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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Travel Books

img_3979February is book lovers month

Travel always brings extra reading with plane time, airport delays, bookshop perusal and friends recommendations.

As quick ebook reads I started the Iris and Roy Johansen’s Kendra Michaels series. Kendra had her sight restored through stem cell technology as a young woman and now uses all her senses to help the FBI solve difficult murder cases. Today I discovered there is a new one in the series! The suspense kept me occupied for a day of flight delays. I love the ease of downloading Library ebooks. At any one time I have 5-7books waiting to be read, as well as a long hold list or current and popular titles.

An absolutely fantastic charming read was recommended by an RPL librarian. The Unexpected Inheritance Of Inspector Chopra, written by Vaseem Khan is the Alexander McCall Smith of India. It is also the first of three novels published (so far) and I have to find the other two. You are in for the funny, poignant, insightful tale of Chopra retiring from the police force but determined to solve one last case. I can’t wait to find out what happens with the baby elephant, a most unusual retirement gift.

Three Queens in Erin by Douglas Nicholas. RPL has this fantasy series, where few do; it it is one of the best! Read on if you like Patrick Rothfuss, Dave Duncan or GRRMartin. I was delighted to find the latest and last installment by this award winning poet. Magic exists but all the stories are based on actual British history. There are several plot lines that develop through the series, coming of age of Hob (to Robert the Englishman), good vs evil with magical shape shifting or witchcraft, clan allegiance and reestablishing matriarch lineage in medieval times. They must be read in order for full appreciation of the trials of Queen Maeve and the historical perspective. I loved every novel and the satisfactory sense of completion at the end of Three Queens.

Flavia is back!! I love all the Flavia deLuce books in Alan Bradley’s charming YA series. The Grave is a Fine and Private Place is the 10th installment in the award winning author’s preteen English sleuth. She has had so many maturing changes, but is back in Buckshaw in familiar territory: there’s another body, her trusted friends surround her and the celebrated wit and observations are to the fore. It’s not the best book in the series, I’d read them in order to appreciate this more. But it is a delightful read nonetheless.

World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day!
In the UK, as the rest of the world celebrates on April 23.
(It is the first Thursday in March in Scotland, England and Ireland, and not the 23rd April as that is that national saint day of England, St George. April 23 is the death date of many important authors including Shakespeare and Cervantes.)

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Title: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
Publisher Delacorte Press, Random Huse
450 pp
Genre: YA, fantasy, science fiction, modern medieval, series
3.5 to 4(-) Stars ****
Author:
Dayton is the author of Sovereign’s Hold and Resurrection (Amazon best sellers). It was in my TBR pile, requested from Netgalley as it looked fascinating (great cover), is a genre I like (YA, strong female fantasy, while I am waiting for more Cashore or Hartman) and features Scotland! Then I saw the NYTimes advert and advanced it.
Story line:
Teen (distant) cousins Quin Kincaid and Shinobu MacBain, with friend (love interest) John Hart, are undergoing Seeker training in remote Scotland to follow their ancestors in the battle against evil, tales of glory and honor, death to tyranny and the search for truth. (Just a tad melodramatic, perhaps not for older/ teen audience). John fails his test, but Quin and Shinobu are severely traumatized and disillusioned by their first mission. They recognized their fathers as ruthless, rigid Seekers but aren’t prepared for life as an assassin. It will be interesting to see if their world is a better place with that job.
Chapters focus on different characters, with an overall narrator, which gives this story many nuanced layers. There is substantial character growth within this novel. But also bad choices (drugs, guilt). There are sword play/ training (proper Claymores) and prophecy and television. The story, while satisfactory, is incomplete, foreshadowing the next book. I look forword to Maud’s increasing role, the young Dread who is something of a guardian to the Seekers.
The action of this book is focused primarily on remote Scotland, Hong Kong, and London, via time travel, portals using ancient tool the athame (a stone dagger that takes the individual to specific coordinates). To complicate things John wants the athame that was stolen and dishonored his family; he seeks revenge.
This has relevant themes for YA: choices, life in many guises (love, joy, family, deception, tragedy, work), sense of discovery, good role models, confidence, and growing up with all its associated confusion, hormones, polarity. There are also elements of survivalism. I would call this well written (for teens), but it is NOT fast paced fantasy – more of there is a journey that will have adventures and heartbreak, discovery, greed, betrayal, and love, with knowns and unknowns. The slower pace gives some credence to the enormity and complexity of life. There is so much going on, so much unanswered throughout the book. Pay attention to detail. I expect revelations in future books, but even more questions; wait if you need instant gratification. (This is where there might be some valid comparison with GoT. The sequel, Traveler, is expected out Spring 2016.) There are elements of steam punk, fantasy, science fiction, romance and and historical mystery. There are interesting subplots and well developed secondary characters. For research Dayton traveled to ruins and castles in Scotland for a very recognizable feel, and Hong Kong, which contrasts to a futuristic feel.
I am glad I missed the hype on this novel, compared to the Hunger Games and Divergent series. If I had read some of the reviews I might not have started this book, and wonder if we read the same one! (I was surprised my library doesn’t have this author.)
Read on:
Kristin Cashore series, Rachel Hartman Seraphina (soon to be released Shadow Scale!), Samantha Shannon, Bone Season and The Mime Order (older YA)
Laini Taylor Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Quotes:
A “live” fight was no easy task. But if she did well, she was minutes away from her father’s approval, from joining her ancestors in the noble duties of a Seeker.
There was only the fight; consequences didn’t exist.
I want you to be the John I knew before. The one who wanted to do honorable things. To help people.
He was about to tell her things she didn’t want to hear.
We believe the athame ends up with whom it belongs. Do we not?
Great minds are not what’s wanted, only good hearts. Good hearts choose wisely.
You’ve sunk as far low as you can go when a healer wants you gone
.

