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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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.
 

Library and Bookstore Magic

I have fallen under another book spell. The Magicians series by Lev Grossman has been on my radar for a few years. This summer I picked up a hardback of Magicians Land (2014) to go with The Magicians King (2011) which I had also found in my beloved Friends’ bookstore a year before. As I couldn’t start mid series, I put myself on the ebook waiting list of the library. It arrived!
I am not even 100 pages into the book The Magicians (2009) and I know I will be absorbed and lose several days consuming this series. I was absolutely delighted with the writing, the characters, the mystery and finally, the magic. Actually it’s all magic!

The Magicians won the 2010 Alex award, given to ten adult fiction books appealing to young adults, and the 2011 John W. Campbell award for best new writer. (NB finding this award list has given me a whole new set of authors as I found many favourites including Naomi Novik, Mary Doria Russell, Gail Carriger, Scott Lynch. GRR Martin won in 1973, currently held by Sofia Samatar.) Grossman has been a journalist, essayist, writer for numerous magazines. “I wrote fiction for 17 years before I found out I was a fantasy novelist.” (I loved his interview with Neil Gaiman.) The Magicians was labelled “Harry Potter for adults” but it is much better than that. Briefly, it is a contemporary dark fantasy series about Quentin Coldwater and other extremely gifted people who are admitted to Brakesbills, a secret private college of Magic on the Hudson River.

Don’t expect Harry Potter. These are intellectually gifted, relatively normal teenagers, self absorbed, bored, insecure, and unprepared. I found it a bit hard to believe that Fillory (Narnia) could be so intensely important to a college bound student. It is an eclectic group of complex students, each dealing with his or her issues, reality and magic. While it is an original tale, there are a few universal truths about understanding the ramifications of your actions. There is a dour realism to this magic and you don’t have the benefits of special effects. Magic has to be learned, like Latin. It is taxing and has consequences. The graphic sex, drugs, violence and swearing (with alcohol, cliques, depression) put this firmly in an adult series. I would have edited out at least half the swearing.

Interesting, complicated thoughts and discussion:
You have to grow up to be happy. You certainly need to live.
How to interact with people who are just as bright as you are, or indeed smarter, for the first time in your life. And the rest of your life.
Not necessarily fantasy as I can relate to most of these people.
If I had read some of the reviews, I suspect I would not have started this series. (Disaffected twenty somethings as a sequel to disaffected teens)
Magic might be the tools left behind after the inverse was created.
Reading a series to completion was worth waiting for.

Quotes:
“He who completes a quest does not merely find something. He becomes something.”
“That was the thing about the world: it wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.”
“It didn’t matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home.”
― Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land
“Magic: it’s what happened when the mind met the world, and the mind won for a change.”
― Lev Grossman, The Magician King
“In a way fighting was just like using magic. You said the words, and they altered the universe. By merely speaking you could create damage and pain, cause tears to fall, drive people away, make yourself feel better, make your life worse.”
“The truth doesn’t always make a good story does it?”
― Lev Grossman, The Magicians

Recommend the audio book read by Mark Bramhall.
4 stars, entire series

Read on:
To China Mieville, Donna Tartt, Douglas Coupland
Jo Walton (Among Others, 2011) and Peter Straub (Shadowlands, 1980)

Summer Fantasy!

Robin Hobb Fool’s Asassin
Review by Helen McIver
How did I never read Robin Hobb? Recently I fell down the Farseer rabbit hole and disappeared for several days, because once I understood this was a continuation, I had to read ALL of those books. GRR Martin recommended, and I agree.

I was thumbing through the NetGalley ARCs and was drawn to this cover. Knowing none of the prehistory I was immediately cast into this well written, thought provoking story. I often wondered what a rich and varied past led this intricate man to this point in his life. To discover there was a trilogy was like discovering Terry Pratchett for the first time. I am not sorry I started at the end, with Fitz a grown man as the early tales have a lot of teen angst and messy life choices (sometimes I think girls are just smarter!). I can’t wait to read the next two installments because yes, there are cliff hangers. She clearly loves these characters.

Robin Hobb is the second pen name for Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden (also Megan Lindholm). (If you’re in London in August she will be sharing a stage, in conversation with GRR Martin!) She has been writing tremendous, imaginative, award winning science fiction and fantasy for over twenty years. In addition to the Farseer trilogy, there are the Liveship Traders trilogy and the Rain Wilds chronicles. She has a wonderful imagination and clear, detailed writing which captures your attention. There is action, drama, torment, love, family, dragons, magic, and new worlds to explore. I have warned you that you will lose a few days reading!

