Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Calling on Dragons

Hello again, loyal Book Dame readers! I apologize for the prolonged gap in reviews. I promised Jefferson that I would read a book of his that was dull and long. But, since that’s finished, here we go!

Title: Calling on Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1994
Series: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Book 3)
Next in Series: Talking to Dragons

Morwen and her cats live a fairly quiet life in the Enchanted Forest. Sometimes odd things do occur, but who would have thought the cats would run into a seven foot eleven inch tall (including the ears) rabbit who is obviously enchanted? Morwen investigates. She discovers that the wizards have found a way to soak up the Enchanted Forest again. Heading off for the castle at once, Morwen informs King Mendanbar and Queen Cimorene. There they find that the wizards have stolen the sword that is linked to the magic of the Enchanted Forest. Since only a member of the King’s family can handle the sword (and Mendanbar can’t leave or the Forest will all be soaked up) pregnant Cimorene must go adventuring with her entourage: Kazul, Telemain, Killer the rabbit, Morwen and two of her cats.

While this book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles is a little less exciting at first than the previous two, it has some really interesting points. Fire-witches, mentioned a few times in Searching for Dragons become far more involved in the series and I found them fascinating. The whole idea of a person who’s hair spontaneously combusts when they’re angry, is immune to fire and can learn any kind of magic is pretty cool. Also, there are talking cats. They're just as sarcastic and snide as cats would be if they could talk.

However, the rest of the book was dull and jumpy. Hopping from one place to another doesn’t move the story along, it just describes more scenery. That's not why I bought the book. From Morwen’s house to the Castle, and then with Telemain’s random transportation spells, shifting the setting needlessly ties up pages without moving the plot along. Also, the giant rabbit gets annoying very quickly. They bring him everywhere and he’s constantly eating things he shouldn’t so first he’s giant, then he turns in to a donkey, and well… it just keeps going to the point of nausea. There’s also a random encounter with Jack, a magic bean farmer, which is only in the story to give Killer another magic thing to eat.

And then there’s the hanging ending…

Calling on Dragons is told from third person limited.

My Thoughts:
This was always my least favorite book of the series when I was growing up, simply because of the hanging ending. I loved having a book from Morwen’s perspective and finally being able to know what her cats were saying. The basis of this story, though, is really just to set the stage for the next book (my favorite of the quartet). Really, Morwen is one of my favorite characters in the series. I just wish the book from her point of view was more interesting. It’s a decent read, but no where near up to par with the other three.

Favorite Scene:
I loved the floating laundry basket they use to get into the fire-witch’s tower.

Who this book is best for:
Middle school kids will like it, or anyone else who wants to finish the series. It’s worthwhile because it sets up the stage for the next book.

Violence: 1 of 5, because the dragons start eating people.

Stars: 2.5 of 5

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Title: Lirael
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2001
Series: Abhorsen Trilogy (Book 2)
Next in Series: Abhorsen

Lirael is a Daughter of the Clayr, a large family gifted with future Sight. But Lirael is different. No one has ever Seen Lirael, she doesn’t look like her cousins, she doesn’t know who her father was and she doesn’t have the Sight. So Lirael is quiet, avoids her cousins, and eventually finds work in the Great Library of the Clayr. Years pass and Lirael meets (or makes) the Disreputable Dog. Together they explore the Library, but when they find an ancient tunnel ominously called “Lirael’s Path” things change. Suddenly she has been Seen: Lirael must leave the Glacier and attempt to defeat an ancient evil that has found its way to the surface once more.

Prince Sameth is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting to his mother, the Abhorsen Queen, Sabriel (heroine of the Abhorsen Trilogy Book 1). But Sameth is terrified of Death, the Abhorsen’s priority. They are the only necromancers who put the Dead back to rest, or bind those who will not rest deep within the river of Death. Sameth leaves the palace to look for a friend who is late in arriving, but really he’s fleeing his duties as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. But the bells, unmistakable tools of the necromancer, and Mogget, unwilling servant of the Abhorsen, refuse to be left behind.

