Tainted Blood is the third book in M. L. Brennan’s Generation V series. The first book, Generation V, was one of the best (if not the best) first books in an urban fantasy series I’ve read, and I was quite surprised by just how fond of the characters I’d become by the time I finished reading it. Iron Night, the second book, was even better, and despite a slower start than the others, Tainted Blood was also quite entertaining. I’m very much looking forward to Dark Ascension, which releases in August.

With his brother Chivalry temporarily unavailable, Fort continues to manage their mother’s territory in his place. This mostly includes tasks like checking in with the secretary, reading files, and denying a rusalka’s request for permission to murder annoying jet skiers (but offering to try to move her to a quieter lake instead). However, Fort feels like he’s in over his head when a call comes in on the emergency line with the news that the leader of the nearby metsän kunigas has been murdered—and, of course, he is expected to deal with the situation.

Fortunately, Suzume is available to lend her expertise and accompany him on his trip to the crime scene (and even seems to understand she should not refer to the metsän kunigas as “werebears” by the time they arrive). Unfortunately, Fort does not feel any less like he’s in over his head as the day progresses. The dead leader’s family is obviously dismayed to find him in charge of the murder investigation instead of his sister, and one of them resents vampires in general and Fort’s lack of knowledge about the local metsän kunigas family tree in particular. After questioning them, Fort discusses the situation with his own family, who tell him it’s imperative he find the killer—or at least, someone to blame and punish for the murder to appease the bears.

The more books I read in this series, the more I’m certain that I’ve found a new favorite urban fantasy series to join the ranks of Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews, Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs, and October Daye by Seanan McGuire. Collectively, I actually prefer the first three books in this series to the first three in any of those longer-running favorites (although I don’t quite like any of these three individually as much as the third Kate Daniels book!). There’s a lot to love about the Generation V series—the humorous narrative voice, fun characters that become more complex with each book, unique vampire lore that unravels more with each book, and riveting character dynamics.

Tainted Blood did take a little longer to hook me than the previous books in the series since it took some time to show the current situations with Fort’s family, roommate, jobs, and friend-he’d-like-to-become-a-girlfriend before diving in to the main plot. Once Fort begins investigating the murder of the head bear, it gets much more interesting especially as it begins to set up (I’m assuming) the next book with Fort’s realization that Madeline’s health is declining—and his discovery that others realize this too and are preparing for upcoming changes in leadership.

It’s more than just a setup book, though, and I love that it continues to expand both the world and characters. Fort is still young and not yet a full-fledged vampire, and he continues to struggle with wanting to be human—especially after Prudence demonstrates the vampire feeding process to him in a deliciously creepy scene (sorry, couldn’t resist!). He learns more about what survival will mean for him and is terrified by this new knowledge, especially when he realizes how badly he wants to continue to exist. I love that his character wants to do the right thing, but that he has a darker side by virtue of what he is and who his family is.

There is a theme in this book of family, even when one’s family contains monsters, and my favorite part of it was the increasing complexity of Fort’s relationships with his siblings, especially his sister. While both Prudence and Chivalry are far more cold-blooded (sorry) than their younger brother, Fort has always gotten along better with his brother. Chivalry looks out for him and has a tendency to come to his aid in family arguments; however, in this book, Prudence is the one who does the most to help him out. Despite being vocal about feeling that both her brothers are foolish in completely different ways, she is there for both of them in this book. When Fort goes through one of the awful experiences that is part of transitioning to vampire, Prudence is very empathetic and helpful to the point where Fort asks her why she’s being so nice:

 

“You are my brother,” she said simply. “Whether I hate or love you, that fact will never change, and what ties us together can be broken only by death.” [pp. 199]

Prudence may not have much respect for human or most supernatural life and she may complain constantly about both her brothers, but she seems to care for them both in her own way. I think much of her ruthlessness may be driven by family duty and ensuring she does what she thinks is necessary for the family empire, and this book did a great job with adding more dimension to her.

