Spring Catch-Up

Once again, I’m trying a new layout for my wrap-ups, and I’m thinking of also switching them to being seasonal rather than monthly, at least at times (like now) when I’m not reading all that much… Let me know what you think! 😊 I did post a wrap-up of my March reads, so this post has everything that I read/listened to in April and May – a total of six novels, two audiobooks, and one (very short) comic:

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

When Anxiety Attacks by Terian Koscik. A short, autobiographical comic about Koscik’s experience with anxiety, and her decision to see a therapist, along with a call for others not to feel ashamed or embarrassed to do the same, if they feel that it would help them. This was super-short, but it conveyed its message very well, and the cute artwork made it really fun to read, too. 😊
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce. One of the later books in Pierce’s Emelan series, as well as my audiobook purchase for March. This is one of my favourite books of all time; I love the story and the characters, and how the four main characters have all changed after their years of separation make for a lot of tense, emotional re-thinking of their relationship. One thing that struck me this time through was how childish Sandry was at times in comparison to the others… Of course, she is a child, so it’s not entirely surprising, but I don’t remember ever really noticing it before… The performance was also excellent: Pierce took the narrator’s role, while the characters were each played by different voice actors. I did find that the actors who played Tris and Daja had quite similar voices (for a while I even thought that they were the same person), but they differ so much in personality that it was only occasionally difficult to tell which of them was speaking.
The Four Swans by Winston Graham. The sixth book in the Poldark series, which takes place in a small Cornish mining community, and follows the titular Poldark family – though the number of protagonists has been steadily increasing as the series goes on, and characters whose names are not Poldark have been becoming much more significant to the story. Obviously since this is a sequel, I can’t say too much about the plot, but it remains very exciting. I’m very glad that Morwenna’s plight has not been forgotten, and her younger sister Rowella is also an interesting addition to the cast; while I’m definitely rooting for her, and am frequently concerned for her, I’m still not entirely sure how much I like her… 😓 Ossie continues to be super-disgusting (as I talked about in another recent post), and the feud between Ross and George takes some unexpected turns in this book, too. I can’t say I found it quite as good as The Black Moon, but it was a little less anxiety-inducing to read… the Poldark series as a whole has a tendency towards drama that is probably not good for my heart, but definitely keeps me invested! 😋
Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell. A fantasy novel set in a society where magic-users, known as Jan’Tep, rule absolutely, while the magic-less Sha’Tep live lives of subservience, regardless of their own preference. Our protagonist Kellen is the son of a prominent Jan’Tep family, but with his sixteenth birthday rapidly approaching, and his magical abilities having been growing steadily weaker all his life, he has to come up with an incredible con in order to avoid the fate of becoming a Sha’Tep. I found the premise of this book really, really interesting; the tension between the different social classes, and the very real possibility of Kellen failing his trials both lent themselves to a potentially epic storyline – but while I did think that Kellen’s personal journey was very compelling, I found that the world-building wasn’t strong enough for me to feel any investment in the story beyond its immediate effects on Kellen… Ferius (probably the most important of the supporting cast) also felt quite convieniently-forced-in-for-the-convenience-of-the-plot at times, which was disappointing, although I did like her as a character. I did enjoy the book enough to continue with the series, though it’s a shame that (in my opinion) it didn’t quite live up to its potential.
Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell. The sequel to Spellslinger, in which Kellen leaves home with Ferius, and the squirrel-cat Reichis in hopes of learning the Argosi way, but is soon caught up by a mysterious girl called Seneira, who seems to have contracted Shadowblack as a disease, despite having no magic to speak of. The beginning of this book was quite slow, but I found myself really enjoying it once the plot got going (around the time they reach the University). The new characters that were introduced were all a lot of fun, and although I’m disappointed that the new setting meant that my world-building issues from Spellslinger haven’t been fixed yet, I remain hopeful that they may be eventually, as apparently this is going to be a six-book series. Book 3, Charmcaster, is out already, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to read it sometime soon. 😊
Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce. The first book in the Circle Opens quartet, which is set in Pierce’s Emelan universe, and follows Sandry a few years after the Circle of Magic books, now with her magical qualifications, and a student of her own to teach – whether she feels ready for it or not. I’ve read this book several times before, and still love the story and characters just as much as ever. I decided to listen to it as an audiobook this time (I’m slowly making my way through the whole of Audible’s collection of Tamora Pierce books), and it definitely wasn’t a mistake; the whole cast did an excellent job. 🎶

*Not including re-reads.

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Review: Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder (Spoiler-Free)

Some years ago, a devastating plague broke out across the fifteen realms, and healers were blamed for the quick spread of the disease. Avry of Kazan was never able to complete her training as a healer, yet she now finds herself the only one of her kind remaining, as the never-large guild has been mercilessly hunted down, and its members executed. And this could easily have been Avry’s fate, too, had it not been for the interference of Kerrick – her rescuer, but also her captor, and sworn to a prince she despises.

I really, really wanted to like this book. The premise sounded interesting, and I loved Poison Study, so I know I at least am capable of enjoying Snyder’s storytelling – though none of the books of hers that I’ve read have quite lived up to the brilliance of that first one. And Touch of Power did start out quite strong; Avry was quickly established as a likeable character, living in times that were difficult for everyone, but for healers in particular, their persecution entirely unjust – at least as far as Avry can discern. The nature of Avry’s healing powers – taking the injuries of others upon herself – also lends itself to the possibility for some great internal conflict, especially when combined with the deadly presence of the plague…

Sadly, however, the vast majority of the story was just boring. A good chunk of the book was spent with our heroes wandering around various different (indistinguishable) forests, and occasionally going on a short mission, or visiting a town, neither of which (usually) added anything to the overarching plot… And almost all the major twists and turns of the story were utterly predictable, from Avry’s romance to what was clearly supposed to be a shocking betrayal near the end of the book, but was in fact obvious from the moment the character in question first opened their mouth.

In fact, Touch of Power‘s biggest surprise for me ended up being the reason for Avry’s reluctance to heal Ryne, and that’s only because it seems so petty. Granted, rumour doesn’t paint Ryne as the nicest man in the world, but we’re led for a long time to believe that Avry has a powerful, personal reason to believe that the world is better off without him in it – and it would have to be a strong reason, because it’s made clear that she’s willing to risk her life to heal others, even those she doesn’t know.

The worldbuilding – one of the greatest strengths of Poison Study – was also sadly lacking here. There are thirteen different kingdoms in Touch of Power‘s world, and although Avry and her companions only travel through a handful of them, the lack of distinct environments is notable. I’ve already mentioned that there’s a lot bland forests, but they’re accompanied by bland mountains, towns and caves, with the only places that really managed to set themselves apart being the healers’ hidden archives, and Tohon’s palace, which is unusual by virtue of being the only single place that Avry explores in detail. I did see some potential in the Death and Peace Lilies (giant flowers that are identical in appearance, but one is harmless, while the other will eat you alive), but while they were conceptually very cool, they seemed mainly to act as a deus-ex-machina in execution.

As a protagonist, Avry was reasonably likeable, but somewhat inconsistent. I said earlier that I thought her reason for hating Ryne wasn’t worth the amount of energy that she put into it, but since she did hate him so much, I found it rather frustrating that she seemed to change her mind about healing him so easily – and that malleability was a trend throughout the book…

In terms of character development, she (and Kerrick) had a token amount, but the supporting cast were entirely forgettable (it’s been a few weeks since I finished this book, and the only reason I remembered Avry’s name was because it was in the series’ title; everyone else I had to look up). Two of Kerrick’s companions – Belen and Flea – had a decent chunk of screen time, but Loren and Quain could have been removed entirely without consequence to the story progression or even character interactions. Lack of screen time was a problem for a lot of the other characters, too, as they tended to flit in and out of the story quite rapidly, leaving little time for the reader to get to know them (or even want to)… Except for Tohon, who was incredibly one-dimensional, but did at least feel genuinely threatening.

[A brief aside about Tohon: Why does his power make him so irresistible to Avry? Presumably it’s due to some kind of reaction between both of their magic, because it doesn’t seem like attraction/mind control is anything that would be intrinsically linked to a person’s life-force. And why does he even want Avry to sleep with him so badly? Just to annoy Kerrick? I wouldn’t be surprised, but the weird rivalry between the royals in this book was another thing that annoyed me, mainly because I found the boarding-school-for-royals idea so out of place in this medieval-style setting… Anyway, my point is that Snyder spent far too much of this part of the book on Avry trying to resist Tohon’s advances, which really derailed the (already kind of all over the place) story, right as it was supposed to be reaching its climax.]

Given everything I’ve said so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if you all thought I hated Touch of Power, but I didn’t; I just found it disappointing, and a big part of that disappointment is my own fault for expecting too much. It was a quick and easy read, and never completely unenjoyable, and although it left me feeling mostly apathetic, fans of Snyder’s other books (as opposed to just Poison Study) may be more inclined to like this one, too. And that glimmer of potential from the book’s original premise is still there, unrealised, so I won’t say that there’s no hope for the series going forward – even if I’m not likely to stick with it myself.