Monday, June 20, 2016

Fencing, Fighting, Torture, Revenge: A Brief Review of Traitor's Blade

Traitor's Blade (2014) by Sebastien de Castell was exciting. I enjoy fight scenes, especially when the good guys are proficient, and Traitor's Blade was dominated by them.


Falcio, Brasti, and Kest--Castell's three musketeers--are members of a disgraced group who were responsible for seeing that the King's Law was carried out in the duchies. The Greatcoats, now the disgraced "tatter cloaks," have been scattered following their king's death, each with a task from him.

Falcio was charged with finding some jewels called "Charoites", but he is having little luck and really only wants to fight himself to death. However, he still tries to hold up the King's Law, and finds himself caught up in political intrigues.

Overall Good

There were some nice twists, well-developed characters (although Falcio's self-hatred became exhausting as a topic of conversation), and vivid setting.

Weird Scene

There was a weird sex scene directly following Falcio's torture and escape. The two scenes were disturbingly similar--Falcio chained up, a woman trying to get into his head and turn him from his purpose--but I got the impression that was not a connection I was supposed to make. I think Castell meant for it to be a positive experience. As a result, though, I am not sure what the scene meant, why it was even included, but I felt relief instead of sadness when Falcio is left convinced he will never see her again (267).


Altogether, though, this debut novel was great! My favorite thing about this book was the fight scenes. Castell's descriptions of the action are smooth. Falcio's fights with twin rapiers, and his witty quips made otherwise dark situations humorous. The book brought to mind Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, of course, but also The Princess Bride. I would recommend Traitor's Blade for your summer reading list.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Summer Favorite: A Brief Review of The Summer Dragon

I recently finished The Summer Dragon (2016) by Todd Lockwood. This book has everything I enjoy about dragon stories: raising dragon hatchlings, special relationships with dragons, riding dragons, learning dragon language, fighting battles from the backs of dragons. It alternately reminded me of the Pit Dragon Trilogy's Dragon's Blood and Novik's Temeraire novels, but Lockwood's story is distinctly his own.


The Summer Dragon is about a girl named Maia. Her family has raised dragons for the empire for generations, and as she comes of age, she hopes for a dragon of her own. The Summer Dragon--a portentous and religious symbol--appears to her and her brother. He is an omen of change, and several political factions converge to interpret the sign to their advantage. Then their valley is attacked by Frankenstein-type monsters called "Horrors", thralls of the enemy. 


Maia is a character of great depth and satisfying complexity. Her desires for a dragon are tempered by her loyalty to her family and her fears of her own inadequacy. The other characters are also well developed. 


The plot moves fairly quickly, gaining intensity to the point that I began to worry the ending would leave me hanging until the next book came out! Lockwood is a great storyteller, though, and I was both pleased and eager for more when the story concluded.


Lockwood is an artist, and this is apparent in his descriptions of setting. I was fully immersed in the dragon aeries and the beautiful mountains nearby. They were tangible enough to give a sense of structure to the story without overwhelming the reader with information. 

I recommend The Summer Dragon for your summer reading list, especially if you enjoyed the Pern tales, The Pit Dragon Trilogy, and/or the Temeraire novels!

Friday, June 3, 2016

We Like Crying Now: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
officially opens July 2016, but it
has preview performances beginning June 7th
In a tweet on May 27th, J.K. Rowling revealed that the two-part play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will make audiences cry.

My humble request to fans everywhere: please stop glorifying "the feels."

I find the current fandom obsession with getting their hearts wrenched frustrating. It has created a demand for Doctor Who episodes driven to create sad emotions instead of vivifying stories. BBC's Sherlock has gone the same way. Fandoms actually have arguments on Tumbler about who is the saddest!

Harry Potter is great entertainment. In Harry Potter we felt more than just sadness; we experienced joy, happiness, anger, frustration, fear, hope, and disappointment.

Obviously, there are deeply sad parts, and Rowling is absolutely right: if we aren't feeling, the writer isn't doing their job efficiently. 

However, these emotions did not cause our deep satisfaction at the resolution--the story did. Even with these emotions present, the writer still might not be doing their job right.

I, for one, want a good story driven by characters and situations, not the desire to make me cry.

Good stories inspire us to empathize with the characters, but there are plenty of bad stories that do the same thing (e.g. Twilight).

Rowling is a great writer, so when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is released, I am sure it will be satisfactory. But, fans, please stop calling for intense "feels" because you are creating a demand for cart-drawn horses.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Equal Significance: A Brief Review of The Just City

Plato--cropped from The School of Athens
by Raphael 1509-1511
The Just City by Jo Walton (2014) dramatizes Plato's thought experiment about how to create a perfectly just city ruled by "Philosopher Kings." It’s an interesting thought experiment, of course. 

How would you build this perfect city? Largely through censorship, is Walton’s conclusion. The Just City keeps out or eliminates any element they believe will negatively affect their citizenry including human life and anything smelling of Christianity, including names.


In Walton's story, Athena takes everyone in history who has ever prayed to her that they be part of the Just City to the island of Atlantis before it is destroyed. There they work together to build Plato's model. One of these "masters" is the woman Ethel (renamed Maia because names of Christian origin are bad) born in England, 1841 and limited in her options as a woman.

The masters go throughout history, buying 10 year old slaves to raise to be citizens in their new city. One of these children is a girl named Lucia (renamed Simmea) and another is the incarnation of the god Apollo in disguise (called Pytheas). Later in the story, Socrates is brought to the city as well.

Equal Significance

The story’s theme is equal significance and consent. Walton seems to combine the ideas of empathy and respect—the understanding that other people are just as important as you are, and they should be allowed to make their own decisions about what they want, even if what they want is not necessarily good for them or others.


Walton uses this theme to make some interesting points about sex and rape, of course, but she also attempts to transcend that conversation and apply these values socially and politically.

The masters believe they are “trying to reach excellence, trying to reach justice and the good life” (Walton 360). However, Socrates argues with Athena, “It can’t be the good life unless people can choose to stay or leave, and can choose for themselves how to make it better” (Walton 362).

He also argues that even when one person does something for another’s own good, it makes the first person worse because they disregarded the other’s choices, especially if the action did not result in perfect justice (Walton 350).


Walton does not make points in this book about the limitations of equal significance and consent, such as suicide (does stopping them make you worse for disregarding their choice?), but The Just City begins an interesting conversation. Personally, I always found Socrates a bit heavy handed, but he makes a good mouth piece for Walton as he did for Plato. 

In the end, though, I didn’t enjoy the story. The main character was too happy in her life, so there wasn’t enough conflict to push her or the story forward. The book was more about theme than story, which makes poor entertainment.