Rick Riordan’s The Ship of the Dead (Goodreads review)

The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #3)The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short review: this is a fun, funny, and well-written book that is just as good or better than the previous books in the series. It’s a great book to read with your kids, or just by yourself.

Magnus Chase, Alex Fierro, Samirah al-Abbas, Hearth, Blitz, and a cast of einherji race against the launch of Naglfar, the ship of the dead, to once again stop the inevitable tide of Ragnarok. Along the way they pick up the pieces of what they did in the previous book The Hammer of Thor, and discover more about their mysterious parents, their demigod powers, and even find a little romance. This book is a focused thrill ride with more action and less comedy than its predecessor, although it still retains the picaresque quality of other books in the series. Though the heroes are successful, the series ends unresolved and leaves plenty of room for more adventures with these characters. Continue reading “Rick Riordan’s The Ship of the Dead (Goodreads review)”

Advertisements

Phasma (Star Wars)Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book with my kids, who are Star Wars fans. I loved The Force Awakens, but just to add my own perspective, I think the proliferation of Star Wars material is a bit overwhelming and unnecessary to enjoying the movies. In addition, most Star Wars bonus material I have read is not that well done. I wanted to read this book mainly for my kids’ enjoyment, but I was excited to hear that Delilah S. Dawson was doing an entire novel. Delilah is inspiring as a writer and blogger, and gives wonderful advice on how to build a strong career. So I picked up Phasma and was blown away by the amazing prose in the opening pages. The author takes an entirely boring scenario and makes it crackle with tension. I had to read the rest.

If you like anything Star Wars, you’ll love this book. If you like science fiction and fantasy, and good writing, the best parts of this book will be the current-time conflict between Cardinal and Phasma, two rival stormtroopers in the First Order. Phasma’s backstory is an interesting quest with a very well-developed culture, and a mystery that will be satisfying for fantasy readers. I think the best writing and the biggest tension happens toward the end of the book, and it’s well worth getting through some slow “endless desert” passages. The last hundred pages of this book are filled with suspense, and I really had a good time reading it.

Phasma is already a bestseller, so if this is the first book you’ve read by the author, I highly urge you to pick up her original material, which is much much better. For example she has a Weird Western series under her pen name Lila Bowen that I highly recommend, the latest chapter of which is Malice of Crows.

View all my reviews

Weak Female Characters

Why write weak characters? To see them become strong people.

the_mirror_of_her_dreams
Is Terisa Morgan the long-sought weak female character?

Last month after watching The White Queen I questioned the compliment “you write strong female characters,” by saying there’s no good reason to write a weak female character.  Weak female characters, or passive ones, are simply not as interesting as strong characters of either sex.  There’s no compelling reason to write a character who’s boring, at least not in a fantasy or historical adventure.  Even a weak side character can just use up valuable space.  “Every character should want something, even if it is just a glass of water.”

I’ve now found an exception to this.  A weak main character can be quite interesting because, of course, characters need to change.

Continue reading “Weak Female Characters”

The Black Witch (Goodreads Review)

The Black Witch (The Black Witch Chronicles #1)The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I consider Laurie Forest a colleague. We both write epic fantasy and live in a small state with an active writing community. I have not received any material support from her, encouragement, or endorsement to write this review. I paid full price for my signed copy.

Elloren Gardner lives in a diverse magical world, but for many reasons, her uncle has sheltered her on his farm since she was a small child. She is the granddaughter of The Black Witch, a legendary sorceress who is regarded as a patriot and freedom fighter for her people, who all achieve some level of magical ability. Elloren’s curse is that despite her striking resemblance to her grandmother, her only magical ability is to find peace, comfort, and psychological communion with bits of wood. She’s a great violinist, but can’t even light a candle, and wouldn’t be allowed a wand. Continue reading “The Black Witch (Goodreads Review)”

Content and Style: The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu

In which I alienate the people most likely to buy my book.

Margaret_Atwood_2015
Atwood at the 2015 Texas Book Festival; photo by Larry D. Moore

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, and The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books, so I was pretty excited when I heard Hulu was adapting it into a series. Of course, I also had my trepidation. I don’t care much whether an adaptation fails or succeeds, but my expectations for adaptations these days are pretty low. Nevertheless it’s nice to see such an excellent book advertised and interpreted.  I watched the first episode last night and found myself thinking I would rather be re-reading the book.  If you were confused or disappointed by the episodes you’ve seen, read the book.

Continue reading “Content and Style: The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu”

Miranda, Caliban, and Jacqueline Carey

People all have their own reasons for loving or hating Jacqueline Carey’s books, but they all agree she is a great writer.

