This week brought two review copies, one of which I’ve already talked about in my BEA post so I won’t talk about it in detail again (The Magician King by Lev Grossman, which apparently changed significantly between the ARC and finished copy so I’m going to read the final copy instead of my ARC). Also, I raided my local Borders sale and ended up with 4 books I’ve been wanting to read.  If I had no self control, I could have ended up with a lot more but I tried not to go overboard and kept putting books back.  I even thought about putting some of those final four back, but the friend I was with said not to do that because Borders only closes once and how am I to argue with that logic?

Acacia by David Anthony DurhamAcacia: The War With the Mein by David Anthony Durham

The first novel in the Acacia series is by the author who won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2009.  I remember hearing about this book a lot when it first came out, but I just never picked it up for some reason.  When I was looking through the sale books yesterday, I picked it up and saw the very first line mentioned an assassin – and I was hooked.  From the back cover, it sounds like it’s not actually about an assassin but instead the results of an assassination. Oh well, it sounds really good aside from that anyway! An excerpt is available on the author’s website.

There is a second book in the series, Acacia: The Other Lands.

The ruler of the Known World, Leodan Akaran, presides over a land of prosperity and apparent harmony. On the sheltered island of Acacia, this gentle widower raises his four children, shielding them from the dark realities and dangers that lurk nearby. But all his plans come to naught when a foreign chieftain invades and kills Leodan, causing upheaval throughout the kingdom. By a carefully laid plan, all four offspring escape, moving in different directions, settling in different host nations. This hastily enacted dispersal sets the stage for David Anthony Durham’s fourth novel, an epic fantasy of grand dimensions.

Steal Across the Sky by Nancy KressSteal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress

When I told John I was going to the Borders sale, he told me to pick up something good.  So I picked up this one specifically because it’s by the same author who wrote some of his favorite books (the Beggars trilogy starting with Beggars In Spain). I think it looks pretty interesting as well, though.  An excerpt is available on the author’s website, but beware of the super-bright blue background!

The aliens appeared one day, built a base on the moon, and put an ad on the internet:

“We are an alien race you may call the Atoners. Ten thousand years ago we wronged humanity profoundly.  We cannot undo what has been done, but we wish humanity to understand it.  Therefore we request twenty-one volunteers to visit seven planets to Witness for us.  We will convey each volunteer there and back in complete safety.  Volunteers must speak English. Send requests for electronic applications to [email protected]

At first, everyone thought it was a joke.  But it wasn’t.

This is the story of three of those volunteers, and what they found on Kular A and Kular B.

Among Thieves by Douglas HulickAmong Thieves by Douglas Hulick

I’ve had my eye on this book ever since it came out earlier this year.  Yes, mostly because it has a thief and I expect books about thieves to be lots of fun!  This is a debut novel and the first book in the Tales of the Kin series, which will be at least three books long. An excerpt is available online.

Drothe has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers in the employ of a crime lord while smuggling relics on the side. But when an ancient book falls into his hands, Drothe finds himself in possession of a relic capable of bringing down emperors-a relic everyone in the underworld would kill to obtain.

Children of Scarabaeus by Sara CreasyChildren of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

This is the sequel to Song of Scarabaeus, a debut science fiction novel which I read and reviewed earlier this year. While I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book, I was less excited about it by the time I finished it. However, I did still like it enough to want to find out how the story ends and figured that a sale was a good excuse to get a hold of the second half of it. An excerpt of the first few chapters is available online.

The crib is everywhere . . .

Edie Sha’nim believes she and her bodyguard lover, Finn, could find refuge from the tyranny of the Crib empire by fleeing to the Fringe worlds. But Edie’s extraordinary cypherteck ability to manipulate the ecology of evolving planets makes her far too valuable for the empire to lose. Recaptured and forced to cooperate—or else she will watch Finn die—Edie is shocked to discover the Crib’s new breed of cypherteck: children. She cannot stand by while the oppressors enslave the innocent, nor can she resist the lure of Scarabaeus, the first world she tried to save, when researchers discover what appears to be an evolving intelligence.

But escape—for Edie, for Finn, and for the exploited young—will require the ultimate sacrifice . . . and a shocking act of rebellion.

Outpost by Adam BakerOutpost by Adam Baker

This post-apocalyptic debut novel was just released in the UK this month, and I saw that there is a Kindle edition on Amazon US.  Reviews on Goodreads mentioned zombies, so I’m not sure it’s really my type of thing, but it sounds like it’s supposed to be pretty good if you do like that sort of thing.

