Finn Gramaraye was framed for the crime of dark necromancy at the age of 15, and exiled to the Other Realm for twenty five years. But now that he's free, someone―probably the same someone―is trying to get him sent back. Finn has only a few days to discover who is so desperate to keep him out of the mortal world, and find evidence to prove it to the Arcane Enforcers. They are going to be very hard to convince, since he's already been convicted of trying to kill someone with dark magic.
But Finn has his family: his brother Mort who is running the family necrotorium business now, his brother Pete who believes he's a werewolf, though he is not, and his sister Samantha who is, unfortunately, allergic to magic. And he's got Zeke, a fellow exile and former enforcer, who doesn't really believe in Finn's innocence but is willing to follow along in hopes of getting his old job back.
,Ah, ye olde "Framed-And-Must-Prove-Innocence-Before-Bad-Things-Happen" storyline. With necromancy! And humor!
This book was seriously funny. Finn is a such a smart-ass. Although half of his references went over my head (all of his jokes are prior to 1985, and I'm a shallow millennial), I still greatly enjoyed it. And even better, he's in the center of an incredible world of magic and a heart-pounding mystery. The only thing I could think of while reading this was It's like Rick Riordan for adults! That, and Gosh, I really hope nobody calls the cops while I'm lurking in my car, because I was sitting in my car on a dark street after work frantically finishing the last two chapters of the book. I didn't want to wait the thirty minutes it would take to drive home.
There were very few "well, duh" moments in this story. I've read and seen so many mysteries that I can usually tell within the first quarter who the bad guy is, in addition to all the usual cliches and tropes. Randy Henderson did fall into a couple (such as "it's not the first suspect," like a Law & Order episode, and the "traitorous dame" trope), but while a couple of characters were predictable, everything else was not. Like why Finn was framed in the first place. Or how Dungeons & Dragons will play a crucial role in the good guys' plan. That cemented my love for this character; D&D FTW!
Overall, I give it a 7.5 out of 10. It lost a few points with (surprise!) it's treatment of women characters. The love triangle between Finn and two past flames toes the line between funny and annoying a little too closely--because, really? These two adult, intelligent women have nothing better to do than bitch at each other over the guy they like? And then there was the scene where literally every single female in Finn's group is taken hostage at once. It's a plethora of Damsels in Distress.
However, the women were well-rounded characters and were used for more than just ornamentation, which is why I didn't scrap the book entirely. That, and most of the focus of Finn's relationships are that of his family, particularly his brothers. Mort is a bitch and Pete is a sweetie with a BAMF streak. Glorious.
It's got two sequels, both already out. Which is good, because remember how I likened it to Rick Riordan? Well, it's not only similar in terms of humor. Henderson--the jerk--is also a fan of six-hundred-foot cliffhangers. So I wouldn't invest the time and money in book one unless you're willing to grab books two and three as well.
For those of us who grew up watching Avatar: the Last Airbender , we were peeved. It was an amazing show, but it only lasted three seasons and there were a lot of unanswered questions. Starting with, “What the hell happened to Zuko’s mom?” and ending with, “How did we get from there to the craziness of Republic City?”
Well, ask no more. Because Gene Yang and Gurihiru started a series of graphic novel trilogies to answer those questions. We see what Zuko is like as a Fire Lord, Sokka and Katara re-visit the South Pole, and Toph starts her own metalbending academy.
Even if you’re new to the Avatar franchise and are wondering why this post features a distinct lack of blue people, you can jump into the comics. Especially the first trilogy, The Promise . That’s got a nice “FYI here’s what happened in the show” at the beginning.
One thing that has always impressed me with this series is the fact that it sees several different layers of conflict. There’s the obvious war, but then there’s the clash between different cultures within the same society, the clash between friends, and a single person’s inner struggles. You’d think that after a war is over and done, that’s it. But it’s not. And I love how these books address the craziness and growing pains of the world after a century of war. That ain't going away overnight, and it's so refreshing to see a kids' series not only acknowledge that, but make it the centerpiece of their story.
