Book review: Spicebringer by H.L. Burke

I’ve looked forward to reading Spice Bringer ever since Heidi mentioned she was working on it. I signed up as an advance reviewer just so I could get my grubby hands on the book a little sooner. Here’s what it’s about:

SpicebringerCoverSmall

A deadly disease. A vanishing remedy. A breathless journey.

All her life, Niya’s known she will die young from the fatal rasp. She survives only with the aid of vitrisar spice and a magical, curmudgeonly fire salamander named Alk. Then an ambitious princess burns down the vitrisar grove in an effort to steal Alk so she can claim her rightful throne. Joined by Jayesh, a disgraced monk, Niya and Alk must flee to the faraway Hidden Temple with the last vitrisar plant, or all who suffer from the rasp will perish.

But even as Niya’s frustration and banter with Jayesh deepen to affection, the rasp is stealing away her breath and life.

For a girl with limited time and a crippling quest, love may be more painful than death.

Amazon Link


As you can see, the premise is set up to be a tear-jerker, and the story pretty much is. But I still wanted to read it, because I wanted to see if the author could pull off a sad book. Most of her other books are pretty fluffy. But in the third Spellsmith and Carver book, she gave hints of being able to take characters deeper, so I wanted to see her do it.

While Spicebringer is still pretty light, there’s some surprising depth there. Niya has fantasy tuberculosis, and there’s no cure, except this magic spice that’s not supposed to be used for medicine at all. When the bad guys burn down her the little temple farm where she’s been living, she escapes with a fire salamander (he makes the seeds grow), and a seedling of a new strain of the spice that might give sick people an actual lifetime to survive. She’s trying to get to this other secret temple where the priests can grow the seedling in safety, as well as protect Alk, the bratty fire salamander.

Then there’s Jayesh, the love interest. His story is almost more interesting than Niya’s. He’s a priest of the Just God, which means that his entire life is ruled by dice rolls.  The priests of his order do nothing without consulting their god via the dice, which is kind of cool and over-powered. They’re also wicked martial artists. But Jayesh made a decision without consulting the dice, leading to a series of deaths. The dice no longer speak to him, and now he’s on a pilgrimage to try to atone for the deaths he caused.

Oh, and priests of his order aren’t allowed to marry. You can see where this is going.

So Niya and Jayesh wind up having this lovely doomed romance. He’s not allowed to marry and he’s been excommunicated from his god. She’s slowly dying of her disease. With conflict like that, the sparks start flying early on.

And there’s bad guys chasing them who want to kill the fire salamander and steal its heart for plot reasons.

The setting is kind of Fantasy India, which is fun and refreshing. Monkeys in the jungles, river rides, girls wearing robes and colored wraps over their hair, temples and foggy mountain passes.

Anyway, the book made me cry in the middle and at the end, even though it has a nominally happy ending. So if you’re the stoic type who doesn’t cry at books, this one might make you get a little bit of a lump in your throat. If you cry at books, expect to cry ugly tears at this one. But it’s such a good story. Especially if you like doomed romance stories.



 

Advertisements

Book review: Discipl-ish by Mike Duran

I was supposed to review this book at launch, but I was kind of off on my sort-of-terrible vacation at the time.

Discipl-ish by Mike Duran is a memoir of his rocky life, first as an altar boy in a Catholic church, then as a delinquent teen, then as a young man who accepted Christ and had pastorhood thrust upon him way too early.

Over the course of trying to run a church, he made mistakes, fell into bad company, and eventually enabled a whirlwind of spiritual abuse that made me physically ill to read about. I had to keep putting the book down because it upset me so deeply.

Eventually, Mike’s pastorate was stripped from him and the church dissolved. This is where most memoirs of this kind follow the person into a journey away from Christianity and how much “happier” they are with no religion at all. Mike, fortunately, doesn’t do that. He clings to Jesus, works through forgiveness, and lets go of the negative emotions that usually consume people who walk away from the faith.

