Book Review – Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

The blurb explains:

After many years, dragons have hatched again outside the ancient city of Cassarick. But something is wrong with the creatures; each is inferior or weak in some way, and many die. Tending these stunted dragons has left the people of the surrounding area weary. The Traders Council, the city’s leadership, fears that if the Rain Wilders stop providing for the young dragons, the hungry and neglected creatures will rampage and destroy Cassarick. To avert catastrophe, the council rule to relocate the young dragons to “a better location” upriver, and residents are recruited to escort the valuable yet fearsome creatures on the arduous journey. Among them are Thymara, an unschooled Rain Wilds girl of sixteen and Alise, a wealthy, educated and deep unsatisfied Bingtown Trader’s wife.

Witnessed from the viewpoints of these two very different women, DRAGON KEEPER tells the story of this disparate band of humans and dragons as they make their way along the toxic and inhospitable Rain Wild River in search of their new home – the ancient, long-lost city of Kelsingra.

I started reading Robin Hobb over ten years ago, with The Farseer Trilogy1.  I really enjoyed it and I guess the series must have been successful, because she followed it up with The Liveship Traders Trilogy2 and then The Tawny Man Trilogy3, all set in the same world and loosely connected to each other.

It’s an interesting way to build a big world – in manageable trilogies instead of a huge series like The Wheel of Time or The Song of Ice and Fire.

The author then switched to the Soldier Son Trilogy, which is set in a new world.  I understand the desire to get out of a rut and try something new, but I couldn’t really get into the Soldier Son Trilogy, and I only ever read the first one.

After that, the author returned to her more popular world with The Rain Wilds Chronicles4(of which this is the first book).  Lastly the author is returning to the original two characters with The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy5.

This book follows on almost immediately after the end of The Liveship Traders Trilogy, although there is a reference to the events of The Tawny Man Trilogy.  I was worried that I would be lost since it had been years since I read Ship of Destiny, but it turned out that I could remember the major plot points and the minor things that I couldn’t remember weren’t that important.

A problem that this book has (and that is shared by all of the rest of the books that I’ve read by this author) is that it’s slow.  It doesn’t feel like the author’s wasting the reader’s time, but it just takes a long time for things to happen.  It’s not necessarily a totally bad thing, because it makes the events of the book feel like they came together naturally, but it can still be annoying when events are unfolding slowly.

One thing that I really liked about this book (and The Liveship Traders Trilogy before it) was how it gave me a different perspective.  I’ve read a lot of female characters written by both male and female authors, but Robin Hobb is really good at putting the reader in the shoes of a female character.  Not necessarily making the reader think differently, just putting them in a different point of view – how would you feel if just because of your gender you were a liability to your family and had no control over your life?

I didn’t realize until a later book in this series, but the “Trader’s daughter” character in this series is fairly similar to a character in The Liveship Traders Trilogy – so much so that because it’d been so long since I read The Liveship Traders I thought it was the same person.

As a reader I don’t like it when I’m way ahead of the characters, because it makes them seem stupid.  Unfortunately there’s a fairly big plot point that is obvious to the reader from near the start of the book but that the main character hasn’t figured out by the end.

Speaking of the end of the book, the story doesn’t end as much as just stop – there’s no climax whatsoever.  I really hate books that do that, but as I already owned the next book in the series I could just switch books and keep reading, so it wasn’t as annoying.

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  1. Assassin’s ApprenticeRoyal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest []
  2. Ship of MagicThe Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny []
  3. Fool’s ErrandThe Golden Fool and Fool’s Fate []
  4. Dragon KeeperDragon HavenCity of Dragons and Blood of Dragons []
  5. so far only the upcoming The Fool’s Assassin []

Book Review – Velvet Dogma by Weston Ochse

Velvet Dogma by Weston Ochse

Velvet Dogma by Weston Ochse

The blurb says:

In the year 2040, the world has finally achieved the perfect merging of human and machine by developing a method by which the computer has direct integration into the brain. Called Personal Ocular Devices, or PODS, the interface fits over the eye feeding information directly along the optic nerve into the brain, allowing minds and computers to become one.

But not for Rebecca Mines who has been held in solitary confinement for the last 20 years. Arrested under the 2002 Patriot Act as a cyber-terrorist for unleashing a program called Velvet Dogma, her parole restricts access to all computers and all but the simplest of machines. Although the government is still fearful that she’ll resume her previous profession, Rebecca wants nothing more than to find a place to exist in peace. She has a life to live, and twenty years of personal stagnation from which to recover.

But she discovers that things have changed dramatically since she’s been in prison. Not only is organ theft sanctioned, but all of her organs have already been levied to the highest bidder. No sooner does she promise the judge that she’ll be a law-abiding citizen, then she finds herself on the run from not only Chinese Black Hearts, eager to confiscate her organs, but the authorities who realize that they’ve let her out too soon.

