Sharon Shinn’s DARK MOON DEFENDER

Book 3 of the Twelve House series

Dark Moon DefenderRebellion is brewing in Gillengaria and King Baryn has a lot of questions. In DARK MOON DEFENDER, he sends his guard Justin to investigate the activities of the Lumanen convent and the collaboration between its Lestra, Coralinda Gisseltees, and her brother Halchon.

Justin is reluctant to work alone, without the support of his friends or his fellow Riders, but obeys orders and finds work as a stable hand in a small town near the convent, a convenient post for spying. One night he rescues Ellynor, a young novice, from a drunken attacker and they become friends.

Ellynor is a Lirren girl and has been sent to the Lumanen convent as a companion for her cousin, Rosurie, who has been temporarily exiled to the convent to remove her from an unsuitable romance. A Lirren girl can only marry outside her clan if her suitor fights and kills one of her relatives, usually her father or brother.

Ellynor, like all Lirrens, is a follower of the Dark Mother but sees no conflict between that and going through the rituals of the convent where the Pale Mother is worshipped. Ellynor is a healer but, believing that this ability comes from the Dark Mother, does not consider herself a mystic. Justin, however, realises what she is and urges her to leave the convent where she will be killed if they find out she is a mystic, but Ellynor is reluctant to leave her cousin. She is also reluctant to tell Justin she is a Lirren, in spite of their developing relationship.

I enjoyed Justin in the first two books. I liked the way his unthinking aversion to mystics changed to acceptance and appreciation as he got to know some. I liked his interaction with the other members of the group, particularly with Kirra, and the way they became his family.

Unfortunately, this book separates Justin from his friends, and he becomes, I regret to say, boring. Ellynor is also boring. And silly. Well, maybe not silly as such but certainly young, inexperienced and naïve, and I am not particularly interested in young, inexperienced and naïve heroines or the silly things they do. I am still baffled about why she didn’t tell Justin she was Lirren. And even more baffled about how a mystic could live in a convent where mystics are abominated without anyone noticing. For a whole year. She wore and handled moonstones, which burn mystics, and nobody noticed?

The romance between Justin and Ellynor is sweet but not very interesting. The main obstacle, that they can’t marry unless Justin kills one of Ellynor’s much-loved relatives, is unknown to Justin for most of the book and then just fades away once Senneth gets involved. This was maddening given that the custom was described in the first book as unavoidable.

Another problem was that the book didn’t really advance the series plot. The individual books cover the romances of the members of the group, but the series looks as though it is going to be about the rebellion and its suppression/defeat/success. MYSTIC AND RIDER revealed the major players and issues; THE THIRTEENTH HOUSE revealed some of the minor, but no less dangerous, players, and the beginning of King Baryn’s move against the rebels. DARK MOON DEFENDER doesn’t seem to advance the series at all, particularly as Justin discovers little new information.

The best parts of the book are those with the other members of the original group, particularly Senneth and Tayse. Kirra is bit irritating in that she seems completely unchanged and unaffected by the harrowing, for her, events of the previous book.

I was not impressed with this book. It’s probably OK if you like sweet romances, but it fails to deliver on the promise of the first book.–Margaret

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  • More on the first two books in the series here.

Laurell K. Hamilton’s Negative Readers

My only New Year’s resolution? To become reinvolved in this site and my favorite romance genre Listserv, RRA-L. But where to begin? Luckily, Laurell K. Hamilton did me a favor. She posted on her blog a trying-so-hard-to-be-rational-but-coming-across-crazy-delusional message to the fans who’ve hated on her books on some message board.

There are books that don’t make you think that hard. Books that don’t push you past that comfortable envelope of the mundane. [...] Put my books away with other things that frighten and confuse or just piss you off.

Mmm hmm. It’s not that her books have become crap; instead, there’s something wrong with the readers. There’s much more goodness where this came from. (via Whatever)

I’m in the camp that stopped reading her Anita Blake books several years ago, when it was clear OBSIDIAN BUTTERFLY was as good as it was getting. I know many still love the series. Feeling let down by Hamilton, however, I am just a tad—maybe more—gleeful at witnessing her self-defeating outburst. That is, even though I no longer read the books, I cannot resist the opportunity LKH has given me to state once again how maddeningly, ridiculously bad the Anita Blake books have become. And now LKH has provided material to mock not just the books but herself. Oh, dear.

Watching bitter, hurt, thin-skinned authors lashing out is trainwreck-fascinating. I’ve never seen a positive result for an author for indulging in her emotions in this way. But maybe browsing through blog search engine results will turn up a lode of reader sympathy for LKH?

Where do you fall? I’m curious about current reader levels of passion for or against the Anita Blake series among this site’s readership (presuming this blog still has any after such long hiatus.)

Here’s a link to our most recent LKH book review, of DANSE MACABRE. You can find links to older reviews in the review index.

TEMERAIRE to Be Peter Jackson Movie

His Majesty's DragonIt looks like director Peter Jackson will be making Naomi Novik’s TEMERAIRE into a movie or three. Awesome. Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian web site:

 

“Téméraire is a terrific meld of two genres that I particularly love – fantasy and historical epic,” Jackson told The Hollywood Reporter. “I can’t wait to see Napoleonic battles fought with a squadron of dragons. That’s what I go to the movies for.” Jackson is also planning to turn Téméraire into a computer game franchise. “As I was reading these books,” adds the New Zealander director, “I could see them coming to life in my mind’s eye. These are beautifully written novels, not only fresh, original and fast-paced, but full of wonderful characters with real heart.”

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King of Attolia, Swordspoint

THE KING OF ATTOLIA by Megan Whalen Turner

The King of AttoliaThis is the third in the young adult series that started with THE THIEF.

Eugenides is now married to the Queen of Attolia and is despised and resented by his attendants, the court, the Queen’s Guard, and everyone else in Attolia. The reader, knowing Eugenides a lot better than these characters, waits eagerly for them to find out their mistake. This takes a while as Eugenides has a number of schemes on the go, most of which depend on his being underestimated. He is also extremely reluctant to become King in truth as well as in name, so avoids behaving in a kingly manner. When one of the guards, Costis, is provoked into hitting him, Eugenides, instead of condemning him to death, takes him into his personal service.

Most of the story is told from Costis’ POV, and the change in his view of Eugenides is very well done, although the reader can sympathise with him as he wonders how it is possible to dislike someone yet be so devoted to him at the same time. The glimpses of Eugenides’ often stormy relationship with his wife are brief but significant.

An excellent book. I do hope there are more in the series, which seems likely as a couple of minor plot points are left dangling, and there is still the threat of the Mede invasion.—Margaret

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SWORDSPOINT by Ellen Kushner

SwordspointI re-read SWORDSPOINT to refresh my memory before tackling the sequel, PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD.

I’d forgotten how much I love Kushner’s prose. SWORDSPOINT has one of the best opening scenes ever, beginning with fairytale delicacy (the snow, the single drop of blood) and then turning it around into—not gritty realism, exactly, but more bawdiness and cynicism than you usually get in a fantasy novel. I love Richard and even have a fondness for Alec, though I usually have a very low tolerance for interestingly “wounded” aristocratic woobie-types. (Hmm, that almost describes Felix too…)—Danielle

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  • See our previous thoughts on SWORDSPOINT here.

Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses Series

MYSTIC AND RIDER by Sharon Shinn

Mystic and RiderThe king is getting old, his mysterious second wife has failed to produce any children, and his only heir is his 18-year-old daughter who nobody ever sees. Some of the powerful families (known as the 12 Houses) see this as their chance to grab the throne, and some of the less powerful families (known collectively as the thirteenth house) see this as their chance to become more powerful.

Senneth, a powerful mystic (magic user) has been sent out by the king to investigate feelings and activity among the southern Houses. She is accompanied by Tayse and Justin, who are Kings’ Riders (elite guard), Kirra Danalustrous, the mystic daughter of one of the 12 Lords of the kingdom, and Donnal, another mystic assigned by Kirra’s father to guard her. Early on they are joined by Cammon, a young and untrained mystic.

The book is episodic so mainly consists of travel and adventures as they discover worrying alliances and a determined hate campaign against mystics. The real story arc is not so much the plot as the developing relationships among the group. At the start the Riders dislike and distrust the mystics and are disliked in turn. Senneth is nominally in charge but Justin obeys Tayse, not her, and Donnal obeys Kirra. As they learn more about each other and are forced to rely on each other the dislike and distrust are reduced and they become a cohesive group. A closer relationship develops between Senneth and Tayse who find themselves attracted to each other. Tayse finds this more disturbing than Senneth does as he feels there is no hope of any future together; however, everyone else, particularly Senneth, is in favour.–Margaret

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THE THIRTEENTH HOUSE by Sharon Shinn

The Thirteenth HouseSequel to MYSTIC AND RIDER. To quell rumours that his daughter is unfit to be Queen, the King has sent her on a circuit of the 12 Houses. She is accompanied by her stepmother, Senneth, and a group of King’s Riders, including Tayse and Justin. Cammon goes along as well.

In the meantime, Kirra’s younger sister has been named as Heir to Danalustrous and should also go on a circuit of the houses but refuses to leave the land she loves. Their father suggests Kirra, a shapeshifter, impersonate her. She agrees and, accompanied by her sister’s maid and Donnal, sets out. Naturally they soon join up with the princess and Senneth and the group is together again.

The royal party is also joined by the princess’s uncle Romar who has been named as regent-to-be, if one is needed. Life becomes more complicated as the princess and Romar come under attack and, as if this isn’t enough, Kirra and Romar fall madly in lust and embark upon an adulterous affair to the irritation, disgust, and distress of Kirra’s companions. I don’t enjoy reading about adultery and thought less of Kirra for her thoughtlessness and selfishness but her actions are not condoned by her companions, and she eventually comes to see the price others are paying for her self-indulgence.

I enjoyed this book, too, but not as much as MYSTIC AND RIDER. I look forward to the next in the series.–Margaret

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  • See our previous thoughts on MYSTIC AND RIDER here.

Sarah Monette – THE VIRTU

The VirtuI just finished THE VIRTU, Sarah Monette’s sequel to MELUSINE. The two books are very much a pair — if you enjoyed MELUSINE you’ll like THE VIRTU; if (like a few readers I know) the dual narrative voices or Felix’s general asshattedness put you off, then you won’t find enough difference in the second book to encourage you to try again.

Felix continues to be a hurtful idiot for most of the book, but he improves slightly in the end and I don’t mind unsympathetic characters so long as they’re interesting. Mildmay is fabulous, as always. The plot is episodic (travel, adventures, yada yada) until the two of them return to the city of Melusine, then the action picks up considerably.

Though I wouldn’t define THE VIRTU as SFR, romantic and sexual entanglements are crucial to the story, some of them outside the norm — and no, I’m not referring to same-sex relationships (which are also in the book). I can’t really say more without spoilage.–Danielle

Recent(ish) Award News

While I wasn’t paying attention, many worthy books were either nominated or won some nice awards. Here’re highlights from most of the awards to which we generally pay attention. Visit their sites to see full lists of nominees and winners.

2006 Compton Crook Award (from the Baltimore Science Fiction Society)

  • POISON STUDY • Maria V. Snyder • our review

2006 Rita Award (from the Romance Writers of America)

    Best Paranormal Romance

  • GABRIEL’S GHOST • Linnea Sinclair • Bantam Books

2006 Prism Award (from RWA’s Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal Chapter)

    Fantasy

  • 1st • DAUGHTER OF ANCIENTS • Carol Berg • Roc Books
  • 2nd • THE COMPASS ROSE • Gail Dayton • Luna Books
    Novella

  • 1st • “The City of Cries” in DOWN THESE DARK SPACEWAYS • Catherine Asaro • Science Fiction Book Club
  • 2nd • “The Shadowed Heart” in THE JOURNEY HOME • Catherine Asaro • ImaJinn Books
    Best of the Best

  • “The City of Cries” in DOWN THESE DARK SPACEWAYS • Catherine Asaro • Science Fiction Book Club

2006 Mythopoeic Award Winners (from Mythopoeic Society)

    Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature

  • ANANSI BOYS • Neil Gaiman
    Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature

  • “The Bartimaeus Trilogy” (THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND, THE GOLEM’S EYE, and PTOLEMY’S GATE) • Jonathan Stroud

Upon review, I’ve only read one thing above. Would any of you care to vouch for the stories on these lists?

Good First Books from Novik, Monette

TEMERAIRE by Naomi Novik (Published as HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON in the US.)

His Majesty's DragonExcellent first book. It’s the Napoleonic wars with dragons. The author doesn’t interfere much with history—the same battle take place at the same time and place, as far as I can tell, and the same side wins, but dragons are also involved. Will Laurence is the Captain of an English ship that captures a French ship. The French ship is carrying a dragon’s egg, a great prize, which hatches before they reach shore. A dragon that is not harnessed before its first meal becomes feral so it is important for England’s war effort that the dragon be harnessed, although this means whoever harnesses the dragon will have to leave the Navy and join the Aerial Corps, an unwelcome fate. The dragon chooses Laurence, much to his dismay. Most of the book is about Laurence’s developing relationship with Temeraire, as he names the dragon, their training, and the Aerial Corps. There are a few battles but they don’t dominate. The author seems to have a good feel for the period which shows in the characters’ speech and behaviour.–Margaret

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MELUSINE by Sarah Monette

MelusineAnother first book that I enjoyed in spite of its faults. I could go on and on about the faults but this would be unfair to the book, which is well worth a read, and unfair to the author as I feel most of them are “first novel” faults.

The story is told in first person narrative, alternating between Felix Harrowgate, a wizard of the Mirador a member of the ruling council, and lover of the Lord Protector’s brother, and Mildmay, thief and paid killer of the Lower City.

Felix’s story starts when an enemy at court discloses part of the very murky past Felix has gone to a lot of trouble to conceal. This knocks Felix off balance and he seeks out Malkar, his old master who trained and abused him for many years. Malkar, who probably set this up, uses him to break the Virtu, a magical crystal that protects the city. Felix comes out of this mad and unable to say what happened, and is found guilty of the Virtu’s destruction. As Felix spends most of the book mad it is a pity that we didn’t get to see much of him before disaster struck.

Meanwhile, down in the Lower City, Mildmay has been hired to retrieve some jewellery that a pretty shop girl, the erstwhile mistress of a minor lord, thinks she is entitled to. A simple job, but it develops ramifications which result in Mildmay’s getting in the bad books of a very powerful and nasty person. Circumstances compel Felix and Mildmay to leave the city and they eventually meet. Felix has had dreams that lead him to believe that he will be cured if he can get to the Gardens of Nephele. When he gets free of his guards he sets off for them and Mildmay insists on accompanying him.

MELUSINE is the first half of a book, although this isn’t mentioned anywhere, which explains the weak ending and probably explains the disappearance of most of the characters. Monette is a bit weak in plotting and has a tendency to keep important information from the reader which make some people’s actions and motivations somewhat incomprehensible. All may be revealed in the sequel but that doesn’t help this book. She is, however, excellent at characters and relationships. Even minor characters seem solid and the changing relationships are fascinating. There are a few romances in this book but none end happily, and there is a potential one but with a high ick factor. There are some distressing scenes but anyone who enjoys Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books should be OK.–Margaret

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  • See our previous thoughts on MELUSINE here and here.

More Long-awaited Book News

Emma Bull posted on her LiveJournal recently that she’d just submitted the manuscript of her new book TERRITORY to her publisher, Tor. Googling around found me an old excerpt of the (then) first two chapters, and the information that it’s “historical fantasy set in southeast Arizona in 1881.”

No other details yet, or any estimated release date, but given the fact that she’s written so many of my favourite books, I’m thrilled!–Danielle

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Cool news. This book has been on the forthcoming books page’s “not yet scheduled” section for many years now.–Preeti   

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