They took the job to escape the world.
They didn’t expect the world to end.

Kasker Rampart: a derelict refinery platform moored in the Arctic Ocean. A skeleton crew of fifteen fight boredom and despair as they wait for a relief ship to take them home. But the world beyond their frozen wasteland has gone to hell. Cities lie ravaged by a global pandemic. One by one TV channels die, replaced by silent wavebands. The Rampart crew are marooned. They must survive the long Arctic winter, then make their way home alone. They battle starvation and hypothermia, unaware that the deadly contagion that has devastated the world is heading their way…

The Magician King giveaway is now over and random.org has selected a winner.  Since I’ve heard back and know where to have the book sent, it’s official that the winner is:

Travis from Pennsylvania

Congratulations, I hope you enjoy the book!

As quite possibly the most talked about fantasy release of 2011, A Dance With Dragons probably needs no introduction.  Just in case you somehow haven’t heard of it for some reason, it’s the fifth book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, which has gained a lot of popularity this year with the airing of the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO.  The first four books in the series are as follows: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows.  Two more books are planned, but with the fourth book being split into two, I wouldn’t be surprised if a third book ended up being necessary to complete the rest of the story.  There is not yet a release date for The Winds of Winter, the sixth book, which will not even be started until next year.

Ever since I discovered it about ten years ago, A Song of Ice and Fire has been my favorite fantasy series, although I can understand that it is not for everyone.  This series is certainly not a light, happy read nor a quick read with its sprawling nature and attention to detail. Also, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is offended by graphic violence, sexual content, language or – well, pretty much anything, really.  This is a harsh world with some very flawed people. In spite of that, I do think that most of the main cast of characters remain very likable and even those who aren’t necessarily people you’d want to befriend are very compelling to read about.  I love the unexpected plot twists, the careful attention to all the little details, the amazing dialogue, the way I can hate a character in one book and then love that same character later, and the sheer brilliance of how it all comes together, but my favorite part of this series is the characters.  There is such a wide variety of them, and they’re among the most complex, well-developed characters in epic fantasy.  In my opinion, this is the very best multi-volume epic fantasy series there is, and A Dance With Dragons just reinforced my opinion on this after some disappointment with the previous volume.


There will be big, bad spoilers for the previous four books in the series from this point forward.  If you’re someone who has read the previous four books but doesn’t want to know ANYTHING at all about A Dance With Dragons right now, you’ll also want to avoid this review.


A Dance With Dragons
runs parallel with events in A Feast for Crows for a while, then continues both stories toward the end.  Most of the focus throughout this particular volume is on Jon, Daenerys, and Tyrion, but there are also a few new faces as well as old favorites.  The majority of the point of view chapters are dedicated to these three and most other characters only get a few chapters with the exception of Theon.  To my great surprise, Theon’s chapters were actually the ones I enjoyed the most in this installment.  He’s not a character I’ve ever been particularly fond of, but he’s an observer for some of the more interesting events in the North and he goes through some rather interesting personal developments in this book.  I never thought I’d see the day, but I actually felt a lot of sympathy for him (not that I should be surprised after the introduction of his perspective in A Storm of Swords made Jaime Lannister of all people one of my favorite characters in the series!).

Aside from Theon, I thought interesting events happened to each and every character, although there were a couple of them with fewer chapters I thought we could have done without.  These would be the one Dorne chapter and Quentyn’s chapters.  While the last Quentyn chapter was fantastic, the ones before it were a bit dull and that final chapter probably could have been told via another perspective without losing much.  Davos was one of my favorites in this one as well, but any perspective dealing with Manderly and events in the North was rather riveting.  As for the main three in this book, I enjoyed them all but was surprised that I didn’t enjoy Tyrion’s chapters as much as usual until close to the end.  After he learned the truth about Tysha and murdered his father, he’s not quite been himself.  He’s been drinking a lot and more passive than normal, and while it was humorous the first couple of times he asked “Where do whores go?” it started to get annoying after a while.  Such behavior is pretty understandable given the circumstances, but I was glad to see him starting to act more like himself later. Jon Snow continues to struggle with being Lord Commander and how much he can do while still remaining an impartial brother of the Night’s Watch.  Likewise, Daenerys is adjusting to her leadership role in Mereen where she freed the slaves. Her attempts to create a society based on her ideals are admirable, but she still has a lot to learn, and she’s also facing a new problem – her dragons are growing and becoming harder to control.  What began as the occasional snack on local livestock progressed to one of them consuming a child, and Daenerys can’t have that as a compassionate person who highly values human life.

