Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

SkyfarerSkyfarer

by Joseph Brassey
Series: Drifting Lands, #1

eARC, 352 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2017

Read: August 11 – 14, 2017


I’ve read a few interesting mergers of SF and Fantasy this year — some that were just that, interesting, some that were good — a couple that were more than good. Thankfully, Brassey’s Skyfarer was in that latter camp. Even in those early chapters where I was still trying to figure out the world, remember which name lined up with what character, and get a handle on the plot, I had a sense that this was going to be one of those books I talked about very positively — and very often. That sense just only got stronger as the book went on.

I feel like could go on for pages about this book — but won’t let myself (so I can avoid the wrath of Angry Robot and you can actually get something out of reading it yourself — which you have to go do as soon as it comes out).

So you’ve got this group called the Eternal Order — a group committed to death, destruction, power, and plunder. When it comes to numbers, they can’t stand up to the civilizations around them, at least when they ally themselves against the Order. But when they (rarely, it seems) can come in with a quick strike against one people they can wreak much havoc. Which is exactly what they do here — they come in and demand that the rulers of Port Providence hand over the Axiom Diamond, or they will wipe them out — and it’s clear that Lord Azrael, the commander, isn’t being hyperbolic. The royal family responds with armed resistance, which has some measure of success, but is primarily fighting losing battles.

Into the midst of this looming genocide comes a wayward spacecraft, the Elysium. The Elysium is a small carrier with more weapons than one should expect (we’re initially told this, anyway). The crew has just welcomed an apprentice mage, fresh from the academy, to complete her studies with her mentor/professor. Aimee de Laurent has been pushing herself for years to excel, to be the best — if there’s a sacrifice to be made for her studies, she’s made it. All leading up to this day, where her professor, Harkon Bright has taken her as an apprentice on his exploration ship to complete her education. She joins a crew that’s been together for years and is eager to find her place within them.

When the Elysium arrives in the middle of this, it doesn’t take anything approaching calculus for them to figure out what this particular crew is going to do. There’s The Eternal Order on one side, civilians and the remnants of the military on the other. There’s a ravaged civilization on one side and the ravagers on the other. There’s a group trying to prevent The Eternal Order from getting something they want and there’s, well, The Eternal Order. So our band of adventurers tell the remnants of the royal family that they’ll hunt down the Axiom and protect it.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea for a story — but man, it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason everyone and their brother has tried this — it’s a good story. Especially when it’s told well. And, I’m here to tell you that Joseph Brassey tells it really well. Not just because of his hybridization of SF and Fantasy, but because he can take a story that everyone’s taken a shot at and make it seem fresh, he can deliver the excitement, he can deliver the emotion. There is some horrible stuff depicted — either in the present or in flashbacks; there’s some pretty tragic stuff; and yet this is a fun read — the pacing, the tone, everything makes this feel like the adventure films and books that I grew up on. You want to read it — not just to find out what’s going to happen next, but because it’s written in such a way that you just want to be reading the book, like a having a glass of iced tea on a summer’s day.

The characters could uniformly use a little more fleshing out — which isn’t a weakness in the writing. Brassey pretty much points at the places where the reader will more details (especially when it comes to Aimee and Harkon), making us want more than he’s giving us. What we’re given, though, is enough to make you root for or against them, hope that they survive (or are subjected to painful and humiliating defeat), or simply enjoy the camaraderie. The good news is, that there’s more to learn about everyone — about their past and their present — and how those shape their future.

You’ve got magic — various schools of magic, too, each with its own understanding of what magic is and how it can be used; you’ve got swords and lasers (and similar kinds of weapons); you’ve got space ships running of magic (not just hyperspace drives that act like magic); objects and persons of prophecy; beings and intelligences that aren’t explicable — tell me why you wouldn’t want to read this? Especially when you throw in epic sword fights, magic duels, and spacecraft action all written by someone who writes like a seasoned pro. Sign me up for the sequel!

