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Shuffle and redeal.

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 7 July 2011 08:09 (A review of Dragon Haven (The Rain Wild Chronicles, No. 2))

This is the second and last book in the Rain Wild Chronicles duology (after The Dragon Keeper).

In this volume we follow the Tarman crew, the dragons and their keepers deeper into the Rain Wilds as they continue their doomed expedition in search of the fabled Elderlings city of Kelsingra. We witness the dragons' physical and mental development, and the various changes the keepers go through, tending to the wondrous creatures. Friendships hatch, secrets surface, resentment builds, remorse haunts, love grows.

Greft starts dreaming of a new life, free from the constricting rules of Trehaug. He harasses Thymara, insisting that she must choose a mate among the male keepers, like he has chosen Jerd. But Thymara isn't ready to commit, even to Tats: she's too afraid of becoming pregnant in this hostile environment, and a burden for the other keepers.

Leftrin is soon caught up by the shameful deal he made with a Chalcedean merchant to provide him with dragon parts. He has to find a way to get rid of this threat to the expedition, and to his new relationship.

Until disaster strikes, scattering crew, hunters, keepers and dragons, shuffling and jumbling their lives.

From then on, I literally couldn't put the book down. I was already enjoying reading about the characters' evolution, especially about Alise and Sedric slowing getting used to their life away from Bingtown and its comfort, away from Hest, but this event rearranged the story into a new pattern and gave it a wonderful kick. I'm thrilled to know that Robin Hobb is currently working on a sequel!

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Delving deeper into the forest.

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 17 June 2011 10:01 (A review of Dragon Keeper (The Rain Wild Chronicles, Book 1))

Delving deeper into the forest. (written on 12th June 2011)
This is the first book in The Rain Wild Chronicles duology (before Dragon Haven).

The story takes place more or less simultaneously with the events of The Tawny Man, during the years following Selden, Reyn and Malta helping the dragon Tintaglia hatch from the last wizardwood log. In return, the dragon had assisted Bingtown in the war against Chalced.

Centuries after the last dragons disappeared, the sea serpents of The Liveship Traders have finally made their way up the Rain Wild River to their cocooning grounds. But few have made it alive, and their late arrival has severely reduced their incubation time. As Thymara, a black-clawed young Rain Wild girl, and her father witness the hatching perched on an branch on a nearby tree, the new dragons emerge as deformed weaklings, with puny legs and stunted wings.

Further South, in Bingtown, Alise Kincarron has gotten used to the idea that she'll end up a spinster and decided to dedicate her life to the study of dragons and Elderlings. Until Hest Finbok, a handsome and wealthy Traders son surprisingly starts to court her. And even when she realizes Hest is actually proposing a marriage of convenience, she accepts the deal with the promise that she will be allowed to continue her studies. After several years of enduring domestic harshness and her failure to produce an heir, Alise decides to travel to the Rain Wilds. Hest sends Sedric, his secretary and her childhood friend, as chaperon.

Arriving in Trehaug, she soon realizes the dragons are but a pale shadow of the noble creatures of legend. Indeed, the poor beasts cannot even hunt for themselves, and the Rain Wild Traders are starting to think of them as a nuisance. An expedition is mounted to escort the dragons upriver, with hunters and sailors, and a bunch of Rain Wild misfits, among which Thymara and her Tattooed friend Tats, to take care of the them. When Malta Khuprus and the Traders Council ask for Alise's help and expertise, she agrees to join the crew.

In this new installment, Robin Hobb introduces us to a new crowd of likable characters, each with their own stubborn tempers and endearing flaws, some with shameful motives and secrets, and delves deeper into the boggy Rain Wilds and into the history of the universe she's been creating since Assassin's Apprentice. Blissfully, I dive in with her.

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Close, but no cigar.

Posted : 8 years, 4 months ago on 10 May 2011 10:16 (A review of The Shadow Road: Book Three in the Swans' War Trilogy (Swans' War S.))

The Shadow Road is the third and final book in the Swans' War trilogy (after The One Kingdom and The Isle of Battle).

