Thursday, August 25, 2016

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Andrew Zollman

What I Read: Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Talia is a member of the Valdemar citizenry who live along the eastern border called Holderfolk. Holderfolk keep to themselves living in a patriarchal family system with women subjugated by the men in their lives. They live day to day following orders and completing tasks of their fathers and his wives.

When confronted by her family at the age of 13 that she is to begin the process of marriage, Talia is terrified. Her only other option is to be cloistered, giving up her own livelihood to prayer and the church. So Talia does what any youth in her situation would do with only unfavorably options given in their future. She becomes a runaway and seeks solitude from her family and others while she thinks about where she will take her life next.

Talia, while hiding, is confronted by a Companion. Companions are mystical creatures linked throughout Valdemar history to Heralds. She soon finds herself bareback riding the Companion back to the capital in hopes to return it for some kind of compensation. Instead she is made a Herald at the royal court after she rescues the Companion and trained as a Herald. During her training she soon uncovers a plot to seize the throne and Talia must use her newly trained empathic powers to save the queen.

What I Thought: This is the first of the Valdemar books written by Mercedes Lackey. It sets the tone and flow for every other Kingdom of Valdemar book in publication by Mercedes Lackey and does a good job of presenting and summarizing the basics for any reader of her books. The Kingdom of Valdemar is a complex communal system of checks and balances run by a King or Queen (who has to be a Herald) and Heralds and their Companions who ride circuits around the kingdom working with its citizenry.

I didn’t start with Arrows of the Queen in the Valdemar books and had to learn through 5-6 novels the ins and outs of how Valdemar society works and was shaped by its complex history. I recommend starting from the beginning and working your way forward so you don’t have to backtrack in the readings. There are many concepts and ideologies associated with the books and the functions of its many characters. If you don’t start from the beginning I would suggest a healthy dose of Medieval European history and a lot of high fantasy novels with a focus on magic or pscionics a.k.a. mind magic. Just flexing my inner geek for you.

Mercedes Lackey loves to tackle social norms and controversial topics in today’s society. One of the things I like to see in her writing is how she approaches clashes between characters in relation to something like controversial family relationships and governance, same sex relations, and things we still take for granted 19 years later.

One thing I can tell you about the book is that Talia is your typical female protagonist for a fantasy. She has her own set of social and emotional cuts she tries to hide from others. The traumas from her past life and the expectations she has for her every action shapes and defines her character and personality. She is difficult to get to like sometimes but that’s part of her struggle and the life she once had. Relationships come hard to her and reaching out even harder. It takes the character a long time to open out and accept new emotions and feelings, but when she does it opens up a new talent within her to connect with others. This is a very strong and encouraging aspect of Arrows of the Queen and helps progress the story.

If you like violence and conflict this book isn’t for you. The message and execution is a subtle thing that drives this series. There are times when description is vivid but it is done in a tasteful fashion.

I recommend this for High Fantasy readers and older teenagers who find that there isn’t enough substance in YA novels. Enjoy!

Readalikes: Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne; based on characters by J.K. Rowling

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Albus Potter, son of Harry Potter, is miserable. He doesn't feel his famous father understands him, he got sorted into Slytherin - a House he hates - and his only friend Scorpius is rumored to be the son of the Dark Lord. When the two boys hear of something they can do to try and change their world for the better, they seize the moment, but may in fact be making things worse...

What I Thought: Despite being the eighth installment in the Harry Potter series, this screenplay would have worked better as a standalone story about a boy growing up with a famous father. As-is, it's written itself into a corner: the plot hinges on young Albus Potter's frustrations at living in his father's shadow, but it's not allowed to ever fully become Albus's story - the title isn't Albus Potter and the Cursed Child for good reason. The climax of the story hinges completely on Harry's personal trauma, and events from Harry's life are frequently revisited (sometimes physically) by the characters.

The plot and many of the characterizations also read like fan fiction: full of cameos, trivia, full redemption arcs for fan-favorite characters, and a villainness with a completely unbelievable backstory. The moral of the story, that "anyone can become anything if circumstances were different", also flies completely in the face of the Harry Potter novels' focus on personal choice. This is not a Harry Potter story. It's an anti-Harry Potter story starring the cast of Harry Potter.

All of which is unfortunate, because the two new protagonists, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, are delightful. Both sound very believably like teenagers - their banter is great - and the "anyone can become anything" theme isn't a bad idea in and of itself, just one at odds with the world of Harry Potter in the novels. The screenplay is also very good at "show, don't tell" for evoking how miserable Albus is: its use of short vignettes to show time passing is very powerful, as incident upon incident piles on Albus until he reaches a breaking point. I would very, very happily read a seven-novel series about Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. Just maybe not one with this plot. Or where Albus's dad still manages to get his name in the title.

Recommended, ironically enough, more for casual fans of Harry Potter than diehard ones.

