The Palace of Glass – by Django Wexler (Review)

The Forbidden Library #3

Fantasy, YA

Kathy Dawson Books; April 12, 2016

368 pages (ebook); 8hr 15min (audio)

4 / 5 ✪

The Palace of Glass encapsulates what I love about fantasy in general. Adventure, new worlds, new imagination, action, wit, and epic quests. While I was a little less thrilled by the back half of the story, nor the manner in which it transitioned from one portion to the next, the third book in the Forbidden Library series was still a must read for me. I want to mention right away—Cassandra Morris does an excellent job reading Alice! She plays an excellent part, equal parts excitement and trepidation, with more than her fair share of determination. A perfect Alice!

Following the events of The Mad Apprentice, Alice is left with a terrible choice. Whether to continue to accept her father’s killer as her master, or to turn against him knowing full well it will likely mean her death. For she now knows what fate befalls apprentices that betray their masters. And yet, this is a fight Alice knows she can’t avoid. Because—really—there is no choice.

She’s not alone in this fight, however. The labyrinthine Ending has her back—at least kind of. She provides Alice a spell that might just imprison Geryon if Alice can catch him unaware. But the spell is specific, and she’ll only have one shot at it. Now, the spell will bind her uncle, but Alice needs somewhere to put him afterwards. As she can’t imagine killing him—despite what he did to her father—Alice requires a certain item to help her defeat him. Specifically, a certain book. A prison book.

Lucky for her, Geryon is called away, leaving Alice in charge in his stead. Unfortunately, she has but a week before he returns. And the prison book she requires lies deep, deep within the magical realms of the library itself. But even if Alice can get in and retrieve it, AND escape with her life all in the space of one week, will she have the fortitude to use it? Her anger is great, but time dampens all wounds. And even should she succeed in imprisoning Geryon—what then? Who will run the library in his absence? And what will Alice do, when her uncle’s fellow Readers fall upon her, seeking revenge?

So much stress for someone so young. Or anyone, really.

The Palace of Glass actually tells two stories in one. The first involves Alice and her revenge upon her uncle, who—rather than actually killing her father like she claimed, more just let him die (so, still a dick, but not exactly as big of one). While I’m trying to be all enigmatic and non-spoilery about it, I think you can guess what happens. Yup, she returns from her adventures to find Geryon waiting, then they have a dance battle to decide the fate of the library. Ending MCs. The second part of the story deals with the fallout from this epic dance battle. The other readers, feeling the explosion of magic (beats) from the library, deploy in force, sensing blood in the water. The winner is forced to defend themselves and the library, maybe with help from the creatures within. And maybe some other friends.

Both stories are good. The disconnect, however, is a bit awkward. I mean, it’s worse to review without trying to spoil, but the transition between the two tales doesn’t exactly flow great. I had to actually take a little break in between the parts because I had trouble just jumping from one to the next. It’s not that everything changes—but several things do. We go from realms of magical worlds, magical creatures and amazing, little-seen worlds—to the library, with humans, hip hop dance beats, and labyrinthine. Labyrinthines? Labyrinthine? It’s under an umbrella of magic, but still. The stories are different, the motivations and actions and results are mostly different. There’s just a bit of a hiccup here, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Just a bit awkward.

The characters of the Forbidden Library continue to be my favorite aspect of the series. Don’t get me wrong—I love the adventure. The magic. The story. But the characters are all unique, interesting, and propelled by their own motivations. Their interactions are key to the success of the story (or in this case BOTH stories), and the story IS a success. I especially love Alice, which is great since she’s the lead. Inherently likable, but also human. Now, there isn’t a whole lot of character development, but this is a YA (or middle-grade) series, so I really didn’t expect much. It is disappointing, though. The other old Readers make an appearance, along with a whole host of magical creatures. The labyrinthine Ending and Ashes are back, as are several familiar faces among the apprentices. There’s also one important guest star, whom I won’t spoil.

The creatures and realms of PoG stole the show for me. While the characters are the stars of the series, the adventure is the highlight of the book. Wexler does an excellent job of painting alien worlds, creatures, which my mind was more than happy to run with. While the exploration of new and unique is pretty much confined to the first half of the book, don’t worry—there’s plenty of excitement and surprises waiting in the second half.

TL;DR

Despite trying to tell two stories in one, The Palace of Glass is another successful entry in the Forbidden Library quartet. Mostly, it pulls it off. A small disconnect exists between the two tales, though nothing too distracting. As usual, the reader Cassandra Morris is a great help to the story—not to mention an excellent Alice—moving everything along even when the pacing got uneven. The characters are the real reason to read this book. As in the rest of the series, the characters are key, providing interesting interactions, dynamic, conversation and wit. Just don’t expect too much in the way of development. This is a YA series, after all. Recommended to everyone, but specifically fans of adventure, YA, or fans of Wexler’s other books. If you haven’t read any of the series, I’d recommend starting at the beginning. And since I’ve now finished it I can say—don’t worry, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

The Forbidden Library quartet concludes with The Fall of the Readers, out since 2017.

Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon – by John August (Review)

Arlo Finch #2

Fantasy, YA

Roaring Brook Press; February 5, 2019

377 pages (ebook); 8hr 30m (audio)

3.75 / 5 ✪

In the Valley of Fire, Arlo Finch swept in and stole our hearts: his different colored eyes; his exiled father; his migratory home; his quiet, worrisome demeanor. And then came the Long Woods, where Arlo came into his own. If the Valley of Fire is where he found his calling, the Lake of the Moon should be where he grows up. And it is, to an extent.

What Remains of Arlo Finch

Following the events In the Valley of Fire, Arlo has made a home for himself in Pine Mountain. While the Eldrich have ceased making attempts on his life, they’ve not yet forgotten him. Something is coming. Even with the mysterious warning from Fox, Arlo can feel it. And as the summer months loom, so does his feeling of unease.

But with the summer comes summer camp. And for Arlo and his friends in Blue Patrol, that means Rangers.

Even before he departs for camp, Arlo begins to notice some peculiar happenings. First, Connor’s cousin visits him with a warning. Then, a strange man confronts him in the diner, a conversation Arlo has no memory of. And of course there is the troll. The troll, and the other Blue Patrol. All of it is leading to something—but what, Arlo knows not.

Enter the Lake of the Moon.

The Lake of the Moon hosts the Ranger’s Summer Camp, complete with an enchanting ancient lake in possession of its own monster, a variety of summer activities and classes, a lovely mountain forest that connects to the Long Wood, a host of spirits that call it home, and a mystery surrounding its history—and that of Yellow Patrol.

But the camp also comes with its own problems. An addition to the tight-knit patrol. A squabble involving Arlo’s two closest friends. A scare for Connor—which sees him leave camp early. Dissent from within the troop. A mystery, a conspiracy, and another Blue Patrol. To navigate these, Arlo Finch must discover what it means to be a True Ranger, or die trying.

Sadly, Arlo Finch’s second adventure wasn’t nearly as compelling as his first. While it shows a lot of heart, the events surrounding Lake of the Moon were just too confusing to be anywhere near as exciting. The adventure is still fun, imaginative and mysterious, and continues the series well enough, setting up a dramatic adventure for Book #3. But overall it’s a step down from The Valley of Fire.

The time travel I object to the most. For a children’s adventure… I dunno, I’m torn. Part of me wants to say it’s pure fun and excitement. The other part claims it’s way too confusing. The ending doesn’t make much sense, little more than the lead-in to it. For me, I felt that the time-travel was ill-advised for this point in the series. It wasn’t well explained—even though, if it HAD been really well explained, I feel like it would’ve been too much for the intended audience. It just… it wasn’t a good choice for this book.

I don’t really want to focus too much on the characters, on the development, on the world-building or anything else. For anything early-YA Fantasy like this, or Children’s Fiction—it’s not important. The intention is to be a fun, fast-paced adventure with just enough mystery to keep the focus. And The Lake of the Moon does this. Up until the end, where it’s confusing.