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 1/2 Stars

Release Day Blitz: Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

~ Release Day Blitz ~
Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer
12th August, 2017
Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig Veda
But largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala
Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.
Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?
Read an Excerpt
“I am the Queen! This will be my throne!” The seven-year-old chirped leaping from the middle of the porch towards the broken mortar which served as a mock throne. “You will be my guard!”
“Guard?” the man pondered scratching his unkempt beard.
“No.” He shook his head and smiled seeing her indignant eyes. “I will be the Queen’s elephant.” He beamed.
Sukratu stepped out of the house to see his daughter in action, perching herself on the tramp Loha’s back, pretending in all earnestness that he was her elephant. He smiled and was about to set out for his duty as the night guard of the King. A sudden lightning appeared in the eastern skies. Sukratu had barely walked a few paces when a deafening thunder made him instinctively turn towards home. He heaved a sigh, finding Loha shielding the girl as if he would, his own child.
“Father, don’t go.” The girl pleaded.
Sukratu smiled and shifted his gaze towards the sky. He saw dark clouds loom over the city. The monsoon winds had started to make their presence felt. He had to reach the palace soon. “Isn’t my little Queen brave?” He called out.
The girl nodded. He saw the fear fade. From her eyes. From her heart. She knew she was the queen! Pride filled his heart. His mind ached to stay home but duty beckoned. Tearing his gaze away from the one he treasured the most in his life, braving the drizzle that would soon turn into a storm, he unwillingly walked towards the King’s residence. Sukratu’s house was in the third ring of the concentric structure of Vrishabhavati. In the centre, was the structure, that served as the residence of the king and as the centre of all trade activity of the city. Here no wealth or goods could change hands without the king’s knowledge and approval. The residences of the noblemen formed the two rings around it. The guards and soldiers forming the outermost circle with the citizens living around them.
As per the protocol, Sukratu approached General Ugra’s residence quite ahead of his reporting time— an hour before the moonrise. He walked into the empty courtyard. But the rain made it impossible for him to stand there any longer. He knocked at the giant wooden door fervently. The doors creaked as a strange woman clad in a dark indigo garment opened them and glared at him with a frown on her forehead.
General Ugra, Sukratu knew was never faithful to one woman. His superior’s romantic exploits were not his concern either. But something about the woman at the door disconcerted him. “Please let General Ugra know that…”
“He has already left for the palace!” The woman frowned before attempting to shut the door.
“What? How ca…” Sukratu’s words hung in air as the door slammed on his face and the woman disappeared from his line of vision all of a sudden. Something did not feel right. He knocked at the door again. Firmly this time, as though seeking answers. Any change in the reporting time would have been announced the day before and he remembered that nothing of the sort had happened. His knocks went unanswered. Frowning and muttering under his breath, Sukratu hurried towards an empty cowshed three houses away from Ugra’s place hoping to catch his companions who he knew would be equally surprised.
The first to arrive was Khela, the eighteen-year-old guard, holding a metal shield above his head. The newest addition to the King’s guard, Khela was related to General Ugra and Sukratu felt that his position in the King’s guard was largely a result of undue favours that Ugra showered upon an otherwise impudent boy.
“Sukratu! By the great Varuna, I should have come to you earlier!” Khela hurried towards him. Pausing for breath, he added. “Our platoon has been given a relief tonight! It was a sudden decision and I personally informed all the others.”
“Relief for tonight? That happens only when…”
“Our guarding hours change from night to day!” Khela completed in a hurry. “Now, come with me.” He turned towards the western direction and the javelin he held started to sway dangerously and came close to grazing Sukratu’s arm.
The older guard’s instincts made him dodge the cut. “Where?” Sukratu hissed, visibly annoyed, first with the fact that he was kept in dark about the change in guarding hours and then about Khela’s irreverent behaviour. “And watch who your weapon hurts, boy.”
Khela shrugged and changed the position of his weapon. “We are now going to the place.” He winked, stretching his hand in the direction. “Follow me, this is the only night we get to have some fun.”
Sukratu did not move. The place he knew implied the tavern where wine was served. “We cannot drink tonight, Khela. When do we have to report tomorrow? By sunrise?”
“You ask too many questions. The rest of us are there too!”
“That does not answer my question.”
“Well, I don’t know, and I don’t care to. The palace is paying for the wine. Are you coming or not?”