After he moves on into other jobs and picks up writing, he chronicles helping people far more than he did as a pastor, much more one on one. Throughout the book, he wrestles with questions like, can people from other religions be saved? Can it be possible to hold two opposing theological positions at the same time, like Calvinism and Arminianism? Is it possible to find peace with paradox?

His roots as a horror writer also stem from his religious background, which is fascinating to read, too. I was reminded constantly of Stephen King’s semi-memoir, On Writing, in which some of the same elements appear (drugs, a fascination with the occult, etc.).

The book is a gripping read. It’s like sitting down with a friend over coffee and listening as they tell you a fantastically interesting story. Once they finish, you look down and your coffee is cold because you were listening so intently. I pretty much devoured the whole book in a few days because Mike’s storytelling is so compelling.

I’m not really into memoirs, but this is a good one.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book. My review and thoughts are my own.

Book review: Ferromancer

I’m in a historical fantasy group on Facebook, and they have recommended reading books each month. As I was browsing the list of books, Ferromancer caught my eye. I’ve seen the title here and there, but this time it appealed to me. Plus, it was only a buck. If I didn’t like it, I hadn’t been ripped off too badly. As it turned out, I enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought book 2.

Here’s the official summary:

Solutions aren’t always black and white—sometimes they come in shades of iron gray.

Captain Bridget “Briar” Rose wants for nothing. Each day is a new adventure, living the life she loves, running cargo on the Ohio & Erie Canal. That is, until her cousin decides to sell the family boat to finance a new business venture. He wants to build locomotives for the railroad—the very industry that could put the entire canal system out of business.

Not one to give up without a fight, Briar does a little snooping into her cousin’s new business partner. When she gets a sneak peek at the locomotive plans, she suspects that the man is either a genius, or a ferromancer—one of the dreaded metal mages of Europe’s industrial revolution.

Determined to reveal her suspicions, Briar takes the plans and heads for the newspaper office in Columbus, stealing the family boat in the process. Kidnapping her cousin’s handsome business partner wasn’t part of the plan, but when he shows up, demanding the return of his property, she can’t let him go. After all, if Briar can prove that the railroad is using ferromancy, she could save more than her boat. She could save her way of life.


cyborg_by_elguaricho-d5n2i7c
Cyborg by elGuaricho

I thought, hey, canal boats vs. railroads? I’ll give it a shot. I like reading about that period of history, anyway.

My review:

The historical setting of early 1800s America, coupled with the mythos of the magical ferromancers, is somehow massively pleasing. I enjoyed this stroll along the Erie Canal, seeing the conflict between the boatmen and the up and coming railroads. At the same time, the ferromancers are understated, intriguing, and often terrifying.

I’m not sure, even now, if I like Grayson or not. At least he’s not like some of the psycho, abusive heroes urban fantasy often features. I think it’s the potential of what he will become, down the line, that worries me. But then, saving him from himself is the aim of the story, isn’t it?

Briar is a spunky heroine without being the man-hating feminist stereotype that so many heroines fall into. She brawls with her fists, because that’s the culture of the boatmen, but she also abides by the rules. For instance, women only brawl with women, and men only brawl with men. Whenever she tries to take on a man, she’s hopelessly overpowered (especially when the men are ferromancers or their constructs, because you can’t beat someone who is made of iron).

The worldbuilding is explained so very briefly that I got to the end, still scratching my head about what had happened. But much is teased about the next book, namely, that Briar will find out more about the mysterious world of ferromancy. So I grabbed it. One way to really hook me is with good worldbuilding, and this book delivers … in tantalizing trickles.

Book review: Lord of Dreams by C.J. Brightley

The first book our book club is tackling this year is Lord of Dreams by C.J. Brightley. The theme for this month was fairies, so we got this … strange … book. Here’s the summary:


lordofdreamscoverWhen a fairy king grants a human wish, there’s more at stake than dreams.

Claire Delaney has a good life, despite her adolescent angst. But she wants more. In a moment of frustration, she wishes to be “the hero.”

