The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Discworld #28)

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Discworld, #28)The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The piped piper comes to a town in Uberwald, but finds that he’s late to the show that features cats, rats, and stupid-looking kids talking to one another. The twenty-eighth and first young adult entry of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents finds the residents—new and old, human and nonhuman—town of Bad Blintz figuring out the fine line between real life and a story. The aim to bring the same Pratchett humor that adults love to a younger audience is on target.

A mixed troupe of “rat piper” con-artists arrive just outside the town of Bad Blintz lead by a streetwise tomcat, who a clan of talking rats and a stupid-looking kid named Keith on the streets of Ankh-Morpork. But everyone is getting fed up with just going around and doing the same old thing, the rats want to find a home to build their society and the kid would like to play more music. Maurice is just interest in money and hiding the guilty for how he gained the ability to speak, but he found more than he’s bargaining for in Bad Blintz because something weird is going on even his talkative rat associate find disturbing. Soon the troupe find out that they have stumbled into a long running conspiratorial plan hatched from a surprising source.

As always, Pratchett connects his humor around a well-known fairy tale or story then completely turns it on its head when the same circumstances happen on Discworld even as the characters fight their own preconceptions when comparing “stories” to “real life”. The fact that he ably brought his unique style to a young adult market without losing any of the punch from the jokes makes this a very good book. Although some of the sections of the book were somewhat familiar to a long-time Pratchett reader does take a little away from the book, it doesn’t necessarily ruin the book for first time readers.

Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld foray into the young adult genre is classic Pratchett through targeted at a younger audience. I found it as funny as the rest of his series, but some of the plot points were simpler than his usual work for obvious reasons. However this minor fact doesn’t ruin a very good book.

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The Night Circus

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A monochromatic festival of wonder and intrigue suddenly appears in your town and you can’t wait until the sun goes down to explore it. The Night Circus is a wondrous, fantastic journey into magic, romance, and the consequences of both. Author Erin Morgenstern brought forth engaging characters and a twisting plot that keeps the reader engaged throughout the book.

The central plot focuses on Celia Bowen and Marco Alistair, who are selected and groomed to compete against one another in the book’s titular location by their instructors. Throughout Celia and Marco’s competition, they struggle not with their feelings for one another but with “the rules” of the game and how a winner will be determined but as it continues on how their competition is affecting the lives of the circus performers and those connected to the circus. As the game continues, the two youngest members of the circus—twins, Poppet and Widget Murray—and their circusgoer friend, Bailey, become more and more important as both Celia and Marco look for ways to end their competition in the safest way possible.

From the outset Morgenstern creates a wonderful, lively setting that instantly gets the reader into magical journey they are about to take. Through the use of three different temporal narrative arcs intertwined throughout the book, the whole history of the creation and running of “The Circus of Dreams” to the present-day. This creative decision produced an intricate story that while giving the whole picture of the story by the end, does unfortunately result in a reader missing some details that enhances the story making a rereading necessary. Yet, because of how good this book is, a reread in the future would be something to look forward to.

The magically wonderful tale that is The Night Circus is a festival to any reader. While the twisting, interwoven time period narratives create an amazing plot even while missing a few details in the first read; this book is solid in plot and characters making an engaging read.

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Dangerous Women 1

Dangerous Women 1Dangerous Women 1 by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first subdivision of the Dangerous Women anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois is a mix bag of both story quality and the interpretation of the phrase ‘dangerous women’. In seven stories across genres around the central theme of women who are dangerous, a reader is treated to see women in various ways only but is also forced to figure out if the women presented or alluded to are actually dangerous.

Of the seven stories featured in Dangerous Women 1 the three best at presenting both a very good story and dangerous women were Carrie Vaugh’s “Raisa Stepanova”, Megan Abbott’s “My Heart Is Either Broken”, and George R.R. Martin’s “The Princess and the Queen”. Just outside these three was Cecelia Holland’s “Nora’s Song” which had a very good story but was seen from the perspective of a little girl finding out how dangerous her mother is. These four stories were at the very beginning and the last three stories of the collection giving the anthology a strong start and finish.

However, the three stories in the middle suffered from a failure of either not being very good or not having a dangerous woman. Both Megan Lindholm’s “Neighbors” and Joe R. Lansdale’s “Wrestling Jesus” were very good stories, but the danger posed by the women either featured or more mentioned then seen was hard to detect. But the weakest story of the entire collection was Lawrence Block’s “I Know How to Pick’em” which went from having potential to falling flat by the end.

Overall Dangerous Women 1 is a mixed bag of very good stories with strong female characters, just very good stories with no danger attached to any female character, and just plain bad all around. The best that could be said is in the end the reader is the ultimate judge.

Individual Story Ratings
Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn (4/5)
I Know How to Pick’em by Lawrence Block (1/5)
Neighbors by Megan Lindholm (2.5/5)
Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale (2/5)
My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott (4/5)
Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (3.5/5)
The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin (4/5)

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The Princess and the Queen (ASOIAF- History)

dw1The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Targaryen civil war known as ‘The Dance of the Dragons’ was mythologized in Westeros by bards for almost two hundred years before the events of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. “The Princess and the Queen” offers the history of first great Targaryen civil war through the death of one of the titular characters, but unlike other Targaryen civil wars or rebellions that threatened the dynasty this one features dragons on both sides.

The titular characters were Rhaenyra Targaryen, eldest child of King Viserys I, and Viserys’ second wife Queen Alicent Hightower, mother of Viserys’ eldest son Aegon. These two dangerous women were rivals for one thing, the succession to the Iron Throne. Through oaths and proclamations Viserys had designated Rhaenyra as his heir but Alicent championed the right of her son Aegon to succeed as was Westerosi custom of sons over daughters. For years this feud was building up as Viserys grew older and everyone awaited his death with unease as it felt like a battle for the Iron Throne was sure to follow, a battle that would pit Targaryen dragons against one another.

Written as a history by an archmaester of the Citadel, Martin gives an account of ‘the Dance’ noting first the political intrigue by Queen Alicent and her father to crown her son as Aegon II, then the war of letters and ravens to gather support by the two claimants from all the great lords of the realm before inevitably blood was shed then gushed from almost every corner of the realm. Yet, while some of the narrative reads like a dry history some others describe the action of battles in such a way as to make your imagination view two or more dragons battling one another over sea and land, fighting to the death.

Although the military actions in “The Princess and the Queen” are dominated for the most part by men, it’s the decisions by Rhaenyra and to a lesser extent by Alicent throughout the conflict that make this civil war unlike any other in Westerosi history. Yet, the biggest result of this civil war wasn’t which line of succession won out but that at the end the Targaryen’s greatest claim to the Iron Throne was lost, the dragons. This factor alone has repercussions down to the time of the events of A Song of Ice and Fire in which dragons return to the world.

“The Princess and the Queen” is not like other ASOIAF related short stories, like Dunk & Egg, this is a vivid retelling of history of events that surprisingly do connect with George R.R. Martin’s main series as well as the novellas of Dunk & Egg. As a fan not only of ASOIAF material, but also an avid reader of history I really enjoyed this piece by Martin, even though it is actually much less than he originally wrote of the events of this time. But because of the heavy lean towards male characters in a collection focused on dangerous women, there is some downside.

The Last Hero (Discworld #27, Rincewind #7)

The Last Hero (Discworld, #27; Rincewind #7)The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Gods are on notice as the greatest heroes of the Disc are headed for their heavenly abode on a quest to return the fire stolen by the first hero, except there’s a catch. The illustrated Discworld novella The Last Hero is the twenty-seventh in the humorous fantasy series written by Terry Pratchett and assisted by artist Paul Kirby. And once again Pratchett follows his first protagonist Rincewind racing to save the world.

Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde have left their imperial possessions on the Counterweight continent and are heading for the home of the Disc’s Gods with the gift of fire first stolen by the legendary First Hero, unfortunately the old men are planning to blow the place to smithereens which would have the unfortunate side effect of destroying the Disc. To the rescue is Leonardo da Quirm, Captain Carrot, and a reluctant Rincewind—who only joins because if he didn’t he’d find himself on the journey by some horrible twist of fate—traveling the quickest way they can get to the abode of the Gods, over the Rim and through space. This short story is given a remarkable boost with the illustrations of Paul Kirby who brings to life so many great characters from all over the Disc, as well as two new secondary characters. Yet not only do characters get a stunning portrayal but so does the geography of the Disc as well in stunning pictures that makes you just want to stop reading and stare at them to take in all the details.

The novella itself is pretty straight forward unlike a regular Discworld novel in which little sidebars populate the narrative to humorous effect, but with The Last Hero the illustrations more than make up for that. While considered a part of the Rincewind series, the Disc’s worst wizard is more a tag along character in a story dominated by usually secondary characters. However for longtime fans this won’t be a problem given the story and the amazing illustrations.

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Thief of Time (Discworld #26, Death #5)

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26; Death, #5)Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The rules of the universe are once again being bent to endanger life, but this time it is really Time itself that is being used as the weapon of choice. The 26th installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series finds many characters quite literally being a Thief of Time from certain points of view, yet only one can truly change history.

The Auditors of Reality attempt once again to organize the universe by getting rid of life by literally stopping everything by having a clockmaker construct the perfect clock. Unfortunately for the Auditors, Death catches wind of their scheming and once against enlists his granddaughter Susan to track down someone who might be able to correct their actions. Meanwhile the Monks of Time catch wind of the construction of the perfect clock as warning sign pop up like they did the first time such a clock was constructed. While Death and Susan take their own paths towards battling the Auditors, the famous Lu-Tse and his apprentice race to stop the clockmaker. And while these heroes race to save Time, the Auditors of Reality begin to learn about what it means to be human and that sudden immersion probably wasn’t the best way to do so.

Thief of Time follows a new pattern by Pratchett in which he focused more on plot and story structure, instead of jokes that string along the story. In fact while there is humor in this book it isn’t paramount to anything connected with the plot, it’s just that some funny things happen along the way towards the climax. This isn’t to say that the book isn’t good, in fact it continues Pratchett’s string of great work but the early sophomoric humor or plain repetitiveness of some jokes are thing of the past in the series. However while the events in this book clear up various timeline anomalies created earlier in the series, it also marks the ending of the Death subseries (though he continues to make appearances) and the last appearance of Susan Sto Helit which for their fans is a major disappointment as the series would continue for 15 more books.

Yet while Thief of Time does turns out to represent the last appearance for some fan favorites, it continues Pratchett’s string of great installments of the Discworld series. For anyone who is a fan of Pratchett you’ll love this book and if you’re new to the Discworld after reading this book you’ll be interested about his earlier installments.

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Warriors 1

Warriors 1Warriors 1 by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warriors 1 brings together short stories from across all genres by authors whose only criteria were to write about a warrior. This is the one of three paperback volumes of the whole anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois in which Martin is joined in contributing by Joe Haldeman, Steven Saylor, Tad Williams, Cecelia Holland, and Robert Silverberg.

Save for the opening story, this volume is packed with great writing and stories. Of the five stories that are truly outstanding two are historical fiction, one is science fiction, and two are fantasy. Not all the stories are full of action as seen in Robert Silverberg’s “Defenders of the Frontier” is more a psychological study but still a well written and compelling narrative. Only two of the stories featured in this volume are connected in some way to established universes by their authors, Joe Haldeman’s Forever War universe and Martin’s own world of A Song of Ice and Fire. But while Martin’s “The Mystery Knight” is compelling story with action and intrigue, Haldeman’s “Forever Bound” just doesn’t seem to really connect to a first time reader of his work. I would be remiss if I forgot to praise the excellent historical fiction stories by Steven Saylor and Cecelia Holland that featured Romans, Carthaginians, and Vikings.

While the opening story doesn’t seem to connect well, the rest of the stories in this volume more than make up for it. These tales of warriors whether based in our own history or worlds far off in space or in a fantastical realm are excellent reads. The same is true for action, political intrigue, and psychological struggles. I really loved this collection of short stories and highly recommend it to those interested in get or reading this volume.

Individual Story Ratings
Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman (3/5)
The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor (5/5)
And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams (4/5)
The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland (5/5)
Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg (4.5/5)
The Mystery Knight by George R.R. Martin (5/5)

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