The last sentence sounded more like a threat than an invite. Sukratu had all the mind to give the youth a piece of his mind and storm back home. His daughter would be overjoyed to see him before she went to sleep. It gnawed at Sukratu’s heart every day to leave her under the care of Loha— the tramp who had begged him for shelter about six months ago and then became a part of his life. The girl liked him instantly and had begged Sukratu to let Loha live with them and he, despite his misgivings about the tramp’s origins and his unkempt appearance, could not refuse his only daughter. Over time, Sukratu felt grateful for Loha’s company. Now his daughter did not have to be all by herself every night. The guard’s home would have been unguarded if not for that stranger. Sukratu brushed aside these thoughts and had almost decided to go home when the thought of meeting other senior guards and clarifying the confusion struck him. He followed Khela’s lead, making no attempt to hide his displeasure.
When they reached the tavern, Sukratu to his dismay, found many of his brothers in arms deeply drunk. “When did they reach here and when did they…”
“Quite some time before. I just forgot to tell you in advance!”
Sukratu’s eyes scrutinized the men and women of the tavern who were serving wine to the guards. There were no other citizens or travellers in the tavern.
“Just for us, the whole night!” Khela said as if reading his thoughts, bringing him an earthen goblet.
The older guard accepted the goblet taking his first sip with a sense of foreboding.
“Where were you all the time, old friend?” The voice belonged to Tunga one of the senior guards in the platoon.
The grin on his friend’s face brought a smile to Sukratu’s lips. “Tunga, what is this about the sudden change in our guarding hours?”
“The King… that imbecile, has finally remembered that we are human too!” Tunga guffawed, emptying his goblet, waving vigorously at a woman of the tavern who obliged with a seductive wink.
She approached them, skilfully distributing her attention between both the men, winking at Tunga and pouting her lips at Sukratu. Her brows rose at Sukratu’s filled cup. “Don’t keep the Sura nor this Sundari waiting, my love…” Serving Tunga his wine, she placed her fingers upon Sukratu’s shoulders, digging her nails into his skin for a moment locking her gaze with his and turned around swiftly, letting her light upper garment rest on his face for a fleeting moment.
It was a wilful invitation and Sukratu knew it. His attention though was caught by the colour of the garment. The Indigo hued garment! All the women of the tavern wore clothes of the same colour. So did the woman he saw in General Ugra’s house! Was Ugra at home while the woman lied that he was at the palace? If the General and the whole platoon of the night guard were lying down drunk, who was minding the security of the King? Sukratu looked at the rest of the guards. No one seemed sober enough to talk. The only sober man Khela had disappeared!
“By the great Varuna!” Sukratu exclaimed aloud and rushed out, pushing the woman who tried to stop him away.
He raced to the King’s residence, as fast as his legs could carry him. The huge wooden gates of the structure were closed and secured from inside. The rain lashed drowning his cries. Misgivings regarding the King’s welfare made him shudder. He had to meet General Ugra. Something told him that the General had his own reasons to send the whole platoon of guards to enjoy a drunk night. He was a guard who had sworn to protect the King with his life. The general owed him an answer. Sukratu rushed to General Ugra’s house determined to confront him.
That, Sukratu realized was the biggest mistake of his life.
At the gates of the general’s residence he saw a familiar figure hurrying out of his house, a heavy bundle on his shoulders. “General Ugra!” he called out, feeling relieved.
The figure started, and the bundle fell to the ground. Sukratu came to a sudden halt as he realized it wasn’t a bundle after all, but a blood-drenched corpse. A stroke of lightning from the sky revealed the face and the very familiar greying curls. Sukratu froze for a long moment before he could speak.
 “K… King…”
Something hit him on the head even before he could utter the name. Sukratu staggered, reeling at the impact, clutching at his long sword in a vain attempt to defend the next move.
“Finish him!” The General shout behind him.
Before he turned around, Sukratu felt the cold metal tear into his back. Lightning struck revealing the contours of the person. Khela! The javelin stabbed him again. Thunder drowned his screams. Falling to the ground with the weapon still stuck to his back, Sukratu lifted his sword and managed to slash Khela’s palm though the latter, unlike him was vigilant and alert. Crawling away from the menacing duo, knowing very well that he could not last more than a few moments, Sukratu’s thoughts, went to his innocent daughter. She would now languish as an orphan remaining in dark about the monsters who killed her father. Or would they kill her too?
Sukratu would never know.
About the Author:
Saiswaroopa is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author. Her keen interest in ancient Indian history, literature and culture made her take to writing. Her debut novel Abhaya, set in the times of Mahabharata was published in 2015. Avishi, her second novel set in Vedic India explores the legend of India’s first mentioned female warrior queen Vishpala.
She holds a certificate in Puranas from Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She is also trained in Carnatic Classical music and has won a state level gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.

