Tag Archives: court life

Squire

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Kel has surpassed numerous challenges–including lots of people not accepting a girl in the role of knight-in-training–and has finally become a squire. Or at least, she will be if any knight will take The Girl on as his squire. To her surprise and delight, Lord Raoul sees her potential and breaks his usual habits, taking her on to train. His unconventionality, gruffness, and practicality promise to make her four years as his squire both interesting and challenging. . . . Who knows, they may even be fun at times. Not that there won’t be plenty of challenges for her to face before achieving her knighthood–an ornery baby griffin, any number of stuffy individuals who challenge her capability, a huge royal progress across the country complete with parties and social expectations, boys. But of course, Kel will face them all with the clear-headed determination that has stood her in good stead so far.

I adore Tamora Pierce’s books, and Squire is an excellent example of her writing. The characters are fabulous. Kel continues to grow as a person in this book, and I love the way her character builds with every small choice she faces. I have to applaud Pierce for writing someone so vastly different from most of her other Tortallan heroines as well; Kel’s really distinct from, say, Alanna or Daine. Which actually makes it really interesting to get to see them in the same story, interacting with each other. There are plenty of other excellent character here as well, the most developed and fun to read probably being Raoul (whom I already like from Alanna’s story, but we get a different perspective on him here, which is fun). And the animal characters are just soooo good! The writing style, as always, is very comfortable and easy to read, although I am again impressed by how unconventional Pierce’s writing seems at times in the way it homes in on small jewels of events then pans out for broad, sweeping passages of time. It’s different, but it works–brilliantly, even. I do feel the need to highlight that, while the earlier books in this quartet could easily be considered children’s fiction (First Test, in particular), Squire sits solidly in the YA genre, with Kel facing some pretty big, adult stuff like death and sex–not so much kids’ stuff. So fair warning that, while still quite clean and fairly discreet, this is probably not the ideal book to give to your ten-year-old. Still, for a YA and older audience, Squire is an incredible story, especially for those who love a good fantasy.

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Page

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kel has survived her first probationary year as the first female page in the Tortallan court. Now she only has three more years to make it through as an officially recognized page before she can become a squire–and those three years promise to be grueling, full of hard physical work, intense study, and opposition of her choice to remain coming from all sides it sometimes seems. Not to mention a young maid who’s come under Kel’s protection and a collection of first-years demanding her time and assistance. But Kel is nothing if not stubborn and determined.  And the truth is that she does have friends to support her, from those among the other pages to her growing collection of animal friends to her secret benefactor who keeps on sending her far-too-expensive but always practical gifts. Somehow or another, Kel is determined to stick with it and make it through these three years.

As always, in Page, Tamora Pierce delivers an incredible story full of great characters–including a strong, relatable female lead–moving plot challenges, fantastic animal characters, and a simple, flowing, enjoyable writing style. I basically just love her writing, period. Page is kind of different from some stories in that it doesn’t so much have a huge, overarching plot path–other than the passage of time over the three remaining years of Kel’s page training. Which isn’t to say there isn’t plot; there is, quite a lot in fact. It’s just set up with a more episodic feel, and also in places with the passage of time simply flowing away without much note. I know that doesn’t sound so exciting, but I actually quite enjoyed the way in which it’s written. It explores how much Kel grows up in the course of those years, discovering her own womanhood, exploring how her gender plays a part in who she is and how she lives, her changing feelings over time, her growing as a person and a leader, her developing friendships, and the growth in her character. Page is a different sort of story, but highly recommended still, perhaps even because of that very reason. Plus, you know, Tamora Pierce, always recommended, period.

 

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First Test

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

A decade after the kingdom of Tortall decided to accept girls to train as knights instead of just boys, ten-year-old Kel becomes the first girl to actually apply. Inspired by tales of the Lioness’s valor and already skilled through her training in the Yamani court, Kel is determined to succeed and become a knight of Tortall. But she is shocked when Lord Wyldon, the training master, puts an extra requirement on her that the boys don’t have to fulfill: her first year is a probationary period, and only if she satisfies him at the end of it will she be allowed to stay on as a knight-in-training. Hurt and frustration are barely the beginning of what Kel feels, but her time with the Yamanis has also trained her to hide her emotions and press on through unrealistic expectations, deep-seated prejudice, bullying, and social rejection until she proves herself.

