Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1)

image

Title: Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1)

Author: Robin Hobb

Synopsis: The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and he is despised. Raised in the castle stables, only the company of the king’s fool, the ragged children of the lower city and his unusual affinity with animals provide Fitz with any comfort.

To be useful to the crown, Fitz is trained as an assassin; and to use the traditional magic of the Farseer family. But his tutor, allied to another political faction, is determined to discredit, even kill him. Fitz must survive: for he may be destined to save the kingdom.

My Thoughts: Robin Hobb is a well-known name in the fantasy genre, and I’ve been meaning to try some of her works for quite a while. However, I’ve always been put off by the length of most of her books. This one spans just under 400 pages, so it seemed a good opportunity to give her a try. The story is about a boy named Fitz who grows up by the castle and is ultimately trained in the Skill: the ability to use magic which has passed down the Farseer bloodline. At the beginning of the novel we also learn that Fitz is writing a history of the Six Duchies at some point in the future and the events of the story are in his past. At the start of every chapter there is an excerpt from his writing which provides useful world-building as well as some interesting background information, which I found a nice touch that avoids characters having to plot-dump or over explain things.

I must admit that I wasn’t as blown away by this book as I’d hoped to be. Some of the prose was a little too flowery, and there were several instances where I had to backtrack after understanding a past event that wasn’t initially made clear. I’d hoped that the story would be more about Fitz’ assassinations, but a great deal of time is spent on him growing up in Buckkeep. This wasn’t exactly a bad thing, but it began to feel a bit samey after a while. Reading about his interactions with animals and sharing the thoughts of dogs was fun to read, though I did grow tired of hearing about how alone Fitz was- he veers on the side of wallowing in self-pity at times.

The Red Ship Raiders are a mysterious group of pirates that are terrorising the coastline. I found them really interesting to read about, despite the little you see of them, and what they do to the villagers they kidnap is chilling. Apart from Fitz’ interactions with animals, my second favourite parts of the story were probably the jobs that Fitz is assigned to do as the King’s assassin and political manipulator. The observations he makes about other characters feel genuine, and I also liked reading about potions and poisons. Overall though, I just didn’t seem to connect with this story. I think I will read some more of this author, but I did feel that this wasn’t an example of her best work.

In Short: Readable story that focuses on the smaller events rather than the interesting plot that is going on in the background. Magic, poisons and the Redship Raiders would have made this a better read if they’d been included more. 6/10

Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)

image

Author: Jim Butcher

Synopsis: Business has been slow lately for Harry Dresden. Okay, business has been dead. Not undead- just dead. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry hasn’t been able to dredge up any kind of work- magical or mundane.

Just when it looks like he can’t afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise. A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon.

Take three guesses. And the first two don’t count…

My Thoughts: One good thing about a series being recommended to you by a friend: if you enjoy the first book then it’s easy to get your hands on the second! Once I’d finished reading Storm Front, which I really enjoyed,I was eager to give this one a go. After several long months of struggling for work, Harry is consulted for a multiple murders case. And all the clues point to some supernatural creatures with wolfish tendencies…

Many fantastical beings have been featured in this series so far, and in each case the author has applied little tweaks and quirks to make them unique. Next to vampires, werewolves are probably the most common trope of fantasy. They’re positively ridden with clichés, and so it’s very hard to write an original portrayal. In Fool Moon the author strips them down to less complicated beings of bloodlust, but with various subtypes. The werewolf is certainly a formidable opponent for Harry Dresden, and the scene at the police station was particularly gripping to read. It demonstrates that nothing is indestructible, no character is completely safe- and it isn’t just Harry’s life that is endangered by this monster.

I was initially surprised by the higher level of violence in this one- people are shot and maimed and splattered, and plenty of blood is sprayed across the walls- but it fits with the darker themes of the story. We get a few more mentions of Harry’s past, including hints of a darker side to his nature including a greed for power. Particularly towards the end, this is explored to some extent. I really like the pieces of darkness in Harry’s personality that mix so well with his cynical sense of humour. I certainly haven’t come across a similar character to him before.

Whilst the book started off well, I felt that it sagged in the middle a bit. There are more characters to keep track of, which I found confusing at times, and the plot was difficult to follow in places. Murphy’s stubborn refusal to trust Harry quickly becomes tiring, and I couldn’t see why she was so intent on falling out with him at any given opportunity. That said, the climax has a good build-up, and the action really picked up again about three quarters of the way in. The final reveal was completely unexpected and cleverly foreshadowed. Harry has to use every last ounce of his skill to get by when the odds are once again stacked up against him. I just wish he could take a rest more often- the poor man never seems to get a day off!

In Short: A darker tale than book one, with more violence and hints of a shadier side to Dresden’s character. Werewolves are bestial and scary, and the ending was a rewarding surprise. 8/10

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #1)

image

Author: Rick Riordan

Synopsis: Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek god. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporised my maths teacher. That’s when things really started going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends and generally trying to stay alive.

