Shadowmarch, by Tad Williams: A Review

Book #9 on my 2017 Reading Challenge is Shadowmarch by Tad Williams, a book with over 500 pages. This book isn’t the only book on my list over 500 pages, and at 762, it isn’t even the longest.

I fell in love with Tad Williams’s writing many years ago when I first read one of his other series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn which is still one of my favorite epic fantasy series of all time. The Shadowmarch series promises to be just as breathtaking.

Shadowmarch is book one of four and sets the stage for another epic fantasy adventure. The opening of this story introduces us to the Eddons of Southmarch. The Eddons are the ruling family of the most northern of the human kingdoms, a once larger domain, now centered around the last remaining stronghold. However, the king has been captured and is being held for ransom by another kingdom, leaving his eldest son and heir, Kendrick to rule as regent in his absence.

But when Kendrick is murdered, it falls to fifteen year old twins Barrick and Briony Eddon to take up the mantle of rulership. They are faced with enemies on every side. There is an ancient fairy-like race known as the Qar who have lived behind what’s known as the shadowline for centuries. Now they seek to reclaim what was once theirs. Then there is a powerful and ambitious god-king in the south as well as a rising internal threat.

Williams has set up a world here that is stunningly intricate and beautiful, filled with dozens of fascinating characters. Besides the humans and the Qar, there are Funderlings, Skimmers and Rooftoppers. He is a master world-builder. I was drawn into this story and compelled forward with every word.

The book may read at a slower pace than others, but Williams has tied things together in such a way, that suspense is not lost. And though there are characters that seem to have no connection to what I saw as the main plot, I still did not feel these passages pulled me away at all from the growing tale. By the end of the book, many of these connections are still tenuous. Many questions are left unanswered.

I’m pretty sure I would buy anything written by Tad Williams. And I will be reading the rest of the series just as soon as I can find the time.

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The Selection series, by Kiera Cass: A Review

I was initially drawn to these books because of their beautiful covers. I only had the first book in this series on my list to read this year originally, though I fully intended to read all of them eventually. When I merged my “rainbow list” with the expanded 2017 Reading Challenge list, I decided to read the entire series as #17: A trilogy or series.

The story has an interesting premise, if a little overdone. My first impression as I started reading was this is The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor. My opinion was vindicated when I saw this on the back cover of book two (The Elite):

A cross between The Hunger Games (minus the bloodsport) and The Bachelor (minus the bloodsport).” – Publishers Weekly

The Selection series is above all else, a romance story. It is the story of sixteen year old America Singer, one of thirty-five girls chosen to compete to become the wife of Prince Maxon. America initially doesn’t want to join the Selection and doesn’t expect to even like the prince.

America’s reluctance to join the Selection – despite the benefits to her family, and pressure from her mother – stem from her secret romance with a boy who is a caste level below her. Everything in her society is opposed to her forming any permanent relationship with this boy despite their love for one another.

Besides the love triangle, there are elements of intrigue in the story. This is a culture deep in unrest, but how deeply this runs isn’t apparent at first. The first book barely touches on this part, focusing more on the elimination of girls from the Selection – dropping from thirty-five down to just eight by the end of book one.

We do learn in book one, about two groups of rebels that routinely attack the royal palace. Rebel activity really ramps up in book two, and by book three, things finally come to a head.

In the end, America has to decide who she is, and what she really wants before she can move in any relationship. Through some often painful growing up, she does ultimately make new friends in unlikely places.

I enjoyed reading this series. It is clearly a teen romance book, complete with the requisite teenage drama and poor decisions, but was a quick, fun read. I’m not convinced it needed to be a trilogy, however, as the story feels a little stretched in places.

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman: A Review

I first chose The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman as one of the books to join my “Year of the Series” rainbow list because it’s been on my shelf for too long already. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for awhile, especially since I picked up a copy at a random used book sale.

It then found a place on my 2017 Reading Challenge list as #26, a book set in a country I’ve never been to. Finding a country I’ve never been to wasn’t hard. I’ve only been outside the United States on three occasions. Finding a book set in another country, however, proved more difficult. The majority of the books I’d chosen were fantasy novels set it a world all their own, and not in the real world. By process of elimination, therefore, The Golden Compass ended up in this slot.

It turns out, The Golden Compass isn’t technically set in our world after all. It’s an alternate universe version of our world. Pullman has created a beautiful world filled with stunning language and imagery. His fantasy realm is anchored on our own world, at once both familiar and foreign.

This is the story of Lyra, an eleven year old girl who ends up caught between forces much larger than herself. But that’s not to say that she is merely driven along the path of the story by destiny. Lyra is a precocious, curious little girl who is quite capable of taking matters into her own hands. Her decisions impact the direction the story will go.

The tale that ensues is a fantastic ride. The writing is so smooth, it’s not difficult to set aside the questions and wait for the answers. There is so much I liked about this book, but to share it here risks spoiling the fun for someone else. I found this to be a phenomenal and satisfying read, and book two is set up perfectly at the end of this one. (Making a mental note to acquire the rest of the series!)

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle: A Review

I read A Wrinkle in Time as book I can finish in a day, #10 on my 2017 Reading Challenge list. At only 211 pages, it should have been a lot easier than it was to finish in a single day. I managed it, but only just. To be fair, I was off work for the Labor Day holiday, and my kids were under foot all day long, making reading time difficult to come by.

