Author Archives: nico1esinger

Nicole’s Review: THE WAY OF SHADOWS

Since the fourth book in Brent Weeks’ LIGHTBRINGER series is inching closer and closer to its planned 2016 release date, I thought it’d be fun to turn back the clock and share my review for the very first Brent Weeks book I read–the first in his Night Angel trilogy, THE WAY OF SHADOWS.

Way of ShadowsTitle: THE WAY OF SHADOWS

Author: Brent Weeks

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Grimdark fantasy

Pages: 645

Synopsis: For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city’s most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death.

Review:

This book was flat out amazing! It tells the story of Azoth, a young street rat who sees his chance to get out by apprenticing himself to reknowned assassin (aka wetboy) Durzo Blint. Through his training, Azoth becomes Kylar Stern, a low-ranking aristocrat with new friends in high places…and the skills to kill. One problem – wetboys don’t have friends.

THE WAY OF SHADOWS is gritty, it’s action-packed (be prepared to read the last 200 pages in one sitting!), and it has twists that even I couldn’t see coming. Not many books can keep me guessing, but this one did. You know those moments when you’re reading a chapter and you realize you’re physically sitting up straighter because the story has just punched you in the gut? Well, you get a lot of those in this book.

I’m a character girl, no question, and THE WAY OF SHADOWS has one of the most fascinating characters mixes I’ve ever read. I fell in love with Azoth from the very first sentence.

These are real, flawed, hurting, wonderful people. There is a depth here that stole my breath several times. From Kylar and Durzo, all the way down to the secondary characters. There are only a handful of authors who can make me forever remember a secondary character who gets only one scene. Brent Weeks does it! He also comes up with one of the most awesomely horrible bad guys ever. I loved hating this guy!

One of the things I really enjoyed was the way Weeks writes from the periphery. Even at their best, Kylar and Durzo are, for the most part, in the shadows of the kingdom. They’re not in a position to make big bold moves. We never really see things from the POV of those in power, but we know them and love or hate them based on Kylar and Durzo’s reactions.

Weeks also writes so that the reader eventually pieces together all the details…but the characters never do. It created such a cool dynamic!

When I originally read this, it was the best book I’d read that year, and it remains near the top of my all time list. Brent Weeks is a master, and this is one of those rides that leaves you breathless and thinking “Holy crap, I wish I could write like that!”

Five stars.

5star

Find this book on Amazon.

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Friday Fandom: The Musketeers

The MusketeersA few months ago, my cousin sent me this pic of a DVD cover she’d found while browsing Barnes & Noble. We immediately agreed it was a show we MUST watch! So, I thought it’d be fun to bring her in on the commentary for this week’s Fandom for The Musketeers. Welcome Katie!

Though The Musketeers isn’t technically fantasy, it DOES have exceptional worldbuilding, character depth and caliber of writing/production so we’re saying it TOTALLY qualifies for a fandom spot.

Here we go!

 

The story

For me, the musketeers is a theme I’ve always been drawn to since childhood – like King Arthur and the roundtable, or Robin Hood and his merry band. It’s a great assortment of adventure, romance and chivalry with a side of bromance, so I was excited to see how BBC would freshen it.

Katie: It is an incredibly solid show. Everything fits together. Everyone’s vision is so clear, the directors, the writers, the costumer. And everyone’s individual visions have all come together to create this incredibly authentic, believable and amazing world. Everything down to the very last detail fits together seamlessly and never leaves you wondering about a certain plot hole or anything.

The characters

Katie: The characters themselves are incredible. They are well written, excellently portrayed and incredibly believable. And the best part is, they’re human. Each of them have incredible strengths and yet they’re not constantly achieving everything they set out to do. Even the “bad guys” have redeeming qualities and the “good guys” have flaws. The Musketeers are yes, the heroes and the savers of the day, but not without group and personal consequences. They get hurt, emotionally and physically. Their actions take a toll on them. This show does an excellent job of keeping our heroes grounded.