The Lake of the Moon provides a lovely setting compared to Pine Mountain. Not that Pine Mountain was bad, just inconsistent. It provided an off-the-grid, small town setting without most of the typical limitations. It was quaint, if under utilized. Comparing it to something like Gravity Falls… it really could’ve provided more adventure, more mystery. The Lake of the Moon revitalizes the series’ setting. A typical summer camp, with atypical features. It works very well with the story (up til the end, as I’ve said). Something new, pretty, and a bit mysterious.

TL;DR

Where Arlo Finch triumphed in the Valley of Fire, Arlo Finch struggles through the Lake of the Moon. While most of the story was fun, exciting and mysterious—the conclusion lets everything down, due to some a convoluted mess of time-travel and thriller nonsense to tie everything together. Arlo is in the process of becoming a hero, but we’ll just have to see where his legend goes from here. While I still think Lake of the Moon was a step down from the original, it’s still a fun, interesting read. Again, James Patrick Cronin delivers an excellent narration, capturing Arlo Finch and embodying him to a T. Honestly, I’m torn as to whether it’s too much for the children the story’s intended for. It confused me, but I probably overthought it. Plus, I’m not great at anything time-travel. I’d still recommend it, the roughly 8.5 hour adventure doing just enough to keep me entertained without growing too deep or messy.

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows, the third book in the series, is due out February 4, 2020.

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire – by John August (Review)

Arlo Finch #1

YA, Fantasy

Roaring Brook Press; February 6, 2018

326 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

Arlo Finch is 12. After his father fled to China, his family moved around a lot, passing between cities like the trees in a forest. Eventually, they made their way to Pine Mountain. But Pine Mountain isn’t like any of the rest. Indeed, it’s not a city at all—the town doesn’t appear on most maps, there’s little to no cell service, and trees vastly outnumber the residents. That said, this quaint little hamlet might just be the break that Arlo and his family need. The new start that they deserve.

Arlo, despite having an old man’s name, is an immediately relatable character—at least to me. I share some of his worrying, his anxiety, his love for adventure, open spaces and nature. After one day of moving to Pine Mountain, Arlo knows he’s going to love it there, as long as the world doesn’t try to kill him very much. And the world obliges. His uncle doesn’t immediately change into a bear and kill them. A rockslide doesn’t destroy the house, trapping them all inside. A mountain lion doesn’t unlock the front door, sneak upstairs, and attack Arlo. At least, it hasn’t yet.

For his part, Arlo does his best to avoid everyone and remain aloof and friendless. He does a lousy job at it, however, as within a week he already has a pair of friends and a new hobby to consume all of his non-homework time: Rangers.

Rangers is sort of like Scouts, albeit a Scouts dipped in magic and sweetened by the supernatural. You see, Pine Mountain (among other places) is home to the mysterious Long Wood, a transition point between our world and many others. Due to its isolation and locale in the mountains of Colorado, Pine Mountain sits right on the doorstep of the Long Wood, a place where the veil is thinnest, where someone can stumble right through and end up—anywhere. Rangers shares its knowledge of the inhabitants and ways of the Long Wood, so that its members might survive it. Rangers is built around “the Wonder”—the supernatural thread that connects our world to the Long Wood. Due to its locale, there is quite a lot of Wonder in Pine Mountain.

But there is more to the Long Wood than magic and mystery. Before long, Arlo has worn out his welcome in Pine Mountain—and the world goes back to trying to kill him. Actively, this time. For there is something different about Arlo Finch, something that the Long Wood may awaken, if he survives long enough to see it.

Arlo Finch turned out to be just what I needed.

