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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Well, I've read this book and now my life is complete.

Several weeks ago I blogged about my love of the two previous books in the Leviathan trilogy, and how I couldn't wait for the conclusion. Words can not describe how happy I was when I finally got my hands on an Advanced Reviewers copy! After a brief period of fangirl spasms, I began to read the 543 page-long novel. (Which I finished in less than 24 hours, thank you very much.)

If you aren't familiar with the Leviathan trilogy, go back and read my previous post on it or be hopelessly confused!

The two main characters, Alek and Deryn, are back on the airship Leviathan. This time, the ship is bound for Siberia, where they have orders to pick up an important passenger, who is none other than Nikola Tesla, a mad scientist who claims to have a weapon called Goliath that could put a halt to WWI. This weapon could possibly threaten the enemy into agreeing to peace. Alek decides to politically support Tesla, as he is the possible heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and all he wants is peace.

Things get complicated when he finally learns Deryn's deeply kept secret. He finally discovers his best friend and ally is actually a girl in disguise so she can serve in the air service, and he also learns that she's in love with him.

Then, upon an unexpected turn of events, the Leviathan begins an around the world trip to the United States of America, where Alek and Deryn face scandal, drama, and surprises at every turn, while Tesla prepares to fire his weapon that could destroy a major city, and it's up to the two of them to stop him before it's too late.

An excellent, exciting, and gripping conclusion to a wildly creative series. This book delivers what all the fans want: action, adventure, humor, and a love story like no other. The thick volume goes over quite a bit, completing the around the world trip in this alternate version of earth where amazing machines and beasts lurk. And there's always enough action and intrigue supplied to keep readers turning pages. Alek and Deryn are chased by bears as tall as houses in Russia, experience unique dining in Japan, ride on top of the airship in the middle of a hurricane, attend fancy banquets, and star in Hearst's motion pictures. There was never a dull moment. And all the beautiful illustrations captured the text and made it visual, it really brought the book to life.

It was a bit crazy of course, I think there was enough going on that Goliath could have been split into two books instead of having one massive series-ender. But it was fine all the same. The battle scenes, as always, were well done, plus the illustrations keep you from getting confused.

Since everything in the series is based on an alternate version of World War I, it doesn't always match actual history, but there's plenty of historical fact and characters incorporated. We meet actual historical figures, such as the crazy Nikola Tesla, girl reporter Adela Rogers, newspaper and film mogul William Randolph Hearst, and Mexican Revolution leader Poncho Villa. The book has an Afterwards where Westerfeld explains fact from fiction.

Another element that was overall well done was Alek and Deryn's complicated relationship. I can't stand reading straight-up romance, so I liked that it wasn't overly focused on, since this is a book about war. How he found out that she was a girl was really interesting and unpredictable, and how it played out afterwards was pretty awesome. But it was really well crafted, and at times utterly sweet. Pretty soon Alek is doing whatever it takes to protect her secret, helping her hide her body and whatnot. It was great how much he cared. Their transition from best friends to soul mates was carried on well without overkill, and it definitely builds upon the story.

The ending was nice, even though I wish things were slightly more explained. This wasn't vital, but it would have been appreciated. Then again, we can pretty much assume what happens...

Overall an outstanding way to end a best-selling trilogy. I'm so sad it's over!

A thunderous, exciting, and gripping final book to a unique war-meets-fantasy series. It was good enough to deserve...
5/5 stars!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Let's just say that I'm sick of fantasy novels.

Paranormal fantasy is the worst, in my opinion. Back in 2005, a book entitled Twilight was published. I enjoyed it thoroughly, it's always good to experience a little bit of everything (especially book genres!). But then it was proven that too much of something is never a good thing. Along came a slew of other novels all about werewolves, vampires, ghosts, faeries, demon-hunters, and MORE vampires. The fantasy revelation/take-over had begun. I'm not too keen on mythical creatures, so let's just say my patience has been tested these past few years. There are a few diamonds among the rough, (Harry Potter anyone?) but the paranormal fantasy trend has gotten out of hand with it's copy-cat ways and endless fandom.

I'm being quite harsh aren't I? My point is, I think the quality of fantasy novels has gone down in the past few years. But my view had been shaded by vampire fiction, and remember how I mentioned diamonds in the rough? Well, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher has the potential to be one.

It is like a Chronicles of Narnia adventure with both parts fairy tale and grit, except Fisher's novel kept me wanting to read. (My apologies to the great C.S. Lewis!)

It takes place in the future, where the rulers of the world have decided to stop progress. There are no new inventions or technology known to the public, and the world has gone back in time as if they were living in 19th century England (perhaps?) But among this world, is Incarceron, a gigantic, mysterious, confusing labyrinth of a prison like no other. It's millions of inhabitants live in realms of metal forests, dark holes and caves, worn down cities, and other eerie places. The prisoners have no conscience and do what ever it takes to survive, while dreaming of escape, even though they aren't sure if there is an Outside or not.

We meet Finn, a young prisoner who can't remember anything about his past. He has faint memories of the Outside, but the others say that it's impossible for anyone to get in...or out. He has visions and is known as a starseer.

Claudia is a girl who lives on the Outside, and she is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. She has grown up in luxury, but is doomed to an arranged marriage to an awful prince, who will one day rule the Realm.

When Finn comes across a mysterious crystal object that could possibly be the key out of Incarceron, he, his devilishly handsome-yet-wicked oathbrother Kiero, a wise old Sapient named Gildas, and cunning slave-girl Attia all set out on an epic journey in hopes of finding escape. Claudia finds an identical object, and is able to communicate with Finn inside the Incarceron. They must help each other escape. (Finn the prison, Claudia her arranged marriage.)

But this will be no small task. Because Incarceron is alive. It breathes and speaks and watches it's inhabitants every move. And it will do whatever it takes to keep it's prisoners locked inside.

The story itself is spilling over with mystery, suspense, and danger. Fisher knows how to spin a tale, no doubt. The first few chapters are rather confusing, I felt lost after reading the first, but felt that the quality of the writing was so good, it would be a shame not to give it more of a chance. I'm glad I did. Readers who possess imagination will love the idea of the ultimate labyrinth full of realms and beasts and fascinating characters. Secrets are unraveled, and at one point they actually caused me to gasp out loud.

The downside to the constantly moving and mysterious plot though, was that I was always a little confused, mostly in the end. Not enough was explained, so now getting a hold of the sequel is on my To Do list. But I also had trouble understanding the multiple identities of the characters, picturing action scenes, and occasionally some of the places in Incarceron, though at other times it so perfectly described I felt that I was there inside the gritty metal world.

I wish Finn's character was built upon more. I liked him, the fact that he was a good guy in the hell that was the prison made me. The other characters I felt I knew well, but Finn is such a vital character, he should have had more depth.

Despite the flaws, this book is worth your time. It's beautifully written and sensual, and the plot was well done. Switching constantly from Finn's and Claudia's points of view was a way that the author added loads of suspense and plenty of cliff-hangars. Anyone with imagination will be intrigued. This book made my view of fantasy a more positive one.

Expertly planned out, Incarceron will keep you guessing as you turn page after page.
3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Aries Rising by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Whether you're into astrology or not, Aries Rising by Bonnie Hearn Hill is one to check out. The first book in the Star Crossed series is the one I'm reviewing.

Logan McRae can't stand her life. She's a nobody, a shy sophomore, but has a passion for writing. Her high school is giving away a fellowship to the summer writing camp of her dreams, but only one student gets it, and Logan knows she has no chance against some of the more prominent writers in her class. Her chances are even worse because she knows her teacher Mr. Franklin, the one deciding who snags the fellowship doesn't like her at all. Not to mention that Nathan, the hottest guy at school, won't give her a second look after kissing her the other week.

So when she stumbles across a book called Fearless Astrology, she figures she has nothing to lose. Logan learns more and more about how people under different astrological signs work, and how to figure them out. She becomes deeply interested in reading the stars. Soon, her life is transformed. She works her way into Nathan's heart. (She wins over this Leo by giving him attention and flattery.) She gets on good terms with Mr. Franklin (a Taurus) by making him care about her. Her astrology column in the school newspaper is a hit. Logan knows she now might have a chance at the writing fellowship. Soon, more people at school take notice of her, and she becomes popular by her remarkable knowledge of astrology.

But there's a mystery involved: a gang of students who call themselves the Gears of War have been playing pranks on the school. Logan knows that with the help of the stars, she might be able to figure out who the Gears are, and is soon predicting the future. But when the pranks go from immature to dangerous, Logan knows she better act fast before it's too late.

This book was a fabulous read for people who are into astrology, and for those who want to learn more about it, it's totally informative. But the story is decent enough that those who don't like it will still be entertained. You definitely learn a lot.

I liked watching Logan go from a nothing to an astrology star, it was interesting how she was able to figure out her friends (and enemies) just by knowing their birthday. I didn't feel that her character really stood out, but then again, she is a shy girl at heart. Logan's a person we can relate to, with dreams of her own. The ways she won over people by knowing what traits they valued later revealed her to be strategic.

As for the mystery element, it wasn't too hard figure out who the Gears of War were, but I still found myself getting chills when they threw a rock through a window to threaten Logan. Observant readers will identify the gang members sooner than she does. But it had a surprise twist at the end, which was bizarre but fine with me, even though I thought it was a little odd.

This book flowed along nicely, and it reminded me of a book ABC Family might base a show on. (There is, of course, no show planned, but if they added more drama and danger to the Gears, it could be!)

Interesting, informative, compelling. Astrology buffs will adore it, anti-astrologers have a chance of liking it too.
3/5 stars