Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Icefall" by Matthew J. Kirby (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Matthew J. Kirby's Website Here

OVERVIEW: After war has been declared on her father’s land Solveig, along with her brother -the crown prince and her older sister are sent to hide in a hidden fortress that is tucked between towering mountains and the frozen sea. Winter is fast approaching and once the sea freezes it could be months before the small group and those that are charged to protect them hear any news of the war.

As the glaciers and sea around them freezes, the group is faced with numerous problems ranging from small fights breaking out to lack of provisions. While waiting out the winter hints of a traitor amongst the group starts to appear. It is up to Solveig to uncover the traitor, restore order to the group, and discover who amongst them she can really trust and who is out to destroy the kingdom and the crown prince.

FORMAT: Icefall is a YA novel with hints of mystery and fantasy. While not the traditional sense of fantasy in the sense that there is no magic, there is a mysterious world that resembles the Vikings and there are hints of myths and legends that could be true.

Icefall stands at 336 pages and was published by Scholastic Press on October 1, 2011.

ANALYSIS: It’s amazing exactly what books will attract your attention and pull you in from the start. For one reason or another Icefall really grabbed my attention and had me staying up to the wee hours of the morning trying to finish this book.

Expectations going into Icefall weren’t really high. I had read Matthew J. Kirby’s debut novel The Clockwork Three and was utterly disappointed. It wasn’t so much the writing style or even the plot, but there is a continuing habit to market Kirby’s books as fantasy when in reality they are more about the characters, character interactions and emotions of the surrounding society. This was my biggest disappointment about The Clockwork Three, so I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Icefall.

Icefall is very similar to The Clockwork Three in that the plot element surrounds character development and focuses on the emotions of the characters. While there isn’t any magic, the sheer fact that Kirby created this Viking society is enough to classify it as a “fantasy”. Readers going into the novel who know not to expect a rip-roaring adventure or tons of magic won’t be disappointed.

Kirby is an excellent master at creating a main character that is three dimensional and a supporting cast that is fleshed out and detailed. From the first couple of pages there was just something about Solveig that attracted me to her. Solveig is the second daughter to the king. She isn’t extremely beautiful, and since she won’t inherit the throne her father tends to overlook her. Throughout Icefall, Solveig learns who she really is and changes from a self-conscious, quiet daughter to a confident, young woman full of self-esteem.

Fans of Norse folklore will really enjoy the various mythology and cultural elements that Kirby weaved into the story. While the country and characters are made up they very well could have been any person or culture from the Viking era.

One of the most amazing things for myself was how Kirby took an essentially small area and made it really come to life. The whole novel takes place in this secluded area that is cut off for the winter. One would think that this could lead to a boring novel as there isn’t really a change in environment or world, but Kirby really brings it to life and knows just when to unveil a new plot element so the small setting doesn’t go stale.

There is only one element of Icefall that I would change. I really wish that the ending had been more developed. I am assuming this is a stand-alone novel and the ending was wide open and left a lot to the reader’s imagination. I would have loved to see what really happened to the characters in the novel as I had formed such close bonds with all of them.

Icefall is truly a whirlwind novel about survival that is filled with heartwarming characters, mystery and intrigue. Readers both young and old will find themselves attracted to Solveig and working alongside her to uncover who the traitor is and work to get her and her family back home safely.

"A Beautiful Friendship" by David Weber (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official David Weber Website
Read the original story A Beautiful Friendship HERE
Order A Beautiful Friendsip HERE or HERE (ebook)
Read FBC's Invitation to the Honorverse Post
Read FBC's Review of At All Costs
Read FBC's Interview with David Weber (mostly Safehold)
FBC Reviews: Safehold 2 (BSRA), Safehold 3 (BHD), Safehold 4 (AMF), Safehold 5 (HFAF), and Out of the Dark

INTRODUCTION: The Honorverse occupies a special place in my affection. I have been a huge fan since I have discovered the first several books in 1994 and I have been rereading the series books quite a lot across time. Today the series is still my #1 ongoing one and each new novel is a highly, highly anticipated one. I find myself visiting Baen's Webscriptions 5 times a day when I know there is the possibility of a Honorverse e-arc for sale.

When the novelization of the short story "A Beautiful Friendship" as the start of a new YA series was announced, I was a little mixed for several reasons - while I really liked it, I am leery of prequels and I also thought the scope of this series will be limited in many ways unless the author does a complete rewriting of the early Manticoran history in contradiction with what we know from almost 25 Honorverse volumes. On the other hand, the YA label did not bother me since Mr. Weber has written several Honorverse stories with YA as main protagonists and they were all interesting and entertaining.

Stephanie Harrington always expected to be a forest ranger on her homeworld of Meyerdahl, until her parents relocated to the frontier planet of Sphinx in the far distant Star Kingdom of Manticore. It should have been the perfect new home --- a virgin wilderness full of new species of every sort, just waiting to be discovered. But Sphinx is a far more dangerous place than ultra-civilized Meyerdahl, and Stephanie’s explorations come to a sudden halt when her parents lay down the law: no trips into the bush without adult supervision!

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: There are three aspects about "A Beautiful Friendship" that I will talk about: who is the audience of the novel, the Honorverse fan or someone new to the series, how does the novel integrates with the original story and where does it stand in the detailed universe created by the author?

Before that I will just note that "A Beautiful Friendship" is a normal Weber novel, YA label aside, so the same exuberant, talkative and flowing style, the occasional info dumps and the meticulous world building combine with his usual characters: the competent heroine or hero, the bumbling villain or the able villain who just may be on the wrong side for generic - eg born into a dictatorship and a "patriot" - rather than personal flaws. Also as expected treecats star quite a lot in the novel, though their role in the main story of the Honorverse has been important too.

I read A Beautiful Friendship in a sitting and it entertained me end to end, so I would say that even if you are a huge fan of the Honorverse and read the original story several times as I previously did, you will enjoy the novel. This being said, I think that a newcomer to this superb sfnal universe will enjoy it even more since he or she will stay in suspense about the main plot of the book to the end, will discover the world of Sphinx and will wonder about the future fate of the treecats in an occasionally merciless human universe. All points that are known to any fan of the series and proving again that prequels have intrinsic limitations that even the ablest author won't be able to go around.

To my surprise, the first part of "A Beautiful Friendship" which corresponds to the original story has been expanded to include much more detail about the treecat clans before "first contact" and about Stephanie's life, so it offered lots of new and interesting nuggets and I think that Mr. Weber did a great job integrating the original text with the new stuff. This part was as excellent as the earlier short story and it is a major highlight of the novel even for people who have read the short story.

The second part which continues after first contact was more conventional - various moneyed and powerful interests do not like treecats and/or the idea of treecats being protected and "given" vast pieces of land said interests want, others want to do good but only bumble and fumble, while others have even more sinister goals and it's up to Stephanie Harrington, Climbs Quickly and an assorted cast of helpers, both humans and treecats to thwart the bad guys and put the good but bumbling guys on the right path so to speak.

This part was still engaging and while it ended at a very good point, I am curious where this series goes next. It is true that the "big picture" scope is limited by what we know from the main series that takes place some 500 years later, but who knows since David Weber is extremely good at twisting and turning the story around even when you think you know what's what. So I expect to be surprised!

Overall, A Beautiful Friendship (A+) was a positive surprise for me and my fears outlined in the introduction never really materialized except for the prequel limitations which meant that a lot what happens, has to be in a certain way. Of interest to both younger and older readers, the Honorverse fan and the casual or new Weber reader, A Beautiful Friendship is an entertaining end to end romp.