Starting right where we left off, we see the Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, and Avatar working together to heal the scars of war, starting with the Fire Nation colonies in the occupied Earth Kingdom. But after a year, Fire Lord Zuko suddenly stops shutting down colonies, and instead insists that they stay.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being his relationship with Avatar Aang. More than that, Zuko's number one fear is that he'll turn into his father. So what's a guy to do? Why, make the Avatar promise to kill him if he turns evil. What could possibly go wrong?
It's actually cheaper buying the three books of this trilogy separate on Amazon than together. Weird, right? Click here to learn more.
This one is probably my favorite, probably because of the abundance of Zuko and the flashbacks to his mother's past. After the collision in The Promise, Zuko decides it’s high time he find out what happened to his mother. Aang and the rest of Team Avatar (sans Toph, who’s busy terrorizing metalbending students) agree to help him.
The catch? They need Azula.
Where The Search focuses on Zuko’s problems, The Rift focuses on Toph. She and Aang butt heads when he tries to bring back old Air Nomad traditions that rub her the wrong way.
Oh, and her dad shows up.
Smoke and Shadow
North and South
The old vs. the new is a common theme throughout the series, and it’s even more prominent here. Katara and Sokka return to the South Pole after being gone for years, only to find that it has undergone dramatic change. Sokka is, unsurprisingly, all for this “progress.” Katara, on the other hand, is warier. She, and the villain, is seeing her culture and way of life slip away.
This one is a great example of what happens when an economically more powerful country (re: the North Pole) tries to “help” a less prominent country (the South Pole). It usually doesn’t end well.
My only problem with this one is that Zuko swings by to help them out. The last time he was here, he smashed through the wall, terrorized the village, and kidnapped Aang. I was really looking forward to seeing him get confronted by the Water Tribe and face the wrath of Gran-Gran, then being forgiven at the end. But they kind of glossed over that.
The good news is they make up for it with Hakoda's awesomeness and Sokka's sarcasm. Totally worth it.
North and South came out this year, making it the most recent collection. I haven't heard anything about any more graphic novels, but the writers have left enough loose ends that another trilogy isn't far-fetched.
If anyone hears anything, let me know ASAP!
This week I read Tiana Warner’s Ice Massacre, one of the goriest and most gripping YA novels I’ve ever read.
Basically, there’s a war between humans and mermaids in the north Atlantic. It’s not really affecting the rest of the world (at least, nobody else is getting involved), but the people on the island of Eriana Kwai are being starved, due to the mermaids eating all the fish, which the island-dwellers need for food. In response, Eriana Kwai sends twenty young men every year to fight the mermaids (an event called The Massacre), and nine out of ten times they fail to return. This is mostly because men get easily hypnotized by the mermaids, who then use the opportunity provided by their stupor to rip them to shreds. Literally.
So, after however many years of doing this the island finally decides, “Hey, the guy thing isn’t working out. What if we sent girls?”
Meela, the main character, is one of girls on the first all-female crew sent to kill mermaids. But the thing about Meela is she not only dislikes killing in general, she also has a Romeo and Juliet style friendship going on with one of the mermaids. It gradually escalates to full-blown romance, leaving a major cliffhanger at the end of the story (dammit, Warner!).
I found Ice Massacre after stumbling upon a review by Danika, who praised not only Warner’s portrayal of war but also the fact that it’s about a queer, interracial romance. With terrifying, killer mermaids. How many teen books out there can claim that?
Warner does an incredible job of showing the tragedy of war and the way humans value different lives. How girls, so often abused and oppressed, are somehow considered more valuable than boys. How senseless violence destroys beautiful relationships and young minds. How you can aid your “enemy” while remaining loyal to your people.
It’s an excellent book, with a sequel. I highly recommend it!