  • d’Artagnan – The kid of the group! He waltzes into the Musketeer camp looking for revenge with no idea what larger scheming he’s just stumbled into. The show does a wonderful job of showing his loyalty, his coming of age, and his admiration of the Musketeers. Plus, Luke Pasqualino’s facial expressions are to die for!
  • Athos – From the very first head-in-bucket moment, we loved his character! He’s loyal to the core, but oh so tortured and brooding. His history with Milady is cast perfectly in this adaptation. I also really like him as a somewhat reluctant mentor figure for d’Artagnan. His dry wit is hilarious. In fact, the repartee among all the characters is second to none. And the acting–for the love of Alexandre Dumas–the acing is excellent!
  • Porthos – We love Porthos (Well, as you can see, we love them all!). He’s the most swashbuckling of the gang and, though he works his strong London accent in 17th century France, BOY DOES IT WORK! He gets some great one-liners, cool battle sequences, and a heart of gold. Plus, a surprisingly complex backstory.
  • Aramis – It says a LOT that he pulls off the chivalrous lover archetype without it ever feeling like a stereotype. He’s passionate about his country, his brothers in arms, his rifle … and other things too. Like ladies. And his queen. But the show brilliantly anchors him with a couple of fantastic twists that bring his “lover” consequences home to roost. He’s got a huge heart and a strong faith. When you think chivalry, you think Aramis.
  • Cardinal Richelieu – At first, I wasn’t sure I’d like the far more understated take on this character vs. Tim Curry’s gleefully exuberant villainy in the Disney version. But it works fantastically! The cardinal’s tension between wanting power and wanting to empower his country at all costs is fascinating to watch.
  • Rochefort – In the running for one of the creepiest villains ever, yet so elegantly conniving you can’t help being mesmerized.
  • King & Queen – It sounds simple, but these actors are exceptional in their roles. Even you’re yelling at their actions, it’s a delight to watch because they utterly transport you to that period.
  • Constance – A badass in training and, somewhat contradictorily, the main source of steadiness for d’Artagnan and the others. One thing I didn’t like as much about the Disney version was its mild approach to Constance. She gets her wings in BBC’s adaptation (And guns! And disguises!). The show does a good job balancing her quiet, sometimes feisty strength with the jaded badassdom of Milady De Winter.
  • Milady – One of the best female assassin characters ever written, she shines in nearly every episode. The love/hate tension between her and Athos is breathtaking to watch. Milady knows her way around multiple weapons, is beyond clever, and gets THE BEST period costumes!
  • Treville – He’s the loyal captain of the Musketeers and everything you’d want in a leader while remaining fallibly and endearingly human. He breaks out a few badass moments himself and, every time the king doubts the Musketeers, Treville takes the brunt of it. By the end of the first season, you’re ready to have his back as quickly as Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan!

Katie: The actors blow my mind. As someone trying to be an actor, I would be honored just to be a cup bearer in this show!

The four men playing the Musketeers work seamlessly as a unit and yet do this great job of bringing forth their own personalities. And yes, you can stereotype them if you’d like. “Porthos is the big cuddly bear/funny guy.” “Athos is the brooding, intellect.” “Aramis is the romantic artist.” “D’Artagnan is the newbie with honor, fighting for a place in the ranks, and has a bit of that young lover vibe as well.” But you’re never slapped in the face with these stereotypes.

They have me completely invested in every one of their stories. I am genuinely concerned about the outcome of these characters, probably to an unhealthy point. Haha! Even when you dislike a character, you appreciate the actor so much, you can’t quite fully hate them. It’s beautiful. In this world we don’t have just good guys and bad guys. Everyone has a bit of both in them and a TV show that addresses that and shows us that in its characters gets big points in my book.

The world

I love it when a show takes the time to get small details right, and The Musketeers nails it!! From period details and recreated streets to the myriad of Musketeer weapons, viewers get some really cool elements.

Katie: The costumes are actually time period and accurate (Sorry Reign.) They address issues of society, mainly rich vs poor and the role of women, but they also note that there were people who rebelled against it and got away with it. Without going too much into it, these women are strong. Super strong. Equally as strong as the men. But like the men, have their own flaws as well, mainly the way society portrays them. The locations where they shoot the show are beautiful. The dialogue is poetic and believable. Everything. Just everything about this show is spot on. 

You can tell the entire cast has put in their training, and it pays off beautifully. And BE SURE to watch the DVD extras for behind-the-scenes footage of how it’s all created. Amazing! Sign us up for prep school please!

The weapons

Katie and I are particular fans of their handy back daggers…and the swords…and Aramis’ rifle…this could go on a while. The show’s choreographers are among the best we’ve seen, and several scenes involve sequences using multiple individual weapons in succession. It never feels staged, forced or overdone.

Katie: It’s entertaining. It makes you think. It shows us history while paralleling life today. It has strong characters, both male and female. It has great baddies you love to hate. It has romance, comedy, enough twists to keep you guessing. And well, let’s just say it once so we can get it over with…it has an incredibly attractive cast.

