Thursday, October 30, 2014

Forbidden

I started reading Forbidden by Kimberly Griffiths Little a half hour before I was planning to go to bed thinking I could get several chapters read. After just one chapter, I had to stop because I knew if I kept reading there would be no be sleeping. It seemed like a book I wouldn't be able to put down. This was true. Not that I'm throughly in love with it, but it was hard to put down.

Jayden is a young girl in a desert tribe, betrothed to the son of her tribe's King. She is destined to be a princess, but is repulsed by her future husband, Horeb. On the day the tribe is to move for the last time of the year, Jayden's mother goes into labor dying in the process. Her family is left to bury her mother and try to catch up to the rest of the tribe. After the burial a young man named Kadesh approaches Jayden and begs assistance. Injured and alone, Kadesh is taken in by Jayden's father and assists in the journey across the desert. The journey is full of hardship and heartache for Jayden. She is forced to give up the things most precious to her in order to survive, and every day she loses her older sister a little more to the goddess worship Leila finds so fascinating. Upon reaching their tribe things do not improve. Horeb is as vicious and leering as ever and Jayden can't stand to be near him. Convinced of their love for each other, Jayden and Kadesh make promises of the future. Promises that are difficult to keep with treachery lurking around every corner.

Jayden is exactly the kind of heroine I love. She is fierce and independent. She has a great sense of family loyalty. Her strength and planning fit her historical context well, and she acts in ways that make sense for her life and time. Her character's emotions and growth are organic and make sense in terms of the story. The other characters are not fleshed out nearly as well, and that includes Kadesh. Given the time period he and Jayden are not given a lot of time alone together which makes their devotion to each other seem rather sudden and is not well developed. He is shown as honorable, good, and pure, but I never really got a sense of him as a person. Just a character sketch. The same can be said for all the other characters. Mostly people are just shown as how they are inferior to Jayden. Her sister and Dinah, her nemesis, are shown as spoiled brats. Leila was developed a bit beyond that, but not sufficiently. Horeb is a mean bully and going to make the worst sort of king, but I could never see him as anything more than a characterization of a bully. Even when he was at his most violent with Jayden, I didn't feel any real fear for her, which is usually a given in situations similar to that one.

The setting of the book is where Little truly excels. We don't have much Ancient Mesopotamian historical fiction, and Little paints a vivid picture of what nomadic desert life was like. It is also clear that she did her research and knows her geography of the time. The story takes place during the time of Hammurabi and is a fascinating look at warring cultures. Jayden's tribe are "children of Abraham", an allusion, I assume, to the descendants of Ishmael. (There is another reference to the nation of the twelve tribes of Jacob.) Their tribe travels the desert and eschews the cities, yet the cities are growing up everywhere and the hold an allure for the younger members of the tribe. The idol worship of Baal and Asherah are also tempting to the younger members. Several of the girls, including Jayden's sister, wish to be temple prostitutes. The temple sends recruiters out to convince these desert girls that this is a life to crave and envy. I'm really hoping this is touched on more as this trilogy continues because I can't believe that life as a temple prostitute is all that it's cracked up to be. I think that not showing the perils and disillusion of a life of sexual servitude in a book aimed at young girls would be negligent, but I'm hoping its going to come up. Here Little does do an excellent job of showing the lures used to pull girls into actually desiring such a life. Leisure, riches, and the promise of always being cared for are difficult things to turn your back on when you are a girl with nothing. I did like the way that Jayden is shown to be fascinated by the idol worship herself, but sticks to what she has been raised to believe. She truly wants to be a dedicated servant of God and to be a wife and mother. She wants to choose her husband and father of those children though. There are a lot of interesting themes about womanhood and choice explored and that was my favorite part of the novel.

I was rather annoyed to reach the end and realize this wasn't a stand alone novel. I thought it was. There was no series information on Goodread or Edelweiss (that I saw). When I reached the end, I suspected there would be more, and sure enough the author's website calls it a trilogy. Sigh. I will read the next one, but find myself irritated by the end here. Not every story NEEDS three books to tell it. I'm so over this.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Collins, via Edelweiss. Forbidden is available for purchase on November 4.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TTT: Books to Get Into the Halloween Spirit


This week's TTT topic: Books to Get Into the Halloween Spirit

My two FAVORITE Halloween reads, both Tam Lin retellings so the climax takes place on Halloween night:

Books That Make Me Feel all Fall Like (Some creepy, others not):


 

 

And an extra one, because no one can forget their first experience of a Hogwart's Halloween Feast:


What are some of your favorite reads this time of year?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thrones and Bones: Frostborn

Fans of Norse legends and fantasy that incorporates that, Frostborn by Lou Anders, the first book in the Thrones and Bones series, is for you. It is a fun, adventurous MG fantasy with wyverns, frost giants, barrows, and one very large dragon.

Karn is the youngest child but only son of a hauld. One day all the responsibilities of the family farm will be his to be bear including the bothersome and boring art of trading. All Karn wants to do is work on his Thrones and Bones game, a strategy game similar to chess. He often plays himself working out new and inventive ways to win. Unfortunately, Karn isn't paying enough attention what is going on around him and doesn't realize that real life is a strategy game all its own, where someone has marked him as a pawn to be moved off the board. Tricked into awakening an old dead king trapped in a barrow, Karn is forced to flee for his life into the mountains. Thianna is half human and half frost giant. She is at constant war with herself, discontent with her weaker human half. Growing up on the mountain with her fellow giants, she always felt less than she should be. When Thianna discovers something that belonged to her human mother, she unwittingly draws the attention of teh very villains who sent her mother fleeing into the mountains in the first place. Betrayed by a nemesis, Thianna must flee her home in order to protect it. Karn and Thianna had met and spent time together on a trading mission with their fathers. Fleeing for their lives, they meet up again and join forces to survive and defeat their foes.

Both Karn and Thianna have strong characters and their development happens in a believable and wonderful way. They find the power within themselves they need to do what must be done, coming to terms with the things that were holding them back, and learning so much. This is woven organically into the story of their adventure. I loved their friendship and how it developed over time. This too was realistic. They start out wary of each other, as most children are and break the ice with rough play. Karn and Thianna are different, but respect each other's differences and honor each other's strengths. It's a partnership that works well.

In the course of their adventures Karn and Thianna encounter trolls, a massive city burning (and eating) dragon, and the mysterious wyvern riders who will do anything to capture the object that Thianna holds, not to mentions the draugs (zombie soldiers of barrow king) who are after Karn. These adversaries are a nice balance of funny, frightening, fiercely cruel, and, in the dragon's case, all of these things plus witty and intelligent. It gives the story a nice feeling of peril while balancing that with a lighter tone. There is a lot of fighting and perilous scenes, and the pace is quick. It is hard book to put down and vastly entertaining.

This is a perfect read for young fantasy fans, particularly ones who like fantastical creatures.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WoW: Crimson Bound

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?


Rosamund Hodge's Cruel Beauty is one of my favorite reads of this year. I LOVED it. I'm willing to read (and pre-order) anything else she writes. To make this even more enticing, Crimson Bound is a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood". And it comes out the day after my birthday (May 5, 2015) Happy Birthday to me. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Empire of Shadows

Empire of Shadows by Miriam Forster was a highly anticipated read of mine. I really enjoyed City of a Thousand Dolls when I read it and could not wait for the companion novel which goes back about 20 years into the past of the Bihnian Empire and tells the story of an attempted with all sorts of intrigue.

Mara is a Tiger Sune (yes, A TIGER) who is trained as a highly elite bodyguard. As a way to redeem herself after she commits a tragic crime, Mara dedicates her life to the protection of others. She must pledge herself to one specific person and protect that person's life with her own. She makes her way to the capital and meets many people along the way including a charming fabric seller named Emil. She also meets Revathi, a noblewoman, and her fiancĂ©. Mara agrees to be Revathi's bodyguard until she decides to whom she will pledge her life of protection. Mara never transfers into her tiger form anymore and is, indeed, afraid to. She suddenly finds herself in the palace where nothing is as it seems, and everyone lies. Emil, charming goat herder and fabric seller, is the other half of this story. He is bound for a life of leadership of his tribe, but does not want it. He longs to be in charge of the trade, like his uncle, not the leader like his father. When his brother decides to join a group of mercenaries and runs away, Emil defies his father and goes after him taking his friend Esmer  (a spotted cat Sune) with him. Suddenly Emil and Esmer find themselves immersed in a conspiracy to overthrow the Emperor, one that has dragged Mara and Revathi as well as Emil's brother into serious danger.

Mara is amazing. I mean, she's a TIGER, so how could she not be? But she is also fiercely loyal and a wonderful friend. She is just a truly good person with high ideals and a powerful desire to do what is right. She fell far and hard once upon a time and is doing everything in her power to atone for it. Revathi is also a great character. Harsh and hardened by the life in the Emperor's court, it takes her time to warm to Mara, but it happens eventually. I just really liked the friendship that developed between these two. Mara was meant to protect Revathi, but they both end up protecting each other and it is great. Emil is also a character who it is easy to love. He has a firm opinion of what is right for him. He went along with his father for as long as he could, but when it came time to do what was right and reconcile with his brother, he never flinches from the hard perilous road he is traveling. Esmer is a wonderfully loyal friend as well, and one who knows Emil well enough for them to work perfectly together. Because she knows Mara's secret, she is also able to work with and help her. The friendship between Emil and Esmer was another favorite part of this book for me. It is just a friendship and those male/female friendships with absolutely no hint of romance are rare. I love that this book gave us so many wonderful relationships: the friendships, the brotherly love between Emil and Stefan, the relationship between Revathi and her grandmother, the two young princes' brotherly bond, and the love of the Emperor for his children. These were all shown so beautifully.


A relationship that didn't satisfy me at all in this was the romantic relationship. There really wasn't sufficient time to devote to its development with the way the plot was set up so it felt very rushed. There is very little actual page time where Emil and Mara are actually together yet it's true love. I almost had whiplash from how fast that happened. Romances like this are never satisfying for me. I would have preferred the hint at romantic potential with some development (the kissing scene was fine-liked that) without the LOVE part. The epilogue would take care of the rest. 


Because this story isn't really a romance. 


It's a story about politics, loyalty, honor, and knowing yourself as a person and where you stand. I appreciated how there were so many shades of gray in this too. There are several situations in which any decision could be construed as the "right" one. There are so many different ways things could have gone. Forster captured the chaos of battle and the affect of threats on a person's actions so well. I also liked that Forster was unafraid to let her villains be villains. They do stuff that will have you cringing. She never takes the easy way out of a situation and the effect is incredibly realistic. 

I really liked this though I do like the first book slightly more. The romance part was just a little too much for me in this one. You can read this separate from City of a Thousand Dolls. You may be spoiled for some surprises in this if you read that first, but the opposite is also the case. Read this first, and you will have inside information going into City of a Thousand Dolls. Whichever order you decide to read them in, you should certainly read them if you're a fan of political intrigue fantasy. 


I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Empire of Shadows is available for purchase on November 4th.