One of the best books of 2017, and all time

I read it like it was a library book due yesterday.

A year ago.

It has taken me that long to assimilate and absorb the impact of all the glorious stories. I had greatly anticipated this novel, from my discovery 7 years ago of this 20 year series. A chance view of a cover lured me to Fool’s Assassin, the first of this trilogy. Then I read ALL of her previous novels. I still shudder when I think about what I might have missed. At the end of this novel, I completely reread the entire series, 16 books. For the third time? If there was ever a time to immerse yourself in fantasy this is it and these are tremendous. I have only read Tolkien more. Patrick Rothfuss is perhaps the only other author/series I will continue to reread (and also can’t wait for the next installment). I have to say that slower reading revealed many hidden gems, within the writing and the story.

And wait for it. I was in a library bookstore and NINE (9) of her books came in as paperbacks, in pristine condition. I purchased them all, for copies to share. The Friends of the Rochester Public Library is one of the best bookstores around, I urge you to peruse the shop today! (And every week as the stock is always changing!)

Title: Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb

Publisher: Del Ray May 2017 962 pp

Genre: fantasy, science fiction, coming of age, action and adventure, literature and fiction

5+ stars highly recommended

Author:

Robin Hobbs is the second pen name of American author Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogdon (b 1952). She also writes under Megan Lindholm. Her books number over 25 with numerous short stories. If you are still waiting for the next installment of Game ofThrones, pick up Hobbs.

This is another wonderful book in the Realm of the Elderlings, begun in 1995 with the first of the Farseer Trilogy Assassin’s Apprentice, which led directly into the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. This book in particular combines many of her other series; there are something of the order of 15 books that are referenced here. Don’t miss any of them (Farseer chronicles, Tawny man, Rain wild chronicles, Liveship traders). I’ve told you to start reading this author! I love books that build on previous stories, develop in different directions, shed new light on previous events and reverse roles. These are brilliant, clever, utterly absorbing stories.

Her writing is absolutely brilliant, extraordinary in her detailed storytelling. World building is taken to new heights. Every story is “unputdownable” you cant wait to finish the book, and life is out on hold while you are mesmerized in another magical realm. Her characters resonate in real life. Be warned, while it’s been an amazing journey, the beautiful ending is bittersweet.

Story:

To fully appreciate this book you MUST read the previous 8 featuring Fitz and the Fool in the Farseer world. But really there are 16 in the Realm of the Elderlings that altogether complete the intricate, complex story. That includes the Liveship Traders and the Rainwild Chronicles. Why not read them in order?!

Assassin’s Fate seamlessly picks up right after Fools Quest (yes, my last review complained of the abrupt ending). Fitz and the Fool are on their way to Clerres to rescue their daughter Bee, although they believe they are avenging her death. Her struggle is exceedingly painful ala graphic GRRMartin. Narration is shared between Fitz and Bee, with all my favourite characters present including nighteyes, the Fool, Paragon, Icefyre. Fitz is again introspective, but there is such depth to his struggle. It makes the ending even harder. Bee, like the Fool, is very much of the future, and both are game changers. Yes, there are endings, sorrow we neither expect nor want. But they always provide hope on a narrow horizon or in a darkened world. Changes are opportunities, not necessarily easily obtained but always worth striving for. There are many life lessons. I’m hopeful the story/world continues with Bee.

NB there have been some exceptional interviews with Hobbs this last year, which shed light on her writing and these books. Look for them. I’m ever hopeful that movies could be made, now that we have Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

Read on : this is perfect for summer reads, for any tween, teenager interested in fantasy. Adults will truly enjoy this magic. Typical read time is 19hours!

For fans of Patrick Rothfuss, GRR Martin, Terry Goodkind, Sarah Maas, Robert Jordan

Quotes

So I fled, knowing I could not escape but too frightened to let them reclaim me.

Death is better than the sort of captivity they plan for you.

It’s only a dream scarcely applies to what a dragon can do to one’s sleeping mind.

Sixty was not thirty, regardless of how I might appear.

Received as an ARC from Netgalley. Purchased my own copy to complete my set.

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It’s a New Book

It’s a new book if you haven’t read it!Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps recommended, perhaps on sale as an ebook, or a library find. 

 Title:  Throne of Darkness by Douglas Nicholas

Publisher: Simon and Schuster, Emily Bester Books. 327 pp

Genre: fantasy, science fiction, medieval England, English historical, series

4.5 stars

Storyline:

Douglas Nicholas is an award winning poet as well as the author of this outstanding medieval series which began with Something Red. I discovered him several years ago and was lucky to read the first two, plus e-novella The Demon back to back. I eagerly awaited the third installment but life intervened. When I rolled into Rochester Sunday my first stop was the library because I had checked their website and this book was on the shelf! I would have purchased it, indeed I would like the series, but they are hard to find. This author deserves a much wider audience. I am reminded of what a great library we have here.