As you can probably tell, we could talk ALL DAY about how much we love this show. But why read our praise when you could be watching it for yourselves? Go! The Musketeers await!

Nicole’s Review: PROMISE OF BLOOD & THE POWDER MAGE TRILOGY

Is this not the most gorgeous cover ever? I LOVE the excerpt lines on all three of the trilogy's covers. Brilliant!

Is this not the most gorgeous cover ever? I LOVE the excerpt lines on all three of the trilogy’s covers. Brilliant!

Title: Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, The Autumn Republic

Author: Brian McClellan

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 608

Synopsis: It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It’s up to a few…
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed PROMISE OF BLOOD and the entire Powder Mage Trilogy! Brian McClellan pairs highly compelling characters with a gritty setting that seems an alt mix of the French and American Revolutions era. It’s one heck of a fun read!

While each of the POV characters is well written and engaging, it’s Tamas and Taniel (individually and in their dicey father-son dynamic) that kept pulling me on. They’re very different and intriguing each in his own way.

Taniel is young, already a frontier war hero, but a little anchorless and hot-headed. It’s a fun combination to read, especially when McClellan pairs him with a feisty mute frontier mage named Ka-Poel. Their chemistry is delightful, all the more so because it’s unspoken.

Tamas is the brilliant veteran Field Marshal who simultaneously rallies the country and seeks revenge for his murdered wife. He’s borderline arrogant, carries of a burden of responsibility that makes Atlas look like a lazy child, and somehow always seems to find the solution. He’s one of those leaders who does what needs doing no matter the cost and, even when I didn’t like or agree with him, I still admired him and wanted others to follow. I LOVE seeing characters like this done well!

McClellan also does an excellent job blending his magic system with the technology and weapons of the time–guns and guillotines, not the chivalrous longswords of traditional fantasy. Instead, soldiers known as powder mages can internalize gunpowder themselves and manipulate its effects in battle in a range of skills that unfold into incredible fight sequences. They’re just plain cool!

The world of PROMISE OF BLOOD includes a few other “magics” as well. Privileged are those who can touch an essence of magic known as the Else. They fill the role most familiar from other fantasy series, where characters can “tap into” the magic and wield it at will. Part of what I loved about the Powder Mage trilogy, however, was these traditionally high-power mages weren’t front and center. They’re side characters–important, to be sure–but they take a back seat to the far more fascinating military prowess of the Powder Mages.

I also enjoyed the “Knacked” class of magic users in the trilogy. These are everyday folks who happen to be very gifted in one specific area (i.e. having a knack). Not needing sleep. Having a perfect memory. McClellan takes full advantage of the Knackeds’ abilities, and it’s brilliant! Olem, Tamas’ right hand man who requires no sleep, is one of my favorite characters.

The presence of Knacks left me wondering why we fantasy authors have overlooked this simple trick in the past.

If I had one nit-pick it’s that I wanted a little more creativity in the naming of places and landmarks. Everything (and I mean everything) stems from the country’s name of Adro – the capital city of Adopest, the Adsea, the Addown River, etc.

But, beyond that niggle, McClellan’s world is beautifully and deeply crafted, anchored in detail. It has to be since so much of the stakes revolve around saving the nation of Adro. McClellan adds multiple high fantasy layers, with warring gods and prophecies, but at its heart, the Powder Mage trilogy is about soldiers’ love for their country and the lengths to which they’ll go to keep it free and alive.

And I absolutely loved it!!

5star

Five stars.

Find this book on Amazon

 

Author’s Couch: Q&A with Brenda J. Pierson

I’m so excited to have Brenda with us today! She’s a crit partner, conference bestie, and self-published author, plus co-editor of the forthcoming solarpunk anthology, WINGS OF RENEWAL. She’s on the couch today talking about her debut novel, SOUL OF THE BLADE, her insights on self-publishing, and what she’d love to see on the shelves.

-Nicole

Soul of the BladeSynopsis

Humanity has been prey to the Entana for centuries, their thoughts and emotions fed upon by the spiritual parasites. Once taken, only death can save someone from the torment of the Entana’s feeding. And only the Taronese warriors and their enchanted sword, the Bok’Tarong, can give them that death.

But the Bok’Tarong has been taken by the selfish assassin Aeo, and the sword has devoured his soul. He now exists within the blade, only able to experience the world through his new bearer Dragana. She would do anything to cast him out of the blade and restore its sanctity. But Aeo alone may hold the key to stopping the Entana once and for all … if Dragana can learn to work with the assassin who has cost her people so much.

Q&A

1. What’s the story behind the story? Tell us a little about where you got the idea for your book.

For a long time, the project name of what would become Soul of the Blade was The Vicodin Child. I had recently had wrist surgery and was still on periodic painkillers when my family went to the mountains for vacation. I found a piece of driftwood that looked neat so (naturally) I kept it. In a Vicodin dream-fog that piece of wood became the Bok’Tarong, a sentient sword with a bit of an attitude. Things got a little out of hand from there but eventually that story became the heart of Soul of the Blade.

BFF: Haha, love this backstory!

2. What’s your personal favorite part about the story? A character you loved writing, a scene that gives you shivers in all the best ways, etc.
Oh goodness. There are so many parts I’m really proud of. I love the climax, of course, and the scene where they go to the -taken sanctuary has always been special to me. But I think one of my most favorite things is a single line: “They don’t call me the Keeper of Secrets for nothing.”

3. What do you hope readers take away from your story?
I tend to write a lot about overcoming darkness inside yourself, and about having the freedom to become the person you want to be instead of who you should be. I always want to show readers that just because you struggle with something, or you’re forced to play a certain part in life, that doesn’t have to define you. You can break free of that.

BFF: This is such a powerful and important message. It’s part of what helps us relate to characters and want to follow them through their adventures.

4. Who/what are some of your favorite authors or books? Can you share how they’ve inspired you?
It’s a very dangerous thing to ask a writer about favorite books. More often than not you’ll get more than you bargained for. Well, the first name to always make it onto my list is Brandon Sanderson. The man is a fantasy god. Mistborn is one of my top ten novels of all time, because it has everything—neat magic, amazing characters, tension, drama, romance, sacrifice, twists, and a world that is so alive you get lost in it. Other authors on my list are (in no particular order): Patrick Rothfuss, Kevin Hearne, Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Scott Lynch, R.A. Salvatore, Terry Pratchett, Brent Weeks, and Peter V. Brett.

BFF: Have you been sneaking peeks at my shelves again?! An excellent list for sure!

5. What is most likely to draw you in to a book?
I love complex characters and interesting plots. I know, doesn’t everybody? But I’ve put down books that were fascinating but I didn’t like any of the characters (sorry GRRM), or where the world was amazing but nothing happened in it, or where the characters were so real but the plot was boring. A book has to have that magical combination where interesting things happen to interesting people. I’m also a sucker for unique magic systems. Take Allomancy, again from Mistborn. Certain people can “burn” metals and get powers from them. Seriously, how cool is that?

BFF: Pretty darn cool! But, then again, I’m a character-person too. 🙂

6. What do you wish authors would do more of?
Authors should always do what’s important to them. I love finding novels that were clearly not written to follow trends or to sell lots of books, but are beautiful and exciting and intriguing because the author was passionate about it. Those quirky little stories are almost always my favorites.

7. Tell us a little about your publishing journey.
I was never, ever going to self-publish. I was going to go New York traditional houses all the way, do or die. My stack of rejection letters piled up, for one novel after another, year after year after year. During this time I’d gotten connected with several other writers, but one in particular: Matt Larkin. I critiqued his first novel, and he hired me on as his editor. After a while he edited a draft of Soul of the Blade. Then he asked if I would consider letting his company, Incandescent Phoenix Books, publish it. I politely said no, I’m going through literary agents and big houses. We did this dance for a year or two before finally I sat down with my husband and asked why. Why insist on big publishing? I didn’t have a good answer, so the next morning I talked business with Matt and here I am. I still say it was one of best decisions I’ve ever made.

BFF: So great to hear your perspective on this. Sounds like you’ve landed right where you need to be!

8. What’s next on your plate?
I’m working on a novel I initially wrote several years ago called No Hill Without Treasure. It’s about a man who accidentally releases horrible creatures called Shahadán into the world, and in order to set things right he has to reassemble a shattered magic and learn to master his own, before it destroys him. It’s another epic fantasy, but in a completely new world. I’m a stand-alone writer, so (much to some peoples’ dismay) it won’t be a sequel to Soul of the Blade.

BFF: On to the fun questions…

Favorite dragon: Of all time? Paarthurnax from Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. From a book? Black Kalgalath from Dennis McKiernan’s Dragondoom. Fabulous book. Honorary mention to any dragon written by Terry Pratchett.

Favorite Shakespeare: Othello. Iago is one of the best villains ever written.