The fate of the Old Kingdom rests on the shoulders of these two young people and their assistants.

Lirael, while silent around her family, is anything but a timid heroine. She has large internal issues to overcome, but she doesn’t let them rule her. She stands out as one of the most complex fantasy characters I have ever read. Sameth annoys me as any fifteen year old boy does. He’s self centered, fearful, thoughtless, willful and aggravating. He’s a well drawn character and ends up a respectable hero, despite his beginnings.

The odd thing about this book is that both of the main human characters are surpassed by their assistants, and it’s not just that they seem to be talking animals. (Mogget is a cat, by the way.) There is an air of mystery around both the Disreputable Dog and Mogget that leaves you constantly wondering and wanting more from them. Mogget’s dry humor and sarcasm give tantalizing hints of his hidden past, while the Disreputable Dog has more knowledge than the best Charter Mage ever born. So who are these assistants, and are they really the assistants?

The Old Kingdom is realistic to the point that it throws itself off the page at you. I can almost convince myself that it exists somewhere in Europe and if I were lucky (or perhaps unlucky) enough, perhaps I could visit there. That is how well Mr. Nix has made his world, a major triumph for any author but one he consistently puts forth.

"Lirael" is told from third person omniscient. You will regularly change between Lirael and the Disreputable Dog’s story line and Sameth and Mogget’s story line until the two join up.

My Thoughts:
While I love the first book in the Abhorsen series, "Lirael" is really my favorite. Since this book takes place between fourteen and nineteen years after "Sabriel", Lirael’s story can stand alone. (So if you haven’t read "Sabriel" yet and want to pick up "Lirael", you’re in luck!) However, buy this book in conjunction with the next book in the series, "Abhorsen", since it is really just the ending of everything set forth in "Lirael". I can’t say how annoyed I was late one night when I was first finishing "Lirael" to realize that nothing was going to be wrapped up and I didn’t have the next one to start immediately! That’s the only thing that’s taking the last half star from this book.

(And for those of you who are already fans of the Old Kingdom, Garth Nix has another two books coming out based in there, the first will be “Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen” due out in 2010, which takes place about 200 years before "Lirael". In 2011 there will be an as yet untitled book set after the happenings in "Abhorsen".)

Favorite Scene:
Being a huge fan of libraries, I was in love with the Great Library of the Clayr from the start. My favorite scene by far was when Lirael and the Disreputable Dog explored the dark recesses of the Library on her nineteenth birthday.

Who this book is best for:
While Garth Nix is usually known for writing young adult fiction, this book deals with some rough stuff and a lot of death and dead things (think zombies and other nasties). Therefore, unless you don’t mind a lot of death in your kid books, I’d say this is for 11th graders or up.

Violence: 3.5 of 5 for many dead beings and death scenes

Stars: 4.5 of 5

Searching for Dragons

Title: Searching for Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1992
Series: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Book 2)
Next in Series: Calling on Dragons

Mendanbar, King of the Enchanted Forest, has a bit of a problem on his hands. It seems as though someone decided to burn up a large chunk of his kingdom. All signs point to the Dragons when he finds a number of scales lying around. Convinced not to jump to conclusions by Morwen, he goes to talk to Kazul, King of the Dragons. There he meets Cimorene and learns they both have a problem: Kazul is missing and those pesky Society of Wizards are causing trouble again!

So what is a King to do? He and Cimorene set off to find Kazul and figure out what’s been burning up his kingdom. With rapid action and a ton of lovable characters, Searching for Dragons travels through the Mountains of Morning, the surrounding countryside and into the Enchanted Forest, expanding and enriching the world built in Dealing with Dragons.

Mendanbar is a charming person, witty and clever, easy-going and amenable to most things (unless his steward is trying to convince him to marry). One of my favorite things about Mendanbar is the way he works magic. Described as threads that run all throughout the Enchanted Forest, Mendanbar manipulates the magic of his kingdom by judicious tweeking, pulling and yanking. His magic is so much a part of him that it is like missing an arm when he leaves the Forest and doesn’t have the floating strands at his beck and call.