We are now in 1215 northern England with the established characters of Irish queen Maeve (Molly when in English soil), Jack her lover/protector/ warrior, her gifted granddaughter Neiman and her husband Hob (Robert of England). They use the guise of traveling musicians/healers as they journey through the countryside garnering allies while tackling fantastical, supernatural beasts. This time King John is coordinating an attack on his rebellious knights and barons with an African sorcerer and the Cousins, blacksmiths who can become savage hyenas. Seemingly impossible odds.

The accurate historical detail and rich evocative prose make this a fascinating, spellbinding tale. Others have considered this a coming of age novel (Hob’s story) while some say it is Harry Potter for adults. I find each thread compelling and equally important. Each novel is a complete story but again I feel reading them in order is best for the developing characterization. I find it amazing to be so easily transported back to this time period. It is a brilliant, profound adventure fantasy. Even better the next in the series Three Queens in Erin is expected March 2017. My only worry is it will be the end of the series.

Read on:

Dave Duncan’s The King’s Blades, The King’s Daggers

Tim Powers The Drawing of the Dark and early novels

GRR Martin The Game of Thrones

Ancient Forests

Title: The Trees by Ali ShawPublisher: Bloomsbury 2016 496pp

Genre: fantasy, dystopian, fiction, English literature,

4.5+ stars

Author:

Ali Shaw graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English literature. He has worked as a bookseller and at the Bodleian library, Oxford. His first book The Girl With the Glass Feet won the Desmond Elliott Prize and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel and longlisted for the Guardian First Novel.

Story line:

When a review says: The Trees does for trees what Hitchcock did for birds. You’ve been warned. (Irish Times) you are compelled to read this. Especially if the author is Shaw. His writing is amazing, evocative, enthralling and quite unsettling at times. The rich poetic descriptions reveal a multilayered story with self discovery, friendships, survival, justice, folklore and fairytale fantastical elements. The magic is both light and dark. I loved his surprising first book, The Girl with Glass Feet. Shaw’s books deserve a much wider audience for the clever mastery of language alone. Add the original characters and you have yourself a new author to follow.

What would you do if giant ancient forests were created overnight, destroying civilization as you know it? How would you adapt? This book is quite thought provoking, as well as haunting. I found the questions of what is wild, and how do humans relate to and abuse the environment even more important to have recognized and discussed now. There is great character development in these unlikely protagonists as they go in search of their loved ones and learn to cope with the new normal. Their actions have consequences, but we find hope in the strangest places. And the journey is ultimately what is important. It’s rather epic. I loved that the forester was going to have all the answers. 

Highly recommend. This book will remain long after you finish, and also make for an interesting book club discussion.

Read On:

Of Bees and Mist (Erick Setiawan), The Winter’s Tale(Mark Helprin), Perdita (Hilary Scharper), The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey), Gossip from the Forest (Sara Maitland), Uprooted (Naomi Novik) or if you like Neil Gaiman, Gregory Maguire

Quotes:

The forest burst full-grown out of the earth, in booming upper-cuts of trees and bludgeoning branches. It rammed through roads and houses alike, shattering bricks and exploding glass. It sounded like a thousand trains derailing at once, squeallings and jarrings and bucklings all lost beneath the thunderclaps of broken concrete and the cacophony of a billion hissing leaves. Up surged the tree trunks, up in a storm of foliage and lashing twigs that spread and spread and then, at a great height, stopped.

In a blink of an eye, the world had changed, There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly chinking shower of rubbled cement. Branches stilled amid the wreckage they had made. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, a suburb had lain, there was no only woodland standing among ruins ….”

Received as an ARC ebook from NetGalley, thank you!

Get Thee To The Library!!

Title: The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanPublisher: Roc Penguin

Genre: mystery, time travel, science fiction, steam punk, fantasy, fiction

4 stars

Author:

This is the debut fantasy novel of the English writer Genevieve Cogman. The series continues with Masked City due out September, Burning Page December 2016; the fourth and fifth are already in progress. She has an MSc in statistics with Medical Applications and works for the NHS. It’s obvious her early reading included Tolkien, Conan Doyle and Pratchett. 