This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks I’ve stolen his lightning bolt- and making Zeus angry is a very bad idea.

My Thoughts: After hearing so many good things about this series from a college friend of mine, I decided to give this one a try. Generally I don’t read children’s books, but recently I was pleasantly surprised by Phillip Reeve’s Mortal Engines so I tried to approach this one with an open mind. Percy Jackson is a twelve-year-old boy who discovers he is half god, and is sent on a mission to recover Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt and find the real thief before he is blamed for it.

As the title suggests there are lots of references to Greek mythology, and it’s amusing to see the gods interacting with the setting of modern-day America. I had fun trying to guess who would spring up next (many deities and monsters appear in disguise). The story is best enjoyed if you have a basic working knowledge of Greek mythology but everything is sufficiently explained if, like me, your memoryis a little patchy in places. Some of the monsters’ “surprise” appearances are a little obvious, especially since many seem to like hiding under the pretence of kind old ladies for some reason, but I enjoyed trying to work out who each one was before it was revealed.

The story focuses on Percy, demigoddess Annabeth and cowardly satyr Grover. The characters all have distinct, colourful personalities, and there is a good balance between the tweaking of original beings from mythology and the addition of author-created characters. The idea of summer camp for demigods is great, and the plot has various little twists and turns that make it something of a mystery story. Older readers might be able to second-guess some of the big reveals, but I must admit that I didn’t anticipate the ultimate “big villain”.

Overall, I found this book a quick, easy read. The quirky chapter titles are a nice touch, by favourite being “Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death”. The descriptions of Olympus and the Underworld were good, and although it’s a little overdone in fantasy I also liked the mysterious prophecy told for Percy. Although the major conflict is solved by the end of the book, I was left feeling a little up in the air since Percy is left with plenty more to do and worry about. However, this only made me want to continue reading the story, so it is likely I will pick up a copy of book two the next time I happen to be stopping by at Olympus- or the nearest bookshop.

In Short: Fun take on traditional Greek mythology with colourful characters and plenty of monsters. A decent read. 7/10

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1)

image

Synopsis: Harry Dresden is the best at what he does - and not just because he’s the only one who does it. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal capabilities, they look to him for answers. Because the everyday world is not as ‘everyday’ as it seems. It’s actually full of strange and supernatural things- and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a- well, whatever it is the police are having trouble with this time.

There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get … interesting.

Magic - it can get a guy killed.

My Thoughts: Urban fantasy is a genre I’m fond of, but lately it’s been a struggle to find any that isn’t your typical YA angst-ridden plot, complete with love triangle and variously fanged and furry clichés. This one was recommended to me by a friend, and it’s the first in a long series of books that is still ongoing (and I must say it’s nice to read a fantasy book that isn’t 800 pages long, for once). It’s the first “detective” fantasy I’ve come across, but I knew before I’d even finished the first chapter that it’s also a very good example of its genre.

As a novel with little padding the story starts off very quickly, and I was immediately engaged by the humorous and cynical first-person narrative of Harry Dresden, a professional wizard who acts- amongst other things- as advisor to the police when a case has something of the supernatural about it. When he is asked to investigate a murder that involves black magic he is left to dig up clues and find the culprit before he becomes a victim himself. As dark as the plot may sound, the story is made humorous by Harry’s unique perspective as he hopelessly tries to juggle multiple cases whilst maintaining something approaching a social life. It’s nice to see a male hero that isn’t ashamed of being a little cowardly at times, and I found him a character to easily identify with. There are some lovely settings in this book as well, in particular Harry’s basement apartment. Bob the talking skull was just the icing on the cake for me.

First and foremost the story is about the case, but plenty of world-building goes on in the background. Magic has an “old fashioned” feel to it, including drawing circles, wizard’s staffs and Latin phrases. Magical creatures are given various tweaks and touches by the author- there are no cut-and-paste vampires or demons, and even the monsters have personalities and agendasof their own. Harry has his own back story that is only briefly touched upon, leaving plenty to explore in future novels. There are some good characters here, though some felt a bit too similar to be truly memorable. The firm-but-fair LieutenantMurphy provides an interesting contrast with Harry’s character, and I enjoyed watching them play off each other.

All in all, I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. There’s a good balance of humour and action, and by the end I was really rooting for Harry to track down the villain. It was different to a lot of things I’d read, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone taking a first dip into urban fantasy. It’s certainly a series I could get into.

