A Spell For Chameleon by Piers Anthony

chameleonA Spell for Chameleon is the first book in a LONG series of novels set in the magical land of Xanth. I first read this book when I was very young. Maybe when I was 11 or 12?. Too young to really understand it, but I enjoyed it because it was such an interesting idea and compelling plot. Now that I’m older I decided to re-read it. I have issues, but we’ll get to that later.

A Spell For Chameleon is a high fantasy novel set in the magical land of Xanth. Xanth is so hard to describe. There’s a bunch of history cleverly packed into this novel. One of the main things to note is that everyone in Xanth has a magical ability they refer to as a talent. Very similar to X-men, or if you an anime fan, My Hero Academia. These talents range in power, so some can be Magician caliber talents with the ability to control the weather, or transform living objects, and some are completely useless, like making a coloured spot appear on the wall. But, no matter what the talent is you must have one in order to stay in Xanth. If you are talentless you are exiled.

The main character is a twenty-five year old man named Bink and so far he seems to have no talent and if he cannot demonstrate one very soon he will be forced into exile in the non-magical land of Mundania (aka Earth). So, in order to discover his talent Bink sets out to visit the Good Magician Humphrey, whose talent is knowledge. He meets a lot of people along the way, including two girls named Wynne and Dee. Once he finally gets to the Good MAgician’s castle he is thrilled and also disappointed to find out that he does, in fact, have a talent. A Very powerful talent that would put him in Magician class, but for some reason his talent remains hidden and the Good Magician Humphrey cannot figure out how to reveal it.

Unfortunately, the letter from Humphrey stating that Bink has a very powerful hidden talent isn’t good enough for the rapidly deteriorating Storm King and Bink is exiled anyway. Once he is across the border to Mundania, which is protected by a magical Shield to protect Xanth from Mundanian invaders, he is captured by the Evil Magician Trent and meets a woman named Fanchon. Trent was exiled twenty years ago for trying to take over the throne, but now he wants to go back to Xanth and… take over the throne. But for different reasons. Twenty years ago he wanted the power to rule Xanth. Now, however, he wants to help Xanth grow and prosper. Something the current Storm King cannot do any longer.

The rest of the novel is the story of how Bink, Trent, and Fanchon make it back into Xanth and make their way through the wilderness into populated areas. Throughout their adventures Trent figures out Bink’s talent, Bink figures out Fanchon’s secret, and all’s well that ends well.

Things I like about A Spell For Chameleon:

  • There’s a map in the front of the book. I love maps.
  • The story is really compelling and fun to read. There are also a bunch of puns written into the prose, which I didn’t really understand when I was younger.
  • I’m a big fan of X-men and My Hero Academia, so I love the idea of each person having their own unique magical ability in Xanth. It always makes me think what mine would be if I had one.

Things I didn’t like about A Spell For Chameleon:

  • Sometimes it can get pretty wordy. I ended up skipping some paragraphs because they would be too boring to read. I don’t need to read a page long description of  every small detail about the land of Xanth. My imagination will fill in the gaps, thanks.
  • My biggest dislike of this novel is how completely and obviously sexist it is. Piers Anthony was a male chauvinist with a complete lack of respect for women. There is even a self proclaimed “woman-hater” character in the novel. The character Bink is a shallow man who says he would get bored of an average woman and wants variety in a woman. The women in the novel are portrayed as either untrustworthy or not worthy of any of the men in the story. Take the three women I mentioned. Wynne is extremely beautiful but extremely stupid. Dee is completely average. Fanchon is incredibly intelligent but hideous to look at. None of these women are good enough for Shallow Bink the Talentless Wonder. It makes me so angry the way women are treated and portrayed in this novel. So much so that I have decided to get rid of all the Piers Anthony novels I have collected over the years.

Overall, I like the story and the idea behind Xanth, but I just can’t get over the blatantly sexist attitudes portrayed in this novel. I originally had this novel marked as four out of five stars on Goodreads, but now it’s only two stars in my opinion. Bye Piers Anthony. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life, kay thanks.

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Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

murdermagicOriginally, I picked up Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones because Gail Carriger suggested it on her Facebook page. Carriger is the author of one of my favourite steampunk book series and she often talks about books by new authors that she’s reading. I trust her judgement and I was not disappointed.

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore is a young adult historical fantasy novel set in the year 1818 England about a young woman named Annis Whitworth. As it stands right now it is a stand alone novel, but the ending left it open enough to have a sequel or possibly a whole series based on it.

The story starts out with Annis and her aunt Cassia finding out that Annis’s father has been killed in a carriage accident. Annis, however, doesn’t think that her father died by accident — she thinks he was murdered. Why does she think this? Because her father was a spy for the British Empire.

Her suspicions lead Annis to wanting to become a spy herself so she can finish her father’s work, but her attempts seem to be thwarted at every turn. She’s desperate to become a spy because her only other option is to become a governess and teach children the alphabet. That is until she discovers she has magical powers and can sew magic into clothing. She uses this power to sew disguises for herself and her maid Millie. Together they solve the mystery of who murdered her father, stop Napoleon from being released from prison, and become spies for England. #theEnd

Things I liked about Murder, Magic, and What We Wore:

  • The writing style was good, flowed well, and was entertaining and humourous. Jones did a good job of describing the environment and the dresses that each character wore. In a book whose title includes “And What We Wore” this is an important detail.
  • I liked that Annis could sew magic. I myself am a seamstress (kind of…) so I really appreciate books that include sewing references. Annis reminded me a lot of Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones because Sophie, like Annis, could sew magic into hats, but she too was unaware of her power. Annis could make fabric bulletproof, or encourage the wearer to be invisible or feel extreme confidence. Sophie could do the same thing, but with hats. She could make a hat that would make the wearer more attractive, lucky, etc. It’s just a really cool power that I really appreciate.
  • The aspect of Girl Power in this book was great! Annis was a pampered lady who suddenly befell hard times, but rather than take what life gave her she decided to forge her own path. This book is full of strong female role models for girls.

Things I didn’t like about Murder, Magic, and What We Wore:

  • It was sooooooo predictable. There was no surprise at all to the “big reveals” at the end of the book. Maybe I’ve just read too much and am too good and picking up small details, but I felt that the clues Jones dropped were way too obvious and took some of the excitement out of the book.

Overall, I was very entertained by this book. I feel that it’s a good book for young adults as it’s easy to read and full of interesting characters. I gave Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because while I really enjoyed reading the book I felt the obviousness of the plot took away from the experience. Despite this I look forward to potential sequels.

The Burning Page: An Invisible Library Novel by Genevieve Cogman

burning-pageIf you’re a huge book nerd like me, or if you just like librarians the I can guarantee you will love the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. There are lots of things to love about this book and it’s preceding books. That being said, this is the third book in the series, and I feel that in order to really understand what’s happening in this book you need to read the first two. The characters are constantly making reference to events that happened previously, so it would be better to read the other two books so you can feel more connected to the characters and the plot.

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but here’s the basic premise: There is an interdimensional Library that links to every alternate Earth in existence. These worlds fall onto a spectrum of chaos and order. Most worlds fall around the middle but there are some worlds that are high-chaos where the Fae thrive, and worlds that are high order, where the Dragons thrive.  Humans can exist in both chaos and order. Librarians are humans who live in the Library. They are sent out to each alternate world to collect rare and unique books to bring back for safe keeping in the Library. The main character, Irene, is a Librarian stationed on an alternate world similar to Sherlock Holmes’ London, with some interesting twists… vampires, werewolves, and dragons, oh my!

In this book, Irene and her assistant, Kai, are being sent out to various different alternate worlds on “crap” missions because they are being punished for some events that happened in the last book. Seriously, you should read it. If you love fantasy and science fiction this is the series for you! One minute they are in futuristic worlds, the next more fantasy based ones! Brilliant!

Alright, things I liked about this book are:

  • Set in Victorian England in an alternate version of earth
  • It has a steampunk-y vibe to it
  • There is a Sherlock Holmes type character. I love Sherlock Holmes stories!
  • There are dragons
  • There are librarians
  • The librarians are awesome secret agent for an awesome interdimensional Library.
  • The whole concept of chaos and order is really well thought out
  • Main character is someone I can relate to 

There aren’t too many things I didn’t like about this book, but one of the main things is that there is suddenly a love triangle that I didn’t realize was there, or at least I don’t remember it being mentioned at all in the previous books. It seemed to pop out of nowhere. I knew there was some romantic tension between Irene and another character, but now this third character was thrown in. Seems like there was no build up to it at all.

