Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Warrior Heir

Title: The Warrior Heir
Series: The Heir Chronicles #1
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Pages: 426 (paperback)
Published: February 27th 2007
Published by: Hyperion

Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high-schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts. Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: He is Weirlind; part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At the head of this magical society sit the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game. A magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death, The winning house ruling the Weir. As if his bizarre magical heritage isn't enough, Jack finds out that he s not just another member of Weirlind, he's one of the last of the warriors at a time when both houses are scouting for a player. Jack's performance on the soccer field has alerted the entire magical community to the fact that he's in Trinity. And until one of the houses is declared Jack's official sponsor, they'll stop at nothing to get Jack to fight for them.

Jackson Swift is just a regular teenage boy. He goes to school, hangs out with his friends and plays football. Then one weekend his aunt turns up and drags him and his two best friends - Will and Finch - off to hunt of one of his ancestors. Their investigation leads them to digging up a box in a graveyard in the middle of the night, a box holding a magic sword which Jack has to put to use sooner than expected when they are attacked by a wizard. All three are suddenly aware of a whole other side to the world, one with wizards, enchanters, soothsayers and warriors. The Weir.

The start of the story was quite a lot of history, all of it necessary but not particularly exciting. Still readable, but nothing special. It gets better when you catch up to the modern day and start to follow Jack, but for me the story didn't really find its stride until the first big fight sequence where Jack is very much thrown in at the deep end. After that the adventure just kept coming - there was always something happening. Of course there were a couple of things that didn't add up, or quite make sense, but for me it was the magical things which helped Jack out slightly too conveniently which I had issues with.

I very much liked the magical world told about here where Weir and Anaweir (those without any abilities) coexist without the non-magical peoples knowing a thing about it. We only see little bits of most of the magics available here especially since Jack is a warrior and they don't have anything overtly magical about them. We see bits and pieces of other stuff, but not in any detail and I'm interested to see what else will be revealed. Their safety is in the secrecy, and the Anaweir know nothing. Even in Weir families: if a child is born without a stone - the source of their power - they are kept completely in the dark. I had issues with this as I didn't see how it was entirely feasible that it could be pulled off. But then there's magic available, so things are maybe more concealable.

Jack was a good leading character. He didn't just do what he was told or blindly follow the path he was set on, he wanted to know why he should do things, and he was quite logical about the whole thing. He wasn't willing to accept the first answer that was given to him and was quick to see flaws in things that didn't make sense. Will and Fitch were good secondary characters, though I'm not entirely sure what purpose they served. They turned up places slightly too conveniently sometimes and for no particular reason. They didn't really seem to actually do anything. Jack's Aunt Linda was my favourite character. She seems like she'd be a lot of fun to be around, but also someone you do not want to get on the wrong side of. There's a lot of her history that's alluded to and you know she spends her time off around the world. I kinda want to know more about her and her history, and I hope she or another Enchanter becomes a more central character in one of the later books.

For me, a wonderful moment in the book was when they came to Cumbria in the north of England - my home county. I wasn't expecting a whole lot of reference to things, but it was still vaguely exciting considering how in the middle of nowhere it is. But it provides the perfect setting for a magical battleground centuries old. There's some other stuff in England - well, London - but there's a point where a woman in Carlisle says "You appalling young hooligan" which made me giggle a little...I can't imagine any northerner saying this at all. Or indeed many non-northerners either. Though it does sum up the stereotypical image of the English quite well I think!

Overall, a very interesting book with a good magical world and a series which I'm looking forward to continuing with.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Series: Chaos Walking #1
Author: Patrick Ness
Pages: 479 (paperback)
Published: October 22nd 2008
Published by: Walker

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

I've seen this book about for a while, and even though I've only really heard good things of it it still never particularly interested me. But then a friend recommended it to me, and then a couple weeks ago I found an offer to get the whole trilogy for a fiver so I thought, why not? It's not like I have loads of other books sitting on my shelves waiting to be read or anything... *ahem*

Todd lives in Prentisstown, the last settlement on a planet colonised by humans only twenty years earlier. Everyone else died in a war with the natives of the land - Spackle. During this time they also released a virus which killed the women and meant that the men could hear each others' thoughts. Todd is counting down the days until his 13th birthday, the day he is counted as a man. He is the only boy left in Prentisstown. When he and his dog Manchee are in the swamp one day, though, they come across something - silence. And the silence turns out to be a girl - Viola. This sends them on a run for their lives across the planet, when Todd has never been further from home than the edge of the swamp.

I actually enjoyed this book a lot more than I was expecting to. The story was intriguing, and there are mysteries surrounding the circumstances so you know there's something missing but not what. There are hints and clues and you kinda have an idea, but you don't get the whole picture. And the ending! You find everything out and there's this huge like bombshell and so I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what happens next. I will admit there were a couple of bits which I had issues with believing but for most part it was fine.

You don't see much of the planet which has been colonised, but what you do see is great. Another virus released by the Spackle meant to kill their animals actually means they can talk, and there are a couple of creatures Todd and Viola come across which are wonderful. And Manchee! Manchee is Todd's dog and he is absolutely adorable with his speech. Ness has done a great job of giving just an ordinary dog a voice both in what he says and the way he does it, the repetition and the attention getting, what actually makes up his thoughts.

And similarly with Todd - he hasn't had a proper education and can't read or write with any degree of proficiency so when he comes across big words these are spelt phonetically. While I found this a little distracting at first, you soon get into it and I think it's a great addition to the story and shows Todd really well. The interaction between Todd and Viola is also great. For him this is someone completely new, and the first person he has ever come across who's thoughts he can't know instantly - and loudly. And she has to learn to deal with this, with someone who has no practice at reading body language and getting to know people. The development there was really well - and really believably - done.

When Todd hears the thoughts of others they are done in a different font - more like handwriting, bigger, bolder, showing how much they intrude. I found this a little distracting because I'd see them across the page and my eyes will be drawn to them and distract me from what I should actually be doing.

Interesting concept and looking forward to what the next book has to offer.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Prince of Thorns

Title: Prince of Thorns
Series: The Broken Empire #1
Author: Mark Lawrence
Pages: 373 (paperback)
Published: April 12th 2012
Published by: Harper Voyager

Once a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg's bleak past has set him beyond fear of any man, living or dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.

Prince of Thorns is the first volume in a powerful new epic fantasy trilogy, original, absorbing and challenging. Mark Lawrence’s debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.

I have been waiting for the book to come out in paperback since it was first published months and months ago. And it's finally here! The start of Prince of Thorns follows Brother Jorg as he and his band of outlaw brothers are just finishing up with the killing of a village. Next comes the raping and pillaging. Not the nicest of openings to a book, made even more disturbing by the fact that Jorg is just thirteen years old. But there is more to him than there seems, and we follow the band as the make their way back to Jorg's home and his father: King Olidan of Ancrath. Jorg sets out to prove his worth to his father, and carnage follows.

I did quite enjoy this book, for all that the main protagonist is 13/14 and killing and the like with barely a second thought. But it's easy to forget how young he is, for while he does have some childish moments his life up until that point - both while he was a Prince and since he took to the road at 10 - have hardened him and made him cynical. Something which I actually found a little bit heart-breaking. And none of it is too graphic. It's more than you know stuff is going on without being made to visualise the blood and guts spilling everywhere. Very much helped by the fight against the skeletons - very little blood or guts to spill there at all!

When it comes to Jorg it does seem a little like there is just this one layer to him - his plan. His plan to be a King by fifteen. And an Emperor by twenty. You do get flashes of something more, but it does seem that this is him overall. And the same is true of the other characters: they're all a little bit one-dimensional. Maybe it's because of the types of people who make up most of the characters. I can't imagine outlaws have much chance to cultivate themselves in anything other than staying alive, but Makin I expected a little more depth from. Katherine is, I think, the exception to this. She is not in it much, but you see the conflict in her very clearly for all that. There's definitely more to come from her, and I'm interested to see what that is and where it goes.

The story itself is well written and easy to read. Descriptions are well done without being overbearing or overdone. The last hundred pages or so in particular I found whizzed past, but it is a story that strongly reminds me of others. Jorg is clever, and sees things that others don't, kinda like Locke Lamore from The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence by Scott Lynch. Young boys with quick minds, though Locke seems more mischievous than Jorg.

And then there's the world the story is told in which reminds me very much of Terry Brooks' Shannara series, or at least what I have read of them. Our own world gone wrong in the future, with magic and mutations come back, though there has been much more technical regression in PoT, probably because it is set more in the future. There are hints in the references to things of the past which at first confused me: they were ancient history (Aristotle and the like), so was it an alternative history, or set in our future? Roads and buildings are made from 'Builder' materials, what sounds like concrete, and Nietzsche is later referenced putting it into our future. I'm interested what else will be uncovered from our world for Jorg to make use of.

Enjoyable book, and I'm looking forward to continuing the series.