Hippoi Athanatoi

The Summer Stack

Over the last two weeks of vacationing in our little cottage near Sundsvall (that’s up along the eastern coast of Sweden, pretty much in the middle of the country lengthwise), I have continued the little reading frenzy that resulted in a couple of reviews before we left. Since I now have some class work to catch up for a summer class on writing historical novels), these books will have to be satisfied with shorter commentaries rather than full reviews.

First up, a book I actually finished before we left but didn’t have time to comment on then. Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr. It is a contemporary Young Adult novel with fairies, in a rather similar vein to Holly Black’s Tithe, Valiant and Ironside books (though it is not quite as strong as these). Wicked Lovely is the story of Aislinn, who finds herself drawn into a battle between fairy courts as she ends up chosen by the prospective Summer King. He has been cursed by his mother, the Winter Queen, to remain without his full powers until he finds his Queen. Over many, many years, no mortal girl has managed to claim this title. Aislinn seems like she may be able to, though she may not want it. However, once chosen, there is little choice for a mortal girl, as she will not remain mortal for much longer.

The plot and the characters are a little lacking in complexity, with the resolution being rather too neat. It is, however, an enjoyable read for fans of this particular genre.

My reading material for the very long car trip up here was Lynn Flewelling’s Shadows Return. It marks her return to writing about Alec and Seregil, the main characters from the Nightrunner trilogy. They have been left unsure of their place in the world following the end of the last Nightrunner book, and they are also out of favour with the current queen of Scala. Being sent off on a mission to escort home her younger sister is at least something to do, though it turns into a rather nightmarish ‘adventure’ as an old enemy of Seregil’s arranges for the two of them to be captured and sold as slaves.

While I liked the book, I don’t think it is as strong as the Tamir Triad books. It also felt a little short, not just in terms of number of pages but also in terms of what happened.

Next up was an author I haven’t tried before. Carol Berg, and her Flesh and Spirit novel. I believe it is the first part of a dulogy, where the second part has just been published in trade paperback. It follows Valen, a pureblood who has rejected his strictly predestined path in life as one of the class of privileged magic users. He has been on the run from his family and society for years, but his past is about to catch up with him at the worst of times. Navronne is ravaged by civil war as three princes fight over the crown, and even in a remote monastery Valen cannot escape from the world outside. Especially not as it turns out that his particular magical talent may become very important for the world.

I really liked this one, though it was nothing like what I expected. It is a fairly slow-paced book, where we spend a lot of time in Valen’s head, but Berg slowly builds up a fascinating (if rather bleak) world and a very interesting plot.

Then it was back to the urban fairies, now with Holly Black’s latest, Ironside. All is not well in the fairy courts, even after Roiben has won the crown of the Unseelie Court. Silarial, Queen of the Seelie Court, is not happy with what has become of her former favourite, and this may lead to another war between the courts. Kaye finds herself drawn into these court intrigues, and at Roiben’s coronation she’s goaded into declaring her love for him and asking for a quest to prove herself. She’s mortified when Roiben gives her a seemingly impossible task.

Fairies are fun, and in her series Holly Black has created a lot of memorable characters that really help make this quite a captivating read. Black also doensn’t shy away from showing the capricious and cruel nature of the fairies, and not everyone survives getting entangled with them.

The Spirit Stone is the thirteenth entry in Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series (the next one, The Shadow Isle, is out in hardcover, and then there’s one more forthcoming). I have followed the series for a good many years now, and I must admit that not all of the last four books have held my attention as much as the previously. However, the Spirit Stone I found very captivating. In particular, I liked the past life sequence. That has actually been the case for me quite often; if I have found that the main action has dragged out a bit too long, the past life sequences have still captivated me. Some of my favourite parts of the series are these parts, and in this book the past life reveals some very interesting bits about events that connect back to the very first book. That’s how intricately woven together the series continues to be.

Its not a book anyone will be picking up if they haven’t read the prior books in the series. However, for those who haven’t, I would really, really urge you to give the first book (Daggerspell) a try.

Another new acquaintance made during this vacation was C E Murphy, as I tried out The Queen’s Bastard. It is the first in historical fantasy series, where the period and the basic premises of the political landscape are heavily influenced by the Reformation, leaving the plot full of political and religious strife. Queen Lorraine, whom the main character Belinda Primrose ends up serving as a spy and assassin, is a thinly disguised Queen Elizabeth. But it is also a fairly character-focused book, as we follow how Belinda learns about her heritage. Not only is she the Queen’s secret illegitimate daughter, but she appears to have strange powers that at first she does not quite believe in herself.

At first, I wasn’t entirely sure about the book, but the more I read the more it grew on me. There are some oddities (such as how Belinda’s chapters are told in past tense but all chapters told from other points of view are told in present tense, though one gets used to this after a while) and some may find themselves put off by the fact that the characters really aren’t that likeable. They are interesting, and there’s a larger plot slowly unravelling that had be intrigued, but the further along I got the more unnerved I was by the characters. In the long run, this may prove to be an issue for me, but so far I am intrigued enough to look forward to the next instalment.

Far from a new acquaintance is Judith Tarr, whose Bring Down the Sun tells the story of Alexander’s mother, Olympias. Though, she begins the book as Polyxena, niece to a king and priestess in a temple. But she feels she is destined for something different, and the attempts to keep her away from her true faith almost brings disaster upon the kingdom.

Compared to many other of Tarr’s historical novels, this one is full of magic that is much more than just implied. The priestesses wield real power, as do the witches of Thessaly, who have a dark path in mind for the future Olympias. It is also quite a sensual novel, since Polyxena/Olympias is a woman very much driven by her urges. I am not sure she’s likeable, but she’s a force of nature, very much how Tarr writes Alexander himself in, for example, Lord of the Two Lands. My only complaint would be that it is quite short, but it was clearly what suited the story.

The Golden Rose is also by Judith Tarr, though written under the Kathleen Bryant pseudonym. It is the second book in the trilogy began by The Rose and the Serpent, and continues Averil’s and Gereint’s struggle against the king who wishes to wake the Serpent that the Young God defeated and imprisoned. They also face a more internal threat, as they are both wielders of the wild magic that the Orders have tried to suppress entirely. While Gereint seems to accept it as a natural part of himself, for Averil it is harder to reconcile with her past training. It has shaken her belief in how things should be, and in this book further complications arise, showing that what they have learned of the past may not be the whole truth.

The final vacation read, on the trip back, ended up being Naomi Novik’s fifth book about Temeraire, Victory of Eagles. Overall, this is a rather grim book, though the dragons (even with Temeraire being in an unusually dark mood) provide a much needed lightness with their often rather naive outlook on things. I continue to be utterly charmed by the dragons (the human characters are well-written, but they just don’t grab me in the same way) and I just can’t get over how much Temeraire is like a naive and idealistic young woman from a Jane Austen novel. There’s something so very British about him.

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