P. Pufferfish has mixed feelings about the ending of an otherwise fantastic trilogy.

clockworkprincesscoverToday’s featured book: Clockwork Princess, by Cassandra Clare (Book #3 of The Infernal Devices trilogy)

Format I consumed it in: E-book, from the library near my house

The premise: The book opens with Tessa trying on her wedding dress, ’cause in case you forgot what happened in Clockwork Prince, she and Jem are about to get married! Of course, since they’re living in the London Institute, where all the action happens, they’re interrupted by Gabriel Lightwood running in to inform them that his father’s morphed into a giant, murderous worm. The gang immediately rushes off to help Gabriel reason with Benedict Lightwood (if still possible) or deal with him (if necessary). Without spoiling anything, the rest of the book continues in a similarly fast-paced fashion. There are countless automaton attacks, Jem’s supply of yin fen, which he is dependent upon to live, runs out unexpectedly early, Tessa finally learns the entire story behind who/what she is, Charlotte faces incredibly sexist and therefore unreasonable and frustrating challenges to her leadership from Consul Wayland, who had previously supported her, and that’s only in the first 60% of the book!

My thoughts: [Spoilers] I am inordinately pleased with this book. It was by far the best of the three Infernal Devices books, and I thought the other two were pretty good. Tessa is a damn good heroine/protagonist, and I get why Jem and Will both love her so much. I also get why she loves them and has trouble choosing between them, AND! I really see how much they love each other and am surprised they both ended up loving another person in addition to each other. I jumped ships not once, not twice, but THRICE over the course of this trilogy. At first, I shipped Will/Tessa. Then I shipped Jem/Tessa. Then I shipped Will/Jem. And finally, I decided it had to be a perfect triangular romance between the three of them. Will/Tessa/Jem. Will/Jem/Tessa. Jem/Will/Tessa. Whichever order would work. Normally, love triangles are more like love carets (this symbol: ^^^^). They meet in the middle but that last line that would make it a true triangle is non-existent. NOT SO HERE! There is even a line at the end about how half of Jem’s heart belongs to Will and the other half to Tessa, and half of Tessa’s heart belongs to Jem and the other half to Will or something like that, but I read it as Cassandra Clare canonically declaring that Will/Tessa/Jem is a thing, and YOU CANNOT CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE.

I was surprised by what happened to Jessamyne. I thought that she would be given a redemption arc, like the one that Gabriel Lightwood got, but guess not! Speaking of Gabriel, he is a treasure. Like a more awkward version of Will. He actually reminds me a lot of Alec (from The Mortal Instruments, who is his descendant). Izzy is more like Cecily, who is very, very free-spirited and independent for a girl from a proper “mundane” Victorian home; I kept remembering when Tessa first came to London and was more reserved and conservative– not so with Cecily, who is a force in and of herself. Gideon and Sophie’s romance was like romance novel fare, but so entertaining to read, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that they both survived to the end. CHARLOTTE AND HENRY– my god, Henry gave me such a heart attack during that big battle in Cadair Idris. I thought he was a goner for sure! And Charlotte! That woman is the queen of my heart! And pretty much the queen of the Institute and later on the Clave as well. There’s an actual line comparing the male Shadowhunters of the London Institute pledging loyalty to her the way Englishmen pledged loyalty to Queen Victoria. I also liked that Bridget, the cook who sings tragic songs about love, death, and murder all day, is an insanely talented fighter and almost singlehandedly kept them all from being overwhelmed and crushed by automatons during the final battle.

I thought the book should have ended with the Christmas party, where Jessamyne’s ghost makes amends with Will and pushes him to propose to Tessa. It was unnecessary to do an extended epilogue with Tessa dealing with Will’s death, but I wouldn’t have minded the book ending in a bittersweet way like that. The Jem ending, though? What the hell? I felt like Cassandra Clare started flip-flopping and being indecisive about Jem’s fate. He doesn’t want to be a Silent Brother ’cause it would mean no more music. He decides to become a Silent Brother because he doesn’t want to die and leave Will and Tessa behind. He is a Silent Brother, but apparently he gets to ignore the rules of Silent Brotherdom and even gets to come back as his young self (albeit as a mundane) to live with Tessa decades after Will’s death? He mentions the reason for all of this having something to do with Lightwoods, Herondales, and Fairchilds, but I don’t remember anything like that happening in the first three books of The Mortal Instruments, so it must have happened in books 4-6, which I haven’t read (don’t plan to read?). I guess it’s nice that Tessa gets to not be alone for another 60 or so years, and it would support the Will/Tessa/Jem thing, but ehhhh, I wasn’t a fan.

