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Alta: Joust #2

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An excellent sequel to Joust. More developed and complex plot, although still littered with typos and grammatical errors. I'm now completely hooked on this series, and love the Ancient Egypt meets dragon riders idea. More dragons are hatched and ridden, and there is intrigue and excitement. What more could you ask for? One of my new favourite series.
Aerie: Book Four of the Dragon Jousters

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The fourth and final volume in the series. Enjoyable, but more stressful to read because of the tension between Kiron and Aket-ten. I don't know why the author introduced that - it's completely out of the blue, rather secondary to the plot, and rather out of character. I like this book because it continues the series, and we see the Jousters trying to adapt to a new way of life, and find a new role now that they are not a fighting force in a war. She throws in a bit of feminism, which seems mostly to be a vehicle for the author to preach (but I think girl-power is a bit of a favourite theme for her!). It adds an interesting continuation to the plot of the series though, and is a good read. And Aerie - clearly Petra!
Tongues of Serpents

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Being a Temeraire book, I enjoyed this a lot. It wasn't as addictive as some of the earlier books in the series, but it was an interesting and enjoyable chapter in their (Lawrence and Temeraire's) life. I think the writing itself wasn't as polished as the earlier novels - they are written in period style, which is already a bit more difficult to follow than modern English, but it wasn't a problem in the other books in the series. I think this one could have done with another round of proof-reading / editing for clarity. But it was OK, despite a few re-reads of sentences being required and general oddities and confusion. You get the story, that's what's important.In terms of plot, it's fine - lots of new things introduced, and new characters. I particularly liked seeing the new hatchlings. The human characeters were rather more secondary. Temeraire struck me as more childish in this book - he always did have that aspect about his personality, but it seemed more pronounced to me here. Perhaps it's my imagination though. Or perhaps it's his dragon side coming through more. Iskierka just needed a good smack, as always.A lot more could be done with Australia as a setting, and what's happening there, but I don't know if we'll see any more of it - this may just be a short glimpse. The next book involves them shipping off to South America - I read the prologue on the authors website and from that it looks a lot more polished than Tongues of Serpents, much more readable. It also promises to be more action packed.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

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[CONTAINS SPOILERS]Just finished this - I enjoyed it very much. Think Jane Austen does fantasy. I think it helps that I've only got into Jane Austen in the last couple of years - I don't know if I'd've liked the old style as much otherwise.The characterisation in this is very complex - I kept veering from liking to disliking characters, and they're none properly good or properly bad (except perhaps the gentleman with the thistledown hair). I think my favourite characters turned out to be Arabella and Childermass in the end, closely followed by Jonathan Strange. Mr Norrell I disliked most of the time, but occasionally he had likeable moments. As a book, it took quite a while to get going, but progressively gathered momentum as it went.I don't know what to make of the end - it was happy, I suppose, but also sad, and somewhat unresolved. It also didn't make much sense, in terms of where I thought the characterisation was going. A lot of stuff left to tie up there. Arabella and Jonathan seemed quite out of character at the end. They showed no emotion, and didn't even meet up for months! It doesn't make sense.There were plenty of other things I'd've liked to hear more about too - Childermass (quite the enigma), The Raven King, more of Faerie, Segundus. Perhaps we will some day.
The Thief

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This is a young adult novel which won the Newbery Honor award. Other books I've read which have won this award have been more complex (e.g. Susan Cooper), so I was a bit surprised at this one. It's a fairly easy read, but some bits were a little confusing (some of the confusion is alleviated in the last chapter, but that doesn't stop it from reading somewhat less smoothly than expected at earlier points). Not much happens in most of the book - it's mainly a journey, with a group of unlikely travelling companions whose characters really aren't fleshed out much at all, including the protagonist (it's first person). You really don't get a sense of them and who they are, and what their motivations are, which was probably the main drawback of the book for me. You're constantly guessing who they are - their actions are not really that consistent. I suspect this whole issue is partly because it's first person, and the narrator character has no insight into them either, but still. I've seen first person done better.The book is very clearly based on ancient Greek culture, and it works OK as long as you accept that from the start and don't mind where it deviates.In general, I'd say the last chapter saved this book, and would make me want to read the sequels. I think not all the sequels are first person either, and some may be following different characters. This is almost a set-up book. But I don't know if I liked it enough to actually get the sequels. We'll see. It had potential.
Scarlet

