Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Light in the Darkness

Between the Shade and the Shadow


Author: Coleman Alexander
Published: The Realmless LLC - June 21 2018

Goodreads Summary:    In the deep heart of the forest, there are places where no light ever shines, where darkness is folded by pale hands and jewel-bright eyes, where the world is ruled by the wicked and kept by the wraiths. This is where the Sprites of the Sihl live. But Sprites are not born, they are made. On the path to Spritehood, spritelings must first become shades. They do so by binding a shadow: a woodland creature, who guides them through their training. Together, they keep from the light and learn to enchant living things, to bind them, and, eventually, to kill them.  Yet, not all spritelings are born with malice—they must earn it or they are condemned. What happens then to the spriteling who finds a shadow where she shouldn’t? What happens if that particular spriteling wasn’t born with malice at all? 

Ahraia was that spriteling. She ran too close to the light and bound herself to a wolf, a more powerful shadow than any that came before it. Now a shade, her shadow marks her for greatness. But a test is coming, and the further they wander out of the darkness, the deeper they wander into danger. Ahraia’s time is coming and what awaits her at the end of her test will either make her or kill her

My Thoughts: 
     I don't know where to start with this book. It was phenomenal. The story is dark - literally, sprites, spritelings, and shades can't leave the shade or they burn. These creatures sleep in patches of homemade darkness during the day and wake once the sun has set. This story is not set in our world, the night sky holds two moons, not one. 
     At first the reader is inclined to believe that the sprites, spritelings and shades(I'm just gonna call them dark elves, okay?) are in the right. The main character is one of them after all, aren't we supposed to root for their success? No. I don't believe so. This becomes more and more apparent as the book progresses. While spritelings can be kind and loving, sprites can not. The very essence of a sprite is malice and death. Some shades turn to sprites easier than others, this is not the case for Ahraia and her shadow Losna. 
     Before becoming a shade, a spriteling must go into the woods and bind themselves to an animal - think familiar - with home they create a bond. On the night of her binding, Ahraia considers running away and never coming back, until she sees Losna. A huge black and silver wolf. They moment they meet a strong bond is formed. They bind tighter than most. And for a while everything is fine, but then things start to happen. Ahraia's mother the Astra (leader of the tribe) is cast out and replaced by another woman. Life shifts. And shifts again three years later when Ahraia's eldest sister becomes a sprite, and the sprites learn that Ahraia has not been using magic to kill as expected - Losna is instead doing the killing of food.
     On a hunt gone awry they learn that humans will be passing near a place which two of Ahraia's brothers are at. The pair rush to warn them but arrive too late. They meet a terrible evil and find the bodies of the brothers and their shades. Oh, and get seen by a human. A human who Ahraia doesn't kill on site like she should. Her other brother takes the blame for this blunder and is exiled to the shadow woods where he is quickly eaten by the Shad-mon. These sudden deaths push Ahraia to the top of her nit (group of siblings) and suddenly the Masai (queen of all dark elves) arrives and claims Ahraia as her own - a shade powerful enough to bond with a wolf is needed in her tribe. There are many protests - Ahraia is too young to become a sprite and does not want to leave her younger siblings who will die without her help. She doesn't have a choice, and so begins the shadow tests.
     The first test is to kill an innocent - an enormous elk - and to do so using her magic. But to use that magic means killing the creature while mind-melded with it, and Ahraia refuses. Instead she still manages to kill the elk with assistance from a pack of wolves. As soon as this is accomplished she plans on escaping the nit with her younger siblings, but the Masai takes Losna as prisoner and leaves. 
     The second task is to kill an enemy and take his head to the Masai where she will get to see Losna. This is perhaps where we see the most character development. Ahraia has been raised to see humans as enemies, but she finds that this is not true. While she doesn't have any positive interactions with them she recognizes their family units and decides she cannot kill one. Eventually severing the head of an already dead man.
     She arrives as the Masai's darkness longing to see her shadow only to learn that she is not allowed to be with her until the final task - killing her shadow. This is why sprites have no love and seem cold and withdrawn. A sprite is creating when a shade and shadow die. Ahraia is horrified, she will never kill Losna. Days begin to tick away as she tries to plan how to escape with Losna. Oh, also, her younger siblings were killed.
     During her stay with the Masai she learns that the Masai was behind the deaths of her siblings. A wolf-binder is powerful and a threat to the power of the Masai, so the Masai killed Ahraia's older siblings making her next in line to become a sprite. Once she was a sprite the Masai had planned to kill her. For most dark elves, this would have worked. They follow orders and do not question the chain of command or the authority that rules. Ahraia is different. Maybe because she bonded with an animal that also has a strong sense of self, family and the light. Maybe because Ahraia's spirit is a wolf just like her shadow. 
    Ahraia is caught while trying to escape and condemned to the shadow woods, and thereby death by the shad-mon. But Ahraia is not like other dark elves, she has walked in the light and been scarred and come away better for it.
    Ahraia escapes the shad-mons (yes there are two) a thing that had never before been done. Because instead of using her magic on animals to kill, she has been using her magic on plants to bend them to her needs, and to learn the paths of the forest. She outruns and outsmarts the shad-mon and then frees Losna. But, they have still to escape the prison that holds Losna. This is accomplished by fire. Fire burns dark elves, but Ahraia is not like other dark elves, and endures pain in order to survive. Finally she and Losna are almost free when they are stopped by the Masai. The most powerful Sprite there is. But she is not like Ahraia. She is strong and can bind the body, but does not think of the trees. Ahraia uses magic to call the trees and roots into action easily ripping the arms and head off the Masai. The pair then crosses back to the shadow woods.

     This is where the theme of the book and the character of Ahraia really meld. All her life she has been taught the three rules of the Shadow woods - Don't make a sound, don't touch the trees, and don't drink the water. She and Losna do the exact opposite bringing the monsters to them instead of being hunted. They attack the shad-mons showing them their lack of fear and cross unattacked through the rest of the shadow woods.

Okay, sorry that was a long synopsis. Maybe not totally necessary, but it helps me to think. Ahraia and Losna survive because they don't do everything they are told, they question orders, and learn that trying new things can work better than the old. Instead of taking life, Ahraia saves lives. Instead of fearing the day, Ahraia uses it to her advantage and finds that while it burns, it will not kill her. Instead of using animals as tools to selfish ends, Ahraia treats creatures with respect and tries to ask as little as possible. Ahraia is powerful because she does what feels right to her, not what society tells her. 

I loved this book. My review cannot do it justice. The plot was complex, but everything had a place. The characters were intense and interesting. And maybe most importantly of all, this story made me feel. I was emotionally tied to the story, I cared about the characters and I was on the edge of my seat. I read it in three days, and it's a pretty long book. If you want a complex, compelling story about the trust and love between a girl and her dog, this book is for you. And if you don't want that, read it anyway. It's fantastic.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Doppelgangers and Dragon Riders

Rescuing the Prince

Rescuing the Prince

Author: Meghann McVey
Published: 2017 (kindle) by Meghann McVey

Goodreads Summary: During the afternoon fantasy parade, a dragon swooped down and carried off my boyfriend. I am not making this up. 

So begins Leah’s adventures that lead her to another world. At home in California, Leah’s boyfriend Gerry is her rock and motivation. Now, trapped in another world without him, she must find her own courage. During her quest, Leah impersonates a missing princess, learns magic, and meets new friends and allies, including the shy, handsome Tolliver. But in the end, does she have what it takes to defeat Gerry’s fearsome captor, the Dragon Rider?

My thoughts:
This story was riveting. I found myself staying up late into the night to finish it. The main character - Leah, was real. She wasn't some warrior-ess just waiting to save the day. She frequently did things wrong, and was timid and full of anxiety, yet tough. Most of the characters in the story were well rounded and carefully crafted. I especially enjoyed the characters at Valeriya the school of magic, and the two guards - Tolliver and Faxon were well written too.