The Brothers Three by Layton Green

The Brothers ThreeThe Brothers Three

by Layton Green
Series: The Blackwood Saga, #1

Kindle Edition, 332 pg.
Cloaked Traveler Press, 2017

Read: August 4 – 8, 2017


Ever since Edmund, Lucy and Eustace got sucked into that tacky painting and into the sea in Narnia, I’ve been a sucker for a good portal fantasy*. Which is exactly what Layton Green has given us here.

Will Blackwood works for a general contractor, with the occasional shift at a medieval-themed family restaurant where he will engage in stage fighting, and spends a lot of time reading fantasy novels. He’s suffered from panic attacks since childhood and that’s kept him from much more. His buddy, Lance, a New Orleans police officer will occasionally take him on ride-alongs, but he’s just not up for much more excitement. His older brother Caleb, is a bartender and perpetual adolescent (given time and opportunity, I’d have liked to see that explored more, because I suspect there’s more to it than meets the eye). The oldest, Val, is a corporate lawyer in New York who has served as self-appointed guardian to his brothers since their father’s death while they were children.

Until one day, things get a little strange: Will and Lance run into a zombie Rottweiler and the weird guy who controls it. Lance explains it away, but Will can’t. He knows what he saw, and apparently has a willingness to be flexible with his presuppositions about what may be real. Not long after this, the Blackwood’s godfather shows up, tells them that their father was a wizard, gives them some magical weapons and then gets kidnapped by the guy who had the Rottweiler (it was a pretty eventful conversation). Before they can wrap their minds around this, a stranger claiming to be a wizard shows up and talks to Will, telling him that Zedock is the name of the man who kidnapped Charlie — he’s a necromancer from a parallel universe where magic rules, not science.

Not only that, he’s arranged for the brothers to go to that parallel universe to learn a little about magic, their weapons and maybe find a way to defeat Zedock. Will is game, but he knows that he’s not going to be able to convince his brothers that this is a possibility. They’ve managed to convince themselves that they didn’t see anything magical and that there’s a reasonable explanation for everything going on (except Charlie’s statements) — they’re not quite at the level of the explanations that Tommy Lee Jones uses in Men in Black, but they’re close. So Will tricks them into triggering the portal to the other world with him (and Lance gets sucked through it, too).

