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Monday, March 31, 2014

“Night Owls” by Lauren M. Roy (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “Night OwlsHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Night Owls by Lauren M. Roy is the first volume of a new urban fantasy series from Ace. The synopsis had me at bookstore employees fighting supernatural problems.

Roy gives us the familiarity of favorite urban fantasy tropes and twists them just enough to make them feel new. And while we're all familiar with vampires by this point, how the author fits them into her world is unexpected, and the structure of the underground magical world itself is completely innovative.  In this world, human magic, their organizations and systems, how they tie to vampires and other creatures, and the role of vampires themselves within this “community” are all treading new and interesting world-building ground.

There are badass characters of all types who have mundane problems just like the rest of us. Roy puts together a powerful supernatural team to pit against villains who are up to the challenge. The antagonists are actually one of my favorite parts of this book, because the author complicates them: they're not just evil, they have goals and motivations of their own. When the heroes are doing things, the villains are not just loitering around waiting for them.

And the heroes are doing things too. They flounder, but they are making choices and acting on them, constantly, not just reacting to events.

Night Owls doesn’t just focus on the magic and how it works. Magic is present, of course, but it's not about magic. If anything, it focuses on the characters' relationships, and those drive and shape the events of the book. It's in the little bits: I loved seeing a vampire scramble to tidy her house and set a proper tea; I loved the lesbian succubi couple who are equal parts glorious and hilarious but not focused on tempting people to their doom; I loved the emphasis on friendship over romance, between wizards, between magical and nonmagical, between old relationships and new ones.

Lauren M. Roy tied all these threads together perfectly, and I can't wait to see what these characters do together next.
Saturday, March 29, 2014

“The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent” by Marie Brennan (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “The Tropic of SerpentsHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of A Natural History of Dragons

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan is a great follow-up to A Natural History of Dragons. Like its predecessor, it's framed as the next installment of the memoirs of Lady Trent, now an old lady and a famous naturalist.

I still really enjoy Lady Trent’s no-nonsense tone, and Brennan uses the POV effectively: having the story told from a naturalist's perspective puts all the exposition not just in character, but also makes it more interesting by embedding it within the context of the story.

In The Tropic of Serpents, Lady Trent travels to an analog of Africa, traveling from the savannah, with at least a few trappings of civilization she's familiar with, to the Green Hell. The POV choice is marvelous for describing such very different settings without exoticizing the people and cultures she interacts with. Lady Trent deals with different cultural treatments of genders and biology, because the difference is more than just a matter of costuming; she deals with different notions of property and propriety and value; she finds herself more entrenched in politics and what her role means for them than ever before.

As much as I enjoyed the author’s application of POV and framing device, I think it caused some pacing problems later on in the book. Because ostensibly Lady Trent is writing a memoir, not a novel, so she takes breaks from the action to give us all kinds of exposition, and sometimes these are inconveniently placed. By the climax of the novel, I wanted to have all the necessary information already so I could focus on the story, without needing to stop for the protagonist to explain things in the middle of confrontations.

I also found myself frustrated that the protagonist doesn't have much of a character arc in this book. She's come into her own as a naturalist, or at least come to terms with that in her own mind, and so the main personal struggle she faces is in regard to how she thinks about her son. But in practice, by the end this hasn't changed: Lady Trent has dealt with her guilt so that she can presumably work on building a relationship with her son in the future, but she hasn't done anything.

Character developments, anyway: she's made huge advances in understanding dragons, and in the space between the previous book and this one she's grown far less shy about telling people she's going to do whatever she wants.

One of my qualms about the previous novel was that it seemed like there were no other women in Lady Trent’s world of a similarly scientific turn of mind, but Marie Brennan has blown that out of the water in this book: I particularly enjoyed the addition to the main cast of Natalie with her bent for engineering—and her utter disinterest in romance of any kind. While A Natural History of Dragons dealt more with Lady Trent coming to terms with who she was as a person, this volume allowed her to explore the possibilities in her chosen career.

Lady Trent has hinted at happenings in her future that I'm excited to read. So whenever the third installment of this series is out, I'm totally on board.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Guest Review: Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (Reviewed by Achala Upendran)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Drama certainly has a way of dogging Harry’s footsteps.

I started the Harry Potter series with the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. For that reason, it is rather special to me, and it is the book that I have read most of the seven. The first time I finished it, I was so blown away by the conclusion that I flipped it over and started it again. I blabbed to all of my friends about this ‘amazing’ book I’d read and got a couple of them going on the series. Hopefully that is what I have managed here as well.

Like its predecessors, Prisoner of Azkaban features a Hogwarts ill at ease and a Harry who is, yet again, at the centre of dramatic events. Unlike its forerunners however, the tension that stalks Hogwarts’ halls is confined not only to the school, but has expanded its wings to enfold the wizarding world at large. Sirius Black, dangerous detainee of Azkaban fortress, has escaped his confines. Known to the wizarding world as Voldemort’s right-hand man and a mass murderer, Black is certainly not the kind of man the Ministry of Magic wants on the loose. They also think they have a shrewd idea of just what, or rather, who he is after: the baby who caused the downfall of his master, Harry Potter.

As you might guess, this doesn’t make for a very auspicious beginning to Harry’s third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. To add to his worries, the dreaded dementors of Azkaban have been stationed around the school to guard against Black. Every time Harry goes near one of these terrible creatures, he is forced to re-live his worst memories and, given the tragedy that marks him, these are very, very draining experiences.

For a thirteen year old boy who’s got enough to worry about – new classes, trials on the Quidditch pitch, bullying from Slytherin and the first whispers of a crush – these are unwelcome additions. Luckily, not all the new things Harry encounters at Hogwarts are terrible. Perhaps most encouraging is the arrival of a new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor R. J. Lupin, a man who knows his subject and how to teach it. Of course, much like everything and everyone else in Hogwarts, there is more to Professor Lupin than meets the eye. Is he completely trustworthy, and does he know more about Sirius Black, and Harry himself, than he is letting on?

Prisoner of Azkaban is, in my considered opinion, the most well-constructed of the Potter books. Rowling spins a very tightly woven story, each incident, comment, piece of information carefully placed and leading up to a truly spectacular, cathartic conclusion. Here we see the full blossoming of the skills that Rowling had been developing (absurdly quickly and very well) in the previous books, skills for mystery writing that she continues to display in her avatar as Robert Galbraith in the recently released The Cuckoo’s Calling. The rest of the series deviates considerably from this format, adhering much more strongly to the epic fantasy tradition and the Hero’s Journey identified by Joseph Campbell, so perhaps it is fitting that Rowling signs off on this format with this rather brilliant rendering.

Not only is it a wonderfully plotted novel, but the characters of Azkaban also contribute to the reader’s enjoyment. Professor Lupin is a great addition to a growing cast, warm, encouraging and spiced with just the right amount of mystery. Here, finally, is a teacher that Harry seems to relate to on a personal level, a mentor figure who is accessible to his students and forges a personal connection with our hero. It’s the first time in the books that Harry has someone to go to not just for academic queries, but the larger moral and personal dilemmas that will beset him as he grows older and deals with harsher trials.

Not only does Lupin provide him support in the form of practical instruction, but also a shoulder to lean on, an adult perspective that is exclusively marked for Harry. I think this is an important connection for the young wizard, given that, until this point in the books, he has not had an adult wizard who catered exclusively to his support. Lupin is Harry’s mentor, not Ron or Hermione’s, and this is, I feel, an important development in his journey towards hero-hood.

CONCLUSION: By the close of the book, Harry has taken some very important steps towards adulthood. The tone of Azkaban is dark, like its immediate predecessor, perhaps more literally so because of the presence of the dementors. I concede that the movie adaptation may have done its bit in cementing this impression; Alfonso Cuaron’s rendition of Hogwarts was considerably less cheery (and more chilling) than Christopher Columbus’s. The shadow of death falls early over Azkaban, not only because of the threat represented by the escaped criminal, but also alluded to time and again by another entrant, the Divination professor Sybil Trelawney. Whether any of these signs and portents will result in something concrete is for you to find out.

So what on earth are you waiting for?


GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Achala Upendran is a freelance editor and writer based in India. She blogs about fantasy literature, with a special focus on the Harry Potter series, at Where the Dog Star rages. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AchalaUpendran

Achala will be reviewing all of the seven Harry Potter books, so enjoy her thoughts as she brings a special focus on the series, characters and world that have enchanted so many of us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Guest Post: Not Just A Zombie Story by Tim Marquitz

When myself, Joe Martin, and Kenny Soward sat down to create the Dead West series, we had a very simple framework for the story we wanted to tell: zombies in a Wild West setting. That alone was enough to get us excited and ready to work, but if you know any of us you’re probably shaking your head and laughing. Why? Because you’d know damn well we couldn’t possibly leave it at that. No, we had to sit down and rationalize everything we were doing, examine everything remotely similar that had come before, and completely reconstruct our simple idea, renovate it and add on, a hut turned into a metropolis.

We ended up dumping a mixed bag of characters who were guaranteed to create sparks once they were thrown together. From pure blood Indians to half-breeds to railroad bosses and ex-Civil War soldiers, women, and ex-slaves, and reverends, there was simply no way for there not to be bad blood and ulterior motives galore within the dynamic we’d laid out. The best part of that, though, these folks needed each other to survive despite their differences. We built from that.

It started out small, our concept of zombies not being some mass, out of control contagion. We sat down and gave them a purpose, a reason to be up and walking about. In doing so we opened up the door to a whole new angle on the whys and hows and whatnots. A mystical angle. Our zombies don’t just wander the land on instinct, assuaging a need to feed, but they are driven by a malicious, malevolent man who uses them to further his own interests. And once we had that piece of the puzzle, we couldn’t just have some run of the mill bad guy out seeking some simple score. No, robbery or revenge or plain murder wasn’t enough of a drive for a compelling villain given the scale we were building up, so we reached back in time again, the entire story built on a framework of real history. There we found our answer.

The Chinese people play such an important part in the life of the old west, specifically the railroad where our story takes place, it was an easy leap for us to delve into that world, that mythology. The old Kung Fu series helped. We ended up creating a Daoist/Taoist monk whose backstory and life had run afoul of the natural ways, a strange sense of necromancy warping his morality. A need for ultimate power driving him on.

And once we opened that door, it only took another couple more steps for us to add a Lovecraftian feel to the story, great mystical powers and distorted creatures brought into the world, chaos and insanity following in their wake. Now picture our rogue’s gallery of characters caught in the middle of an undead uprising and being hunted by a necromantic sorcerer who’ll go to any length to get what he’s after.

And all that is blended into a brutal and dark story line that’s all action and drama. That’s what the Dead West series is all about.

Official Author website 
Order The Ten Thousand Things HERE
Order Those Poor, Poor Bastards HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Armageddon Bound 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Resurrection 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of At The Gates and Betrayal 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Echoes Of The Past 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Beyond The Veil
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Best Of Enemies 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of From Hell 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Manifesto:UF
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Fading Light
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Tim Marquitz
Read Qwillery's interview with Tim Marquitz, J. M. Martin & Kenny Soward

Author Information: Tim Marquitz is the author of the Demon Squad series, the Blood War Trilogy, and the Dead West series, as well as several standalone books, and numerous anthology appearances including Triumph Over Tragedy, Corrupts Absolutely?, Demonic Dolls, and the upcoming Neverland’s Library, and No Place Like Home.

The Editor in Chief of Ragnarok Publications, Tim most recently compiled and edited Kaiju Rising (with Nick Sharps) and the Angelic Knight Press anthologies, Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous and Manifesto: UF.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Gregor the Overlander: Underland Chronicles 1" by Suzanne Collins (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Suzanne Collins' Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: This irresistible first novel tells the story of a quiet boy who embarks on a dangerous quest in order to fulfill his destiny -- and find his father -- in a strange world beneath New York City.

When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor's arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it -- until he realizes it's the only way to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.

FORMAT: Gregor the Overlander is the first novel in a series of children's books. It has adventure, action, and exploration of a mysterious underworld. It stands at 311 pages and was published by Scholastic in 2003.

ANALYSIS: What happens when a young boy falls down a vent in his laundry room in New York City and ends up in a mysterious, strange world where bugs, cockroaches, spiders, and strange elf/human creatures live? That is exactly what you will find out when you explore the first book in the Underland Chronicles.

Gregor, an 11 year old boy who has the weight of the world on his shoulders after his dad disappeared, vanishes down a laundry room vent when his 2 year old sister mysteriously disappears while doing laundry. Gregor and his sister find themselves in a land known as the Underland, where it appears that Gregor's arrival has been foretold by a prophecy made many years ago. 

In an effort to return home, Gregor and his sister, along with several other wonderful characters, embark on a quest. The quest is filled with wonderful adventure, the opportunity to meet unique characters, and the chance to finally engage in one 'final battle' – all to help Gregor and his sister return home.

I have to admit I absolutely loved this novel. I read it several years ago, and recently reread it. It still had the same impact on me the second time around, as the first time. Gregor the Overlander is like a modern day Alice in Wonderland – only with battles, a darker setting, and icky creatures like cockroaches and spiders.

There were several things that instantly appealed to me with this novel. First, there is an intact family unit. All too often in children's literature – and many other genres – there is the urge to make the main character an orphan or have this extremely dysfunctional family. Gregor doesn't have that.

Yes, his father is missing, but until that point he had a family unit and he truly misses his father. Gregor experiences all the emotions and feeling a child should when a father goes missing or disappears. It just made it feel real, yet not overly dramatic like the all-too familiar orphan plots.

Another wonderful aspect of the novel is that the writing is strong. It is a children's novel, yet it has extremely strong writing. The characters are developed, the dialogue is captivating, and the descriptions are detailed, yet not wordy. Pretty much everything you could ask for in a book.

Older readers will certainly find this book a page turner and probably be able to finish it off in a few hours. Children will find it intriguing, especially boys with all the bugs and 'icky' things. It really is a novel that is written for all ages to enjoy.

There is a slight mention that there is a second novel coming up, but overall all the storylines are tired up nice and neatly. Gregor the Overlander can really be read as a standalone novel, which is encouraging.

Anyone looking for a well-written, great read that is certainly a page turner or even those looking for books for children should try this novel. It won't disappoint.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Guest Review: Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (Reviewed by Achala Upendran)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The first three of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books follow a detective-story pattern: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry faces a problem of some sort, and the plucky young hero and his friends are determined, despite their junior standing and almost complete lack of expertise, to get to the bottom of the matter. The second in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, sticks most faithfully to this tried and tested mystery formula, and it is for this reason, I think, that it is one of my favourites.

Even before he begins his second year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter is warned by a strange visitor that ‘terrible things’ are to take place at the school. Despite his best efforts to find out more, however, he is unsuccessful and it is with nothing more than a cryptic warning that he arrives (dramatically) at Hogwarts, having flown there with Ron in the Weasley family’s Ford Anglia. Unfortunately, this seems to set the tone for the rest of the year, with nothing being quite as it should be in Harry’s considerably more-than-normal school.

Legend tells of a secret chamber built within the castle by one of the school’s four founders, Salazar Slytherin. Within this Chamber of Secrets resides a monster that can be controlled only by the wizard’s heir, who will unleash it in order to purge the school of those that Salazar Slytherin deemed unworthy of a magical education. Namely, Muggleborns (witches or wizards born to non-magical parents). Someone appears to have opened the Chamber this year, and no one, not animal, witch, wizard or even ghost is safe. Harry, Ron and Hermione will once again have to do their best to get to the bottom of this mystery.

I loved Chamber of Secrets. For a very long time, I told people it was my favourite of all the Potter books. This is for many reasons, one of which is that it gives me a thoroughly enjoyable scare every time I read it. I found some sections of the book terrifying (you might know which when you read it); it’s amazing how Rowling manages to evoke that sense of fear with the merest whisper of a suggestion. What is most amazing is that, despite the fact that I know what’s coming, I get frightened anew every time I read the book. Rowling is just that good at what she does.

We meet a host of new characters in this book, some of whom will later turn out to be very important. For instance, readers make the acquaintance of Ginny Weasley, youngest member of the Weasleys and, on the other side of the spectrum, Lucius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy’s sinister, smooth-talking father. We’re also treated to our first extended stay in a wizarding home when Harry spends a good part of his summer holiday with Ron and his family at ‘the Burrow’. Rowling further widens the borders of her world when she takes Harry on an impromptu (and rather shady) trip through the seedier parts of the shopping district called Knockturn Alley; she further illuminates the castle of Hogwarts a little more when our heroes view the Slytherin common room and Harry is summoned (on a separate occasion) to Headmaster Dumbledore’s office.

Besides the chance to explore a little more of the ‘Potterverse’ as fans dub it, Chamber of Secrets offers a slightly darker take on the wizarding world. For the first time, issues of race and equality, which will come to be central themes in the books, are explicitly introduced. Through the categories of ‘Squib’, ‘Muggleborn’, ‘halfblood’ and ‘purebloodRowling highlights the very real differences of treatment and opportunity meted out to people in the ‘real world’. While the purebloods have the inestimable wealth of familiarity with magic and a certain sense of entitlement (at least, the rather extremist ones like the Malfoys do), Muggleborns must make up for their late-coming into this world through hard work and a constant need to prove themselves, most well-evidenced by Hermione Granger, one of Harry’s best friends and the most academically brilliant witch in her year.

Rowling rather simplifies the notions of blood-purity and racial tension by splitting combatants along house lines (Slytherin, as the house founded by the pureblood-crazed wizard, becomes the haven of all those who support his ideas, while the others are more tolerant, seemingly), which leads to vilification of a quarter of the school later in the series. I understand that this is done in order to present a stark good versus evil picture to supposedly less nuanced childish understanding, but as an adult reader, it troubles me.

Whatever her weaknesses be as a moralist, though, there is no denying Rowling’s superb ability to accomplish entertaining things with her characters. Chamber of Secrets harbours one of the most (literally) colourful professors to ever grace Hogwarts’ halls in the form of Gilderoy Lockhart, the charmingly inept Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Lockhart’s absurd vanity, his blinding smile and his paparazzi-prone hi-jinks are a welcome respite after the stuttering non-entity that formed the bulk of his predecessor Quirrell’s screen-time. Lockhart not only provides much of the humor of the book, but he also illustrates an interesting moral dilemma near its climax. What that is, we can pick apart once you’ve read the book.

CONCLUSION: To sum it up, Chamber of Secrets is a darker book than its predecessor. The halls of Hogwarts seem more dangerous, the characters are considerably more devious and even Harry goes through much more soul-searing trials. At one point, most of the school turns its back on him, a glaring contrast to the instant fame and approval he had enjoyed for much of Philosopher’s Stone. For the first time, we see Harry dealing with this kind of widespread societal disapproval, and something tells us that it’s not going to be the last time he’ll face it. It’s clear that Harry’s time in Hogwarts is not going to get any easier as he ages, and we can only hope that he grows enough emotionally, magically, to cope with it.


GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Achala Upendran is a freelance editor and writer based in India. She blogs about fantasy literature, with a special focus on the Harry Potter series, at Where the Dog Star rages. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AchalaUpendran

Achala will be reviewing all of the seven Harry Potter books, so enjoy her thoughts as she brings a special focus on the series, characters and world that have enchanted so many of us.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

GUESTPOST: Martial Arts and Fantasy Warriors by Miles Cameron

My writing is often inspired by my practice of various disciplines and martial arts. I am very modestly competent in some, and very deeply practiced in others.  As a writer, I’m interested in martial arts as part of experience—so that I don’t, for example, have to be a master swordsman to write about fighting with a sword. 

Some martial arts I do only for exercise, or ‘fun.’  I love fighting sword and buckler, especially in the Bolognese style, and I don’t write about it—I just do it whenever equipment and opponents are available.  Some martial arts I do because they are so deeply immersive in the culture of the period and place; Iado, the Japanese art of using the sword in a  set of pre-determined movements, and Armizare, the art of Italian (or German, but I prefer Italian) fighting in armour from the fourteenth century.

Aikido, small sword, Olympic fencing, Italian long sword, pole axe, spear fighting, saber on horseback, archery with various very different bows, flintlock pistol and rifle, wrestling, boxing—I do all of these, or I’ve at least tried them.  As I write this piece I have blood under both my thumbnails and a sprained left index finger and a very sore right rotator cup and that’s all the routine cost of pretending to fight. 

I like to think I’m a very safe, controlled student of the sword and various other weapons, but injury is the cost of training, and that alone is a priceless reality for a writer to know about a fantasy environment. 

In the world of Red Knight and Fell Sword, the warriors—be they Alban or Abenkai or Sossag or Galles or Etruscans or Occitans or what have you—they train.  And they hurt.  I try to bring that experience to the reader—and to write fight scenes that convey character and motivation.  War and violence is merely a human behavior, like sex and conversation.  It’s worth a little practice to try and get it right.


I want to thank Miles Cameron for this entertaining post and I would like to remind everyone that The Fell Sword - the 2nd installment of the Traitor Son series that has started last year with The Red Knight - is now out in the US too and while I thought it was way too long for its content and more of a "mark the time" book to raise the novel count of the series than anything else, you the readers are the one to ultimately decide if the novel works for you or not.

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Earthfall: Earthfall #1" by Mark Walden (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Mark Walden's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: Sam awakens to see strange vessels gathered in the skies around London. As he stares up, people stream past, walking silently toward the enormous ships, which emit a persistent noise. Only Sam seems immune to the signal. Six months later, he is absolutely alone.

Or so he thinks. Because after he emerges from his underground bunker and is wounded by a flying drone, a hail of machine-gun fire ultimately reveals two very important truths: One, Sam is not, in fact, alone. And two, the drone injury should have killed him—but it didn’t.

With his home planet feeling alien and the future unstable and unclear, Sam must navigate a new world in this gripping adventure.

FORMAT: Earthfall is the first novel in a proposed series of children's books. It contains elements of sci-fi, mystery, action/adventure and slight dystopian. It stands at 270 pages and was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 27, 2013. It was first published June 1, 2010 by Bloomsbury.

ANALYSIS: The children's literature section is packed with fantasy books that tell tales of magic, witches, and wizards, but the sci-fi section is sorely lacking. There are only a handful of books that I have encountered that have attempted bringing sci-fi to younger children and those seem to be overlooked.

Earthfall is the first book in a series, but it attempts to introduce children to the sci-fi genre in a fun, exciting way. Packed with adventure, aliens, and mystery this book is sure to captivate almost any reader's attention – regardless of age.

Earthfall is written in such a way that adult readers will find it a page-turner and captivating, while younger readers will find it thrilling and exciting. Some adult readers might find the plot a little 'elementary', but I felt there were enough twists and turns that even the most seasoned sci-fi adult readers would enjoy it.

Mark Walden does a lot right in this novel. First, the novel is approximately 280 pages. This means that readers aren't weighed down with lengthy descriptions or unnecessary information. The book gets right to the heart of the story, while still leaving a sense of mystery surrounding the entire plot.

The 280-page novel is also ideal for children. It isn't too intimidating, but it doesn't 'dummy' things down for them either. It is the perfect length for children venturing into the sci-fi genre for the first time.

Another thing that is just right is the plot development. There is just enough details given to create an amazing story, yet it isn't scary or overly complicated.

While Earthfall is amazing, there are a few things that could have been improved. One of them was the structure of the paragraphs. Sometimes, there would be incredibly long paragraphs that took up the entire page. I found this a little odd and hard to read, but nothing that completed distracted from the novel.

Another area that could have been worked on was the names of the alien creatures. Sometimes they were called Hunters, sometimes Voidborn. This was because the characters created their own names for the aliens and other creatures, which weren't the right names. When the truth came out, they find out the 'true names', and that was where things got confusing. It works itself out, but it was a tad confusing.

Overall, I was impressed with Earthfall. It was a quick, mysterious, action-packed novel that was ideal for readers of all ages. Whether just getting started with sci-fi fiction or an avid fan looking for a quick, yet good read, this is certainly a book for you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Guest Review: Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling (reviewed by Achala Upendran)

Official Author Website

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: It’s hard to write a review for a book that means so much to so many readers. Harry Potter has seen an entire generation of children grow up alongside him, and certainly, the big-budget Warner Bros films have more than done their bit to cement his popularity and make him a byword in the cultural imagination. Nonetheless, I will do my best to deliver an objective assessment of the books purely on their literary merit, so here goes!

"Mr. And Mrs. Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

Thus runs the unlikely opening of one of the most beloved books of the past hundred years. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The first of a seven-part series that follows the adventures of its eponymous hero, Harry Potter, Philosopher’s Stone does a great job laying the groundwork of Rowling’s magical world, a world that has ensnared children and adults across the globe for more than a decade.

Like many of its predecessors in the fantasy genre, Philosopher’s Stone opens with a world gone awry. Owls are swooping about in broad daylight, people dressed in strange clothes are standing about talking animatedly and, perhaps most disconcerting of all to Vernon Dursley, a cat is standing on a neat suburban road ‘reading’ a map.' The reason behind these strange happenings is revealed by the end of the first chapter, and sure enough, it’s something to do with a Dark Lord (You Know Who), tragedy and a hero who doesn’t know the import of his own destiny chiefly because, when he is introduced to us, he is a slumbering baby with a lightning-bolt shaped scar.

This, of course, is Harry Potter, the boy who will go on to steal our hearts and quite obviously, our sympathies. Raised by a cruel set of relatives (his aunt and uncle, the aforementioned Dursleys) and bullied by his cousin, Harry remains nonetheless a quiet, sweet boy. Though he does his best to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, trouble has a way of finding him, as well evidenced by his inexplicable act of vanishing an entire pane of glass at the zoo and unleashing an enormous boa constrictor.

The reasons behind Harry’s uniquely troublesome nature are revealed, finally, on his eleventh birthday when a stranger from another world arrives to spirit him away to his true calling. The stranger is Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the world he ushers Harry into is one where dragons hatch from eggs, goblins run banks and, most importantly, magic is real. Rowling does a fantastic job of blending the classic hero story with the boarding school narrative, complete with house rivalries, schoolyard bullies and friendships and the more common ailments of homework, despicable teachers and detention.

At Hogwarts, Harry not only makes his first and best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, but he also learns that he is special even in this environment. Harry is the only known survivor of an attack by Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard so feared that even now, years after his fall, people are terrified to speak his name. Voldemort’s onslaught felled both Harry’s parents, but when the wizard turned his wand on the baby, his curse rebounded and instead, destroyed him. Harry is known throughout the wizarding world as the Boy Who Lived, his name spoken in reverence and gratitude for his inexplicable defeat of the most feared wizard in a century.

Every good fantasy reader however, knows that apparently defeated Dark Lords seldom remain in such a state. There are dark things happening at Hogwarts, and Harry, now armed with a basic knowledge of spells and sharp instincts, has a bad feeling that Lord Voldemort might be behind it all. Again, true to fantasy form, he sets out to put a stop to it, his loyal friends by his side.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a hugely enjoyable read for everyone, both children and jaded adults. Rowling draws her characters with a sharp pen, managing, through this slim volume (it is the shortest in the series) to create memorable figures who readers feel as though they’ve known their entire lives: the bookish, fussy Hermione; charming, loyal Ron (Harry’s guide & man friday to the wizarding world); snobbish Draco Malfoy and not least, warm, curious Harry Potter.

Even the adult characters are strongly realized, Rowling imparting to the teachers and parents alike a vividness and depth that not many grown up characters in children’s books enjoy. Perhaps this goes a long way in explaining the books’ enduring popularity. Growing up alongside the series, I for one have found myself drawn more and more to the adult characters in this world, seeing facets to them that, previously wrapped up in Harry and his friends, I had never seen before.

CONCLUSION: I don’t know how many readers out there have not had the chance, or the inclination, to begin their journey to Hogwarts. I envy you this chance to step on board the Hogwarts Express for the first time, to discover a world that will certainly suck you in and leave you gasping at its vivid richness. There’s nothing quite like embarking on a new series, and Harry Potter is definitely not one you should miss. To those who are old hands at Hogwarts, I can only say there’s nothing wrong with a re-read. These books are like fine wine; they only get better with age.


GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Achala Upendran is a freelance editor and writer based in India. She blogs about fantasy literature, with a special focus on the Harry Potter series, at Where the Dog Star rages. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AchalaUpendran

Achala will be reviewing all of the seven Harry Potter books, so enjoy her thoughts as she brings a special focus on the series, characters and world that have enchanted so many of us.


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