However, this story didn't seem very linear, it actually felt like multiple stories in one book. First, Leah is set on rescuing her boyfriend who was carried away by a dragon, but then she is caught up in the search for a missing princess and used as a fake, in order to keep the kingdom stable. After showing signs of magic, she's sent to a school where she can learn more about her new powers. Then, a civil war breaks out and she is rushed back to the first kingdom she entered. While there she finally decides to do something about her boyfriend and goes on a hunt (with a gypsy) to rescue him from the Dragon Rider. 

In total about 2 years pass between the beginning of the book and the end. The main plot of the book which seems to be rescuing Ger (the boyfriend) gets lost among the more exciting things that Leah experiences during her adventure. She not only learns how to be a princess, and how to weld elements, but also falls in love with a great guy. That's a lot to cover. The plot was good, but towards the end of the book things became very confusing and events didn't seem to connect. Were we supposed to believe that Leah was fine with her boyfriend being kidnapped and probably tortured for two years? It just seemed a little improbable. 

At the end Leah finally faces the Dragon Rider and learns that it is not who she thought! It is Lady Ariana the kind woman who dwells in the village, but no! Wait! It's actually Mersania last of the first people. Immortal and alone, she used to be lovers with Ger, who is actually also from this world, and also immortal. She kidnapped him as revenge. What???? If you're confused by that, so was I. Especially because during the book, Mersania's story is told multiple times, each time she is illustrated as a sad lonely child wandering the world. In one version of the story she lives with the gypsies for a time before continuing her life. At no time during any of the recitations of her tale did I feel like she was malevolent, and yet she had captured a man and held him captive for two years - yes, he was her ex-lover, but still. It seemed out of character. 

At the end of the book everything wraps up, the civil war ends, the missing princess turns up (she was actually in disguise as a dude the whole time), and Leah ends up with Tolliver. 

But wait! It's not over! Suddenly Leah and Tolliver are transported back to modern day California right into the amusement park (think Disneyland) where Leah used to work. Now it's over.

This book left me with more questions than answers. I'm still very confused over a few key points. 


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Alligators, druids, and time travel, oh my! Review of 'Some Very Messy Medieval Magic' by C. Lee McKenzie

Cover image of Some Very Messy Medieval Magic

Title: Some Very Messy Medieval Magic
Series: The Adventures of Pete and Weasel #3
Author: C. Lee McKenzie
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy / Time Travel 
Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press LLC
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

Pete’s stuck in medieval England!

Pete and his friend Weasel thought they’d closed the Time Lock. But a young page from medieval times, Peter of Bramwell, goes missing. His absence during a critical moment will forever alter history unless he’s found.

There’s only one solution - fledgling wizard Pete must take the page’s place. Accompanied by Weasel and Fanon, Pete’s alligator familiar, they travel to 1173 England.

But what if the page remains lost - will Pete know what to do when the critical moment arrives? Toss in a grumpy Fanon, the duke’s curious niece, a talking horse, and the Circle of Stones and Pete realizes he’s in over his young wizard head yet again...

What I have to say:

An alligator familiar? A woefully inept young wizard? An introverted best friend? A time-traveling author who may or may not have been turned into a horse for writing something nasty about the druids? 

There was nothing about C. Lee McKenzie's Some Very Messy Medieval Magic that I did not love, unless it was the fact that it eventually ended. 

I haven't read the first two books in the series (now I will) but I didn't feel lost at any point. The author does a great job summing everything up concisely and entertainingly, along the way dropping hints that make me want to go back and read those first two books.

Right from the start, this book was awesome. As soon as I read the first couple of paragraphs about a substitute teacher named "Dread Wraith" making life difficult for his middle school students, I knew I'd found a good thing. The tone is so entertaining and the two main characters are so lovable.

Pete and Weasel are two eighth graders who in many ways couldn't be more different: Weasel seems to know everything - Pete is pretty clueless and at any given time you can probably find him screwing things up. Weasel puts out a grumpy, leave me alone vibe - Pete can't understand why anyone wouldn't want a hug. For better or for worse, they're best friends. And I am so in love with their friendship dynamic. 

Also hallelujah, Weasel is an introvert! I want to see more introverted characters in fiction! Especially in YA and MG fiction. Especially in YA and MG fantasy and science fiction. So thank you, C. Lee McKenzie, for doing that.

This story also has a nice element of mystery, and that coupled with the fun voice and quick pace is what kept me reading. Plus, there are delicious touches of all the things that make up a great story: mysterious standing stones, a dark forest, ghosts on Halloween night, illusive castles, time travel disasters, and even a bit of old English politics. I mean really what is there not to love?

I'll stop rhapsodizing now and try to actually talk about the book.

Pete and Weasel have to go back to medieval England to fix a time inconsistency left over from Pete's great Time Lock disaster (one of the instances in which he screwed things up). Pete knows he has to save the young duke, but he doesn't know how, when, or what from. And to make things worse, it looks like there may be an assassin in their midst. 

Complicating matters still further is the fact that Weasel can't wear his glasses because glasses haven't been invented yet and he and Pete need to blend into medieval England, that Pete has no idea how to ride a horse or wield a sword, and that the druids keep interfering in everyone's affairs.

Also there's the fact that Pete's alligator familiar (?!) is 100% done with Pete after getting left in a smelly moat for several days, and the startling revelation that Pete's horse is definitely not what she seems. I can't - I just freaking love all of it. 

In short, if you're looking for a fun, engaging middle grade adventure that will make you laugh out loud but also keep you up at night reading, and if you like your novels sprinkled with an element of the supernatural and a bit of time travel, you really can't go wrong with Some Very Messy Medieval Magic. And don't let that title fool you - there is nothing messy about this book. It's pure perfection.


Ah, what the heck? I'll give it five trees. YOLO.

Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Why I stopped writing for four months - guest post by author Chris Bridge

Hello readers! 

Today we're happy to bring you this guest post from Chris Bridge, author of Girl Without a Voice. The topic is something a lot of writers can probably relate to.

Why I stopped writing for four months 

by Chris Bridge

One morning, nearly three years ago, I got up early, as usual, and began to write. My novel was called Long Lost then. Later it morphed into Girl Without a Voice. The story had been skipping along. I had an outline so I knew where I was going but not exactly how I was going to get there. I aim to write 1000 words before breakfast. That morning I remember I was way over my target.

I’d written quickly but with a sense of unease. As I wrote, a new idea crept into my mind and stayed there. It wasn’t what I ever intended to write. It was in none of the plans I’d drawn up. But it was perfect. It fitted everything and would add wings to the plot. This new thought suddenly seemed like a really good idea.

My characters seemed to think so too. I realized they had been heading for this confrontation for a long time. It was absolutely true to both of them at that moment. It was exactly what each of them would have done. So I wrote the scene.

When I read it back I was appalled. I’m a man who tends to write about women. Leah is not only my main character, she is my narrator, so I had written the scene from her point of view. I read it back and thought, you’ve no right to do that. As a man you can’t know enough to make the scene real. It could seem horribly gratuitous.

I re-read it and my doubts intensified. Every writer has their red lines. I’d crossed one of mine. I’d already saved what I’d written. I’d done this from habit before I read it over.  I didn’t delete it. But I shut down the computer and abandoned the more than 30,000 words I’d already written, all that planning and the extensive research.

I didn’t go back to it for four months. But when I read it through it came alive off the page. I was excited by the trajectory that lead to the scene, and then both moved and disturbed by the scene itself. It worked. It really worked. Women friends of mine agreed.

So much of what we do as writers exists in our imaginations. I think we have to be true to all the experiences we have had, and to all the observations we have made, and every story we have been told. Truth is the only red line. We are not confined by gender or by age but only by the way in which we have opened ourselves up to so many layers of experience and the way we stay true to what we think we know.

Nice, right? If that left you wanting more, here's the scoop on Chris Bridge's new book Girl Without a Voice:

Robbed of speech and ignored, Leah exists on the margins. Then Patrick arrives.

Bullied as a child by her siblings, Leah is so traumatised that she loses the power of speech.

Being mute has made her acutely observant, so years later she notices how her mother, Izzy, becomes energized the moment the funeral of Leah’s father is over. She soon learns that Izzy is searching for the son she gave up for adoption.