I also loved the relationship between Fort and Suzume, and that there wasn’t much angst even though Suzume hasn’t made up her mind yet about whether or not she wants to date him. The two still get along well together both in friendship and their working relationship and behave like mature adults (well, as mature as can be expected considering Suzume’s idea of fun is adding googly eyes to Fort’s possessions when he’s not looking). Fort obviously really wants to be with her, but he also is not one of those characters who spends the book being emo about it.

Other than the slow start, my major issue with Tainted Blood had nothing to do with the writing: it seemed like it could have been more thoroughly copyedited. There was the occasional typo, but I’ve seen finished copies of books containing more typos. It mostly annoyed me that one scene specified that someone had personalized ringtones for everyone and could tell who was calling before she picked up the phone—only to have her then mention this person had not called from their own number after hanging up. It’s a fairly minor quibble, but I’m a detail-oriented person so I ended up rereading it a couple of times to make sure I really hadn’t misread something before moving on.

Despite a few minor nitpicks, Tainted Blood is another wonderful installment in the Generation V series. I highly recommend these books and enjoy their unique vampire mythology, inclusion of mythical beings uncommon in fantasy, three dimensional characters, and fun interactions between these characters. It’s also quite impressive that the humor in the narrative voice blends in quite naturally most of the time since I think that’s quite rare in books that do this. M. L. Brennan is a superb new author, and I can hardly wait to read her next book.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a Christmas gift (selected from books on my wish list).

Read an Excerpt (Click “Read an Excerpt” underneath the cover image)

Other Reviews:

Reviews of Previous Books in the Generation V Series:

  1. Generation V
  2. Iron Night

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought a few books in the mail, including a few I ordered. Two of the books that showed up were already discussed in the same post so I’ll just refer to that if you’re interested in reading more about either: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson (July 7) and Artemis Invaded by Jane Lindskold (June 30).

In case you missed it, I reviewed Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman last week. Next up is probably Tainted Blood by M. L. Brennan, which I very much enjoyed.

On to the books! The first three are the ones I purchased.

The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

The 40th anniversary edition of World Fantasy Award-winning author Tanith Lee’s Nebula-nominated debut novel was released earlier this month, about a week after the sad news of her death.

I’ve heard that The Birthgrave is excellent, and I’ve wanted to read it for quite awhile so I was glad to see it was re-released in both paperback and ebook. The other two books in the trilogy are also being reprinted with Shadowfire scheduled for release in September 2015 and Hunting the White Witch in February 2016.

An excerpt from The Birthgrave is available on the publisher’s website (click “Read an Excerpt” under the book cover to view  it).

 

A mysterious woman awakens in the heart of a dormant volcano. She comes forth into a brutal ancient world transformed by genocidal pestilence, fierce beauty, and cultural devastation. She has no memory of herself, and she could be anyone—mortal woman, demoness lover, last living heir to a long-gone race, or a goddess of destruction. Compelled by the terrifying Karrakaz to search for the mysterious Jade that is the answer to her secret self, she embarks on a journey of timeless wonder.

Rediscover this realm of brilliant cruel beauty and seductive immortal ruins, of savage war and grand conquest, of falling stars and silver gods.

This 40th anniversary edition of legendary fantastist Tanith Lee’s debut novel includes its original introduction by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

The Just City by Jo Walton

The Just City (Thessaly #1) by Jo Walton

I wanted to read this based on the premise alone—speculative fiction with not just mythology but also philosophy—but I want to read it even more after hearing many times that it’s a wonderful book! The Just City was released in hardcover and ebook earlier this year, and a sequel, The Philosopher Kings, will be released in the same formats next week. A third book, Necessity, is in progress.

An excerpt from The Just City is available on Tor.com. If you’ve read that one and want to read the beginning of the next book, an excerpt from The Philosopher Kings is on Tor.com as well.

 

“Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent.”

Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

Hidden Huntress (The Malediction Trilogy #2) by Danielle Jensen

Stolen Songbird was one of my favorite books read last year so of course I had to get the sequel! Hidden Huntress was released in paperback and ebook last month, and the audiobook recently became available as well. Chapters 1-3 can be read on Fantasy Faction.

