Archive for the ‘Books Worth Reading’ Category

What Makes This Book Worth Reading: The Chalice by Robin McKinley

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

The Chalice is ISBN 9780399246760 (C) 2008.

What makes The Chalice worth reading? One good reason The Chalice is worth reading is because it is by Robin McKinley and everything that I’ve read by Robin McKinley so far has been worth reading. If you haven’t read anything by Robin McKinley yet, this book is a great place to start.

The Chalice is a beautifully written, relatively short (263 pages) fantasy with a main character (Mirasol) who lives out her love for her people and her country. The Chalice is worth reading because Mirasol is a good role model: she is strong, intelligent, caring, and dutiful.

The Chalice tells how Mirasol deals with her new found responsibility to bring peace and harmony back to her land after she is unexpectedly chosen (by the magical land in which she lives) to be the current Chalice.

The position of Chalice is the second highest position in the region (the highest being the feudal male Master) and is always filled by a woman. The woman who is Chalice has a magical relationship to the land and all living creatures in the land. The woman who is Chalice acts to bind the people to the land so they exist in harmony. The woman who is Chalice is a type of Earth Mother.

Mirasol, her people, and her land are facing a crisis due to the untimely death of the previous Master and Chalice. The position of Master is normally hereditary, whereas the position of Chalice is not. The previous Master dies without an heir and the previous Chalice dies without an apprentice. As a result, Mirasol assumes her role without any of the training that an apprentice Chalice normally receives. She begins her service while the region awaits the return of the previous Master’s brother from exile (to a mystical religious order where he became something not quite human) so he can assume the role of Master.

In some ways Robin McKinley’s books remind me of Lois McMaster Bujold’s works. Like Bujold, McKinley is a wonderful story teller whose characters are exceedingly sympathetic and likable. Like Bujold, McKinley has won multiple awards. McKinley has won The Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown (a YA novel) and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Sunshine (definitely not a YA novel but very good reading for adults).

The Chalice has a well-deserved 4.5 star average rating at Amazon.

Publishers Weekly said The Chalice is “Perfectly shaped and eloquently told…A lavish and lasting treat.”

School Library Journal said “Readers who long for beautiful phrases and descriptive writing will find themselves drinking in this rich fairy tale as if it were honey trickling down their throats.”

Like many of McKinley’s books, The Chalice is suitable for readers of all ages.

Next in this series I’m going to give credit where credit is due and cover What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton.

What Makes This Book Worth Reading: The Long Price Quartet

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020

The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham
ISBN 978-1-250-18658-4

This post is about a four-book fantasy series by Daniel Abraham that was published in one volume as “The Long Price Quartet”. The four books in the series are:

  1. A Shadow in Summer (2006)
  2. A Betrayal in Winter (2007)
  3. An Autumn War (2008)
  4. The Price of Spring (2009)

Daniel Abraham is one half of the team that writes as S.A. Corey (the team that wrote The Expanse).

What first attracted me to the series were the outstanding reviews from other authors and book review sites. On the strength of those reviews, I purchased the first book, “A Shadow in Summer,” at Half Price Books on clearance for $2.00. I enjoyed the book so much that when I finished it I wanted to be able to read the rest of the series immediately. The cheapest way to get the other three books was to buy the four book omnibus edition from Amazon. (I put the first book up for swapping on and it was claimed within two days.)

Authors who praised the series include George R. R. Martin, Connie Willis, Kate Elliot, Brandon Sanderson, Jo Walton, and Patrick Rothfuss.

Connie Willis (Grand Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy) said it is “utterly original and incredibly seductive.”

Brandon Sanderson said it was “Exactly the kind of book I love.”

Locus described it as “Heart-stoppingly surprising and exciting”

Kirkus Reviews said it was “Impressive”

SFX wrote it was “A compelling, emotionally brutal and edgy fantasy that’s genuinely worth of comparison with genre heavyweights like George R. R. Martin…exceptionally well written.”

Bookpage said it was “Full of hope that nen and women can be equal and that systems which degrate us can be changed.”

Asimov’s Science Fiction’s review praised Abraham saying that “Abraham has an interesting set of distinctive characters, a good sense of plot, and a fresh take on several of the usual fantasy tropes. He’s also willing to examine real-world issues a lot of popular fantasy doesn’t look at.”

The four book series spans a period of about 70 years set in a low-tech world dominated by city-states that are all that remains of a fallen empire that once dominated the world. Each city-state has a sorcerer that has cast a spell that forced a different aspect of nature to become embodied in a human-like form, under the complete control of the sorcerer. The sorcerers are known as poets and the embodied powers are known as andat. The andat constantly struggle against the sorcerers who control them desiring nothing more that to be released from their enforced embodiment and servitude.

A few generations before the story begins the empire fell when the poets waged war with their andat against other poets unleashing forces so powerful that world-wide cataclysms resulted. Other countries that have no poets of their own have no great love for the remains of the fallen empire but they cannot risk open conflict with the city-states without suffering retaliation from a poet and his andat.

But the country of Galt has advanced more technologically than the rest and is constantly scheming to undermine the fallen empire and its poets.

Author Abraham has created a fantasy world with intricate customs and interesting cultures. The fallen empire’s culture is Eastern (oriental-like) whereas the count of Galt is more Western-like.

The system of magic is quite unlike anything I’ve encountered in fantasy literature before. At the beginning of the series only men can bind nature forces into andat and only selfless men who are unlikely to abuse their power are trained to become poets. By the fourth book in the series, attempts are made to train women to be poets. The results are world-changing.

The series is refreshingly free of explicit sex. In fact, there’s not much sex in the series at all. Abraham puts his energy into dealing with other, non-sexual, adult themes and he does so very well.

One other positive aspect of this series is that Abraham has finished it, so you won’t have to wait an inexcusable amount of time for the author to wrap things up (unlike Patrick Rothfuss and his Kingkiller Chronicle that has been waiting for the final book for more than 9 years).

I’m very glad that I didn’t wait to get used copies of the last three books in Long Price Quartet and I recommend it highly.

What Makes This Book Worth Reading: Prospero’s Children

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

I just finished reading Prospero Regained by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Prospero Regained is the third and final book in Lamplighter’s “Prospero’s Children” series. The series consists of Prospero Lost, Prospero in Hell, and Prospero Regained. This post covers all three books.

Prospero’s Children is about the long-lived, magical Prospero family. The head of the family is the mysterious magician Prospero from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” The main character of the series is Prospero’s oldest child, his fair daughter Miranda.

For the last 500 years the family has been working to maintain order in a chaotic world by using their magic staffs to restrain various spirit forces from running amok. Miranda is the CEO of the global company that is the public face of the Prospero family.

The first book opens with the disappearance of Prospero at a time when many of his children are estranged from each other. The series is about Miranda’s efforts to unite her half brothers and sisters in an effort to first find their father and then to rescue their father from hell.

Lamplighter is quite creative. She nicely weaves together different mythologies and world history and original ideas. My favorite of Lamplighter’s original creatures is the Cheer Weasel. (A smack in the face from the Cheer Weasel is guaranteed to make anyone laugh.) One of Prospero’s sons was the Pope (twice, actually) so Lamplighter has mythologized some Roman Catholic history and made it an important part of the story.

The plot is interesting and everything is nicely wrapped up in the end.

For me, the main deficiency in the series is in the dialog. Miranda Prospero’s inner voice is almost painful to to read at times. On the plus side, the book is quite tame sexually by modern standards. Although there is no explicit sex, one rape occurs. I hate rape as a plot device, but I have to say that Lamplighter handled it well and it was not gratuitous.

For those of you with impressionable teens who might read the series, be aware that the idea that redemption after death is possible is central to the story.

Some reviewers have compared the Prospero’s Children series to Roger Zelazny’s Amber books. The only real similarity is that both series feature long-lived families, some of whom are magicians. Lamplighter’s writing is definitely not up Zelazny’s standards. But then again Roger Zelazny is one the best science fiction writers of all time and the Amber books are one of my favorite series. If you haven’t read the Amber series, find a used copy of the Omnibus edition that contains all nine of the original books and enjoy.

The three volumes in the Prospero’s Children series have good reviews (averaging 4 stars) on Amazon. I give it 3 out 5 stars. If the dialog was better, I’d give it 4 stars. The series is entertaining but not compelling.

What Makes This Book Worth Reading: “The Scar”

Sunday, April 12th, 2020

The Scar by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko
ISBN 9780765329936

What makes The Scar worth reading?

Sergey and Marina Dyachenko are award winning Russian authors who were honored as the European Science Fiction Society’s Best Writers of Europe at Eurocon 2005.

I bought The Scar at a library book sale because of the awards that the authors had won and because the description of the plot interested me. The Scar is about Egbert, a egotistical philanderer with an overabundance of courage and self-esteem and no respect for anyone else. Egbert is transformed into a coward after he is cursed by the mysterious “Wanderer” for killing an innocent student in a duel that Egbert arranged so he could have the student’s fiancee.

The first part of the book establishes Egbert’s abilities and un-likability. The rest of the book describes Egbert’s life as a tormented coward and his struggles for redemption.

The Scar is well written, interesting, and unusual in its character development. I would read it again.

Amazon has used copies for reasonable prices.