Rating: 4.75/5.

By the way, did anyone read the preview for The Last Hours? So THIS is the Downton Abbey-esque series that everyone was talking about. I ended up reading the entire preview, and it’s not really working for me. Magnus is great. I love Magnus. But this James kid…… ehhhhhhh…… and the whole Tatiana Blackthorn-in-her-crumbling-manor-with-her-beautiful-bitchy-ward thing just reminds me too much of Great Expectations, a book that I HATED. I don’t know if I could read a whole trilogy about James-Pip pursuing Grace-Estella but with supernatural stuff thrown in (if that’s the angle Cassandra Clare’s going for). I’d rather read the three remaining Mortal Instruments books I’ve been avoiding.

P. Pufferfish has an interview and finally reviews Promise of Blood

This morning, I had the shock of my life when the search committee at the university I applied for a job with called me 3 hours earlier than I’d expected. Turns out I’d forgotten about the time difference between the East and West coasts. OOPS. It was an all right interview. Not good, but okay, all things considering. I’m glad it’s over and done with, so I can go back to reading and not worrying about it! promiseofbloodcover

Today’s featured book: Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan (Book #1 of The Powder Mage Trilogy).

Format I consumed it in: Print, from the library where I work.

The premise: So I’m used to books about revolutions starting with the protagonist living a pretty normal life and then noticing problems with the place where he lives and realizing that there’s a lot of injustice, yada yada yada, and then ENDING in revolution. Promise of Blood STARTS OUT in the middle of a coup. Tamas, the Field Marshal and one of the strongest powder mages alive, has murdered the Royal Cabal, which is basically a group of powerful magicians (called Privileged) loyal to the king; in the process, five of his own mages were killed by a ridiculously strong Privileged who manages to escape. Tamas sends his son, Taniel, who’s known as Taniel Two-Shot (also a powder mage) and some mercenaries after the escaped Privileged while he and his co-conspirators (a council of 6, including Tamas himself, who represent the cities’ elite mercenaries, the union, the Church, the university, and the treasury) publicly execute the king, the royal family, and all prominent nobles over 17. Unbeknownst to everyone else, before the Royal Cabal members died, each of them mentioned something called “Kresimir’s promise”, which Tamas orders the private investigator Adamat to… well, investigate. Meanwhile, a laundress named Nila successfully sneaks the son of the duke she’s employed by (who is now the king’s closest living heir) out of the manor while the rest of the family is being arrested…

My thoughts: I LOVED this book! It was fascinating to see the aftermath of a successful coup. I usually read about revolutions and coups in fiction depicted in more of a big picture sort of way; it was different reading about all the details, including the difficulties of trying to satisfy all one’s allies (who have conflicting interests) AND the people. I thought the appearance of the gods was weird at first, because it felt as if the book was going to focus more on politics and the struggles of ordinary people to build a new government, and then it went and dropped gods on us (yes, I am aware it’s in the summary on the back of the book, but reading it as it happened was still strange). I eventually got used to it, though; plus, Mihali is a fun character.

One thing that disappointed me: I was hoping Ka-Poel was going to be a character of color, but then Brian McClellan started describing her freckles, light skin, and bright red hair. *Sighhhhh* I also thought the mini-romance between Nila and Olem was odd, although I hope they’ll return to this idea eventually. I am less pleased with the Ka-Poel/Taniel thing McClellan seems to be pushing. Must the main dude always, always, ALWAYS fall in love with the girl he travels with? Does he always have to have a love interest? If we’re going with yes, I honestly think Taniel has more chemistry with his best friend Bo, the exiled Privileged/Royal Cabal member who Tamas hasn’t killed yet. There is so much potential there! I even went and looked for fanfiction on it, but couldn’t find any. I thought there would be at least SOME, since the sci-fi/fantasy community always brings up The Powder Mage Trilogy, but I guess there’s “big enough to be talked about” and then there’s “so big there is fanfiction written about it”. Boooo….

Rating: 4.5/5.

P. Pufferfish loves Shadowhunters, steampunk, and Victorian England, but hates love triangles.

I’m writing book reviews out of order today because I did what everyone told me not to do and immediately started another book after finishing one yesterday. So now my head is filled with nothing but Victorian England and gray and rain and clockwork apparatuses. Guess what I was reading?

clockworkprincecover

This is most definitely NOT how I pictured Jem in my head.

Today’s featured book: Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare (Book #2 of The Infernal Devices trilogy). I realize I don’t have a review of Clockwork Angel to link to; that’s because back then, I wasn’t as responsible when it came to recording/logging books I completed as I am now. Do I really need to go back and review it, though? I don’t think so– there are a GAZILLION reviews of Cassandra Clare’s books out there, 90% of them better than mine.

Format I consumed it in: E-book, from the library next to my house.

The premise: This is a sequel, so if you’re looking at it, I’m assuming you’ve already read the first book. This one picks up right where the last one left off, with Tessa and Will still being all awkward around each other ’cause he had to be all dumb and cruelly reject her right after they had their *moment* and kissed in Clockwork Angel (*whispers* but don’t worry, he has NOBLE REASONS for doing what he did!). The Shadowhunter world is still in mortal danger, though, so no time to dwell on feelings! Charlotte and Henry (the latter in name only) are at a hearing(?) to decide whether or not they (read: Charlotte) are suitable to continue running the London Institute. Sexism abounds, and that old git Benedict Lightwood offers himself up as a better choice as Institute head. Some other important people agree with him because Charlotte is young and female and supporting her is riskier and comfortably ensconced people don’t like taking risks. Also, conservatism and sexism and all that. The Consul, who is the head honcho/the man who appointed Charlotte as her father’s successor in the first place (the Head of Institute title isn’t hereditary), gives her two weeks to find/capture Mortmain and “redeem herself”.

And yes, this means the rollercoaster of feelings, confessions, meetings, comings, goings, revelations, etc., all happen in TWO WEEKS?! I’m having trouble absorbing that myself– perhaps my timeline is off? Hmm. Anyways, Tessa is still torn between her feelings for Will and her feelings for Jem, the Lightwood brothers get more screen time, a pairing that I saw coming from a mile away becomes a thing, Charlotte and Henry continue to be adorable, and Nate Gray is still a complete asshole. Oh yeah, and Tessa learns one more tiny thing about what exactly she is and how she may have come to be.

My thoughts:

On the romance: I really enjoyed this book aside from one rather large factor: THE GOD-DAMN LOVE TRIANGLE. I can’t stand triangles. They’re not so bad when they’re fleeting or more one-sided. For example, there was technically a little triangle thing going on with Tessa-Jem-Sophie, but Sophie had more of a schoolgirl crush on Jem and it was clear that Jem only cared for Tessa in that way, so it was all right. Even the Jace-Clary-Simon triangle in The Mortal Instruments was better, weird incestuous situation aside, since no one fricken believed that Clary would pick Simon in the end (they even set things up for Simon to eventually move on with other potential love interests popping up all over the place!). The triangle in Infernal Devices is more along the lines of the one from Hunger Games— all-consuming, annoying, and completely unnecessary! Just once, can’t a female YA protagonist have nothing but pure friendship with a YA male protagonist? She can get with one male protagonist in the end, but why do they BOTH have to vie for her affections? I want more close male-female friendships in YA novels! In any novels!

I suppose that in this one unique case, there is an added tragic element to the triangle because Jem’s dying and Will and Jem are closer than brothers and all that (to me, being parabatai sounds a lot like being married), but I still spent half the book groaning aloud and wondering why Cassandra Clare couldn’t have just made Jem and Tessa become drawn to each other like brother and sister, since he’s an only child and she just got betrayed by her “brother” and is all alone as well? OR! She could have completely flipped the script and made Jem and Tessa get together in the ultimate tragic way and Will and Tessa could be best friends, bonding over books! IN ANOTHER UNIVERSE…

[BIG SPOILERS] I also disliked the Jessamyne/Nate thing because I can’t imagine someone being that stupid, but hey, what do I know? Charlotte and Henry… AWWWW, just AWWWW… I shipped Sophie and Gideon as soon as they met, so I was very happy about that; the whole class lines thing was done pretty well, imo.

On the rest of the book, like the plot and all that: It was still fast-paced SOMEHOW, despite all the pauses in-between for Tessa or Will to lament about their feelings. There were seriously paragraphs/pages of nothing but pining/anguish/making out, but things still chugged along smoothly. Most of the other characters who appeared are pretty memorable, and Mortmain remains a frightening and sinister force despite not once making an appearance in this book. The clockwork automatons are also largely absent, so the focus is more on the investigation. I did have a problem with the Gideon/Benedict Lightwood thing and how it played out. I just thought the way Gideon defects is done too easily. And how the hell did Benedict throw a huge, expensive party for denizens of the Downworld without SOMEONE from his world catching wind of it? Sure, he threw it in his family’s mansion away from the city, but these are still wealthy English families living in Victorian England– word gets around. How the hell did he manage to keep everything a secret? THESE ARE THE MINOR THINGS THAT I WONDER ABOUT WHEN READING OTHERWISE GOOD STORIES.

