Thursday, December 29, 2016

Heaven’s Queen

Rachel Bach
Completed 12/23/2016 Reviewed 12/28/2016
2 stars

SPOILER ALERT:  This book is a direct sequel, so be forewarned that the summary by definition is a spoiler to its predecessors. 

My usual experience with trilogies is that the second book is weaker than the first, and the third book is better than the second because it contains the climax.  Well, I was proven wrong with this book.  While the second book was a tad weaker than the first, I felt that the third book was much weaker than the second.  It seemed pointless.  Maybe I shouldn’t have read it right after the second book.  I can’t say for sure if that made a difference.  But while reading it, I just wanted it to end. 

Devi and Rupert show up nearly a year after the end of the second book because of time dilation in hyperspace.  They were thought to be dead.  But once they’re found to still be alive, they are wanted by everyone.  Devi has the virus that can stop the phantoms, but the virus wreaks havoc for everyone else, and eventually will kill Devi.  So everyone is trying to stop her.  And Rupert is wanted as a renegade for helping her. 

But now they are totally in love.  And the first major conflict occurs when her former lover Anthony shows up to bring her in.  Devi chooses Rupert over Anthony and the chase begins.  Now, I like a good romance, but so much of the rest of the book seemed to wallow in Devi’s love for Rupert.  Every action she took was some sort of reinforcement of her love for him.  It got tedious. 

I also found that the action became too formulaic, and I became bored with it.  It ran at such a high pace for too long.  It’s like when something begins as a ten out of ten in intensity, it’s hard to maintain that.  You have to keep upping the game to maintain that intensity.  And it just wasn’t upped enough for me.  I got to the point where I could predict when the next action sequence was going to take place within a few paragraphs. 

The bright spot of the book was the conclusion of how Devi wanted to save the universe from the phantoms.  That part was good, but it was smothered by the love and the action. 

I’m going to give the book only two stars because it was so disappointing for me.  The first book is amazing.  It’s well worth reading.  The second book is very good.  It still had me in its grasp.  But this third book couldn’t hold it together until the end.  Maybe I should have separated my reading of it from the second book by a different book or two.  It might have made a big difference in my reception of the action, the romance, and most importantly, the book as a whole.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Honor’s Knight

Rachel Bach
Completed 12/10/2016 Reviewed 12/12/2016
4 stars

SPOILER ALERT:  This book is a direct sequel to its predecessor, Fortune’s Pawn, so be forewarned that there will be some spoilers of the first book in this review, specifically in the summary.  For some reasons, like most trilogies, the second book always feels a little weaker than the first book.  I think this is because the first book in a good trilogy brings the reader something new.  The second book is no longer new, so it doesn’t seem as good.  That’s the case with Honor’s Knight.  It’s really good, but not quite the same bang up excitement I experienced with the Fortune’s Pawn.  I expect the third to pick up because it’ll be the big climax.

The story continues pretty much where the first book left off.  Devi has had her memory wiped, so she doesn’t remember anything of her romance with Rupert.  In fact, like a hypnotic suggestion, she’s physically repulsed by him.  She’s also been wiped of any memory of what Rupert is and what happened in the big showdown with Brenton.   So in the first half of the book, Devi is in a perpetual state of confusion.  In the meantime, she’s still seeing the phantoms that nobody else can see, and a mysterious blackness begins covering her fingers.  Needless to say, all this is freaking her out.  Fortunately, the action picks up, requiring her memory to be restored.  All the interpersonal conflicts of the characters eventually resume and the significance of her “gifts” becomes clear.

The big conflict of course is between Rupert and Devi.  Should there still be any semblance of a relationship between them given what has happened so far?  Is she angry enough or should she be angrier.  It’s a tough call.  I felt she should have been angrier, but at the same time, I want them to get together because I guess I’m a sucker for a good romance.  The relationship will probably reach its climax in the third and final book, just like the main plot.  But it is the topic of a lot of strong feelings one way or the other in reviews on the internet. 

There isn’t that much more to say about this book.  I give it four out of five stars like its predecessor, even though I felt it was a little weaker than the first.  If I gave half stars, I’d give it three and a half, but it’s better than a three star book, so it gets four.  The end is sufficiently action-packed, and Devi is still her terrific, fierce, mercenary soldier self.    The first half dragged a little when she’s confused with missing memory, but it picks up strongly as soon as the action kicks into gear and she gets her memory back.  I’ve already jumped into the third book.  This is great space fluff.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Stone Prince

Fiona Patton
Completed 12/3/2016 Reviewed 12/7/2016
3 stars

I liked this book.  While it has same-sex relationships, it’s not the great gay fantasy novel, but it’s good.  The author really does her best in the scenes between the main character Demnor and his companion Kelahnus, and telling the story about their relationship, from its rocky start to the present conflict where Demnor has to marry a woman for political reasons.  Demnor is a pretty damaged character.  He is the heir to throne and the power of the Living Flame, but he has been shaped by his powerful, emotionally abusive mother who is the current ruler.  So the story really centers on Demnor and his struggles in life and love and inheritance, and Kelahnus’ response to it all.

I really liked Kelahnus.  He’s not just a lover.  He’s part of what you can consider a concubine guild where people are trained to be the lovers of the hierarchy.  They serve the function of providing companionship until the aristocrat gets married.  And even after that, the relationship usually continues in some form.  In the case of Demnor and Kelahnus though, the two have fallen in love.  This creates a problems for Demnor’s future as Aristok (King) and the need for him to marry for political reasons and provide an heir.  Kelahnus has to navigate through all of Demnor’s political life while not despairing. 

The first half of the book was my favorite part, where we get to know the characters and the special social structure of the world.  The second half takes a big turn into politics.  I felt like it dragged, turning the book into the fantasy equivalent of a tedious space opera.  This brought the book to a snail’s crawl for me, losing the spark of the first half.

This is a shame too because the book had so much going for it.  Besides the companionship structure and the fluidity of sexuality, gender has a prominent role.  The aristocracy can be either male or female.  For example, all the children of the Arsitok are Princes, even the girls.  Women also serve in the military.  What makes this aspect of the book so great is that it is not an issue.  It just is.  It’s really well written in that respect.  And it’s easy to miss if you don’t pay attention to the pronouns of the soldiers, guards, and aristocrats.   

The magic and spirituality of the Living Flame concept was really interesting too.  Demnor is the heir of this powerful magic that helps him and his army in battles.  I thought it was understated, or perhaps underutilized.  The scenes with the flame are predominantly in the second half of the book.  It almost seems like it’s used sparingly on purpose, perhaps it has a much larger role in the next books in the series.

Yes, this book is the first of a series.  As I stated at the beginning of this review, I liked it, but I did not love it.  I found the second half somewhat tedious and it put me off from reading the rest of the series.  I was really glad however, that the book is self-contained.  It doesn’t leave you hanging for the next book in the series.  I give the book three stars out of five.  Maybe if the author could have edited out about half of the second half, I would have enjoyed it more.  The remaining action could have lifted the pace and made it a little more exciting.