The other thing I didn’t like about this book was that it ended. I just wanted to keep reading, and reading, and reading! The plot wraps up nicely, but there are so many more questions that are brought up throughout the book and I’m so curious about characters and their background stories now! Guess I’ll have to wait until December for answers. Heavy sigh.

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because it was awesome and I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves fantasy novels. The first book is called The Invisible Library, and the second book is called The Masked City. the fourth book is called The Lost Plot and is due to be published at the end of 2017.

Pantomime by Laura Lam

pantomimeOriginally, I picked up this book because it had an interesting cover. I don’t usually judge a book by its cover but in this case the cover just looked so intriguing that I had to pick it up! When I read the back of the book I was further intrigued! I really enjoy gaslamp fantasy novels, The Night Circus  by Erin Morgenstern being my favourite from this genre (it’s so good everyone should go read it right now!). Even though Pantomime falls nicely into the gaslamp fantasy genre it remains unique. Never have I ever read a book with such complicated themes set in a world like this. This book takes fantasy, circus, magic, and rolls in themes like self acceptance, coming of age, LGBTQ+, and intersexuality.

This story is about one person. Gene is a noble girl with a secret. She is both male and female – intersexual. If her secret were to leak out it would be a scandal and she and her whole family would be shunned from society. Then she displays strange magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age – The Vestige. Gene discovers her parents are not her real parents and plan to have an unwanted medical procedure performed on her, so she decides she needs to run away from home. So, Gene takes on a new name and becomes Micah Grey, a boy who joins the circus and becomes an aerialist. Micah trains hard and falls in love, but the dark side of the circus forces him to run for his life again.

Honestly, while I really enjoyed this book I felt the story was a bit slow and a little confusing at times. The story hops between Gene’s life as a noble, and Micah’s life in the circus. As the time lines get closer and closer to merging (ie, when Gene becomes Micah) it can get a little confusing as to when things are happening. Despite the slow pace I felt it really picked up near the end as Micah’s secret is exposed and he needs to flee for his life. However, beware! The cliffhanger at the end is real. My library system doesn’t have the second book yet (Shadowplay – 9781509807802, published Jan. 2017) so I have to either buy the sequel myself or wait patiently… heavy sigh.

Another thing I felt was a bit confusing was the Vestige, the ancient civilization that disappeared, leaving only magical artifacts behind.. I felt there wasn’t enough backstory about this and would have appreciated a prologue or foreword describing it in further detail. Perhaps in the next two books more about the Vestige will be revealed as more magic like Micah’s is awakened..

I felt that Laura Lam did a really good job at portraying Gene’s confusion about whether she is male or female. Gene doesn’t quite feel like a female, but not quite a male either. Which is why she is so easily able to slip into Micah’s world. Gene/Micah is a Kedi. An intersexual creature from legend that is the only creature in the world who is whole.

I also liked how Lam described Micah’s confusion about his feelings for both Aenea, his female aerialist partner, and Drystan, the white clown. Micah kept asking himself “Do I like Aenea as a boy or as a girl?” Eventually he decided it didn’t matter and just lets his emotions take over. Despite being in love with Aenea, Micah is still too afraid to tell her about his secret – that he is a Kedi – for fear she will be disgusted with  him and reject him, like someone from Gene’s past did recently. At the end of the book Micah’s secret is revealed! But you’ll have to read the book to find out how both Aenea and Drystan react. #troll

I gave Pantomime 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because of the unique and interesting premise and characters. Would have taken half a star from the overall score if i could have due to the slow pace and sometimes confusing order of events.

Writing this review has been difficult because I’m not sure which pronoun to use for Gene/Micah. Gene is the female, but Micah is the male. I’m not sure which gender neutral pronouns to use. Further research is required.

 

Goldenhand by Garth Nix

goldenhandLet me just start by saying that the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix has been one of my favourite book series since I started reading it as a teenager. I’ve re-read the books multiple times since they were released and I never get tired of reading them. I’ve also force fed them to a couple of people who also ended up loving them as much as I do! My love for these books is strange, actually, and people are always surprised I love them given my total aversion to zombies in all forms of pop culture. I don’t know what it is about these books. I love them. I love the characters. I love the world. And i love the lore surrounding the story.

