The Hopeful Wanderer.014 – A Ghostly Guardian

animal-antler-antlers-219906

A thick cloud came to rest over farmland and countryside, shading the afternoon in sepia tones and muffling the distant sounds of highway traffic. To avoid a wide, unnecessary loop of interstate, I was cutting across an open field, boots squishing in mud from overnight rainfall. Yellowing grass swished against my knees, soaking my pants legs to my ankles, and moisture beaded in my hair, dripping cold down my face. Everything smelled damp, full of possibility.

Watching where I stepped, I almost missed it. A gentle whuff of breath and warmth radiating at my side alerted me to the presence of another walking with me, pace sedate, bearing regal. Just visible in the fog was an enormous buck, brown coat fading into the the landscape. Its antlers grew shaped like tree branches, winter dull twigs rattling together as it turned its head toward me.

A guardian. Legends spoke of the wisdom of the ancient guardians, rarely seen, who imparted their knowledge to those they deemed worthy. Shocked, I stopped, and when it realized I no longer kept pace, it paused ahead.

I stared. It looked back at me. The thudding of my heart crashed in my ears.

“I have questions,” I whispered. My voice sounded like nothing at all. “Please.”

Those liquid black eyes bored into me. My breathing stalled altogether as I waited, hoped. A beat of time passed, but then slowly, silently, the guardian turned and walked away, vanishing into the white fog.

Alone now, I tipped my chin back, searching for meaning in the swirling mist above. Nothingness and emptiness. I let out a breath and quietly accepted rejection.

Of course we all had questions; that made none of us special. I hoped one day that someone would learn from this guardian what I could not.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. To read more free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.

Book Review: Valiant

A study in edges, where Faerieland meets big city, where drug addiction meets magic, where homelessness meets whimsy.

Capture
Valiant by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Holly Black

Synopsis

When seventeen-year-old Valerie runs away to New York City, she’s trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city’s labyrinthine subway system. But there’s something eerily beguiling about Val’s new friends. And when one talks Val into tracking down the lair of a mysterious creature with whom they are all involved, Val finds herself torn between her newfound affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her new friends are becoming.

(Via Book Depository)

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

It turns out that Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie actually exists as the second in Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series. Not that it mattered much, as this story stood on its own quite splendidly. The narrative may have made one or two references to Tithe, its predecessor, but clearly I needn’t have read it to understand Valiant, because I absolutely took these out of order.

The undertone of Valiant puts me in mind of Maggie Steifvater’s Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, one of my absolute favorite books — it displays a similar raw hunger, oozing pure enthusiasm if not finesse. An obvious representation of Black’s earlier offerings before experience could smooth out the edges of her style. The narrative itself is a study in edges, where Faerieland meets big city, where drug addiction meets magic, where homelessness meets whimsy. In that regard, it displayed a remarkable likeliness to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

I enjoyed how such a jagged demeanor overflowed into the main character, Val, and her total jock attitude. Not only does the narrative not focus on refining her into something more feminine, it makes a point of proving how her masculine interests and behavior become integral to the plot’s resoluation. She herself grows increasingly liminal, bearing a unisex name and wearing a unisex identity, until she seems mutable enough for anything and anyone. Capable of navigating the fine line between the mortal and Faerie worlds thrown together in the shadows of New York City.

I would recommend Valiant to fans of Neverwhere, urban fantasy, and angry girls.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads raiting: 3.91 stars


To keep up with future book reviews and read free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.

Book Review: The Cruel Prince

I recommend this book. I just do. But it’s especially appropriate for lovers of faerie fantasy, political intrigue, brutal, bloody struggles, and powerful women. 

Capture
The Cruel Prince by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Holly Black

Synopsis

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

The Cruel Prince came to my attention through an Amazon suggestion based off my interest in the The Language of Thorns (and you can read my review of that Leigh Bardugo short-story collection here). I had thought I read three of Holly Black‘s books already, but it turns out AshesMonsters, and Drowning Instinct instead come from author Ilsa J. Bick, who often shows up on the shelves next to Holly Black. All this time I believed I’d tried Black‘s books and decided they weren’t for me.

Oops.

I am, however, incurably attracted to urban fantasy capital F Fairy Tales revolving around European faerie folklore set in modern times. Someone–might’ve been Maggie Stiefvater, might’ve been another writer whom I admire–endorsed The Cruel Prince on social media, so after that and Amazon’s suggestion, I figured I’d give it a try. The Cruel Prince went straight into my to-be-read pile and soon thereafter right into my hands.