The final book in the trilogy, Warrior Witch, is scheduled for release on May 3, 2016.

 

Sometimes, one must accomplish the impossible.

Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…

The Clockwork Crown by Beth Cato

The Clockwork Crown (Clockwork Dagger Duology #2) by Beth Cato

The second half of the story begun in The Clockwork Dagger was released in paperback and ebook earlier this month. An excerpt from The Clockwork Crown can be read on USA Today. If you’d rather start with a sample from the first book, there is an excerpt from The Clockwork Dagger on Tor.com.

A prequel short story, “The Deepest Poison,” is also available as an ebook.

 

Rich in atmosphere, imagination, and fun, the action-packed, magic-filled sequel to The Clockwork Dagger is an enchanting steampunk fantasy, evocative of the works of Trudi Canavan and Gail Carriger.

Narrowly surviving assassination and capture, Octavia Leander, a powerful magical healer, is on the run with handsome Alonzo Garrett, the Clockwork Dagger who forfeited his career with the Queen’s secret society of spies and killers—and possibly his life—to save her. Now, they are on a dangerous quest to find safety and answers: Why is Octavia so powerful? Why does she seem to be undergoing a transformation unlike any witnessed for hundreds of years?

The truth may rest with the source of her mysterious healing power—the Lady’s Tree. But the tree lies somewhere in a rough, inhospitable territory known as the Waste. Eons ago, this land was made barren and uninhabitable by an evil spell, until a few hardy souls dared to return over the last century. For years, the Waste has waged a bloody battle against the royal court to win its independence—and they need Octavia’s powers to succeed.

Joined by unlikely allies, including a menagerie of gremlin companions, she must evade killers and Clockwork Daggers on a dangerous journey through a world on the brink of deadly civil war.

Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan (The New Blue Bloods Coven #1) by Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan by New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz was released in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats last year. The paperback edition will be released on July 7. USA Today has an excerpt from Vampires of Manhattan.

 

The Vampires of Manhattan is “hipster horror”–the memorable characters from her Blue Bloods series are older and cooler than before, trying to build “Millennial” lives in the bustle of Manhattan while battling forces of evil and, of course, each other.

Hero of this sexy, paranormal action tale is Oliver Hazard-Perry, former human conduit, and Manhattan’s only human-turned-vampire, now the head of the Blue Bloods Coven. When his all-too-human lover is found murdered on the eve of the coven’s annual Four Hundred Ball–a celebration meant to usher in a new era in vampire society, and to mark the re-unification of the Coven after decades of unrest and decay–Oliver is devastated.

Now, not only is he trying to create a new world order for the immortal elite, he’s the prime suspect and is stalked by the newly installed head of the vampire secret police. Because according to the new rules, vampires who take human life can now be executed. Burned.

How can an immortal sentenced to die fight back? He has to find the killer–and the answers lie deep in vampire lore.

Book Description from Goodreads:

Seraphina took the literary world by storm with 8 starred reviews and numerous “Best of” lists. At last, her eagerly awaited sequel has arrived—and with it comes an epic battle between humans and dragons.

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, a New York Times bestselling YA fantasy, was my favorite debut novel of 2012. It hooked me with one of the more gripping prologues I’ve read, and it continued to be both well written and compulsively readable. Furthermore, the world and characters had depth, and Seraphina herself was a wonderful, compelling character. This long-awaited sequel, Shadow Scale, was one of my highly anticipated 2015 releases. However, I found it disappointing when compared to Seraphina, though I did enjoy it with some reservations.

On the surface, Shadow Scale seemed like it should have appealed to me more than Seraphina. It’s a darker novel and not everything ends up being 100% happy in the end, plus it features a fantastic villain. The sequel also expands on the world introduced in the first book, both through exploration of its cultures and the abilities and history of the half dragons. While the writing wasn’t as beautifully phrased as in the previous novel, it’s still a well-written book with some occasional humor and a few great scenes. Yet it never charmed me as much as the first book and its more intimate story of Seraphina and her struggles as a half dragon—mainly because Seraphina herself was not as compelling. She is more of an observer and messenger than a living, breathing character in her own story in Shadow Scale.