Fitz (FitzChivalry) is a royal bastard, former King’s assassin now living a quieter life as Tom Badgerlock, with the love of his life Molly. But Tom/Fitz has the Wit, the dangerous ability to touch minds. His previous world collides with his new life and the adventure begins anew. I was delighted with the addition of his new daughter, watching her character develop and slowly reveal secrets. She is definitely her father’s daughter. There is a rich cast with diverse characters, more so with the history of the earlier trilogy. Concepts of loyalty and honour, steadfast love and friendship bonds, good and evil provide counterpoint. Not every battle is won, but they are bravely fought (or not with wisdom). And you discover what matters in life. The story is well paced, richly detailed, multi-layered and full of developing characters. This promises to be a satisfying and unforgettable serious fantasy series.

If you like Patrick Rothfuss, Naomi Novik, Kristin Cashore, GRR Martin, Terry Goodkind: You will love this series. Her early work is especially suitable for teenagers (YA). There’s still a lot of summer reading left!

Received as a NetGalley ARC

4.5 stars

Not a full fifth star because I like stories in series that are complete in themselves. People often read slower as they get to the end of a book because they don’t want the fantastic story to end. I felt it couldn’t end. And no doubt I have to wait until the end of the trilogy. I had not read Hobb before but she is now on my favourite list.

BookScapes by Helen McIver

bookpile2
Seraphina (2012)
This is a marvelous debut YA science fiction novel by Rachel Hartman which has received numerous awards including:
Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel
Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada)
Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK)
Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (UK)

If you thought there was nothing new to say about dragons, here is a beautiful intricately crafted new kingdom, Goredd, where humans and dragons have tentatively, coexisted for nearly 4 decades. Dragons attend court in human shape as ambassadors, and are noted for their rational, mathematical minds which also suits universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, tensions increase when a member of the royal family is murdered in suspiciously draconian fashion.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted court musician, she is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queens Guard, the perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they uncover a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina must protect her own secret, the reason for her musical gift. For Phina is half dragon and half human and totally unforgettable.

This heroine’s struggle, coming of age, is one readers will remember long after they’ve closed the book. The original world (new dragonlore), fun, fascinating and complex characters also demand the sequel to be written soon! I was captivated by the story, entranced by the beautiful, evocative writing. It was a pleasure to reread sections – a delight to return to highlighted passages (thank you kindle for nondestructive highlighting!)

There is a wonderul glossary of terms and a cast of characters (examples:)
Binou – breton bagpipes
Aurochs – extinct European cattle wild
Quine – 4 sheets of parchment (medieval paper)
Saarantrai – Dragons in human form
The main character is Seraphina Dombagh, often called Phina
Claude is her father
Orma is mentor and uncle and dragon
Prince Lucian Kiggs – is Princess Laurel’s bastard, and fiance to Princess Glisselda
Kiggs is also Captain of the Queen’s Guards
Viridius is the court composer

Quotes:
Most of the quotes are from the first half of the book, the pages flew and I was so absorbed in the story I didn’t interrupt it with anything. Magic quickly overtakes the reader.
Dragons have no souls and must wear a bell in human form unless they are scholars. They have silver blood, no beards, a peculiar smell not normally detected by humans. They have sulphurous breath.

The Music…was the answer to a question I had never asked, the way to fill the dread emptiness into which I had been born……My love of music eventually lured me from the safety of my father’s house, propelling me into the city and the royal court…I did not understand that I carried loneliness before me on a plate, and that music would be the light, illuminating me from behind.

Her Uncle Orma had…the scholar’s exemption from the bell, so few people ever realised he was a dragon. He had his quirks certainly: he never laughed; he had little comprehension of fashion, manners, or art; he had a taste for difficult mathematics and fabrics that didn’t itch.

It was good to see a dragon’s teeth. A dragon with his mouth closed was far more likely to be working up a flame. That seemed completely obvious…..Under the white winter sky the dragons looked rusty, a disappointing color for so fabled a species, but I soon realised their shades were subtle. The right slant of sunlight brought out an irridescent sheen in their scales; they shimmered with rich underhues, from purple to gold.

The borderlands of madness used to have much sterner signage around them than they do now.

We were friends; he just didn’t know it yet. ….He had a nose like a compass needle; it pointed with purpose.

Viridius planned to rehearse us within an inch of our lives.

I’d had more than my share of beautiful today. Tomorrow I’d give some back, restore and replenish the world.
4.5 stars
Read as an ebook from Rochester Public Library