Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Arrows of the Queen (A schizophrenic's lullaby. With ponies!)

After hearing Mercedes Lackey's name mentioned in the fantasy circuit for years when I finally got around to reading her I was met with disappointment. Perhaps its because I've been reading more contemporary novels and this is a bit older, but the writing hasn't aged well at all. Between the disjointed perspective jumps from paragraph to paragraph which got repetitive and confusing (Instructor Sherril thinks this about Talia. Talia thinks exactly the same thing except with different word choice!) and the worst plotting I've seen in awhile, (big events are put in more as an afterthought: Oh yeah, we've got to have some conflict, right?) I had a hard time struggling through the book. I will give the author this, the magic system is well thought out and the world is well crafted. Aside from that, the book doesn't have much merit. Everything got glossed over in a sort of weird way, like traipsing through someone's own daydreams where they're magically good at everything and don't have to struggle. We're given no insight as to how Talia really feels about all of the events except that she tries to not cry and then proceeds to cry more than any other character. Apart from weeping, there isn't a lot of character development going on. She seems to transform by the end into some well adjusted adult through her friendship with the old man, etc. But as a reader it feels very falsified, for things happen way too easily.


Talia's so Perfect #1
The first instance of things happening too easily starts in the beginning. We get that the pony, oh wait, Companion, chose her, but really? It just HAPPENED to come at the perfect time when she runs away? No roughing it in the woods for awhile? Learning how to survive? No. When the next problem arises where she has no supplies, it's magically resolved when she goes to the next town. And the next one. And the one following. They just give her all the supplies she needs.

Talia's so Perfect #2
Her arrival at the Collegium is followed by more irrationality. First off, she's the Queen's Own. Okay, sure, special destiny, I'll suspend the disbelief. But then all of her teachers proceed to wonder at how precocious and amazing she is. Meanwhile, us readers watch her do a whole whopping nothing. She says a few words and everyone oohs and ahs at how insightful her mundane phrases are. It's a whole lot of telling us how amazing she is without actually showing any of it. The only thing she does is keep to herself when she's getting bullied and then almost dies. But rather than trying to fight back (heroic behavior) or trying to outsmart the bullies (heroic behavior) she just plays the victim in silence until everyone else saves her. Continuing her trend of doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for herself. And of course when it comes time for them to realize their gifts, Talia has the best and most rare ability they've seen in an age and people expect her to be the most super fantastic herald ever.

Talia's so Perfect #3 The farce at relationships was a killer. Skiff befriends her, good on him, and she barely says two words to him. But Talia's amazing, so he's just smitten. And the introduction of sex in this book is nothing but a giant joke. Really. Her friend Sherrill shows up after becoming a full fledged Herald and instead of saying anything about the situation drops in with sagely advice about using protection if she's going to bang Skiff. First off, while time has passed in the book, they've made no mention of it and all we have is the mental image of this thirteen year old. Secondly, how did they jump from a kiss on the cheek to full out fucking? And Talia takes it with all the excitement of a dead fish. 'Oh yes, this seems to be quite a lovely plan. Why dear Skiff, we must copulate.' And then the whopping three times they attempt to have sex, one or both of them fall asleep. It seems as if the only reason Talia's trying to fuck him is because Sherrill told her about this birth control and she's just got to try it out! Like a new fucking flavor of water ice or something. To make matters creepier, by the end of the book, her and Skiff go from deciding to just be friends, to referring to each other as brother and sister. All in one book.

The plot scrambled along like a distracted five year old in a carnival, trying to figure out what shiny thing to examine next. Maybe it's just because I'm a huge fan of character development, but this book definitely fell flat for me.

Rating: 2

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Codex of Alera: Cursor's Fury (When puppies attack)

Book three of Codex of Alera brings in one of the biggest battles we've seen yet with the twist that Tavi is a man now and leading the Legion against the Canim. The Canim you say? Yes, our furry friends are the big bad invaders at this point, coming in midway through the book after Kalare has declared war on Gaius. Of course, the timing was rather impeccable since Kalarus had been corroborating with them. With our plucky friends torn in two different directions, Kalare's war quickly takes a backseat to this insane Canim invasion. This book was a treat to read though, as it drops more surprise bombs and plot twists than the previous ones, all with panache. As the couples start solidifying through this book, most of the point of view switches centralize on them and it's easy to follow.


