zaterdag 8 maart 2014

Review: Daniel Abraham, The Dragon's Path (The Dagger And The Coin, #1)

As I have mentioned in last week's #FridayReads-post, and plainly visible on my GoodReads page, I am currently reading The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham. Since I'll be finishing it one of these days and will review it, I thought it useful to post my review on the first book in the series here, so to get a complete set of reviews in the end. This particular review is some two years old, I guess.

Expectation is a peculiar thing. Whenever I start a new book, I have some expectations of it, according to the specific (sub)genre, the author, reviews etc. The trick, however, is to not let your expectations get to high because it can ruin a book. I’ve mentioned in a previous review that starting with nigh to none expectations can make you really enjoy a book. The opposite, on the other hand, is also true. When you expect more than the book is able to deliver, it turns out a little disappointing. That is exactly my experience with The Dragon’s Path. I wanted it to be as amazing as your average George R.R. Martin, but it couldn’t quite deliver.

All paths lead to war...

Marcus' hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody's death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.
Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation's wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.
Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path-the path to war.

The fact that it wasn’t able to be another Martinish book (*), wasn’t the only problem I had with this book, however. As for the plot, I still can’t really tell what the book is about. I don’t mind not knowing where a book is going, as long as it is going somewhere and here, I didn’t feel like it was really going somewhere.
The book starts off really well though. The prologue is really interesting and sparked my attention. The character who was introduced there, however, doesn’t return until the epilogue, as well as reference to the fascinating trick he pulled in the first couple of pages. Granted, he does make an appearance, but it’s not until the second half of the book that you really know who he is and the cool spidery thing he did isn’t mentioned once (**). I can’t help but feel a bit cheated because of that. I was really looking forward to that particular character and his weirdness but I just never got it. What we do get, is four story arcs who are represented by four different POV’s. At first, I was really interested in them all, but after some chapters, it all slowed down to a terrible pace and I became frustrated. Frustrated because what I was reading wasn’t as interesting as the prologue and frustrated because it was all so slo-o-o-ow. The things that did happen throughout the book weren’t really interesting and it wasn’t until the end that the pace started to pick up and things became slightly more interesting. It would have been better, for me, if these events were placed within a wider frame. The main part of this book consists of worldbuilding, but even though there is a huge amount of it, it doesn’t suffice to give me a proper understanding of what’s at stake. Why should I care who wins and who’s on the Severed Throne? I didn’t know and still don’t. Because of that, I felt disconnected from what’s going on. While things got more interesting towards the end, I have to say though that the way towards the conclusion felt a bit too easy for me. I like the concept and find it intriguing, but it wasn’t that well put too use. I felt like I missed some suspense and excitement simply because of this.
Luckily, the characters were very good. We get introduced to four very different characters, all with their own little storyline and there are some connections between them. Out of the four, I found Dawson’s the least interesting and by times tedious to get through. His was all about the intrigue at the court and whilst that an sich is really fascinating to read about, his vision on it wasn’t. It would have been way more interesting if Clara, his wife, was POV instead of Dawson himself. Clara is seemingly superficial, but she is cunning and shrewd. It isn’t until she becomes point of view towards the end, that I got interested in what’s going on there. Geder is a bit of a mixed bag for me. At the start, he is another Samwell Tarly. Because of the whole underdogvibe he’s got going on, I kind of liked him. However, a good part in the book, he made some decisions that made me dislike him, a lot. He might have had a big ass, but now he’s become one. That’s not to say his story gets uninteresting, cause it really doesn’t and I’m looking forward to see what future books hold in store for him. Cithrin and Marcus were by far the most interesting. I really liked their individual as well as their mutual story and the connection between them and those around. I liked the evolution of Cithrin from an insecure girl to a cunning – not in the way it is used in the book, mind – woman. Along with them, the addition of the group of actors was lovely. They really provided some comic relief, albeit in a more subtle way, that was really necessary for the novel.
As far as the writing style is concerned, I don’t have anything to complain about. Really strong writing, able to engage and make you care. It’s not too elaborate nor difficult, so that was all good.

Because of those things concerning the plot that irked me, I feel like I’ve read a really long introduction to what seems like a really interesting series. I felt like this book was really promising, but couldn’t quite deliver. It did build up to something, though I don’t know to what and I guess that’s something that will be addressed in the second book. I was already convinced, but the epilogue made me really want to read the sequel. What I won’t do, however, is set the bar too high, cause I don’t want to end up liking the book less than I would want to, as was the case here.