Let me tell you, I’m honestly angry that I got Bick and Black mixed up for so long because I lost so much time that I could’ve been reading Holly Black‘s delightful prose. Beyond her masterful handling of story, her complex and interesting characters, and her intricate weaving of intrigue, she nails modern telling of faerie tropes. The Cruel Prince itself takes place in the hauntingly beautiful land of Faerie, centering around the descendants of recognizable folklore figure Queen Mab, as well as focusing on the circumstances of humans living there alongside its denizens as second-class citizens.

I loved the entire story. The narrative of The Cruel Prince often appeared as one thing only to reveal itself as something darker, more secretive, more seductive, holding the reader at a cliff’s edge, always threatening to let go. I saw myself in Jude, the main character, who wanted to fit in with greatness and had to discover her true aptitude to even begin to fulfill that desire. Watching her grow and change into someone dangerous and deadly left me feeling savagely pleased with her unconventional choices in the pursuit of power. So the story not only takes place in a setting I’ve wanted to see written but written well, it also explores a plot to match the aesthetic of that cruel and wicked world. It lovingly lingered over its female characters, giving them voice, strength, cunning, and daring, but also allowing them to exhibit faults and disappointments. I love all of the ladies and their contributions to the story.

I recommend The Cruel Prince. I just do. But it’s especially appropriate for lovers of faerie fantasy, political intrigue, brutal, bloody struggles, and powerful women.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.21 stars


To keep up with future book reviews and read free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.

Book Review: Sabriel

I recommend Sabriel for readers who like somewhat dark things with a bright twist and who like intelligent, capable female characters. 

Capture
Sabriel by New York Times-bestselling author Garth Nix

Synopsis

Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him.

With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen series, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn’t always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Garth Nix has been a full-time writer since 2001, but has also worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller, and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve.

Garth’s books include the Old Kingdom fantasy series, comprising Sabriel, Lirael; Abhorsen; Clariel and Goldenhand; SF novels Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes; and a Regency romance with magic, Newt’s Emerald. His novels for children include The Ragwitch; the six books of The Seventh Tower sequence; The Keys to the Kingdom series and others. He has co-written several books with Sean Williams, including the Troubletwisters series; Spirit Animals Book Three: Blood Ties; Have Sword, Will Travel; and the forthcoming sequel Let Sleeping Dragons Lie. A contributor to many anthologies and magazines, Garth’s selected short fiction has been collected in Across the Wall and To Hold the Bridge.

(Via author’s website)

My Impressions

I had never read Garth Nix before picking up this book, and only heard of him in passing. But on my way back from a trip with a friend, he suggested Sabriel to me based on my explanation of the premise of a story I’ve been writing, saying he thought I’d like it. Since I wasn’t feeling anything in my to-be-read pile, I picked it up at my local library the next chance I got.

While I’m not always keen on the World War I era aesthetic, Nix writes it very well, including battle details and tactics comparable to Brian Jacques (the Redwall series) level quality. While Ancelstierre, on one side of the Wall, boasts technological advancements, the Old Kingdom, on the other side, remains more medieval, drawing in readers who appreciate one or both of ancient and modern time periods. I really appreciated Sabriel as a character herself. She’s brave and honorable, but in a smart, thoughtful, considerate, and strategic manner, the kind of character I don’t get to see in fiction nearly often enough. All the other characters shine alongside her, unique and memorable, influencing and impacting the outcome of the narrative almost as much as Sabriel does.

The underlying aesthetic of the story gets me the most. I’m attracted to fiction about necromancy, but it’s hard to find the particular flavor I’m seeking. Sabriel scratched so very much of that itch for me. I love the idea of an ancient line of necromancers, called Abhorsen, living and working to lay the Dead to rest rather than raise them up, unlike other, more base necromancers of their world. They use very special bells to send the Dead down the river of Death — unruly bells that could also turn on their user — as well as a specific sword created for fighting the Dead. The river itself calls to mind the idea of the River Styx and the ley lines dubbed ‘the Corpse Road’ in some regions of our ancient world. Most shockingly, I for once didn’t despise the romantic subplot, as it unfolded a little more practically and a little less passionately than I tend to see. Nix‘s descriptions, comparisons, and imagery are beautiful and some of the turns of phrase have me jealous for not having thought of them first.

There wasn’t much I disliked about these books. Only the somewhat older-fashioned narrative style could sometimes break the immersion and unexpectedly bring me back out of the story.

I recommend Sabriel for readers who like somewhat dark things with a bright twist and who like intelligent, capable female characters.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.17 stars


To keep up with future book reviews and read free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.

Book Review: The Traitor’s Game

I would recommend The Traitor’s Game for readers who like quick romances, enemies-to-lovers paradigms, and spy thrillers in a fantasy setting. 