I’ve been struggling with how to articulate my thoughts on Seraphina’s character since I wouldn’t call her passive. She’s still courageous and has no qualms about going out and doing what she thinks needs to be done. When she wants to find the other half dragons both for herself and the good of the kingdom, she goes to find them. When someone close to her is in need of rescue, she joins the rescue mission. Seraphina is certainly a character who acts; however, her main role in the story seems to be observing and gathering knowledge. While her decisions have potential to change the course of the story, they largely fail to have any impact and seem to serve more as a way of introducing other characters, showing more of this vast world, or putting her in the right place at the right time to learn what she needs to know. While I appreciate that this is often realistic since plans do not always unfold exactly as hoped, I also felt like it meant reading a lot of pages with very little payoff—and that the story was not really about Seraphina even though she’s the main character. It’s more about the other half dragons and the war, and Seraphina’s own story seems secondary to the rest.

Seraphina does have her own struggles that need to be resolved, particularly unlocking her own half dragon abilities, but this is an outward problem rather than an inward one that causes personal growth. This issue is very quickly resolved toward the end of the book with no time to explore what it truly means to her instead of simply what happened to her. I like sequels to show more character development and build on the characters from the first book, and I didn’t think this one did that in a satisfying way with Seraphina or the other major characters. Kiggs and Glisselda, the more memorable characters from the first book, were not in this book as much. The romantic tension between Seraphina and Kiggs is carried forward, but I felt they had more spark when they were in the getting-to-know-you phase of their relationship (which is not unrealistic but is also not as fun to read). Glisselda had one of the standout scenes in this book—but it was also very frustrating because what happened was dropped and never came up again. This could have been addressed so easily, and it was very frustrating that there wasn’t just one more scene or even a little examination of one vague line that was a complete cop-out since it was one of the first person narrator’s thoughts. Even aside from this one particular instance, I would have liked Glisselda to have been a bigger part of the book since I was pleasantly surprised by her development by the end of Seraphina.

Although I was disappointed that more wasn’t done with some of the characters I’d come to know in the previous book, there was one very intriguing new character—Jannoula, the villain. She’s a competent, intelligent strategist and a master manipulator, both due to her mind powers and her ability to accurately assess people. Jannoula doesn’t have a single shred of kindness or compassion, but it’s difficult not to feel at least a little sorry for her. She’s been treated terribly from the moment she was born, and it makes sense that she became the person she did. Learning about her past with Seraphina was one of my favorite parts of the book.

While Shadow Scale was somewhat enjoyable due to its fascinating villain and revelations about half dragons, it was not as captivating as Seraphina largely because she and the other familiar characters were not as memorable as in the previous book. While I appreciated the wider scope in Shadow Scale, the books I love most have characters that come alive—and this book fell short in that area.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews:

Reviews of Related Book(s):

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought two books in the mail, but first here are some review updates.

In case you missed them last week, two new book reviews were posted, Uprooted by Naomi Novik (LOVED it!) and Stories of the Raksura: Volume One by Martha Wells (enjoyed it, especially “The Tale of Indigo and Cloud”). I’m currently working on a review of Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman.

On to this week’s books!

The Best of Nancy Kress

The Best of Nancy Kress by Nancy Kress

A limited edition will be available on September 30. There will be 1,000 signed numbered copies of The Best of Nancy Kress.

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Nancy Kress especially her Sleepless novels, beginning with Beggars in Spain; After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall; and Yesterday’s Kin, which recently won the Nebula Award for Best Novella. This collection contains the novella Beggars in Spain among other works of shorter-than-novel-length fiction, each followed by an afterword by the author.