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I wasn't very impressed. I love the Robin Hood legend, and I was hoping for an awesome re-telling set it 1100s Wales/England. I expected it to be a bit dark, very powerful, and very evocative. Unforunately, it was none of these. It had so much potential, but failed to live up to it. It wasn't that it was bad, but it just wasn't very well written. The characters were shallow - never really fleshed out at all, and also rather annoying (which is never a good thing in the lead character especially). The writing style was slightly erratic, and sometimes veered over into too informal. The point of view didn't exactly jump about, but occassional sentences would creep in that were more like the thoughts or opinions of particular non-central characters, but were written as descriptive sentences by the author while the plot remained primarily from the point of view of a different character, which really didn't work. The sense of place was not strongly protrayed at all, and the geography was confusing. The general storytelling and prose was rather flighty and lightweight, for want of a better description. A lot more of a list of things that happened, without much depth or detail.As a side point - the cover. I appreciate that the author may not have had any input to the image selected, but if you're going to have a picture of an archer on the cover, at least have him pull the bowstring correctly. One does not curl ones fingers around the string. Thus this book failed before I had even opened the cover.
The Hollowing

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This is the fourth book in the Mythago Wood series, following on from Mythago Wood, Lavondyss and Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn.This book deals with a young boy, Alex, drawn into Ryhope Wood by one of the masks Tallis Keeton (the main character in Lavondyss) made. Her father makes a brief appearance in this book. The story primarily follows the boy's father, Richard, as he searches for his son, along with a motley group of scientists investigating the wood. I believe some characters from the related short story, The Bone Forest are present too. The creations of Alex's conscious and subconscious are manifesting in the forest and are by no means all friendly.As with the others in the series, this is a very complex book, but perhaps a little more grounded than some. And as in the others, the main character seems to be the least developed. It's like we see through his eyes (although it's third person), but learn very little about him. There is plenty of commentary on the other characters so you get an idea of who they are, but none on Richard. It's quite strange, and these are the only books I've encountered this in.There is again much folklore and myth in this book, I think far more than I'm comprehending. There is much complexity and there are many layers to be explored. This one touches on the myths of Coyote, Jack In The Green and Jason And The Argonauts, but as always in Mythago Wood, these are not the good, heroic, fantastical legends and characters we hear them to be today. These are primal echoes, and ambiguous manifestations, raw forms of the myths.A good book, but again doesn't live up to Lavondyss. I don't know if anything could!
Dragon Keeper

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This is the first of two (maybe three) set in the same world as the Assasin's Apprentice, Tawny Man and Liveship Traders trilogies. It focuses on the Rain Wilds, and the dragons, and is set, time-wise, at the end of The Tawny Man trilogy. There are no common characters from there (unless you count mention of the dragon Tintaglia), but I believe there are common characters from the Liveship series (I haven't read those yet).It was a very addictive read - one I couldn't put down. It follows about four or five different character threads which eventually join up, and the characters are very well written. You feel for them all. I think the one that most gripped me, emotionally, was Alise's story, although others are equally gripping in different ways. For me it was easy to put myself in her place and to want her to take control of her life.
Dragon Haven