The second book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles is just as enjoyable as the first, moves from one catastrophe to the next calamity with humor and promptness.

Searching for Dragons is told from third person limited.

My Thoughts:
It’s nice to see that there are at least some men in Cimorene’s world who aren’t completely stupid and can stand up to her!

Favorite Scene:
While this is a tough call, I’ll have to go with Mendanbar fixing the sink with a magic sword, and Cimorene’s shocked reaction.

Who this book is best for:
Kids in late elementary school who are good readers or those in middle school will surely enjoy the witty banter and references to other well known fairy tales.

Violence: 0 of 5. Like Dealing with Dragons, there really isn’t any violence in this book. The only time Mendanbar even draws his sword to do something other than magic is to kill some snakes.

Stars: 4 of 5

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Title: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1997

Tristran Thorn is not who he’s always thought he was: no, he’s the product of a one night stand between a fairy woman and his human father during a one-every-nine-years fair. Left next to the wall his father’s town was named for and raised in Victorian England, Tristran then goes off to the land of Fairy to fetch back a fallen star for the girl he loves. Tristran, however, isn’t the only person after that fallen star. A scary witch-woman wants it to regain her youth, and three brothers are after it to prove they are worthy of claiming the Lordship of their homeland.

Thus goes Stardust, which does at times feel a little like every other fairy tale you’ve read and falls easily into the “quest” category. Tristran is helped along his way by three mysterious strangers. The star is, of course, a glittery woman with a temper. It’s enjoyable and Tristran is a pleasant character to read about. He’s simple in an honest way and loyal.

There are the clearly defined “good guys” and the obvious “bad guys”. The three brothers took it upon themselves to bump off their other four male siblings, and so there is no clear person to win the Lordship. The witch is intent on harvesting organs from various other characters in the story, which only heightens the disgust you feel for her (unless you have hidden sentiments for Hannibal Lector).

And so the story moves along at a smart clip, entertaining and beautifully illustrated. While not fantastically surprising, it is fantastically comforting: a tale where the good guys win and the bad guys well… don’t.

Stardust is told from a third person limited sense, although you do get to see a few encounters from long before Tristran’s birth.

My Thoughts:
I read this book at the behest of a coworker of mine (code named Jean-Luc) and it was a great way to spend my Friday night. Yes, the story was a little predictable at times, but that may be because I’m overly familiar with the way fairy tales run. The writing was pleasant, if wordy, and the world beautifully described.

Favorite Scene:
I found the idea of cloud ships and a tree-harbor very pleasant and somewhat original. I wished it would go on longer, but I suppose the story wouldn’t have ended if they’d all stayed aboard.

Who this book is best for:
This book, while a standard fairy tale, has a few “adult” scenes and some swearing. Therefore, unless your child is of age or you don’t mind those things, keep it 18+.

Violence: 3.5 of 5 for a few bloody death scenes and a few more poisonings.

Stars: 3 of 5

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Endymion Spring

Title: Endymion Spring
Author: Matthew Skelton
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2006

Endymion Spring and Blake Winters are two boys separated by over 500 years of history and tied together by a book. Endymion finds the book in an odd chest he isn't supposed to be rummaging around in. The book finds Blake in the St. Jerome library at Oxford 500 years later. And so the two set out, each in their own time, to keep Endymion's book from those who would use it for evil.

Endymion Spring, a mute thief turned apprentice, works for and lives with Johannes Gutenberg. He helps create the beautiful type that will turn Gutenberg's bibles into a masterpiece of both printing and art, revered around the world. The Bible is nearing completion when Gutenberg's investor, Fust, arrives with his own apprentice, Peter, and a demonically carved chest. Terrified but curious, Endymion is drawn to the box and learns it holds a magic type of paper, paper which contains the answers to every mystery on earth. Fust, a thief himself and supremely evil, will stop at nothing to gain that wisdom.