In Short: Entertaining detective story with lashings of humour and a lovable protagonist. A fun and engaging quick read with lots of promise for the rest of the series. 9/10

The High Lord (The Black Magician Trilogy #3)

image

Author: Trudi Canavan

Synopsis: Sonea has learned much at the Magicians’ Guild and the other novices now treat her with a grudging respect. But she cannot forget what she witnessed in the high lord’s underground room- or his warning that the realm’s ancient enemy is growing in power once more. As Sonea learns more, she begins to doubt her guildmaster’s word. Could the truth really be as terrifying as Akkarin claims, or is he trying to trick her into assisting in some unspeakably dark scheme?

My Thoughts: Normally I try to wait a little while between reading books in a series so that I can savour them a little, but after finishing The Novice I just couldn’t bear to wait before reading the finale to this awesome trilogy! Little has changed since the conclusion of book two, except that concern is growing over the mysterious murders that are occurring in the city which may involve black magic. The same characters are present, with the addition of Sonea’s old friend Cery who was largely absent from book two. Their various subplots subtly intertwine, and all are wondering about High Lord Akkarin’s motives.

In a genre where the antagonist is so often painted as the morally unambiguous “lord of all evil”, it’s refreshing to see Akkarin presented as someone who might not be without redeeming features. Trudi Canavan is really good at the slow progression of character relationships, and I was reminded of book one as Sonea once again questions beliefs she thought were set in stone. I was a little sad to see Rothen become more of a side character as he is forbidden to communicate Sonea, and Dannyl and Tayend’s story is also sidelined but the focus is once again on the story’s main protagonist, which is fitting for the trilogy’s conclusion. All characters- plus a few others- have a part to play, and with so many viewpoints to move between the story can feel a little crowded at times but it was interesting to see their subplots slowly coming together.

So much progression occurs in this book that by the end I was amazed by how far the characters had come. Any safeness that was present in The Novice is now gone; no character is safe from the Sachakan threat as an invasion becomes a grim certainty and the Guild is forced to question everything it once stood for. The last third of the book in particular had me completely hooked and I was desperate to learn the fate of the characters that I have grown to love over the course of this trilogy. There are certainly some interesting character developments, and just about everyone who has played a role in the past is brought into the events as the situation grows more desperate.

There’s so much I can’t say about this book for fear of spoiling it, but I can say that I couldn’t have wished for a better conclusion to the trilogy. Trudi Canavan has created such a rich and complex world that I could happily have spent many more books worth of time in the world she has created. Everything that has happened in the trilogy is brought together for a gripping, adventure-filled and completely satisfying conclusion.

There is a second trilogy set after this one, the Traitor Spy Trilogy. Although I was content with the ending I read, I’m certainly interested to see where the series will lead after this. After buying this trilogy on a whim I can safely say it has been some of the best high fantasy I have ever read, especially books two and three. For anyone who is a fan of this genre, read The Black Magician Trilogy: a series with detailed world-building, intricately interwoven plotlines, and characters that you’ll be willing to go to hell and back with. I loved every moment I spent reading.

In Short: The epic finale to this amazing trilogy. The world of Kyralia we have grown to love is threatened to end forever and characters are forced to consider what truly matters. It stayed with me long after I finished the book and convinced me utterly that Trudi Canavan is one of the best high fantasy authors out there. 10/10

The Novice (The Black Magician Trilogy #2)

image

Author: Trudi Canavan

Synopsis: Sonea knew that she’d face a tough time training within the Magicians’ Guild but she little realised the level of animosity she would face from her fellow novices. The sons and daughters of the most powerful families in the realm, her classmates seem determined to see her fail- at whatever cost. But in accepting the protection of the guild’s high lord, Sonea may have embraced a far bleaker fate. For High Lord Akkarin harbours a secret that is far darker than his magician’s robes.

My Thoughts: Even now that Sonea has been accepted into the Magicians’ Guild her troubles are far from over, and in this book it seems that no character is safe from the evil influence of High Lord Akkarin. Whilst The Magicians’ Guild was an enjoyable read in itself, in this instalment everything is taken up a notch. Upon reflection, the amount of plot in Novice makes its predecessor feel like a prequel in comparison; it is here that the trilogy really takes off.

Now that various characters have been established there is much more POV-jumping than before. I was initially unsure about this since in my experience there are always some characters I don’t want to read about. However, in this case I found myself enjoying all characters’ viewpoints, though in particular Sonea’s and Dannyl’s. We get to see more of Kyralia outside of the city of Imardin as Dannyl ventures out to delve into Akkarin’s past, unaware of the unfolding events back at the Guild. I particularly enjoyed reading about his interactions with new character Tayend as the two journey to discover the secrets the High Lord once left behind.

The characters’ relationships with one another all feel very genuine, and it was when reading this book that I felt I really connected with them and shared their triumphs and struggles. Sonea has grown close to Rothen since the two met in the first book, and I love the father/daughter bond that has formed between them. Unfortunately, she experiences discrimination due to her background as a slums-dweller since she is the only one not from a powerful family. For anyone who has experienced embarrassment at the hands of their classmates, Sonea’s struggle to be accepted by her fellow novices is painfully accurate. Regin plays a bully with no redeeming features, and I found myself eager to see Sonea prevail as she is forced to endure this newfound antagonism.