Patrick is found and Izzy is delighted. He soon becomes a frequent visitor. Leah is so enthralled by Patrick that she changes her usual look of long cardigan over men’s trousers for a more appealing, womanly look. The change is not lost on Patrick who responds in a very non-brotherly way.

Leah runs away to the only friend she has and, after regaining the use of her voice, enlists his help in discovering the truth about her supposed half-brother.

Their search leads them to Leah’s estranged uncle and a run-in with the cult of the Living Saints.

Can Leah convince her mother that all is not as it appears with Patrick?

Can she and her family rescue their mother from the religious cult and escape Patrick once and for all?

Happy reading,
Erin & Anna

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What do diet Coke, Andy Warhol, and aliens have in common? They're all in 'The Book of Ralph'

Title: The Book of Ralph
Author: Christopher Steinsvold
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 416
Publisher: Medallion Press
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

A message appears on the moon. It is legible from Earth, and almost no one knows how it was created. Markus West leads the government’s investigation to find the creator.

The message is simple and familiar. But those three words, written in blazing crimson letters on the lunar surface, will foster the strangest revolution humankind has ever endured, and make Markus West wish he was never involved.

The message is ‘Drink Diet Coke.’

When Coca-Cola denies responsibility, mass annoyance becomes worldwide indignation. And when his investigation confirms Coca-Cola’s innocence, Markus West becomes one of the most hated men on Earth.

Later, five miles above the White House, a cylinder is discovered floating in the night. It is 400 feet tall, 250 feet in diameter, and exactly resembles a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. Nearly everyone thinks the cylinder is a promotional stunt gone wrong, just like the lunar advertisement. And this is exactly what the alien in the cylinder wants people to think.

Ralph, an eccentric extraterrestrial who’s been hiding on the moon, needs Markus’s help to personally deliver a dark warning to the White House. Ralph has a big heart, a fetish for Andy Warhol, and a dangerous plan to save the world.

2016 Silver Medal for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Top ten books of 2016, Our Book Reviews Online.

What I have to say:

I just realized the cover for The Book of Ralph looks like a can of Campbell's soup. I'm a little slow on the uptake, I guess, though to be fair I read this on kindle, so the cover was black and white and I didn't really look at it that often. Anyway, A+ design choice.

Here's my favorite line:
"In essence, the universe is an exquisitely efficient and maximally elegant, ego-crunching machine. That is what it does."
I read this shortly after experiencing an ego-crunch myself, so it felt very true.

The Book of Ralph is an extremely enjoyable, well-paced adventure peppered with sly humor that sometimes feels a little Douglas Adams-ish (that's a word, I just invented it). There's definitely an Adams feel behind the line quoted above. And other things, like the fact that the evil aliens happen to be from the planet Kardash and are thus "Kardashians" are reminiscent of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy humor.

But on the whole, The Book of Ralph steers clear of just being a tribute to Hitchhiker's Guide, or to any other work of science fiction, for that matter. It's fresh, original, and imaginative. In fact, it's set up in such a way that it kind of messes with your expectations.

The story begins when an inexplicable message appears on the moon during a solar eclipse. The message reads: "Drink Diet Coke." Markus - our protagonist - is hired to head up an investigation, ultimately finding that Coca-Cola was not behind the message. This makes him extremely unpopular.

So this is going to be a clever, comic sci-fi story, I'm thinking at this point. The writing is great: very clean in the sense that it reads easy and it's clever. I'm enjoying it vastly.

Fast forward a bit, and we have our first contact with an extraterrestrial. Ralph (the alien in question) is hilarious and adorable and I love everything about him. At this point, it's still a very funny story. But all that's about to change.

Through a series of disastrous events which none of the main characters could reasonably have foreseen, some prominent people die and it looks like the earth is going to be invaded by evil aliens (yes, these are the Kardashians).

Suddenly everything's dark and scary and we're faced with the threat of the end of civilization as we know it. Where the heck did this come from? Wasn't this supposed to be a cute, tongue-in-cheek story about an alien with an Andy Warhol fetish?