In a month (well, a second month) where I’ve been dealing with health and illness, reading anything has proven difficult. Focusing on anything an impossible challenge. My stomach has been bothering me constantly. Nauseous most of the time. Had little enough sleep and no energy besides. My thoughts have been fractured, making writing anything coherent a challenge. Arlo Finch was light enough that I didn’t have to focus all my energy on it, but possessive of an entertaining and immersive story that kept me consistently involved. John August did a magnificent job on this one, a YA that toes the line between an immersive, detailed mystery and a light fantasy adventure. James Patrick Cronin was an exceptional narrator, effortlessly bringing Arlo’s story to life.

It wasn’t perfect, but near enough that my nitpicking will wear little upon it. A few points consistently bothered me, probably because I’m an adult, waaay over analyzing a kid’s book. But whatever. The first is that August clearly doesn’t live in the area he’s trying to recapture. There’s nothing wrong with that—I realize that residing in a place and recreating it are not the same thing. Furthermore, I doubt that Brandon Sanderson actually lives in the Cosmere, like, all the time. It’s just that August’s rendition of the place doesn’t really fit. The town has actual buildings. It has THREE full Ranger troops. It actually has SOME cell service. And mountain lions, though it’s too high for them. As someone who lives in a nowhere adjacent locale, my worldview and his butted heads. I guess I’m complaining that August didn’t do enough research, or didn’t make his setting believable, but hey—kid’s book, it’s probably fine,.

It’s the story itself that makes In the Valley of Fire a must-read. The story, and Arlo himself.

It’s an adventure that embodies the Ranger’s Vow: loyal, brave, kind and true. It’s entertaining. It’s fun. Though the plot mostly follows the Rangers, the story revolves around Arlo himself. Him, and his life. His idiosyncrasies. His heterochomia iridum—his two different colored eyes. His personality, his journey. If Arlo was a superhero—or if that’s what he’s to become—then this is his origin story.

TL;DR

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire is a lovely adventure reminiscent of Gravity Falls and Percy Jackson. A light but immersive YA tale, filled with excitement and steeped in mystery, this tells the tale of Arlo’s origin story, his move to Pine Mountain, and his first involvement in Rangers. Everything that comes before—it all started here. Arlo is quite the lead; full of character, strong yet with all the flaws borne of youth, humanity. I loved the audiobook: raced through it in 2-3 days, then moved on to #2 and did the same. It’s short, light, fun—a great YA adventure. And exactly what I needed.

Book #2, Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon continues the series with the third installment, Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows, due out in February 2020.

The Mad Apprentice – by Django Wexler (Review)

The Forbidden Library #2

YA, Fantasy

Kathy Dawson Books; April 21, 2015

336 pages (ebook) / 7hr 22m (audio)

4 / 5 ✪

The Mad Apprentice is the second in the Forbidden Library sequence by Django Wexler. A YA series, it chronicles the adventures of Alice the Reader as she navigates through the world, attempting to find her place in it. Though I was somewhat split over the Forbidden Library—it’s really the sophomore effort that can make or break a possible series. And the Mad Apprentice delivered in a big way.

Little has happened following the events of Forbidden, with Alice continuing to study under her uncle, Geryon, master and Reader extraordinaire. She has heard nothing from Isaac, the boy she bonded the dragon with in the first book, and similarly little from the dragon itself. Other than the vague sense that it lurks within her mind, it might as well have been a dream. So begins Book #2, and Alice is quickly dispatched to deal with the former apprentice of a “friend” of Geryon, who has apparently gone rogue and killed his master. Here she meets with several other apprentices, each sent by their masters to deal with this threat. While a few seem friendly enough, some are decidedly not—including one that Alice has met before. Isaac seems different from when Alice had met him before. He is closed off from her, despite their bond. But when Alice begins to doubt that the danger facing them may come more from without than within, something new reveals itself to her. For the labyrinth itself is home to a far more dangerous creature than Jacob (the apprentice that killed his master). In the darkness lurks the ominous creature Torment. But while this contesting this creature may result in Alice and the other apprentices’ demise, it may instead provide information useful to make the risk worthwhile. Specifically, the details of her father’s disappearance.