Now, I want to make sure I put emphasis on the fact that above all I love these characters.  I have always felt that while there was plenty of plot these books were about the characters first and foremost.  Every chapter is the name of a character and every single character is unique and adds perspective to the story as a whole. This is probably part of the reason I’m not one of the people particularly disappointed in this volume, which seemed like it was very much focused on the different character arcs while getting the various people to where they need to be for the rest of the story.  That’s not to say I believe nothing happened because I don’t think that’s true at all, even if it doesn’t move at the breakneck pace of A Storm of Swords. However, I do think this book is far more rewarding for people interested in the people involved and a lot of the subtlety and little details that gives them a lot to speculate about.  I read it very carefully and picked up a lot more than I did in the other books, but there were still little things I missed.  The parts I did catch, though, added a lot to the story and these really aren’t books that are best read on your own.  So much of the fun comes from discussing and theorizing with other people. (If you have read the book and want to read or share theories on it, I highly recommend visiting the discussions about A Dance With Dragons that are going on at Westeros.org.)

I do think it’s true that it was setting up a lot of events that will be happening more than major plot developments and the cliffhangers at the end were certainly infuriating, but there were so many great moments with the different characters and I felt like we learned a lot about some of them.  They weren’t all just focused on Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys, either, even if they were the main three characters:

A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons are basically bridge books in the series.  Initially, George R. R. Martin had planned to skip over 5 years between the end of A Storm of Swords and the next book.  He ended up deciding this wasn’t going to work very well, and after reading A Dance With Dragons I’m glad he didn’t go this route.  While A Feast for Crows still remains the weakest book in the series, I loved A Dance With Dragons about as much as the first two books and I think the series would have suffered if it had skipped over most of these.  A lot of it would have had to have been told through flashbacks and it may have been confusing to meet up with the characters again later because these are not people who remain stagnant from book to book.  They develop and grow and we would have had to get to know them all over again.  Also, while slower paced than the first three books, I felt definite progress was made toward an end and that it’s ramping up for a definite conclusion.  We saw prophecies being fulfilled and did get to see some events we’d been waiting for happen.  With how this book ended, the next book should take right off.

All the hints and clues we are given are brilliantly executed.  There’s so many cases where it seems as though there could be one explanation, but there’s another one that makes about as much sense so with each book one needs to carefully examine so many little details.  I love how there are so many possible scenarios and how it does reward paying attention to try to fit all the puzzle pieces together.  There were so many of these tantalizing clues given in this particular volume and I can’t wait to see more of how they all come together.

This book is much more expansive than the previous volumes.  While there are still parts that take place in Westeros, we also get to see a lot more of different parts of the world aside from there.  The characters are spread out more so for those who loved watching various characters interact, this particular aspect is missing.  Personally, I loved seeing more of the world, although I could understand feeling a sense of loss with everyone spread so far apart – but I suspect more of them will be coming together soon in the near future.

Although I do think this is an outstanding book, especially when taking into consideration that it is essentially a setup book, it isn’t perfect.  It did show that it was rushed since there were a number of typos and missing quotation marks, some of which were quite distracting.  It did also start off slowly for the first few chapters, even though in general I didn’t mind that it wasn’t terribly fast-paced.  Due to the size, some of the end was cut off as well, meaning there were some DIRE and EVIL cliffhangers.  Other than the fourth book, the first three books did leave me curious about what happened next without really feeling like it was leaving me hanging.  On the other hand, I have actually been having quite a bit of fun thinking about just how the major cliffhanger will be resolved, so once I got over my first rant (consisting of lots of cries of “Nooooooooooooo! Don’t do this to me, George, you evil man!”) I ended up not minding it as much as I’d expected.  I think we’ve been given enough clues to at least get a general idea of what will happen.

Some may not think it worth the six year wait, but I did because I enjoyed reading about the characters, seeing more of the world, and keeping an eye out for little details to obsessively speculate about.  I thought it was much better quality than A Feast for Crows and had more progress toward setting up the final books. A Storm of Swords is still the best book in this series, but I liked this as much as the first two books. I think readers who are reading the series for the characters and the mysteries, the brilliant setup and dialogue as opposed to the plot twists will enjoy it (although there are a few of those, too, but we may be a bit spoiled in the fast-paced plot department after the number of jaw-dropping events in the third book).  It was very well-written with memorable scenes, lines, and characters.  I absolutely loved it and while it may not be the best-executed book I’ve read this year, it’s still pretty close considering it’s half a middle volume. It’s the book I got the most personal enjoyment out of reading due to my proclivity toward books about the people in them and a slow-build up of hints and mysteries.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it… and then waited in line for hours and hours to get it signed.