Be sure to check out my interview with Tiana Warner.
You can get Ice Massacre for less than five bucks at Barnes & Noble here!
Otherwise, they've got it on Amazon for $14.95.
We're starting a new DZA tradition! Whenever I decide to review a book, I'll post it here in addition to my usual weekly post. I'll also include links to where you can buy the book, so that if you decide you want to read along with me (as the title suggests), then you can.
This week we have Deborah A. Wolf's The Dragon's Legacy, an Arab-inspired epic fantasy in the adult section. I'm only about seventy pages in, but so far we've lost three characters, discovered a royal sibling, and a guy lost a hand. So far, so good!
Next on my list, after receiving feedback from my Artemis Fowl book review, is the rest of the series. I admit, I still have reservations about this story. But you guys said it was a good series, so I'm trusting you on this.
And that's it! I'm holding off on buying any more books. It's my birthday next month, so with any luck I'll get a few free editions to my library.
See you all on Friday! :)
I'm getting the three-box set from Amazon. But if you're feeling ambitious, you can get for a solid price.
It's also available at Barnes & Noble online.
The Dragon's Legacy
I actually finished Rick Riordan’s The Dark Prophecy a while ago, but thanks to starting my “real” job as a PCA and moving into a new apartment, I haven’t been able to blog about it until now. It sucks because it’s a darn good book and I’ve wanted to geek out about it for weeks now, but I couldn’t because the only other Percy Jackson fans I have regular contact with haven’t read this damn series yet!
For those who may be unfamiliar with The Trials of Apollo series, there will be spoilers for book one. Not for The Dark Prophecy, but definitely book one. Flee this website now, mortal. Save yourself!
Are they gone? Good.
For those of you who have read Hidden Oracle but can’t remember much, here’s a quick recap: Apollo is de-godified and turned into a sixteen-year-old by Zeus for his screw-up in The Heroes of Olympus series. Because of Apollo’s negligence, the super-evil snake-monster Python got out and got his hands on the Oracle of Delphi, cutting off everyone’s access to prophecies. Apollo met twelve-year-old Meg, daughter of Demeter (and seriously, it’s so cool to have such a BAMF demigod child of friggin’ Demeter). She claimed his service while he’s mortal, so they’re stuck together. The big bad guys of this series are the Triumvirate. In Hidden Oracle, we learned that one of them is Nero, one of the worst emperors in Roman history. He’s also Meg’s stepdad. The book ended with Meg running after Nero, Apollo feeling depressed, and the return of Leo and Calypso on Festus the dragon.
Moving on: The Dark Prophecy takes place six weeks after the fact, in Illinois, where all the monsters are super polite as they’re trying to kill you. Speaking as a Minnesotan: Riordan’s exaggerated depiction of overly-polite Midwesterners...is not much of an exaggeration. We’re not potato-shaped monsters with fake heads and faces on our chests, but other than that, there aren’t many differences.
We meet another member of the Triumvirate in this book, one Apollo has a personal connection to: he not only dated our latest villain, he’s also the one who killed him. Apollo is quasi-responsible for the death of his ancient son’s half-brother as well, since he refused to answer their prayers of distress when they were caught stealing from a king. This is an arguably responsible action to take, and his defense is that a person should pray for wisdom and help before they do something stupid, rather than ask for a cop-out when they’re in trouble.
Any way you look at it, we see more layers of grey in Apollo in this book. In Hidden Oracle, I felt bad for him. Sure, he screwed up, but since he’s the god of prophecy among many other things, just take away his domain over the Oracles and give it to someone who annoys him, like Artemis.
After The Dark Prophecy, I think I agree more with Zeus’s judgement (and wow, that is a sentence I thought I’d never have to say). I still like the narcissistic little shit and want to see him succeed, but I’m okay with seeing him punished some more. So long as that punishment doesn’t extend to the people around him. Which it probably will. Dammit.