Shift to modern day Oxford. Blake and his sister Duck have been uprooted by their studious mother who is doing research at the college. Quite a lot of time is spent following Blake as he wanders around various libraries, prosaically describing the smell of the books and the dust in the air. And this is where the story started to lose me. Not that it wasn't easy to follow, but because Blake moped around a little more than I wanted to put up with.

Blake is a troubled boy who can't see why Endymion's book chose him, and frankly I wondered the same thing. Empathizing with Blake is easy; he's going through some troubled times while his parents split up, but that happens to many kids these days. Believing he was somehow deemed worthy by a mysterious book due to these troubles was a bit hard to swallow. I also had issues with his sister's name being Duck. Just because your daughter refuses to take off a raincoat that looks like a duck doesn't mean you change her name to fit the jacket. That's as good as saying she is the jacket, or that the jacket is her. I carried a stuffed cat around as a child, but they don't call me Kitty.

What kept me reading was how engaging Endymion was. While Gutenberg never quite seemed real, his apprentice Endymion did. I felt for Endymion. His terror for Fust, his grudging respect for Peter and his adoration for Gutenberg were almost palpable. It's too bad that didn't transfer to Blake's sections of the story.

This book is interesting, and switches from first person past tense for Endymion to third person limited for Blake. It's as though Endymion knows what is happening 500 years later, and is telling you Blake's story.

My Thoughts:
I'm not sure why this was a New York Times bestseller, but I've wondered that about many other books as well. I wasn't really drawn into the story. I thought it a lot of it was sort of fusty, and there were many things that seemed like they were going somewhere, and it turned out they were only there to cause confusion and didn't add anything to the story in the end. I find that supremely aggravating. A number of the lose ends were wrapped up far too neatly, and others that seemed so important were never explained at all. It wasn't a bad read, and I'll probably go back through it, but I might skip over certain sections so as to spend my time with the characters I liked.

Favorite Scene:
The Dance of Death where Endymion flees from Fust was strangely (and almost disturbingly) intriguing. I'd say more, but I don't want to give this part away.

Who this book is best for:
Kids in early middle school will love the style and completely relate Endymion... perhaps even with Blake.

Violence: 2.5 of 5 for a descriptive beating during the climax.

Stars: 3 of 5

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dealing with Dragons

Title: Dealing with Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1990
Series: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Book 1)
Next in Series: Searching for Dragons

Cimorene is not your average princess. She doesn’t like dancing, embroidery or etiquette, so she takes fencing, magic, Latin and cooking to make up for it (even though princesses don’t cook, conjugate Latin verbs or play with swords). Fed up with their daughter doing improper things, Cimorene’s parents arrange a marriage for her. Aghast at the prince they’ve chosen Cimorene runs away to be a dragon’s princess (which is sort of like being the maid). Now she must cope with a poorly provisioned kitchen, wizards, witches, stone princes, a jinn, knights and (of course) dragons. Life certainly picked up pace.

Ms. Wrede does an immaculate job of setting the stage for Dealing with Dragons. Even kingdoms where you don’t spend much time feel familiar: “Linderwall was a large kingdom just east of the Mountains of Morning where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished, mainly for show – it had been centuries since a dragon had come east…all in all, Linderwall was a prosperous and pleasant place.” It could be almost anywhere, and seems about as normal as can be. But when you move east from Linderwall, things change. Mostly because when there are dragons involved, nothing is ever easy.

Cimorene is the antithesis of most princesses in fairy tales. She’s not weak, she’s not helpless, she’s not a blond and she does NOT need to be rescued. She is incredibly witty and strong willed. Nothing seems to faze her, and ain’t nothing gonna slow her down. In one word, she is indefatigable. In a country as normal and commonplace as Linderwall, that makes her the black sheep and she never quite fits in. Besides, in a world where everything is right and proper, a person whose very personality sets others on their ears will always feel out of place.