First Test is such a great reminder of just why I love Tamora Pierce’s books so much. It’s this fabulous mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, encompassing bits of school story (the majority of the tale), culture and history, exciting battles, amusing relationships with various animals, and growing friendships among many other things. Plus it’s an excellent look into changing perspectives on what women are capable of and that whole dynamic. Kel is a powerhouse, incredible character–the perfect individual for this particular story. Her story is so similar to and yet so different from Alanna’s in the Song of the Lioness Quartet that it’s quite interesting to compare the two. And knowing that Kel has Alanna’s secret backing is fabulous. But seriously, I love Kel’s stubbornness and determination, the way she works so hard to get where she wants to be. And the way that she’s quiet and feminine–which is partly stubbornness in the face of opposition itself–but is also ready to get into fistfights when necessary also contributes to a richness of character. Plus her friendships with all the various animals and her  intentionality in standing up for those who are weaker and afraid. She’s just a very well-realized and fascinating character, and I love that about her. I also really love her opinionated and chatty mentor Neal as well–also a richly developed and complex character who is quite likeable. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve read these books, and I’m greatly anticipating re-reading the rest of this quartet. I would highly recommend both First Test and the rest of the quartet to . . . well, basically anybody who likes a solid fantasy. As far as appropriate age recommendations, this quartet (like the Song of the Lioness books) is difficult to place, but I would say that First Test at least is appropriate for middle-grade and up (possibly even older elementary). Just be warned that the later books in the quartet grow up as Kel grows up, so there may be some more mature content there.

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Galavant (2015 TV Series)

ABC Studiosgalavant

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Once upon a time, our hero Knight Galavant had it all: fame, success, the love of the fair Madalena. That is, until King Richard kidnapped Madalena and she chose fame and fortune over true love. So, our hero did what any good hero would–lost himself in drink and self pity. Which is where the spunky Princess Isabella found him when she brought him a quest to save her family and win back Madalena’s love. But the road to true love and success is never as smooth as it first looks, especially for the music-loving Galavant.

I think that Galavant is the sort of show to be extremely polarizing–some will adore it while others will think it’s utter rubbish. And I should say at the outset that, if you don’t like musicals, you should avoid this show, for sure. I have to compare it to a Disney movie in that regard; at any given moment, the cast is liable to burst out in song. Plus, you know, Alan Menken is hugely involved in the writing of the music, so there’s a strong Disney feel to it there also. Also, the whole focus on true love and basically the whole story line follow that feel as well. But in a more adult way (well, at least with more innuendo and language) that is oddly combined with a middle-school boys’ locker room flavor (with all the bodily noises and awkward sexuality that goes with that). Actually, looking at the story objectively, it sounds kind of awful, but in the moment, it’s kind of enjoyable. There’s a lot of humor, some of it actually funny. Plus a great deal of fourth wall breaking and commentary on current events. And the cast is actually well-picked for their roles. Personally, my favorite is Timothy Omundson, whose character is kind of pathetic and despicable both at the beginning but who grows wonderfully over the course of the two seasons. Also, he’s just a great actor, and it’s fun to get to hear him sing. So yeah, Galavant is definitely not for everyone, but if you enjoy musicals and Disney–and are interested in a more adult-focused story in that style–it might be worth trying.

Created by Dan Fogelman/Executive Producers  Dan Fogelman, Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, Chris Koch, Kat Likkel, John Hoberg, &  John Fortenberry/Produced by Marshall Boone & Helen Flint/Music by Alan Menken, Christopher Lennertz, & Glenn Slater/Starring Joshua Sasse, Timothy Omundson, Vinnie Jones, Mallory Jansen, Karen David, & Luke Youngblood/Narrated by Ben Presley

Note: This series consists of 2 seasons with a total of 18 episodes.

 

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Battle Magic

battle magicAuthor: Tamora Pierce

The Circle Reforged, vol. 3

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Sixteen-year-old plant mage Briar Moss, his former teacher and unofficial foster-mother Rosethorn, and his student stone mage Evvy are wrapping up their delightful stay in the kingdom of Gyongxe, a mountainous country where shamans literally dance living statues out of the cliffs and the gods speak through the boy-king they chose to lead the nation. The three mages have made many friends in Gyongxe, but Rosethorn is itching to get her hands into the renowned gardens of the neighboring country of Yangjing–especially since the emperor of Yangjing has extended a special invitation to tour his own personal gardens. When they arrive, Briar and his companions find themselves warmly welcomed with esteem, good food, comfortable rooms . . . and an exhibition of one of the emperor’s multiple armies and a distinct feeling that if they misstep, they may lose their heads. Although they quickly make fast friends with a captive prince named Parahan, it seems most of the people in the palace are completely under the emperor’s thumb. Worse, Evvy finds out that the emperor is planning an all-out attack on Gyongxe. Dangerous as it may be, they decide that they must warn their friends, whatever the cost.

