May 27, 2015

The Runaway King (Ascendance Trilogy 2)

The Runaway King Cover

by Jennifer A. Nielson
book review rating 4 out of 5

IN THE SHOCKING final revelation of The False Prince, Sage reveals that he is the rightful heir to the throne of Carthya – Prince Jaron Artolius Eckbert III. In a strategic and impossibly difficult decision that no parent should ever have to make, the late King Eckbert secretly hid Jaron away in the neighboring country of Avenia where he would remain safe until the day arrives when Carthya calls for his return. That day has come…

The Runaway King, Jennifer Nielson’s second installment in The Ascendance Trilogy, continues Jaron’s story without falling into the second book syndrome where the story slows dangerously toward boredom as it sets up for the final installment. Quite the contrary, The Runaway King stands up as an exceptional page-turner on its own.

Newly crowned, Jaron feels the insurmountable pressure of kingship. He narrowly misses an assassination attempt on his life, struggles to hold on to his reign as regents vote for a steward, and desperately tries to prevent war with King Vargan of Avenia. Above all, Jaron must confront his greatest threat – pirate King Devlin. To do so, he reprises his former identity as the orphan Sage to travel to the pirate stronghold. With the help of Fink, a mischievous waif, he infiltrates the ranks of the enemy pirates. Once inside, Jaron begins a soaring rollercoaster ride ending with a cliffhanger of a new danger.

Beneath all the action, an excitement of a different sort also comes to fruition when new characters are introduced, and current ones become even more entangled. In The False Prince, it was absolutely heartbreaking that Jaron accepted the request of his father, without argument, to continue the fraud of his demise. At the age of 9, he was kept away from the castle to endure hardships in an orphanage, privately longing for his father at a distance, yet determined never to speak to him again. Ms. Nielson heals some of that heartache by introducing the kind Master Harlowe, who provides the paternal love missing in Jaron’s life and the moral compass to remain true to himself in the face of adversity.

There is also a delicious hint of a love triangle. Imogen, the mute kitchen maid, turns out to be not so quiet after all. She understands Jaron in a way no other’s do, and easily matches his intellect. Unbeknownst to them, their sacrifice to see the other person safely out of the pirate camp subtly blossoms into a sweet, if forbidden, romance. This begins a new conflict of the heart because Jaron is betrothed to Imogen’s dear friend – the beautiful Princess Amarinda.

This story would not be complete without the amazing dialogues. Descriptions be warned: You may be gleamed over. Words are exchange like a master chess player to provoke, entice, and trap. Like a brilliant chess player herself, Ms. Nielson skillfully delivers an exciting story to conclude with an introduction of an unexpected new threat! Oh, I’m blissfully checkmated.

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May 19, 2015

The Way of Kings Artwork

IT MAY COME as no surprise that even as a designer, sometimes my creativity is so overly taxed that it fades to a dull ember. Thanks to great authors, their stories provide just the remedy to spark the imagination. In The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson's world-building and character descriptions are incredibly rich. These pictures are stunning works of illustration worthy of a thousand words. Enjoy!

 

Title: The Way of Kings Cover Art
Artist: Michael Whelan

 

Title: Kaladin Stormblessed
Artist: Zusacre

 

Title: Szeth, Assassin in White
Artist: Krhart

 

Title: Navani Kholin
Artist: Krhart

May 14, 2015

The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive Series 1)

The Way of Kings book cover

by Brandon Sanderson
book review rating 4.5 out of 5

THE FIRST OF ten volumes scheduled to release annually, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is an exciting opening for the much-anticipated Stormlight Archive Series, a masterpiece in the making.  

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders of the Knights Radiant. Commonly believed to have abandoned and betrayed mankind on The Day of Recreance, they became known as the Lost Radiants. But, their powerful and mystical Shardblades (swords) and Shardplates (armors) remain. Possession of the Shards transforms ordinary men into nearly invincible warriors. Wars were waged for them, and won by them.

One such senseless war has been raging on for several years on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains, where ten armies fight separately against the united Parshendi warriors. Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of the ten armies. He seeks to end this war and believes the key to achieving this is in the ancient text called The Way of Kings.

Speak again the ancient oaths:

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before destination.

And, return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.

As his fascination for the text grows, he experiences over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, and begins to doubt his own sanity.

Not far from Dalinar, is another army commanded by the less than noble Brightlord Amaram. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, Tien, has been reduced to slavery and forced to do deadly bridge runs in the war against the Parshendi – a feat from which no one has survived...yet. With a little help from Sylphrena, a mischievous and otherworldly spren who imparts lightness to an otherwise emotionally hefty story, Kaladin may survive long enough to see another sunset.

On the other side of the world in Kharbranth, a young and tenacious Shallan Davar earns a prestigious wardship to study with Dalinar's niece, Jasnah – "an eminent scholar and notorious heretic." Her research for Jasnah and her gifted ability to illustrate vivid memories of subject matters, both hint at forgotten legends of the Knights Radiant and the Voidbringers. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, her motives are less than pure. Wearing the face of a budding scholar, and the heart of a liar, she plots a daring theft.

And then there is Szeth, the Assassin in White, a killer who weeps as he takes his victim's life. He is as mysterious as he is powerful in the lost knowledge of Surgebinding. His allegiance is to the Oathstone. Whoever possesses it, commands him.

As a first volume, there is nothing introductory-like about The Way of Kings. Mr. Sanderson is a master storyteller leaving readers with a profound attachment to the strong characters, and a deep satisfaction for the complex plot lines and world-building. Fans of George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Robert Jordan will speak of Brandon Sanderson in the same breath!

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May 7, 2015

The Giver (Giver Quartet 1)

The Giver book cover

by Lois Lowry  
book review rating 4 out of 5

THE GIVER BEGINS Lois Lowry’s beloved quartet series with a haunting story that revolves around a boy named Jonas who is apprehensive about turning twelve. The Ceremony of Twelve is the last of the ceremonies – the most important - when each Twelve is assigned their crucial life assignment in the Community, and their age is no longer recorded. At the ceremony, Jonas was not assigned like his peers, but rather chosen, to be the Receiver of Memory. It is the most prestigious and honorable position held by a Community’s Elder, whose purpose is to be the sole keeper of memories; and with his Capacity to See Beyond, to impart wisdom and guidance in the Community.

Ms. Lowry builds a seemingly ideal, if colorless, Community of conformity and contentment, or Sameness. But as the storyline unfolds, she very subtly and effortlessly reveals the strangeness of this Utopia. As The Giver (former Receiver of Memory) begins to pass on his memories to Jonas, Jonas slowly gains the capacity to “see beyond” and to comprehend the dark and deadly secrets behind his fragile Community. In order to save himself and those he loves dearly, he plots to escape the Community—a challenge that takes the story to a fever pitch.

This is a deeply thought-provoking book; both in its emotionally oppressed dystopia, and in its rich characters. I couldn’t help but fall in love with sweet and docile 2-year old Gabriel, whose inability to sleep through the night puts him in grave danger of being “released.” Fearful of any harm that might come to him, I devoured the last few chapters of the book, rushing breathlessly to the end. Perhaps, this is because I have young sons myself. The story left me feeling highly satisfied and I look forward to reading Gathering Blue.

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May 1, 2015

The False Prince (Ascendance Trilogy 1)

The False Prince book cover

by Jennifer A. Nielson
book review rating 4 out of 5

JENNIFER NIELSON'S THE False Prince is a thrilling first installment in The Ascendance Trilogy filled with action-packed adventures, secret identities, and a shocking final revelation that will leave readers breathless.

In the kingdom of Carthya, the royal family is brutally murdered leaving the realm on the brink of a civil war. To prevent a divided kingdom, Connor, a regent of the court, devises a treasonous plan to install an impostor as the king’s long-lost son – Prince Jaron.  Four orphans are swept away from their impoverished living conditions, and inserted into Connor’s palatial estate to compete in a twisted game for the role of the puppet prince: Latamer, Tobias, Roden, and the defiant Sage. When Connor orders the death of one of the less qualified orphans, Sage knows that his life hangs precariously on the outcome of the competition.

Impersonation…or, execution.

The stakes are extremely high. But, Sage's remaining opponents have their own hidden agendas as well.

Borrowed from a student in Ms. Neilson’s high school debate team, Sage is a “charming, brilliant, and relentlessly mischievous” 14-year old boy. His wit and sarcasm combine to deliver hilarious and clever verbal swordplay. BUT, he is also vulnerable and flawed; his plans are more passion-driven than they are strategic, his executions are often spontaneous, and his outcomes are rarely predictable. One thing is for certain; where other players have no clue that all the rules of the game are subtly being rewritten, Sage always seems to stay one step ahead.

I highly recommend The False Prince for the adventure-loving readers. It will not disappoint!

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