What she actually wants is to be the center of attention, but what she gets is a terrifying Fae king demanding that she rescue an imprisoned fairy, facing fantastical dangers and hardships she could not have imagined.

Yet the dreams–and the rescue–are only the beginning of her journey. She is at the center of the king’s audacious gamble to end the war that has raged in Faerie for half a century.


 

It’s not a bad premise, and when I started reading, I rejoiced at how well-written the book was. But then things got … strange. Here’s my review:


What a very strange book.

The first few chapters were very hard to read because of the whiplash of switching between the real world and the fairy world. And then we leap forward years in time, going from child Claire to Teen Claire to Adult Claire, with important but disconnected incidents happening at each point.

Once Adult Claire gets to the fairy world and starts trying to rescue the fairy king, things get slightly more coherent. She’s still ducking in and out of the dream world, but it’s always the same dream world, and that helps it not be so bonkers. The book uses that extreme, literal logic that I got used to with Diana Wynne Jones. Each word the king says means literally what it says. And every word that Claire says means literally what it says. Read carefully.

The story is emotionally satisfying, and Claire does, indeed, become the hero she wanted to be. Although maybe not quite in the way she expected.

If you’re a fan of the dreamlike, non-sequitur way that Alice in Wonderland reads, you’ll enjoy this book. Four stars.


 

For what it is, this was a good book. It portrayed the fairy world as suitably weird, which I don’t find in a lot of books. (Often times, the fairyworld is just a place where people with wings hang out with talking animals. I’m looking at you, Lego.)

LEGO_Elves_1488x838

But this kind of book drives me nuts. My brain is too logical. For instance, fairy blood is blue because it has no hemoglobin (no iron, ha ha). But that means … it can’t carry oxygen! Does that mean that they don’t breathe oxygen in the fairyworld? WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN.

matrix-air

That kind of thing frustrates me, and I don’t care much for Alice in Wonderland, either. So I think it’s mostly just my problem. Lots of people love that dreamscape kind of world. And the book does it very well. It just wasn’t a good fit for me.

Book review: Lawless by Janeen Ippolito

I’m excited to review Lawless on my blog today–and what do you know, it’s officially releasing today! What a coinikidink!

Here’s what it’s about:

LawlessCover

The salvation of humans and dragons lies within a convicted murderer.

Dragonshifter Kesia Ironfire has one goal—to redeem her past by serving the cruel dragon Pinnacle as a soldier in the dragon-human war.

Then a rogue mission to spy on a new airship explodes into sickening green smoke. The same mysterious green smoke that was present the night of Kesia’s crime. When her dragon overlords deny any involvement, she and her tactical partner Zephryn Nightstalker try to investigate–and are sentenced to death.

Still searching for answers, Kesia and Zephryn flee to the human military capital, where Captain Shance Windkeeper has been furloughed after the destruction of his airship. Eager to discover what–and who–blew up his vessel, he agrees to help Kesia and Zephryn infiltrate High Command. In exchange, Kesia must pretend to be his betrothed so Shance can escape an arranged marriage. If only she knew what ‘betrothed’ and ‘arranged marriage’ meant.

But human social customs are the least of her worries. Dark secrets surface as Kesia delves deeper–secrets that challenge the facts of her crime and undermine the war itself.

A steampunk fantasy adventure with a side of snark and quirky romance.


I was a tad skeptical when I started reading this book. I mean, sure, I like shapeshifters, especially dragon shifters. And it’s pretty fun when they get involved with airships, specifically, crashing them (thanks, Aranya!). But a few things struck me as odd, such as the way Kesia and Zephyrn have no words for love or romance. This is taken to almost a ludicrous extreme, such as when Shance starts crushing on Kesia and she doesn’t understand when he calls her “beautiful”.

But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. The dragon history has such a terrible twist in it that all those words were expunged from their vocabulary. Very fascinating. This is also a story about what happens when you let people have too much Science in with their magical creatures. It echoed some of the themes in Patricia Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series, with the shapeshifter and their forms being tampered with. Whether magically or through science, it’s still a Bad Thing.