Rating: 3.75/5. I think that if I were to give a fair, unbiased rating, it would be a 4/5, but this is MY rating, so I’m taking a whole star off for the love triangle and an additional quarter of a star for MINOR PLOT THINGS.

“Spring 2018 can’t come fast enough!” said P. Pufferfish.

I have no interest in another year speeding by and me aging up faster than I’m ready to, BUT! Last night (or rather, this morning), I finished a book that I absolutely LOVED and just saw that the sequel will be available around May of next year. I cannot WAIT! I want it NOW!

amberloughcover

What is today’s featured book?: Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donnelly, who, by the way, is not much older than I am, I think. She was featured in this episode of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is where I first heard about her and her book, so she has to be very young.

Format I consumed it in: E-book. I didn’t wait for it to go on sale or anything, despite my annoyance about e-books sometimes costing the same as/more than print books– that’s right, I paid full price for this book, and it was worth every penny!

The premise: Here are the players:

Cyril: 35, cunning, manipulative, bears a remarkable resemblance to a famous fictional movie star, comes from a long line of famous diplomats. Suffering from trauma from a previous mission gone wrong. Occupation: Spy. Although he’s described as 5’7″ and blonde, I kept picturing Richard Madden the way he looked in Sirens as Cyril, except with dark blonde/reddish hair. That image really grew on me, and now I can’t imagine anyone else as Cyril.

Aristide: 41 (42?), incredibly alluring, calculating, confident, flirtatious– a self-made man of many talents. Occupation: Master of Ceremonies/performer and notorious head of a smuggling ring.

Cordelia: Age unknown, stunning, sharp as a tack, loyal to a fault, resilient, brave, resourceful. Occupation: Showgirl.

The story is set in an almost alternate-universe version of Europe towards the end of the Jazz Age (it feels like the transition from the 20s to the 30s). The cities and states are all fictional, all part of a fictional country surrounded by other fictional countries, but they’re very familiar and clearly resemble real European cities during that time period.

I’ve read several reviews that call this book “timely”, and I have to 100% agree– the main conflict here is the government takeover by the new Ospie party and its leaders, who are mostly represented by conservative businesspeople who detest show biz and “out of the norm” relationships and everything else that’s fun in life. They also have a thing against immigrants and many of them seem to be racist to some extent. Everyone knows the election results were tampered with, opposing party politicians are forced to resign or are arrested after being framed for various crimes, the entertainment district is repeatedly raided, businesses are shut down, strict travel restrictions are implemented, riots are breaking out….. basically, throughout the novel, we are witnessing the transition of a state from flawed and slightly corrupt to completely fascist and corrupt, and get to see how our protagonists deal with these changes.

All three main characters are people who are used to operating from the shadows and more or less do illegal things on a daily basis. They are not pure, warm, friendly characters– they have all experienced life and are somewhat self-serving and suspicious of everyone. Their lives and work also overlap a lot: Cyril is in a romantic relationship, more or less, with Aristide, and many of his poor decisions are made to keep both himself and Aristide alive. Aristide has his own problems and network of friends/acquaintances/employees/colleagues/contacts, etc. to worry about, but I would say his actions are influenced by his feelings for Cyril as well. Cordelia is Aristide’s co-star and the only one of the three who actually tries not to throw her associates under the bus to save herself whenever a problem arises. Without further spoilers (in this section, at least), we move on to

My thoughts: This book was a fantastic read for me. I loved all three protagonists, especially Cordelia, who is just so spunky and is such a dynamic character. She starts out as just a showgirl who’s running deals on the side, but becomes a super important player by the end of the book. I enjoyed reading all the interactions between the characters– Lara Elena Donnelly does a good job balancing dialogue, inner thoughts, and action. I just complained in a previous review about a book having too much telling and not enough showing. Not so here! I was especially impressed by how she doesn’t spend paragraphs on world-building. We pick it up from things the characters say and do; we figure it out from brief descriptions that come up during action scenes and from government documents and propaganda posters and banners plastered around the city, almost as if we were walking through the place ourselves and not just having it described to us by a friend who’s recently traveled there.

