Pawn (Sibyl’s War Book 1) Review

Nicole does everything and anything she can, in excess, to try to ignore the mumbling voices whispering in the back of her head. When she’s dragged into trouble by a fellow gang member trying to kidnap a doctor to treat his wounds, the three find themselves the subject of an entirely different kind of kidnapping… and Nicole will be tasked with listening to the very voices she’s been trying to deny.  

 

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Pawn leaves its readers in the dark alongside its protagonist as Nicole slowly unravels the shroud of mystery around her new, unexpected life. There’s some really interesting ideas at the heart of this opener to Zahn’s latest trilogy. The world building has some great hooks and a couple of the characters are compelling enough to grab the reader’s attention. The writing style is of course smooth and engaging.

Admittedly though, plot necessities often drive character changes and choices rather than vise-versa. Several consequences of various characters’ actions are the result of their stubborn unwillingness to explain anything to each other, beyond what seems in character and reasonable. Some story elements also seem a little overly complicated and possibly unnecessary, although some of it could be setup for the next two installments. The approach could have been tweaked a bit for a more even, satisfying journey in my opinion.

That said, overall this was still a really enjoyable and intriguing read. I got caught up in Nicole’s situation, and I am quite invested in finding out where it all goes in the end.

 

 

The Snow Queen’s Shadow (Princess Book 4) Review

“Be careful.”

“Why start now?”

 

This is the fourth and final book in the Princess series, and it addresses several major, long running plot threads. Best to start with The Stepsister Scheme (book 1).

** I will keep this review as spoiler free as possible, both for this book and for the series as a whole. **

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I read the first three books of this series years ago, but while interested didn’t get a chance read this last one when it first came out and it kind of slipped through the list until now. I recently reread the rest to make sure all the little details were fresh in my mind going in.

The Snow Queen’s Shadow is on par with Red Hood’s Revenge as the best in the series, providing the end of character journeys that have been building since the very beginning. There was a blend of things I’ve been expecting/waiting for and interesting additional layers, including a clever way to work another aspect of one of the main protagonist’s fairy tale in that I imagine there will be a lot of mixed feelings about.

A lot of groundwork for the events here was laid in previous books, but I suspect many readers didn’t pick up on the clues since it’s not necessarily a direction people wanted things to go. But it fits, and is an appropriate culmination of all that’s come before.

All in all a well done finale for a great series.

 

 

 

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis Review

Pop idol Mima Kirigoe is considering a change to her well established pure and innocent image in order to take her career to the next level. But not everyone is ok with her changing…  

 

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Perfect Blue is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It’s graphic and uncomfortable in parts, but it all serves to enhance the atmosphere of this incredible psychological thriller. So I was quite interested to read Complete Metamorphosis, the novel the film was based on.

The prologue is extremely disturbing and sets the tone for the coming tale as unflinching when it comes to subject matter. Looking back I’m not sure it was needed, but it wasn’t completely out of place. Be warned though, this novel pulls no punches. A good pace and writing style through most of the book does help immersion and brings all the story elements, both compelling and unsettling, into harmony. The writing/story also holds up surprisingly well, with little outside of a few dated technology and movie references to indicate it’s over 25 years old.

As mentioned above the movie is a psychological thriller, with deepening mystery and heavy themes as reality unravels around Mima. The film is brutal and extremely graphic, but is a step back from horror.

In contrast the book is suspense that turns to horror, with a well done building feeling of impending dread but very little of the nuance of the film story-wise. The characters, setup, and certain other aspects are the same, but there are major differences in how things play out, themes, etc. Also, Complete Metamorphosis goes way over the top towards the end. I’ll avoid further details due to spoilers, but this is a different experience than the movie.

I’m going into depth in the comparison to provide the appropriate context. Adaptations don’t have to be (and in most cases shouldn’t be) exact, and each form should be judged on its own. But speaking as someone who loves a good psychological thriller but generally doesn’t enjoy horror, that subtle but significant difference is important to highlight. The book is an exploration of obsession, and as such is largely successful. The movie does transcend it though in my opinion, expanding into even deeper and more varied territory.