Favorite fantasy food: Lembas! Personally I’d love to have something that I could take one bite of and not have to worry about eating for the rest of the day. Talk about convenient! Plus it’s Elvish so you know it has to taste like honey or something.

BFF: How very practical of you! Thanks so much for joining us on the Author’s Couch, Brenda, and good luck in all your upcoming projects.

 

BrendaMore About Brenda

Brenda J. Pierson wrote her first book at the age of six, in order to convince her parents to buy her a pet bunny. (She drew a picture of walking the bunny with a leash. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.) Since then she’s cultivated a love of literature and all things fantasy. Now she lives her life surrounded by books–writing them, editing them, and shelving them at her public library. It’s fairly close to heaven. She lives in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona, with her husband and two cats.

More About SOUL OF THE BLADE

Nicole’s Review: THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS

Untitled-14Title: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Publisher: DAW

Genre: Fantasy, companion piece to The Kingkiller Chronicles

Pages: 159

Synopsis: Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place. Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own.

Review:

I’m typically not a short story or novella girl, and I was lukewarm on NAME OF THE WIND (though I did like Auri), so when a friend recommended THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.

Luckily, the story entranced me from the outset. The writing is downright gorgeous: lyrical and rhythmic and infused with life. Pat Rothfuss chooses each word with a pristine care that makes book nerds like me weep tears of joy for the perfection of such moments. (Seriously, this happened more than once)

Auri herself is wonderful! She is mysterious, ethereal and a little bit broken. She’s genuine, thoughtful, troublesome and troubling. You can’t help but feel for her, and as someone who—ahem—still occasionally names inanimate objects, I couldn’t help but relate to her on some deeper level as well. Her world is small, lonely and well-ordered (the girl is OCD to say the least)…and yet, in her eyes, it’s also vibrant, full of inert friends who need her care, and warm in its familiarity.

I’ve seen some mention of the book as insight into mental illness, and while I think there are elements of that, for me the story rose to a higher, more profound and touching level. It is the simplicity and goodness of wrapping a warm sweater about yourself on a cold winter’s day and plopping in front of a fire. SLOW REGARD is one of those rare books that leaves readers looking at the world with new eyes. There are passages that made me feel like a kid again, delighting with Auri in a new discovery or treasure, and passages that were so stunningly poignant my breath caught.

Many people say this book lacks a plot—and it does in the traditional sense, so be forewarned—but I thought it had a beautiful plot: Auri’s search for the perfect gift for Kvothe. Yes, it’s scaled to Auri’s narrow world and intensely personal for her (since she is essentially the only character). And she gets distracted from it. A lot. But the point in her meandering action is that there IS a point and a connectedness to even the smallest action.

Each motion has purpose and leads her toward what’s right and proper and good in her eyes. It takes immense skill on Rothfuss’s part to maintain any sort of drive or plot momentum in Auri’s voice, and he carries it off well.

This is a book I want to share with anyone and everyone who’s a writer, reader or language fan, because it’s such a remarkable example of the power of woven words. Perhaps the highest praise I can give it is this: I’ve never actually bought a stand-alone novella before. I will be buying this one.

Five stars.

5star

Find this book on Amazon.

Friday Fandom: Top 10 Ships (Space and Nautical) of All Time

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So, it occurs to me I must really like ships. My first series features a fleet of tall ships—I toured several and sailed in one as part of my research—and my most recent novel is a space opera… with ships of a different kind! There’s just something grand and cool about how a ship can take you away. (And judging by a certain beloved pirate, I’m guessing Ashley agrees!)

Of course, when I realized that, I couldn’t resist a countdown for this week’s Friday Fandom. Here are my favorite fictional sea and space vessels. What are yours?

10. The Boru Karn, Gabriel’s Ghost and Shades of Dark
Props to Linnea Sinclair for making me love a ship I’ve never seen on the big screen. She’s got great description not only of the ship, but of how it moves through space. And, like so many others on this list, it’s got a charismatic captain!

9. The Sky Vessel, Stardust Stardust
It’s a tall ship. It flies. It catches lightning. That’s the trifecta! Now, throw in its colorful Captain Shakespeare, and you can’t lose.

8. The USS Enterprise, Star Trek
Before people get all feisty, this ranking says more about me than the ship. I came to the series late and have mostly only seen the new ones, so I feel like I can’t *really* do the ship full justice. Though it is one awesome ship!

7. The Indefatigable, Horatio Hornblower
My mom loves this series, and I got hooked on the VHS’ before I got a DVD player set up in my apartment. It’s partly the inspiration for the name of my most recent spaceship.

