Born to the Blade 1.9: Assassination by Malka Ann Older: Many things happen — some even positive — in this very strong entry to the season.

AssassinationAssassination

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.9

Kindle Edition, 43 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 14, 2018

I take it all back — every hesitation I’ve expressed over the last couple of weeks — this episode fixed everything.

Well, no, not really. But man, it’s close enough to justify a little hyperbole. This has none of the weaknesses or shortcomings of the last couple of episodes — there’s some good action, the plot moves forward, there’s some great character moments and the reader isn’t left wondering about what’s going on. There’s one character’s action that you can’t be positive about, and there’s something that happens in the closing paragraphs that you can’t know everything about — but you will soon into episode 10. But those are different from being aware that there’s a lot going on and you don’t get to see or know about it.

This takes place in the shadow of the events of last week’s episode, kicking off mere hours later, and carries you at a great pace through the next events.

Adechike and Ojo have a confrontation about their nation’s actions (and some of Ojo’s) and I found myself rooting for the junior warden — not something I’d have expected even a week ago. Michiko’s investigation bears some fantastic fruit. Takeshi learned more than he expected to — and possibly kicks off another sub-plot (who doesn’t want one so close to the end?). And the other wardens find themselves forced to react to the embryonic war.

This far into the series, it continues to be difficult to talk about the events without ruining things for people who have yet to start the series, so hopefully this was enough. This was a very strong entry — the strongest since episode 4 or 5, and one that bodes well for the end of this season.

—–

4 Stars

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Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne: A Comedic Fantasy Tells a Good Story While Playing with Too-Familiar Tropes

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #1

eARC, 384 pg.
Del Rey, 2018

Read: June 5 – 12, 2018
Ugh. I wish the eARC didn’t say I needed to hold off any quotations until I could compare it with the final copy — or maybe, I wish I had noticed that very tiny print before I got half a draft of this finished. On the other hand, I was having trouble narrowing down which of my lengthy options to use, because, if nothing else, this is one of the more quotable books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Kill the Farm Boy is a comedic fantasy, a satirical look at fantasy and even a parody of the genre. But what makes it effective is that for all the comedy, there’s a decent story and some solid characters throughout. It’s be easy for it to be a collection of jokes, with no story; or a tale full of character types, not characters. But Dawson and Hearne avoid those pitfalls.

The titular farm boy, Worstley, is going about his typical day, full of drudgery when an inebriated pixie shows up to announce that he is a Chosen One — one who is destined to save, or at least change, the world. To demonstrate her power, the pixie gives one of his goats, Gustave, the power of speech. The goat isn’t too happy about being able to speak, but since he was destined to end up in a curry in a few days, decides to travel with the newly appointed Chosen One, his former Pooboy. The pixie, having Chosened Worstley, disappears. Worstley the Pooboy (hey, Taran, worse things to be called than Assistant Pig-Keeper, eh?) and Gustave head off on a quest for glory.

Despite the book’s title, we don’t spend that much time with Worstley — instead the focus shifts (for good reason) to a band of hero–well, a group of companions. There’s Fia — a fierce warrior from a distant land, who just wants to live a life of peace with some nice roses — and some armor that would actually protect her (not that there’s anyone who minds seeing here in her chain-mail bikini). Argabella, a struggling bard who is cursed to be covered in fur — she’s basically Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi combined (last Prydian reference, probably). Every adventuring party needs a rogue/thief, this one has to settle for the klutzy and not necessarily bright, Poltro, and her guardian, the Dark Lord magician, Toby (though some would only consider him crepuscular), of dubious talents. I can’t forget Grinda the sand witch (no, really), Worstley’s aunt and a magic user of considerable talent.

There are no shortage of villains — and/or antagonists to this party. There are some pretty annoying elves; a hungry giant; Løcher, the King’s chamberlain and mortal enemy of Grinda; Staph, the pixie behind the Chosening; as well as several magical traps, Lastly, there’s Steve. We don’t meet him (I’m betting it’ll be in Book 3 when we do), but throughout these adventures we how much this world, and our heroes lives, have been turned upside down my the worst Steve since one (allegedly) unleashed the preposterous hypothesis that Jemaine was a large water-dwelling mammal. Steve . . .

The writing is just spot-on good. Dawson and Hearne have taken all these various and disparate themes, tropes, characters and surrounded them with a lot of laughs. There’s some pretty sophisticated humor, some stuff that’s pretty clever — but they also run the gamut to some pretty low-brow jokes as well. Really, these two are on a tight comedic budget, no joke is too cheap. The variation ensures there’s a little something for everyone — and that you can’t predict where the humor will come from. I will admit that early on I got annoyed with a few running jokes, but I eventually got to the point that I enjoyed them — not just in a “really? they’re trying it again?” sense, either.