That said, I have to mention that I may be a bit biased when it comes to the main relationship in this book, because I’m a huge fan of slash in books/media, especially if it’s canon. There were several detailed sex scenes. As a rule, I do not like detailed sex scenes in books because I feel like they’re interrupting the action. However! I didn’t mind these scenes, probably because of the aforementioned reason. If Cyril had been female instead and I had to read the same scenes….. yeah, I think I would have grumbled a little. I will say, though, regardless of gender, I adore Cyril and Aristide’s relationship. Aristide is a morally ambiguous character, and in the first half of the book, I thought Cyril was one, too, but by the end, I realized he’s an immoral little shit. He cares about his sister and Cordelia, but only in a passing sort of way (meaning he spares them a thought occasionally during his scheming). Aristide is probably the only person he wouldn’t betray to save his own hide, and you can really see it. It’s kind of beautiful.

[SPOILERS] I thought this book was a stand-alone, so I was super worried one or more of the three of them would be killed off. The whole thing also ends in a massive cliffhanger, but in a way that if Lara Elena Donnelly did decide “Nah, I don’t want to write any more”, you could PRETEND things will magically resolve themselves and it wouldn’t be too unsatisfying. I HATE ambiguous endings (I’m looking at you, German movies!), so I was relieved to learn that this will be a trilogy and I’ll get a legit resolution… probably by 2019.

Rating: 4.5/5.

P. Pufferfish: finally able to move on to other books

I’ve purchased 15 new books (almost all Kindle Daily Deal books, by the way!) since finals week of my last quarter. I also just checked out Under the Wide and Starry Sky to read for book club, but forgot to set my Overdrive check-out length to 3 weeks instead of 2, so now I only have until the 23rd to finish it. I bought 2 new books on Prime Day, including Amberlough, which I’ve been eyeing since I first heard about it months ago; I was planning to read that next, but I feel guilty about not starting UtWaSK when I actually have a deadline for that. I also got an email this morning from the library where I work informing me that the book I put on hold, Call For the Dead, is now available. YIKES, WHERE TO GO NEXT? They’re all such different books! Anyways, first things first.

Today’s featured book: Stone of Farewell, by Tad Williams (Book #2 of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy).

stoneoffarewellcover

This is the awful 80s cover I had to look at for (seemingly) weeks.

Format I read it in: Print paperback, unfortunately, from the library where I work. The cover was starting to fall off when I checked it out and had fallen off halfway when I finished, so I spent 5 minutes mending it before putting it back in the stack.

The premise: I’m assuming that if you’re here reading this, you’ve already read The Dragonbone Chair (a.k.a. Book #1 of MSaT), so I’ll just jump straight into this one. The story picks up right from where Book 1 ended, which is with Simon slaying the dragon on the mountain and Naglimund’s fall/Josua’s escape. The first 1/4 of the book is pretty fast-paced, with Simon waking up in Binabik’s hometown and finding out that Binabik and Sludig have been sentenced to death. He and Jiriki are stuck trying to convince the Hunter and Huntress (the leaders of the trolls) to let Binabik and Sludig go so they can continue their quest to get Thorn to Josua, wherever he is, which is just outside of Naglimund, fleeing across the Thrithings land towards the dark forest, Aldheorte, with the 7 survivors of castle’s fall, who conveniently happen to all be important, named characters. Meanwhile, Duke Isgrimnur is miserably traveling through all these port towns, trying to locate Miriamele and Cadrach, who are staying out of sight and traveling under disguise to Nabban. Back at the Hayholt, Guthwulf, who, if you’ve forgotten, was Elias’s best friend and the Hand of the King, is starting to rethink his allegiance to a ruler who he believes to have gone mad.

A few new, essential characters are introduced and some characters who only made very quick appearances in TDC are given more “screen time” in SoF. Williams also utilizes many, many more POV characters (a la ASoIaF, if you’re more familiar with that) in SoF than he did in TDC, where Simon’s POV is the main one.

My thoughts [SPOILERS ABOUND!]: In my opinion, SoF does the opposite of TDC, by putting most of the action in the first 1/3 of the book and then giving us lots of lag time throughout afterwards. Perhaps some will find this more appealing, because by the point it starts lagging, you’ll have already been sucked into the story; that wasn’t the case with me– I much prefer to dawdle and not pay as much attention in the first 150 or so pages and then speed through the remaining hundreds. I ended up reading the first 250 pages pretty fast, and then moaning and groaning and crawling my way through most of the rest. There were some characters’ points of view, such as Josua’s, Rachel’s, Dinivan’s, and Binabik’s, that were always interesting, and then there were others’, such as Simon’s (surprisingly enough) and Tiamik’s, that were so drawn-out and awful that I went and read/finished Carry On before I went back to this book. Miriamele’s POV was just plain frustrating.