Reading the fifth book in the series made me want to start from the beginning again and read all the books over again for the zillionth time.

This book takes place a few months after the third book in the series, Abhorsen, where Lirael, Sabriel, Touchstone, Sam, and everyone battled against Orannis to save not only the Old Kingdom, but Ancelstierre as well. Lirael is struggling to recover not only from losing her hand during the battle but also losing her best friend the Disreputable Dog. she also struggling to fit into her new life as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting and rushes off to various dangerous tasks in an attempt to not feel. One such dangerous task is to go across the wall and deal with a free magic creature causing trouble. She comes across Nicholas Sayre while she’s there and decides he needs to see the Clayr due to his condition (being half Charter Magic and half Free Magic creature as a result of being possessed by Orannis).

While this is all happening we are introduced to a new character, Ferin. Ferin is a runaway offering to the Witch With No Face (aka, Chlorr of the Mask) and she makes her way to the Clayr’s Glacier to give Lirael a message from her late mother. The message reveals that there is another dangerous threat to the Old Kingdom, and Lirael and Nicholas need to be the one to stop it.

This book nicely wrapped up the Chlorr of the Mask plot that started in the first book (I think… been so long since I read them that I’m not sure when Chlorr was introduced), that was left unfinished in the third book. The fourth book in the series, Clariel, was a prequel that gave us some of Chlorr’s history, but honestly, I wasn’t as big a fan of this one as I was of the other books so I don’t remember much. Need to re-read!

I also really liked that the Old Kingdom was expanded upon in this book! We learn so much more about the northern part of the Old Kingdom and the people who live there. Ferin’s people live in the mountain clans of the north and we learn a lot about her culture and the history of the Witch With No Face. Learning more about the Old Kingdom made me curious about the rest of the world the story takes place in. Are there other countries? Other continents? Are they magical like the Old Kingdom, or are they void of magic like Ancelstierre? I want to know more!

A few things I found annoying about the book was that it referenced events that happen in the short stories Nix wrote about the Old Kingdom (Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case, and To Hold the Bridge). Neither of which I have read.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the relationship between Nicholas and Lirael. It felt too sudden to be natural. Sure, sometimes people fall in love suddenly like that, but considering the only contact Lirael and Nicholas had was during the battle with Orannis I find it hard to believe they fell in love enough to think about each other so much before reuniting. Perhaps they met up in the short stories, and that furthered their relationship, but I’m not too sure.

The last thing I felt was strange about the book was that the Disreputable Dog could have come back at any time, yet she chose not to despite Lirael’s obvious pain at losing her friend. I know the Dog wanted Lirael to learn to live with humans and create bonds with them, but an occasional visit now and then couldn’t have hurt, right?

Well, there you go. That’s my review of Goldenhand by Garth Nix. I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because despite the few things I disliked about this book I absolutely loved and and want more Old Kingdom books! Mr. Nix, if you read this, please don’t ever abandon the Old Kingdom and the people in it! I love them all so much!

A Discovery of Witches

Witches, Vampires, and Daemons, oh my!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is not your typical boy meets girl story, that’s for sure. But I can tell you this: If you liked Twilight you will like this, and if you didn’t like Twilight then you’ll probably like this. For one thing there are no sparkly vampires. Score! In fact, the vampire in this story, Matthew Clairmont, makes Edward Cullen look like the whiny little bitch he is. Oops, excuse my French, please!

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. Harkness is an historian of magic and science and this is her first work of fiction. She uses her knowledge of magic and science to create an impeccable blend of the two and to create a cast of characters who are also knowledgeable on the topics. The main character is an historian of alchemy, so we can see where the inspiration came from.

Speaking of the main character, Diana Bishop is a very dynamic character. She is, as mention earlier, an historian of early science, specifically Alchemy. She is also from a very prominent witching family. Her distant ancestor was Bridget Bishop, the first woman to be executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. Despite being from a long line of powerful witches, Diana refuses to let magic into her life. She lives on the cusp of the magical and the mundane, always teetering between one and the other, never finding a true balance.