So, I enjoyed Apprentice better than the initial Forbidden.

Returning are the elements of intrigue, backstabbing and mystery. The characters are more of a strength than the initial; as both Alice and Isaac return, joined by other apprentices. I’ll be interested to see if any appear further down the line—either as friends or enemies. Though several of the other apprentices do form relationships with Alice. Friendly, or otherwise. Also, the budding romance is still budding, as it were. Little more comes of it, in Apprentice.

The character development is rather minute—but given that it is a YA fantasy, that’s not unexpected. There does seem to be a bit for Alice, a bit of a greater arc, one that is sure to continue. The dragon also appears to have its own story arc, but we won’t get into that. Some more of the magic is explained, as each apprentice seems to manifest a different and unique ability. There’s a bit added to every aspect, in my opinion. Each improved upon by a degree. I liked it more, I hope you will too!

TL;DR

The Mad Apprentice capitalizes on the successes it made in The Forbidden Library, pretty much improving across the board. While it’s by no means perfect, Wexler has crafted an solid YA coming-of-age fantasy, complete with magic and mystery. While before we got very little of what it means to be a Reader past jumping into books, Apprentice expands upon this, introducing more characters each possessing their own unique magical abilities. Alice is an interesting, heart-felt character that continues to shine, and hopefully will continue to into the future of the sequence.

Book Review: The Ember Blade – by Chris Wooding

Darkwater Legacy #1

High Fantasy, Epic, Dark Fantasy

Gollancz; September 20, 2018

832 pages (HC) / 30hr 40m (AU)

5 / 5 ✪

The Ember Blade combines the typical coming-of-age fantasy with a bit of something dark, in order to create an epic debut that fails to fall under either category—yet somehow succeeds in both. Early on (for the first 10 hours or so), I was convinced that this was your general light vs. dark tale, complete with ancient evils, a chosen one, and third-party horrors awaiting to devour them all. And yet towards the latter half of the tale, it morphed into something more. Something different.

It begins with Ossia, a once great nation laid low by the Krodan, subject to Krodan rule for so long that freedom is little more than an idea. Enter Aren, a merchant’s son, obsessed with everything Krodan. Their language, their history, their law. Even the young love of his life is Krodan. They have no chance of being together, however, as Aren, as hard as he tries, is not Krodan. Enter Cade, son of a carpenter, obsessed with stories. Tales of illusion and grandeur, greatness and adventure, fame and fortune. And especially Ossia. A free, independent Ossia. Two unlikely friends against the world.

And yet when the Krodan law comes down upon them, their friendship is tested. Aren’s father is arrested for being a traitor and slain, Aren and Cade sent to a work-camp in his stead. Not only is Cade’s friendship with Aren in jeopardy, but Aren’s fascination with all things Krodan is as well. And yet with the help of some unlikely allies, they escape the camp. But… to what end? For there is something bigger than just their story between them now, and Aren and Cade—caught up in it—find themselves playing a much grander game. One that may just end with their finger in a Krodan eye, and the first piece to a free, independent Ossia. For the young prince of Krodia is due to be wed, and at his banquet shall fall the Ember Blade: a symbol of Ossian nationalism. But can Aren and Cade and their newfound allies begin the dream of a free, unified Ossia, or will they be crushed under the heel of the Krodans once again?

First and foremost, this is a coming-of-age fantasy. The main characters, Aren and Cade, definitely grow and change over the course of the text. It’s their character growth that makes the Ember Blade a success, above all else. The dynamic of their friendship is tested time and again—sometimes it bends, maybe even breaks. And yet persists throughout the entire book. Even when they’re not speaking it’s that dynamic that drives their story, whether Wooding means it to or not. I mean, there are other factors in play, too. Of course there are.

I mentioned earlier that I struggle to classify this as anything more than a coming-of-age story. I mean, it is SO MUCH more—I’m just not sure where to start. It begins with the classic CoA fantasy vibe. Light against dark, battling ancient evil with their team of misfits and mentors. An oppressed people trying to overthrow a tyrannical power. A true underdog story.