Fancy walking the Dragon's Path yourself? Walk the walk here!
(*) The Martin-quotes on the cover also didn't really help to contain expectations... 
(**) I'll forever remember the day I put spiders and cool in one and the same sentence without the use of a verb of destruction. A day like that hasn't occured ever since.

donderdag 6 maart 2014

Between The Pages: It's Madness

It's that time of the year again. March. The month where books grab each other's spine, rip out their pages, kick, grunt, tear, cry, snivel... All to get on top. All the be the one. This year's March Madness Champion.

For the seventh year in a row, HarperCollins Canada is hosting the March Madness, a competition in which 64 books battle it out in four divisions, in the hopes of becoming this year's victor and to forever claim a spot on the Shelf of Fame.
Every week, the books are paired two by two and the one who ends on top at the end of the week - through public voting, once every hour - moves on to the next round. How fun is that?! If you're Canadian, things get even more fun, cause you can win the whole bookish lot.

Since we at The Paper Dragon and Inklingstime are Belgian - although, once every year, we are Pretend-Canadian for one whole month - we're not playing for the big prize. For us, it's pure fun! Drawing our own charts and betting on our favourites, trying to outscore one another (*) and just rooting for some of our darling books. March Madness, an apt name I think.

The whole lot of 64 books is up for view - and vote! - via the link to the March Madness. But let me just share a few of the books I'll be rooting for this year.

Division Middle Earth
The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, while a Fantasy classic, not my favourite book. Still, I'm voting for it since I have some good memories of this as a whole and, besides the fact that it's not The Most Brilliant Book In The Entire History Of Manking And Beyond, it's still good!
Garth Stein's The Art Of Racing In The Rain is one of the few books that made me cry. A frequent competitor in the Madness, so it's time for Enzo to go all the way and race to the championship!
Room by Emma Donoghue was a very moving read. Disturbing, gripping and leaves a lasting impression.

Division Wildwood
Neil Gaiman's The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a book I have not read, yet, but solely based on the other offerings from Mr. Gaiman, this is bound to be absolutely terrific and thus a big competitor.

Division Narnia
The Golem And The Jinni by Helene Wecker is another book that's still resting on my TBR, but just like gravity, everytime I come near it, it pulls me closer. Will be a soon-TBR, I think.

While there are other books - whom I've actually read and enjoyed - that look like they will be fierce competitors and go far, these five should try to go all the way. In which case there will be a Division Finale between LotR and Racing in the Rain (I hope!), where I hope the latter takes Division Victory and move on to the semi's.
Other big contenders are, in my opinion, Divergent (Veronica Roth), Blood Gospel (James Rollins), NOS4A2 (Joe Hill), Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel), The Book of Negroes (Lawrence Hill), Shatter Me (Tahereh Mafi) and Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walters).

Are you playing along? Who are you rooting for?

(*) Why yes, we even made up our own scoring system, with points awarded for a correct bet, bonus points for favourites who are going through, ...

dinsdag 4 maart 2014

Review: Marie Lu, Legend (Legend, #1)

The vast amount of dystopian fiction that has been produced in recent years is almost unbelievable. Not all that glimmers is gold though, and while a lot of these books sound really exciting, few are really worth the time, I think. Which means that I’m picky when it comes to buying these books cause I’m not an unconditional fan of the genre (*). I do like to stroll the shelves in the library and pick them up for a read. Just for – free – fun (**). Thus so it happened that I stumbled upon Legend and it got me intrigued, cause I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book upon its release some years past (***). It’s about time to see what the fuss is all about.

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. 
Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. 
But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

