Friday, 30 November 2012

Venom by Fiona Paul

Venom is Fiona Paul's debut novel. It's historical YA and, in a slight departure from my usual reading, does not contain any fantasy of SF elements. It's set in historical Venice and does involve a bit of a murder mystery, so I (correctly) presumed that it would not be entirely outside my usual reading comfort zone. A copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes by Harper Collins AU via NetGalley.

Cass — Cassandra — is a Venetian noble young woman who lives with her aging aunt and has been betrothed for many years to a boy she finds a bit dull. The story opens with her friend's funeral and gets interesting when, that evening, Cass discovers her friend's body in her family tomb has been replaced by another, obviously murdered, girl. In the course of making this discovery, she meets the mysterious and somewhat alluring Falco, a painter. Together they set out to try and learn who committed the murder and why. A quest that becomes somewhat more urgent when they discover a second body. And of course, betrothed Cass falls for the roguish Falco, even though he drags her through dangerous and eye-opening situations.

The opening of Venom annoyed me a little bit. It seemed that Cass fell into the cliché of feeling trapped in a noblewoman's life and detesting sewing because it was an easy thing to complain about. I thought she ignored her fiancé's existence too readily and, from comments that her other friend made, running off with Falco on a spur of the moment seemed somewhat out of character. She also complained about corsets a lot — and they do make a good metaphor for her supposed gilded cage — but in the end her corset proved to be rather useful. And the fact that she managed to sneak away several times without too much trouble does somewhat belie the caged part.

By the end, however, Cass was annoying me less. I felt that she ultimately made some sensible choices, even if she had to make some careless and selfish ones along the way. I also appreciated that her lesson learned was a bit subtle and didn't attempt to bludgeon the reader over the head.

The other thing that bothered me was some of the modern American phrases that snuck in to the writing. The setting was pretty genuinely Venetian but there were some phrases which struck me as too modern — in the colloquial sense, rather than explicitly anachronistic — and clashed with the Italian words and phrases also thrown in.

Ultimately, I would recommend Venom to fans of YA or historical fiction. It's the first in a series, but it's quite self-contained. The only loose threads at the end are minor and I don't have much idea which direction a sequel might take. I will be interested to see where it does go.

3.5 / 5 stars

Thursday, 29 November 2012

New Booksies

New booksies! Because yay, books.

Since my last post, I have acquired:

The King's Man by Rowena Cory Daniells (review copy). It's an accompanying novella to her King Rolen's Kin trilogy which I loved. From the first couple of pages it seems to start a bit before the end of the trilogy and to follow a minor character. It's being released by Solaris soon (and is short, being a novella), so expect a review quite soon.

Two books by Sally Rogers-Davidson: The Greenhouse Effect and Concubot (which don't count towards book-buying restrictions because Lulu spammed me a discount voucher and husband felt it balanced out the Steam games he bought also on sale). I've previously reviewed Spare Parts and Polymer by her and I'm particularly looking forward to Concubot because it's set in the same world as Spare Parts.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is the author's first YA epic fantasy book. She also writes paranormal romance, urban fantasy and YA fantasy under the name Michelle Rowen. This is the first book of her's I've read and a copy was provided to me by Penguin Aus via NetGalley.

Falling Kingdoms is what I would call epic fantasy and others might call high fantasy or sword and sorcery. The YA element mainly comes across in the ages of the point of view characters (they're all 15 to 17) and the lack of sex scenes. I think it could be marketed either way (and obviously YA is a lucrative market at the moment), especially if there had been one slightly older character.

I'm afraid there's going to be some simplification of plot and setting in the following description because I'm in that sort of mood and because it can easily be simplified.

The story goes, there are three kingdoms sharing and island (which I presumed to be around the size of England + Scotland + Wales, but arranged slightly differently). One is prosperous, has a nice king and happy people. My favourite character, the Princess Cleiona, was the younger daughter of said nice king. On a trip with a couple of friends to buy wine from the poor kingdom, the young lord accompanying her kills the wine-seller's son, basically because the lord is a prat.

The dead boy's brother, Jonas, is the second point of view character. Understandably upset by his brother's death, he swears vengeance and runs around generally being hot-headed and angry. The boy's death also increases general unrest in the poor kingdom. Despite being poorly treated by their neighbours (being "forced" to grow wine for grapes instead of sensible food crops — quotation marks because no one actually head a knife to anyone's throat, merely agreed to only buy wine, and you'd think at some point food would seem more important than money) for a hundred years and living in increasing poverty for that time, it takes a random death to galvanise the people into action. I really didn't see why they didn't rebel against their oppressors sooner.

The third kingdom — which is coldest and has a cold-hearted king — sees the opportunity of unrest brewing and the king takes advantage of the situation. The point of view character is his son and heir, Magnus, with his daughter also an important character. I have to say, from the start when Magnus is introduced, he read like he would become evil. Near the start I honestly couldn't work out if I was meant to be on his side, or Jonas's or just Cleo's. There are perfectly understandable reasons for everything Magnus does, and nothing he does is particularly evil, but the way he's written, apart from a few scenes from his sister's point of view, suggests that he will be.

Of course the book culminates in war and one battle in particular, told from Jonas's point of view on the battleground. This was the section I had the most issues with. The battle wasn't particularly realistic. Jonas, who was a peasant at the start of the book, somehow managed to continuously fight for twelve hours (minus being unconscious for a bit), as did everyone else. And the knights, who were actually trained properly were growing weary while peasants, presumably also weary, still managed to keep fighting? I don't object to Jonas surviving the battle — he is a main character after all — but without eating? Without some sort of pause overnight people were still able to keep fighting enthusiastically. Also, there was a magical explosion (details removed because spoilers) which killed way more people that could plausibly have been in the blast/shrapnel radius.

That said, the battle was the main thing that bothered me. The other issues I discussed above were easier to ignore and didn't affect my enjoyment. Despite not being quite up to the depth of world building found in most of the fantasy I tend to read, Falling Kingdoms was surprisingly entertaining. I enjoyed it and I would categorise it as a fun read. It ended predictably without a final resolution and is presumably part of a trilogy. I enjoyed it enough to keep reading and I am keen to find out what happens to Cleo. And also Magnus's sister, who I'm hoping will come into her own more in future books.

I recommend this book to fans of fantasy who are looking for a light read, perhaps as a break from the heavier political intrigue of "adult" fantasy (at least, that's what I usually think of when I think of fantasy). YA readers who are interested in a taste of epic fantasy will also enjoy Falling Kingdoms. Young readers could do worse as far as introductions to the fantasy genre go.

4 / 5 stars
(It got a bonus 0.5 stars for it's enjoyable readability.)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia

Moscow But Dreaming is a collection of Ekaterina Sedia's short stories. Most of the stories were previously published in various magazines and anthologies and two, marked with an asterisk in the list at the end, are original to the collection. I hadn't read any of the stories before, though I have read Sedia's novel The Secret History of Moscow, which I quite liked. Several of the stories in the collection are in a similar vein.

Moscow But Dreaming contains twenty-one short stories, with an average length of about thirteen pages — on the shorter side, with nothing approaching novella length. I made some comments after finishing each story which originally posted in the progress report thing on goodreads to help me keep track and that I've reproduced below. (Don't expect anything overly deep from a half-sentence about each book, though.)

I would class the stories included in Moscow But Dreaming into three rough categories: stories set in Russia or the Soviet Union, non-Western fairy tales, and stories with more present-day Western settings. Of course there is some overlap, particularly if you feel foreignly about Russian fairy tales (which I don't). In general, my favourite were the Russian-flavoured stories; they resonated most with me and, as someone who grew up as much with Russian folklore as with Disneyfied Grimm and Andersen, felt both familiar and rare. Many of Sedia's stories are about mundane tragedies, everyday difficulties of lives that have rarely been easy. The result is generally sad tales of lives made better or worse by small magic. Or big magic, out of the main character's control, as a means of escape.

Some stories that stood out were "Citizen Komarova Finds Love", which started off unsurprisingly, but then took a surprisingly gruesome turn and, like many of Sedia's stories, ended sadly, as it also began. "You Dream" is written in a more unusual style — second person — and is a story where now, long after reading it, the Muscovite setting stands out most strongly. "The Bank of Burkina Faso" was one of my favourite stories and one of the few to have a happy ending (not that most of it wasn't sad). It didn't take me where I expected to go and it even featured the Moscow subway dogs (wiki, although google for more exciting news story renditions). I liked the idea in "By the Litre", of being able to imbibe souls and not have it be something terrible and evil. The main characters aren't monsters, they just stumbled upon a way to remember other people's memories and what's wrong with that, if the alternative is nothing?

"Chapev and the Coconut Girl" was about an AI scientist from Lithuania working at MIT. I enjoyed the description of her being other (foreign) and lacking a shared cultural history with those around her. I think this was one of the longer stories, so there was plenty of space for the character to develop. The way she romanticises both Chapaev — a hero of the Red Army — and a folk tale from her mother's travels to Bali was fascinating. Both figures were well outside her time and experience and yet she made up elaborate back stories (or front stories in the case of Chapaev who she fantasised didn't die as presumed) while refusing to get to know many of the people around her. She was one of my favourite characters to appear in this collection.

"There is a Monster Under Helen's Bed" and "A Play for a Boy and Sock Puppets" are both set in the US and feature troubled children. Helen's story, told in part from her adoptive mother's point of view, was tragic in a no-win way and the ending wasn't what I was expecting. The play, although not strictly a play per se, was told from the sock puppet's point of view and was very touching.

Of the non-Western fairytale type stories, my favourites were "Munashe and the Spirits", an African morality tale with overt magic but beginning and ending in the contemporary real world. And, although it had a moral, I hasten to add that it wasn't preachy. And "The Taste of Wheat" in which the fantastical element was a bit uncomfortable — rats turning into babies — but the narcoleptic main character seeing Buddha in her dreams appealed to me.

I also really enjoyed the last story, "A Handsome Fellow". Although I read it most recently and hence it's difficult to gauge how memorable it will be, I have a feeling the final scene will stay with me. A teenage or young adult girl working to keep her mother and young brothers alive during the Siege of Leningrad (WWII).

My least favourite part of the collection was the introduction by Jeffrey Ford. I didn't read it in full when I started the collection because I got bored and wanted to get to the stories (happens with most introductions for me). Reading it afterwards, it rather annoyed me. I suggest skipping it altogether. But then, I don't entirely get introductions to collections. I'd much rather read about what the author thinks of the stories or how it came into being (blame Asimov for that).

In my recent review of Cracklescape, I compared Margo Lanagan to Sedia. It's only fair that I now point out that if you're a fan of Lanagan, giving Sedia a go would be a good move. I strongly recommend this collection to people looking for fantasy stories that are a bit off the beaten path. I've no doubt that the fairy tales will seem exotic to many readers. Anyone with a passing interest in Russia or the Soviet Union will probably find something to like in Moscow But Dreaming. Fans of sad stories (of which I sometimes think there aren't enough in the fantasy genre) will enjoy this collection. If you enjoyed the setting and vibe of The Secret History of Moscow, I strongly recommend this collection.

5 / 5 stars

A side note: it was hard to choose a rating for this; I didn't love every but I loved enough of them to rate it up (and I wanted to put it on my favourite books side panel, which is what 5 star ratings are all about).


My notes on each story as I read it in italic, extra comments while writing this review added in plain text. Stories original to the collection are marked with *
  1. A Short Encyclopedia of Lunar Seas 
    • Loved it. Lyrical, whimsical and involving the moon.
  2. Citizen Komarova Finds Love
    • Haunting
  3. Tin Cans
    •  Creepy, tragic and a bit unpleasant to think too much about
  4. One, Two, Three
    • An odd story, I can't decide if it's more or less sad than those that went before it.
  5. You Dream
    • A strange story about misremembered sadness. Also in second person.
  6. Zombie Lenin
    • Another odd story. Dreamlike and sort of about mental illness. Also, the title is pretty great.
  7. Ebb and Flow
    • Reads like a re-imagined Japanese fairy tale. One of the most overtly fantasy-ish stories so far.
  8. There is a Monster Under Helen’s Bed
    • Heartbreaking. Rather ambiguous ending.
  9. Yakov and the Crows
    • Another sad, odd story. Bird element brought Secret History of Moscow to mind.
  10. Hector Meets the King
    •  Short and a bit confusing. Not one of my favourites. Greek mythology-flavoured.
  11. * Chapaev and the Coconut Girl
    • One of the (slightly) longer stories. I liked it.
  12. * The Bank of Burkina Faso
    • A hopeful story and a cute explanation for emails similar to Nigerian scams.
  13. Kikimora
    • A Russian fairytale to escape the aftermath of perestroika. Which is also a nice lesbian love story.
  14. Munashe and the Spirits
    • An African fairy tale of the moral-having type
  15. By the Liter
    • Souls drawn into beer after death. Cute. Short and sweet. I can't think of any other soul-consuming main characters that aren't evil monsters.
  16. A Play for a Boy and Sock Puppets
    • A tale of a sentient and sad sock puppet. Also an autistic child. I wanted to hug the sock puppet by the end.
  17. The Taste of Wheat
    • Another fairy tale type of story, this time Buddhist. And with narcolepsy.
  18. Cherrystone and Shards of Ice
    • A sort of steampunky fantasy with zombies and magic. One of the longer stories. The most ordinary fantasy story (in the sense of not being a fairy tale nor magical realism). I liked it.
  19. Seas of the World
    • Another story about people turning into animals and vice versa. Although it occurs to me that statement is less meaningful when I haven't pointed out each instance of transmogrification.
  20. End of White
    • The white army had retreated to a village on the edge of their land; the Crimean peninsula. But of course, it isn't an ordinary village.
  21. A Handsome Fellow 
    • The siege of Leningrad and a vampire-like creature living among the starving. Heartbreaking.

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan is one of the more recent releases in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. I have previously reviewed several collections in the series.

This is only the second Margo Lanagan book I've read and the first containing short stories (the other was Tender Morsels). Although there were only four stories in Cracklescape, I really felt like I got a feeling for the sort of stories Lanagan writes. The general feeling actually reminded me a bit of Ekaterina Sedia's stories, but with an Australian flavour rather than a Russian one (and a bit less depressing).

A few words on the stories in Cracklescape:

The Duchess Dresser is about a dresser (presumably the one on the front cover) with a mysteriously stuck drawer and the man who acquires it and puts it in his bedroom. Suffice to say the drawer isn't stuck here because the key cannot be found.

The Isles of the Sun was a strange story and perhaps my favourite in the collection. It's a somewhat modern world fairytale with a bit of a twist: as well as being told from the main child's point of view, it's also partly told from his mother's point of view. I appreciated the look at the other side of the coin. It's easy to write about the kids that go on an incredible, magical adventure, but what about the parents? Nice to see it addressed in a short story.

Bajazzle was strange. Oddly enough, the references the title evoked for me ended up having more relevance to the story that I expected. Other than that, it's an open-to-interpretation piece and I don't think I can say more about it without saying too much. That and I suspect my reaction to it says as much about me as about the story itself. Heh.

Significant Dust was two stories really. The foreground events in the main character's life — themselves told in two time lines — and the story with the dust and the possible aliens. I think I will need to reread this one when I'm less busy and stressed. I have a feeling there's a bit more to the background story than I picked up on the first time through.

All in all, this is a strong collection which fans of Lanagan will enjoy. For those who haven't encountered her work before, I recommend it to fans of magical realism, fairy tales sneaking into the real world and magic in everyday places. I'm not the biggest fan of short stories, particularly not in large doses (a definite upside of the slim Twelve Planets series), but Cracklescape has made me mentally bump White Time, another Lanagan collection waiting on one of my shelves, up my TBR.

4 / 5 stars

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New Booksies

I have a fairly large haul since my last new booksies post a little while ago. In chronological order...

First up, courtesy of NetGalley, I received:
  • The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke — which I am super looking forward to party because of the title (what's not to like?) and partly because I loved her debut YA book, The Assassin's Curse.
  • Pantomime by Laura Lam — which looks intriguing and I have high hopes for, since I've loved everything I've read from Strange Chemistry.
  • The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord — and intriguing new SF novel. I haven't read all that much recent non-YA SF, hopefully this one won't be disappointing.
  • A Galactic Holiday — a collection of three holiday themed SF-y novellas from Carina Press. Last year's steampunk collection included Wanted: One Scoundrel, so I'm hoping it'll be fun.
And then, rather excitingly, the two latest Twelve Planets ebooks arrived in my inbox:
  • Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan
  • Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren
Both of which I'm looking forward to. All the other collections in the Twelve Planets have been great in a variety of ways so it'll be interesting to see what these two bring to the table.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa

The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa is the first book in her new Call of the Forgotten series. In a way it's also the fifth book in the Iron Fey series, set in the same universe and chronologically later in time. However, I was told it was a good place to start if I didn't want to commit to the earlier books. The only other book by Julie Kagawa that I've read was The Immortal Rules, which is set in an entirely different universe. So this review is from the perspective of someone who hasn't read any of the Iron Fey books. Since the Iron Fey series does provide back story to The Lost Prince, it's possible this review will contain spoilers for the earlier books, but I suspect only in the form of who survived them. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes.

Ethan Chase is a normal kid except for one thing: he can see faeries. He spends most of his time keeping them away and trying to ignore them, because once they realise he can see them, they enjoy making his life difficult. Ethan also tries to make himself  unapproachable to his peers out of fear of putting them in faery-shenanigan danger. As a result, the first half of the book was a bit of a metaphor for teenage angst. Not in an annoying way, but a) he was moody and pushing everyone away and (thanks to faeries) getting into trouble and b) his problems were something that no one could understand (because faeries).

The secondary character, Kenzie, was great. She's a smart high school reporter who starts off wanting to know the story behind Ethan. Then she gets dragged, with Ethan, into the world of faeries. Of course, it's not just any faeries. Some new dangerous kind is running around causing trouble and killing things.

What I really liked about Kenzie is that she was smarter than Ethan. I can't think of another book told in first person from the boy's point of view where the girl gets to be the smarter one. Of course, Ethan's brawn and kali (Filipino martial art) are also required to save the day, but it was refreshing. There was also an interesting reveal about her towards the end, which I don't want to be specific about because spoilers, but I'm looking forward to how it will be addressed in later books. Highlight the rest of this paragraph for a minor spoilery comment: basically, I'm hoping for heartbreak at the end of the series, not a magic saves the day scenario.

I enjoyed The Lost Prince a lot. It was a fun read. It didn't rely on the earlier books to make sense and I am definitely keen to keep reading about Ethan when the sequel comes out. I'm interested to have a read of the earlier series, but I'm not going to rush out and buy them immediately. They're on my "when I have time to get around to it" TBR list.

That said, I definitely recommend The Lost Prince to fans of YA fantasy looking for a fun read with action and faeries. Do not be put off by the pile of preceding books, they are not necessary for the enjoyment of this one.

4.5 / 5 stars

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Shine Light by Marianne de Pierres

Shine Light is the conclusion to Marianne de Pierres' Night Creatures trilogy. I have previously reviewed Angel Arias and discussed Burn Bright (which I read before starting my review blog). If you are unfamiliar with this series, I strongly recommend you have a look at that review first and read the earlier books before reading the rest of this post. This review contains spoilers for the earlier books in the series. A copy of Shine Light was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes.

The Night Creatures trilogy is very much a story in three acts. Burn Bright introduced the world and highlighted some obvious problems, Angel Arias was mainly about a fact finding mission to uncover what was really going on in the world and Shine Light ties the facts in with the world building and has the main character fix some of the problems. Although I read each book as it came out, I strongly feel that this series would be most optimally enjoyed when read together in a single block. The sequels rely heavily on what's gone before and so I definitely wouldn't recommend starting reading anywhere other than book 1, which is also where important world building happens.

Armed with some of the secrets of her world, Naif returns to the teenage dystopia/utopia of Ixion to help those left behind and doomed to die. Along the way she finds a way to save them from their semi-inevitable deaths and how to fix some of the strange things that were wrong with the world (beyond the societal problems, I mean).

What I liked about Shine Light was the return to softly science fictional world building hinted at in Burn Bright. Angel Arias was more about the society than the world and made me thing that the SF-y hints would be ignored. Happily, Shine Light delivers on the premise hinted at in book 1 and the reveals and resolution were satisfactory. Also, unlike many superficially similar YA books, Naif doesn't set out to overturn their society, but rather to eliminate a more external issue. The end result might equate to saving the world, but it struck me as a more plausible kind of world-saving for a group of teenagers to be doing.

Overall, I recommend this series to fans of speculative YA who might be looking for something a bit different. There are otherworldly creatures around, but they aren't traditional vampires or werewolves and so forth. The setting-vibe is uncommon and added to the enjoyment of the read. I do, however, strongly suggest reading all three books in a row. In the end, I think I would have preferred it to be released as one longer book, rather than three short ones.

4 / 5 stars

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Sanctuary by Rowena Cory Daniells

Sanctuary is the third and final volume in Rowena Cory Daniells's Outcast Chronicles. I have previously reviewed the first two volumes, Besieged and Exile. I suggest reading those for a bit of background on the setting of the world if you are unfamiliar with it. A copy of this book was provided by the author for review purposes.

I jumped into Sanctuary immediately after finishing Exile. Unlike Exile, I'm not sure that Sanctuary works as a potential starting point into the series. The story picks up immediately where Exile left off and, although there are some reminders of earlier events, it builds a lot more on the events of the previous book. Needless to say, this review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the series.

After co-ordinating the evacuation of the T'En from Chalcedonia, Imoshen finds herself having to deal with all the brotherhoods and sisterhoods crammed into too few ships. Unsurprisingly, tensions are high as the T'En find themselves living in close quarters and resenting their exile. I really loved the way Imoshen thought ahead and foresaw many of their problems. Some of my favourite parts were when she kept outsmarting one of the more annoying brotherhood all-fathers and making him look stupid (which he was). Through all the hardship they have to face, it's her leadership and compassion which holds the T'En together.

Sorn, the halfbreed who was raised to serve King Charald and now serves Imoshen and the T'En, continued to grow on me as a character. He's clever and has somehow ended up without human or T'En prejudices. In the end he always fights for the greater good (admittedly, less so at the start in Besieged). His quick thinking and, in particular the way this plays off other people, was entertaining. He was definitely my favourite character in this book.

I was a bit worried that the ending would be a little up in the air as the King Rolen's Kin trilogy was. Luckily, this was not the case. There's definitely room for sequels — and I hope Daniells decides to write more books with these characters — but all the pertinent plot lines are nicely tied up.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sanctuary and the Outcast Chronicles as a whole. I highly recommend them to fantasy fans, particularly those that might want something a little different to the medieval gender politics commonly found in fantasy.

4.5 / 5 stars

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Exile by Rowena Cory Daniells

Exile is the second book in Rowena Cory Daniells's Outcast Chronicles. You can read my review of the first book, Besieged, here. A copy of this book was provided by the author for review purposes.

Exile picks up not long after Besieged left off. If you've read the first book, this one is definitely a continuation of the same story. There are some new characters introduced but mostly Exile follows the, ahem, surviving characters of Besieged. I have the feeling The Outcast Chronicles suffer less from absolutely needing to be read in order than some fantasy series. Yes, reading Exile first will spoil many events in Besieged, but in terms of understanding what's happening, I think it wouldn't be too bad.

That said, this review contains spoilers for events in Besieged.

Where book one spanned something like twenty-five years from start to finish, book two only covers two-ish rather tumultuous years. It continues to portray interesting and unusual sexual/gender politics in terms of women having more power in T'En culture because of their stronger magic. The T'En being segregated into sisterhoods and brotherhoods causes more tension in this book than the previous. Before it was just generalised bitterness on the part of the men that the women had more power and worry on the part of the women that the men were physically stronger. Now external factors are causing changes to their society which in tern generates a different kind of tension. It's all rather interesting and the gendered power structures among the T'En and the contrasting power structures of the humans (where women are chattel and lucky if their husbands don't beat and rape them) are a compelling reason to pick up this series. That and the fact that it's an excellent yarn.

The Mieren (ordinary human) threat is shaking up T'En society and forcing change upon them, something which only Imoshen seems capable of taking in her stride. After being elected causare, the negotiator for the all-mothers and all-fathers, she manages to broker a deal with the ailing King Charald to allow the T'En to go into exile, rather than be slaughtered. Many T'En are disappointed with this decision, which causes much dissonance among their ranks.

Sorne, now secretly serving as Imoshen's spy among King Charald's men, was a much less conflicted character than in the first book. The main tension in his story arises from trying to help the T'En without outing himself to the Mieren, rather than trying to work out who he is. For me, that made him a more sympathetic character in the sense that his motivations weren't in question.

I feel that almost everyone who isn't a point of view character (or close friends/family of a point of view character) is a terrible person, generally lacking in anything approximating compassion. This was more stark than in the first book, not because the horrible people are more horrible but because the morally ambiguous characters are out of the picture for various reasons. There are so many travesties committed by aforementioned terrible people that it bordered on getting a bit much. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't gratuitous and it was in keeping with plot and characterisation, but by-gods more than just wanting to slap annoying characters, I wanted to watch some of them die slow and painful deaths, preferably at the hands of the people they were horrible to. Which is a mark of Daniells's skill as a writer.

With Exile I am continuing to enjoy the Outcast Chronicles. I was originally planning to read something else before getting into Sanctuary, the third book, but whoops, I couldn't not pick up book 3 as soon as I finished Exile. (Not that it was a cliffhanger, but the story is definitely unfinished.) I highly recommend this series to lovers of fantasy.

4.5 / 5 stars