On its own Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis is a solid read (although the end isn’t quite the equal of the buildup), and furthermore is interesting as source material for the film. But if anyone’s interested in Mima’s story I personally recommend WATCHING THE FILM INSTEAD/FIRST. It took this decent tale of obsession and turned it into a masterpiece.

 

* A small note on the translation. Names are left in what English speakers would call last-first style. Personally I find this jarring when reading in English and feel a good translation should use certain style conventions of the language being translated into. In this review I have used the more traditional English first-last format.

Indexing 2 Review

“Fairy Tales are not for children, and they don’t care who dies. They never have.”

 

Agent Henrietta Marchen made some exceptionally dangerous enemies heading up her team of ATI Management Bureau agents as they fight back against a universe of fairy tales constantly looking to happen again at the expense of anyone unlucky enough to fit a story’s mold. They’re only the start of her worries though, as the weight of the personal sacrifice she made to defeat them also hangs over her head and those of of team, who aren’t in the best of shapes themselves…

 

This is a direct sequel to Indexing, and heavily depends on concepts, characters, and events in that book. Start reading there.

 

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Like Indexing, this sequel is a police procedural in a world where fairy tale narratives are an unseen force always looking to co-opt peoples lives. It’s an unusual and clever concept, brought to another level by the even more imaginative directions McGuire pushes it. Like the first this was originally released in serialized form, although the pacing and scope feel quite a bit different.

This one seems closer to chapters broken up into short story format than the first (which edged more towards connect short stories), but both approaches were successful and it’s nice to see the author able to adapt the style to properly fit the particular story being told. There are some conveniences, and these aren’t quite as tight as her October Daye series, but that’s small criticism and these are still fantastically built adventures that are highly enjoyable to watch unfold.

 

 

“Take all the time you need, as long as you don’t need very much.”

I don’t want to spoil any plot details so this will be kept necessarily vague, but Henry and her team are in for a bit of a wild ride this time around. And admittedly, at points the reader has to be content to go along for said ride and things get stranger and more complicated. But in the end it all comes together beautifully and the entire book maintains a wonderful feel of escalating stakes and a constant sense of urgency. Danger, complications, and internal dilemmas all plague our protagonists, and it’s all balanced well to provide a compelling overarching story as well as important moments of character development.

 

 

“She moved like she was mad at the world and wanted to make sure it knew.”

McGuire is great at weaving in little details and using the supporting cast to add depth and engagement to her stories, and that ability continues to shine here, particularly in the introduction of some great new characters. But at its heart this particular journey is about two characters before all others, and it benefits greatly from the tight focus on learning more about the past, present, and possible future of them. There’s a ton of information and context conveyed, and it’s integrated smoothly this time without feeling (too much) like things are pausing for info dumps.

 

“This is a bad idea. Let’s go somewhere else. Somewhere that isn’t actively preparing to swallow us both alive.”

One of my favorite things about this series, and McGuire’s writing in general, is the natural feel to the characters. Their attitudes, speech patterns, the way they tease each other, and other little moments of interaction really help not only to make each cast member distinct and memorable, but also to make the whole thing relatable. Despite the strange trappings, abilities, etc there’s something genuine about the characters and how they react and interact. It an extremely important layer to making this all accessible and engaging the reader, and McGuire deftly pulls it off.

 

Overall McGuire’s quirky mash up of procedural and fairy tales continues to be spot on for me. Between her wonderful gift for descriptions and generally smooth writing style, characters I legitimately care about, and fascinating world building, I’m adoring this series and really hope there’s more to come.

 

 

One Salt Sea (October Daye Book 5) Review

“When were you going to mention this to me?”

“Oh, half an hour after never.”

 

After the harrowing events of Late Eclipses, things are finally looking up, or at least comfortably stable, for Faerie’s resident changeling knight with a seeming habit of getting into trouble. So of course fate steps in and October finds herself in the middle of a kidnapping plot that might send the kingdoms of the land and sea to war.