I find myself able to relate to Diana very well and I felt a connection to her character, even though the only thing we really have in common are our love of tea. Harkness does a wonderful job of writing the character so that the reader is empathetic towards her and is able to feel a connection with not just Diana, but all the characters. When Diana cries, loves and fears so does the reader with amazing emotional clarity. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever loved a fictional character as much as I love Matthew and it’s all because of Diana’s love for him.

The relationship between Diana and Matthew develops slowly, realistically, I should say. At first they are simply interested in each other on a platonic level but gradually they begin to realize that they are in love with each other. One of the devices Harkness uses to show their relationship develops is the way Matthew’s gaze feels on Diana. Witches are able to feel the looks of other creatures (vampires, daemons, and witches) and vampires usually have a gaze that feels like ice cubes. Matthew’s gaze goes from ice cubes to snowflakes. This is a sign that they are becoming more comfortable with each other and that Matthew’s feelings for Diana are softening into love.

One of the things I like about this book is the concept of the secret world of witches, vampires and daemons. I think that’s it very well thought out because of the way the three groups interact with each other. There is a deep felt prejudice that all the races feel for each other and one of the controversial issues that Matthew is trying to figure out is whether witches, vampires and daemons have commons ancestry instead of evolving from three separate sources of genetic material. (Matthew is a professor and geneticist at Oxford, btw J)

Another one of the things I really like about A Discovery of Witches is the analogy between vampires and wolves. There are no werewolves (yet) but the constant comparison between wolves and vamps is a decent substitute. There are too many instances of this analogy to give you an example but the book is littered with them.

The last thing about this book that I want to write about is the plot and the conflict. Now, I am quite intuitive when it comes to story plots and conflicts. Usually I can figure out the who, what, where, when and why, but in the case of A Discovery of Witches I found myself never really knowing where the book was going. In a way it was frustrating to have to wait until the end for the reveal, but it was also refreshing because I, for once, didn’t know what was going to happen before it happened. The conflict in the book is also deceptive. At first you think it’s a conflict between Diana and Matthew, and then you realize it’s a conflict between Diana, Matthew, and some wizard named Peter Knox… or is it? I don’t think we’ll find out the real conflict until the second book is released in July 2012.

I am very excited about the release of Shadow of Night this summer and if you want to know more about Deborah Harkness and her books please visit her website. Also, if you want some information about Bridget Bishop (yes, she really WAS the first woman executed for witchcraft at Salem) you can read all about her here.

Zombies can be cool!

Actually, Internetland, I hate zombies. They scare the crap out of me but unfortunately almost everyone else thinks they are awesome. Zombies are not awesome. How can something dead and decaying be awesome? My room mates like zombies so much that they created their own zombie invasion plan. It’s lame, yes, but also very comforting to know that we have a plan incase there is a zombie invasion.

Sabriel by Garth NixAnyway, the reason I talk about this is because the latest book that I read is called Sabriel by Garth Nix and let me tell you a little something about this book. It’s awesome. It’s exciting and has a lot of mystery and action and even a little romance.

The story set in two kingdoms. One is a modern world where technology rules and the other is a medieval country where magic rules. These two countries are separated by a wall. The story is about a girl named Sabriel who was born across the wall in the Old Kingdom but was raised in the modern world called Ancelstierre.

Now you’re probably wondering why I prefaced this post with talk of zombies. Well here’s why I prefaced this post with talk of zombies: Sabriel is a necromancer, or rather, someone who controls the Dead. Necromancers can raise souls from Death and put them into dead bodies. Sabriel is a different kind of necromancer. She is the Abhorsen, or rather, a necromancer who is the sworn enemy of anything Dead. It’s her job to  banish anything Dead back to the realm of Death.  Sabriel’s story begins when she gets a message from her father who is in trouble in the Old Kingdom. Sabriel must cross the wall and find him before something truely terrible happens to him. On her journey she finds out more about who she is and who her family is. A road to self discovery.

Something I find very interesting about this book is the original concept of music and magic intermingling. Sabriel uses magic bells to control the Dead and it’s all based around Charter Magic (the controlled and socially accepted form of magic that the Mages use) and Free Magic (the, well, free magic that is not socially accepted and feared — the kind that necromancers use).

Sabriel by Garth Nix is an interesting and original novel and has two more books after it called Liriel and Abhorsen and they too are amazing reads and even someone who is scared to death (pun not intended) of zombies can enjoy this book.