Calypso was a disappointing character. I had hoped the ex-sorceress would do more than get hurt, throw away nets, and complain about her lack of magic and the boys around her. We learned that she’s slowly regaining her powers, though, so with any luck she’ll return and be much more impressive (and useful) in the next three books.
Meg made up for Calypso’s DID-ing (Damsel in Distress). I won’t give away any spoilers, since when we last saw her in Hidden Oracle she’d just betrayed Apollo and left with her evil stepfather Nero. She returns in The Dark Prophecy with even more sass and Demeter badassery. We also get more of her backstory, including her struggles in the abusive relationship she has with Nero. Riordan handles this delicate issue with his usual grace and tact.
Speaking of which, he’s really diving into the LGBTQ area. We see more of Apollo’s bisexuality, in regards to the villain (I say again: dated him before killing him) and a new character, who may or may not be descended from an African deity. Because we’re getting into that now, too. There’s also a set of same-sex parents whose adopted daughter is AWOL. One mother is an ex-Hunter of Artemis, and the other is a gadget-gal and probably Leo’s soulmate.
All in all, it’s an excellent book. And I can’t wait for the next three to come out!
Get your copy of The Dark Prophecy at...
If anyone is in Minnesota this weekend, you should stop by CONvergence in Bloomington! The theme this year is space opera: “To Infinity and Beyond!” I’ll be speaking on the “New Hollywood Tropes” panel on Sunday at 3:30pm. I’d love to see you there!
What were your thoughts on The Dark Prophecy? Comment below!
Last weekend I house-sat for a friend and watched their cat while they were out of town, but I had foolishly left my laptop, notebooks, and books at home. So I browsed their shelves, 98% of their library being history or historical fiction. As a recent graduate with a B.A. in history, that would’ve been fine. But I had a hankering for something more speculative. After finding probably the only YA novel they owned--Artemis Fowl--I snuggled with their cat on the couch and read the whole thing through.
(If any of you think that’s an impressive and unusual feat, then you clearly don’t know many bookworms. Assuming there are no plans that involve social interaction, book-binging with a cat is a pretty typical weekend.)
Basically, a twelve-year-old brat tricks a bunch of fairy-people into giving him gold. He does it because his family went from billionaires to poor l’il millionaires a few years ago and he wants to fix that. Also, his family is in the crime business, so morals aren’t really a thing.
That’s a great theme throughout the book: morals. Artemis’s (the aforementioned brat) plan centers around kidnapping a fairy, Captain Holly Short, and holding her for ransom. All of the major characters face a moral dilemma in the following twelve hours: Artemis is surprised at feeling guilt for his actions, Holly has to choose whether or not to save one of her kidnappers, Commander Root has to balance saving his subordinate against keeping the secrecy of the fairy race, etc.
The book itself is funny and very well-written. It takes on themes like guilt and ethics without being preachy. It’s suspenseful and hilarious to see a twelve-year-old take on the entire fairy underworld.
The biggest disappointment of the book was Juliet, one of Artemis’s servants/bodyguards. Teenage Juliet and her big brother are members of the Butler family, which has served the Fowls for centuries. They’re renowned for their excellent fighting skills, which her brother (only ever called Butler) uses on multiple occasions. When we first meet Juliet we’re told she’s big into wrestling and is one of the few people close enough to Artemis to sass him, and he may or may not have a crush on her.
Okay. Sixteen-year-old wrestler, bodyguard extraordinaire with attitude. Sounds like a cool character. I’m sure she’ll have at least one fight scene (since her brother has three), and that she’ll be a major part of the plot moving forward.
Nope. Juliet is delegated to DID mode (damsel in distress) after Holly uses magic to manipulate her into letting her go. Holly spends the majority of the book as the main DID, being the kidnapped fairy held for ransom, which is somewhat annoying since she’s supposed to be the fairy equivalent of SWAT. But she more or less gets herself out of the Fowls’ captivity, so it’s less annoying.