The story, like its heroine, moves along at a smart clip where one chance encounter with a talking frog changes the fate of a numerous kingdoms. Cimorene takes the frog’s advice and flees from her arranged marriage and winds up (rather unexpectedly) in the Mountains of Morning where she is taken in by Kazul, a rather prominent dragon who likes cherries jubilee. The odd thing is, even though they are so far outside the reader’s realm of expertise, the Mountains of Morning and their inhabitants seem like they could be your neighbors. For example, Roxim may be a dragon but he sneezes a lot and is rather forgetful, sort of like the old man around the corner who’s lived there forever. It may take a lot to make a twenty foot long reptile seem loveable, yet somehow Roxim is exactly that. And maybe the Mountains of Morning grew up on their ears, because Cimorene fits right in. It’s a good thing that she does, too, once the Society of Wizards start their meddling.

But beware! Nothing small or unimportant happens in the world of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Make sure you’re paying attention, because every little detail counts (with the possible exception of the cauldron of plenty’s inability to make any dessert that isn’t burnt mint custard or sour-cream-and-onion ice cream).

The one problem with this book is that it relies so heavily on chance. Cimorene happens to run into that certain wizard in that particular herb patch. Kazul happens to know someone who has a copy of an extremely rare book. Cimorene happens to pick up a pebble in that particular cave. But really, life is based off of chance, right? So it shouldn’t be too surprising that it is used in books. And it doesn't stop the book from being amazingly funny.

This book is told in third person limited.

My Thoughts:
I’ve always enjoyed books that play off of other fairy tales, and this one was my first introduction to that genre. Ms. Wrede skillfully weaves in every tale from Rumpelstiltskin to the Wizard of Oz and gives us just a little twist that makes it so much more delightful. Plus, the idea of a heroine rebelling and doing something interesting for a change (ahem, not embroidery, ahem) really appealed to me when I was ten. Years later, it still does.

Favorite Scene:
I quite enjoyed Cimorene yelling at Morwen, whom she thought was another knight trying to rescue her (and thus interrupting her work).

Who this book is best for:
I recommend this book for young women in or near middle school.

Violence: 0 out of 5. The most violent thing in the whole book is when the Stone Prince gets bit by Woraug. It chips his shirt sleeve.

Stars: 4 out of 5

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Emerald House Rising

Title: Emerald House Rising
Author: Peg Kerr
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1997

Jenna never asked to be a wizard. She asked to be a gem cutter, just like her father. In fact, she’s his apprentice. But like so many things in life do, it was unexpected and sudden. Jenna finds herself whisked away to a castle far from home, amongst strangers and friendless. It is there that she learns her true strengths and uncovers the beginning of a plot which threatens the entire country.

A country with a nobility system built around the major precious stones… intriguing. But really, that doesn’t enter into the story until much later. This is mostly because while Jenna cuts gems: she’s only an apprentice and is more worried about earning her journeyman’s badge.

So at first I thought Jenna was wishy-washy and a bit of a bland character, but as the book progressed she really grew on me. Not only did she develop a backbone and a bit of sarcastic bite, but it turns out that she’s smart!

The magic system in this book is a little unspecific. Something about needing to see the different choices available to a person? But really that’s about as far as it’s developed. Makes it easy to fit the magic system into the plot, but it’s not too easy for the reader to envision. Perhaps that’s because we can’t see all the choices.

Overall, though, the plot is more than satisfying. The Diadem court and its’ leaders (most prominent to the story are the Ruby and the Diamond, despite the title) is a fascinating place of intrigue which Jenna and the reader are swept up into, and while the book revolves around a romance, it’s not really a romantic book. It’s more of a mystery, and very enjoyable!

Emerald House Rising is told from third person limited. You don’t ever see outside Jenna’s mind.

My Thoughts:
I really loved the description of the gemstones and gem cutting in this book. I can actually say I understand the lost wax method of casting jewelry thanks to Emerald House Rising. And it made me want to buy more bracelets and necklaces, which was bad for my bank account but great for the jewelry box.