I’m of the firm belief that homosexuality in characters is sorely underrepresented in fiction, and it’s in high fantasy that I think it is neglected the most. So it was a pleasant surprise to see it represented in Novice and for various characters to question society’s views of it. Apart from the odd secondary character in some YA urban fantasy I can’t name a single other example in a high fantasy novel. I’m glad that Trudi Canavan thought to include it- and in a thoughtful and sympathetic way. I hope that this continues in book three.

As the various subplots of Sonea, Rothen, Dannyl and Lorlen intertwine, the plot goes from development to development. There were victories that made me punch the air, and pitfalls that made my stomach sink. Akkarin presents a sinister and powerful opponent, though he is mostly manipulating quietly from the side-lines. It’s a story that focuses more on the characters than the worldbuilding, and I think it’s all the stronger because of that since it’s the characters that the reader bonds with during the course of a story.

This book was positively addictive, and I found myself reading for hours at a time to reach the conclusion. It is one of the best high fantasy series I have read this year, and I can only hope that book three is equally as good as this one. I hadn’t heard of Trudi Canavan until I picked this trilogy up, and now I can’t believe I didn’t find her sooner. I am completely in love with this series and once I’ve finished it I will absolutely try some of her other works.

In Short: Mysteries deepen, characters develop as people and our view of Kyralia expands. Multiple viewpoints are a joy to read and the story is strengthened by focussing on characters more than worldbuilding. 10/10

The Magicians’ Guild (The Black Magician Trilogy #1)

image

Author: Trudi Canavan

Synopsis: This year, like every other, the magicians of Imardin gather to purge the city of undesirables. Cloaked in the protection of their sorcery, they move with no fear of the vagrants and miscreants who despise them and their work- until one enraged girl, barely more than a child, hurls a stone at the hated invaders… and effortlessly penetrates their magical shield.

What the Magicians’ Guild has long dreaded has finally come to pass. There is someone outside their ranks who possesses a raw power beyond imagining, an untrained mage who must be found and schooled before she destroys herself and her city with a force she cannot yet control.

My Thoughts: Lately I’ve been in the mood for some more high fantasy, and when I found this trilogy in a charity book shop it seemed the perfect opportunity. Sonea is a young girl who discovers her dormant magical powers by accident and is forced to go on the run as the Magicians’ Guild seek to claim her as one of their own. She enlists the help of faithful friend Cery and eventually becomes involved in some of the secret dealings of the Guild itself.

Initially, I found it a little difficult to get into the story because so many characters are introduced at once, especially during the Guild scenes, and I would have appreciated a few more physical descriptions to help me remember. As the story progresses this becomes less of a problem and the lack of description leaves the reader free to imagine the characters as they please. Sonea is a dwell from the slums, and like her fellow dwells she despises the Guild and all they stand for. Her discovery of dormant magical powers causes an interesting internal dilemma for her and I enjoyed the subsequent questioning of her beliefs. I particularly liked the character of the magician Rothen and his interactions with Sonea as these opposite views are brought together and both seek to gain knowledge from each other.

Invented foods and objects are a common feature of high fantasy stories but there are lots of little touches the author has made to the land of Kyralia that make it that bit more immersive. There is a glossary at the back for terms used throughout the book, along with some helpful explanations of slang used by the slums-dwellers. Invented animals also aren’t that unusual, but I can’t remember reading a fantasy where there are alternative names for existing creatures as is the case here. Mentions of eight-legged faren and scurrying ravi are subtle reminders that the world here is a different one to ours, and I found myself living in it quite happily whenever I continued to read.

With the additional knowledge the reader has of other characters’ motives, I found myself a little frustrated by some of Sonea’s decisions. The book is divided into two parts, and whilst I enjoyed reading snippets of the Guild’s increasing determination to find Sonea and her exploration of hidden passages under the city, much of the first part consists of her trying to evade capture from the Guild. However, the story kicks up a gear during part two and by the end I was eager to discover the fate of these characters and for Sonea to emerge victorious. The ending is satisfying, and also opens up interesting new avenues to be explored in the next book.

In Short: Solid high fantasy with good characters and lots of little details that make the world more immersive. Doesn’t truly pick up until part two but the ending is satisfying. An absorbing read.  8/10

Bibliomagespell Cover Gallery: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
I started this series way back in January and now that book three is set to come out in September I thought I’d take a look at some of the other language editions of Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas. With some help from Google translate, here are the approximate translations:

Bulgarian: Glass Throne
Spanish: Crystal Throne
Dutch: The Glass Throne
Italian: Throne of Ice
Japanese: No idea!
Polish: Glass Throne