 

This is the fifth book in the October Daye series, and it addresses previously raised issues and builds off of long running plot lines. Best to start with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).

 

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“You’re a lot of things, but ‘just a changeling’ isn’t one of them.”

 

One Salt Sea continues the momentum from the previous two excellent books, and pulls back a bit into a larger view of Faerie as Toby tries to prevent an impending war. I love the way McGuire keeps slowly filling in more and more of the world’s mythology and building series long story lines while keeping each book a satisfying, complete adventure on its own. Consequences and a constantly changing status quo are hallmarks of McGuire’s sprawling narrative, and wartime is certainly no exception.

 

“I can’t be dreaming you. My dreams make more sense than this.”

 

To be honest my least favorite character takes center stage a bit in this one, but so does one of my favorites, as well as several strong new additions to the cast. There’s a significant amount of intrigue underneath the events of this book, and the fallout will be significant for October, and her allies and enemies alike. I did find this just a touch below the level of the other books, but it was still quite good and overall this is another solid, enjoyable installment that further expands October’s unique and engrossing world nicely.

 

 

Indexing Review

“Fairy tales want to have happy endings, and that’s fine – for fairy tales – but they do a lot of damage to the people around them in the process, the ones whose only crime was standing in the path of an onrushing story.”

 

 

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Indexing is a police procedural in a world where all the fairy tales ever told can happen again at any time with disastrous effects. Originally released as a serialized novel, I found it walks the line well between the individual “episodes” feeling like regular chapters of a novel (which wouldn’t be necessarily be the best approach for that distribution) and individual short stories (which would lose some of the overarching development and tension). The deft touch in execution makes this read equally well as a complete novel (as I am) as I imagine it did in serialized format.

 

“There are a couple of things you’ll need to know about fairy tales before we can get properly started. Call it agent orientation or information overload, whatever makes you feel more like you’ll be able to sleep tonight.”

 

I call it info dumping of the highest order, even though McGuire tries to be stylish and clever about it. The odd premise I’ve described above is extremely interesting but requires a HUGE amount of information and context to be immediately unloaded on the reader in the first section. As a result it takes some time to get acclimated, but things are quite intriguing once you do and much better paced after the initial part.

 

“My day began with half a dozen bluebirds beating themselves to death against my window, leaving little bloody commas on the glass to mark their passing.”

 

In addition to being curious about the concept, Indexing caught my eye because it’s written by the author of the October Daye series, which I adore. McGuire’s exquisite gift for dialogue and descriptions is on display here as well and along with strong characters and an engaging underlying plot makes this a thoroughly captivating read once it builds momentum. My favorite character here reminds me a little of an equally amusing one from October Daye, but the wonderful thing is the cast are all unique with both strengths and flaws directly tied to the narrative. Watching everything unfold among a tense and mysterious atmosphere was a treat.

Overall this is a read that requires some patience, but really rewards the effort.

 

 

The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria vol 1 Light Novel Review

“I look at the platform at the front of the classroom and see a new transfer student named Aya Otonashi whose name I’ve never learned.”

 

Kazuki Hoshino is an ordinary high school student with a seemingly boring existence haunted by a sense of deja vu. However there’s much more to it than that, and at the center of disturbing truths and powers beyond his understanding is a new student who declares she’s here to break him…

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Things get interesting right away with this one, as the short prologue offers just enough to intriguingly set the stage, and the structure of the main part of the book is immediately attention grabbing. From there a lot of interesting little details and mysteries accumulate, and the examination of the non-linear aspects of the story are particularly well done. There are numerous carefully built, excellent twists and a slowly escalating tense atmosphere.

Character development is necessarily a bit different and more subtle than in traditional stories, but is there if the reader pays close attention and I thought quite good. I can see some readers losing patience though. Also, some of the end resolution was a little lacking to me and I’m not entirely convinced about the direction of the series going forward. 

Overall though I found The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria a thoroughly engaging and satisfying read, and highly recommend it for any light novel fans who can handle its mystery/thriller aspects and don’t mind applying some patience and effort to their reading.