As is the case with most dystopian novels, the plot is actually nice, although not terribly original nor exciting. The idea behind the military society and the plague-subplot makes for a good read. The worldbuilding, however, isn’t what it should be. There is constant mention of the Republic and the Colonies, but it’s never explained who is who and why. It’s not that I want to know it all right away, but some initial worldbuilding to place the events in a bigger picture would have been nice. Now, it’s just confusing bordering on messy and it's hard rooting - or even trying to sympathise or even understanding - for someone's cause if you do not know the basics of it all.
The basic premise of Legend brings us two main mysteries. First and foremost, the search for Metias’s – June’s brother – killer, and second, the truth about the plague. Sadly enough, both mysteries are solvable halfway through the book, which leaves you with two protagonists stumbling about trying to figure out what you know all along. The hints that are being dropped are so big, it’s a real effort from their side not to have seen them. The way June uncovers the truth was a bit weird and I don't know how I feel about that, though (****). The conclusion as well, was fairly predictable, but nonetheless, it was enjoyable to read. Also, while the solution is at hand and the characters have a certain amount of understanding, nothing really got solved and they just made a bigger mess of things.
Talking about messmakers, Legend is told through the perspectives of June as well as Day, and their POV’s alternate chapters. Every chapter mentions which POV you are reading from, which is a good thing seeing as there is almost no difference between June’s voice and Day’s. If it weren’t for the chapter titles, you’d have a hard time figuring out who was POV. June as well as Day are prodigies, and while there is nothing wrong with that, you’ll have to give them an edge to make your characters interesting. Unfortunately, June nor Day holds that edge and they come across as flat and utterly unbelievable. Sure, June might be a prodigy, but she’s only fifteen and being so high up the ranking just doesn’t match with the way society is structured. In the midst of all the military control and trying to contain everyone and everything – and going to horrible lengths in order to achieve it – they hand a lot of responsibility to a girl of only fifteen? Beats me. Day’s bag of tricks comes across as unbelievable as well. Climbing up the walls of buildings – with a butchered knee – in mere seconds? Sure he’s not Clark Kent or Spiderman? Another thing that struck me as bordering on the unbelievable was the romance. On a scale ranging from insta-love to a beautifully developing relationship, this one fell on the wrong side. Luckily, the romance really took the backseat here.
Despite my annoyance with the characters and the predictability of the plot, this books wasn’t all bad, mind you. In fact, I quite enjoyed reading it. It’s fast paced and exciting, and Marie Lu’s writing style is simple and clean, which keeps you reading. There is also a nice balance between exposition and the more action-packed scenes and the exposition was limited so the story never dragged on and on.

Legend has gotten some hype a while back - and now still, with the release of the final book - and while I’m not convinced that the hype was totally justified, I had quite a good time reading this book. While it is predictable and the characters don’t interest all that much, the stuff that was going on was enough to keep me reading. If I stumble across the sequels in the library, I’ll pick them up, cause I do want to know what happens next. If you want a light read between some big tomes and you've enjoyed The Hunger Games, you can’t go wrong with Legend.
All taken into account, I'd give Legend 2.5 flames, but since I don't do halfsies, I'll round it up to three. There you go!

All you Legendary people can buy your own copy, right here and support us while you're at it.

(*) And I also don't fancy having a whole shelf full of Hunger Games knock-off's.
(**) The motivation behind me reading books that aren't particularly good is still a mystery to me. They are enjoyable, I'll give them that, but isn't enjoyable AND good a better way of wasting my time?
(***) Which says absolutely nothing. I only wish half these books were half as good as The Hunger Games...
(****) Also, kudos to her for having such good eyes, cause you need an excellent pair for discovering grease on the handle of a knife - which has also blood on it, which makes it supertricky and not something for kids below 15 - on a photo you've just declared blurry and all but good for the case, and linking that same grease to a person who happened to have a smear on his body. On a military basis with lots of weapons and other machinery, no one but that person is so clumsy with the grease. Who needs Sherlock?

zaterdag 1 maart 2014

#FridayReads: Februari 28th, 2014

FridayReads is a hashtag over on Twitter where people share what they'll be reading over the weekend. I thought it would be nice to bring that hashtag over to my blog, so this way I can share what I'm reading and provide a little more text along with it.

And so Februari has come to a close, and along with it, the two books I've been reading for the last couple of days which I've mentioned in the previous #FridayReads. This brings us to today, the first of March and new, fresh books to start.

First and foremost, I've made a start in Marie Lu's Legend, first in the Legend trilogy and part of my library raid. When I chose this book last night from my library pile, it wasn't a very deliberate choice, it just looked like it would be a fast and fun read. This morning, however, the new challenge was announced by the mods of my reading club and in March, we have to read fourteen books which are part of a trilogy. Hello, Legend!
Now Legend. I've come to page 80 or so, and I was definitely right about the fast part. The fun, however, not so much, at least, not right away. It's all very confusing, at the moment, for the worldbuilding is sparse to none, so events are happening and I'm failing to grasp the importance of it or the context in which they take place. This book - and trilogy as a whole - has received quite some hype and praise, so I'm looking forward to discovering the rest of the story and delving into this post-apocalyptic world.

I don't expect to spend a lot of time reading Legend, so I've already picked the next book, which I'll start later tonight.Way back when, I made a post about fun ways to decide which book you'll be reading next and my 'fun way' is by means of a book jar - or rather book mug. Between the series I'm finishing, I pick a stray book from my mug, and last October, The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham was the lucky one. 'Lucky' isn't really and apt description, since I'm reading this book four to five months after being declared lucky, so there you go... 
The King's Blood is the second in a series of five (I think?) and while the first book - The Dragon's Path - wasn't my favourite, I'm curious to see where this story goes, cause in the end, there was a very intriguing story being told by a handful of interesting characters. Some weeks ago, the third book arrived, so I'll be reading that one pretty soon as well.

What will you be reading the next few days?