Saturday, October 9, 2010

Two Capsule Reviews: "The Crowfield Curse" by Pat Walsh and "No Such Things As Dragons" by Philip Reeve (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

As I've mentioned one of my favorite things to do is to read some of the middle grade fantasy books. After all our interest in fantasy has to be sparked at some point in our lives. So I always will reserve a little time to read some of what is considered "Middle Grade" fantasy/Sci-fi. Here are two of my more recent reads, "The Crowfield Curse" by Pat Walsh and "No Such Thing As Dragons" by Philip Reeve.

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh
Order Crowfield Curse from Amazon Here

The setting is 1347 and Will is an orphaned boy who is forced to work amongst the Crowfield monks. One day as Will is given the task of gathering firewood in the forest he comes across a small creature who has been wounded by a fox trap. Although the creature looks like a small cat it is anything but a cat it turns out to be a hobgoblin and not every human can see him.

As a favor to Will for rescuing him, the hobgoblin reveals a secret that the Abbey has been keeping for over 100 years. In the back of the abbey, buried deep below the ground is an Angel. This secret brings a lot of questions up for Will. How can an Angel die? What secrets does the Abbey hold that he doesn't know? What could be so evil to actually kill an Angel? And who is this strange man that is visiting the abbey when the abbey hasn't had visitors in years? Is Old Magic making a come back?

The Crowfield Curse was a bit of a mixed bag for myself. While the story and plot seemed interesting, the novel was written in a very middle grade style. The font in the book is huge and the chapters are about 5-10 pages long making this a really quick read.

So here is what made Crowfield Curse a mixed experience for myself. First, the novel starts off very slowly. It details things that I had already learned on the back flap of the book. It wasn't until the halfway point that readers were introduced to other elements outside what was already told. Once those elements were given the book really did pick up. The characters have a bit of personality but don't expect anything too deep or detailed.

What I really enjoyed about Crowfield Curse was the mixture of a medieval setting, the fey and Christian themes. While the Christian themes were spread throughout the novel, it didn't seem forced and really worked for the story. I thought the whole last half of the book was a unique twist and combo of Old Magic and fey stories.

If you are looking for an easy read or children's story that is fairly well written, then Crowfield Curse will give you that. It is a first book of a series and I look forward to what Old Magic will be springing up on Will in the next novel.

The Crowfield Curse stands at 336 pages and was released September 1, 2010 by The Chicken House, a division of Scholastic. It is a mixture of medieval abbey, mystery, old magic and Christian lore.

No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve
Order No Such Things As Dragons from Amazon Here

Ansel is a mute boy who is sold by his father to a dragon hunter. Ansel has been mute ever since his mother died a number of years ago. Brock is the dragon hunter who goes from village to village in shiny armor, telling tales of how he destroyed dragons and hunted them down. Although Brock tells these villages that he hunts dragons, everyone knows there really is "no such thing as dragons".

While Brock takes Ansel to a small village in an effort to dupe a village into believing he is hunting dragons, Brock and Ansel run into a mysterious creature that really does look like a dragon. But it can't be a dragon, because dragons don't exist..... or do they?

No Such Thing As Dragons is 192 page novel that was released September 1, 2010 by Scholastic, Inc.

I'm a dragon lover and have been for a while. Give me any book with a dragon and I'll read it. I've even been known to read picture books with dragons! However, this novel just didn't do it for me. Here's why.

There is a lot of emphasis on religion. While it didn't bother me, it was really packed in there. I sorta felt that, the time that was focused on religion could have been spent on something else like developing characters. I just don't believe in a book that is geared for grade 4 through 6 there should have been such an emphasis on God and the Devil and why these things were part of the Devil.

The major drawback for myself was that this whole book was almost told to the reader. It didn't feel as if I was experiencing the story with the characters and instead I was told what had happened to them. There is very little dialogue and at one point in the novel it jumped between 4 different characters in a 2 page span. It just seemed like so much was packed into the novel in such a short space.

The good parts of the book were the descriptions of the travels. Such as when the characters were on the mountain. I loved the descriptive feel of the book and just wished that there was some dialogue mixed in with it.

This is definitely a short, quick book for young readers. There isn't anything that really stands the book out from any other books about dragons but it would be a great intro reader for younger readers looking for a mystery and easy read.

"Skywatcher" by Jon Connington (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Jon Connington Website
Order "Skywatcher" HERE (Kindle) or HERE (multiformat ebook)
Read About a Quarter the Novel HERE
Read FBC Review of Field of Fire

INTRODUCTION:I found out about the author's debut Field of Fire from a review inquiry for FBC and I liked the book so much that its conclusion, Skywatcher became one of my top awaited books of the second half of 2010. Sadly after a pretty strong novel almost to the end, the author blunders badly and takes the book and series one notch down.

Armies gather on the horizon. A world on the edge of destruction A hero faces the ultimate choice.Driven onward by his quest for revenge, Macsen has come the Kingdom of Audran, There he joins with the Order of the Skywatchers to bring down Goren, the mage responsible for the destruction of his village. Armies gather in the wilds of the Upper Airs, as Goren readies the final step of his plan to destroy the world and then remake it in his image. Battle rages in the killing skies, swords and magic clash. And the fate of the world lies in the hands of one man.
SKYWATCHER: the thrilling conclusion of The Storm at the Center of the World!

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Skywatcher" stands at about 325 pages and has two main threads. The main storyline follows Macsen and Zofera whose paths meet as expected when Macsen comes to Vorsenn.

The second thread follows Goren (aka Ornezo) whose failure to plunge the continent of Tamistal in flames by intrigue, leads him to use direct force by uniting the equivalent of barbarian tribes of the story that live in the inhospitable Upper Air and bringing them to pillage and kill freely in the middle realms.

"Skywatcher" is fantasy adventure and the second installment and conclusion of the Storm at the Center of the World series.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Skywatcher picks up where Field of Fire ends and continues the saga of Macsen, Zofera and the renegade mage Goren to the end. The writing is very energetic and there are a lot of cool descriptions and action scenes, though the story is predictable. The author carries it with panache but the ending is quite disappointing and takes away from an otherwise great series, so overall the duology is less than I expected based on the first volume; sometimes you need to be able to maintain the emotional balance, not only the story pace and here the book fails.

It is very hard to avoid spoilers in discussing why I think the ending diminishes the novel a lot, but the strength of the series are in its exuberance and "over the top action scenes", rather in any "realism" - after all it has floating countries, good pirates, wise mages - so while the novel has drama and some dark moments, they are clearly "make-believe" and there is no moment in which the heroes are in real jeopardy, though the author's writing skill keeps the suspension of disbelief going strong.

This is of course part-and-parcel why Field of Fire
and Skywatcher for most of its length are so entertaining, rather than a negative, since this is where the series stakes its territory from the beginning. So there is an emotional balance, not only a storyline one and breaking it at a given point is just arbitrary rather than edgy, so to speak. You can pull off the ending of Skywatcher - and for example Ironroot by SJA Turney does very successfully something similar though in a different context - but you need to adjust slowly the balance throughout the book, rather than dropping the axe so to speak at the end.

Incidentally, if the author is determined to end the book the way Skywatcher does, still abruptly and without any adjustment, there is another possibility by carrying the story forward in time with an epilogue and doing it there, which is more acceptable and has been done in quite a few of my favorite novels like say The Player of Games or even SJA Turney's debut fantasy Interregnum.

Skywatcher (B) was what I expected and more almost to the end, but then the author dropped the ball badly in misjudging the emotional balance of the novel and while it did not quite ruin my experience of the series, it definitely took it a notch down.