Read as an ARC from NetGalley

New World Order

The Mime Order Samantha Shannon
Publisher: Bloomsbury (January 27, 2015)
528 pp
3.5 stars (3 for the first half, 4 for the latter half)
Genre: YA series, science fiction, dark fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, romance; now also known as New Adult (half YA//adult, graphic, violent)
Sequel to The Bone Season
Author:
Samantha Shannon is a British novelist, recently graduated from Oxford University (read English language and literature at St Anne’s). Her first novel, The Bone Season, (2013/14) was well received, published as one of expected seven series. She is an interesting young writer with a vivid imagination and the ability to translate this into riveting reading. If you don’t like cliff hangers, wait until the series is more advanced. Each book picks up right where the other left off. Read the charts, maps and glossary first to familiarize yourself with her terminology. They must be read in order.
Novel:
London in 2059 is governed by Scion, a security force that uses Oxford as a prison (Sheol 1). The heroine, 19 year old Paige Mahoney(#40) is an intelligent, impetuous, clairvoyant (dreamwalker) who works in Seven Dials within the criminal underbelly, as people with unnatural gifts are targeted (and have been since 1859, hence 20 Bone Seasons). It’s a fairly simplistic plot, although the characters are complex and complicated by her world building/foundation.
Her keeper there, the Warden (Arcturus) provided mysterious, initial tension, and indeed I was waiting for him to appear in the second novel where they have escaped the prison and are hunted. The action promptly picks up with his arrival (halfway through!). He balances Paige, having age and experience to her youth and instability. While he challenges her, she provides the hope he has lost. Romantic tension will be resolved eventually, but is an important story element.
Paige remains a fighter, and is strong and resourceful, a strong female lead, with a lot to learn. She returned to her old Mime boss (Jaxon Hall), who is slowly revealed to be quite a vile human, yet he is protecting Paige. While using her of course. The first half of the book reflects youth with indecision and inaction, although that can also be prudent while fact collecting. Steeped in politics, personal agendas, dickinsonian / penny dreadful details I became frustrated with where the story was going. Then it galloped right along, with twists and turns to yet another cliff. I am not sure I would reread this when the next installment appears. I do want to know what happens to the characters, but 5 more years? I was lucky to have recently read The Bone Season in the library, and delighted to be chosen to review this book. I loved her command of language, her creative world building (rotmonger, thaumaturge, Gutterlings), her nods to the old order (EA Poe, title, plus Raven – member of Guard Extraordinary, from the ravens of the Tower of London). I am still very impatiently waiting for Patrick Rothfuss to provide us with his trilogy. If you haven’t read that, drop everything else.

Read on:
If you like Christopher Paolini, Trudi Canavan’s Black Magicians trilogy, Richelle Mead’s Gameboards of the Gods, and the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo
NPR quoted a UK source which stated her as the next JK Rowling, but I don’t think there is much similarity. I liked it better thanThe Hunger Games.

Quotes:
Opening: “It’s rare that a story begins at the beginning. In the grand scheme of things, I really turned up at the beginning of they end of this one.”
“Hope is the lifeblood of revolution, without it we are nothing but ash, waiting for the wind to take us.”
Rephaite- pl. Rephraim. A biologically immortal, humanoid inhabitant of the Netherworld. …known to feed on the aura of clairvoyant humans.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley – thank you!
Available at the Rochester Public Library (it already has several reserves)!

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