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[Contains minor spoilers.]Essentially a continuation of the first book, Dragon Keeper - it's really one book split in two. This book (well, both) were fantastic! I couldn't stop thinking about the characters every moment I wasn't reading it, which is very distracting, so it's a good thing I was on holiday. The plot also affects my emotions a lot, which can be good or bad. Some books do that, the kind you can't put down mainly (although not always).There is not a lot of action or "things happening" sort of plot in this book - it's all about character development. They are travelling upriver to find a place which may or may not exist, and that's it. But the development of the characters and their relationships with each other (I don't necessarily mean sexual relationships, but there is that too) is what makes it so compelling. They are all so strongly realised, especially the female characters. The keepers, teenagers mainly, act very much as their age would suggest - it's all a bit Lord of the Flies with them sometimes, whereas the adult relationships of those accompanying them are more complex and difficult, for societal reasons as much as anything. I like Alise's story best, since I suppose I can relate most closely to her, but also Thymara's story.There are homosexual relationships as well, although they are not covered in as much detail as the heterosexual ones. It did seem slightly unlikely to me that there would be three gay characters in this cast of about 20 people - what a coincidence, now a new relationship can develop for character X! But it does make for good plot, and it's very tenderly written.The dragons are interesting in their social heirarchy and development - some things I didn't see coming emerged here and there. They're not particularly likeable, although that's in good part because the main focus in that area is on the keeper Thymara and her relationship with Sintara, the most obnoxious, arrogant and annoying dragon ever, in contrary to the relationships between most of the other keepers and their dragons, which are more fantasy-conventional bonding. The hints and ties to the Farseer and Fool series are there, primarily related to the Elderlings and their civilisation, which is satisfying if you've read them, but they are entirely stand-alone books. I've not read the Liveship books yet (I'm about to) but I believe they're more closely linked to those, particularly given guest-characters in the first novel.The book rounds off the story of the two novels very well, leaving it right until the last minute. It's a suitable end point, even though it does leave you wanting more, and more could be done. I think it was originally intended as a two book sequence, but she is going to be releasing two more in the series next year, six months apart, which I can't wait for! Although I wait with some trepidation - the happy ending of this book is probably not going to last very long, and I know Hobb doesn't always give you what you want.
Lavondyss

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WARNING - Contains major spoilers.---------------------------------------------------I'm not even sure where to begin. I don't even know if I like it or not. No, that's not right - I liked it a lot, it has had a huge impact on me. I guess I don't like how it ended - not the way it was written but what happened itself.I loved the first half of the book unconditionally (it's in two parts). It was set in the English contryside and the main character (Tallis) is a young girl growing up, interacting with the strange world of myth and wood. This was (relatively) straightforward and lovely to read, quite addictive in it's weaving of mythology and nature, growing up and the beautiful imagery it painted, the worlds it hinted at.The second half of the book begins very abruptly, with the young girl of the first half aged to her early twenties, a sudden shock that almost hits you in the face. She is in the mythological wood now, has been journeying for many years, and from here the book becomes progressively more confusing (in a way) and surreal. Yet not confusing in that you have no idea what's going on - the confusion lies in the nature of the wood and they way it is interlinked (is) the human subconscious, specifically that of certain characters. The book is much darker in the second half, more adult (she is adult) and the world and mythology and strangeness is seen now, not hinted at. It is still catching to read, but different, more stressful.Her relationship with Scathach in particularly touched me, perhaps because I have someone of my own. So much between them is missed out in the eight year jump in the story, all the good times, and now they are unsure of each other and their relationship. That he dies is sad, but didn't seem to affect Tallis as much I would have expected. At the end, I was happy to see them reunited, but they were old, and again we are told nothing of their time together - the prologue jumps to many years later and he is dead again, she dying. This, the prologue, was what troubled me the most. That her brother should find her as she dies - too late, and her quest all along was to find him and return with him to their parents. This is too heartbreaking, for it all to be for naught. She never even lived a somewhat happy and full life in the woods, as Wynne-Jones did - she lost the majority of her life span in Lavondyss, the heart wood, the First Wood, in her strange visioning and journeying (the most surreal part of the book). I kept expecting a happy ending, for it all to turn out right in the end, but it never did. It was one loss after another, a life ended in a barren and desolate place.Thus the ending troubled me, and troubles me still. I was too caught up in the characters, particularly Tallis and Scathach, to forget so easily, to really belive it was "just" a book. This is why I like happy endings. Perhaps there is another book? I must look. I know there is a prequel, Mythago Wood, which I will get.The mythology the author builds, the idea of it all, it is quite fascinating and eminently plausible. So real, so confusing.This is a book I would recommend you read if you have any interest in mythology, the origin and nature of myth. It is not an easy book, but I think it is worth it.
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