Capture
The Traitor’s Game by New York Times-bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen

Synopsis

Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won’t stop her from being drawn back into her father’s palace politics. He’s the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well – and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home.The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what – and who – it is they’re fighting for.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Capture
New York Times-bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen

New York Times Bestselling author, Jennifer Nielsen, was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with THE FALSE PRINCE; the MARK OF THE THIEF series, and the forthcoming A NIGHT DIVIDED. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains.

(Via author’s website)

My Impressions

While looking for a copy of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (which, it turned out, wasn’t released yet), I found The Traitor’s Game on a display at my local library. The blurb looked like just the right mixture of espionage and magic to interest me. When I turned to the first sentence, it promised a heroine with an attitude, spunk, and mettle. My kind of gal. I had never heard of Nielsen before, but I picked the book up anyway.

The narrative lives up to the promise of an active, tough anti-heroine, one faced with choices between the good decision and the smart one. Kestra has a shifty, clever mind and a head for playing dangerous games when her enemies entangle her in their schemes. She also exhibits well-rounded characteristics in the way she cares about her people, stands up for herself, feels sorrow and fear at her circumstances, and shows willingness to make bold moves in an effort to gain the upper hand. I liked her a lot. In addition, I found the intricate plot interesting, the twists unexpected, and the details of the world immersive.

I did not, however, like the supposed other main character and love interest, Simon. He struck me as uninteresting and easily compromised in his mission, pliable and too-easily swayed. When the narrative switched to his point of view, I was more interested in getting back to Kestra. As well, (as is often my complaint), the romance blossoms too fast and unreasoningly over the course of the three days in which the narrative takes place. Given that The Traitor’s Game begins the series, I would have preferred to see the romance unfold over the course of the next books rather than just the first one.

I would recommend The Traitor’s Game for readers who like quick romances, enemies-to-lovers paradigms, and spy thrillers in a fantasy setting.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 3.75 stars


To keep up with future book reviews and read free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.

Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter

This narrative is a wide-eyed, stark look at how tyrants rise to power in the real world.

Capture
Tempests and Slaughter by #1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce

Synopsis

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

(Via Book Depository)

My Impressions

Any book written by #1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce will naturally get a read from me. I grew into the fantasy-loving feminist I am today because of the influence her Song of the Lioness series had on me in my early adolescence. She’s like my fantasy fiction mom, teaching me through her myriad sub-series of the Tortall and Circle series how awesome women are, the nature of respect and politeness, and the complex interplay between tolerance and bravery. She starts her characters young, engendering in the reader the seeds of the lessons she wishes to impart, so that we all grow with them as we read along.

Pierce‘s newest novel, Tempests and Slaughter, begins the Numair Chronicles, a series of as-yet unknown length. (She tends to write in quartets, however, and that’s what I’m expecting this time.) It’s about my very favorite side character, Numair Salmalín, and how he became the goofy, gentle, nerdy wizard we see in The Immortals series, in which he meets and teaches wildmage Veralidaine Sarrasri. Full disclosure, I had a huge bookworm crush on Numair as a sixteen-year-old and he’s still close to my heart to this day. I own all of Pierce‘s Tortall books (well, I did until this one released; now I’ll be buying it for my collection soon!) and I tend to read one or several of the sub-series every year.

I’m a massive fan of literary callbacks; Tempests and Slaughter has them in spades, though they might be considered callforwards, as this narrative takes place before The Immortals, making loads of references to what will happen to Numair — known at this time as Arram Draper — in his future. It has only revealed a sliver of his adventures hinted at in Wild Magic and I’m so looking forward to finding out how everything connects. Young Arram is just as incorrigible as he will be in adulthood, with a thirst for knowledge that leads him to make unlikely friends, from the downtrodden and oppressed to master sorcerers to a future emperor. His gentle nature, however, puts him at odds with the cutthroat mindset of the rulers and nobles of his country, who are just a few of the diverse cast and characters readers meet.

Despite the opportunities Arram has to influence future emperor and villain of The Immortals series, Ozorne, his policy of non-confrontation will potentially be consequential in shaping Ozorne’s ultimate tyrannical rule. Because this series is not only about the rise of Numair, but also about the eventual fall of Numair’s best friend. Pierce weaves a subtle tale where Ozorne is concerned, pointing out to her readers the dangers of brushing aside and accommodating bigoted and intolerant behavior. Knowing Ozorne’s future fate and watching the unfortunate way Arram handles the warning signs breaks my heart, because we’ve all been caught between maintaining friendship and doing the right thing, trapped in a turmoil of cultural acceptance. Tempests and Slaughter is a wide-eyed, stark look at how tyrants rise to power in the real world. Every villain was someone’s friend, and every villain had friends who did nothing to stop them before it was too late.

Tamora Pierce clearly has more moral lessons to teach us. I’m eager to hear what she has to say.

Goodreads rating: 4.82 stars
My rating: 5/5 stars