The first thing that bugged me about this book was that the main character said she wasn’t “the thirty-year-old girl who’d been sent to prison”.  Maybe this is just me, but who refers to 30-year-old women as girls?  Then there’s the fact that she’s been in prison for twenty years which would make her 50, except she’s only just starting to go grey and get a few wrinkles.  Then later on she mentions that she’s 44.  It isn’t a big deal, but it’s a symptom of a larger problem – the book is not well written.

Related to the prison stay, the character comes out of prison as if she’s been in a time capsule – knowing nothing about the world – but I’m pretty sure that watching TV is a big part of what people do in prison.  I don’t see how it would be possible to be that ignorant.

Then when she learns about the changes of the past 20 years instead of being humbled by the amount of catching up she has to do, she sets out to destroy it because it’s unpalatable from a point of view that nobody else shares.

She isn’t particularly upset that her country no longer exists, but she does care that they stopped playing sports that she knows.

There are stupid things like the main character’s attitude toward money: “When she’d had money, she’d given it away. She’d never had a need for it.” or how a geeky character doesn’t care about being in shape and yet is buff.  These are not normal human attitudes.

In a book that is very clearly supposed to be science fiction, attention needs to be paid to technical details.  The author seems to think that adding “quantum” or “viral” or for some reason “bit-torrent” to a sentence turns in into believeable technical jargon.  It’s like when Star Trek scriptwriters would just put (TECH) into a script for someone else to fill in with some technical nonsense that they didn’t care about.  For a person with any sort of knowledge (and nowadays that’s a lot of people) it’s just absurd.  I actually went and checked the publication date because the “futuristic” technology was so oddly non-futuristic.  Maybe the author’s the one who’s been in prison for 20 years.

What really killed the book for me was when the main character berated another character for saving her life (because this removed her personal sovereignty and what if she didn’t want her life saved?).  He then apologized for saving her life, and then she slept with him.  This is not how human beings behave.  Also the sex is poorly written – I think the author has either read too many romance novels or has never had sex or both.

There are a bunch of editing problems with the book but by this point I was beyond caring.

The ending was more extreme than I was expecting so the book had a slight lift in my estimation, but not enough to get it another star.

Book Review – Three by Jay Posey

Three by Jay Posey

Three by Jay Posey

The blurb briefs:

The world has collapsed, and there are no heroes any more.
But when a lone gunman reluctantly accepts the mantel of protector to a young boy and his dying mother against the forces that pursue them, a hero may yet arise.

Post-apocalyptic settings have been done to death recently, so unfortunately that aspect of the book was pretty boring.  In this case the apocalypse was some sort of technological one, which is more original, but unfortunately cyber zombies are still really just zombies, so we’re back to boring.

This book had a fairly sophomoric problem in that the main characters fall in love just because they’re the main characters.  The author did make sure that there was a reason for all of the characters’ actions (the good guys, anyway) , but the big exception to this was the “love” subplot.

Another sophomoric problem was that pretty much every character is awesome at fighting, which actually just cheapens their prowess.

The ending was interesting only in that I would think it would make a sequel difficult, and apparently this is the first book in a series.

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Book Review – The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

The blurb says:

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

This book is more of an Elizabethan alternate history than the fantasy book I was expecting.  That’s a compliment, because instead of just making things up the author had to do research.  A down side of this is that for whatever reason whenever an author writes about Elizabethan times it always involves Shakespearean plays – I’m pretty sure there was more to life back then than the bullet points we remember of it.

I like the idea of the explorers who discovered the new world finding something truly different instead of just more humans, although that isn’t really explored in the book – people are just prejudiced against them the same as they are toward humans from other countries.

There’s a nice plot twist in the book that I wasn’t expecting that lifted the last third of the book in my estimation.  The consequences of the twist set up the sequel to be potentially more interesting than the first book because the nature of the bad guys is now known.

My biggest problem with the book is that very nearly everyone is gay.  On one hand I think that gay people are underrepresented in literature, but on the other hand if this book was accurate the human race would have died out because nobody was interested in the opposite sex.  There is only one female main character, and she spends the whole book pretending to be a boy with “humorous” consequences.

Considering how much of the book involves insinuations of sex, when the female character actually comes into contact with someone she likes, the writing degenerates into badly written romance and rape jokes.

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Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The blurb says:

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

This book is written more like a literature book than a fantasy one, but there are plenty of fantastical elements to it.

One thing I enjoyed about the book was how through describing the point of view of the two mythical creatures discovering and learning to fit into our world, the author did a good job of describing the experience of immigrants discovering and learning to fit into a new country.  This was one of the ways the book felt more literature than genre – the deft and subtle description of people’s lives is unusual in fantasy books.

I’m neither Jewish nor Syrian, but to me the description of those immigrant communities in New York had a real ring of authenticity to them.

I don’t have many criticisms of the book – there was an unfinished plotline and some confluences seemed too coincidental, but the revelation (twist?) at the climax really lifted the book, leaving me with a good impression afterwards.

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