Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 4: “Upon the Ashen Blade”

19858251Book: “Upon the Ashen Blade” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline, January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Demons and gods, revenge and lies, and still the dragon moves slowly north. Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith now have the tools that could end the destruction, but a vast army lies between them and victory, and time is running out. The race is on to stop Y’Ruen before all of Ede is under her flame.

Review: We’ve arrived at the the fourth and final novella that makes up “The Copper Promise” and our heroes have a lot to do. Wydrin: save her brother’s life. Sebastian: figure himself out and deal with the pesky little demon he’s sold his soul to. Frith: complete his journey to not being an unlikable, arrogant, ass while escaping a crow god. All: deal with the dragon bent on destroying the world with her fire and brood army. So, you know, a reasonable task for about 110 pages of story!

As mentioned in the last review, we were left on cliffhangers in all three stories. But not to fear, these were wrapped up fairly quickly at the beginning of this. So, too, our merry band were speedily re-united. While I enjoyed the three separate storylines for each that we got in the last book (a bit to my surprise!), I was very happy to have our heroes back together. It has become more and more clear that Wydrin is who has been holding things together for her and Sebastian for the last few years. Not only does he make very bad decisions without her (as we saw last time), but the guy is just too serious for his own good and has some major self-esteem issues to work through. Wydrin’s sense of humor, and sense of support, were badly needed by both him and Frith.

Frith’s cliffhanger was solved a bit too easily for my taste, but, due to the page count and long list of tasks mentioned above, this wasn’t all that surprising. It did lead to another mini adventure for the group that I very much enjoyed. The settings and magic systems that these novellas use have a very “classic high fantasy” feel to them that is refreshing in this day and age. All too often, fantasy now reads very dark, grim, and full of anti-heroes and political maneuvering.

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Yes, yes, but sometimes can’t we just have fantasy fun?? (source)

I particularly enjoyed the pieces of this story that came together through connections to the previous three novellas. The added chapter perspectives from the point of view of the members of the brood army paid off in a great way, particularly in bits where there were clever nudges to the reader that weren’t picked up on by our unknowing heroes. And Frith’s backstory was resolved in a satisfactory manner. I wasn’t quite sure where the author was going with this for a while, as the storyline seemed sprinkled in amidst the larger plot conflict of the dragon in strange ways at times.

I really only have two complaints. The first is completely unsurprising and expected: this section was too short to do justice to the many dangling storylines left to be wrapped up. Especially, I would have liked more time with Sebastian and the brood army since the relationship between the two was built up quite a lot in the second and third story. My second complaint has to do with a portion of Wydrin’s story that I felt was ultimately taking up page time that could have been used elsewhere (in the aforementioned Sebastian/brood army bits, or in the epic battle at the end, or simply in giving more time to the evolving relationship between Wydrin and Frith). Really, there were plenty of places that could have used the page time, and I had largely forgotten about this antagonist already. There were elements here that tied into the resolution of the entire story, but I wish there had been a way to deal with this in a manner that didn’t take up as much time. Or maybe just make the whole section longer, and I wouldn’t have cared as much about the pages devoted to this section if they had no impact on the other story components.

Struggles with the limited page time allotted to ending this novella series aside, I very much enjoyed this last entry in the series. I would guess that to read this oneself, you are most likely to come across “The Copper Cat” edition that includes all four novellas. As I mentioned in my first post, I’m not sure how successful this story would be if approached as a traditional fantasy novel in one pieces. The pacing would be strange throughout the entire book, and the changes in storytelling would be very jarring (having the brood army chapters in there for 100 pages without any explanation and then suddenly disappearing, then having another 100 page section told with the three different plots lines, etc). I think the author/publisher would have done themselves a favor if it had been marketed more clearly as a compilation of four novellas. As it stands, without doing extra research and discovering this for oneself, many readers could be left with a bad taste in their mouth simply due to these pacing challenges. It’s really too bad. A simple note on the cover along with marked section titles would have done the trick. But, especially if one goes in knowing this to begin with, I would highly recommend this to readers who enjoy more traditional, slightly campy fantasy adventure stories.

Rating 8: A good ending, though too short to fully do the many plot points justice.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Upon the Ashen Blade” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but the compilation “The Copper Promise” is on this list “Books You Wish More People Knew About.”

Find “Upon the Ashen Blade” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:Ghosts of the Citadel” and “Children of Fog” and “Prince of Wounds”

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 3: “Prince of Wounds”

19829913Book: “Prince of Wounds” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline, February 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Before they can face the terror that they unleashed, they must face themselves: the magic that Lord Frith carries could save them, if only he could control it; Wydrin’s impulsive nature leads to a deadly conflict with pirates; and Sebastian is beginning to understand that victory can only come with sacrifice.

Review: In this, the third part of this novella series, our intrepid heroes have all been split up and were each having a bit of an existential crisis of one kind of another. While the other two stories have each had their own main story arc (a dungeon adventure and a besieged town in need of saving), this novella is the first that is largely used to set the stage for the last section of the story, where one expects the very large, very mean dragon that has been terrorizing the land might need to be dealt with.

I was a bit concerned when I first realized that this entire novella was going to alternate between our three main characters and they weren’t likely to meet up again here. I’ve been enjoying the group dynamics from the onset of this story, and was concerned that a few of the characters might not hold up as well on their own (mostly Firth, who I hadn’t completely warmed up to by the end of the second story). But these concerns were misplaced, as I found all three stories very enjoyable.

Firth is off on a quest to find anyone who might be able to teach him the language of the mages, his only hope for gaining control of the powers he gained in the first story. His journey and time spent learning is accordingly shortened due to the length of this segment (a total of around 100 pages, leaving him only 35 or so after splitting it with Sebastian and Wydrin). But I did enjoy what little we got from him. Some of his actions from the previous two stories were given a new, more favorable, light.  And, while I was able to predict the twist in his tale, I enjoyed watching it unfold, either way. There was also a lot of good background information on the old gods and the war they waged with the mages that started this whole mad-house of an adventure off in the first place.

Sebastian is in a bad place. His strange connection with the dragon and the brood army is a constant torment, and we pick up with him in the midst of what feels like a doomed and pointless journey: simply tracking the destruction. His whole story line was kind of a bummer, but we did learn what got him kicked out of his Order. Of course, it was tragic. But I appreciate the diversity that his character and history are bringing to the story. He is a nice change-up to the typical “knight” archetype that is seen in adventure fantasy novels like this. He comes across a grim family cult who are obsessed with sacrificing their visitors to their god of suffering (hence the title of this section), and…it’s not pretty.

Wydrin. Poor Wydrin is adrift after being abandoned in the night by Sebastian. She remains my favorite character, but the first half of her section felt the most disconnected of the three. We basically get a very brief, very sidelined from the larger story, mini adventure for her that seems to serve no real purpose other than  kick in the pants to get her moving. She does meet up with an unexpected character from the first novella who even further drags her back into the main storyline. We also meet her pirate brother, Jarath, who is a fun addition to the cast. Much of her story, unfortunately, is getting from one place to another. But her dialogue is as snappy as ever, so I was satisfied.

All three stories end on massive cliffhangers, so I am very glad that I am reading this the way I am and not as it was initially published where I’d have had to wait a whole month for any resolution. As it is, I’ll just flip this page here…

Rating 8: All three characters were able to stand on their own, and the set up for the last section is great!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Prince of Wounds” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on this list “Traditional Fantasy Written by Women.”

Find “Prince of Wounds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:Ghosts of the Citadel” and “Children of Fog”

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 2: “Children of the Fog”

19778048Book: “Children of the Fog” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline,  January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Terrible deeds are afoot in the Blackwood forest. The ruthless Fane and his men have not given up their search for the Frith family vault, and the people of Pinehold are paying the price. Wydrin, Sebastian and Lord Frith are the only hope for the tortured and the dying … but between them and revenge are the eerie Children of the Fog.

Review: I started the second novella in this series in a much more confident state than I did the last (in that I wasn’t completely befuddled by what exactly I was reading!). And not only did this new sense of clarity improve my reading experience, but this second showing in the series was significantly stronger than the last.

Picking up immediately where the previous story left off, Wydrn, Sebastian and Lord Frith find themselves teleported (Frith’s new-found mage magic being completely out of control) to the middle of nowhere. Also known as “bear country.”

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If only they had a household cat with them…(source)

But after few near misses in said bear department, the group of adventurers stumble upon a familiar township that is under the control of Frith’s tormentors from the first story who are now torturing the town’s citizens in hopes of finding the secret Frith vault rumored to be filled with treasure and hidden in the woods. Hyjinks ensue.

In almost every way I felt that this story improved upon the first. Whereas the first story was trying to introduce readers to these new characters while also get through a complete, though short, adventure story arc, this novella has room to commit to the story itself, knowing that readers are already familiar with our protagonists. Small details still are leaking out regarding Sebastian’s past and the strange connection he now seems to have to the Amazon-like warrior women who, along with their dragon “mother,” are now terrorizing the land. Frith is…still kind of an entitled jerk, but I can see some small improvements as he learns to maybe…sort of..try to be a decent person. And Wydrin is still her snarky, capable self. Honestly, she’s the only thing holding this ragtag group together at this point!

I also enjoyed the adventure arc in this story more than the last. The side-characters who are introduced are fun, and the magical elements that come into play were unique and interesting. Particularly Holley and her magical glass work!

But, most surprising, was the inclusion of several chapters told from the perspective of the Amazon warrior dragon women (honestly, I don’t know how else to describe them!). At first I was a little put off by these seemingly random chapters, but as the story continued, they almost became my favorite part! Essentially, their arc is that of children discovering the world around them, forming their own identity, and questioning everything they see. It was a very unexpected turn to the overall arc, and I’m excited to see where we go next with these characters!

All in all, I highly enjoyed this second installation in “The Copper Promise” series. If you weren’t immediately captured by the first novella in the series, just as I wasn’t, I recommend giving it a second go with this one!

Rating 8: An improved adventure arc, and some very unexpected, but welcome, twists!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Children of the Fog” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on these lists: “Dragons” and “Treasure Hunter Thrillers.”

Find “Children of the Fog” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Ghosts of the Citadel”

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 1: “Ghosts of the Citadel”

19847375Book: “Ghosts of the Citadel” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline, December 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: It is said that the Citadel is haunted, and that anyone foolish enough to enter will never return. When a mysterious nobleman offers them a small fortune to explore its depths, sellswords Wydrin and Sebastian decide they can afford to be a little foolish – it’s a chance for adventure, riches, and they might even have a tale or two to tell in the tavern afterwards. But they will soon discover that sometimes there is truth in rumour…

Review: A few days ago, poor Kate was having to hear the long tale of woe from me regarding my latest book choice “The Copper Promise.” I remember specifically mentioning that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the problem was that I was having with the book itself since it featured many of my favorite elements (a spunky heroine, a team adventure, strong high fantasy setting, etc). But for some reason the pacing felt off.

Well, the other day I was doing a bit of research into the book itself when I had a big “Aha!” moment: This book is a compilation of four novellas that were bound together to make the book “The Copper Promise!” It was really a light bulb moment, and now, with this in mind, I am going to move forward with reading/reviewing the book as it was originally published as four separate but serialized stories.

Right off the bat, it was a much more enjoyable experience re-approaching this series as novellas. Read on its own, “Ghost of the Citadel” is an action-packed, snappy-paced adventure story featuring three misfit characters. Tonally, this novella is closer to some of the fantasy of old that was much more campy and poppy. The world-building features classic monsters, fabled wars between mages and gods, and a mysterious Citadel that is the temptation (and seemingly always the death) of adventures throughout the realm.

Our adventures feature Wydrin and her partner Sebastian, a well-established mercenary duo on the look out for their next job. And a fallen lord, Aaron Firth, whose family was murdered and was run off his lands after suffering gruesome torture at the hands of his captor.

As this was a shorter novella, readers are thrown into the action with very little back story for any of these characters. We know a bit more about Firth from a prologue featuring him, but we pick up Wydrin and Sebastian straight from the tavern. I’m intrigued by the hints of backstory for them both. Sebastian heralds from a mountainous realm where he was once a member of an illustrious knights force, but was discharged for unknown reasons. Wydrin seems to have a simple reputation for being one of the best mercenaries out there Wydrin is the type of character who is right up my alley, so I was a bit disappointed by lack of backstory (even hints!) that we were given for her, other than that she is great at her job. Firth was honestly my least favorite character, but I feel like the series is setting him up for a redemption arc, of sorts, so I will wait to see what comes of that in the next three stories.

The story ends on a cliffhanger, so beware of that. But the cliffhanger, and the arc of the story itself, all feels so much more natural when read as an individual novella rather than a section of one book, so I strongly recommend trying to find the ebooks and reading the series in that version.

Rating 7: Once I got myself figured out, an enjoyable first installation for this 4-part novella series!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Ghosts of the Citadel” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on these lists: “Best Fantasy Books by Women” and “Fantasy Standalone Novels.”

Find “Ghosts of the Citadel” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Every Heart a Doorway”

25526296 Book:“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children:
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Review: I highlighted this novella as an upcoming release that I was anxiously looking forward to back in April. I have read some of Seanan McGuires other books and have liked her style. Beyond that, the premises is right up my alley.

When my sister and I were little (or maybe only a few years ago, too), we would discuss what we would do if we suddenly came upon a portal to another world. The conversation was always pretty short: we’d go through of course! Having grown up on stories where children visit places like Oz, Narnia, and Wonderland, this really seems to be the only option.

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Going is never in question and there are millions of stories that share these adventures. But what happens when these children come back? (I am restraining myself from going into a long, drawn out discussion about the existential trauma that the Pevensies children must have gone through after living full adult lives in Narnia only to suddenly topple back to their own world as small children. If you really think about it for a minute, the true horror of that situation really sets in. Ok, mini rant over.)

“Every Heart a Doorway” addresses this very issue.  This novella posits that every child who disappears to these different worlds is also matched to a world that fits an inner part of themselves that cannot be fully expressed here in the human world. And when those children (adults in children’s bodies, many of them) return, it is not by free choice. Nancy is one of these children. After spending the last several years in an Underworld, the “Halls of the Dead” world specifically, she has returned to the “real” world and finds that she’s not too happy about it. Her parents, confused and saddened by the loss of their daughter of before, a past person that Nancy herself does not mourn, do what many such parents have done: carted her off for “treatment.” Luckily for Nancy, this “treatment” consists of a boarding school operated by a woman who knows all too well of Nancy’s unique struggles, having herself traveled between worlds for much of her life.

It’s amazing how much ground McGuire covers in such a short story. The book is only 150 pages long and yet she lays out not only Nancy’s story, but several other unique characters as well. Such as Jack and Jill, twins who spent years and years in a land called “The Moors” which seems to be based on old horror movies such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” There’s Sumi, Nancy’s roommate, who traveled to a nonsense world, and perhaps has the most honest things to stay about these experiences from it. And Kade, a boy who was scooped up by fairies as a child, but who was kicked out when they learned that the little girl they thought they had captured identified as a boy and was much more interested in slaying trolls than in parading as their princess.

Alongside these fantastic characters, McGuire creates a unique system for cataloging these worlds, with axis of Nonsense and Logical with cross beams of Virtue and Wicked and many other offshoots as well. As a longtime reader of fantasy stories where characters world-jump, it was great fun looking at this mapping process and trying to apply it to other magical worlds from stories.

The mystery at the center of the story is also very effective and another huge mark in its favor. Again, the author had half the page count of a typical book to fit in all of these elements. I loved every minute of this book, and while I would love to have spent more time with these characters and this exploration of children traveling to fantasy worlds and their experiences after returning, the best compliment I can give any novella is to say that I felt fully satisfied with it as a short stand-alone.

Rating 9: Really great read! Fun characters, fun mystery, and most importantly, a great exploration of a typical fantasy trope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Every Heart a Doorway” is included on the Goodreads list “Gender Non-Binary Fantasy & Science Fiction” and “2016 Speculative Fiction New Series And Standalones Books”.

Find “Every Heart a Doorway” at your library using WorldCat!