Monthly Archives: March 2017

Review of Rebel of the Sands & Traitor to the Throne, by Alwyn Hamilton

I borrowed a copy of Alwyn Hamilton‘s  Rebel of the Sand from my local library and I won a copy of the sequel Traitor to the Throne through Goodreads.

Description from Goodreads:
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

I was really excited about a Middle-Eastern fantasy, with djinni and magic and….guns? Yeah, the guns threw me off, especially since none of the other technology that would normally develop along side guns seem to be present. But I eventually got use to that.

I liked Amani just fine and I like Jin too. I even liked them together,I won’t say they sizzled or anything like that, but I liked them. I liked the side characters, once they started showing up.

My main issue had to do with the fact that the first half of the book feels aimless. It’s basically just two people running around and confronting whatever pops up at them. Toward the end a goal, I might even say a plot finally developed. But as this is a series, the book ended before the overarching plot really got rolling.

I liked the writing just fine. The cover is awesome (the original one) and, again, I liked the characters and that there is some diversity in the cast. In fact, I liked this a lot more than a lot of YA books I’ve read. Jin is more than willing to let Amani shine and I appreciated that. I like a hero who lets a heroine step forward. But I always have a problem when gender disparities are used as a plot device and not explored. Even worse, when it’s used, it’s not explored, other less objectionable aspects of the culture being borrowed from aren’t included to balance the sexism out (as if the only notable things about the Middle-Eastern setting are the sand, the tents and the horrible way they treat women) and one character is just randomly able to buck the cultural immersion of an entire life. Why her and not other women?

Regardless, I liked it just fine and I’ll be reading the next one.

Description from Goodreads:
Gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. 

When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.

Let me start with the fact that I liked this book. But I didn’t love it. It has some definite second book issues. I actually want to say, “middle book” issues, but I don’t know how many books are planned for the series. But this FEELS like a middle book. It’s long and tedious and starts a few months after the events of the first book, but ends before anything is really concluded.

Worst of all, there was so little Jin and Amani. Well, just so little Jin in general. But one of my favorite parts of the first book was Amani and Jin’s banter and unquestioning trust in each other. I missed that a lot in this book. The court intrigue and mental masterbation about what makes a good leader/ruler (and what the difference might be) was not a substitute as far as I was concerned.

That brings me to complaint number two. I missed the Amani who threw herself into action. The Amani of this book is sedentary and largely helpless and naive. I might not have minded it if so much of the book wasn’t this. But I felt bogged down in her being trapped.

I liked it, but didn’t love it. Still, if I remember the series when book 3 comes out next year, I’ll read it.

Review of Dragon’s Child, by Joseph Mazzenga

Joseph Mazzenga sent me a copy of his novel, Dragon’s Child.

Description from Goodreads:
The year is 2188. A virus creeps through DownCity. Swift. Deadly. The disease is bred through a growing gang of vampire monsters – Infectids who nosh on human hosts both to feed and spread their viral control over the city.

Trace Alden was a cop until he lost his beloved Gloria to the Infectids. Drinking to borderline insanity, his only salvation was to become a Hunter – Neither bounty hunter, nor cop, but a licensed killer. Alden works above the law to eradicate the now organized group of Infectids that look to rid the world of the human pollutant. He must not only fight the terrors in the city but his horrors from within.

Goji has wandered through mystic memories all of her 18 years of life. Barely controlling powers she has yet to understand, she rules the alleys taking on as many monsters with her special abilities as she can. Her only link to her past and who she really is are the brief, ancient memories that come to her in her sleep. Haunted by messages she cannot interpret, Goji’s biggest struggle is to quell the monster inside of her. Unwillingly paired, the aging ex-cop and the young vigilante are sent to end the diseased scourge and ancient monster that leads them. If the demons on the street don’t get them, their demons from within will.

Oh man, I hate to do this. This book doesn’t have many reviews and I hate to be the first bad one (and a long, editorial, somewhat ranty one at that), but I can’t give this a good review. First and foremost, I don’t see anything labeling the copy I have as an ARC, however it really does need more editing. More copy edits to catch grammar and homophone errors. But also content edits to deal with consistency issues, the timeline and just bring the story together. Because here’s the thing, there’s a cool idea in Dragon’s Child and what could be some cool characters. But NONE of it is shining.

I spent a lot of the book confused. There’s no world-development. There’s no character growth. The timeline is muddled, possibly purposefully vague. People show up, disappear and show up hundreds (thousands?) of years later, only to die pointlessly. There is no sense of what characters who have lived hundreds (thousands?) of years have done that whole time. The reader is given one heroine (who you think is a main character) and then suddenly, half-way through the book, we’re given a second. I don’t know if the dragon or the rider was the main villain. I don’t know if the rider was human, and if not what he was. I don’t know if the dragons were born or summoned, and if summoned, from where. I don’t know what their motivation was. I don’t know how the ‘vampires’ were created. I often didn’t know who was speaking. I just spent a lot of the book going, “What” and “Why.”

The cover is awesome and the writing is ok, if a bit overwrought. Though, the referencing of people as ‘the cop,’ ‘the ex-cop’ (which confusingly are the same person), ‘the girl,’ etc really distanced me from the characters and made it hard to connect with them.

Note: most people can stop reading now. The rest is my ranty bit and will likely make this review seem more brutal than intended. Just call it my opinion piece. There’s also a spoiler in it.

I personally had some gender complaints. (But I often do when male authors write female warriors.) And I’ll admit up front that this is something that I am extra sensitive to. So, it might not be an issue for everyone.

