BEC'S BLURB BOOK REVIEWS - The Candidates by Inara Scott

on Tuesday, December 21, 2010
(Note: Bec's blurb reviews are book reviews done by my wife, Rebecca. She reads about 1000x faster than me, so she gets through a lot of books before I can even finish one. She's going to provide brief reviews of these books, which I will post for your reading pleasure! Here is the first one!)
The Candidates
By Inara Scott

The Candidates by Inara Scott is essentially X-Men meets Harry Potter (author's description, not mine).  How could you go wrong?  Danica, the protagonist, has one main goal in life: to blend in so well that everyone knows who she is but nobody knows anything about her.  So no friends: that way it is easier for her to hide the fact that when she sees someone she cares about in a dangerous situation, sometimes things just happen... and there are too many coincidences for it to be anything but her own doing.  That all changes when she gets the chance of a lifetime: a full ride scholarship to the ritzy private school on the outskirts of town.  Suddenly she fits in... mostly.  But not all is as it seems at this too-good-to-be-true school, and it's not just the creepy gates that lock you in and the crazy strict rules.

This book seems to me to be very much character driven, and I must admit, I found Danica to be a very sympathetic, likable protagonist.  She isn't perfect, but in ways that seem natural instead of forced, and it's interesting to watch her blossom in her new environment.  As far as secondary characters go, Cam feels a little flat to me until the last few chapters when we finally get to see more of him than the shiny perfect front; I'm hoping that in future books we get a more in depth look at his character.  (I also hope Danica learns how to think coherently when she's around him.)  Jack was a little more interesting, but I wanted more screen time for him to really get to know more about him... Again, if I get it in the sequels that works; right now the lack of information we have on him lends an air of mystery to him (but not so much mystery that you are going crazy).

Really my only issue I had with this book is the whole romance aspect.  I have found very few books in which I actually like a love triangle; they usually drive me nuts.  As love triangles go, this one isn't awful - I mean, at least some of her decisions/actions make sense in the end - but it was still my least favorite part of the book.  If you like love triangles you'll likely disagree with me, as is your prerogative.  I'm not going to say too much more (I don't want to spoil anything) but I think a having a little more character development among the secondary characters earlier on in the book would have made me more pleased with the ending.

Overall this was a fast, interesting read.  Nothing objectionable as far as content goes; it will likely be enjoyable for anyone 10+ (including adults).

(Nathan's Note: I actually met this author at World Fantasy and had a wonderful discussion with her about first-time books [this is her debut novel] as well as her experiences at fantasy conventions. She is a very nice person and we got the book for free, so you should check it out!)

Back in Business: Warming Up (1,144 words)

on Sunday, December 19, 2010
In preperation for Effulgent Corruption, I've decided to put word to the page (at least 1k a day, including on vacation in Rome next week) on The Gears of Anbar. That's why it exists, right? For what I write when I'm in-between projects?

Anyway, I'm going to keep writing it and experiment with a few things. I also re-read most of Effulgent Corruption (what I wrote before) and I have some ideas on how to change it. Actually a lot of ideas. We'll see.

Here's a bit I wrote today. I haven't written since October, so it might not be exactly...pristine.

            Red Graphite was a lovely town. Was being the key word. It had welcomed us warmly, as Devent, Rosemary, and I had poised ourselves as wandering storytellers and minstrels. I’d sung a song while Rosemary played on a wooden recorder she’d stolen from the last town that had hidden us. Devent, despite grumbling, had entertained young and old alike with dashing stories of wandering heroes and devious monsters, scaring a few children so badly they had to be put to bed early. A few local girls, possessing both a simple beauty and weakness for alcohol, had invited Devent to stay back at their houses rather than the inn. His initial agreement earned him a scowl from Rosemary, and his gleeful acceptance turned instead to a sorrowful decline. I admit I had been jealous of Devent, so easily getting invited to bed by a veritable score of pretty young women.
            Several of their bodies lay in front of the burning inn, golden hair matted and splashed with blood and ash. I thought I recognized one in particular – she’d been especially insistent after a third pint – though it was hard to tell with her face so mangled. I had to look away, tears in my eyes as I sought something less painful.

- Chapter 1: Not the Worst Birthday

The Ghost of Nathan's Future

on Friday, December 17, 2010
Alright fellows, here's what's been going on in Nathan's neck of the woods.

1. I had a birthday on 12/12. I am now 25 and ancient. Awesome. Gift standout: I got a Kindle 3! Expect a review or at least comments about the thing very soon. Short version: It is fantastic.

2. I read the second Codex Alera book as well as the atrocious Witch and Wizard book, which I will review soon. I'm also 70% done with Name of the Wind, which will also get a review (hint: It's good).

3. I graduated from BYU, with a major in Psychology. Yep. I'm done with school. Hallelujah.

Now on to stuff you care more about: WRITING.

I'm considering starting a nightly writing word-count again, just to warm me back up for Effulgent Corruption this January. I'm still sneaking into Brandon's class (complete with beard and long hair) to do all that madness, but I've also had this hankering to write more Steelgods, so that would be a good time-waster. Since Steelgods exists as something for me to write when I'm not writing something enormous, it would be perfect.

I'm also planning on submitting Paradise Seekers to every editor in existence, as well as editing Steelgods and sending it to every agent and editor in existence. Yeah, it's kind of silly, but it also couldn't hurt anything, so I might as well do it and start plastering rejection letters on my writing room wall.

So that is it. I'm going to Rome next Thursday and will be there for a week, so we'll see if I end up writing in Rome. It could happen! But it probably won't. In either case, if I start writing again, I'll post bits up here. It's been too long (three months) since I've done serious writing, which is bad.