Holly also fights a troll a couple of times. The first time she is very low on magic and just barely pulls it off. The second time, when she’s reclaimed her magic and is much more powerful, her role is reduced to healing Butler so he can defeat the troll to save Juliet, which is managed without any of the technology/magic Holly needed to do the same thing.
Oh, that’s another thing. Butler should’ve been killed off. Artemis got away with his plan scot-free, having risked everything and lost nothing. Had he lost the closest thing he had to a friend/family, that would’ve been a tremendous emotional suckerpunch. The story would’ve been much more powerful. It also would’ve given Juliet and/or Holly a chance to defeat the troll in an awesome fight scene.
Obviously the story itself is very good, else I never would’ve read the whole thing in three short hours. The characters were intriguing and the plot kept me guessing. I may spend some money investing in the next book in the series, since the epilogue alluded to Holly becoming a total BAMF in future clashes with Artemis. There’s also some terrific world-building going on that I’d like to see more of. But if every book has zero losses and a minimum of girl-driven storylines, then I’m not going to waste my money. Not even Artemis himself could convince me otherwise.
Minor Spoilers for Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: the Hammer of Thor
I finally, finally was able to read and finish the second Magnus Chase book. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf all year, sad and lonely and collecting dust because I’ve been stuck reading textbooks. I shouldn’t complain. I’ve been fortunate enough to graduate with a B.A. and these kinds of sacrifices are expected. But there’s only so much reading I can do on American Constitutional law before I get itchy for some Ricky. (Wow, that’s bad. Sorry.)
Anyway, Magnus. With The Sword of Summer, I was impressed once again by Rick Riordan’s excellent storytelling, sense of humor, and ability to handle complicated issues in a kid-friendly way. I also loved how he’s actively making the cast diverse: Samirah is a Muslim, Magnus is homeless (and quite possibly queer), and Hearthstone is deaf. However, I did not consider it on par with his Percy Jackson series, even though Magnus Chase is technically in that series because it’s all in the same crazy world.
It’s probably because The Sword of Summer didn’t really offer anything new. It was basically the same story as Percy Jackson, just dropped in Norse mythology rather than Greek. Also, there’s no Nico di Angelo. Which means there’s no Solangelo. I was more excited about Trials of Apollo because we got to see more of that adorableness missing in The Sword of Summer.
For those of you who used to read my old blog, this may be confusing. I’ve ranted about romantic subplots on multiple occasions. That’s because 90% of the time they are annoying, they reduce the girl/woman to nothing more than a sex object, and they serve no purpose to the overall plot. I touched on this last week. Some examples include Megan Fox’s character in Transformers, Arwen in Lord of the Rings, and every single superhero movie ever.
The other 10% are the well-written romantic subplots. They happen when A) the romance has a major impact on the story and/or characters; B) the girl (if there is a girl) can still stand on her own within the story without the love interest; and the optional C) it’s adorable. We see this with Leia and Han in Star Wars, Anna and Kristoff in Frozen, and pretty much every relationship in Rick Riordan’s books. For instance: Solangelo hit point A in Blood of Olympus, point B does not apply, and point C needs no explanation.
Then I read Magnus Chase book two, Hammer of Thor, and I can honestly say this series is as good as, if not better than, the Percy Jackson series. I’m not entirely sure what made me love the series so much more. Maybe it was Heimdall taking selfies. It might have been the Game of Thrones reference at the very end. It could be because it centered on a Norse myth I’d actually read and knew (in a book that had illustrations; the image of a burly, bearded Thor in a wedding dress is forever seared in my memory). It could’ve been seeing Hearthstone’s family and getting more of his tragic, intriguing background.