Even in a world clearly not our reality — with swords, magical creatures, and different looking streets in New Orleans — it takes time for those who aren’t Will to accept what’s going on. But they eventually do, and hire some locals to help them get to a fortress where they should be able to find something they can use to challenge Zedock. I seem to be talking about the willingness of Val, Caleb and Lance to accept what they’ve seen and experience — but that’s a pretty big plot point. I like the way they struggle with this, unlike what goes on with kids in portal fantasies who seem to swallow the whole concept in seconds

The travel isn’t easy — it’s not long before all of them get to learn how to fight with pre-modern weapons. Val shows some signs of magical ability and begins training in its use, while Will learns how to use a sword in a fight that doesn’t happen on a stage, and Caleb picks up a trick or two from a thief. They don’t just train and travel — they see and fight creatures straight out of a D & D manual. A lot more happens, of course, but I don’t want to give it all away — so I’ll just sum up by talking about how the adventurers they travel with are a great collection of characters, pretty compelling, and just what’s needed to keep the story move forward and acclimate the dimension-jumpers to this world.

There is real peril — as demonstrated by enough deaths to satisfy the grimdark fans while not really being a grimdark world. Sure, there were a couple of Red Shirt deaths (Red Tunic deaths?), but characters you assume are safe turn out not to be after all. I read one paragraph a few times just to convince myself that I read about the gruesome death of a major character actually happened. Even without that, the way this story is told isn’t what you expect — there are secrets, ulterior motives, and barrels of denial everywhere. It’s very compellingly and interestingly put together.

The Brothers Three is well-written, skillfully structured, and well-paced — there are some nice turns of phrase throughout the novel, too. Green is the real thing, giving the readers a good story, great characters, an interesting world (or pair of them), in a well-written package. Book 2 comes out next month and it’s on my TBR. I’m resisting the impulse to move it higher, but it’s not easy.


* Yeah, I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader first — I read series out of order in my childhood. As a kid, I was practically feral, it seems.

Disclaimer: I was provided with this copy for an honest review by the author.

—–

4 Stars

Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

Ewan Pendle and the White WraithEwan Pendle and the White Wraith

by Shaun Hume
Series: Ewan Pendle, #1

Kindle Edition, 496 pg.
Popcorn & Rice Publishing, 2012

Read: August 1 – 2, 2017d


Yeah, so this is a MG Fantasy about an orphan boy with horrible foster parents being recruited to go to a private school where he’s trained in mystical arts and gets in all sorts of adventures. But it’s totally not Harry Potter. Clearly inspired by that series by Rowling — but others as well, don’t get me wrong (Riordan and Mull leap to mind as examples) — but Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is its own thing. Every now and then its non-Harry Potterness gets in your face and is a bit distracting. At the same time, focusing on how Hume zags when Rowling zigs, or how they approach the same convention differently displays the strengths of this project while making it appealing for the reader missing the Hogwarts crew.

Ewan and the others at his school have the rare ability to see all sorts of mythical Creatures, and as such, are trained to deal with them and other exotic threats. Classic boarding school-type hijinks ensue, Ewan makes a couple of really good friends, and a few others. He and Mathilde and Enid, his two best friends, come across some information which they believe indicates that graduates, officials and at least one student are involved in an attempt to kill the Queen. They bend, break, and ignore rules to investigate and try to stop this plot.

Meanwhile, they have all sorts of interesting studies — there’s a class involving swords, one hand-to-hand combat, one involving making potions (of sorts), one involving the Creatures (of course), and things of that nature. That’s pretty fun.

The relationships between Ewan and his two closest friends, as well as those between the other students and some of the teachers are just great. I can easily see fan favorites emerging from among the student body as the series continues. There’s a couple of kids in his class that have an irrational hatred of Ewan and his friends. Those two are a little too underdeveloped now, they might as well have mustaches to twirl. It won’t take much in book 2 to develop them into something interesting.