Expect some book reviews one of these years. Also my wife (Bec) might start guest blurb reviewing books too, so this blog will actually have content again.

BOOK REVIEW - Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

on Thursday, December 9, 2010
by Jim Butcher

Blurb Review

A unique mix of Roman and fantasy, paced like a mystery thriller, Furies of Calderon starts slow but quickly evolves into an addicting adventure that is both unique and familiar. It is a solid start to what could be a great fantasy series.

Long Review

The story of where the Codex Alera series came from is an entertaining one. Rumor has it that Jim Butcher was on a panel where they were arguing how important ideas were for a story. Jim argued that the ideas weren't as important as what you did with them, with regard to character development, etc. An audience member was rather violently opposing this, so Jim said, "Give me two ideas that don't work together at all, and I'll write a New York Times Bestselling series about it." The ideas? A lost Roman legion...and Pokemon.

Flash forward to now, where Codex Alera is a bestselling six-book series, starting with Furies of Calderon. Amazingly enough, Jim kept his word: the books are indeed a strong mix of Romans and Pokemon, and it works out quite well.

Except they aren't called Pokemon, they are Furies, sentient magic spirits that tie themselves to individuals during adolescence. They each are tied to different elements, such as earth, air, fire, water, as well as steel and wood. Hilariously, for people who know pokemon, each fury has a weakness to another type, almost exactly the same as the Pokemon games. However, the way Jim uses the furies makes the ideas unique.

Rather than summon them to fight, furies are fully integrated into a person's way of life. Upper class citizens usually don't name their furies, while commoners tend to have a more personal bond. They allow special abilities; for example, watercrafters are healers, and earthcrafters can change their appearance or push on the emotions of others.

All this is set up on a world similar to the Roman empire, complete with legionaries, authentic weapons, and more. At first I thought this would be stupid and wouldn't work, but the more I read the more I realize it is a totally awesome idea. So often fantasy firmly places itself in the middle ages; why have we avoided the Roman Empire? Combining it with pokemon makes the idea completely fresh and unique, and causes the world to be almost as enticing as the story at hand.

The plot of Furies of Calderon follows several members caught up in a growing political war between a rebellious member of the senate and the Great Fury (or Caesar, essentially). This book is essentially the start of the war (though it is by no means boring), and ends in a rather dramatic battle that is both exciting and excellent. Unlike The Dresden Files, it is told in third person, the prose is much richer (rather than Dresden's distinctly modern voice), and it jumps around between multiple characters.

The focus is on Tavi, the only boy without a Fury, Amara, a Cursor who is abruptly betrayed and the only hope for the empire, Bernard, Tavi's uncle and the ruler of a small village in Calderon that is about to be in the center of a huge conflict, and Isana, Bernard's sister and a powerful watercrafter. The story jumps around a lot, but never loses you. Butcher also rarely does that "oh my gosh what is going to happen!? viewpoint switch, sucker!" thing that I completely hate because it is so overused. It does happen, sure, but hardly as much as you'd think from a thriller writer.

The story, as mentioned above, involves a brewing war that centers on Calderon valley, where Tavi and Bernard live. It eventually culminates into a war between the "Romans" and savage men controlled by the intended usurper, but Butcher takes care to make you realize that not everybody good is good, and not everybody bad is bad. Similar to Dresden where there is a whole lot of gray, most of the characters and their motivations (on both the good or bad side, as we have a viewpoint character who is technically a "bad guy") seem completely justifiable. Fantasy often is the "good vs evil" battle, but Calderon isn't necessarily either way (a theme that continues throughout the series). It's more about personal struggles and the good of the empire, which can be hard for a reader to determine seeing every side of the equation (which is why the book is so good; real life isn't black and white either).

My only issue with the book is the fact that, having read 12 Jim Butcher books already, some of the character archetypes are... repetitive. All the girls are long-legged and busty except the one, strong woman who is more masculine than feminine (and looks as much and is unmarried). Males tend to fixate on exposed bosoms, and there is the traditional Butcher women: busty, beautiful, and evil, or busty, beautiful, and insane. And in the one instance where there is a character who is truly evil, he's so bad it's almost a joke. I knew exactly all the awful things he was going to do before they happened, just because I've read so many Butcher books I know what he finds "appalling."

Also, the other thing that Butcher loves: putting tons of sex off screen, and almost putting in on screen, but then having the characters be interrupted. Seriously, I don't even worry I'm going to read something raunchy when the main lovers are ripping each others' clothes off, because I know some soldier is going to announce an impending attack and break it up before I see anything. I KNOW HOW YOU WORK, BUTCHER!

There also a few points where I felt the characters were inconsistent (including an incident that caused Chuck to quit the book completely), but reading the second book this seems to be smoothed over.

Overall, one must remember that Butcher doesn't exactly have a great track record for staring series out strong. However, its the slow burn that he is good at, and once it gets started you can't quit. Already in the second book I'm knowing I'm going to enjoy this series, and even by about half-way through the first book I was sold on the series. If you think Romans + Pokemon at least sounds interesting, you should check this book out.

Though I still think you should read Dresden first.

I'm not dead

on Wednesday, December 8, 2010
I'm sorry for not updating all 15 faithful followers...but I'll have two book reviews and an update on my current writing scene shortly. I've been struggling to finish up school and graduate, which is a huge timesink, so I'm afraid the blog got thrown into the backburner.

As a plus, my birthday is Sunday, and my dear sweet mom got me a Kindle! So far I'm loving the thing (after having it for like four hours :P) and highly recommend it to book fanatics.

Carry on...