Barely escaping alive from the hidden lands moors, our heroes learn from Tuath the Fáel seer that Hafydd has made a bargain with Death and is planning to create a soul eater.

Alaan, accompanied by the three Valemen, Cynddl the Fáel storyfinder and Rabal Crowheart, decides to leave for the borderlands of Death's Kingdom in search of Wyrr. On their way, they meet the Dubrells, Orlem Slighthand's giant people.

As for Elise Wills, still hosting the spirit of Sianon, she goes on pursuing Hafydd on the river Wynnd with the help of Toren Renné and Gilbert A'brgail.

Meanwhile, war is still brewing between the Wills and the Renné on the Isle of Battle. Prince Michael of Innes searches for allies to confront Menwyn Wills, retake control of the army and make both feuding families see they have to choice but to join forces if they want a chance to win against the sorcerer Hafydd.

As a whole, I found there were too many characters for my liking, and as a result some secondary plot lines were more intriguing than the main one. Generally speaking, I was more interested in what happened in the common world than in the magical forces and fights between reincarnate sorcerers. For instance, even though I was glad to leave the dankness of the river for the dryness of the desert for a while, I'm not sure the addition of the Dubrells' story was really essential, and I much preferred reading about Carl A'denné and Jamm, about Prince Michael, or about Llyn Wills and Carral Wills. Ultimately, the Swans' War trilogy is enjoyable but lacking a little concision... close, but no cigar.

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You might get wet!

Posted : 8 years, 5 months ago on 30 March 2011 07:33 (A review of The Isle of Battle (Swans' War Trilogy))

This is the second book in the Swans' War trilogy (after The One Kingdom and before The Shadow Road).

After the Renné costume ball and the disastrous attempt at overcoming Hafydd, Alaan is seriously wounded and flees to the river Wynnd, finally ending up in the gloomy Stillwater marshland.

In his tracks are Haffyd and his men-at-arms, accompanied by Prince Michael secretly spying on him, and
Elise Wills, soon joined by Baore, Tam, Fynnol, Cynddl and Pwyll, champion of the Westbrook Fair tournament.

After their cousin Toren's failed assassination, Samul and Beldor Renné are forced to flee. Toren, Dease, and later the Knight of the Vow Gilbert A'brgail, follow.

Meanwhile at Castle Renné, Lord Carral Wills meets Lady Beatrice and asks for the Isle of Battle to be returned to him in exchange for a peace treaty. There he also meets Llyn, and the reclusive girl with the burned face finally lowers her barriers in the blind man's presence.

But at the same time the Prince of Innes and Menwyn Wills, taking advantage of Hafydd's absence, decide to overrun Isle of Battle. The Renné and their new ally Lord Carral must go to war.

In this volume, numerous groups of characters alternately converge, forging new alliances, and diverge, like meandering arms of a river. Aside from Lord Carral's branch and its tributaries, it seemed to me that most of the book was spend wading waist-deep in the murky swamp of the Stillwater, squinting through thick fog, following the various groups of protagonists chasing each other, trying to catch Alaan before it's too late... leaving me virtually sodden.

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A slow beginning, until all clicks together.

Posted : 8 years, 6 months ago on 9 March 2011 09:10 (A review of The One Kingdom: Book One of the Swans' War Trilogy (Swans' War S.))

The One Kingdom tells the story of three young lads from the Vale of Lakes, Tam Loell and his cousin Fynnol, and Fynnol's cousin Baore Talon, who set off on the river Wynnd to sell artefacts found on an ancient battlefield in the town of Inniseth.

The first night they're met by Alaan, a stranger looking for old stories about given names in the Vale. When they're attacked by brigands, Alaan sacrifices himself to help the young men escape. The next morning, they meet a party of travelling Fáel. Among them Cynddl, a story finder, asks to join the boys on their trip downriver. A trip that will end up taking them much further south than they initially intended.