Story line:

Irene Winters is a professional spy (junior agent and immortal) for The Library, a shadowy organisation in between worlds which preserves (collects) unique fiction from all realities, alternate worlds. She and her new assistant Kai step into an alternative Victorian London to retrieve a dangerous book/manuscript by Grimm, currently owned by a bibliophile vampire. She is a spunky, loyal, smart heroine, raised in the Library system (both her parents still work there). From her first book retrieval I was captivated and loved her wicked sense of humour as well as her joy in reading. It’s a dangerous job on so many levels.

This is a fast, easy read that is clever, fascinating, exciting and imaginative. There are dirigibles, fae, vampires, dragons, werewolves, and Sherlock (aka the dashing Peregrine Vale, 15th Earl of Leeds). It is rather an eclectic mix of magic, Victorian mundane, steampunk tech and literary humor which makes you easily suspend reality. Initially I thought it was a YA novel with fast pace, simplistic story and technology, but i suspect it is more that it feels like a series. Strong world building, with detailed descriptions, interesting and numerous characters, convoluted twists with a short timeline (taking place in several days), will also make the next two novels easier. It would have also helped if I’d had read the appendix on agent handbook first. The mysterious library, a character in itself, balances the worlds between fae (chaos) and dragons (order) and gives humans a chance. I’m glad the sequels are coming out this year and will definitely pick them up. Especially as Irene is heading back to Victorian London, Kai gets kidnapped by fae, and…! 

Read on:

If you liked Samantha Shannon The Mime Order, Lisa Unger Ink and Bone, Shadow scale, Gail Carriger Parasol Protectorate or Jasper Fforyde’s Thursday Next series

If you are a fan of Dr Who

Cogman highly recommends Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London 2011 (which I need to find).

Quotes:

but one of the Library’s mottos was borrowed directly from the great military thinker Clausewitz: no strategy ever survived contact with the enemy. Or, in the vernacular, Things Will Go Wrong. Be Prepared.

“Open to the Library,” she said, giving the word Library its full value in the Language, and felt the tattoo scrawled across her back shift and writhe as the link was established.

She just wanted—had always wanted—a good book to read.

It was about finding unique works of fiction and saving them in a place out of time and space.

But when she’d signed up for eternity, she hadn’t quite expected to spend most of it revising vocabulary lists.

He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility.

For the moment, we’ll have to assume he understands that we know all.” “All?” “We are the Library,” Coppelia pointed out.“What we don’t know, we research. Now tell me the rest.”

Librarian in Residence was a post of some responsibility. 

Or possibly possessiveness was a characteristic of draconic affection. They were supposed to be hoarders, after all. Not so different from Librarians.

The known worlds are ranged on a spectrum from order to chaos.

The purpose of the Library is to preserve humanity from either absolute reality or absolute unreality.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).

Nudge

Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.  

Nudge define by Webster as to touch or push gently

Defined by Monty Python as to draw attention to a sexual innuendo in a previous statement 

I have to let Mercy go.

I have to get on with my other reading.

I have to get on with my life.

When I requested the latest book in the Mercy Thompson series, I was impatient for it to arrive. So I reread the Alpha and Omega series, which complements it but also provides valuable, in depth crossover characters. Then I found her Shifting Shadows, a book of short stories which are fantastic, in having stories which complete your knowledge of some of the main characters. As well as another chapter from Adam’s welcome viewpoint of the previous book Night Broken, (as well as a lovely story from just after Night Broken derived from a nightmare Briggs had! These stories contain ‘spoilers’ for the books, but could be read before Fire Touched). Then my Netgalley copy wouldn’t download properly and I decided enough was enough, I bought the hardback edition. I do not own a single copy of either series, although I would like them all. I was introduced to Briggs last summer with a local librarian telling me she loved it. I was a big fan of Charles, perhaps because the Mercy Thompson series was read out of order. Please note all these books stand alone but they are much more readable in order of publication and character development. The short stories are also essential reading to both series as they provide interesting background to each story line. Yes these are werewolves. And here be monsters. But I seldom read stories a second time, let alone a third time (finally all in order). Highly recommended.

Title: Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs

5 Stars *****

Publisher: Penguin group (March 2016). 342 pp

Genre: fantasy, science fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, action/adventure

Author: Patricia Briggs is a NY Times best selling author of urban fantasy (since 1993 with the publication of Masques). She was a history and German major. Briggs obviously loves horses (Dead Heat), has a “small herd” and an interesting website/Facebook and blog http://www.patriciabriggs.com

This is the 9th book in the Mercy Thompson series, each installment is well written with developing characters, good action and an interesting mixture of mythology and world building. They take place in the Tri-Cities area along the Columba River, PNW.

