Talon by Julie Kagawa

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I’ve been waiting to read this series since the first time I heard the premise. A book about dragons in a modern day setting? Count me in! So of course I dived in the moment I saw the last book in this 5 book series set to publish next year. Overall I enjoyed the read, but unfortunately I have to day I may have over-hyped the series a bit.

Synopsis: Talon is set in modern day California and follows main character Ember Hill as she and her twin brother, Dante, are finally set free to complete the final part of their training to successfully infiltrate human society for a few months in incognito. Ember and Dante must learn about the outside world of dangerous humans, how to act and be one of them, all in order to continue to provide and keep safe their secret society of ancient dragons masquerading as humans (known as Talon). And of course, there is the evil society of dragon hunters of watch out for. But things aren’t what they seem. After Ember comes across a dangerous rogue dragon named Cobalt begins to question everything she’s been taught and been training for her whole life.

Rating: 6.5-out-of-10 Unicorn Horns.

Overall I enjoyed this story and the magical otherworldly aspects. The way the dragons have evolved and adapted over time in order to assimilate into human society is something that has kept me interested enough to keep picking up the next in the series. Normally this is the kind of story I love to pieces; ancient dragons, secretive societies, mysterious-not-what-they-appear characters, and a defiant, strong heroine, but the characters seemed to fall a bit flat. I kept recognizing them in the many other similar Y.A characters I’ve come across, and so found them all a bit too predictable for my liking. The only characters that really stood out to me were a couple antagonists.

Even though the story is interesting, I felt that the characters brought things down for me, that and everything seemed to be heading down an all too predictable road. I’d still recommend this book to teen urban fantasy lovers as the story begins to grow more complex in later installments, but would warn away those looking for stories with unique characters/character driven stories. 

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

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I’ve been hearing about this series for awhile now and finally…after a few years of it sitting on my bookshelf *cough, cough* decided to check it out. I have to say I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this series on a whole yet. It is very promising in a lot of ways, but also, unfortunately, fell short of my expectations. Don’t get me wrong here I don’t regret my purchase, especially now that I’ve read the much improved 2nd installment Dance of Blades, but can’t honestly give the first book any higher than 6/10 unicorn horns

The beginning of this story starts off promisingly with a young boy and main protagonist Aaron Felhorn, son of the well known and greatly feared leader of the underground Spider thief guild Thren Felhorn, as the thief guilds begin a war with The Trifect- three very powerful Lords that have banded together in an attempt to protect their vast wealth. We bounce back and forth in a third person narrative following the lives of various characters on both sides of the war- mostly major characters but a few minor ones as well- and learn how the bloody power struggle between these two groups, The Trifect and newly banded together thief guilds (under Aaron Felhorn’s unforgiving cold dictatorial rule), has effected the lives of those within the city of Veldaren. 

I can’t talk about too much without giving things away, but the story-line was definitely interesting. My main issue lay with the characters. Many of them, to be honest, I couldn’t find a reason to really care about. The main character, Aaron, was interesting enough, as was his power hungry father Thren and a couple others like the mysterious Faceless assassins, an old and wise tutor, and the new Spider Guild recruit. Which wasn’t the best thing considering the story also covered quite a bit of one of The Trifect Lord’s daughter and heir. My feelings about some of the characters do change over time, but this isn’t until well over half the series. Though all this is really a personal preference and with so many POV’s it’s a give in not all of them will be liked by readers, having to go through chapter after chapter of a bunch of unliked characters I couldn’t find a reason to like or, more often than not, really couldn’t understand their significance in the story, is of course something that greatly lowered my enjoyment. There was also the fact that some of the the transitions and scenes came off a bit choppy, or simply didn’t flow as well as others. Some of the characters actions also, at times, didn’t quite make sense to me given what I’d already been shown of their character/personality. My really high expectations probably didn’t help things lol, but considering the fact that the other novels are set 5yrs after the events of the first book, the whole story ended up coming off a bit like a drawn out prologue. 

Okay, to be fair many of my issues are taken care of in the 2nd installment and I found myself liking almost all the character, both minor and major, that were re/introduced. And there is also the fact that many of the characters in this first installment were new and like with most fantasy novels, especially those that are part of a series, things are a bit slow in the beginning while the settling, characters, and necessary background information are all being put into place for readers. Clearly despite my various concerns and complaints I liked the story and some of the characters well enough to keep going and eventually pick up the next book, so things really aren’t as bad as I’ve probably made it sound lol. There are quite a few elements in this series to keep me interested enough to read the rest in this completed 6 book series, and it does look like things will continue to get better. I’d like to give this book a 7/10, but…that’s pretty much the rating I’d give to the 2nd installment. I’d still recommend this series to fantasy lovers, though can’t say it’s one of the better stories out there. Regardless, I’ll definitely be giving this book a chance and would like to hear from some of you what you thought of it if you’ve read it, or plan to. Thanks for reading!

 

 

The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw Vol. 1 by Kurt Busiek (author) & Benjamin Dewey (illustrator)

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I’m officially hooked. A futuristic world filled with magic where humans have, I assume, as it hasn’t been explained yet, become extinct? Compelling characters, and a classic story-line?  This volume had it all, to say nothing of all the beautifully designed scenes and landscapes-ughh, those COLOURS though!! Autumnlands was a gift from a friend back when it first got released and I went into it, like I do with most stories nowadays, not knowing what the heck I was getting myself into, but the beautiful cover has been staring me down for weeks now so I finally decided to jump in- is my bias towards colourful art showing yet?

The Autumlands is a fantasy story written by Kurt Busiek set in the very, very distant future where not a single human being is in site (let alone heard of), and animals roam the world in the comfort of luxurious floating cities…or at least the wealthy higher class beasts do. The mass of “lower beasts” get to spend their days on the ground slaving for the higher class under threat of being punished by the gods should they step too far beyond their station (sound metaphorically familiar anyone?). This world of rampant exploitation and absolute dominance of the lower social class races is something our main character, Dunstan, son of a privileged magician, is just beginning to be introduced to. Though our main character has some doubts about things after seeing how his father deals with them, this all takes a backseat to a more pressing matter. The magic the beasts of this world rely on like we rely on fuel is quickly running out. After master magicians, sorcerers, and politicians world-wide came together in an effort to discuss possible solutions, one bold sorceress came forth to propose the impossible: reach through time to bring forth “The Champion”. A legendary and mysteriously human shaped (unbeknownst to them) hero in history said to be capable of unimaginable feats.  

There’s a major event I’d love to talk about here, but everything that I’ve mentioned so far only happens within the first 25 or so pages, and I don’t want to reveal anything further, but trust me it only gets way more interesting from there. There wasn’t a single character (especially the key character revealed later in the story) I didn’t enjoy reading about, even the bad guys. Dunstan’s character doesn’t stand out too much for me just yet, but I can tell that will soon change-was changing as the story progressed. A lot of the story felt pretty authentic to how different human beings would react when faced with so much adversity in a situation so foreign from them. I couldn’t help but compare and contrast some of the elements in this story with current society. Also, as I’ve pretty much already gushed about, the illustrations by Benjamin Dewey were easy to follow, visually pleasing, and quite detailed. Deceit, battles, devastation, magic, tactics, power plays, a touch of humour and hint of sci-fi, tactics. This was a really great read that, I’ve got to say, ENDED IN A CLIFFHANGER. Why?! Why would you do that to a person?!?! 

Regardless of that cruel, cruel ending (Thank GOD I didn’t read it back when I first got it, now it’s only 3 months will the 2nd volume is released- Feb 28th), I really enjoyed this story and can’t wait to see where things go from here.

7/10 Unicorn Horns!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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This book is one I’ve considered taking off my favorite self many times, primarily after reading something I know I enjoyed way more, but I never actually manage it. I struggled for quite a while trying to puzzle this out, but after re-reading it I remembered: I love this book. It’s not the type of favorite that stands out, demanding constant attention, and actively battles it out with new arrivals for a top spot. It’s also not one that immediately pops into my mind when I consider a recommendation. This is one of very, very few that subtly and permanently settled into my mind and quietly made itself at home, yet has somehow rarely made itself known. I’m still not even entirely clear on what it is that’s made it a favorite of mine, but I will try my best to explain it.

The Scorpio Races weaves an enchanting story about a young recently orphaned 17 year girl named Puck who, along with old and younger brothers (Gabe and Finn respectively)-a generally private and close knit family- who live on the only island known to occasionally grant wishes, favour the brave, and every year during the Fall…it’s willful ocean parts with dozens of man killing, flesh eating horses. Yup, you read that right: flesh eating horses straight out of the sea. Despite this each November Thisby becomes a thriving tourist destination, not because these foreigners all have a death wish, but because this is the time the people of Thisby, who have lived alongside these carnivorous water creatures (known as capaill uisce) for generations, take these horses and race each other on their backs right next to the sea- the place where they will and have killed many men in a struggle to return to.

It was to these capaill uisce that Puck Connolly lost her parents. Yet due to an unexpected turn of events, Puck is forced to make an insane decision: to not only be the first woman to ever ride in the races, but to also do it on the back of what the capaill uisce often view as food, her normal island horse.

After much pacing and head scratching I finally came to understand what it was about this story that set it apart for me. While of course the original story was part of it. Yes magical flesh eating horses that occasionally lure people out to the sea to drown is actually a well know fairy tale, but I have never come across one that was done quite like this. Much like with Stiefvater’s other series Shiver, she has taken this common fantasy creature and made it her own. All this is a big part of what made me love and favorite the series, that and of course the horses themselves, but it was actually the characters that’s kept it a definitive favorite.