Other Reviews:

Note: I’m just adding a little note here to warn that some of the comments made below discussing the book are VERY spoilery. Read at your own risk if you have not yet read A Dance With Dragons!

Courtesy of Penguin, I am giving away one copy of The Magician King by Lev Grossman, the sequel to The Magicians.  I had a great time reading The Magicians and what I’ve read of my ARC of The Magician King is pretty good so far too with the same tendency to have some really humorous lines here and there.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

About The Magician King:

 

The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the modern heir to C.S. Lewis, and the cutting edge of literary fantasy.

Giveaway Details: One entry per person.  To enter you must have a mailing address in the US or Canada (sorry to readers outside of those countries).  The giveaway will end at the end of the day on Friday, August 5th and a winner will be randomly selected on August 6th. The winner will be contacted by email, and that person will then have 24 hours after the email is sent to reply with their mailing address.  If they do not respond within 24 hours, a new winner will be selected and also given 24 hours to respond. (Email addresses will only be used for contacting the winner and will be deleted once the contest is over.)

If you’d like to enter, fill out the form below:

Update: The form has been removed now that the giveaway is over.

Good luck!  And if you want to try your luck on another giveaway for this book, there is another one going on at Janicu’s Book Blog!

This week there were three books added to the pile – one bought from the Borders closing sale (wah!), one review copy, and one belated gift that took a while to get here.  In other news, there will be a giveaway this week and I’m hoping to finish a review I’m working on today, especially since I now have 4 books to review, but I seem to have a case of review writer’s block this week for some reason.

Heroes Adrift by Moira J. MooreHeroes Adrift by Moira J. Moore

This would be the book I ended up with after sadly wandering around my local Borders for a bit and lamenting the lack of a real bookstore to go to soon. (Although we may end up with a bookstore in the area yet – our Borders was always busy and actually did well so there has at least been talk of that one being bought. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that and for it continuing to have such a well-stocked scifi and fantasy section!)  This is where I bought so many wonderful books – Elfland, The Native Star, many of the Kate Daniels and Mercy Thompson books, and some of the Miles Vorkosigan books.  It’s where I went when I finished Gabriel’s Ghost and HAD to have Shades of Dark RIGHT NOW.  It’s where I got the first two Lee and Taro books that precede Heroes Adrift, and it’s now where I got the third even though I may not have a chance to get the rest there.

With the July 26th release of the lastest book, there are now 6 books in the Lee and Taro series in the following order: Resenting the Hero (Review), The Hero Strikes Back (Review), Heroes Adrift, Heroes at Risk, Heroes Return, and Heroes at Odds.  All the books in the series are available both as mass market paperbacks and ebooks. I read the first two and thought they were great fun.  I’ve been finding they’re the perfect books to read when I just want a fast-paced, entertaining book that keeps me glued to the pages from start to finish.

The Empress wants to locate the descendants of her exiled sister. No magically-bonded Pair is more ill-suited for the job than long-suffering Shield Lee Mallorough and her all-too-charming Source Shintaro Karish. Yet it’s a mission they can’t refuse.

Bricks by Leon JennerBricks by Leon Jenner

This debut novel will be released on August 4th in the UK, although it seems to already be shipping from Amazon UK.  There is a hardcover edition and an ebook edition.  I have the hardcover and it’s a really short book with some illustrations and an appendix that takes up the last 30 pages.  While I haven’t read it yet, I’ve gotten the impressions that it’s not a plot-heavy book but one more focused on the prose and the main character’s reflections.