Nevertheless, I did read this book in a single day. Once I was finally able to immerse myself into the story, I was swept away by this magical tale.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Margaret (Meg) Murry. As the story opens we learn that Meg’s parents are both brilliant scientists, her father has been missing for some time and the community believes he has abandoned his family, there’s something very special about Meg’s youngest brother, and Meg herself is considered plain and unintelligent. Reading through the story, we learn that Meg is not so plain or unintelligent, though she certainly believes this to be true.

L’Engle’s style is direct and unassuming. Her characters are unique and quirky. A Wrinkle in Time is a beautifully written coming-of-age sort of story where Meg learns to overcome the things she’s always believed she is not, in order to become who she really is.

The opening to the Time Quintet series, this classic science fiction story should be a must-read for young readers and older readers alike. Have you read it? I’d love to hear what you think of the book.

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan: A Review

#19 on my 2017 Reading Challenge is The Lightning Thief, a book I own but haven’t read yet. I picked this book up some time back, but am only just now getting around to reading it. I wish I knew why it took me so long. This was a really fun read!

Book one of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief introduces us to a world of myths and legends from ancient Greek and Roman times. Riordan has seamlessly brought these ancient stories to life right here in modern America.

The story opens in New York City where Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of his sixth boarding school in as many years. He has dyslexia, ADHD and has a knack for attracting trouble. And then, while on a field trip in the city, Percy is attacked by his math teacher and he destroys her with a pen-turned-sword.

Life as he has known it changes forever in that moment. He learns that the gods and heroes of Greek mythology are very much real. Not only that, he is himself a part of that world. Turns out, he’s a half-blood, the son of one of those gods he’d never believed in before.

That’s not all. Before he can even adjust to this new knowledge, Percy is thrust into the middle of a huge sibling rivalry as he is accused of having stolen a powerful object from the gods themselves. Along with his best friend – who turns out to be a satyr – and another demigod, he is sent on quest that takes them across the US. Mayhem and misadventure ensue as Percy struggles to accept his newly discovered identity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to Percy’s next adventure in The Sea of Monsters. I’m so glad I finally read this. Now, on to the next unread book I’ve already owned for far too long.

Dies the Fire, by S. M. Stirling: A Review

Book #6 on my 2017 Reading Challenge list is: a book set in your hometown/region. For this, I chose to read Dies the Fire, by S. M. Stirling. Set in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, it is practically in my back yard.

The story opens an hour before a catastrophic world-altering event that renders electricity, vehicles and even guns useless. The book follows a handful of main characters as they struggle with the aftermath of such an event, two groups in particular.

One, led by Juniper McKenzie – a musician and Wiccan – head into the hills outside Corvallis. Here they begin to dig in and plan for a drastically altered future. A future where survival has become the only priority.

The other group is led by Mike Havel, a former marine who has been making his living flying wealthy tourists into the backwoods of Idaho. He is flying with his most recent charge when the Change occurs, and he is forced to bring the now dead plane down as safely as can be managed. Out in the middle of nowhere he and the family – the Larssons – with him are unaware that this was not an isolated incident.

And so begins the journey to a new (old?) reality. Juniper, Mike and all the others battle against fires from planes that fell from the sky, the chaos of cities plunged into the dark ages without electricity, and rural communities ill-equipped to operate without the benefits of machinery. New horrors emerge as well such as the Protector of Portland – a man bent on claiming his place in this new world through force and intimidation. They face cannibalism, the plague and brutal warfare, things most people in America today would never imagine having to face.

Stirling writes his tale with brutal realism. Though the initial premise of the story is a little far fetched, and the cause of “The Change” is never explained, the actions taken by the characters after the event are well thought through. The things they have to endure are horrifyingly plausible. That these things are happening in places I know makes it even more chilling. It is a well-written book and I enjoyed it a lot. I’m looking forward to picking up book two, The Protector’s War.

If you’re into alt-history novels at all, this is a great series. If you’ve read it already, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner: A Review

I have been eager to read The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, since I watched the movie adaptation back in 2014. At the time, I wasn’t aware it was based on a book. When I found out, I was excited to read it. Thus, it seemed perfectly appropriate that this book join my 2017 Reading Challenge list as #4, a book that became a movie.

The Maze Runner is the story of Thomas, a 16 year old boy who joins a group of other boys ranging in age from about 13-18 who have all been sent to live in what they call The Glade. But there’s a catch. No one can remember anything about their life before The Glade, or why they were sent there.

The Glade sits inside a giant maze, and every day the boys of the Glade run through it, mapping it in detail and searching for an exit. Every night, the walls of the Maze move and the doors close, locking out horrible, mechanical beasts they call Grievers. This has been going on for two years without success. Until Thomas arrives. Then everything changes. I found myself pulling for Thomas and the other boys to succeed.

I have to admit, this book didn’t quite have the “wow” effect I was hoping for. There were a few quirky things I found difficult to get past, especially early on. Maybe this was because I’d seen the movie before reading the book.

Overall this book was a fun read. It’s well written, the plot moves quickly, and I couldn’t help but care about the characters. And the sequel is set up nicely in the end so that I am now eager to continue reading the story. I will say this, however, if you haven’t read it yet, and you haven’t seen the movie, read the book first.