First off, the whole she-knight thing, occasionally she-warrior. It was perfectly obvious she was female, so why did she have to be a she-knight, instead of just a knight. (And I won’t even ask if the plains village had an aristocracy that bestowed knighthood. I’ll let that one go.) Why hyphenate her and make her separate and different from any other knight? Plus, it means so many sentence that referenced her ended up with two shes, as in “She was a she-knight.” It’s so repetitive and annoying.

Then you have the two dragons, one a male that is goodness personified and, more importantly for my point, has agency. While the female one is evil and enslaved, possibly willingly, to a man. All infectids seemed to be male, but when they attacked people to eat/rape (this was often conflated) they only seemed to choose females. (Though there were dead men about, their living terror never seemed to be shown.) All police officers were male. Every single female side character was incidental and every single one died, none were developed beyond a name.

The hero’s wife served no purpose but to die and give the hero motivation. She had no character of her own. When the heroines fought, their male opponents often threw the threat of rape at them, but never at the hero. Who knew morally debased, evil personified stuck so staunchly to heterosexual norms? I don’t think they would, I think authors just forget that it isn’t just women who can be victimized in this way.

My point is that, despite having two heroines, the book is written to feel very male. The gaze is male, the voice is male, the hero is a lot more competent, even though the heroines should have had hundreds (thousands?) of years to learn and grow. Even in the final fight, it wasn’t the heroine—who supposedly lived hundreds (thousands?) of years just to defeat this particular evil—who saved the day. It was the main character, who I’ve decided is Trace, even if the book covers hundreds (thousands?) of years of the female characters’ lives and therefore should focus on them. Because apparently hundreds (thousands?) of years of female life and sacrifice isn’t as important as a man’s 40ish years. That’s how the book <i>feels</i>. I’m not claiming intent on the authors part.

In fact, I really think Mazzenga intended Goji to be the main character. Claiming a book is disconcertingly male wouldn’t be an issue if I felt that’s how it was meant to be. Men deserve books directed at them too. But the whole plot points to Goji, suggests that she should the main character. But the book’s focus is unwaveringly on Trace. (So, even if they were meant to share the spotlight, it’s still not working.)

Unfortunately I feel this is simply a failure of the writing. Not to go all Feminist, but maybe even the effect of a man trying to write a book about a woman while living in a male dominated world. He didn’t seem able to force himself to take his eye off the hero long enough to truly develop the heroine I think he intended to be the focal point of the book. I suppose the book is just traditional fantasy in this regard. But it’s this seemingly accidental, oblivious nature of it that bothers me.

If this author sent this book to an editor and took a conscious look at his gender representation, I think it could be something special. But it’s not there yet. Oh well, I’ll put it out in my Free Little Library. Maybe it’ll be picked up by someone who loves it. I’m sorry I couldn’t love it more myself.

Review of Some Kind of Magic & A Boy and his Dragon, by R. Cooper

I borrowed a copy of Some Kind of Magic through Amazon and bought A Boy and his Dragon from Dreamspinner. Both are by R. Cooper and part of the Beings in Love series.

Description from Goodreads:
Being a police detective is hard. Add the complication of being a werewolf subject to human prejudice, and you might say Ray Branigan has his work cut out for him. He’s hot on the trail of a killer when he realizes he needs help.

Enter Cal Parker, the beautiful half-fairy Ray’s secretly been in love with for years—secretly, because while werewolves mate for life, fairies…don’t. Ray needs Cal’s expertise, but it isn’t easy to concentrate with his mate walking around half-naked trying to publicly seduce him. By the time Ray identifies the killer—and sorts out a few prejudices of his own—it may be too late for Cal.

A sweet little story of a werewolf and his mate, a human-fairy hybrid. I quite enjoyed it. I thought Ray’s frustration and Cal’s flirting were a hoot. However, the situation is supposed to have gone on for two years! Considering the events of this book are a matter of days and I was already getting tired of it, two years would be intolerable. Because mostly it all comes down to two people not saying the things that need to be said and that’s a plot device that doesn’t work well for me.

There is no on-page sex, but all the longing kind of made up for it. And I quite like the idea of Beings, with shifters, pixies, fairies, etc being out in society. Plus, each having species’ characteristics and tht they have to contend with legends that aren’t always true. Again, a sweet story that kept me interested enough to want to read the next one.

Description from Goodreads:
Arthur MacArthur needs a job, and not just for the money. Before he dropped out of school to support his younger sister, he loved being a research assistant at the university. But working for a dragon, one of the rarest and least understood magical beings, has unforeseen complications. While Arthur may be the only applicant who isn’t afraid of Philbert Jones in his dragon form, the instant attraction he feels for his new employer is beyond disconcerting.

Bertie is a brilliant historian, but he can’t find his own notes without help—his house is a hoard of books and antiques, hence the need for an assistant. Setting the mess to rights is a dream come true for Arthur, who once aspired to be an archivist. But making sense of Bertie’s interest in him is another matter. After all, dragons collect treasure, and Arthur is anything but extraordinary.

It was cute. I’ll give it that and I did enjoy it as a cute, fluffy read. But exactly like book one, it’s a book who’s plot 100% depends on two men not saying what needs to be said. In fact, it pretty much is the plot. The dragon won’t tell the human what he wants, despite hinting at it, and the human won’t believe the hints or admit to his own desires. Thus, they pine for each other for 240 pages. Again, it was cute and well written, but that wasn’t really enough for me. Plus, I thought the ‘tragic sister’ (who’s life didn’t really seem so horrible that her brother had to sacrifice so much for her, she certainly seemed capable enough) was a pointless and over-used plot device. I’d read more of the series though.