Favorite Scene:
Jenna sneaking down the halls of Duone Keep in the dark, trying to find Lord Morgan’s room and running into Lady Kestrienne is my favorite scene. It takes the cake because of the ingenious reason for their being there that Lady Kestrienne gives Lord Duone. Absurd and reasonable at the same time.

Who this book is best for:
Anyone who likes fantasy novels will enjoy this one. It’s 325 pages, so if you’re shopping for Young Adults, make sure they have the staying power to finish it.

Violence: 2 of 5 for death by magic at the climax of the story.

Stars: 4.5 of 5

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In the Hand of the Goddess

Title: In the Hand of the Goddess
Author: Tamora Pierce
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1984
Series: Song of the Lioness Quartet (Book 2)
Next in Series: The Woman Who Rides Like a Man

Alanna has completed her years as a page, defeated the Black City and proved herself worthy of being a squire. As her years as a page ended, the crown prince choose her as his personal squire. But the future isn't going to be easy, as the Goddess warns Alanna. Wars, assassination attempts and usurpers litter the path ahead of her, and Alanna must learn to overcome her fears if she is to protect her friends and become a knight.

The world of Tortall really expands in the second book in the series. Finally we get to see more of the country than the palace and Trebond. The war with the neighbor country Tusaine to the east lets us finally meet some of the common folk other than George and his family. Plus, it teaches us so much more about the Gift and Alanna’s healing powers, which is fascinating. As if this weren’t enough, Alanna takes a trip to the City of the Gods to visit her brother Thom. It’s the city where Alanna was almost stuck – I mean sent – to learn to be a lady. If the first book is to lay the foundations of a world and the second is to flesh it out, Tamora Pierce does an outstanding job.

The book is told in a third person omniscient perspective, although it is a very limited omniscient, rarely leaving Alanna’s point of view. Occasionally there is a shift and the reader will follow things from another’s perspective, the most notable being Duke Roger.

My Thoughts:
To be honest, I have nothing bad to say about the Song of the Lioness Quartet. The first two books in the quartet were always my favorites because of Alanna’s age and that hasn’t really changed. The last two books have a more nostalgic, wistful feeling to them and are certainly more urgent, but this one somehow has more life to it. In the Hand of the Goddess leaps to life, the world is exciting, new and expanding

Favorite Scene:
Without a doubt, my favorite scene was Alanna being caught in girls’ clothes at Mistress Cooper’s house by George and Jon.

Who this book is best for:
I recommend this book for young women in middle school or above.

Violence: three of five for battle scenes, attempted assassinations and dueling

Stars: 4.5 of 5

For the New Year, Past and Future

I thought it would be good for the New Year to take a look at the last year and a peek at the future: or, the best and worst book from 2008 and new releases for 2009.

Best Read of 2008: (there is a tie)

Artemis Fowl and The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
True to form, Mr. Colfer provided a gripping novel, where poor Artemis has to outsmart his toughest opponent yet... himself. Can he overcome his past self in time to save from extinction the only creature which can cure his mother? I couldn't put this book down and finished it in one sitting.

Chalice by Robin McKinley
Mirasol never asked to become the new Chalice of the Willowlands, but after a fire killed the last Master and his Chalice, she is chosen to assist the new Master in holding together their realm. An artfully told story reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, Ms. McKinley never fails to please.

Biggest Letdown of 2008:

Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer
While I have to admit I liked the first three in an embarrassing sort of way, this book was terrible. The characters all did 180s from who they had been for three books. Bella didn't have to sacrifice anything to get everything she wanted. Plus, it left girls with the advice that all you need to be happy is a child and a husband. A little too 1950s mentality if you ask me.

Exciting releases of 2009:

February 24 - The Singing by Alison Croggon
(Pellinor book 4) (US release)

March 1 - Silent on the Moors by Deanna Raybourn
(Lady Julia Grey mystery book 3)

April 28 - Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce
(Beka Cooper, a Tortall Ledgend book 2)

Mid June - Lord Sunday by Garth Nix
(Keys to the Kingdom book 7)

Fall - Syren by Angie Sage
(Septimus Heap book 5)

Late - Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier