Tag Archives: court life

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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The Squire’s Tale

the squire's taleAuthor: Gerald Morris

The Squire’s Tales, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Imagine spending your entire childhood being raised by someone who can see the future as clearly as you see the past and to whom the past is as dim as the future is to you. You can imagine, it would give you a different perspective . . . and cause you to accept that when that person says something’s going to happen, it will. Thus it is that Terence, who has grown up with the unusual hermit Trevisant, doesn’t question the old hermit when young Gawain rides up to their hermitage and Trevisant declares he will one day be a great knight. Nor does Terence argue greatly when the hermit sends him packing to be Gawain’s squire. And thus begins an adventure that will span the reaches of Arthur’s kingdom and beyond . . . and a lifelong friendship, whatever protocol may say about the relations between knights and squires.

I love The Squire’s Tale; actually, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read it by now, or how many times I’m likely to read it in the future. This is a book that only gets better the more you read it, although it’s a delight from the first. This book is a refreshing conglomeration of random traditional stories about Sir Gawain, knit together into a single story told from the perspective of Gawain’s squire, Terence. I love what Morris does with the stories–they all work together well and are told with an immense sense of humor and good sense. Moreover, they showcase that which is absolutely best about this story: the characters, especially Gawain and Terence. They’re both just really enjoyable characters to read (and people I’d actually like to meet in real life!)–practical, good-humored, men of character and courage, insightful, and not over-ready to bow to social norms just because they’re the norm. This book is very clean, and would be absolutely appropriate for late elementary and up, but I think The Squire’s Tale will be appreciated by some adults even more than by children; I know I often find insight into who I am and why I do things when I read this book and the others in this series. In any case, if you haven’t read this yet, you should check it out!

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Princess Ben

Author: Catherine Gilbert MurdockPrincess Ben

My rating: 5 of 5

The Princess Benevolence (better known as Ben) has lived most of her life free from the restraints of court life, protected by her beloved mother–a fact which Ben’s equally unrestrained girth supports. Everything changes, however, when Ben’s mother and her uncle, the king, are brutally murdered and Ben’s father goes missing, leaving Ben heir apparent. Her aunt Sophia, serving as Queen Regent until Ben reaches her majority, begins pruning Ben to be ready to rule, putting her through all sorts of lessons and curbing her diet to an extent that Ben finds inordinately cruel. But Ben is not exactly a willing victim, particularly when she discovers a magically guarded room hidden above her own tower room . . . a room that has been hiding all sorts of magical secrets that it now begins to disclose to Ben.

I very much enjoyed reading Princess Ben. It reminds me a great deal of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, in that it is a fantasy that reads and feels like a historical novel for a large portion of the story. Indeed, although the names of the particular kingdoms were unfamiliar, for the first third of the story, I had no real reason to believe this was not a historical novel focusing on some small medieval kingdom. It would have been an excellent story, just as a historical novel, too. The characters are well developed, growing, and full of surprises; the political intrigue is suspenseful and convincing; and the development of the kingdoms and their history is equally interesting and convincing. But then, around a third of the way through, Ben discovers all this magic that’s secreted away, and it becomes clear that the story is in actuality, a fantasy. And it works beautifully as that also. The magic suits the setting and enhances the story without diminishing the importance of all the other set up that has already been placed. Furthermore, although Ben has magic at her disposal, she comes into situations where she can’t use it and must still rely on her strong will and wits. Also, I really appreciated the small, deft allusions to numerous classic fairy tales that were scattered throughout the story without ever becoming anything significant . . . almost as a hint that this will become a fantasy, for those sharp enough to catch it. Princess Ben is a story that I greatly enjoyed and will definitely read again–highly recommended.

Note: This is kind of random, but I appreciated finding a fantasy that dealt with obesity in a practical and appropriate way–not a topic much touched on in your usual fantasy novels

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