6. Shield’s Helicarrier, The Avengers
Why has no one actually created this yet?! It makes the list for sheer awesomeness of concept.

5. Serenity, Firefly and Serenity
They made this ship come alive! It felt like a home to the characters, and I couldn’t get enough! She’s scrappy and beat up, but still kickin’. Just like Mal.

4. The Inferno (AKA One-eyed Willie’s ship), Goonies
The one that started it all for me. I adore this movie, can quote every line, and when the ship sails free at the end I want to pound my chest in joy just like Sloth.

3. The Millennium Falcon, Star Wars
C’mon, it made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. What’s not to love?

2. The Black Pearl, Pirates of the Caribbean
You may have heard of her captain. His name is Sparrow. Plus, this is just a downright gorgeous ship.

1. Moya, Farscape
She’s a living ship. She gives birth to a baby warship. Game, set, match!

From Farscape.wikia

From Farscape.wikia

Nicole’s Review: MAGONIA

MagoniaTitle: MAGONIA

Author: Maria Dahvana Headley

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 320

Synopsis: Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Review:

I was a little surprised by how much I liked this book. A race of birds? Songbirds that fly in and out of people’s lungs? Sky vessels and squallwhales? There’s plenty of quirkiness to go around, and while it might catch some readers off guard, I found it utterly charming and entrancing!

The worldbuilding was fresh and delightful. I mean, sky vessels?! Maybe it’s a holdover from Disney’s Peter Pan or my love for Goonies and, more recently, Stardust, but I’ve always been captivated by the idea of tall ships sailing the skies. And squallwhales?! I love the idea of giant cloud-wreathed leviathans breathing our weather into being with their songs. MAGONIA fueled my imagination in that rare way that calls to mind childhood wonder and daydreaming just for the joy of it.

Speaking of songs, music lovers will enjoy how Dahvana Headley positions the magic of her music in MAGONIA. It literally has the power to create and destroy. Though this isn’t a new concept in fantasy, her approach feels unique and strangely subtle, given its importance in the book’s climax.

Yet, as much as I loved the worldbuilding, my favorite aspect of MAGONIA was its characters—especially Aza and Jason. They are quirkily perfect for each other and, unlike the insta-love of many YA books these days, readers get to see their deep friendship and love grow throughout the book without being hit over the head with it. Their commitment to each other feels real and extremely strong.

That’s thanks in large part to the fact that they’re both individually strong characters and hilariously funny at times in a dead-pan, inside-joke way that made their voices distinctive and fun to read. They’re each smart, sarcastic and clever. I laughed out loud more than once!
One caveat though: You’ll know by the end of the first chapter if Aza’s voice works for you or not. She can come close to being overpowering or too stream of consciousness-y. I enjoyed it, but it won’t work for everyone.

The first third of the book is almost entirely about battling Aza’s illness on Earth and has an almost “Bridge to Terabithia” feel to it, which I found endearing. The second third introduces readers more deeply to Magonia, the world in the sky, and its inhabitants, and the third wraps up a nice break-in / sky-singing battle climax.

Each of these sections carried a slightly different tone and pacing, and it’s Aza’s and Jason’s voices that anchor the reader and keep drawing us in. The plot does veer a little thin about half-way through the book, or at least I kept expecting more from it, given various hints along the way. The climax itself is very satisfactory, though without the personal stakes of Aza and Jason, I think the external stakes (stealing plants – albeit really rare and cool plants!) would have fallen short for me.

For all the time Aza spends in Magonia, I wish we could know a few of the characters better—especially Dai, Aza’s crewmate and singing partner with a tragic background and mysterious allegiances, and Zal and Ley, captains who played a big role in Aza’s time on Earth and who still have major scores to settle. But, part of my reason for wanting more is that Dahvana Headley paints beautiful descriptions and mysteries that make you want to dive in and learn ALL the reasons.

I did really love Caru, the heartbird. He is everything majestic, free and loyal that you could possibly imagine about a bird of prey. I also had a soft spot for the batsail, who is at once noble and sad. These are great examples of how MAGONIA moves beyond a typical YA to touch deeper heartstrings, deeper lessons of life. I love, love, love books that do this well!

Another element that made me tear up was Dahvana Headley’s lovely and loving portrayal of family. The simple yet ever-strong ties between Aza and her Earth-bound family are frankly breathtaking in several places, and Jason’s family too is close-knit and wonderful.

So, MAGONIA, a bit of quirk, a dash of wonder, and a whole lot of fun!

Four stars.

4star

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