Readalikes: The Magicians by Lev Grossman, for more "gritty" fantasy; Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, for a pair of main characters that should appeal to fans of Albus and Scorpius.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Arena by Holly Jennings

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Andrew Zollman

What I Read: Arena by Holly Jennings

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: The year is 2054, and virtual gaming (eSports) has overtaken traditional sporting events worldwide. Millions of viewers tune in worldwide to get a glimpse of arena death matches featuring gamer turned athletes. Team Defiance is one such team, led by Kali Ling, who are fighting in the RAGE Tournaments to be this year’s champions. Gamers live every day dying and coming back to life like gods to appease viewers and sponsors alike. Every player is a modern digital gladiator wielding weapons and wearing armor.

The pain is real and the brutality extreme, and has made the public numb to outrageous acts of violence. Kali Ling is an exceptional fighter. Coined ‘The Warrior’, she is the first female captain to lead a team in the RAGE tournament. Is the task before her to difficult? Can she deal with the realities of the sport? When a tragic event happens during the tournament, can Kali find herself again in time to get herself and her team back into competitive form? Virtual gaming is much more than it appears, the truth is being hidden and not everything is as it seems for those not involved with the fighting.

What I Thought: This is Holly Jennings's debut novel as a writer. Both the concept and subject reflect current trends popping up in our society and changes affecting our culture as we move on from the age of millennial gamers into the 21st century. Virtual Reality gaming has just hit the markets and a story about its use is well planned for a writer. As a new writer, Jennings is just getting into the industry and has some lacking elements in her work as she explores her possible future in the story. The evolution of her characters and their interactions are well established and you can relate to their shortcomings and personalities when describing an avid gamer or athlete. She does a great job of blending the two together for the purpose of the story.

The action on the other hand is lacking. Jennings touches on the combat and brutality of the sport but never goes into full detail of the situation. When someone cuts into someone else, is there sensation, is there a change in personality, what else can happen to those involved? In Arena the characters in a sense become numb to the violence. There is little difference or variation between one gamer and another as they compete. I would have liked to see her delve deeper into what happens because of sport and the violence. Even with what is expected of gamers for sponsors and the fans, the addition of drinking and drug use just blurs the differences between reality and the virtual world. I would have also liked her to go a little bit more into the aspect of the combat, the styles, tactics, and uses of each. Combat in the tournament matches was extremely fast and was overshadowed by the challenges of Kali and the team. So much so that at times it was forgotten and I had to go back and read them again to remember what happened.

A bright spot in the story was Kali’s interactions with her team and the challenge that is the sport and the image she is being forced to play by her boss and sponsors. The conflict hits close to home and some of the more controversial aspects of professional sports we see today in Boxing and MMA when fighters interact with media and the spotlight.

This is one of my first science fiction titles that I have read with a focus on sports and virtual reality. The conflict is there but more background and research into the effects of gaming and violent sports would have made the story more convincing. I liked the concept and the approach, but I think it needed more detailed information for the reader to push them closer to the problem and message. The romance was light and has teenage tones of relationship which was good. I don’t like romance in books to overshadow the conflict that the main character is facing and the focus of the book.

Recommend for older teens and adult readers who actively read science fiction. Once again this story has a strong female character which the story revolves around and I think it help move and shape events. Enjoy!

Readalikes: This is Not a Game by Williams, Walter Jon

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Gated by Amy Christine Parker

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Elia Juarez

What I Read: Gated by Amy Christine Parker

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Gated tells the story of Lyla, a 17-year-old who has been living in a doomsday cult known as the Community since she was 5 years old. The cult’s leader, Pioneer, came into her family’s life shortly after Lyla’s little sister Karen was kidnapped and convinced her emotionally vulnerable parents that the world was soon to end, and the only way to be saved is to move to the Community and prepare for the arrival of “The Bretheren,” a race of aliens who came to Pioneer in visions and foretold the end times.

12 years later, the Community’s members have been stockpiling weapons, food and other provisions inside of a huge underground silo, where they plan to move on the day Pioneer believes the earth will begin to end. Shortly before this happens, though, Lyla meets some people from the outside world – a local sheriff and his son Cody, who begin to raise doubts in her mind about the things Pioneer has been preaching all this time, which of course does NOT make Pioneer or the other members of the community happy.

What I Thought: I found the book quite entertaining. It’s outside of the realm of what I normally like to read, since it is realistic fiction and I like to read mostly fantasy and dystopia. Still, it was an interesting enough premise to keep me reading. Because it’s told from the point of view of someone living inside of a cult situation, you get a unique understanding of why otherwise seemingly normal and intelligent people would let themselves get sucked in to something so bizarre, as well as getting the perspective of someone who didn’t really have the choice to join, since her parents brought her into this lifestyle before she was old enough to know any better.

Look this book up on NoveList!