Maybe it was Alex Fierro, who is quite possibly my favorite character, and who I ship with Magnus like 99% of Rick Riordan’s fanbase. A lot has already been said about her (sometimes him) in other reviews (like this one, and this one, and this one…). Putting a genderfluid transgender character in a kids’ book is a bold move, one I wholeheartedly support; especially since it plays into the larger theme of defying gender roles: Blitz is a man with a degree in fashion, Samirah is a kickass warrior, Magnus is a nurturing healer (a role usually assigned to girls/women), and now we have Alex, who comes right out and says that (s)he will decide what is masculine or feminine as it relates to her, and if anyone has a problem they can shove it.
But having a genderfluid character only works if it’s done well. There have been some legitimate complaints about Alex. Not from the transphobes; we’ll just ignore them. Some fans argue that Alex is a token, a vessel for Rick to educate the youngins about gender. They do have a point: her largest defining trait is her gender. It comes up in almost every conversation she participates in. And unlike Samirah, who has a career goal, a romantic goal, heavy influence from her mortal family, and religious depth, Alex...doesn’t.
Now, we still have another book in this series. We didn’t know a whole lot about Hearth until visiting his homeworld in Hammer of Thor. And Alex, being a child of Loki and coming from a rough background, has good reason not to trust anyone with her life story. She refused to let Magnus heal her for as long as possible because she was afraid he’d read her mind.
Also, while Magnus has religious depth (being an atheist counts) and it looks like he now has the beginnings of a romantic goal in Alex, he wasn’t thinking very far ahead when he was living on the streets. He and Alex do not have the luxury Sam, Blitz, and Hearth do in career aspirations and dreams for the future. For one, they’re dead. Two, being homeless narrows your options down to surviving that day. Alex is fluid, changeable, and lives in the moment. That’s how she survived as long as she did in her old life, and that’s how she’s survived this long in her afterlife. The fact that she lacks career goals is completely understandable.
So I’m not too worried about Alex being flat and underused. She provides an excellent contrast to her half-sister Sam, and the gate is wide open for sibling disputes in book three. If she and Magnus do end up together, they’re going to spend a lot of time talking and sharing stories, which will provide an opportunity for character backstory and development. And if Rick managed to create a racially diverse cast of seven major characters, all of whom are in a romantic relationship and all of whom are complex, three-dimensional people, plus the adorableness that is Solangelo, I think he can handle Alex Fierro.
Admit it: we all want this to happen.
What’s been overshadowed by Alex in this book, and what I think is the most impressive feat, is getting into Samirah’s faith. The words “Muslim” and “Allah” never showed up in Sword of Summer. She wears the hijab, and there’s one line where she mentions going to mosque with her grandmother. Other than that, nothing. The arranged marriage with Amir is a cultural thing, not necessarily a religious thing. We’re all concerned about Alex being a two-dimensional token now? Last year I was worried about the opposite: having Sam talk about everything but her religion, like it somehow doesn’t influence any of her decisions or views of the world. I wouldn’t have been surprised, since the fact that we have an Arabic Muslim as one of the good guys is a step in the right direction. But I would’ve been disappointed.
Luckily, I worried over nothing. Hammer of Thor tackled her Islamic faith head-on. The Muslim Valkyrie says point-blank that the "gods" she's serving are not gods. They're just powerful beings created by her god, Allah. She asks Magnus to keep an eye out while she prays, with a prayer mat and everything, and we see how that ritual is a source of strength for her. Magnus overhears her muttering Arabic prayers near the end, right before the major fight with Loki and the giants. These days, when the media is clogged with portrayals of "radical Islam" and ISIS and scary brown people, Rick presents us with the peaceful, tranquil side of Islam. It's a much-needed message in this day and age.
There are a dozen reasons to love Hammer of Thor. For me, the biggest reason is this: it’s not the end of the story.
The last scene in Hammer of Thor had Annabeth deciding to introduce Magnus to Percy. We’ve all been dreaming of this moment ever since Sword of Summer came out. How do you think this meeting is going to go?
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!