Book Review: The Crown Conspiracy by Sullivan (4 stars)

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan

4 out of 5 stars

Read in February 2009

A very enjoyable quick read. I enjoyed the fast paced romp following the antics of the two thieves, Hadrian and Royce, and the intrigues entangling them with the royals Alric and Arista.

The tale starts with some stolen letters, which are then re-stolen right from under the owner’s nose from a windowless tower room behind the only door (locked) and a safe (also locked). The thieves complete the job successfully, collect their payment and plan to take a bit of a vacation before taking on another client. But Hadrian stumbles upon a desperate noble who convinces him to take an emergency job to steal a sword to prevent his death in a duel scheduled for the next day. Royce rightly chastises Hadrian for breaking the rules but agrees to do the job because the price is almost too good to be true.

And it proves to be just that. The thieves spring a trap that implicates them in the murder of the king. They are arrested and placed in the dungeon, convinced they will be executed in the morning. The Princess Arista has other plans and helps them escape on the condition that they kidnap her brother, the Crown Prince Alric. And thus begins the adventure of Prince Alric and the Thieves, as it’s referred to once the dust settles and the crown rests safely on the correct royal brow.

My favorite character was Myron, the cloistered monk who had naive chiseled on his forehead. I also related well to Hadrian. Other than that, I didn’t connect with many of the other characters. In fact, even when their lives were hanging by a thread (literally), my heart didn’t quicken nor did I hold my breath. I thoroughly enjoyed the action and adventure, but I wanted to know more about the characters, especially Royce.

Book Review: Warbreaker by Sanderson (4 stars)

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

4 out of 5 stars

Read in July 2009

Brandon does it again – “it” being his uncanny ability to create female characters that I immediately relate to, like and care about. Not only one, but two of them – Vivenna, the eldest, wisest, best prepared sister, and Siri, the youngest, kindest, most frivolous one. But don’t let those stereotypes delude you. Brandon turns both of these types around, on their heads and sideways and I’m convinced you’ll be pleased with the results.

The magic system in Warbreaker was a tad creepy at times, especially if you believe, as I did, that Breath is equivalent to your soul. Breath is traded, bartered, bought and sold, so you can literally sell your soul in the world of Warbreaker. The accumulation of Breath creates a social hierarchy in T’Telir readily apparent to citizens, priests, and the resident “gods” (i.e. the Returned). The more Breath you acquire, the more abilities and perceptions you enhance, including extending your life indefinitely. The use and study of Breath is ongoing so a future exploration is possible in another story.

Most of the story dealt with the political intrigue in and around the Court of Gods and the seemingly imminent war between Hallandren and Idris. The two sisters, Vivenna and Siri, are princesses of Idris, a breakaway province of Hallandren. Siri is sent to T’Telir to fulfill a twenty year old treaty obligation to provide a royal bride to the God King in Vivenna’s place. Vivenna follows Siri to the city, ostensibly to rescue Siri, but really to fight her inner battle against suddenly being useless and unimportant. How these two sisters deal with the circumstances they find themselves thrust into is the heart of this story.

Other characters of note include Lightsong, a Returned denying his divinity with every witty fiber of his being; Vasher, a ruthless Awakener burdened with the sentient irresistibly destructive sword Nightblood; and Denth, a likeable mercenary who takes Vivenna under his protection soon after her arrival in T’Telir.

The action quickens in the last fifth of the book to the point where I had to re-read several paragraphs because I kept skipping ahead with the implied breakneck pace of the story.

My only quibble with the story would be a lack of return to Idris, especially from the point of view of Vivenna and Siri’s father. Once both sisters are in T’Telir, we never return to their homeland nor hear anything from their family. Lastly, the wrap-up at the end, especially surrounding Vasher, Denth, Nightblood and Lightsong, wasn’t convincing enough for me. It seemed too convenient and too rushed.

I still enjoyed the story and am very grateful that it’s a standalone epic fantasy tale with no cliffhanger ending. Recommended for all fantasy lovers.

Book Review: Bridge of Birds by Hughart (4 stars)

BridgeofBirdsByHughartBridge of Birds: A Novel of Ancient China that Never Was by Barry Hughart

4 out of 5 stars

Read in January 2010

An Asian adventure packed with action, mystery, myths, ingenuity, humor and hope. Master Li, regardless of his undefined character flaw, discerns perils, puzzles and peoples clearly while his young client, Number Ten Ox, battles monsters, braves ghosts, topples buildings, walks on lava, loves unconditionally and all to save his village’s children from a mysterious malady.

Hughart kept me riveted with each new chapter, each new adventure, each twist in the labyrinth. While some character dialogue seemed too modern for a tale of Ancient China (that ‘never was’), the relentless pace of events kept me turning pages faster and faster. The author spawned vivid visuals in my imagination, making me yearn for a movie rendition similar to “House of Flying Daggers” or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

I highly recommend Bridge of Birds to all lovers of fairy tales, legends and high adventure.

Book Review: The Way of Shadows by Weeks (4 stars)

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

3.8 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2009

Similar in style to The Lies of Locke Lamora or The Blade Itself – gritty fantasy, bloody coups, relentless pace, morally challenged characters. The fantasy elements played second fiddle to the fighting, poisoning and similar training of the first half of the story. As the story unfolds, many characters names change, but not to protect any innocents.

Graphic violence and obscenities, while prevalent, were well placed and not over-used. The fighting sequences didn’t thrill me, nor did the political intrigue. Lately, I’m beginning to believe that the fantasy genre only has two avenues of expression – political power struggle where all the players wear gray or prophesied chosen child on a quest in a black and white landscape.

Weeks surprised me with a handful of precious tender moments between the characters, some of which brought tears to my eyes, often occurring in the vilest of surroundings or events. I smiled at some of the clever dialogue, but never laughed out loud.

Weeks managed to provide me with enough glimmers of hope and light amidst the dark, depraved, nihilistic fog to satisfy my yearning for redemption. He reminded me that no matter how abhorrent the deeds, the transgressor is always worthy of another chance. He allowed his characters to suffer, giving them the opportunity to stretch beyond their perceived limits, grasping for the fleeting glimpse of salvation and becoming better and stronger as a result.

Good character development with some twists and turns that managed to stay believable. Stands alone well, but leaves many questions unanswered.