Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: The King Commands

The King Commands
Tales of the Borderlands Book Two
by Meg Burden

Ellin Fisher has made the Northlands her home. When she first came to the Northlands she hated the cold, bleak land, but she has come to see the beauty in it, too. And since the death of her father and the events of the previous year, King Alaric and his four brothers are the closest thing to family that she has.

But although King Alaric has repealed most of the laws restricting the Southlanders, changing the laws doesn't change the way people feel, and Ellin continues to encounter prejudice and growing unrest against the Southlanders. Then a death - and a betrayal - force her to leave her adopted home and return to the Southlands. The situation there is even worse than when she left, as the Guardians crack down even more against people with powers like Ellin's. The situation seems hopeless as Ellin, not welcome in either of the lands she loves, seeks to find a way to heal and reconcile both of them.

The King Commands is a worthy successor to Northlander, as rich and compulsively readable as the first book. It's a well-crafted, character-driven novel with a well-paced, exciting plot as well. As with Northlander, The King Commands continues to surprise the reader with unexpected plot twists, some of which I saw coming, and others I didn't. Meg Burden excels at starting with what appears to be a standard fantasy element and taking it in new directions.

Ellin is a great character; she's likeable but flawed in the way that good characters should be flawed. She sometimes makes bad decisions, and, as in the first book, one of her biggest mistakes is in not confiding in those closest to her. If she had done that, it would have avoided some of the problems (and there wouldn't have been a story). The other characters are well-developed also, including young King Alaric and his four brothers. Each of the brothers has a distinctive and thoroughly developed personality, even the twins.

There is romance in this book, although at this stage it's mostly romance of the unrequited type, with a couple of different love triangles coming into play. This is not fairy-tale romance but developed in a way that recognizes the complexity of human emotions, particularly when it comes to love.

Some of the plot elements are left unresolved for the next book, although the book is not a cliffhanger and does come to a conclusion. There are also some new and intriguing elements introduced at the end, which give hints about where book 3 is likely to go. Although, knowing Meg Burden, I'm sure there will be some surprises in store as well.

The King Commands will be published on April 12, 2010.

I received a review copy of The King Commands from the publisher. The links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Wish After Midnight - new edition

Last year, I reviewed a great book called A Wish After Midnight, by Zetta Elliott, about a 15-year-old African-American girl living Brooklyn who travels back in time to Civil War era Brooklyn. At the time, Elliott had published the book independently, but it has since been picked up by the Amazon Encore program. The Amazon Encore edition is available today, with a beautiful new cover. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it.

Read my review of A Wish After Midnight

View the new Amazon Encore edition of A Wish After Midnight

Book Review: Bones of Faerie

Bones of Faerie
by Janni Lee Simner

The war with Faerie ended before Liza was born, but every day she lives with the consequences. As if living in a world where plants attack and kill, and crops resist being harvested, isn't reminder enough, her father never lets her forget for a minute that magic is evil and constant vigilance is required. When Liza's sister is born with clear hair, a sign of magic, her father leaves her on a hillside to die. But when Liza discovers that she also has magic, knowing that her father will kill her, she runs away before her father can find out.

Liza and Matthew, a boy from the village, find their way to another town, where they learn that not everyone lives the way they do, and that magic has the potential to help as well as harm. When Liza discovers that her mother is in danger, she and Matthew set off to find and rescue her. Along the way, they learn that the truth of the war is more complex than they were taught, and that war has consequences for both sides.

Bones of Faerie is a highly original and engrossing book. The world building is rich and creative. This very unusual post-apocalyptic world is brought to life by the beautiful writing, with just enough detail to make it vivid, but not too much detail to slow down the pace of the book. The characters are likewise well-developed and sympathetic. In a time when there's no shortage of books about Faeirie, Bones of Faerie is a real standout that should be at the top of your list.

Bones of Faeirie was a 2009 Cybils nominee.

Book borrowed from the library. The links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Review: The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology
Edited by Gordon Van Gelder

I cut my teeth at a young age on short science fiction, reading classic SFF stories in anthologies and in my father's old magazines. So when I was offered a review copy of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology, I jumped at the opportunity.

The anthology contains over two dozen stories drawn from throughout the sixty years of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, more commonly referred to as just F&SF. The list of writers collected in this anthology reads like a who's who of the genre, including Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, James Tiptree, Jr., Damon Knight, Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Peter S. Beagle, and many more.

Unfortunately, I found that I didn't enjoy the anthology as much as I had anticipated. I think that was more an issue of taste than anything else; certainly most of the stories were excellent stories by top-notch authors. But I found the majority of them to be a little too strange and oddly depressing for my taste. Other people who enjoy that type of story will most likely appreciate this anthology.

There were some stories in the anthology that I did enjoy. It was great to revisit old favorites such as "Flowers for Algernon," by Daniel Keyes, which I read as a child and which was probably the first story to make me cry. I was happy to rediscover "All Summer in a Day," by Ray Bradbury, which made a big impression on me as a child, and which I've remembered all this time, but couldn't remember the title or who wrote it.

There were also several new-to-me stories that I greatly enjoyed. My favorite in the anthology was probably "Solitude," by Ursula K. Le Guin, in which she does what she excels at better than any science fiction writer I know of: create a culture so different from our own as to be incomprehensible, and then make it completely understandable to the reader, in this case from the point of view of a child who grew up helping her ethnologist mother study the culture, and who comes to identify with it more than with her own. I also loved "Two Hearts," by Peter S. Beagle, in which he revisits the world of The Last Unicorn. I remember reading and loving that book many years ago, but I have to confess that I don't remember it all. Yet not remembering the book didn't diminish my enjoyment of the story. The last story in the anthology was another new favorite for me: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," by Ted Chiang, which reads like a middle-eastern folktale and is an unusual and moving look at how time-travel can affect individual lives.

Several of the stories are fairly disturbing, and at least one of them has explicit sex, so I would recommend this for mature teens and adults.

Disclaimers: I received a review copy from the publisher. The Amazon links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.