There are some steamy kissing scenes, but nothing more over the top than your average YA novel. The characters here are all adults and adult behavior is discussed, but nothing is shown. I would only recommend this book for mature teens and up.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. Not all the secrets are revealed, so I expect this to be a trilogy at least, if not a longer series. It’ll be great fun as a boxed set. Four stars!

Grab it on Amazon!

Fangirling over The Dragon and the Scholar

This site contains affiliate links.

I recently caught two colds in a row. I was sick last weekend, got better midweek, ate far too much ice cream, and got another cold.

I blame the ice cream. It was chocolate mint cookie.

Anyway, I’ve spent a lot of time just lying around, staring blankly at the wall or my ipod, and I’ve let the kids play far too many games. I’m at this moment calculating how many naps I can grab if I get them Pokemon Uranium.

Then I noticed that one of my friends, Heidi Lynn Burke (or H. L. Burke), had released the final book in her Dragon and the Scholar series. I’d read her lovely Beggar Magic
back in December, and I know she’s a great writer. And hey, if the series was good, I’d read the whole thing.

Oh my. The first book, <a href=”http://Dragon’s Curse (The Dragon and the Scholar Book 1), was so very excellent.

Here’s the official summary:

On her first assignment out of the Academy, young healer and scholar, Shannon Macaulay is summoned to the struggling kingdom of Regone to see to the wounds of a young but crippled king. When the unwanted attentions of an aggressive knight and the sudden appearance of a hated dragon turn her world upside down, she decides to take matters into her own hands even if doing so proves dangerous.

Finding herself strangely drawn to the company of the dragon, Gnaw, Shannon must force herself out of her safe world of books and botany to come to the aid of her unexpected ally in a strange kingdom, cursed by a fateful encounter with a dragon and the loss of a beloved prince. Can she learn to put aside her fears, and perhaps sacrifice her deepest desires, to help a friend and restore a family?

So you get the gist–Shannon is a bookish healer with impressive credentials, and almost zero real life experience. She can’t wait to get out of the Academy and have an adventure, so she persuades her superior and friend Martin to let her go. He does, grudgingly, and she comes to the court of King Edmond.

Edmond has been badly burned and poisoned by dragons. See, his brother got eaten up by a dragon, leading to the death of his dad. Edmond tried to kill the dragon in question, but this became a campaign against all dragons. Which worked fine until he got chewed up.

A dragon comes to live on a nearby mountain, and Edmond froths at it, but he’s too sick to do anything about it. Shannon, however, is fascinated. But she’s also being stalked by one of those puffed up jock-type knights that we all love to hate, and he tells the king that he’ll kill the dragon if the king will give him Shannon for a bride.

Seeing as this is horrible and awful, Shannon goes to the dragon to warn it off. Except the dragon is just as smart as she is, and snarky, and funny, and lonely, and likes for her to read him books. After the dragon defeats the knight, she does just that … and we begin to suspect that there’s more to this dragon than meets the eye.

This book is kind of like The Enchanted Forest Chronicles for a YA audience. (You know, Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, etc. by Patricia C. Wrede). I say an older audience because of the insinuation of what the knight wants to do to Shannon, and the growing romance between her and the dragon. (The final book is called Dragon’s Bride. We can kind of see where this is going.)

Oh, but the cover is so terrible. Look at it.

dragons-curse

That cover alone is why I haven’t read it before now. It definitely needs something like this.

Via Tumblr: http://teacoffeebooks.tumblr.com/post/5635523747
Via Tumblr: http://teacoffeebooks.tumblr.com/post/5635523747

Or this:

dragon-and-girl-silhouette

Or even this:

640x1024_13353_Jade_2d_fantasy_dragon_cover_novel_woman_girl_picture_image_digital_art

But yeah, I intend to pick up the rest of the books in this series posthaste.