South, where Dease, Samul, Arden and Beldor Renné are plotting the political murder, at the annual Westbrook Fair, of their cousin Toren, current leader of the family. This way they want to prevent him from returning the Isle of Battle to the Wills, the Renné's age-old enemies. Indeed, they think this peace offer will make them vulnerable and bring the family to ruin, plus they hope to frame the Wills at the same time.

Also caught in the midst of this intrigue is 20-year-old Elise, daughter of the blind musician Lord Carral Wills and niece of the despicable Menwyn, who wants to marry her off to Prince Michael, son of Prince Neit of Innes, and use her to reawaken war against the Renné.

I found the beginning of the story rather slow, with the first four protagonists mainly rowing down the river, and sometimes reminiscent of the Fellowship of the Ring, with young cousins off on an adventure, meeting elf-like Fáel, being tracked down by scary men... I also thought the short glimpses at the numerous other characters' stories were kind of confusing. Thankfully, the plot really gets interesting when all pieces finally click together around 200 pages before the end, and the book suddenly becomes a page-turner.

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Twists and turns to look forward to.

Posted : 8 years, 7 months ago on 26 January 2011 09:19 (A review of Bridge Of Souls: The Quickening: Book Three)

This is the third and final book in The Quickening trilogy (after Myrren's Gift and Blood and Memory).

In the Wild, Wyl now knows that he has to become king of Morgravia in order to put an end to Myrren's curse. However, he cannot provoque the magic or he will have to face even more terrible consequences. There also is Fynch's destiny revealed to him: with the help of the creatures of the Thicket, he must get the world rid of Elysius's brother, the dark magician Rashlyn, King Cailech's barshi.

Meanwhile, Aremys the huge Grenadyne mercenary has been teleported by the Thicket to the Razors. At first made prisoner by the warrior Myrt and his men, his previous dealings with Celimus and his knowledge of the Morgravian sovereign later help him get into Cailech's good books and become his counsellor. He suggests the King of the Mountain Kingdom organize a peace parley with Celimus. Acting as go-between, Aremys gambles and offers to deliver Ylena as guarantee.

In Morgravia, as Celimus performs further random acts of cruelty, killing any who dares questions certain mysterious deaths but always managing to put the blame on alleged traitorous nobles, his Chancellor Jessom becomes less and less convinced about his King's course of actions. And as the wedding day draws nearer, Queen Valentyna of Briavel finds it increasingly difficult to resolve to marry this tyrant.

This volume is more focused on the Mountain Kingdom, and I really enjoyed discovering further facets of Myrt, Cailech, and also Aremys, as well as reading about Lothryn and Gueryn's ordeals at the hands of twisted Rashlyn. I was a little dubious at first about the whole magical aspect introduced in this volume with Fynch's inheritance, wondering where Fiona McIntosh was taking the plot, but in the end she managed to blend it in almost seamlessly and surprised me once again with the breath-taking twists and jaw-dropping turns that I have come to love and look forward to.

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A fascinating weave.

Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 14 January 2011 10:53 (A review of Blood And Memory: The Quickening Book Two)

Blood and Memory is the second book in the Quickening trilogy (after Myrren's Gift and before Bridge of Souls).

As Wyl Thirsk is once again victim of Myrren's strange gift, he decides to set off in search of the witch's real father, hoping he will help him understand the magic and put a stop to the curse.

Meanwhile, Celimus's ambition is steadily growing to gigantic proportions. The young and tyrannic king of Morgravia is determined to see the Thirsk family exterminated and his next target is Wyl's younger sister Ylena. Wyl sends his friend Elspyth to track her down at Rittylworth's monastery only to find the place ransacked by Celimus's mercenaries.

Wyl also has to try and warn his beloved Queen Valentyna of Briavel of Celimus's madness and prevent the impending marriage that is supposed to bring peace between both realms and unity against Cailech of the Mountain Kingdom.

Again, the startling twists and turns are numerous in this book, and the different plot lines intertwine into a complex and fascinating weave. I can't wait to see how the story will resolve itself!

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One of the best fantasy books I have ever read.

Posted : 8 years, 9 months ago on 6 December 2010 05:37 (A review of Myrren's Gift: The Quickening Book One)

Myrren's Gift is the first volume of The Quickening trilogy (before Blood and Memory, and The Bridge of Souls).

The book opens on a battle, in which King Magus of Morgravia and his Commander of the Legion and best friend Fergys Thirsk fight against King Valor of Briavel. Morgravia wins but Fergys dies.

The story then focuses on their teenage heirs, Prince Celimus and Wyl Thirsk, the new Commander of the Legion. As King Magus's health deteriorates, he asks Wyl to pledge an oath that he will always serve and protect Celimus. Although the sons have always hated each other, Wyl has no choice but to obey his duty. Unsurprisingly, Celimus takes every opportunity to hurt and humiliate Wyl, such forceing him to witness the torturing and burning of the young woman Myrren. When Wyl shows the alleged witch some mercy by speeding her death, Myrren gives him a strange gift, one he won't understand at first.

Later, Wyl plays a trick on Celimus, thwarting his plans of deflowering his younger sister Ylena after winning the tournament at Stoneheart. In reciprocation, Celimus sends Wyl to Briavel on a diplomatic mission to ask the hand of Princess Valentyna, but instead of allowing his faithful Legionnaires to accompany him, he makes him go with a bunch of mercenaries, among them the handsome Romen Koreldy, secretly commissioned to kill Wyl once the deal is sealed. This is when Myrren's curious gift reveals itself.

It's been a very long time since I last read anything that good, and I must thank Robin Hobb for recommending this author. Although the main characters might seems a little Manichean at first, the plot is absolutely riveting, with several unexpected and stunning turns complexifying the intrigue and a wonderful cast of supporting roles. Wow!

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An engrossing, but also sad and scary, tale of fli

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 15 November 2010 06:46 (A review of Company of Liars)

The story of Company of Liars is told in the voice of an old one-eyed camelot, journeying across the rain-drenched England of 1348, trying to outrun the pestilence which is spreading from the Southern shores and will hopefully die with the oncoming winter.

Going from village to village, trying to sell fake relics and hope, the camelot is joined by several companions along the way : Rodrigo and his apprentice Jofre, two Italian musicians, Zophiel the illusionist, Narigorm the strange white-haired little girl and her midwife friend Pleasance, a young couple, Osmond the painter and the very pregnant Adela, and Cygnus the Swan-winged crippled storyteller. Together they head North, away from the plague, telling each other their stories around the fire at night... but careful to hide their dark secrets.

Company of Liars is an engrossing tale of flight and survival in Mediaeval England. It is also a very sad and scary tale. I especially enjoyed reading about Cygnus and Jofre, and found Zophiel particularly odious and despicable. I'm a little frustrated to learn that there exists a special paperback edition with an extra chapter.

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Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 8 October 2010 09:07 (A review of Unseen Academicals: A Discworld Novel)

Unseen Academicals is a Discworld novel in the Wizards sub-series, although the main character is a very well-learned goblin named Mr. Nutt who works as candle-dribbler in the vats of Unseen University. Nutt's best friend is his coworker Trevor Likely (son of football legend Dave Likely) who is expert at tossing an old tin can in the air. Trev is in love with Juliet Stollop, the lovely and soon-to-become-dwarfish-fashion-model assistant of Miss Glenda, the night-kitchen cook, who makes the best pies.

And in the meantime, the wizards discover that according to an old tradition, they are to play a game of football every twenty years (and that means about now) or they will have to reduce their meals to only three a day and only so many cheeseboards too. Only the football that is currently played in the streets of Ankh-Morpork looks more like a mob riot.

The book describes how the Wizards, advised my Nutt, Trev, Glenda, Juliet and Lord Vetinari, set out to write down new and more civilized rules for football, and finally gather the UU team.

I really enjoyed Unseen Academicals as a whole, but especially I found the four main characters very endearing, particularly Mr. Nutt who is always striving to "be worthy" (as he was taught by Her Ladyship in Uberwald) and Miss Glenda, who is very down-to-earth but learns that sometimes, just sometimes, you have to follow your impulses.

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