Each book is a complete story but the characters develop with each episode. I love the diverse characters: from Coyote, the Gray Lords (fae), vampires, werewolves, Underhill, tibicena, and unknown monsters. I am invested in them and want to know so much more. I was lucky enough to have discovered these only last year, so have read all of them within the last few months, without waiting years for the story arc. It’s going to be a long wait for the next installment. Silence Fallen (2017) with Mercy going to Europe!? (I think that should be Charles and Anna!)

Story line:

Mercedes Thompson Hauptman is a coyote shapeshifter in a werewolf world. Her Native American heritage put her in the care of the Montana pack of Bran, The Marok (head of all werewolf clans in North America) until she struck out on her own. Her day job is Volkswagen mechanic extraordinaire. The rest of the time she is saving the world. Neither pays well. Mercy is a strong, independent, funny, smart heroine, always trying to save someone else. She stands up for what’s right. This makes her vulnerable, likable, lovable, dependable, unpredictable and great fun.

Mercy is also now the mate of alpha Adam, after much machination (see first six books). The depth of his feelings have never been in doubt. They have if anything intensified. Interesting that we continue to put human values/feelings in other creatures, very mistakenly in the case of The Fae here. Yet somehow there is so much reality that we are completely at home in Mercy’s world. Mercy always seems to win against impossible odds. I, personally, depend on that. These are adrenaline filled reads (this time there are trolls), while also emotionally satisfying (history, Justice, humor, family, pizza). There is still much looming ahead, war between the fae and humans, or werewolves and everyone. Each side should know that they need to be on Mercy’s side, if they expect to win (to paraphrase Lincoln).

Read on:

If you haven’t read Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, start with Moon Called

Read on to Alpha and Omega series with Charles and Anna

If you like series by Charlaine Harris, Karen Marie Moning, Kim Harrison

Quotes:

If something dire was going to happen, in my experience, it would happen whatever I was doing and waiting around was singularly useless. So I worked.

Holy Avon, Batman, I thought, as worry relaxed into annoyance tinged humor, I’ve been attacked by a multilevel marketer.

St. John’s wort, lavender, orange, she said briskly. This isn’t chemical castration….as if the phrase..was a common concept -and something one might consider doing to one’s husband.

Darryl kissed my hand formally, and said, you are endlessly entertaining.

My super power consisted of changing into a thirty five pound coyote.

….children help the power because they were in the process of becoming something. In that promise was magic – and it was like catnip to the fae.

Not as surprised and four times as please as my compatriots, I vow. You’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings again. 

Salt neutralizes the magic. What Uncle Mike did is the equivalent of using water to start a fire.

Nudge.


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library (several as Ebooks). 

Dragged through a Skill Pillar -again!

Worlds collide and time stands still Title: Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobbs (audio by Elliott Hill) 

Publisher: Random House: Del Rey 766 (short!) pp. August 2015

Genre: Science fantasy, fantasy, science fiction

5 stars

Author:

Robin Hobbs is the second pen name of American author Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogdon (b 1952). She also writes under Megan Lindholm. Her books number over 25 with numerous short stories. If you are still waiting for the next installment of Game of Thrones, pick up Hobbs.

This is another wonderful book in the Realm of the Elderlings, begun in 1995 with the first of the Farseer Trilogy Assassin’s Apprentice, which led directly into the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, of which Fool’s Quest is the second book. This book in particular combines many of her other series; there are something of the order of 15 books that are referenced here. Don’t miss any of them (Farseer chronicles, Tawny man, Rain wild chronicles, Liveship traders). I told you last year to start this author! I love books that build on previous stories, develop in different directions, shed new light on previous events and reverse roles.

I waited until I had a full day to read this book, given its length and my anticipation from discovering her books last year. These are brilliant, clever, utterly absorbing stories. An 8 hour plane journey wasn’t quite long enough and I was distinctly antisocial until I could finish this completely engrossing story. I know it will be well worth the wait but I can’t wait for the next book. Or two as how can she possibly fit it all in? I was personally upset to learn that the editors cut part of this book. 

Story Line:

This seamlessly continues the story of Fool’s Apprentice (2014) where Fitz is trying to save his best friend the Fool, now blinded from torture and perilously ill, only to have his daughter Bee abducted. He is frantic to save her. Fitz has also been unexpectedly recognized for all his services and no longer an anonymous assassin or the quiet Tom Badgerlock. As Prince Fitzchilvalry, he is both hero and healer, using his Skill for good. But Fitz is still beset by doubts, acting and reacting, finally thinking more at 60. The Fool is a White Prophet, seeing possible futures and their likelihood as well as “choosing” which future occurs. He expects Fitz to avenge his torture and help find his son. They both realise Bee may be a shared daughter, and her strangeness may actually save the day (e.g. universe). Bee is 9 going on 90, a wise, intense child, and her voice also tells part of this story in an astonishing journey.

