Archive for July, 2010

Book Review: The King’s Bastard

 

The King’s Bastard

Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Rebellion
June 29, 2010

*Many thanks to Rowena Cory Daniells for sending me a review copy!

The King’s Bastard is the first book in the new fantasy series The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, which focuses on the lives of several members of the royal house of Rolencia.  Byren Rolen Kingson and his twin brother Lence, the eldest sons of King Rolen and Queen Myrella, have always been close despite their good-natured sibling rivalry.  Being the younger twin, seven minutes stand between Byren and the throne, but he’s never had any interest in ruling the kingdom, preferring to leave the burden to Lence.  But after a strange run-in with a renegade seer, who prophesies that Byren will turn on his twin and claim the crown, and the sudden arrival of their cousin Illien of Cobalt – the bastard son of King Rolen’s brother – Byren senses a growing distance between them.  Illien manipulates, fabricates false evidence, and spins a web of lies, all designed to discredit Byren and gain the confidence of Lence and the king.

The story is also told by the younger royal children, Fyn and Piro, who are both god-touched with Affinity.  Fyn’s Affinity was discovered when he was six years old and, in accordance with his father’s law, he was sent away to Halcyon Abbey to learn to control it so he wouldn’t be susceptible to evil influence.  Piro’s lay dormant until she reached puberty and, sick at the thought of being sent away to serve the cold god Sylion, she swore to keep her Untamed Affinity a secret so she could stay with her family at Rolenhold.

It’s a crucial time in Rolencia, when the spar warlords renew their oaths of allegiance to the king and a new alliance will be forged with the neighboring kingdom of Merofynia with the betrothal of Lence and Isolt Merofyn Kingsdaughter.  But alliances are fragile and some would stop at nothing to gain control and rise to the top.  Byren is surrounded by treachery and deceit and the constant fear that the prophecy of the renegade seer will come to pass.

I absolutely loved reading this book.  It was thrilling and suspenseful with enough humor and emotion to draw me even more into the story and invest in the characters.  The world-building was fantastic and I appreciated that I wasn’t bombarded right off the bat by dozens of confusing place-names and ancient history, just enough to give me a sense of my surroundings and then get on with the story.  I was fascinated by the concept of Affinity, how it seeps up from the ground, attracting creatures like leogryfs and manticores, and dwells inside people granting them magical abilities and a glimpse of the Unseen world. 

Of all the characters, I connected most with Byren and Piro.  Byren is a born leader, strong and dedicated to his friends and family.  When his best friend Orrade is disinherited by his father for being a lover of men, Byren tries to cover for him even though it could mean losing the love of Orrie’s sister, Elina.  My frustration when he was wrongfully accused of being a Servant of Palos and plotting against his father was so tangible I could practically taste it.  I wanted to slap some sense into the king and throttle Illien.  Piro is a little firecracker.  She’s strong-willed and fiercely protective of her family.  She reminds me a little of Arya Stark from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.  In fact, the whole time I read this book I was reminded of that beloved series and I half-expected Jon Snow to charge around bend followed by his faithful direwolf. 

I’m always game for court intrigue and the battle for thrones so The King’s Bastard was a perfect match for me.  I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book!

ARC Review: Dracula In Love

Dracula in Love: The Private Diary of Mina Harker

Karen Essex
Hardcover, 384 pages
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
August 10, 2010

 * I received a complimentary galley from the publisher.

If you’ve ever read Bram Stoker’s Dracula then you’re already familiar with the story of the Mina Murray, her husband Jonathan Harker, and the infamous Count that comes between them. But if you think you know the whole story, wait until you’ve heard it told through Mina’s lips. In Essex’s version, she sets the record straight and recounts what really happened, starting with her engagement to Jonathan and his subsequent business venture abroad.

As a teacher and former student at Miss Hadley’s School for Young Ladies of Accomplishment, Mina knows just how lucky she is in finding a caring and respectable man like Jonathan Harker.  When Jonathan is called away to Styria on business with a new client, she leaves the school to spend the remainder of her engagement in Whitby with her wealthy friend Lucy Westenra, newly engaged herself.  Though anxious to begin her new life as a married woman, Mina is deeply troubled by spells of sleepwalking and frightening, illicit dreams about a stranger that somehow feels familiar to her.  During one such spell, she wakes to find Lucy in the arms of her fiance’s friend, Morris Quince, and Lucy confesses that they’ve been having an affair and plan to marry. 

Mina tries to talk some sense into her friend and convince her that Quince doesn’t truly love her, but soon receives word that Jonathan is ill and must leave Lucy to travel to Styria and bring him home.  While she’s away Lucy is admitted to the asylum where Dr. John Seward, another friend of her fiance’s, treats the infirm and insane (mostly women who have been diagnosed as nymphomaniacs after exhibiting what we would consider to be normal sexual behavior today).  Too late, Mina finds out that her dear friend has died under the doctor’s care and after reading a pair of smuggled letters detailing the horrific ordeals she was forced to undergo, Mina vows to find out what really happened to her friend by volunteering her time at the asylum while Jonathan is treated by Dr. Seward and his colleague Dr. Von Helingser after contracting brain fever abroad.

But Mina soon finds herself in the same position as Lucy when her sanity is questioned and she becomes a patient in the asylum, subjected to imprisonment, drugs, and torture, all sanctioned by her now husband Jonathan who thinks it’s for her own benefit.  After almost dying from the “water cure” Mina is rescued by the mysterious stranger from her dreams, who brings her into a world of magic, blood, and immortality.

Like all things vampiric, I’ve been fascinated with the story of Dracula since I was little.  Before I even read the famous Stoker tale I was enthralled by Coppola’s film version and it was thrilling to get to hear Mina’s point of view.  It was a fresh and unique take, enchantingly dark and bewitching.  I loved the origin of the Count and the depiction of the vampires that seduced Jonathan as daughters of Lilith and Mina’s relationship with the Sidhe, ancient fairies from Irish folklore.  The references to the red-haired writer who kept nosing into the story made me smile. 

As much as I truly enjoyed reading this book, I have to say that I was wholeheartedly disappointed with the ending.  I don’t want to give too much away but I just couldn’t comprehend how Mina could make the choice that she did.  Granted it was a selfless and noble act, but after being manipulated and ill-treated by all the men in her life, especially those that should have cared for her and protected her, she baffled me in the end.  After finishing the book I was angry and upset the rest of the night  I couldn’t stop thinking about it, running the ending through my mind over and over to try to make some sense of it and come to peace with it, and for the life of me I couldn’t do it.  I guess that speaks to the power of the storytelling that I couldn’t get it out of my mind, but I almost felt cheated, robbed. 

Maybe it’s just me, and most people would agree with Mina’s choice.  I would love to know.  Overall, still a wonderfully dark story, and so much fun to revisit such a classic and cherished tale.  I still recommend it but if you’re left feeling unsatisfied at the end, my sincere apologies.

Angel Time, Returning to my Roots

Angel Time: The Songs of the Seraphim

Anne Rice  
Hardcover, 288 pages
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
October 27, 2009

 

I’ve been a devoted Anne Rice fan since I first devoured The Vampire Lestat when I was in middle school.  Through her words I’ve walked the streets of New Orleans and Paris side by side with witches, ghosts, and vampires and loved every bloody minute of it.  Lestat is one of my all-time favorite characters and I practically had a relationship with him throughout my teens and early twenties. 

Since her reconciliation with the Catholic church I haven’t been quite as dedicated to Rice’s books.  After being bitterly disappointed by Christ the Lord, the first in her historical series about the life of Jesus, I wondered if maybe my obsession was a thing of the past.  I decided to give Angel Time a try, hoping that my luke warm feelings for Christ the Lord was just a fluke. 

Angel Time tells the story of Toby O’Dare through the guise of an autobiography, in which he chronicles the extraordinary events that changed his life after being visited by an angel.  If you ran into Toby on the street you probably wouldn’t look twice at him.  You might notice a lisp as he mumbles an apology or see a slight limp when he walks away, but you wouldn’t know you’d just brushed elbows with death.

Toby might appear unremarkable, but he’s actually the notorious contract killer known as Lucky the Fox.  That he’s lethal goes without saying.  But he’s also efficient, meticulous, and absolutely without scruples.  After his alcoholic mother drowned his younger siblings and took her own life when he was a teenager, Toby fled to New York where he  befriended a restaurateur who took him under his wing and gave him a job and a place to stay. 

When it looked like he might lose the only person left in his life that he cared about, Toby took matters into his own hands and went on a carefully planned killing spree, eliminating the entire faction of mobsters that were threatening his business and his life.  For the next ten years he honed his craft, working only for the one he called “The Right Man” who insisted that Toby – now Lucky – was working for the good guys. 

While the body of his latest unfortunate victim is still warm, an angel named Malchiah appears before Toby and claims that God has forgiven all his sins and now has a plan for him.  Toby will travel through “Angel Time”, where Malchiah exists, to different places in “Natural Time” where he will use his talents for the good of mankind. 

Malchiah transports Lucky to 13th century Norwich, England disguised as a Dominican friar where he will be charged with the task of saving a Jewish couple, who have been falsely accused of killing their daughter, from a violent end at the hands of the angry Christian mob.  Armed only with his natural ability to blend in, his quick intellect, and sharp wit, Br. Toby must use every ounce of his inner strength to prevent the impending bloodshed.

It’s a story of sin, forgiveness, and ultimately the struggle for redemption.  Was it one of my favorite Anne Rice novels?  No, definitely not.  Did Toby thrill me as much as Lestat, Marius, or Lasher?  Not even close.  But I did find myself engrossed in the story and despite feeling uncomfortable during certain parts that started to feel preachy, I found myself wanting to go on and keep turning the pages.  The story of Fluria and Meir was engaging and I loved how it turned into a historical novel halfway through. 

One thing I had a problem with was the length.  It felt more like a short story than a novel and in order to really get invested I needed to spend some more time with Toby while he was growing up, working for The Right Man, and questing with Malchiah.  It seemed like I only got the Cliff’s Notes version of each of these three stages in his life.  So the transitions between them happened really fast and I doubted the sincerity of Toby’s reactions.  Would he really have believed so easily that Malchiah was an angel sent down from heaven?  Would his faith return so quickly after all the horrible things he’d witnessed in his life? 

But overall it was a good read and I did enjoy returning to such a beloved author.  I also loved the way the story ended.  Even though I would have preferred to stay with Toby on his next quest, I thought the last page was perfect.  I’m looking forward to continuing Toby’s story in the sequel, Of Love and Evil, which comes out on November 30.

 Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?