Tag Archives: political intrigue

The Grand Tour: of The Purloined Coronation Regalia

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia and Kate, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Following their weddings, cousins Kate and Cecy–along with their husbands Thomas and James and Thomas’s mother Lady Sylvia–embark on a grand tour of the Continent, a honeymoon to be remembered. Or, well, that’s what it was supposed to be. And it certainly is. Memorable, that is. Nearly from the start, the party find themselves confronted with strange happenings–mysterious visitors, falling ceilings, magical illness, secret messages, and strange magical rituals performed in ancient ruins, among others. Certain that something odd is going on, they begin investigating, because really, could these people ever leave something that intriguing alone?

The Grand Tour proved a solid follow-up for Wrede and Stevermer’s first volume, Sorcery & Cecelia, although with some marked differences. If I could compare the first volume to Howl’s Moving Castle, then The Grand Tour could better be compared to one of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody stories, just with magic. The dates are completely off, of course, as is the location, but the whole well-to-do British travelers in foreign parts getting involved in mysteries and intrigue involving some antiquity or the other? Definitely fits here. As for the writing, this volume is told more as journals or memoirs as opposed to letters, so the tone is a bit different–actually quite a bit, really. There’s a touch of dissonance at first, to be honest, like the authors are figuring out who their characters are all over again when seen in this different light. After that first bit, though, you get to see more of the characters’ individualities coming through, you get more facets to them than might have been seen if this were also told as correspondence. And the characters are, well, quite the characters. Without the decorum demanded by Regency-era society, they might be quite shocking, and even while attempting to exercise decorum, they push the bounds at times. But in a very enjoyable sort of way. On the whole, I quite enjoyed The Grand Tour and would recommend it to those who enjoy Regency-era stories, historical fantasy, and intrigue.

 

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Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

The Numair Chronicles, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Arram Draper is one of the youngest students at the Imperial University of Carthak, sent there by his family to hone his Gift–before he accidentally burns up everything they own! It swiftly becomes clear that his Gift is special, powerful, enough so that he rises quickly through his classes to get special training with advanced teachers, along with his best friends Varice and Prince Ozorne. As if being friends with a prince didn’t come with enough complications on its own. Not to mention the problems Arram gets into once he gains the attention of various gods and other supernatural beings. It’s pretty clear that he will never really fit in, not that he really wants to, but as Arram experiences more of the troubles facing Carthak–the threats to the Imperial succession, the horrific place that slavery and gladiatorial entertainment play in the nation–he finds himself more convinced than ever that he can’t stay in this country, even if it means leaving the people who mean the most to him.

I love Tamora Pierce’s writing, always. And Numair has been a favorite character of mine in her books for quite a while now, so it’s pretty cool getting to go back and get his backstory. Having said that, in the past, I’ve always watched characters grow up into legends in her books, so it’s a bit weird to know the legend first and then go back to that character’s childhood. (He even has a different name as a kid, although we’re already introduced to that fact in some of Pierce’s other Tortall books.) It works though, and I feel like his character is consistent while allowing room for his growth into the adult Numair that we know and love. It’s neat to get a look closer look at Carthak, and at this time period in this world’s history, too, since most of the stories we get are set in Tortall and are a bit later chronologically. As far as the general storytelling, if you like Pierce’s writing, you’ll like this. It’s solid, engaging, character-driven fantasy writing with an easy, gradual pacing, lots of character development, and a unified plot. Lots of room for development in future volumes, too. At its core, Tempests and Slaughter is a school story, so a lot of it revolves around Arram’s classes, teachers, and friendships, as well as a bit throughout about the physical and emotional changes he goes through during this time and the complications of handling that without a real father figure around to talk about it with. So, warnings that there may be some content that’s a bit old for elementary/middle-grade kids . . . okay, considering the exposure Arram has to the gladiator’s ring in later parts, I’d make that a definitely. Recommended for high-school and up, but definitely recommended.

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Wisdom’s Kiss

Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

My rating: 4 of 5

You might say that there were many different things–different people’s lives interacting–that ultimately contributed to the debacle that later became known as Wisdom’s Kiss. The Princess Wisdom (better known as Dizzy) herself, for one, what with her tendency to belie her name and throw herself headlong into drama and adventure. The Duke Roger whom she was to wed, as well, although he was truly a pawn in the hands of his overbearing and scheming mother. Then there was the dowager queen Benevolence, Dizzy’s grandmother, who with her far-too-intelligent cat Escoffier discovered the schemes of said Duchess. Less immediately obvious, yet equally influential, were the presence of Trudy, a young kitchen maid with second sight; Tips, her childhood sweetheart; Felis el Gato, Tips’ mentor and a grand performer; and the Emperor of the whole land himself. But it was the interweaving of these individual lives that allowed even the possibility of such an event, one that would shape the course of the land for generations to come.