One improvement I did note: Josua has become much more likeable as a character, despite not really changing much. Maybe it’s ’cause he’s constantly on the move and being forced to take action and make decisions nonstop, but his character finally stopped screaming “tortured noble hero” and became someone more human that I would want to rally behind. I think Deornoth helps with that a lot– he tries so hard to build Josua up as a savior, but Josua is determined to think practically and in the present.

Despite my approval of what Williams has done with Josua, I have many complaints about characterization in this novel. Williams does a TERRIBLE job writing his female characters. I mentioned in my review of TDC that he set up several characters, notably Miriamele and Maegwin, for success, but I was concerned he would fuck that up and– guess what? He done fucked it up! I wouldn’t even mind as much if he had written these characters as weak and useless to begin with. Simon spends a lot of time complaining, crying, and waiting to be rescued, but he’s done that from the beginning, so I expected that from him and saw it as pretty consistent characterization. Maegwin, on the other hand, has always been more reserved, sharp, and “no-nonsense”, as Eolair observes of her in one scene. It makes no sense to me that upon meeting the Dwarrows in their underground city, she would zone out and let Eolair take the reins while she obsessed over her feelings for him and how she couldn’t focus to help her people while around him. I understand the disappointment and sense of failure that she felt upon discovering that the people in the underground city are Dwarrows and not the Sithi, and I get that she’s grieving over her relatives’ death and the loss of her home, but there is no way that a woman who ran her father’s castle while he was gone and calmly commanded reluctant, inexperienced noblewomen to fortify it against attack would fail to make the connection between the important information the Dwarrows were dispensing and the possible path they could take to ensure it got to Josua. I refuse to believe that she would (spitefully) “accidentally” send Eolair on the right path and just behave like a little girl when her people needed her most.

The same goes for Miriamele. She is daring and sometimes reckless when it comes to making plans, but in her everyday life and on the road, she is resourceful and very cautious. So of course Williams has her lose all her sense of reasoning as soon as she lays eyes on Aspitis, who is so handsome and blonde and “gentlemanly” that she completely misses how sleazy and suspicious he is. Sure, she’s an innocent, sheltered teenage girl, but it’s just not believable that she would dismiss Aspitis’s rapey behavior and let him [SPOILER] push her into having sex with him; it’s so inconsistent with her previous characterization.

Vorzheva remains useless, but I didn’t have much hope for her to begin with. Two of the new female characters that are introduced are there just to be love interests/make life easier for the male characters they’re associated with. I think the only female characters who didn’t disappoint me in SoF are Rachel and Duchess Gudrun, who are pretty bad-ass older women, but I suspect the reason Williams didn’t try to soften their characters somehow is because they’re both mother figures and already feminine enough.

The most unbearably annoying and boring character, though, is Tiamik. His scenes are long and never-ending, his decisions and thought process are eyerollingly awful, and I don’t get why Williams didn’t just wait until Book 3 to give him a bigger role to play instead of tormenting us by having us read about him doing nothing in Book 2.

Rating: 3.5/5. I had to remove one whole star for the injustice done to the female characters and another half a star for pacing. UGH. I hope To Green Angel Tower is better than this!

P. Pufferfish’s new favorite fantasy novel

dragonbonechaircoverthumbnailI finished reading this book 5 days ago, and I still haven’t written a review for it ANYWHERE (on Goodreads, for the staff summer reading program at work, etc.); in the meantime, I’ve finished another book and started two more, so I told myself I had to get at least A review done before I go to bed tonight. I popped one of my super strong allergy pills about an hour ago, so I’m racing against the clock to finish this before the pill takes full effect and I fall asleep (because these things are fricken potent). Anyways!

The bookThe Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams (Book #1 of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, which I keep wanting to call the Sorrow, Misery, and Thorn trilogy; apt, but not quite right). I don’t know how I’ve gone this long without hearing about this book, considering how much sci-fi/fantasy I consume on a yearly basis. I only found out about it ’cause Amazon was offering it as a Kindle daily deal item, which is SHAMEFUL. I need to read more! This is apparently the trilogy that inspired George R.R. Martin to write A Song of Ice and Fire, which is a HUGE deal and something that I will touch upon later in my actual review.