But then, something changes.

I’m not exactly sure when it happens. It begins with a crack here. A crack there. The great and noble dream of Ossia may not be that noble at all. Krodia may not be the horrid power we once thought. And slowly the realm of heroes and villains is slowly replaced. By that of people—humans—just trying to do what they think is best. The lines blur from black and white, and occasionally the story gets downright dark.

I, uh, really enjoyed it.

Chris Wooding tries something new, here. Blends it with something tried and true. And it… works. I mean, the Ember Blade may not be for everyone, but I think it will appeal to more just through its split nature. It’s not a classic good and evil battle. It’s not a grimdark piece, where everyone’s inherently selfish and the world just sucks. It’s not a clean split, a dark fantasy, or much in-between. It’s… hard to pin down. But I’d say it’s a blend of High and Epic, with just a splash of Dark. And it works. Very well, in fact.

If you needed a further reason to read it, it’s the characters. There are several POV chapters throughout, each with their own strong narrators that have their own history, morals, strengths, weaknesses and depth. In addition to Aren and Cade, there’s the freedom fighter Garric. The Druidess Vika. The prisoner Grub. The survivor Ren. A bard, an exile, a lieutenant and more. Can’t say I was thrilled to read each’s POV, but I was actually fairly well invested in everyone’s. Didn’t hate any of them, even. Each with depth of character, arcs and change and growth and regression.

A detailed world, it gave me just enough for my imagination to fill in the rest. A powerful story, though lacking in subtlety. A pretty good chunk of text—800ish pages. Or, if you’d prefer an audiobook like I did—30-odd hours. And I didn’t have any problem getting through it. No lags, as it were. Not much disinterest. For such a long book, it really kept me entertained throughout.

TL;DR

The Ember Blade is an immensely entertaining coming-of-age fantasy, set in an interesting, well thought out realm. It defies traditional light vs. dark, good vs. evil plots, instead choosing the middle ground; while committing to neither high nor dark fantasy in its telling. The text is jam-packed with POVs, each as deep and intricate AND entertaining as the last. I can’t say there was one that I was dreading, one that I had on auto-skip as I usually do in these long epic debuts. While I can’t promise that you’ll enjoy all your time reading this monster, I will predict you’ll find something you like within—something that will likely see you through to its conclusion.

Book Review: The Forbidden Library – by Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library #1

YA, Fantasy

Kathy Dawson Books; April 15, 2014

376 pages (ebook); 8hr 31m (audio)

3.5 / 5 ✪

The Forbidden Library serves as my intro to Django Wexler, which probably isn’t for the best. I mean, it’s an alright read—moments of excitement, entertainment and intrigue all wrapped up in an 8 hour package—but it’s nothing to distract from the ARCs spread around me. Of course, I was reading this while playing Sniper Elite, for, while the gameplay is amazing, the story is boring.

Forbidden Library is actually excellent for multitasking purposes: an easy to follow story; a nice, quick read (it followed up the Ember Blade, which went for 30+); an interesting world filled with adequate characters and a lovely adventure.

Alice is an only child. Born to a single father during the early- to mid-20th century, she begins as a child of some means—with her own servants, gas lamps, governor and tutors.And yet this life is not for Alice, as she is soon to learn. She awakens one night to her father’s voice, raised in anger, talking to a mysterious stranger. Upon descending from her room, Alice finds him in an argument with a meager opponent—a small, pointy-eared, pointy-toothed, honest to goodness fairy. They argue over the life of a girl, and something Alice cannot guess, before she is forced to withdraw to her room. But not before she hears the fairy threaten him.

The very next day, her father is called away on business. A week later he is lost for good, disappeared along with the entire crew of the Gideon, en route to Buenos Aires. And Alice is left alone.