 

Nancy Kress, winner of multiple awards for her science fiction and fantasy, ranges through space and time in this stunning collection. Anne Boleyn is snatched from her time stream–with unexpected consequences for two worlds. A far-future spaceship brings religion to a planet that already harbors shocking natives. People genetically engineered to never need to sleep clash with those who do. A scientific expedition to the center of the galaxy discovers more than anyone bargained for. A woman finds that ”people like us” does not mean what she thinks it does.

Praised for both her hard SF and her complex characters, Nancy Kress brings a unique viewpoint to twenty-one stories, the best of a long and varied career that has won her five Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Table of Contents:

Introduction
And Wild For to Hold
Out of All Them Bright Stars
Pathways
Dancing on Air
Unto the Daughters
Laws of Survival
Someone To Watch Over Me
Flowers of Aulit Prison
Price of Oranges
By Fools Like Me
Casey’s Empire
Shiva in Shadow
Grant Us This Day
Kindness of Strangers
End Game
My Mother, Dancing
Trinity
People Like Us
Evolution
Margin of Error
Beggars in Spain

The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

The Unnoticeables will be released on July 7 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt is available on Tor.com.

 

From Robert Brockway, Sr. Editor and Columnist of Cracked.com comes The Unnoticeables, a funny and frightening urban fantasy.

There are angels, and they are not beneficent or loving. But they do watch over us. They watch our lives unfold, analyzing us for repeating patterns and redundancies. When they find them, the angels simplify those patterns and remove the redundancies, and the problem that is “you” gets solved.

Carey doesn’t much like that idea. As a punk living in New York City, 1977, Carey is sick and tired of watching strange kids with unnoticeable faces abduct his friends. He doesn’t care about the rumors of tar-monsters in the sewers or unkillable psychopaths invading the punk scene–all he wants is to drink cheap beer and dispense ass-kickings.

Kaitlyn isn’t sure what she’s doing with her life. She came to Hollywood in 2013 to be a stunt woman, but last night a former teen heartthrob tried to eat her, her best friend has just gone missing, and there’s an angel outside her apartment. Whatever she plans on doing with her life, it should probably happen in the few remaining minutes she has left.

There are angels. There are demons. They are the same thing. It’s up to Carey and Kaitlyn to stop them. The survival of the human race is in their hands.

We are, all of us, well and truly screwed.

Stories of the Raksura: Volume One
by Martha Wells
216pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.9/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.3/5
 

Stories of the Raksura: Volume One by Martha Wells is a collection set in the same world as the three novels in her Books of the Raksura series (The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths, in that order). These stories are two new novellas, “The Falling World” and “The Tale of Indigo and Cloud,” and two short stories also available online, “The Forest Boy” and “Adaptation.” Earlier this month, Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two was released.

I have been a fan of the Books of the Raksura since reading The Cloud Roads and being impressed by the inventive setting of the Three Worlds and immersive story. The second novel is also quite enjoyable, and the last novel is my favorite of the three. These primarily focus on Moon, a solitary shapeshifter who does not know what he is at the beginning of the first novel since the only others of his kind he knew died when he was quite young. Left to survive on his own, he discovered that it was difficult to fit in with groundlings (people who live on land). While they accepted him when he was also in his groundling form, they feared him when they saw him in his winged form, believing him to be one of the terrible Fell.

He attempts to hide his second shape and integrate into groundling societies but it never lasts, and he’s poisoned and left to die near the beginning of the first novel. Fortunately, he is rescued by Stone, another shapeshifter like him. Stone takes him to the Indigo Cloud court where Moon meets more people like him and learns that he is one of the Raksura, shapeshifters with different roles in their society based on their biology—and specifically, that he is a consort who could possibly become a mate for their young queen, Jade. The novels largely focus on Moon’s adjustments to living in a Raksuran court (which isn’t easy, given his former independence and their ideas about what is appropriate behavior for a consort) and adventures in the Three Worlds with the third filling in some of Moon’s past.

These stories are certainly connected to the novels with each story connected to Moon or the Indigo Cloud court in some way, but he only appears in one of the novellas and one of the short stories. Since the first story does provide some details about the Raksura, I think this book could be read before the novels but I would recommend reading the three novels first. While I enjoyed the collection, I did prefer the novels and I also think some of these stories have more impact if you’re familiar with the major characters.