Format I consumed it in: E-book

The premiseThe Dragonbone Chair is set in the land of Osten Ard. It starts out specifically in the Hayholt, the castle/seat of the high king, Prester John, who is dying and preparing to pass his throne on to his older son, Elias, whom he favors over his younger son Josua; according to John, Josua is too cold and removed from his subjects and would not make a good ruler. From the get-go, we get the impression that the two brothers don’t really get along (they rule lands far apart from each other and are only in the Hayholt at the same time at the beginning of the book because their father is about to pass on), although Josua tells Elias (quite honestly) that he has no intention of challenging him for the throne, which everyone believes is rightfully Elias’s.

The protagonist of the novel is neither Elias nor Josua, but rather a kitchen boy named Simon, a tall, awkward, redheaded 14-year old prone to daydreaming and fond of climbing the castle walls. He’s close to Doctor Morgenes, who’s like the Merlin of the Hayholt (doctor/alchemist/magician/etc.), and manages to get himself apprenticed to the doctor within the first few chapters. Alas, being a magician’s apprentice is nothing like what he’d imagined, and he spends a lot of time avoiding work and climbing/jumping around the walls, which results in him being in the right place at the right time more than once, and THIS is where the story TRULY begins, one year into Elias’s rule, when the tourneys and parties have started to lose their luster, a drought and a plague have caused great suffering outside the castle walls that’s being largely ignored by those within them, and Josua has mysteriously disappeared without any warning. Without any further spoilers, I move onto

My thoughts (which usually contain some minor spoilers): I read many reviews that complained about this book being too slow and having plot inconsistencies. I will admit, Tad Williams really takes his time moving the plot along, but I didn’t have a problem with it at all. It reminds me of the old King’s Quest games, where you spent hours doing chores and just going about your day, with tiny breaks in-between to eavesdrop and steal items to aid in your future escape or whatnot. You WILL be stuck following Simon around as he tends to his chores (or finds ways to get away with half-assing them), plays at being knights with his friends, serves important people at parties, etc., and nothing big actually happens up until the moment I mentioned earlier (where the story TRULY begins!), and then all the things start happening at once, piling one on top of the other, and gone are the days of sunshine and peacefully hanging around the castle grounds. Like I said before, pace was not a problem for me.

I would also like to, once more, bring up the George R.R. Martin thing, because you definitely start to see similarities pretty early on– even the scenes with Simon jumping from one wall to another to get to a high window reminded me of Bran scaling the castle towers for fun. Williams and Martin both use multiple POV-characters (although it’s obvious from TDC who the main character of MSaT is, whereas in ASoIaF, there’s more of an ensemble feel and nobody’s safe), they both include incredible amounts of detail when talking about minor characters’ houses and histories, and so on, so forth.

I didn’t spot any glaring continuity errors when I was reading, so I can’t say I was bothered by those, either. My biggest problem with the book was actually the portrayal of the two brothers, Elias and Josua, and their crumbling relationship/the reasoning behind it. [SPOILERS] Perhaps after they delve even further into the backstory, I’ll get it, but I thought the big reveal about Elias’s wife’s death (which he blames Josua for, even though Josua fought his hardest to keep her alive and even lost his hand for it) was sort of anticlimactic. I think I have a problem with the depiction of Josua’s character, period. Normally, I’d love his type: serious, cold, blunt, fiercely loyal, honorable to a fault– basically Ned Stark, but younger and more tortured (literally), but at the moment, he seems sort of like a caricature in comparison to Simon, Doctor Morgenes, Princess Miriamele, Binabik, and even minor characters like the musician Sangfugol, who barely even has any “screen time”! Elias isn’t quite that fleshed out, either, but I’m just going to assume that’s the result of a combination of lack of screen time and his shady dealings with dark magic. I want so badly to root for Josua, but I need a reason other than “he’s a good guy!” Also, what is with his relationship with Vorzheva? I hope she gets more stuff to do in the second book, because right now, she’s kind of just an extra, unnecessary accessory for Josua, and I just don’t see the point of her.

There are some female characters with real potential in this book, such as Miriamele and Maegwyn, the daughter of King Lluth. Williams seems to be setting them up for greatness, but this series did come out in the 80s, which is a bit before my time, so I don’t know how much hope I have on that front. HOWEVER! Problems aside, I actually think I like this book more than Game of Thrones (I missed having favorite characters that don’t get killed off) I already started the second book, Stone of Farewell, and the plot is moving fast with that one! Still, I really, really want Williams to get on Martin’s level when it comes to filling in characters’ backstories (I do not feel the same anticipation when it comes to learning about the Elias-Hylissa-Josua triangle as I did about the Robert-Lyanna-Rhaegar triangle) and getting the readers hyped up about them.