On the whole, an entertaining, heartfelt, and quick fantasy novel that’ll please the MG crowd. The plot is solid, ditto for the characters, and the world is both familiar and foreign. I’d like book 2 to deepened everything a little, but given the worldbuilding and plotting that one had to establish that it won’t, that should be easy. Give this one a shot.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

—–

3.5 Stars

Strife by M. T. Miller

StrifeStrife

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Nameless Chronicle, #3

Kindle Edition, 336 pg.
2017

Read: July 28 – 31, 2017


The first two books of this series feature Nameless just struggling to survive, while along the way stumbling into adventure, some wealth and other kinds of success. He really never seemed to have much of a plan, but things worked out in his favor (eventually, and at great cost). But after the great success — if it is that — after Ascent, Nameless isn’t worried about survival, about doing more than subsisting this time. He’s got time for plans — not just plans for himself, but for the citizenry of the Pyramid.

Whoops. Maybe he should go back to just eking out a living.

Things don’t go so hot for him this way — but man, what character growth. Really, there are depths to Nameless that may not surprise readers, it makes sense that they exist, but we’ve never had the opportunity to see it before.

There are two other cities on the post-apocalyptic landscape, New Orleans and the White City. New Orleans is full of the New Voodoo Movement, and the White City is the home base of the One True Church of America — religious movements that Nameless doesn’t have a good track record with, and has done a lot to try to get rid of. Now both of these cities have plans for Babylon and Nameless — but it’s clear that pretty much all the White City wants out of them is abject surrender and assimilation. That’s just not going to sit well with Nameless.

Now Nameless has to look at the world that he’s helped to create, but he has a chance to reshape it, and save the city he’s adopted.

There’s some soul-searching here, there’s a lot of exploration into what makes Nameless tick and his origins. But the focus is on what he’s going to do next and why. This is only the third book in the series, so you really can’t say what a “typical” Nameless book would be — but whatever that would be, this isn’t it. I don’t know how to really talk about it without divulging all the nuts and bolts of the plot, sadly. There are old friends and new, old threats and new (and some old friends are new threats and vice versa). Which is not to say that the core of Nameless — a ruthless, skillful killer of all in his way — isn’t there, he is and he does. But there’s a little more to him than just that.

I’ve enjoyed Miller’s writing in the past, but this is at a whole new level for him. There’s a complexity to his writing, a subtlety that hasn’t been there before. There’s a good balance of lightness and darkness in the story, the writing itself. He’s clearly maturing as a writer, hopefully people give him a shot to impress them, he will.

This isn’t the place to jump on for new readers — the first two books are cheap and pretty entertaining, too, grab them first. I don’t know if Miller’s going to be able to keep this series going, if so, I can’t wait to see where he goes from here. But if not, I’m more than satisfied with where things are left. A very satisfying ending after a good mix of thrills, fighting and character growth.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Thanks, Mr. Miller! This didn’t impact my opinion of the book in any discernible way.

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4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson

Gork, the Teenage DragonGork, the Teenage Dragon

by Gabe Hudson
eARC, 400 pg.
Knopf Publishing Group, 2017
Read: June 30 – July 3, 2017

Note: As I re-read this before it goes up, I thought I should stress something: this is a fun book and I think people will enjoy it. The problem is, it takes more words to describe the stuff I wasn’t crazy about than it does to describe the stuff I liked. I chuckled, I grinned, I was happy for Gork’s successes (happier for his best-friend Fribby’s successes — but they usually coincided) — as rare as they were. Don’t let the length of the “bleh” bits here distract you — Hudson just provoked some thoughts.

There were parts of this that were delightful, parts of it that were problematic, parts that were just okay. There were also too many parts, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Our protagonist and unlikely hero is Gork — a dragon with pretty strong feelings toward Tolkein and the author of Beowulf for the depiction of dragons — he’s sort of a wimp, his horns aren’t that big (pretty small, really), he’s not that fierce (but he wants to be), and he tends to faint at inopportune times and frequently. Nevertheless, he’s about to finish his last year at the War Academy and head off to terrorize and conquer a planet of his own, all he needs to do is get someone to agree to be his queen and they’ll head off. We meet him on the day he’s supposed to do just that. Now, think back to high school — does this seem like a guy who’s going to be getting a lot of dates? Not really — and when your high school is full of dragons intent on learning how to be the nastiest, fiercest, most terrifying conquerors any planet has ever seen, well — Gork’s odds are even worse.