The first story, the novella “The Falling World,” is largely a quest/adventure story set after the end of The Siren Depths. A party from Indigo Cloud, including Jade and Chime, travel to another court to negotiate trade. Twenty days later, a group arrives from this other court to discuss trade and claims the others never arrived—and Stone and Moon decide to gather a group of Raksura to discover what happened to them. While enjoyable, this was my least favorite in the collection. It’s fun to see more of the Three Worlds and the unusual situations that can occur when traveling through it, and this story shows the incredible imagination that goes into the creation and development of this world. However, it didn’t have a lot of character development or great moments with the characters interacting, and I think that’s why it didn’t resonate with me as much as the novels or the other stories in this collection.

Even though it was set long before Moon’s time and featured new main characters, the novella “The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” did resonate with me very much and was my favorite story in the collection. Cerise, the reigning queen, is pleased to learn her favorite child and sister queen Indigo has finally chosen a consort—until she learns that she stole Cloud from another queen at the court she was visiting. It’s a complex situation in which the consort was being ignored by his queen and asked Indigo to rescue him, but the other queen isn’t willing to let him go without a fight, and it’s made even more complicated when Cloud can’t seem to decide if he really wanted to be Indigo’s consort or just wanted a reason to leave his current queen. This novella is so absorbing because it’s focused on the characters and the politics of the situation, and I found these characters just as endearing as Moon, Jade, and the main characters from the novels (and it was also fun to see one of the older characters as a young Raksura!).

Both short stories are prequels about characters from the novels. “The Falling Boy” details one of Moon’s attempts to fit in with a family before he discovers he’s a Raksura, although it’s told from the perspective of another boy taken in by the same people. I found his difficulties at fitting in heartbreaking in the first novel, and this tale is doubly so since he finds someone who is actually willing to accept him, wings and all, before he has to move on once again. The other short story, “Adaptation” tells the story of Chime’s discovery that he has changed from a mentor into a warrior. It’s an enjoyable story, but I didn’t think it was nearly as good as the other, largely due to feeling like it didn’t reveal much that I hadn’t already learned from the books.

Stories of the Raksura: Volume One is an entertaining collection of stories set in the Three Worlds, but I’d only recommend it to those who are already fans of the novels. While I think either would be a decent introduction to the world and characters, I do believe the novels are more engaging and more likely to make one want to read more about the Raksura. Although “The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” is excellent, “The Falling World” is good but not as good as the novels and is also about the same length as the three other stories combined.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Reviews of the Books of the Raksura:

  1. The Cloud Roads
  2. The Serpent Sea
  3. The Siren Depths

Uprooted is the latest novel by Naomi Novik, whose writing has received much recognition. She is a recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and multiple books in her Temeraire series have been New York Times bestsellers. The first novel in this series and her debut, His Majesty’s Dragon, won both the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel and the Locus Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for a Hugo Award in the Best Novel category. Despite the amount of praise I’ve seen for her work, I hadn’t read any of her books until reading Uprooted—and I now know I must remedy this because this stand alone fantasy is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time!

 

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and an immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful. [pp. 3]

Every ten years, the wizard known as the Dragon chooses a seventeen-year-old girl to live in his tower. She stays with him until the next choosing and leaves with a significant dowry once a decade has passed—but she never seems to be the same person she was before her time with the Dragon. All the girls taken by the Dragon choose to leave their former home behind once they are free; Agnieszka’s father says it’s like they forget how to live there and realize they should be afraid of living near the Wood that the Dragon protects them from.

Although Agnieszka is the right age to potentially be whisked away by the Dragon, neither she nor her family is concerned that he will choose her—everyone has known for years that her dearest friend Kasia will be the one chosen. The wizard always selects the girls who are special in some way, and Kasia is so beautiful, clever, and brave that Agnieszka imagines the girls in the stories she’s told as being at least somewhat like her friend. When the fateful day arrives, the Dragon does indeed look satisfied with Kasia, but he does not choose her in the end: it is Agnieszka he decides to take.