Rating: 5/5. I simply enjoyed it too much to give it any less.

In which P. Pufferfish discusses Romance and the Chosen One trope in Siege and Storm

siegeandstormcoverI never thought I’d say this, but I finally managed to slog through Siege and Storm (thanks, Spring Break!) after two weeks. No offense to Leigh Bardugo or anything, but the Grisha Trilogy just doesn’t have the same oomph that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom do. They’re all pretty dark books, but the casts are very different in how they handle all the darkness and the shit they’re forced to deal with. Quick summary time (spoilers abound!).

The book: Siege and Storm (book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy, by the amazing and talented Leigh Bardugo)

The genre: Fantasy, YA

What it’s about: I’m going to assume anyone who happens to be looking at this has read Shadow and Bone already, sooooo… this book started off slow for me. Alina and Mal are on the run, working the equivalent of a migrant farm labor job to pay for a bed (singular) in a room in a shady boarding house. I forgot that they’re about seventeen years old, so I kept rolling my eyes and wondering how the hell they thought they could just run away from their problems and attempt to live a peaceful life in a foreign country when Ravka’s conflicts are just going to bleed over the border sooner or later. Anyways, since it’s from Alina’s POV, there’s a lot of musing about Mal and his good looks and his loyalty, and then the Darkling shows up and captures them again, taking them aboard a ship he’s commissioned for the voyage home. He uses Alina and Mal against each other, forcing them to do things ’cause “if not, I’ll destroy her face!” or “I’ll throw him overboard!” Typical threats like that.

I should mention that here, things get a bit more interesting, because they introduce a new character, the notorious Sturmhond, privateer and captain of the ship they’re all on. Sturmhond is all about the money, but that’s okay, ’cause he also seems to have morals and a sense of honor (of sorts). So without any further spoilers, the rest of the book involves hunting legendary creatures, war plans, behind-the-scenes battles for the Ravkan throne, the overturning of traditions and convention, fanaticism, etc. “But wait!” you say, “This totally sounds like your kind of book, P!” It does, and in a way, it still is my kind of book, but there’s the glaring issue of

The romance: There is a lot of romance in this book. It’s not in the background, like it is in Six of Crows. It’s very in-your-face, and unfortunately, it’s kind of interwoven with the plot, as in, if this romance did not exist, I don’t think events would play out the way they do. This is also the reason I took so long getting through the damn thing, ’cause Mal and Alina are so meh as a couple. They don’t have much chemistry. When I was reading Shadow and Bone, I kept hoping Mal would get with Zoya and Alina would get with the Darkling, but of course the Darkling turned out to be pure evil and no longer a romantic possibility (*siiiggghhh*). It sucks, ’cause Leigh Bardugo wrote so much chemistry into the Alina-Darkling “relationship” that now everything else pales in comparison. Even her strange not-really-romance with the other male character that plays a prominent role in this book (I wonder who?) doesn’t work– I personally prefer the two of them as friends/a power duo in a professional sense, so I hope she doesn’t go down that path in the third book.

Towards the last twenty or so pages, though, I did start reevaluating my stance on the Alina/Mal romance. I wonder if the reason why I don’t ship them is because I’m so used to the Chosen One character (in this case, Alina, obv) being destined for a greater romance than just her childhood best friend. You all recognize the familiar fantasy tropes, right? Usually, it involves a male Chosen One who more often than not does show interest in one of the village girls (a laundress or something– pretty, kind, would make a good wife) and then has to leave his old life behind to go on his quest/fulfill his destiny/save the world, and along the way, he meets somebody else, somebody more “worthy” (a duchess! A princess! A sorceress!), and everyone knows he’ll end up with that person in the end because halfway through the book, he’s no longer the poor, insignificant village boy he was at the beginning. Mal is by no means an ordinary person himself (he’s extraordinarily gifted and would probably have risen pretty high in the ranks if Alina and her destiny hadn’t gotten in the way), but he’s no Grisha lord or prince. And both Alina and Mal realize this. It comes up a lot in their arguments. They spend the first half of this trilogy fighting against the roles they’re expected to play in a traditional Chosen One fantasy story arc. It would really be something if they managed it. Huh. Perhaps I can get behind this pairing after all. More on that in the review for book 3.

Overall, would I recommend this? Uh, considering that it’s the second book in a trilogy (which was off to a great start!) and ends in a cliffhanger, yes, I think you have to read it, if only to know what happens to everyone. Also, one word: NIKOLAI. Read it for him, if anything.