And yet, she does not want for long. Soon enough, a car comes for her; in it, a man representing her uncle Jerry. Alice accompanies him to her uncle, where she is confronted with far more than she ever bargained for. A vast library. A world of mystery, fairies and more. A conflicted boy. And magic—the magic of books. What follows is a magical adventure featuring books and magic, a lost dragon, several talking cats, and more than a few interesting characters.

It’s… yeah, it’s okay.

I’m not sure I’d recommend it at full price, but on sale or from the library it’s a deal. I’m never sure exactly how to rate YA books. I mean, if they’re too infantile, they’re barely worth reading at any age. Granted, I don’t read a whole lot of them, so. Otherwise… well, the line is blurry.

There’s a decent amount of intrigue and backstabbing in this, which surprised me. Otherwise it’s your plain, run-of-the-mill YA fantasy, complete with a budding-maybe romance, a simple mystery, a sparsely detailed world, interesting if generally shallow characters. It’s worth posting out that over the course of the next few books, several of the main characters featured in the Forbidden Library DO evolve depth—but as the focal point in the first book is adventure, that element is left behind.

I liked Alice—as a character, as a person. Comparing her to other YA stars, she’s more than competent, her emotions are more complex, she’s definitely fleshed out as to actually appear human. When comparing her to some other characters—Thomas, from the Maze Runner; Cassidy, from City of Ghosts—she’s more relatable, less juvenile, more descriptive. Basically what you’d want in a lead.

So… yeah, I’d recommend it. The story is okay, as are the plot, mystery, magic and dialogue. The development and detail are a little lacking, but the intrigue and lead character are where the book most shines. I’d read it, and plan to continue the series (just finished #2, in fact).

Audiobook Note: the reader was pretty good, while not amazing. Not my favorite, but she tried. I’d try a sample at least if you’re planning on buying this, as at certain points I found her voice grating, and yet I got used to it quick enough. She’s [Cassandra Morris] better in the second book, really.

Book Review: Fallen Gods – by James A. Moore

Tides of War #2

Grimdark, Fantasy

Angry Robot; January 2, 2018

10:12 hours (Audio), 401 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

In The Last Sacrifice, Brogan McTyre failed to save his kin, but in trying managed to doom the world. Fallen Gods finds him and Harper Ruttket trying to fix what he’s done, chasing after myths and legends of ancient, fallen gods in an attempt to kill the ones destroying the land. Meanwhile Myridia and the other Grakhul women rush to farther lands where they hope to appease the gods, thus saving the world. Niall, Tully and the other escapees still flee from the undying, though gradually their aim has shifted from survival to something more. The Kings and Rulers peruse their options for dealing with the end of the world, but how desperate are they? As they burn through their choices, and options dwindle, they are confronted with two final chances, each one bearing a terrible price. Beron has already crossed a line, replacing the gods for the power of an ancient demon, but will it help him save the world, while somehow managing to come out atop it? Through it all, everyone seeks Brogan McTyre and his men; to appease the gods, appease the demons, save the world. But the world may be beyond saving, and Brogan’s desperate long-shot might be the only way forwards.

The initial Tides of War adventure was a perfect example of Grimdark fantasy—bleak, dark, relatively joyless—though it delivered relatively little and presented a shallow world with underdeveloped characters set upon a simple revenge tale. The follow-up filled in some of these gaps, though the story at its heart remains one of revenge, there’s a bit more to it now. In addition, the characters have filled out a bit. Instead of the meager, cardboard cutouts we were confronted with in the first installment, Fallen Gods transforms them into some approaching people, though they’re still a bit shallow and basic.

The world has filled out a bit more as well, although in the beginning (the first half or more, actually) the plot simply whisks us away to new skin-deep locales, before finally circling back to fill in the bit of the world it’s shown us prior. And in those later glimpses, I believe we see what will become the norm moving forward, and won’t give any of it away. There’re still brutal and bloody battle sequences, and yet they remind me a lot of what was done in the first book: blood for the sake of blood, combat the same, a dismissive and dark tone surrounding everything but not relating much back to the story itself. It’s almost as if much of the melees and blood and gore were cut-and-pasted on later, to fill out the battles.