Agnieszka can’t figure out why the Dragon chose her instead of Kasia at first. She’s constantly getting food or mud on her clothes, she can’t cook particularly well, and her mere presence seems to irritate the wizard. She’s comforted to find messages from a previous girl indicating that she has nothing to fear from the Dragon, but she soon realizes he is treating her differently than the others: he is teaching her magic, and he chose her because one with magical ability must be taught. In this, Agnieszka also seems incapable of pleasing him as she finds the simplest cantrips difficult. Despite her early appearance of ineptitude,  Agnieszka proves to be quite powerful when she follows her own instincts instead of relying on his teaching—and she may be uniquely suited to help him protect others from the Wood.

Uprooted was absorbing from its first paragraph, but it’s not one of those books that faded after a strong opening—it managed to keep me captivated until the very end. It’s a delightfully-narrated fairy tale with magic both wondrous and dangerous, although it’s not what I’d call a grim book despite the terrors of the Wood. Most of all, I enjoyed reading about Agnieszka—a brave, persistent, goodhearted young woman—and her journey.

In some ways, Uprooted is predictable but it is also unconventional. Since I expected it from the start, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there is a romance. Agnieszka has to leave her family to live with a wizard who doesn’t seem to like her very much, and romantic tension develops as the two learn to work together. I loved every single scene between her and the irritable Dragon and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, but I was surprised that it wasn’t the main focus of the story or even the most prominent relationship. After Agnieszka left her home and Kasia behind, I figured Kasia would only be occasionally mentioned from that point forward and was pleased Kasia was an important character with her own heroic moments. Their friendship and the lengths Agnieszka go to for her friend drive much of the story since helping Kasia causes Agnieszka to gain a greater mastery of her magic in the first place—and much of what happens after is due to the news of what she discovers and her desire to protect her dearest friend.

While the friendship was important, the main driving force in Uprooted is Agnieszka herself. She is the catalyst for events and change, not just because she is a powerful witch but also because of who she is. In the beginning of the story, Agnieszka feels that she is not brave when compared to Kasia, whose voice does not waver when she speaks to the Dragon even though she’s convinced he will take her away from her home. Agnieszka’s unable to do anything right, including cooking and simple magic. It is perhaps a little convenient that magic comes to her as easily as it does once she discovers that she’s struggling because her magic is not like the Dragon’s, but she also has to work for it with study and experimentation in spite of being unusually gifted. Many would give up when faced with the same challenges, especially after being told what she wants to do is impossible, but Agnieszka does not. When she has a goal, she does her best to achieve it. She’s successful not just because of her power but because she’s persistent and willing to think about—and do—things differently. Agnieszka is amazing and so much stronger and braver than she gives herself credit for being.

At first, some of her courage does seem to be due to ignorance, though by the end I’m quite certain she’s aware of the risks that come with her decisions. Even though she’s heard the stories of people being taken by walkers and disappearing into the Wood forever—or worse, people who do return and seem fine until those around them begins hurting themselves—and remembers what happened to those who ate plants tainted by pollen from the Wood, it’s not exactly the same as seeing the depth of this corruption firsthand. The Wood is seriously creepy, and while the book does not tend to be overly dark or grisly, dealing with the Wood does come with a price.

My only criticism of Uprooted is minor. I did feel that the second half was not quite as riveting as the first, although it was still excellent and difficult to put down. More actually happened in the second half, but I loved learning about the setting and Agnieszka’s discovery of her magic (plus there were fewer scenes with the Dragon in the latter part of the book and I did miss seeing her interact with him).

Uprooted is a lovely book and is currently my favorite book of 2015 (and a new favorite book period!). I loved everything about it—the magic, the creepy Wood, the Dragon, Kasia, and especially Agnieszka and her narrative voice. It had me enthralled from start to finish and is a novel I can definitely see myself rereading in the future.

My Rating: 9.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

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