Naturally, because this is a high school story, our puny geek has set his eyes on the most popular, gorgeous and dangerous girl in school. The question really isn’t “Will Gork and his band of friends be able to convince her to be is queen?” It’s, “Will Gork survive the day?” And oddsmakers around the school, put his chance at that at 1%.

This is clearly from the word “go” a comic novel — we’re supposed to laugh at the madness, mayhem and murdering — and it’s easy to do on the whole. It’s a crazy world Hudson’s created for these dragons to go around in, and most of the characters are amusing. I’m not convinced it works that well as a novel as a whole — as a series of goofy episodes that eventually lead to a big showdown with the nastiest dragon around, it’s all right. (I’m not sure that distinction makes sense to anyone).

I like the idea of spacefaring dragons, dragons that have fully embraced technologies that we can’t think of (or we have thought of, just haven’t done that much with yet) — robotics, nanobots, and more. Although the “mind-swap” device doesn’t really swap minds it . . . well, it’s hard to sum up, but it felt like it belonged more to a Hanna-Barbera show than a SF novel. Basically, this is a Science Fiction wonderland populated with dragons instead of highly developed humans, Grays, Vulcans or Wookies. Still, being that takes away some of the X-factor that makes people fascinated with dragons. Dragons are already pretty cool, you don’t need to give them gizmos and machines that go “ping” — if anything that detracts from them. Still…a dragon in a spaceship is a pretty cool visual.

There’s a moral code that the dragons here live by, or aspire to anyway. It glorifies treachery, destruction, brutality, and so on. Grades of F are to be aspired to, As are to be lamented. That sort of thing — but societies can’t exist like the way Hudson depicts, and honestly, his society doesn’t function the way he says it does (the fact that there are actual friendships depicted, not just uneasy alliances is proof enough against that). You can’t have characters shocked by betrayal in a world where there are classes on betrayal. It’s the moments of loyalty and help that should be shocking, and not trusted by anyone. But no one works that way in this book. This is not a problem unique to Hudson’s work, I’ve run into it before — usually, in works like this, where the twisted ethics are played for laughs and we’re not supposed to be getting as analytical about them as I am. So, ignore everything I just said.

There were just a couple too many zigs and zags to the plot — a few less challenges, a few less pages, and I think this would’ve worked a bit better. I’m not necessarily saying that I can point to something and say, “That right there — yeah, we didn’t need that,” it just dragged a bit here and there. I tend to be more patient than most of the target audience for this book, so I worry about their reaction.

Speaking of target audience — I’m not sure what it is. The humor and emotional depth says MG to me, but the Gork’s fixation on mating and the things that attracts him to potential mates (he’s pretty shallow, I should warn you) are more YA. I’m not sure it matters all that much, it’s just one of those things that ran through the back of my mind during the slow parts.

I got a bit ramble-y there, sorry about that. I clearly am not sure what to make of this book — I enjoyed it, and I bet many will, too. But it has it’s problems — my best advice is, don’t think about it — just enjoy the antics. Gork’s a good guy and is fun to hang out with.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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3 Stars

Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson

Gork, the Teenage DragonGork, the Teenage Dragon

by Gabe Hudson

eARC, 400 pg.
Knopf Publishing Group, 2017

Read: June 30 – July 3, 2017


Note: As I re-read this before it goes up, I thought I should stress something: this is a fun book and I think people will enjoy it. The problem is, it takes more words to describe the stuff I wasn’t crazy about than it does to describe the stuff I liked. I chuckled, I grinned, I was happy for Gork’s successes (happier for his best-friend Fribby’s successes — but they usually coincided) — as rare as they were. Don’t let the length of the “bleh” bits here distract you — Hudson just provoked some thoughts.

There were parts of this that were delightful, parts of it that were problematic, parts that were just okay. There were also too many parts, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Our protagonist and unlikely hero is Gork — a dragon with pretty strong feelings toward Tolkein and the author of Beowulf for the depiction of dragons — he’s sort of a wimp, his horns aren’t that big (pretty small, really), he’s not that fierce (but he wants to be), and he tends to faint at inopportune times and frequently. Nevertheless, he’s about to finish his last year at the War Academy and head off to terrorize and conquer a planet of his own, all he needs to do is get someone to agree to be his queen and they’ll head off. We meet him on the day he’s supposed to do just that. Now, think back to high school — does this seem like a guy who’s going to be getting a lot of dates? Not really — and when your high school is full of dragons intent on learning how to be the nastiest, fiercest, most terrifying conquerors any planet has ever seen, well — Gork’s odds are even worse.

Naturally, because this is a high school story, our puny geek has set his eyes on the most popular, gorgeous and dangerous girl in school. The question really isn’t “Will Gork and his band of friends be able to convince her to be is queen?” It’s, “Will Gork survive the day?” And oddsmakers around the school, put his chance at that at 1%.

This is clearly from the word “go” a comic novel — we’re supposed to laugh at the madness, mayhem and murdering — and it’s easy to do on the whole. It’s a crazy world Hudson’s created for these dragons to go around in, and most of the characters are amusing. I’m not convinced it works that well as a novel as a whole — as a series of goofy episodes that eventually lead to a big showdown with the nastiest dragon around, it’s all right. (I’m not sure that distinction makes sense to anyone).

I like the idea of spacefaring dragons, dragons that have fully embraced technologies that we can’t think of (or we have thought of, just haven’t done that much with yet) — robotics, nanobots, and more. Although the “mind-swap” device doesn’t really swap minds it . . . well, it’s hard to sum up, but it felt like it belonged more to a Hanna-Barbera show than a SF novel. Basically, this is a Science Fiction wonderland populated with dragons instead of highly developed humans, Grays, Vulcans or Wookies. Still, being that takes away some of the X-factor that makes people fascinated with dragons. Dragons are already pretty cool, you don’t need to give them gizmos and machines that go “ping” — if anything that detracts from them. Still…a dragon in a spaceship is a pretty cool visual.

There’s a moral code that the dragons here live by, or aspire to anyway. It glorifies treachery, destruction, brutality, and so on. Grades of F are to be aspired to, As are to be lamented. That sort of thing — but societies can’t exist like the way Hudson depicts, and honestly, his society doesn’t function the way he says it does (the fact that there are actual friendships depicted, not just uneasy alliances is proof enough against that). You can’t have characters shocked by betrayal in a world where there are classes on betrayal. It’s the moments of loyalty and help that should be shocking, and not trusted by anyone. But no one works that way in this book. This is not a problem unique to Hudson’s work, I’ve run into it before — usually, in works like this, where the twisted ethics are played for laughs and we’re not supposed to be getting as analytical about them as I am. So, ignore everything I just said.

There were just a couple too many zigs and zags to the plot — a few less challenges, a few less pages, and I think this would’ve worked a bit better. I’m not necessarily saying that I can point to something and say, “That right there — yeah, we didn’t need that,” it just dragged a bit here and there. I tend to be more patient than most of the target audience for this book, so I worry about their reaction.

Speaking of target audience — I’m not sure what it is. The humor and emotional depth says MG to me, but the Gork’s fixation on mating and the things that attracts him to potential mates (he’s pretty shallow, I should warn you) are more YA. I’m not sure it matters all that much, it’s just one of those things that ran through the back of my mind during the slow parts.

I got a bit ramble-y there, sorry about that. I clearly am not sure what to make of this book — I enjoyed it, and I bet many will, too. But it has it’s problems — my best advice is, don’t think about it — just enjoy the antics. Gork’s a good guy and is fun to hang out with.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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3 Stars