Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

aNHoDPublished by: Tor
ISBN: 0765331969
ISBN 13: 9780765331960
Published: February 2013
Pages: 336
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourite and Recommended

‘A Natural History of Dragons’ is a memoir written by Lady Trent (or Marie Brennan in our dull reality), telling of her life from her younger years, through to her older as she discovers a girl really can be as lucky as to involve herself utterly and completely with dragons.

It is the year 1895 in a magical realm that’s quite alike Victorian England. Females are expected to grow to be proper and marry well, even when dragons exist and who really wouldn’t want to run away and be amongst them! An interest in dragons is considered to be a masculine trait though, so Isabella (must hide her interest as much as she can. Her father however, notices his books have been touched and has a closer eye on his daughter than she suspects. And so, he does the very best thing any father in that time can do – he ensures she manages to marry a man who will truly make her happy.

Soon they go on adventures that no female could have even dreamed of, yet become possible thanks to knowing the right people, and wealth that enables them to be known to be a bit mad.

Being wealthy and of title doesn’t make everything so easy though, and once they’re out of the comfort of where society dictates everything, Isabella and her new husband soon find themselves in quite a bit of trouble, where somehow, the fact that dragons are killing people is the least of their worries.

This book, although not quite as similar in plot so much as feel, will hopefully appeal to fans of Mary Robinette Kowal’s ‘Glamourist Histories’ series. Both are set in the same time, with the introduction of the fantastic interwoven with detail of what it was like to live in that time.

The characters are dedicated throughout. Isabella is eager yet naïve, showing that at her young age a woman can still be intelligent and yet wanting. Her husband doesn’t come across as strongly, but we still smile at his sudden acts of kindness, and see how a man from those times could be reserved and yet thoughtful.

What really makes this book wonderful is the illustrations by Todd Lockwood, and how they’ve involved throughout the book. Please take the time to check them out.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 11th February 2013.

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Review: The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

tdeSeries: Dire Earth Cycle #1
Published by: Del Ray
ISBN: 0345537122
ISBN 13: 9780345537126
Published: July 2013
Pages: 496
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

‘The Darwin Elevator’ is the first in the ‘Dire Earth Cycle’ trilogy by Jason M. Hough, soon to be followed by ‘The Exodus Towers’ and then ‘The Plague Forge’ in August then September respectably.

I first discovered this book by being interested by the cover and looking for more information – the first line of the synopsis certainly grabbing my attention.‘In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth.’ Hang on – I live there. It’s a tiny place. I can probably count how many novels have mentioned this place, let alone been set here, on the one hand!

I promptly contacted the author to ask why, why us! To be told that he simply looked on the map to find somewhere near the equator.

Regardless of this, it feels as though Hough has done his homework. The places mentioned are real places here – Nightcliff, The Narrows, and Ryland is actually a main road, and Melville (the ship) is actually a nearby island directly above Darwin. The joys of the internet.

Set mainly in the year 2283, the world has changed dramatically when one day, ‘The Builders’ arrived with a massive alien structure that descended into a remote part of Australia – Darwin, in the Northern Territory. Then everything continued on as normal, with no sight or sound of the aliens who bestowed such a strange ‘gift’ to the world. Until years later, a devastating and strange zombie-like plague tore the world apart, leaving only Darwin a safe and habitable place, thanks to a kind of safety zone (known as the Aura) created by the elevator.

There’s a few dozen people immune to the plague who can travel out past the aura without the assistance of bulky suits. One is Skylar Leiken, and he has a small crew of fellow immunes, and a ship called the Melville. Together they travel around the world, on small and large jobs to whoever who can pay, for reasons they’ll happily oblige if the pay is right.

However, the subhumans, as they’re called, seem to be changing into a type named the newsubs. And occurrences are breaking out in the space station which shouldn’t really be possible. One job leads to another until soon the fate of the entire planet and space station beyond is resting on Skylar’s shoulders. Thankfully he has a brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma, to assist.

Overall, the novel is a solid read. There’s action and huge events taking place early on, the crew and characters in general taking devastating hits to the point where you wonder what could possibly happen to them in the last half – how could they possibly continue on.

The science feels reliable, showing Hough has either done his research or simply uses the right words and writes with confidence – he has me fooled if it’s totally implausible.

The female characters are varied and strong, Samantha especially, and I loved the rough interaction shown, punches and forehead bumps.

The main issue, if any, could be with Skylar who sometimes seems just a little… lacking. We’re told he’s an amazing leader, but we’re not often shown why. He’s not overly charismatic or an excellent fighter or inspiring speaker, and yet I felt okay with him, perhaps with the reasoning sometimes we like seeing just an ordinary person having to do great things, and managing them through will and inner strength.

I’ll certainly be looking forward to the next two, and anything Hough does in the future.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 22nd July 2013.

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Review: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

A Corner of WhiteSeries: The Colours of Madeleine #1
Published by: PanMacmillan Australia
ISBN 13: 9781742611396
Published: September 2012
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page

Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourite and Recommended
Related Reviews: The Cracks in the Kingdom (The Colours of Madeleine #2)

‘A Corner of White’ by Jaclyn Moriarty is the first in ‘The Colours of Madeleine’ series (also known as ‘The Kingdom of Cello’.) Not her first series, Moriarty is already known for her award winning ‘Feeling Sorry for Celia’ and is the younger sister of well-known author Liane Moriarty.

‘A Corner of White’ is split into two worlds, one in Cambridge, England, and one in the fantasy Kingdom of Cello. In one world we have Madeleine Tully of Cambridge who has two friends, Belle and Jack; a mother who is ill and a father they left behind in some other part of the world, along with their easy life and plentiful money. Madeleine used to run away often, but she would always return. Then one day her mother ran away with her.

In Cello (the own of Bonfire, to be exact) we have Elliot and the colours, dangers that roam around the kingdom laying havoc and destroying lives. Elliot’s own father is missing, but Elliot plans to find him and bring him home again. It’s already been a year without him – a year too long.

The two worlds form a connection thanks to a crack that opens between them, allowing Elliot and Madeleine to write letters to each other, a dangerous avenue that has the penalty of death, yet both characters need each other for the sake of their parents safety. And so, the world of spires and tea meets that of the Butterfly Child in jars.

This unique plot is beautifully told, so much so I found myself saving it for later each day whilst battling with myself from wanting to devour it in one. The prose is elegant and masterful, thought provoking and yet managing to showcase each character within their few words, so much so you know the characters within the first few pages.

The secondary characters, everyone from those who’ve taken over Elliot’s father’s store to the person who wrote the Travel Guide for Cello are witty and lovely to read, making it so no matter who is speaking in the book at the time, it’s impossible not to be captivated.

Though the tale begins and continues slowly, it is at a comforting pace that entrances, making it so you can easily visualise the room they’re in; the cake they’re sharing. For those who have been to Cambridge before, it will make you wish to visit again. To those who have never been there, it will make you want to go straight away – much like ‘The Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ by Laini Taylor and Prague.

The fantasy element keeps the tale surprising, and the Cambridge element makes it all seem possible. Such as the Harry Potter series makes it realistic by involving Kings Cross, so does ‘A Corner of White’ with its spires and parking meters.

This novel is nothing but unique and is an instant favourite, one I’m pressuring everyone I know to try even if it is not their usual genre – simply because this can be enjoyed by almost everyone. Not strictly fantasy, nor simply mystery or literature, this is a mix of lovely and sad, biter and sweet, crazy and utterly sane and clever, intelligent and demands to be shared.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 5th August 2012.