Book Review: Sabriel

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

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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


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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. 

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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

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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


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Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter

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

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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