Couples Corner #1: Isana and Fade. Fade gets poisoned and Isana tries to save him. Easy enough, right? Well, these parts throughout the entirety of the book serve you on a gold flecked platter all the questions you've had before about Isana. Yes, she is Tavi's mother. Yes, he is Septimus' son. (Almost typed Optimus there and we'd have a Transformer.) Yes, her and Fade go way back. But Butcher uses her memories combined with healing Fade and discovering his memories to reveal the truth of everything that happened the fateful day that Septimus died. Fade's selfless love for Isana, after knowing everything he'd gone through and sacrificed is both heartbreaking and beautiful, so his reward at the end of the book hits hard.

Couples Corner #2: Bernard and Amara. The two have become inseparable, especially after Amara skips her period and could possibly be pregnant. They go on a top-secret-Gaius-cursor trip to help stop Kalare and save Lady Placidia and the other unimportant chick. But, bringing Lady Aquitaine and her cronies are where things get sticky. They fight Kalare and Amara saves Rook's daughter as well as the captives, but the most important interactions are between her and Lady Aquitaine. A lot of well placed mistrust leads Amara to take the upper hand at the very end when Lady Aquitaine tries to force her onto her side and lucky for them since Odiana and Aldrick could very well throw down some hurtin'. Although Amara ends up not pregnant, Bernard and her are eager to keep in every book. (Regardless, those passages never get old)

Couples Corner #3: Tavi and Kitai. More Tavi than anything, this is his book where he really shines. From Cursor to Captain after an ill fated explosion, he turns from the small child we see in the first book into a man in this one, taking command of an entire Legion against the biggest Canim threat Alera's ever seen. Tavi really comes into his own as Septimus' son and the heir, even impressing the First Spear, Fidelias in disguise. In pure Butcher fashion, there's even a moment where the two hordes are on either side and Tavi takes some time to play ludus (chess) with Nausaug, the Canim Battlemaster. Absolutely fantastic. But on the Tavi and Kitai scale, their most important moment hits near the end, when they're ready to get busy. First Tavi, then Kitai discover they've developed the ability to furycraft, effectively dropping the biggest storybomb yet.

Rating: 4

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Codex of Alera: Academ's Fury (More villains crammed in one book than a Spiderman movie)

Book two in the Codex of Alera series finds everyone from Calderon spread across Alera. Tavi is now in the Academy and is Gaius' own personal page. Of course, things couldn't be easy, seeing as he has no furies, so he's mercilessly picked on. Isana's running the steadholt now and Bernard and Amara are in their new positions. When the vord start stomping on everyone's picnics, Isana has to go to the Capitol to get help, but also for fancy appearances sake since she's the first female steadholder. Now, it wouldn't be a Jim Butcher book without a lot of action, but this book requires at least a dozen different enemies to do so.


Angry Horde #1: So, let's start with Tavi, since that's where the book picks up. He's got all these douchely Citizen dudes picking on him from the beginning. Problem is, the father of one is High Lord Kalare. He is the distraction bad guy throughout the book. He serves to just....well, cause them problems. It was a great setup for book three where he's head honcho bad guy, but man. No wonder this guy sires douches, as he sets the precedence for Primary Asshat in the first place. He sends assassins to kill Isana, but she's saved by the Aquitaines, last book's bad guys turned not-so-good guys in this book. And then when Kalare's dolt of a son gets his ass whipped by Tavi, Kalare takes on a personal vendetta against him. Granted, none of it is as bad as the chaos he causes in book three.

Angry Horde #2: The Canim. Now, I know the last book focused on the Marat, but I think more might have been mentioned about the puppyfolk. These guys haunt around the Capitol growling in people's faces and leaving dumps as open acts of rebellion against Gaius. That last part didn't happen, but it is one of the questions brought up by half humans, half wolf people. Where is the line drawn? Regardless, the Canim become a huge problem by the end of the book because of the bigger threat...

Angry Horde #3: The Vord! Between the wax spiders, possessed masses and weird buggy shapes, these guys are a boatload of fun. And since the whole rest of the Capitol is distracted by petty politics and the lack of Gaius, nobody comes until the fight is pretty much over to help poor Amara and Bernard. For the second time in a row, Calderon people are left saving the asses of the entire nation and yet people still don't believe them. The vord took on so many different appearances and forms that it became difficult to keep up all of what they could do. These guys seem like the ultimate baddies, but it's kind of hard to take them seriously when everyone's squabbling over at the Capitol, ignoring the vord while they're in full rah rah conquer mode. Despite the overwhelming number of villains in the book, Butcher manages to entangle most of them in with the vord by the end, thus making it work, rather than sink like a kitten in a vat full of pudding.

Rating: 3