This is the story of a bricklayer. A master of his craft, he keeps its sacred teachings secret. For him a house is the dwelling place of a soul, and a house must be built in the right spirit or the soul inside it will suffer. The building of an arch is a ritual to obtain a right relation with the earth and a connection with the truth. The bricklayer also recalls his previous life as a Druid priest. He talks about the creation of the sacred landscape of these islands; how even a simple stick lying on the ground would tell people the direction they needed to go in; how when people stared at the stars, they were staring at their own mind. This Druid was also a builder of worlds, one of a group of higher beings able to move in an infinite number of universes that create and end constantly. These higher beings are eternal, know everything, and hold everything together. The speak mind to mind. They can prevent battles simply by walking between the two charging armies. The reader sees the world through the eyes of this great, magical being at the time of the Roman invasion, and learns how he tricked Julius Caesar and set in train the series of events that would lead to Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March. But as the bricklayer continues, he worries he is losing his ancient, sacred powers. The vision begins to fray at the edges as we learn how he has recently taken violent revenge on yobs who have mocked him. Is he really connected to a once living Druid priest, or is he gradually losing himself in his own fantasies?

X-Men: Fatal AttractionsX-Men: Fatal Attractions by a whole lot of different people

This goes with the earlier gift with 2 X-Men comics.  I just had to wait longer for this one since it is out of print and took a lot longer to get here because of it.  Once again, it features Magneto and therefore sounds awesome.

Magneto; a man embittered by loss. Avalon; a world created for the survival of his chosen people–mutants–sworn to follow a madman’s lead. Charles Xavier; the most powerful mind on earth, whose Dream for peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants may be the earth’s last hope. Wolverine; the berserker mutant whose adamantium skeleton may be the very thing that destroys him.X-Men! X-Force! X-Factor! And Excalibur! Still reeling from the death of one of their own–they now face their greatest enemy in a battle that could mean the end of the world!

It’s a little past the halfway point of the year now, but better late than never, right?  It’s been a pretty good year for reading, actually.  I’ve read fewer books than usual (looking through the list I seem to have also read more lengthy books than usual), but a higher percentage of them were really good and I keep finding more books that I just can’t leave off a list like this one.  This list includes all books read in 2011, not just those published this year.

So far this year there are two books I’ve read that stand out the most.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

A Dance With Dragons is the latest installment in one of my favorite series ever and I loved it.  This is still, in my opinion, the best sprawling, multi-cast epic fantasy series there is.  It’s a fantastic story, the characters are multi-dimensional, and there are so many subtle details – and there is now so much more to speculate on. (Review in Progress)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone was another book on my list of highly anticipated books.  Although my expectations were rather high based on Laini Taylor’s other work, it definitely met them.  First and foremost, Laini Taylor can write beautifully, but she’s multi-talented since she does everything exceptionally well (plot, world, characters, dialogue, injecting a sense of humor, writing memorable scenes, and instilling the urge to devour every book she’s every written). (Review)

Other notable books read this year:

The Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear (Review)
If I were to add a third book to the above list, this would be the one.  It’s full of Norse mythology, but it’s also not a rehash – Bear uses these elements but makes it her own at the same time.  Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite authors, and this is one of her books that has impressed me the most (along with By the Mountain Bound, another part of this same trilogy).

The Native Star by M. K. Hobson (Review)
My favorite just plain fun book I’ve read this year.  It’s set in an alternate western US in the 1800s and is filled with magic and adventure and has a great romance. This would be the book that took me by surprise the most this year since I never would have read it based on the back cover description. Thank you, fellow book bloggers, because I would never have picked this one up if not for your reviews!

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (Review)
Another gorgeously told story and a semi-modern retelling of the Russian folktale of Koschei the Deathless.  It’s Catherynne M. Valente, need I say more?

Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire (Review)
My favorite urban fantasy from this year, which is a bit surprising considering a new Kate Daniels book came out this year.  While I still love Kate, I have to say I enjoyed this one more than the latest Kate Daniels.  Seanan McGuire just keeps getting better and better with this series.

Aside from M. K. Hobson, there aren’t any new-to-me authors on this list, so here are some favorites by authors I hadn’t read before this year:

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (Review)
The book that makes me the most foolish – because John has been telling me to read it for years and I hadn’t before now.  It is complex, dense, detailed scifi but it’s also very good scifi and I ended up rather pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly (Review)
This is one of those books that plays with fantasy tropes and it had the best ending of any book I’ve read this year.

Eona by Alison Goodman (Review)
I couldn’t quite connect with Eona in the first half of this duology, but in this one the way she handled herself and the obstacles she faced made me love her.  Plus it’s based on Chinese mythology, and I have a tendency to enjoy reading fantasy inspired by Asian settings.

I also don’t feel like a list like this is complete without giving a shout out to the following two books:

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Review)
Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey (Review in Progress)

So, all in all, a very good year so far!  What are the best books you’ve read so far in 2011?