Fool’s Quest is action packed, moving the plot quickly forward from Buckkeep through the realm. There are some retrospective thoughts, and I love the details of shared histories and intersecting lives. This feels like a new adventure, yet we have familiar themes of the impact of loss, the choice of free will, the strong effect of the past on current events, and the devastating effect of violence. Note, there is graphic abuse and torture detailed.

It is a wonderful story by a master storyteller. I eagerly anticipate the next book, Assassin’s Fate (2016, working title) although I don’t think we will ever want to say goodby to Fitz. The characters are well written, intriguing, multidimensional, fascinating, familiar and flawed. I will reread both books before the final installment to not lose any of the nuances and Magic. This was one of my best books of summer and will be in the top ten of the year.

Read On:

To series by Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, George RR Martin, Sarah Maas

Quotes:

You are the Fool, Lord Golden, Amber and Beloved. You are you, and we know each other as well as any two people can.

Bee was my last chance to be a good father, and I hadn’t been doing well lately.

I was never once addressed by name, the handwriting was not recognizably Chade’s, but oh, the Game clearly was.

I found myself speaking softly as if I were telling an old tale to a young child. And giving it a happy ending, when all know that tales never end and the happy ending is but a moment to catch one’s breath before the next disaster. 

Anyone could change the future. Everyone of us changed the future constantly.

His beard and mustache were patchy but ambitious.

I did not want to name her a White Prophet. I did not want to mark her as more the Fool’s than mine,

Sharpening your knife is never a waste of time.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Enchanting Summer Read

Take advantage of extra daylight hours to read longer
Title: Uprooted by Naomi Novik 4.5 stars****

Publisher: Del Rey. 449 pp

Genre: YA, Science fantasy, fantasy

  Author:
Naomi Novik is an award winning author of the acclaimed series His Majesty’s Dragons (think Napoleonic wars with an air force of dragons). She has an English Literature degree from Brown University as well as a Computer Science degree from Columbia. I find her to be a master storyteller, creating original tales with beautiful, atmospheric, evocative writing. I have read all her books, awaiting them eagerly. (I’m still waiting for Peter Jackson to film Temeraire!) I loved that Rachel Hartman (Shadow Scale) rated it 5 stars in her ARC.

Story Line:

The heroine/ narrator is Agniezska, a peasant girl from the small Eastern European village of Dvernik. This town is at the edge of the Woods, where evil lurks, and is only kept at bay by a Wizard. Her best friend was always the expected sacrifice: every ten years he selects a girl of 17 who will stay with him for 10 years. But this time, it is obvious to the Dragon (as the Wiz is known, also Sarkan) that Agnes (as I thought her, Nieshka is also used) has magic and must be trained. Only it’s magic he doesn’t understand. I loved that her magic was so different from his, and not learned in a book. That while she is young (he’s a youthful 150), she is capable and adaptable. Agniezska struggles to learn and can’t find her answers in his masculine magic. But she understands friendship and loyalty and right/good and finds answers within herself. 

She may become the most powerful witch in history. And that promise requires another book!

This is an intricate, layered story of friendship, politics, romance and magic. It is much more like the original Grimm’s fairy tales and less like the sanitized Disney versions. It has a strong female lead and original storyline suitable for older teens. I enjoyed the story where the right thing was done, for the right reasons. It also has quite a strong environmental message. I thought it ironic that Agnes’s father was a woodcutter especially as we untangle the Woods’ story. She saves the people by saving the Wood, which provides life/fruit/biodiversity. Novik based some of the story on Polish fairytale of the witch Baba Yaga, itself worth a read.

While this is a stand alone novel, complete in itself, the ending felt rushed and left me hopeful that she would revisit these characters. The epilogue isn’t enough. The world building and character development begs another tale. 

This fascinating story is part fantasy, part fairytale and all magic.

Uprooted has been already film optioned by Warner Bros.

Read On:

Appropriate for older teens, with complex plot, characters and evil.

For YA tales: Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, Diana Wynne Jones,

For adult fairytale twists: Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman

For Wood tales: Mythago Wood series by Robert Holdstock

Quotes:

Opening line: Our dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes…

No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves.

Don’t waste my time you outrageous idiot.

You’re proving to be a remarkable paragon of incompetence.

He looked grander than the King’s ballroom, and perfectly improbable.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

The Rochester Library has both hardcover and Ebook copies.