I’m very impressed with how Stiefvater has created the characters, namely Puck, Finn, and primarily Sean Kendrick (the quite 19 year old, 3 time winner of the Scorpio Races) with whom Puck switches POVs with. The amount of body language and carefully put together dialogue that went in to creating Kendrick, who’s silence manages to command power and authority instead of the opposite, has really made this story stand out in my mind. The beautifully realistic and natural way relationships between people and horses alike (Kendrick and his capaill uisce, Corr, among the top), are expressed was another. There was also the communication between all these human (and other) characters (both platonic and otherwise)-a thing Stiefvater accomplishes like nobodies business. Being able to get to the root of the characters, and the snippets of the islanders long standing  and complex relationship with these deadly horses in Scorpio Races is something I really loved.

8.5/10 Overall, with a recommendation to all animal lovers and Y.A. and fantasy lit fans.

Wytches by Scott Snyder & Jock

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This comic has got to be one of the best horror stories I’ve come across in  a very long time, but not because it was amazingly told or had mind-blowing characters or anything like that. The characters and stories are good with a couple twists and development here and there, but to be completely honest they were nothing all that special in my opinion. Yet this is still what I would call one of the best, simply because it had what I consider REAL horror. That’s it. As someone who grew up watching movies like Poltergeist, Hannibal, Chucky, Pet Cemetery, and just about every Steven Speilberg movie out there I haven’t been too impressed with the type of horror movies being put out today (enjoyable stuff, but they tend to lean much more towards thrillers/straight up gore than horror). This story, however, is a much appreciated throwback to my good old type of horror story.

Wytches is a story surrounding a small family, Charlie, Lucy, and primarily their daughter Sailor, after they move to a small town in the hopes of starting over and escaping past trauma. Unfortunately their problems are the type to slowly creep after them no matter where they try to hide.

This was, for me, a pretty clichéd horror story what with the whole family moving to a new town before shit hits the fan thing, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. Sailor was the type of main character I enjoy getting to watch stumble and grow, and Charlie (her father and arguably the real main character) was everything I look for in a main horror story character- brave, weak, strong, smart, and genuinely terrified. It would have been great if the story was a bit longer but the extent to which Snyder fleshed out his characters personalities (namely Charlie) was very impressive. The art was beautiful, though some of the colouring actually made some scenes a bit hard to understand.

A really good story for those looking for a great Halloween Read and aren’t afraid of few graphic scenes here and there. Personally it’s around a 7/10 but overall I think it’s a lot closer to 6.5/10 Unicorn Horns overall.

 

The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

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The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke was a pretty enjoyable fantasy read for me, and meshed together a lot of different fantasy creatures-from magicians to mythical creatures- into a successful adventure story teeming with magic and it’s share of romantic tension. Within the first two chapters we get the main character, a 16yr old pirate woman named Ananna of the Tanarau, running away from an arranged marriage to Tarrin of the Hariri, the son of Captain Hariri and head of the notorious Hariri pirate merchant clan. Unfortunately for Ananna crossing the Hariri clan is something that just isn’t done, and she soon finds herself running from a man thought to be nothing more than a fairy tale: an assassin. Interestingly enough through an unexpected series of events  Ananna and this assassin find themselves magically bound to each other through a curse. I won’t go into anything more but the first few chapters had me interested, and the next few had me hooked.

Though the main character’s personality and attitude did get on my nerves sometimes (okay, her occasional counterproductive stubbornness downright made me want to strangle the living daylights out of her), overall Ananna was a likable character. She’s a strong, determined, and emotionally honest character which I LOVED, especially since this meant a significant lack of angst, and who would usually do as she pleased when she wanted (a true pirate at heart…minus the honesty), but wasn’t so full of herself that she would disregard or mistreat the people around her. Thankfully my issues with her lessened towards the end of the book and in the second installment. The other main character, Naji, though not entirely unlike Ananna in the stubbornness area, was a bit more likable in my opinion and I really enjoyed the way Clarke slowly revealed the mystery enveloping his character.

Regardless, the other characters (who I can’t really mention without spoiling something) I loved getting to know, and the story was good. I struggled for some time as to whether this would go on my favorites list or not, and ultimately decided not too add it. This was not because is isn’t a great story filled with enough fantasy, action, mystery, romance, and adventure to keep most interested, it just started to fall short as a series on a whole. Assassin’s Curse is in my opinion a successful fantasy series, and deserves some love, or at least a chance. It just fell a bit short for me towards the end. Not so much that it took a lot away from my enjoyment, but just enough that I couldn’t justify putting it next to other series I know I enjoyed a lot more.

Overall 7/10 unicorn horns