Not quite. Or rather, yes, it was supposed (air quotes) to be about that, but that was probably just a ploy to lull us into a false sense of security or something. At any rate, what we have on our hands now is a serious discussion of good and evil, hatred, envy, violence, the ego, and humanity.

We're still rooting for Ralph, but whereas before we were rooting for him to seize the day, upset the status quo, and possibly have sex with the president, now we're rooting for him to save the earth from imminent destruction without dying in the process.

It's well done, because the tone change doesn't feel jarring as you're reading. Or rather, it feels a little jarring in the way it would if you were hanging out with an adorable alien one minute, then facing the threat of total destruction from a hostile race of extraterrestrials the next. But that's just good storytelling.

There's also a lot to think about - Markus and Ralph have some pretty deep philosophical talks around the middle of the book, and those parts are also well done. In particular, my concepts of hate and envy have probably changed after hearing Ralph's explanations of the two feelings. I've also gained more insight into the ego and why it's actually a good thing that the universe keeps crunching mine.

Then, like most good science fiction stories, there's a plot twist. And of course there's a moment where the fate of humanity depends on the actions of the main characters, and someone has to make a sacrifice.

I'm enthusiastic about this book. I wanted to like it, and I did. The author does a great job portraying and developing his alien characters - well, mainly Ralph, since he's the only alien we really get close to. Ralph isn't just a guy from another planet who has two heads or is green or something; he's really, completely, alien. But, incredibly, he seems more human than any actual human. And you can connect with him on a level you can't with another human.

Still, when I finished this book, I was left wanting something more. It's not that the book wasn't well-written, because it was - clever and engaging and psychologically deep - I just didn't feel profoundly changed by it, and that's what I want out of a really good science fiction novel.

After reading over my review, I realize the book did change the way I think about certain concepts, and now I feel like I'm just being a jerk about this whole thing. It's a fun story. I enjoyed it. I loved Ralph, and I loved reading his book.

Also I'm going to give a disclaimer here letting you know that there's some swearing in this book, like mainly the F word. If you're like, why the heck do I need to know that, Erin? just ignore this. If you're like, thanks I don't want to read a book that has the F word in it, you're welcome.


Until tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A random C.S. Lewis story

The name of this blog is taken from a story by C. S. Lewis, so I just wanted to take this opportunity to share a brief but AWESOME story from C. S. Lewis' life that I just read.

You may or may not know that Lewis (known to his friends as Jack so that's what we'll call him cause we're on a first name basis with the guy and you know it) was an English tutor at Oxford. And apparently he had strong feelings on the subject of poetry. Because this one time he was arguing with one of his pupils about whether or not this one poem was any good, and the pupil was having none of it. So Lewis quoted like, half the poem to him, and the pupil was like, yeah I just don't think this poem is actually that good.

So Jack was like, "The sword must settle it!"

And for some reason that no one could explain afterward, there were two swords in the corner of the room, and Jack picked them up and freaking STARTED FENCING WITH HIS PUPIL. LIKE THEY LEGIT HAD A FENCING MATCH RIGHT THERE IN THE CLASSROOM.

This is my new favorite thing ever.

That's all. Have a good day.

(Also if you're wondering, this book is The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter and yes, I recommend it.)

Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: Broken Wizards by Jeffrey Bardwell

Title: Broken Wizards
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga, Book 2
Genre: fantasy/steampunk
Pages: 468
Publisher: Twigboat Press
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

Would you flee into the land of dragons and evil wizards?

The wizard purge is in full swing. Sorcery is illegal in the modern, steam-powered Iron Empire. The Magistrate's Black Guards hunt the uncivilized mages using mechanized armor and mysterious, clockwork weapons. The guards deliver their prisoners to the Butcher, Captain Vice. All wizards are tortured and executed as traitors to the state . . . with one exception.

That exception is Devin, the outbreak mage and ex artificer, a prince of machinery. The Magistrate exiles the youth over Vice's protests to the wild kingdom of wizards and dragons. Devin only knows gears and springs, but his savage magic offers salvation, if he can tame it. The exile must learn to harness his dangerous, new powers before the Butcher tracks him down to finish the job.