The dreary, bleak, darkness that was so evident in the first continues throughout Fallen Gods—to the extent that it’s debatably darker than the first, if that’s possible. Instead of a deliciously dark, immersive story, however, the text is just dark and brooding. It’s like making a dark chocolate bar just because everyone else is doing it, but then forgetting to add ANY sugar.

Though an improvement on the Last Sacrifice to be sure, Fallen Gods still struggles to find its way, its identity, while destroying half the world in the process. While overall the plot and character development struggled beneath the weight of this identity crisis, the latter third of the book seemed to find its way home, setting up for a conclusion that actually appears promising. In short, if you liked the first one, you’ll probably like the second, but if you were on the fence following the initial, well, I think it’s likely worth the $3.50 I paid for it. Hope that helps.

Audiobook Note – I had a tough time warming to Adam Sims in the Last Sacrifice. He certainly makes an effort to engage the reader and keep them engrossed and interested—such an effort that carries over to Fallen Gods. He’s… while not my favorite reader, he does a decent job, though more than a few of his characters (Harper front and center among them) bear quite a nasal whine to their voices. Still, entering the final book of the Tides of War, he’s maintained an enthusiastic air throughout and, while it may not make up for the story itself, nor change his voice and accent entirely, that’s all you can reasonably ask for from a narrator.

Discount Note – I got the Audio CD of Fallen Gods for somewhere around $3.50, to go with the $4ish I paid for the first book (in the same format). Last I checked, the final book, Gates of the Dead, was available for only slightly more, making this an entire series available on a budget.

Gates of the Dead finishes up the Tides of War. It was released earlier in the year.

Audiobook Review: City of Ghosts – by Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake #1

YA, Supernatural, Fantasy

Scholastic; August 28, 2018

272 pages; ~5 hours (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

City of Ghosts is a YA effort from Victoria Schwab, first in the Cassidy Blake series. Previously, Schwab had released the Archived trilogy (which I’ve heard good things about), and the Monsters of Verity duology (of which I’m a fan). This said—City of Ghosts doesn’t feel like the polished, complete work I would’ve expected from her.

Everything started when Cassidy Blake died. That day she went across the Veil for the first time, she met Jacob—whom since has become her best friend—when he saved her life. Impressive, as he’s dead and all. Now, they’re inseparable, and frequently take trips back across the Veil, where Cassidy can interact with Jacob as if he were alive. Or she were dead.

This whole thing seemed like… an idea. Like, that it isn’t… complete. It comes across unpolished, unrefined—something I wouldn’t’ve expected from Schwab, since her ideas have always seemed to come to life on the page. Early on, when we are introduced to this ability to interact with events through the Veil, it seems like Cassidy is fairly new to it all. Not long after, she states that it’s something she’s been on about for the last nine months. Nine months! And even though she goes on to say that the process has been streamlined and polished, in reality it seems anything but. Frankly, it kinda seems like a spinoff of Danny Phantom; even down to the famous, ghost-hunting parents.

The beginning really did nothing for me. It was hard to get into, contradictory, and as I’ve said before, unpolished. Not “boring” exactly, but not entertaining either. Once we get into the meat of the story, it’s entertaining enough, I guess. Not that much really happens. I mean, there’s a plot and stuff, but it comes to fruition so late in the book (it’s only a 5-hour audiobook), that I’d hesitate to reveal anything in the interest of spoilers. That and… the whole thing basically feels like setup. Like the quick pilot of an episodic show. One that identifies the characters and the premise but really does little else.

I’d read the next one—probably—but wouldn’t pay full price for it. Not if it’s over $10, at least. I’d wait for the library copy, and hope VE Schwab nails some things down before then. Tunnel of Bones comes out September 3, 2019

Note: Reba Buhr was an excellent narrator. Though not anyone I’d encountered previously, I had no problem with her reading. She was actually a pretty good Cassidy; engaging and entertaining.