Tamora Pierce is a fast favorite of mine, crafting excellent fantasies and wonderful characters. I happened to find Battle Magic in my local library, and was thrilled to try it. This story fits after Pierce’s Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens quartets, and apparently it’s the third volume in its own quartet, although I didn’t discover this until after I finished reading it. You would probably have better context for the story by reading the first part of this quartet, although it didn’t seem problematic to me to pick up at this place. However, I would definitely recommend reading Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens first, or you’ll be pretty lost on character connections, magic dynamics, etc. As for Battle Magic in particular, it brings back a group of characters I have always loved, Briar Moss in particular. It also introduces a huge cast of other characters, some of whom are amazing (like Parahan) and some of whom are relatively minor. I think one of the downfalls of the book is that it has so many characters, many of whom have really unusual names, that it’s a real job keeping track of everyone. The main cast members don’t have as much of a chance to shine as characters as I would have liked. Still, in the times they are allowed to shine, they are consistently themselves and they are superb. One thing you should know about Battle Magic is that it is (fairly obviously) a war story–so again, huge plot, lots of names, less time for individual characters. I think that’s really where the story . . . didn’t lose me exactly, since I did enjoy it all the way to the end, but became a bit weak in my opinion. It’s a great story, incredible characters, but there was just too much “war story” and too little of the individual. Still, for fans of Tamora Pierce, this is a must-read, and for those who enjoy an exciting fantasy, Battle Magic is still quite a good choice.

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A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade final for IreneAuthor: V. E. Schwab

Shades of Magic, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kell lives in a London where magic is the norm, where children play games involving testing their magical abilities from the time they’re young. But unlike any other citizen of his world, Kell has been to other Londons where things are very different. You see, he is an Antari, one of the last, an individual who has the ability control the magic that allows one to cross between the worlds. As a loyal subject–and adopted prince of what he terms “Red London”–Kell works for the king and queen, delivering messages to the royalty of the other Londons, “Grey London” and “White London”. He’s been known to carry other items across the boundaries between worlds as well, which is technically illegal but also profitable and exciting. Kell’s smuggling habits become a bit too exciting, however, when a package turns out to be a trap. And the help of an unmagical, Grey London girl may be his only hope for surviving the ensuing mess.

Okay, so you’ve all been telling me for . . . what seems like ages that  A Darker Shade of Magic is amazing. So I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, and I agree. I probably should have read it before, but there you have it. V. E. Schwab crafts quite the exciting and enjoyable story. The writing style is very approachable, with a good balance of description and action. I really appreciated the third-person style that the author used; you see so much first-person writing now that a well-done third-person story is quite refreshing. One of my only complaints about the writing is the use of different languages for people from the different worlds–and I totally get why this was used, it was just annoying to me to try to read unpronounceable words that I ended up just skipping in the end. Minor issue on the whole, though. The characters were fantastic, and I really grew to care for Kell, Lila, and Rhy by the end of the story. I also really loved that the story developed in the way it did–worlds-impacting choices and meaningful camaraderie as opposed to unnecessary and forced romance (which I see way too much of). I would definitely recommend A Darker Shade of Magic for those readers out there who haven’t read it yet, and I’m certainly looking forward to reading the subsequent volumes of this series–as well as anything else I can find by the author.

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Aurelie: A Faerie Tale

Author: Heather Tomlinsonaurelie

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Once upon a time, four children were the best of friends: three humans, a boy and two girls, and one fae, a drac who loved mischief and gave the other three a salve that allowed them to see the true form of the fae. Years passed, and the four grew apart. Princess Aurelie lost her mother and became caught up in great responsibilities as her country descended into war. Her dear friend Netta was blinded by another fae, angered by her ability to see him truly, and now she refuses to leave her quiet country town. Loic, the drac, is convinced that his friends abandoned him on purpose and has isolated himself in the world of the fae. And Garin has returned to his home country with his parents–a country that is at war with the land of the princess he loves. Yet none of them have forgotten their affection for each other, and as circumstances rage around them, the four find themselves once again drawn together. . . . And just perhaps, the bonds they share will be enough to save them all.

Having never read any of Heather Tomlinson’s work, I was intrigued by the cover and summary of Aurelie, which promised something along the lines of a new fairy tale or maybe a retelling. I really wasn’t expecting the story that unfolded, though–a politically-charged, romantic fantasy along the lines of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner’s writing. I loved it! The plot and the prose are tight and sure, making this a short but engaging tale. The multiple perspectives (of all four friends) work very well in this context. I found it particularly intriguing that Tomlinson chose to give first-person perspective to the three “secondary” main characters–Netta, Garin, and Loic–while writing Aurelie’s perspective in third person. It’s unusual, but it works; I actually didn’t notice until a good ways into the story. The slightly French feel to the story gave it an interesting flavor as well, something more along the lines of Perrault’s fairy tales as opposed to the Brothers Grimm, say. Aurelie was exciting and sweet both, full of unexpected turns and great characters, and I would highly recommend this story, especially to those who enjoy the works of authors like Pierce and Turner.

 

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