Review: Of Fire And Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Published in 2016; 389 pages; ★★★★★

My daily life remained a rehearsal for the moment I met my betrothed, and my secret seemed like a trivial thing.  I believed that as long as I followed my training, nothing could go wrong.

But some things are stronger than years of lessons.

The draw of fire.

A longing for freedom.

Or a girl on a red horse.

Summary:
Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

(From Goodreads)

Let’s not beat around the bush:  Of Fire And Stars is right up my alley.  Princesses falling in love with each other, horses, elemental magic, a sprinkling of classic worldbuilding tropes, and a dash of sociopolitical commentary – it’s a recipe for a light, enjoyable read that I was sure to love.  Looking back on it with a bit more distance, I can see a few weak spots (most of which could have been negated had the book simply been longer) but overall, this book was so fantastically enjoyable that I choose to give it five stars anyway.

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Revisiting: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Books of Faerie, book 1; published in 2008; 325 pages.  ★★★☆☆

“You have to trust yourself.  You don’t need someone else to tell you what to do.”
Maybe I did.  Maybe I wasn’t ready for the independence I’d wanted so badly.

Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She’s about to find out she’s also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen’s sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren’t so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn’t exactly what she had in mind . . .
(From Goodreads)

This year, Maggie Stiefvater published The Raven King, the fourth and final book in her Raven Cycle series.  It was spectacular, and I was left with the sense that in the Raven Cycle, Stiefvater had really come into her own.  That made me wonder, because I remembered being dazzled by her debut, Lament – just how much has changed about her writing in the last eight years?

The answer is:  not the core, but quite a lot.

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Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Published in 2015; 438 pages; ★★★☆☆

“It comes, I suppose,” I said thoughtfully, speaking to the air, “of spending too much time alone indoors, and forgetting that living things don’t always stay where you put them.”

Summary:
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

(From Goodreads)

Uprooted is a book that I took forever to read.  When the first synopsis came out, I was ecstatic – Naomi Novik, whose Temeraire series I adore, writing Eastern European fantasy?  That was bound to be spectacular!  And then… I forgot about it.  It was published in May 2015, and some months later I bought it in hardcover, which is rare for me, and then… left it languishing on my shelf.  In January 2016, Foz Meadows wrote this blog post, and as I read it I felt cold.  I started looking around and finding other bad signs, including comparisons to a book that I had loathed for its abusive, child grooming ‘love interest’.  It took me several more months to muster up the determination to read it for myself, and… unsurprisingly, Foz was right.

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Review: Travels in Alaska by John Muir

Edition published in 1979;  318 pages; ★★★★☆

…but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

Summary:
In the late 1800s, John Muir made several trips to the pristine, relatively unexplored territory of Alaska, irresistibly drawn to its awe-inspiring glaciers and its wild menagerie of bears, bald eagles, wolves, and whales. Half-poet and half-geologist, he recorded his experiences and reflections in Travels in Alaska, a work he was in the process of completing at the time of his death in 1914. As Edward Hoagland writes in his Introduction, “A century and a quarter later, we are reading [Muir’s] account because there in the glorious fiords . . . he is at our elbow, nudging us along, prompting us to understand that heaven is on earth—is the Earth—and rapture is the sensible response wherever a clear line of sight remains.”
(From Goodreads)

John Muir took me by surprise, though I really shouldn’t have been so shocked.  For some reason, I assumed this book would be dense, erudite, and difficult to read – but Muir wouldn’t have been the father of modern American conservation if his writing had been inaccessible.  Indeed, Travels in Alaska is surprisingly readable, lyrically and beautifully written.  While there’s no plot underlying this rambling travelogue, I found it to be nonetheless a fascinating and meditative reading experience.

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Review: Transformation by Carol Berg

Initially, I’d thought about opening this blog with an introductory post of some sort, but… that’s what the About page and the sidebar are for, so let’s just get into the good stuff.

 

Transformation – Carol Berg

The Rai-Kirah, Book 1; published in 2000.  439 pages.  ★★★★★

“Would I could undo what has been done.”

Summary:
Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden’s power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne’s uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place…
(From Goodreads)

Transformation was simultaneously wonderful and very, very frustrating.  To its credit, it is by far the most compellingly readable thing I’ve picked up in several months.  On a technical level, it’s fantastic, and easily merits five stars.  However, there was one major drawback for me and that… was that it felt like the central relationship of the book was a hair shy of being romantic, and would have been if the two main characters hadn’t both been male.

(The plus side is that both of these things make it a great first entry for this blog.)

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