It’s no secret that Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite writers, and if you’ve read any of her work it should be clear why. The skill with which she crafts her work is evident from the very first word, and even when she’s writing stuff that I can’t stand to read (like her Agents of Hel series), I still acknowledge she’s doing it better than almost anyone else. She’s most well-known for her Kushiel books, set in Europe with an alternate history where Christianity never really took off, but an early offshoot of it took off like crazy. Continue reading “Miranda, Caliban, and Jacqueline Carey”

Content and Style: The Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn

Why am I stuck reading this book from the eighties?

This past weekend I went to Boskone and came back with a bunch of used paperbacks and two new books.  The book I went in looking for, Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn was not available anywhere, but luckily I’d already ordered it from interlibrary loan.  My librarian actually told me not to buy it for $1 at the convention because it was costing her three bucks to send back, so she wanted me to get her money’s worth.  I have sought out Melanie Rawn on and off for a few years, but particularly recently because I have had this urge to read “eighties fantasy” that doesn’t suck and I was having trouble.  I don’t know why I didn’t learn my lesson: I’ve read plenty of stuff from the eighties and much of it has one or all of three problems:

  1. Dependence on Tolkien’s races  (dwarves and elves)
  2. Renaissance Faire Syndrome
  3. It’s boring

Continue reading “Content and Style: The Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn”

Is Rogue One Fan Fiction?

In which I alienate readers by mentioning a good movie’s Big But…

I saw Rogue One last night, and it was great. I was surprised by how seriously it treated the story, and by the father-daughter connection. The ambiguity of the characters and their motives was very satisfying to watch: almost every one had conflicting motives and could have made a decision either way at every point. There were definitely good guys and bad guys, but the way they accomplished their goals was highly ambiguous and provoked a lot of moral questions. The acting was fantastic, and the production design was really cool. There were at least two very cosmopolitan cities that didn’t have the artificial sheen of Coruscant in the prequels. And of course, there were familiar characters, especially imperial characters, that I didn’t expect to see.

They broke with the typical elements that we’ve come to expect from “Star Wars movies.”  There was no crawler at the beginning, there were titles announcing the locations, and there were lots of new sorts of droids, troopers, and imperial officers and ships. The music was not John Williams, but it was satisfactory. It was loud, and distracting at some points, but the whole movie was loud and full of action. If you haven’t seen it, go and see it, and enjoy it. I really enjoyed it, BUT

Continue reading “Is Rogue One Fan Fiction?”

In Defense of Villains

What does Sauron really mean for Middle Earth? What does Voldemort want?

I was browsing the Youtube Channel Write About Dragons the other day, and came across Brandon Sanderson discussing villains.  At the beginning of the discussion he mentions a problem that has plagued me since I was a child, and more as I’ve read  fantasy as an adult: what do villains want?  It’s easy to understand villains with short-term motivation, like robbing a bank and flying to Venezuela, or getting revenge, but what’s hard to understand are creatures like Sauron, Robert Jordan’s Dark One, and Emperor Palpatine.  Jordan actually deals with this question in the later Wheel of Time books, and especially (in collaboration with Sanderson) in the final showdown between Rand and The Dark One.  Palpatine is easy to understand as a dictator, who uses political power as a cover for making himself a kind of living god.  The problem does remain: what does a wrinkled old man want?  Food?  Sex?  Yuck.  What could Sauron possibly be going for when he doesn’t even have a body other than the power to gloat and watch Hobbits suffer? Continue reading “In Defense of Villains”

The Renaisance Faire Theory of Fantasy Literature

Is fantasy still just for nerds? Why is the fantasy genre so popular?

Fantasy fiction has evolved considerably over the past twenty years.  Most of the time when I read sentences like that I am extraordinarily skeptical, but this is an area where I have a certain amount of confidence.  I’ve always kept an eye on fantasy literature, always found it interesting, but I’ve had trouble finding books that I really enjoyed until the last decade or so.  Since the huge success of the Harry Potter books and films, and Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (and the bloody Hobbit), the genre has changed a lot.  Some of the stuff that’s available now is even too serious for many readers.

The genre started to change even before that, however.  Serious works, like Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun were there, but they were hard to find.  George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire would have been written even if the LOTR films hadn’t been so successful, but I doubt it would have been made into a successful TV show that people talk about on the bus.  There’s a lot of speculation on why, particularly in the rise of Grimdark fantasy, but last week I came up with a funny little speculative theory, that I call the Renaissance Faire Theory of Fantasy Literature Evolution.  Plant your tongue in your cheek if you plan to keep reading.

Continue reading “The Renaisance Faire Theory of Fantasy Literature”