Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King

034547578x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King bounds together short stories from five bestselling authors in fantasy in one-half of a follow up volume to the first Legends anthology. Edited by Robert Silverberg, this collection sees returning authors such as George R.R. Martin and Orson Scott Card with newcomers Terry Brooks, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Haydon. All are connected to the author’s best known established universe; however the success of each story is how the reader quickly understands the universe connected to it.

The first three stories in this volume are the best of the five, whether stand alone or part of a prequel sequence, they’re success was on how minimal the reader needed to be knowledge about the author’s established universe regardless of how long their story was. The last two stories while okay-to-good suffered from the reader trying to comprehend some aspect of the established world or in the case of one story having no clue about the importance of anything given that the story was an epilogue of an entire series.

The fact that the two weakest stories of the collection finish off the book gives the overall volume a bad rap when finishing it, however the first three stories make this collection for any first-time readers of their authors. For long-time or experiences readers of any or all of these authors, these stories will be well worth the read.

Individual Story Ratings
The Sworn Sword by George R.R. Martin (4.5/5)
The Yazoo Queen by Orson Scott Card (4/5)
Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon (4/5)
Threshold by Elizabeth Haydon (3.5/5)
Indomitable by Terry Brooks (2.5/5)

Indomitable (Shannara #12.5)

034547578x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Indomitable by Terry Brooks
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This short story is my first introduction to the writing of Terry Brooks and the world of the Shannara, unfortunately as the epilogue of The Wishsong of Shannara it is probably the worst possible introduction because I have no idea about anything that is going on even despite Brook’s best efforts for those first sampling his writing.

The story follows Jair Ohmsford’s quest to destroy the last surviving page of the evil Ildatch, which his sister apparently didn’t completely destroy even though she set the whole book aflame. Jair along with Kimber and her grandfather, Cogline, who summoned him for the quest to the dark fortress of Dun Fee Aran. Once there Jair uses his illusion magic to infiltrate the fortress, find the evil book, and destroy it. Only afterwards realizing how worrying his magic really is and reanalyzing his sister’s warning of not using magic again. Overall it’s an okay story, but it probably would have been better if I had actually known anything about the Shannara universe.

Threshold (Symphony of Ages #0.5)

034547578x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Threshold by Elizabeth Haydon
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A prequel of The Symphony of Ages series, this story describes the even that ended the Third Age–the destruction of Serendair. The story follows Sir Hector Monodiere, who is the last remaining officer of royal authority on the Island as he attempts to keep order until it’s submergence by the Sleeping Child. Along with Hector are his four friends who swore to remain with him and help in mission until their own deaths.

Given that the reader knows that the Island is going to be destroyed, the conflict in the story is both Hector’s personal mission to save anyone else who hasn’t left the land and suddenly to stop the fire demons from escaping the Vault of the Underworld when he is tricked into opening up what is thought to be a mine gate in an attempt to save some of Serendair. Overall the story is an interesting one, a two quests doomed to fail though not for the lack of trying. Yet for a new reader of the overall universe there seems to be a hole of explanation that hurts the story’s power to connect.

Lord John and the Succubus (Lord John #1.5)

034547578x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A recurring secondary character in Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Lord John Grey is secretly homosexual–an important fact to know if you haven’t read the series like myself–at a time in which it was “frowned” upon to say the least. This important secret affects how John interacts with all the other characters throughout this mystery in which English, Hanoverian, and Prussian soldiers and nobles seemingly deal with the supernatural.

In and around the town of Gundwitz, a succubus is believed to be attacking men-both civilian and military. John as the liaison officer between the England and various German allies and townsfolk finds himself in the middle of the investigation. Meanwhile he is in a weird love triangle between a Hanoverian officer and a young widowed Princess, who gets really interested in him after he helps her young son not be kidnapped by “a witch”. Yet, it turns out that incident is connected to everything else going on that John has to deal with. As a mystery it keeps the reader guessing until the solution comes into focus, yet while John deals with this mystery he attempts to guess about a possible love connection as well.

The Yazoo Queen (Tales of Alvin Maker #5b)

034547578x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Yazoo Queen by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Once again Alvin Maker interacts with various historical individuals in the alternate history/fantasy version of our world in this tale written by Orson Scott Card. On a journey via steamboat, the titular vessel, to New Orleans Alvin and his apprentice Arthur travel as master and servant on a mission from his pregnant wife about something to do with her abolition efforts.

What Alvin and Arthur find on the steamboat is something completely different, a possible conspiracy to fight the Mexica with black guides for the paramilitary force; though for the half-Black Arthur it’s more about freeing the 12 men in chains that stopping a war. What complicates matters is a ne’er-do-well by the name of Jim Bowie who seems to know who Alvin actually is, but things only come to a head when Alvin, Arthur, and Bowie rescue a raft on which Abe Lincoln and Cuz Johnson are taking down river.

The Sworn Sword: The Graphic Novel (ASOIAF- Dunk & Egg #2)

1477849297-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Sworn Sword by Ben Avery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The graphic novel adaptation of the second of George R.R. Martin’s Dunk & Egg novellas, not only stays true to the originally written story but gives it life with fantastic renderings of all the characters, the locales, and the action. Drawn by artist Mike S. Miller and livened by colorist Mike Crowell, The Sworn Sword gives both Game of Thrones book and show fans a great look into the history of the Seven Kingdoms as Ser Duncan (Dunk) the Tall and the future King Aegon (Egg) V learn about the greatest threat to the Targaryen throne nearly a century before Robert’s Rebellion—the Blackfyre Rebellion.

The story begins almost two years after The Hedge Knight, Dunk and Egg are in the service to Sir Eustace Osgrey who holds a small tower but reminisces about his family’s ancient glory and his own immediate family’s misfortune. A nearly two year drought has gripped Westeros after the Great Spring Sickness—think the Black Death—resulting in water and people being short, which is when Ser Eustace’s stream disappears. After Dunk and another sworn sword, Ser Bennis, search upstream they discover that Ser Eustace’s neighbor Lady Webber has built a dam to divert the water. Soon things escalate and the two nobles begin to lob threats and promise blood vengeance as Dunk tries to find a way to make peace.

Of the work surrounding the graphic novel itself, I can only praise the work of Miller and Crowell who not only brought into visual life Dunk and Egg but so many other historically important characters in very consistent way throughout the entire book. It is hard to find fault with the work of these two men save with pointing out a few continuity errors, which unfortunately happen in every graphic novel. But when it came to the memories of Ser Eustace Osgrey about the Battle of the Redgrass Field that ended the threat of Daemon Blackfyre, the artwork is fantastic and brings the memories of the battle alive and giving justice to some of Martin’s best writing.

If you’re a fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire world and haven’t gotten this book yet I, what are you waiting for? I highly recommend this graphic novel adaptation of The Sworn Sword as well as the novella itself, you won’t be disappointed.

A Song of Ice and Fire

The Sworn Sword (ASOIAF- Dunk & Egg #2)

034547578x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Sworn Sword by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The second Dunk and Egg novella, “The Sworn Sword”, is set nearly a century before the start of A Game of Thrones, but like the first novella author George R.R. Martin expanses the historical knowledge of Westeros along with a fantastic short story. Once again Ser Duncan ‘Dunk’ the Tall and his squire (Prince) Aegon ‘Egg’ Targaryen get neck deep in a feudal clash, but one that has ties and repercussions from the great threat to the Targaryen Dynasty before Robert Baratheon–the Blackfyre Rebellion.

The story begins almost two years after The Hedge Knight, Dunk and Egg are in the service to Sir Eustace Osgrey who holds a small tower but reminisces about his family’s ancient glory and his own immediate family’s misfortune. A nearly two year drought has gripped Westeros after the Great Spring Sickness—think the Black Death—resulting in water and people being short, which is when Ser Eustace’s stream disappears. After Dunk and another sworn sword, Ser Bennis, search upstream they discover that Ser Eustace’s neighbor Lady Webber has built a dam to divert the water. Soon things escalate and the two nobles begin to lob threats and promise blood vengeance as Dunk tries to find a way to make peace.

Unlike the previous tale, The Sworn Sword takes a little longer to develop but once the story gets going both it and the backstory of rebellion more than make up for that slow start. Martin once described his writing style as ‘the tale grew in the telling’ and with The Sworn Sword the history of Westeros that later impacts the main series as well as Dunk and Egg is one of the most important parts of this story and one of Martin’s best written passages.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Jefferson’s America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation

0307956482.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Jefferson’s America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation by Julie M. Fenster
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

Early in history of the United States, the new nation found itself in a cold war not against a nation across the ocean but across the Mississippi river and the Floridian border. In Jefferson’s America, Julie M. Fenster relates how Thomas Jefferson first as Secretary of State and later as President battled with Spain to define the borders of the United States before establishing a claim on the West which would define the future of the country.

Almost a century before the United States and Spain actually fought a war; the two nations could have fought a war over Louisiana which could have been the legacy of Thomas Jefferson’s administration instead of the territory’s purchase. The Louisiana Purchase was not the event that stopped this war; it only made the likelihood more probable as the southern boundary of the territory was undefined and both nations claiming different demarcations of their respective territories. Jefferson’s solution to both keep peace and stake a claim on the West for the United States was exploration.

The journey up the Missouri, over the Rockies, and to the Pacific Ocean by the Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark is thought today to be the expedition that claimed the West for the United States. While that much heralded journey is chronicled in this book, Fenster also brings forth the effects by other explorers to study the geography of the Mississippi and southern rivers like the Red and the Arkansas. Men like Thomas Freeman, William Dunbar, Zebulon Pike, George Hunter, and Andrew Ellicott brought their own talents and personalities in exploring the frontiers of the United States and helping Jefferson make a political claim to those frontiers.

The book as a whole is well researched and overall Fenster does give the reader an view of the little known history behind the first great expansion of the United States, however there are issues that do not make this an easy read. Firstly, the first quarter of the book is rather dry and could discourage some readers who would be impressed with the later three-quarters of the book. Fenster took a chronological approach to her writing and detailed several expeditions simultaneously when they overlapped, while I didn’t have a problem with this particular set up and approach there was a drawback in that Fenster did not transition from one to the other that well which at times forced the reader to stop for a few seconds to stop and reread a sentence or two to denote when Fenster was switching from one expedition to another.

Upon completing Jefferson’s America, I found it instructive on this period of the Early Republic in not only the national and international situation but also the experiences that the explorers faced as they traveled around various points in the West.

Jingo (Discworld #21, Watch #4)

2f2715b748130f1596c4c736577444341587343Jingo by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Whenever something extraordinary happens in Ankh-Morpork, Commander Sam Vimes wishes he can just have similar street crime and not deal with politics like he does in Jingo. The fourth Watch entry of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series takes the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork to foreign parts, namely Klatch, in the pursuit of the criminal mastermind that sent two powers to war.

The ancient sunken city of Leshp rises to the surface directly in-between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch, the two ancient rivals claim the island and war fever starts spreading in both countries. To Sam Vimes and the City Watch this just makes their job harder in the multicultural city that they patrol that only gets worse when a Klatch prince comes to town to receive an honorary degree from the Unseen University and is wounded in an assassination attempt. As Vimes and Watch work on finding the perpetrators, the politics of the situation slide into the war which sends all of their suspects to Klatch in some way. And then the story really gets going, especially when Lord Vetinari takes a trip with Colon and Nobbs.

Like the other Watch books, Pratchett has fun with the idea of law-and-order and with the coppers catching the bad guy. The unusual personalities that make up the Watch continue to develop, even when some of them really don’t want to, and along the way the reader gets to have a lot of laughs at their expense. Jingo is another great book in the Discworld series and continues the great arc of the Watch subseries.

Discworld

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

1593080158.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The childhood classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass for almost 150 years have been referenced and adapted numerous times over the years, but it’s not until you’ve read the originals that you truly understand why Lewis Carroll’s work has stood the test of time.

In both stories, young Alice has fantastical adventures in two different worlds entered through portals. The adventures are well known, though most times people believe that both stories deal with Alice in Wonderland both times based on other adaptations, mostly in film and television. However, Wonderland and Looking-Glassland are completely different though illustrator John Tenniel was the first two “crossover” characters from one imaginary world to another with the March Hare and Mad Hatter as the Red King’s Messengers. It’s Tenniel’s original illustrations that really help one realize how Carroll’s stories truly became a classic while turning the Victorian “growing up” children’s genre on it’s head of realizing how absurd adult life can be.

The Barnes & Nobles class edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass is a wonderful book for those looking for classics, if you’re looking to get your hands on the original stories of Alice by Carroll then I recommend this particular edition.