Tag Archives: tamora pierce

Review: Tempests and Slaughter

I approached Tempests and Slaughter with a healthy amount of both caution and interest. On one hand, it was more of Numair and that always makes me happy. He and Daine are my OTP in Tortall. On the other hand, this is a prequel. I was going to have to put up with Valarie, guaranteed, and with one of the worst villains in Tortall history being viewed as an okay guy. Blegh. But I finally knuckled down and read it. While I don’t regret it, it definitely wasn’t what I expected either.

Not yet Numair Salmalin, Arram Draper is a young boy at the College of Mages in Carthak. Tempests and Slaughter tells of his late childhood/early adolescence, as he rises with the ranks of powerful mages with the growth of his Gift. As he grows farther away from his family and home in Tyra, he has to learn not only who he is and what he can tolerate, but also who his friends are becoming. In the end, plague hospitals and arenas decide for him where his limits are. Now if only he can bring his only two friends, Valarie and Ozorne, along with him.

So, let’s get it out of the way. I love Tamora Pierce’s writing. I’ve had my style compared to her a couple of times, and it always makes me squee because she has such a way with prose that it just flows, smooth and clear. Thankfully, she spared my overly imaginative butt too much medical in the hospitals, but the way she did it is very real to how people who are in those professions describe how they feel after it is over. I really valued her return to third person and in normal chapter format. It wasn’t so heavily cluttered with slang that I needed the dictionary in the back just to wade through until I adjusted to the dialect, but it was there enough to carry the culture of the world across. It was a little different, because the narrator is a boy for the first time for an entire book rather than a short story, but after a couple of chapters, I managed to fall in with it. I think it’s interesting how she keeps exploring new formats and narrators, rather than sticking to formula.

World building wise, she had some room to play and it shows. Carthak was barely hinted at beyond the capital during the Immortals quartet, and while some of the short stories have touched on other countries as part of the empire, we haven’t seen all of it. There’s a curious mixture of African cultures, and I use that term in relation the continent as a whole. At times, I see the south and the tribal influences, but further north it is reminiscent of Egypt and it’s interactions with Europe. I also saw bits of South Africa, if only because of the way the ruling class appears to be of light skin versus…everyone else. This is also the first time we saw how a mage was trained, from the ground up and without pesky fighting training to overlap, and while at times I felt a little like the magic systems were too muddled, that is more personal taste than anything, and it was interesting to see how magecraft is taught for the Gift when there aren’t deities involved.

Characters is really where this book could have made or break for me. I knew I was going to like Arram, because I liked him as an adult. It was curious to see how clumsy and unsure of himself he was as a boy, though, and how easily swayed he was by others around him until he found his backbone. I also wasn’t suspecting his healing magic to be at the forefront, but then, his entire history is so secretive, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Valarie… Ugh. All of my problems with Valarie still exist. I mean, her “kitchen witch” label aside, she really just irks me. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t like manipulation like I see her doing, even when it is for the sake of those she considers friends, at least without some sort of moral code behind it, which I know she’s lacking in. And then there was Ozorne. He could have gone wrong very quickly, but thankfully Tamora never forgot what he was going to become. The brief flashes alone were enough to sooth me, and then she dropped his ambitions, his goal to unite everything under one Empire, and at that point I knew he was the same person we knew, it was Arram who hadn’t realized it yet. That is going to be fascinating to see continue, and I’m beyond curious to see what the tipping point will be.

As for other characters, the teachers rotated around so much, I had a hard time nailing down a favorite. I did like Yaven and how he applied something most people would consider silly to help Arram concentrate, and how that evolved into other lessons. Sebo and her ties to the crocodile god were also interesting. Oh god, the crocodile god was hilarious, I was very amused by him and his interactions. My only complaint, if you could call it one, was Preet, if only because she seemed like a plot device more than a character. The lack of mention of her to Daine in prior books also makes no sense. But then, we don’t know how Preet’s plot is going to end, so I could end up being placated.

This definitely reads to me like there’s one more book, possibly two, in this series, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quartet and I’m leaning towards just one more like the Aly Cooper books. That seems about right to me, because really this is mostly bringing some light to a mysterious back story that I’m sure fans like me have been wondering about since the first books with Daine. I can’t wait for the next book and to see where this story is going and how it will dove-tail with where we first met Numair.


Writing: Unicorns Need a Publicist

…Okay, stay with me on this one.

While I spent the last weekend sick, I had time to do some musing on my novel getting type-casted as being middle-grade, despite knowing my prose is at 9th grade reading level, my main characters are seventeen (if sometimes decidedly immature, but…teenagers), and while the goblins are ridiculous, the hobgoblin is a real threat. I also knew most of the elements I used in my query/first 10 appear in other YA and even adult fiction books, so it couldn’t be them. What did that leave me with?

Unicorns.

Now, I don’t know about all of you, but I grew up watching The Last Unicorn on repeat from the ages of 6 or 7 till…present. I love that movie. I can quote that movie from memory, and I’m due for a rewatch. And I can quote most of the Butterfly’s speech at that. Around 10, I found Bruce Coville’s A Glory of Unicorns and then his Unicorn Chronicles series. (I discovered The Unicorns of Balinor too young for it to click with me, the shortness started driving me nuts.) As a teenager, I kept hoping unicorns would feature more prominently in the Harry Potter series or in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books since they keep getting name-dropped along with the werewolves. I read the Acorna series by McCaffery, but it wasn’t the best thing ever since it was very much sci-fi and that isn’t my cup of cocoa most of the time (plus I got bored about the time the lead got a girl and gave up).

And now as an adult writer who keeps getting told her YA book is too MG in sheer concept, I have to wonder. At one point was it decided that after the age of 12, we no longer like unicorns? That they are meant to be cutsey and wootsey and pretty, but we have to grow up and start liking “serious” books that talk about the world around us, or that if we must do fantasy, shouldn’t we read about dragons, who can be both good or bad or neither and be beasts or companion?*

When I googled unicorns, I didn’t pull up images of Amalthea. I didn’t pull up pictures of fantasy artwork featuring them, like the poster that was in my childhood bedroom up until my mother sold her house four years ago. I didn’t even pull up pictures from old medieval texts, where they were trying to hash together what a unicorn looked like, and boy, were those a mess.

I pulled up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic characters. I pulled up cute, stout little chibi figures. I pulled up rainbow and glitter silhouettes. I even pull up a couple of collections of Unicornos, a collection of figurines big out of Asia with different crazy designs that reminds me of MLP in a lot of ways. Or I pull up the horn with a smile and big eyelashes underneath, which is the latest fad, particularly for these “unicorn” cakes. Worse, I pull up super cheap figurines and stuffed toys that are fine for those about age 9 and younger, but any older and you will get some funny looks.

This strikes me as odd. Now, I liked the first two seasons of MLP, but let me tell you, I’d have never admitted to that in high school. (Especially since the show got increasingly juvenile after Faust left.) And as for what I did have… Amalthea faced hardship, and had to change the fundamental core of what she was in order to save the others. Lightfoot and his people went to war, so people could continue to be happy, could continue to have art and music and joy to their lives, for without them, humans were a sad, miserable lot. I wasn’t embarrassed about enjoying those characters, because I knew that they could withstand the scrutiny. Yes, I was able to immerse myself in a fantasy about unicorns, about creatures called to young girls mostly, but they weren’t these one-dimensional ideas, they were actually people with personalities and flaws and growth.

So that now leaves me with a question. Has the world changed? Have teenagers decided they are too old for unicorns, that they don’t need the ideals but instead need the dark and the gritty reality of their world, or only knights and dragons? Or have we, the adults, just decided that they don’t need it anymore? That it’s just a security blanket of childhood, and that there is no depth to be found there?

I hope it’s the latter, and that we can change it. Because I don’t know about you all, but I still need unicorns. I still need to believe in something fundamentally good…even if some of them are jerks, like Moonshine, or a little too interested in fighting, like Sunny will grow up to be.


The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks Review

Derp. I was so busy with the subject of tomorrow’s post that I forgot to type this up. Oops?

That said… *whines* I don’t wanna review this! It isn’t a story, it’s a political agenda pretending to be teen fiction! Ugh. Oh well, here we go anyway. If someone isn’t going to say it, I guess I will.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (God, ain’t that a mouthful?) follows a teenage girl, the title’s Frankie, who has finally blossomed like all teenage girls wish to–spectacularly. She gets the cutest boy in the school for a boyfriend, considers herself in love with him, and everything seems to be looking up. But when her prince charming is sworn into a boys-only secret society dedicated to pranks, Frankie decides to take over to get her boy’s attention back and gets swallowed up in her plans until she almost can’t find what she started out wanting.

The most basic premise of the book is at least moderately intriguing. Girl trying to enter an all-boy secret organization and entering a prank war? That could be really interesting if handled well, and at least a decent start if it wasn’t. If the girl protagonist had strong motivations, and if the society was given a key character to serve as an antagonist, there would have been the bare bones of a realistic teen novel that even I would read.

Which I guess gets to characters. Frankie was set up to be the main protagonist, but… I won’t call her weak because of the traits she was given, but she is a weak character because of the way the writer conceptually set her up. She is a geek, who blossomed into a smart beauty. But she wants to run with the boys, while being acknowledged as appropriately feminine. I have no idea what her reasons were for provoking the society into a prank war, mostly because there was no consistency to her. Rather than being a solid character capable of standing on her own, “Frankie” served as a vehicle for the theme the writer was pushing. (More on that later.)

As for the side characters, well… none of them were really memorable. (I had to double check Wikipedia for names, and I hardly ever have to do that.) It doesn’t help that the pseudo-antagonist, Alpha, is first introduced to Frankie like a love interest, and then the love interest, Matthew, was completely bland. There were other characters–quite a few of them, actually–but none of them served a strong enough purpose. Really, it felt like a harem anime with as little thought was given to the introduction of characters.

I would talk about plot now, but, really, what plot do you speak of? Seriously, about half the book for me was wading to what the summary had promised me–the pranks. The summary and opening letter had a modest intro, and then listed what I assumed was only the major pranks Frankie was responsible for. It took half the book to get to the first prank, and for the record? The list is all the pranks that happen. All of them.

The only good part of the book–if I’m forced to acknowledge any of this travesty as “good”–was the world. I don’t read very much in non-fantasy worlds, and if I do, it’s usually super unrealistic, such as Heist Society or Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books. But the boarding school for Disreputable History had just enough detail to paint a clear picture, without being weighed down too heavily with unnecessary information. Even the Basset Hound Society was created in a way that at least seemed plausible to me. I guess what cinched it was the clubs. I attended a high school where “clubs” was a really loose term. While I was technically part of several, including the debate team on a technicality (thought it was really competitive speech), most of the others were just code-names for class related work. The speech and debate team was where I really found a niche, and I think that was what gave me a point of relatablility to the world.

For once, I’m going to address the author’s message. Mostly because she doesn’t leave me much of a choice. The world, the characters, and especially the plot were just props and tools for Lockhart to spread her feministic message to teen girls. I have nothing against feminism, being an equalist myself, but I also think there are better ways of conveying girl power than this mess of a book. Tamora Pierce’s character Kel, for example, or even John Flanagan’s cast of strong girls in the forms of Evelyn, Alys, Jenny, and even Pauline as a grown-up example. They don’t have to needlessly argue with the male cast, or fall into a near endless list of tropes with female characters that do more harm than good. They are simply relatable, nearly real characters that act true to their natures, and through succeeding in their trials, prove a feministic point.

I think this book’s biggest flaw is it set out wanting to convey a specific message, rather than think about what kind of person the main character had to be, putting any real work into the other characters, creating a strong story question, and then working the message in to the story in such a way it worked with all the elements without completely taking over. Lockhart just threw words on a page and called it good. Not going to cut it, in my opinion. Not going to cut it at all.

Occasionally, I stray from my land of make-believe and fantasy for a taste of so-called “reality.” I’ve found a couple of gems over the years, but then I find or get assigned duds like this one. I then proceed to jump back into mythological waters at the nearest opportunity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book about about Jesus apparently having a wife and the lost sacred feminine to finish reading.


Tamora Pierce’s Mastiff Review

I am admittedly a Tamora Pierce fangirl. I’ve been following her latest Provost’s Dog book since the title was originally Elkhound (though I’m only half-way certain I’m remembering that title right, it’s been a while). When I read the summary that involved the main character, Rebekah “Beka” Cooper’s betrothed being dead, I had to pick it up immediately just to be certain that it wasn’t Rosto.

On that front, I was both relieved and disappointed. Yes, Beka and Rosto continue to be friends, but it appears that all hopes of the irony of the best Dog (slang for city Guard)  in Corus and the Rogue having kiddies that lead to a certain future Rogue and his adventures with a Lioness are officially dead. I’m happy that Beka kept to her conventions, since one of the signatures of Pierce’s heroines is the fact they rarely do what they are supposed to do by traditional heroine standards. But still, my OTP is dead, and that is just a little sad.

As for the text itself, I found a few little contradictions with earlier books. Despite having an upset stomach just on the river in the previous book, Beka apparently takes to sea travel like a pelican? Not to mention her love of maps and various other little quirks got further exaggerated than I would have liked. Made me laugh, yes. But a couple of times I was going, “Ooookay, is she still sane?” Not to mention an animal’s name changing in two pages, which is unusually for Pierce. I also find it strange that the young prince mentioned in the text is only four. The king was already remarried in Terrier, yet it took them so long to have  a child, despite pressure for an heir? That just seems bizarre to me. That, or I’m not following the years right. It is difficult to do so with these books, perhaps because the years all blend together for Beka, another strange trait for a Dog. Gareth’s intelligence also is a little weird. Is he supposed to be some sort of genius? If so, he’s pushing it at four. Like, badly pushing it.

However, the flow of the hunt was amazing. I had wondered how she was going to top the previous book, but she did so with very little effort. It was a neat, consecutive build up, featuring lots of bits and pieces from the previous books. She obviously knew where her stories were going not just for each book, but for the series as a whole, and I have to admire that in a writer. Plus, unlike with a lot texts I’ve been reading lately, I didn’t catch on to who the traitor was, and I actually had to reread the book and then the rest of the series for it to be okay with me. It just takes you so by surprise, it takes a lot of little clues from not only Mastiff but also from Terrier and Bloodhound for it to sit right with the reader.

Character wise, I liked the new mage, but his personality’s shifting was confusing. I understand not wanting anyone to really know who he is or how powerful he is, but at the same time there got to be a point where as the reader I didn’t know who he was, despite Beka knowing. That might be a problem with the story being in first person, but it might also be a fluidity to his character that is just a little too much when combined with the constantly changing setting. I did like the further characterization of Sabine, and the beginnings of wild magic being discussed. That was just awesome sauce. Drummer and Steady were just as endearing as Peachblossom in their own way, despite having less face time than him, and Saucebox just made me laugh.

Pounce’s characterization remained interesting. You really had no idea how much he dabbled until this book, or how his relation with the gods worked. We still don’t have a good idea, which I like, but at the same time we have a deeper understanding that is harder to articulate. His bond with heroes isn’t as unique as we might think, and I would like to see some of his other companions, such as the one he tells Beka and the other Hunters about.

Overall, Mastiff is a fitting conclusion to Pierce’s first dabbling in diary-format. I can’t say that it’s better than her novels, but she had an interesting way of using the format to her advantage. I’m curious to see which she uses for the next book in her line-up, diary or standard novel. (Inwardly, I’m hoping novel. It’s easier to keep straight and get descriptions without sorting through slang.)