Hunting for Elfstones: a review of Wards of Faerie

Wards of FaerieTerry Brooks has written over 30 novels, but they’re all new to me. Before now, I hadn’t read any of his stories, but the subjects he traditionally delves into are familiar: fantasy adventure, magic, and elves.

To acquaint myself with his work, I decided to start with Wards of Faerie, which came out last fall and is already succeeded by a sequel, Bloodfire Quest. Together they comprise the first two books in The Dark Legacy of Shannara, one of many series in the larger Shannara line.

I read a digital copy, so I rarely got a chance to look at the cover, but the design for Wards of Faerie is more symbolic of how Brooks concludes part one of the series than how it unfolds. The splitting of the coin represents the broken parties at the end of the novel — characters take separate paths with different priorities, and some even scatter to unreachable locations — which promises lots of excitement for Bloodfire Quest but little for Wards of Faerie itself.

Continue reading

Awesome book cover Friday: The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

Today’s book cover pick is The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by author Charles de Lint and illustrator Charles Vess. Why? BECAUSE I LOVE CATS, that’s why.

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

Here’s a description:

The magic is all around you, if only you open your eyes …

Lillian Kindred spends her days exploring the Tanglewood Forest, a magical, rolling wilderness that she imagines to be full of fairies. The trouble is, Lillian has never seen a wisp of magic in her hills — until the day the cats of the forest save her life by transforming her into a kitten. Now Lillian must set out on a perilous adventure that will lead her through untamed lands of fabled creatures — from Old Mother Possum to the fearsome Bear People — to find a way to make things right.

In this whimsical, original folktale written and illustrated throughout in vibrant full color by two celebrated masters of modern fantasy, a young girl’s journey becomes an enchanting coming-of-age story about magic, friendship, and the courage to shape one’s own destiny.

What do you think? I love the … well, the cats, and the name of the book. And the lush green color and reflection in the water.

Have a great weekend! Hug some kitties. :)

A crown for everyone: a review of A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by Stephen Youll

OK, this one took me forever to read, and not because it’s shy of 1000 pages. Life happens.

Since this is a sequel, I’m going to discuss A Clash of Kings a little differently, so yes — SPOILERS will abound.

Click through for the review, or read my thoughts on A Game of Thrones.

Continue reading

Magic at midnight: a review of The Night Circus

‘Though I’m not certain I’d want to be stuck in a tree for the rest of eternity, myself, would you?’

‘I think that would depend on the tree.’

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the closed gates of the circus, when the people have gone home and the acrobats and fortune tellers have retired to their tents, Erin Morgenstern’s breakout novel will shock and delight you with tales of the inner workings of magic and illusion. The Night Circus constructs an elaborate plot, as ornate and fragile as clockwork, from a simple premise: two young illusionists, one game, and only one winner.

Maybe I wasn’t feeling the full grace of its magic, but this book wasn’t the masterpiece I had been led to believe it was. That’s not to say it isn’t good. On the contrary, The Night Circus is a very good work of fiction. Morgenstern tells a beautiful story, and her talent lies as much in its complex construction as it does her enchanting description. She maintains steady control over the pacing of scenes, but the larger, grand movement of the novel proves her weak point. The author’s many chapters and digressions (which are wonderful) come together in a big way, but not until much later on—the last third of the book, easily. For a book that’s 387 pages long, that’s a long time to wait to satisfy a reader’s curiosity.

Of course, the tactic worked, at least in my case. Less patient readers might grow bored of Morgenstern holding everything out at arm’s reach and turn instead to other pursuits. But for those who endure, the rewards are rich indeed. Morgenstern is enviously clever in her writing. She creates a memorable cast of characters who,  despite their collective number, each find a place that’s unique and important within the story.

Best is her description, which is clear and readable yet never dull and always mesmerizing. And, as briefly mentioned, her pacing of individual scenes is masterful—the push and pull of moments shared later on between the two illusionists, Marco and Celia, put all others to shame.

Morgenstern gives the story a lot of meaning. The black and white imagery obviously reflects the complementary yet contrasting relationship between Celia and Marco. The emphasis on clockwork provides a perfect metaphor for the fragile state of the circus. Morgenstein introduces the danger consequence by consequence, until the details have formed a frightening reality of the game itself. It’s impressive how well Morgenstern manages this feat.

As much as I felt the author waited too long to give us enough of the answers and to unite Celia and Marco, I felt it a fitting match for how the story operates. The characters know little of their role in the game, what the game truly is, or how much power secrets and magic can hold when they continue to build, beautiful in their expression for others but perilous and unwieldy the more complicated and structural they become, like something bottled with too much pressure inside.

Timing, and time itself, is a major theme in The Night Circus, and the events of the chapters (pay close attention to the dates) eventually converge for the book’s ending. But the entire novel and all its parts essentially jump around in the timeline, so I can imagine that a second reading would yield much more insight than the first.

But the special scenes that appear between chapters and sections, the ones that switch to a second-person perspective, do something very clever in the final pages of the novel. They basically establish a new way of experiencing the novel and the circus itself that fits nicely with one of the subplots that goes on in the book. The same happens with the occasional pages that are merely comprised of quotes about the circus in retrospect. Who’s saying them matters, especially when you progress to the later chapters of the book.

Would I recommend The Night Circus? Yes, wholeheartedly, but only if you’re willing to be patient. You have to come back to the circus, night after night, before it reveals all its secrets and wonders to you.

‘It is important. … Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. … There are many kinds of magic, after all.’

More about Erin Morgenstern.

Awesome book cover Friday: A Wrinkle in Time, now 50 years old

A Wrinkle in Time, written by Madeleine L’Engle, turned fifty years old on Tuesday. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, who originally published the book, have released commemorative editions with the original hardcover and paperback jackets (along with some extras inside), but I prefer a more artistic style:

Description of the book as listed on Amazon:

Fifty years ago, Madeleine L’Engle introduced the world to A Wrinkle in Time and the wonderful and unforgettable characters Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe. When the children learn that Mr. Murry has been captured by the Dark Thing, they time travel to Camazotz, where they must face the leader IT in the ultimate battle between good and evil—a journey that threatens their lives and our universe. A Newbery Award winner, A Wrinkle in Time is an iconic novel that continues to inspire millions of fans around the world. This special edition has been redesigned and includes an introduction by Katherine Paterson, an afterword by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis that includes photographs and memorabilia, the author’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech, and other bonus materials.