invent things easily (okay, I don’t actually, because modernity has its benefits, but these books really make me wistful).

I’m terrible at endings, but I’m really excited to see what Isabella does next.

If you made it this far, you might be interested in my interview with author Marie Brennan and giveaway of two sets of both these books.


A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Lady Trent's Memoirs, #1)
Tor Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan (Lady Trent's Memoirs, #2)
Tor Books, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.