I’ve enjoyed Murdock’s writing before in her story Princess BenWisdom’s Kiss actually ties in with this earlier novel, although it is certainly not necessary to read the one to enjoy the other. They’re more loosely connected tales rather than anything like a series. Wisdom’s Kiss is really fascinating in the way it’s written. You don’t really get any straight-up narrative, although the sections taken from Trudy’s memoirs read essentially like a regular novel. But for the most part, the story is told in letters and diary entries and, yes, even articles taken from an encyclopedia. It’s honestly enough to be a bit hard to piece together where the story is really going at times, although everything comes together nicely by the end. And I did enjoy the different perspectives and the way the different characters’ personalities came through from the different sources. It was interesting–and something I haven’t seen done much–to see the same character from multiple different perspectives, including their own; it gives a different appreciation for the individual. As for the writing style itself, I’ve heard the author’s writing described in the past as “frothy,” and I can’t honestly think of a better word to describe it. There’s a lightness and wit to it, even in the sections where things seem dark and awful–but in this particular story, there’s also a busyness and a constant activity from all sides that I might almost better compare to the fizz you get when you first open a soda. I think that this is one of those stories that would tend be polarizing; you would either love all the novelty and the different perspectives or it would drive you mad trying to keep up and make sense of it all. Personally, however, I enjoyed Wisdom’s Kiss and look forward to reading more by this author.

Note: It’s implied at the end of the story that this is a retelling of Puss in Boots . . . and I guess it sort of it, but I would never have caught it if it hadn’t been mentioned directly. For what that’s worth.

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Gods of the Mountain

Author: Christopher Keene

A Cycle of Blades, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Summary from Goodreads:

““If that’s true, he’s returned from the grave, and you better believe he’s got something in store for this city.”

Accused of murder, Faulk is on the run after his chance at redemption went horribly wrong. He finds himself allied with the mysterious Yuweh, a woman sent by her gods to capture an assassin who is spreading forbidden magic.

Journeying across a land where all magic, cultures, and wars are dictated by its cycles in nature, they uncover a plot that threatens to destroy everything they hold dear. Faulk and Yuweh must reconcile their clashing cultures to prevent the chaos from repeating…

…as another attempts to use it for his benefit.”

Having greatly enjoyed the first two volumes of Keene’s Dream State Saga, it was with great anticipation that I approached his newest work, Gods of the Mountain–and I was not disappointed. While the Dream State books are of the LitRPG genre, having more almost of a light novel flavor, this new book is more of a high fantasy/dark fantasy, so it’s definitely a different style, and I think the author does a great job of expressing that and adapting to the genre styles while staying true to his own personal storytelling voice. One of the ways in which this is most true–and one the things I most loved about this book–is the magic system and the way the reader is introduced to it. I feel like the magic in this story is quite unique and well imagined; it’s different enough that I wasn’t just like “oh, there’s the magic, let’s get on with the story,” but was rather actually interested in the mechanics of the system. And we get a good explanation of it through the eyes of a character who is first introduced to the magic himself, getting to learn about how it works alongside him. The worldbuilding and the complexities of the political situation are also quite well done; in fact, I’m reminded of V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic books in that regard. Keene does a great job of displaying an overthrown country, with conquering overlords but also with rebellious former soldiers still around and unsettled at the situation. Moreover, throwing in the complications of an isolated mountain theocracy dominated by tradition and taboo adds an extra layer of complication, especially when these worlds collide forcibly. There’s some interesting commentary on religion there for those who fancy venturing into those waters. The plot was intense, with lots of twists and surprises, and the pacing worked well–not particularly fast or slow, but steady, which honestly works best for a book of this length. As for the characters, they were probably what I liked least; not that they were uninteresting or poorly written–quite the opposite–but simply because I didn’t find any of them particularly likeable. Surprisingly, that didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story, though. I would still certainly consider Gods of the Mountain to be a solid read, one that I enjoyed and that I would recommend.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Gods of the Mountain from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

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The Tempest (2013 Production/DVD)

Shakespeare’s Globe: Globe on Screen

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Enter the Globe Theatre and mingle with the members of the audience waiting in hushed anticipation. A ship is wrecked on a deserted island . . . no, not deserted after all. For this is the home of Prospero, wrongfully dispossessed Duke of Milan, his lovely daughter Miranda, the odious Caliban, and a number of spirits under Prospero’s magical control. Indeed, the storm itself that wrecked the ship was likewise under his control, and Prospero begins–with the help of the spirit Ariel–to weave events to his own liking.

Okay, so I’m one of those people who actually like Shakespeare’s work, and The Tempest is one of my favorites. So getting to see it produced in the Globe was really neat, even if it was just on DVD, and the filming was done really well to give a good feel for the place itself as well as for the performance. And yes, if I’m being completely honest, I originally picked this up because Colin Morgan plays Ariel, and I love his work so much that I’m trying to watch everything I can find that he’s in. And also yes, his performance is brilliant, very different from anything else I’ve seen him do, but perfect for the character. The casting and acting across the board was excellent, bringing a depth, humor, and interest to this play of an extent that I haven’t seen in stage productions of it previously. There were some quite interesting choices for costuming, makeup, and choreography that worked quite well (although fair warning that some of these serve to make this particular production mostly appropriate for adult audiences only). I was impressed at how much they did with so little in the way of scenery and stage space as well, making use of simple staging and imagination quite effectively. I also really loved the original musical compositions that were included. Recommended for those who enjoy The Tempest or Shakespeare’s work in general; if you don’t like them, you probably won’t enjoy this production, but if you do, it’s brilliant. (By the end of the performance, I found myself with all the adrenaline high of having attended a good play in person, just with the privacy to fangirl aloud without bothering people.)

Written by William Shakespeare/Directed by Jeremy Herrin/Music by Stephen Warbeck/Starring Roger Allam, Jason Baughan, Jessie Buckley, Sam Cox, Pip Donaghy, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Trevor Fox, James Garnon, Joshua James, William Mannering, Colin Morgan, Matthew Raymond, Sarah Sweeney, & Amanda Wilkin

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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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