Follow Devin's quest in Book Two of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

What I have to say:

In Broken Wizards, author Jeffrey Bardwell continues the story of Devin the artifice mage. When last we saw Devin in Rotten Magic, he'd locked himself in a room with his arch nemesis (the school bully) and it looked like he was about to torch the place. The stakes were high, the tension was real, and boy did I love it.

Keeping that tension, Broken Wizards starts off with pretty high stakes. We're not entirely sure what Devin did in that room, nor are we sure what happened afterward. We're concerned about what may have befallen Devin's very lovable mother and sister, and we almost can't watch as the young mage's punishment is meted out.

Oh, did I mention? Being a mage is a crime in the Iron Empire. And Devin has now officially "come out of the closet" as a mage - which means there's no sanctuary for him anywhere.

Banished from the Iron Empire, he wanders through the poorer Kingdom of Corel: a place where mages and dragons roam at large, though Devin seems to have a hard time finding either at first. Eventually he reaches Cornelius, a mage who agrees to help Devin harness his magic powers.

So yeah, this is that one book that every fantasy series has at one point, where the main character goes on a quest of self-discovery and basically the whole book is like, hero wandering from one town to the next, talking to a lot of people, learning about his/her parentage or learning to tame his/her powers. At best, it's Taran Wanderer, The Empire Strikes Back, etc. At worst, it's The Druid of Shannara (Man, I love Shannara but I hated that book. It just dragged on and on forever!)

I'm pleased to report Broken Wizards is much more engaging than The Druid of Shannara. It's not Taran Wanderer, but then what is?

Like I said, this book started out strong. And it stayed strong for a while. There were also parts where Devin and Cornelius just rehashed old arguments over and over again, and those weren't the most engaging passages, I must say. Don't get me wrong: I love a little magical philosophy in my books, but I felt like these characters could have used less talking and more doing. However, maybe that's their fatal flaw.

At other moments, the story is boss. Some of my favorite parts were when we left Devin's story for a while and saw through the eyes of other characters. Devin's point of view is muddled and meandering: which isn't exactly a fault in the narrative, that's just Devin's character and I'm all about those unreliable narrators. But because of that, transitioning to another character feels refreshing. I loved the passages from the magistrate's point of view, and I love that the book started out that way. It was different and it gave us some more context on the Iron Empire and its mage dilemma.

Also - Styx!

By far my favorite narrative voice was that of Styx - and I won't actually tell you who Styx is because it could be a spoiler, but he's a character, OK? The first time we got a passage from Styx's point of view, it was like a breath of fresh air in the story - so emotional, so poetic, I loved it. I also loved how the passages from Styx kept alluding to things that were going to happen in the future, teasing us with hints of prophecy and war - and then never explaining them! (I assume we'll get it in a subsequent book.) It was a brilliant way of keeping the reader engaged and guessing.

And did I mention how great Abigail is? Though it took a little time for me to warm up to her (as it should, she's kind of intimidating), I really liked her in the end. I don't think we ever got anything directly from her perspective, but she was a strong supportive character.

So there might be a lot of talking, but there are also parts in this book that are spine-tinglingly awesome.

Devin has a moment of revelation at the end of the book, when he realizes something about the dynamic between Cornelius and himself (I won't spoil it). I loved that part.

Also, Devin has some great one-liners, like this one that I don't think is a spoiler because I'm not giving any context and honestly Devin says this kind of stuff all the time anyway:
"None of your men will leave this beach alive," Devin said. "You only thought you faced a dragon before. I am the real dragon."
Boom. Devin has arrived.

It just takes, like, a lot of pages. (IDK how many, I read this on Kindle, OK?)

Final takeaway: I could do with less talking - especially when characters are in the middle of a life or death situation and they're like, o...k... time for a philosophic debate.... but overall this book has great characterizations, great alternating viewpoints, and freaking dragons. Plus some steampunk mixed with magic, which I dig. (Send me more steampunk books, yo!)

If it's a little broken, maybe that's because it's like its hero (anti-hero? both?): artifice mage (and occasional metaphorical dragon) Devin.


(Honestly I'd probably give it 3.5 but you can't have half a tree.)

Until tomorrow.