Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: Cast of Stones

From the back cover:

In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone's search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who arrives with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he's joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom.
Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom's dynasty is near an end and a new king must be selected. As tension and danger mount, Errol must leave behind his drunkenness and grief, learn to fight, and come to know his God in order to survive a journey to discover his destiny.

The bad:

There are a lot of Latin terms in the book. It makes sense, as this is a very Catholic book, and it fits with the medieval feel, but kinda breaks the world-building. What's the history of the world that explains the latin terms? Is this then, more alt-history?

On the same note, the word "smallclothes" is used for "underwear".  I appreciate what the author is trying to do here, you don't want to use modern words that don't make sense for your story world (unless it's Latin, but I digress...), but the word "smallclothes" just doesn't work for me. Sounds weird.

The last thing I didn't like about the book is something that bothers me about a lot of modern fantasy. There's a bit of writing advice out there that says: "Find the worst thing that can happen to your character, and do it." I know, if everything went swimmingly, we wouldn't have a story, but it seems a lot of authors lately are taking this advice way too literally. The result is a somewhat depressing feel...

The Good:

... fortunately, though bad things happen to Errol, there is a sense of upward progression, and at least some good things happen to him.

I love the characters here. Errol goes from being a drunk, to a pretty good fighter (once he finds the right weapon...). All of this is felt out, and we're with him through the journey. None of it feels too rushed, and he's tempted even after he overcomes his alcohol addiction.

The other characters are just as layered. There's a bad guy who might not be a bad guy, and even our hero's friends have their own motivations that may or may not line up with his...

Despite the Latin, the world-building is pretty good. Sure, there's stew, and your drink choices are wine, water, or the ever-present "ale", but there's different population groups, different cities and villages, characters from back-of-nowhere are shocked by the city. Also, in keeping with the medieval feel, no one knows much beyond the kingdom's borders...

The plot is mostly politically based, with a hint of adventure and mystery. It kept me reading, and distracted when I wasn't reading it. ;)

Over all, I give it four stars.

One more thing I didn't like, and the only reason it didn't get five... it left off in the middle of the story. I know, it's part of a trilogy... but this still isn't my favorite way to read a series.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: Finding Angel

From the back cover:

"Angel doesn't remember her magical heritage...but it remembers her.

Start with a struggle revolving around the source of magic. Is it genetic--or is it part of your soul? What if someone was using his powers to run experiments based on a complete misconception of the source of magic? 
Throw in a twisted family tree that's rooted in a centuries' old feud, a painting that (literally) holds the key to the truth, a mysterious and talkative beetle, and an Elven rocker who can play the songs of the stars on an electric guitar. 
This is the world Angel Mason was born into, thrust out of, and returned to seven years later. To top it off, she must rediscover her identity and save her home from a madman at the same time."
First, the few things I didn't like about the book (I always like to end on a positive note...) One of the confrontations with the minor bad guys at the end of the book happens entirely off-screen. It makes sense, and the main bad-guy is appropriately dealt with, but the whole book has been working toward who "the scientist" and who "the assistant" is, and that whole part is wrapped up in a sentence or two, and most of it summary by another character as it happened before our point-of-view characters arrive.

Another very minor gripe is the use of the word "Talent" instead of "magic". It's a perfectly legitimate word, and, in the case of most modern fantasy, actually a better word... it's just that it seems everyone is using it lately. Ah, the writers dilemma, over-use a word, or invent a new one that's original, but sounds funny... (more on that in my upcoming "Cast of Stones" review...)

On to the good parts.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I like the characters. Angel is believably confused, she about acts like one of us would, were we thrust into that kind of situation. Gregor is a nice guy, who's got a lot of secrets of his own... I kept hoping that the two leads would fall in love or something, but the author wisely chose a different romantic beat, as there's an age difference, and some spoiler-ish reasons for it not to happen as well.

Another review I've read complained that the book felt too slow around the middle part. I couldn't disagree more. It's true that not much physical action occurs, but there's lots of character development, and a wonderful feeling of whimsy and wonder.

I give it four stars: