Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication: April 25, 2006

Publisher :  Del Rey Books

ISBN-10: 0345481291

ISBN-13: 978-0345481290

No. of pages :  432


The Story :

China gets wind of where the prized dragon egg, their  lost gift for Napoleon, is.  An  angry Chinese Prince Yongxing and his delegation  arrive in Britain and demand the return of their dragon.

Temeraire is discovered to be a Celestial dragon, the rarest of Chinese breeds.   Venerated like royalty, the Chinese believe that only those of royal blood are worthy companions to these Celestials.  To their utter mortification, they discover their dragon would take no other companion but a common aviator, Capt. Laurence.

Pressured by China with the gloomy spectre of a Chinese alliance with France,  Laurence’s superiors force him and Temeraire to go with the delegation back to China.

Through the perils of a long voyage, Temeraire finally arrives in a country where dragons are treated like humans, with rights to education, property, and remuneration.  Chinese dragons also have a social stratification according to breed and have the chances of gaining wealth or falling into poverty as much as any human.

For Temeraire, his life in China as a Celestial is every dragon’s dream; but, China is not all that ideal after all, for diabolical plans are afoot.

The Review :

Throne of Jade sees much more action. The story takes a on a faster pace than the first book as  Novik throws in a lot more danger for all characters involved.

She injects a lot of humor, too, about 19th century British exposure to the Orient, making her characters have a lot of droll moments coming to terms with unfamiliar things like chopsticks and century eggs.

Novik successfully mimics the dry, genteel British verbal and writing style of the early 19th century which has a tendency to downplay or understate everything, even such incidents as death, danger, etc.  so that the full emotional impact is not felt and comes across as trivialized.  Injury to a crew member, for instance doesn’t seem to be of importance; however, emotional emphasis is given when the principal characters, Temeraire and Capt. Laurence are at stake.

Throne of Jade makes one immediately reach for Black Powder War, the third book of what promises to be an exciting series.

My Mark :  Very Good

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I’ve missed out a lot on YA books last year so I decided to start on a genre that had been my reading preference in highschool — elves, dwarves, genies, dragons, magi— anything that smacks of high fantasy.

This is a series of which I only have four books. As to why I started on a series novel again (I had developed a wariness to unfinished series books), the pull was just there as the books have been staring at me from their shelves for two years now. The author promises nine books, five of which are published. The fifth book, Victory of Eagles has just been released in 2008.

The novels are all set in an alternate history during the Napoleonic wars,  concentrating on the French invasion of England.  In this alternate world, dragons are very much a part of life, indispensable in the military for they are the century’s air force along with their  human “pilots” or aviators.

What is central to this series is Novik’s world of dragons which she goes into detail, expounding on the different breeds, their weight, class, physical and mental abilities, preferences, etc.  Novik’s dragons are, like humans, varied in breed, intelligence, and ability.  The more intelligent ones have highly developed linguistic and analytical capacities.    She also imbues them with very human emotions so that we get to know them and identify with her dragon characters on a  personal level.   Her dragons are what caught my interest and made me stick to her series.

So, I’m settling down to review the series which Peter Jackson (best known as director of Lord of the Rings) is planning to do a miniseries on.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Book 1)

Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication :  2006

Publisher :  Del Rey Books

No. of Pages : 384

ISBN-10: 0345481283

ISBN-13 : 978-0-345-48128-3

The Story :

The English make an immense discovery of a Chinese dragon egg aboard a French ship they had taken in battle. As the shell is hardening and land far away, English Captain James Laurence, has no choice but to await the hatching and be ready for the loss of any crew member the hatchling would take to.  As soon as the little dragon allows a harness to be donned by someone,  it is an inviolable law that the chosen person be duty-bound to leave his naval career, ambitions, and plans of future wife and family for a life of an aviator, a career demanding a lifelong bond with his dragon.

The egg hatches and the first person the baby dragon takes to is Captain Laurence.   With a deeply imbued sense of duty to country, Laurence bravely accepts the choice, names the dragon Temeraire and divests himself of naval rank and accoutrements to prepare himself  for aviator life.

As Captain Laurence begins his association with Temeraire, both start a deep love that would strengthen through their training and battles as each discovers himself and the other.

The Review :

Novik charmingly evokes the feel of the Napoleonic era with her characters’ genteel prudish language, cultural notions, dress and code of conduct of that bygone era.

Book One displays how interesting and endearing Novik’s dragons are so that readers get excited about reading Book Two  : The Throne of Jade.  While intimidating, her dragons are lovable, intelligent and excellent companions.  You’d wish they really existed.  As an added bonus, her dragons and their aviators form filial-like bonds that add to the escapist’s pleasure of identifying with the aviator.

His Majesty’s Dragon is a good first book that entices one to immerse in the series.  Novik’s world is so elegantly well-detailed that I really don’t mind spending my time immersed in it.

My Mark :  Very Good

Author :  Allan Folsom

Date of Publication :  May 1999  (mass paperback)

Publisher :  Warner Books

ISBN-10: 0446604534

No. of pages :  667

The Story :

A Cardinal’s confession seals Father Daniel Addison’s fate as a VIP target of a conspiracy rooted in the highest echelons of the Vatican.  Before he disappears, he leaves a desperate message for his brother, Harry.  The cardinal vicar of Rome is suddenly assassinated and Father Daniel is blamed. Soon after, a bus explodes with Father Daniel onboard.

Harry Addision flies to Italy to claim his brother’s body, only to discover that his brother is alive but missing and himself, framed for the murder of an Italian policeman.  An American on the run in a foreign country, Harry relies on his wits and luck while on the trail of his brother, to unravel the horrific conspiracy he had unwittingly become the target of.

The Review :

Folsom tries to a spin a thriller of a grandiose scale and fails miserably.  The basis of his conspiracy encompasses elements too immense in scale and too opposite (i.e. China, the Vatican) to be woven together believably.  Well, at least by his attempts in this book.  The plot to get the Vatican to have a strong religious hold in China is just way too preposterous.

Even the characters behave unrealistically, by whom I mean:  the evil Cardinal who believes he is the reincarnation of Alexander the Great (Catholics do not believe in reincarnation);  a young nun who just has the temerity to face a man in a sheer nightgown; a very sick priest still able to fight from a wheelchair.  Moreover, the sex scenes seem forced into the story.  The story could actually do without them.

On the whole, though, Day of Confession isn’t a very bad read, if you like books equivalent to B movies.  As a thriller, it still fast-paced enough;  it’s just some stuff are hard to swallow.

In A Nutshell :

This is a book to skip if you have other options in line.  Day of Confession feels like a contrived piece by an author who needed to come up with something for a deadline.

If you were to look into other reviews, it seems people picked this up on the merit of Folsom’s earlier work, Day After Tomorrow, which everyone agrees was a smashing good thriller.  I’ve read Machiavelli Covenant last year (my review here) and it was rather enjoyable.  Perhaps, Day of Confession just happened to be this writer’s dud.

My Mark  :  Fair

I wanted a short, easy no-brainer.  I got everything I wanted in this :

Author : Annette Blair

Date of  Publication : December 2006

Publisher : Berkley Sensation  (Mass Paperback)

ISBN-10: 0786296577

ISBN-13: 978-0786296576

No of pages : 389

The Story :

Vickie, a witch in denial, inherits a wardrobe and opens it to find a beautifully carved carousel unicorn inside.  Desperate to pay her grandmother’s medical and funeral expenses, she advertises its sale on TV.  Rory, a descendant of the  once respectable Mackenzie clan now turned community pariah, sees  the woman of his dreams (I mean, literally) holding the answer to restore the good name of his family.

Long ago, his ancestor, a famous carver,  broke his engagement with a beautiful witch (Vickie’s grandmother) who people said, cast a curse upon the Scottish village.  Regretful all of his life, Rory’s grandfather, before he died,  sent his beloved witch his most splendid creation — a carousel unicorn, part of a merry-go-round that brought prosperity to the village;  but one that would never run again until the curse is lifted.

So, Rory goes to find this unicorn, with a mission to take it, bring it back, rebuild the carousel, and restore the community’s prosperity and his good name.  Only thing, he has to contend with the witch and choose between love and family honor.

The Review :

As I mentioned, I just wanted a short easy read, a no-brainer after “Exile. Well, a real no-brainer is what I got!  I know, I know…the synopsis sounds cheesy and serves me right for picking this out of a sale bin again just because the title was a parody of  “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe“.  I’m not above reading shallow, fun  lit and I thought this was a cute, little romance with some magic thrown into it.  NOT!

The characters were odd and totally without some self-respect, either.  I don’t know what Blair was trying to accomplish. For instance, I think she wanted everything for her main character, Vickie.  She wanted her sexy, yet dressed her in dowdy vintage clothes;  a bold sex siren yet a frightened virgin (technically speaking since she deflowered herself years ago with dildos all named Brock—*shudder, shudder*–but has never been with a man); bohemian, cluttered, and fun but essentially good for nothing — can’t do business, cook, clean, balance books, etc. to save her life!  So here comes the knight in shining armor, the ruggedly handsome Scot who can do everything!  Cook, clean, balance books, organize, repair anything, and make her and others’ blood  boil for want of this stud. Thankfully, he falls short of being perfect by his hermitic attitude.

With amateurish writing, a main character whose personality ridiculously morphs from one thing into another, and annoying minor characters in the mix, you just gotta be drunk to like this trash.

My Mark :  Poor — Laughable;  Don’t Bother

Merrick” wasn’t too heavy on the gothic atmosphere so it was not difficult to decide to pick up another gothic-themed novel for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters”, was initially quite far down my TBR list before this challenge; but, being one mentioned in the pool of books the challenge host, Stainless Steel Droppings, had lined for himself, I decided to plunge into this heavy, page-laden book for my next read.

Author : Gordon Dahlquist

Date of Publication : 2006  (Hardcover edition)

Publisher : Bantam Books

ISBN-10: 0385340354

ISBN-13: 978-0385340359

No. of pages :  768

The Story :

In Victorian England, a rich plantation heiress receives an abrupt “dear john” letter from her beau.  In her pride, the stricken Miss Temple decides to follow her fiance to find out the reason for his rejection.  She tails him on a long train ride and arrives at Lord Vandaariff’s huge labyrinthine Harschmort Manor where a  masked ball is in full swing presumably for the engagement of Vandaariff’s daughter to the German Prince of Macklenberg.  She is mistaken as a woman sent to undergo a mysterious “Process” but is soon discovered to be a gate-crasher, deemed to have seen too much.  Suddenly Miss Temple finds her little adventure taking a dangerous turn when she is forced to save her own life.

At that same time, a half blind assassin, Cardinal Chang, is at the ball with a mission to terminate a Colonel Trapping.  He creeps about for his quarry only to find him already murdered.  But who, why, and how are questions that leave him baffled.  A few days later, he is approached by a wealthy sophisticate  who asks him to find a woman, Isobel Hastings (Miss Temple who gave an assumed name) who is believed to be the killer of the Colonel.

Meanwhile,  Doctor Abelard Svenson of the Macklenburg Prince’s entourage loses his charge in Harschmort Manor.  His search leads him to conclude that  something sinister is brewing in the Vandaariff home.  His independent investigation suddenly imperils his life but his duty-bound nature forces him to continue to try to protect his Prince.

In pursuit of their own agenda, these three people stumble on a secret cabal whose sinister plans involve strange alchemical scientific processes and malign blue glass books which serve as a dire yet addicting repository of memories while relinquishing a person of the same.  Anyone who stares into its thin, crystal pages is stripped of their personal memories and turned into pleasure-addicted, compliant zombies, easily controlled and subverted to the group’s aims.

Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Doctor Svenson propitiously meet and form an unlikely triumvirate bent on stopping this unholy cabal.

What follows is a merry chase with mystery, suspense, science fiction, and even a little romance.  Lest this be construed as simply a long, quaint narrative, Dahlquist has thrown in a good deal of  sex and a bit of gore in the mix which contrast quite nicely with its Victorian prudery and formality.

The Review :

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” is a brilliantly creative debut from author, Gordon Dahlquist.  It is a unique albeit outlandish novel that will, as you read, play out old-fashioned comic book scenes in your head.  Indeed, the narrative would lend itself very well to comic strip illustrations of its events, complete with “Boom!”, “Pow!”, “Whack!” sounds written on it.   And like an old-fashioned comic book, the heroes often extricate themselves from sticky situations after long dialogues with the villains, instead of each realistically  going straight into action to resolve the conflict.  Although an annoyance to some, it does have its charms, especially when executed with Dahlquist’s wonderful prose.  Besides, such an outdated style is quite at home with the book’s outré antiquated atmosphere as well.

Although the book has this unreal yet special flavor, its characters are surprisingly well developed, each discovering himself/herself as the adventure unfolds.

Division of the book’s chapters deal with the narrative accordingly from one character’s perspective.  So for instance, one chapter deals with adventures of Miss Temple, the next, those of Cardinal Chang, etc.  Being long chapters, the reader may find himself going back through a previous few pages to refresh his memory of the others’ experiences.  Still, it wasn’t much of an annoyance as, on the whole, the book had cast its charms on me enough to discount little bothers like this.

What is most captivating about the book is not its unusual plot nor its dark  steampunk  theme but its author’s ornate prose that gives so much allure to the novel.  His style is romantic yet explicitly descriptive, laced with intelligent humor and irony:

“His hair was pale but streaked with grey, long and greasy, combed back behind his ears.  His coat was fine enough but unkempt— in fact the man’s whole appearance gave the impression of a once-cherished article — a sofa, for example — that had been left in the rain and partially ruined.” — p. 155

“Moral perspective is what we carry around with us — it exists nowhere else, I can promise you.   Do you see?  There is liberation and responsibility — for what is natural depends on where you are, Bascombe.  Moreover, vices are like genitals — most are ugly to behold, and yet we find our own dear to us.” — p. 164

To Read Or Not To Read :

To enjoy this book,  be prepared to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow.  After all, it is fantasy.

Mind you, this is a lengthy novel, of which its chief fault (according to some reviews), is its wordiness and long-windedness.  For me, however, this is exactly the novel’s charm as it rests on Dahlquist’s excellent descriptive prose, without which a  book like this can become rather tedious and boring when rendered with a flat, indelicate hand.   Slash the verbiage and this may end up an unremarkable read — not bad, but not great either.

You must have the time to indulge in this book;  otherwise,  you’ll be better off with something else.

As An Aside :

For all my praises for this novel and despite its glowing reception by critics, Bantam Books, its publisher,  has written this off as a massive failure. The book failed to pull in the sales and lost Bantam over U$850,000, after having advanced two million U. S. dollars to the author for a two-book deal.

Most of those, however, who have put in the time to read the book, review this novel with praises.  Perhaps, in time, more readers will get to know this atypical literary work and appreciate it for its originality.

The sequel, “The Dark Volume“, must have already been released this year.   This definitely goes into my list of “must-haves” for 2009. 🙂

In A Nutshell :

This is one of the best books I’ve enjoyed this year.  Its strangeness and inventiveness coupled with Dahlquist’s superb writing skills really had me riveted.  A definite keeper!

My Mark  :  Excellent

Merrick” is my first choice for the R.I.P. IV Challenge just because it’s been quite some time since I’ve read anything from my all-time favorite gothic author, Anne Rice.  As a side story created from her famous vampire and Mayfair witch series,  it merges  Rice’s vampire world with those of her witches’.

Author :   Anne Rice

Date of First Publication :  October 17, 2000

Publisher of First Edition (Hardcover) :  Alfred A. Knopf

My Edition’s Publication Date :  July 2001

My Edition Published By :  The Ballantine Publishing Group (Mass Paperback)

No. of Pages :  379

What It’s All About :

Readers of Rice’s vampire series will be familiar with David Talbot, the secretive Talamasca society’s former Director-General turned bloodsucker by the indomitable Vampire Lestat.  As a favor to his preternatural friend Louis, he approaches the love of his former life,  Merrick, a powerful mortal descended from a long line of witches of the Mayfair clan.  He asks her to call the spirit of a dead vampire child, Claudia, whom Louis had so loved and protected.  From Louis’ desire to know about the witch who agreed to grant his utmost desire,  the story of Merrick is told by David who recounts her life, from the little girl she was when she first came to the Talamasca’s attention to the beautiful, sensual, powerful witch she has become–dangerous enough even to a vampire.

It would be a Rice vampire fan’s  interest to know that the famous Lestat makes a minor comeback here.

The tale revolves mostly on the new character, Merrick,  although there are some jolting surprises by our beloved vampires toward the end.

My Review :

Anne Rice is in her usual passionately sublime style with “Merrick“.  The feel is deliciously dark although there is always a lofty atmosphere, which is a classic Anne Rice stamp on her gothic novels. Her characters always seem to yearn toward something much more and if anything, her novels always have a sense of hope and salvation.

She imbues her unholy characters with strong human passions, and in these are her characters’ saving graces which grip the reader’s affinity and empathy.    When Louis or  David feel, they feel deep pathos, exultation at beauty, stunned awe, infinite hatred, and all-consuming love.  There seems to be no in-between for Rice’s characters.

This is particularly true with her vampire personalities which thrive on beauty.  She has been consistent of their traits from the first book in the vampire series, “Interview With A Vampire” ’til this book.  To illustrate, David’s thoughts on looking at Louis:

“He looked rather splendid in his sorrow.  Again he made me think of the paintings of Andrea del Sarto.  There was something lush in his beauty, for all the sharp and clear well-drawn lines of his eyes and mouth.”  — p. 81

Moreover, her characters are always strongly sensual and oftentimes have no sexual boundaries.  This leaves the author a lot of leeway in exploring sexual issues.  In this particular novel, age factors and homosexuality.

As in most of her other novels,  expect some philosophical meanderings in this one.  As Rice’s vampires are deep feelers and thinkers, she keeps a consistency in their traits all throughout her chronicles.  This novel is no exception:

Louis : “You speak of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as magical, and I understand you, because if the Bread and Wine are transformed into the Holy Sacrifice of the Crucifixion, it is magical, but why does it involve blood?…

What I’m saying is, we might compare rituals the worlds over in all religions and all religions and all systems of magic, forever, but they always involve blood.  Why?  Of course I know human beings cannot live without blood; I know that ‘the blood is the life’, saith Dracula;   I know that humankind speaks in cries and whispers of blood-drenched altars, of bloodshed and blood kin, and blood will have blood, and those of the finest blood.  But why?  What is the quintessential connection that binds all such wisdom or superstition?  And above all, why does God want blood?”– p. 83

You never leave a book from her vampire series without some food for thought.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Although Anne Rice does go back to give a bit of background on her characters,  it would be better for new readers to read the first two or three novels in her “Interview With the Vampire” series so that they would know the characters in context.  Not having a background on the Mayfair witches is alright because Merrick is a new character;  but the Louis, Lestat, Claudia, and David Talbot are vital characters upon whose histories the reader’s appreciation depends.

If you had read the first six novels in the Rice’s  vampire collection,  “Merrick” is a must-read.  It may not stand out as the others but in this, Louis goes through a major turning point which should not be missed.

In A Nutshell:

Those who have not read Anne Rice should know that she has written a wonderful series on vampire and another independent series on witches.  Those worlds had not touched each other until this book; so that Rice’s fans of both series had been thrilled to know that the author breathed new life especially to her vampire chronicles by merging them in “Merrick“.

The resulting novel is quite good; however, it is not that close to Rice’s best ones.  Nevertheless, it is a good addition to her vampire chronicles for her famous pair, Lestat and Louis, are back and are setting the stage for more adventures with a looming war with the Talamasca.  And Rice is still in top form with her lush detailing and profound prose.

My Mark :  Very Good

Author :  John Dunning

Publication Date :  January 25, 2005

Publisher :  Pocket Star Books

ISBN-10: 0743476298

ISBN-13: 978-0743476294

No. of pages : 496 (Mass Market  Paperback)

The Story:

Homicide cop turned book collector and seller, Cliff  Janeway acquires a valuable book written by a famous Victorian era explorer, Richard Burton.  The book is in pristine condition and worth thousands of dollars; but,  Janeway’s pleasure is short-lived.  A ninety-year old woman shows up at his door, claiming ownership of the treasured book through her grandfather, Charles Warren, whom she  insisted to have been Burton’s companion during one of his travels.

Furthermore, she  tells  a surprised Janeway that the book  is only part of an incredible library of Burton material, all of  which had been sold unscrupulously to shady book dealers.    A few days after,  the old woman is on her deathbed and extracts a promise from  Janeway :   find the rare collection, in particular,  a priceless journal which purportedly Burton gave to her grandfather for safekeeping.

What starts out as a skeptical investigation soon becomes a serious and deadly tag with other treasure hunters.  When a friend is murdered, Janeway realizes there is something more than just treasure hunting.  A past secret is being covered up and Janeway  is now in the way.

The Review :

With “The Bookman’s Promise“, John Dunning presents us with some refreshing elements for a crime/mystery thriller. Now a book collector is a macho hero and the hullabaloo is about books — old, invaluable books written by a real live explorer, Richard Francis Burton.  Plus, the author incorporates the world of a book trader which makes for an interesting facet in this novel.

As much as Burton becomes, through Dunning’s engaging portrayal of the man,  an intriguing personality for a number of his readers, this novel still very much targets a small niche in the reading  audience.  Not many, this reviewer included, have heard of this famously irreverent explorer and so may have some difficulty in appreciating the novel in the way it deserves.  One simply cannot appreciate Burton’s idiosyncrasies or whatever the author wishes to please us with if one does not know him. Familiarity of Burton is indeed essential for the full enjoyment of this book as the core plot is rather mundane, despite the aforementioned new elements.

However, if you are familiar with Burton, you may take a different tack.  You would perhaps revel in the fictitious or factual (I wouldn’t know which) details generously written in the book and pronounce Dunning’s novel a capital one.  This is simply this reviewer’s conjecture on something she is not very sure about.

Like its hero, the prose is quite masculine.  One could immediately discern that the story was written by a man, which is nice as long as the testosterone is not overly used to include most of its characters.  However, it does, as the majority of the characters, whether male or female, exhibit a strong will and drive.

Dunning’s characters show too many strong traits as to render them sometimes irksome and distant.    For instance, Erin is a sassy lawyer who constantly takes offense at anything she deems chauvinistic.  This is okay in some situations but downright pesky in some, where, in reality,  she clearly will be in the way.  She is not a character one can empathize much with, unless one believes that someone can be constantly strong and fearless.   There seems a lot of sass in the dialogues, too, between characters which tend to be tiresome halfway through.

In A Nutshell :

The Bookman’s Promise” is neither a great novel nor a very bad one.   One major weakness is that a reader’s  unfamiliarity with Burton  may be a significant block for him seeking to enjoy this novel.  This, and possible character non-empathy could be two very detrimental factors in capturing reader interest.  Otherwise,  it could be an enjoyable read.

Having said these, I recognize that there are probably two stark opposing camps to this novel :  those who loved it (readers who understood the nuances of Burton and the book trade) and those who just couldn’t get into it (readers who don’t know a fig about them).   Sadly, I belong to the latter for the reasons stated above:  I don’t know Burton and I just couldn’t like the characters so much.

My Mark :  Mediocre

But you must read the book to know for sure.