For all the comedy — Kill the Farm Boy hits the emotional moments just right. There’s a depiction of grief towards the end (spoiler?) that I found incredibly affecting and effective. There are smaller moments — less extreme moments — too that are dealt with just right. Maybe even better than some of the bigger comedic moments. This is the reward of populating this book with fully-realized characters, not just joke vehicles.

I have a couple of quibbles, nothing major, but I’m not wholly over the moon with this (but I can probably hit sub-orbital status). There was a bit about a fairly articulate Troll being taken down by a female using (primarily) her wits that could’ve used a dollop or five of subtly. Clearly they weren’t going for subtle, or they’d have gotten a lot closer to it. But it bugged me a bit (while being funny and on point). Secondly, and this is going to be strange after the last 2 posts — but this seemed to be too long. Now, I can’t imagine cutting a single line, much less a scene or chapter from this, but it just felt a little long. I do worry that some of Poltro’s backstory is too tragic and upon reflection makes it in poor taste (at best) to laugh about her — which is a shame, because she was a pretty funny character until you learn about her.

This is probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing — and this doesn’t have all the problematic passages. I’ve appreciated Dawson’s work in the past, and you have to spend 30 seconds here to know that I’m a huge Hearne fan, together they’ve created something unlike what they’ve done before. Well, except for their characteristic quality — that’s there. I cared about these characters — and they made me laugh, and giggle, and roll my eyes. This is the whole package, folks, you’ll be glad you gave it a chance.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.8: Refugees by Malka Ann Older: Pretty much everything goes wrong for everyone

RefugeesRefugees

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.8

Kindle Edition
Serial Box, 2018
Read: DATE

Argh. I just don’t know what to say here — clearly, this should’ve posted on Friday, but I only got one sentence down that I didn’t delete. This is only posting today because I didn’t let myself cut anything. This episode is too short, I think. When I consider everything I want to complain about, it all boils down to length (I’m not even seeing page counts on Amazon/Goodreads for the last couple of these). I do think the episode length is a legitimate problem, but at the same time, it’s part of the design of the series, so I should just shut up about it.

Which is just a long way of saying, I think I liked this episode, but I’m not sure — it sure didn’t satisfy my need as a reader to get a chunk of story big enough to appreciate what’s happening around these characters. I’m not saying these need to clock in at 250 pages or anything. Just 10-20% more?

Which is a crying shame — because there’s real opportunity in these pages for Michiko and Kris to get something done (both to help their people and the readers who like them as characters), but there wasn’t time. Ojo doesn’t seem like the same man anymore — which is completely understandable, but I’m having to do too much surmising to get to my understanding. I did like Adechike’s portion of this episode — that was really well done.

Oh, and Lavinia continues to be just the worst person in this world. but that’s not a surprise, really.

The action here revolves around this world preparing for the looming war — I get why the characters don’t know what actually happened to set off the conflict, but it’d be cool to let the readers in on the secret. There’s preparations for war — both in getting fighting forces ready, and refugees from affected/soon to be affected areas streaming into Twaa-Fei. Which is going pretty horribly — between the stress that an influx of refugees brings to an area and a healthy dose of subterfuge on someone’s part.

Speaking of Twaa-Fei, I’d have preferred to see more examples of this compact on between the nations working (however well it actually functions) before seeing it on the verge of collapse. It’s hard to appreciate just what they’re close to losing without seeing it more.

I’m still in this ’til the end, I think I’m still enjoying this — but I feel the authors are holding out on us, which bothers me. I’m trusting they’ll win me over (again) soon.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.7: Dreadnought by Cassandra Khaw: Things continue going from bad to worse

DreadnoughtDreadnought

by Cassandra Khaw
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.7

Kindle Edition
Serial Box, 2018
Read: May 31, 2018

I don’t know what to say here without spoiling — this series isn’t making it easy for me to write about it.

As bad as things looked last week — there were plenty of avenues that were easy to see for things to work out. Not necessarily easily, but possible. It’s still possible now, I’m sure, but it’s not easy to see how. There’s so much distrust in the air that even people who need to be working together won’t. In fact, everyone’s going out of their way to make it more difficult and less likely to work with each other.

Well, almost everyone. Kris and Michiko seem to be acting like themselves — although, since we’ve met them their behavior has basically been summarized by “try hard, ask a lot of questions, and be somewhat confused,” I’m not sure that it’s that helpful. The rest — whether it’s internally imposed, or naturally occurring, doesn’t matter — are stand-offish, distrustful, and taking steps to isolate themselves.

The carefully constructed peace is in grave danger — the questions that need to be answered are: who started and/or is continuing to orchestrate the events that kicked off this unraveling? Who is gaining from all of this? If the answers to these questions are discovered, does anyone have the ability (singly or as a group) to effectively push back? I have my suspicions, but I’ll have to wait and see.

This was well done, and an installment that had to happen — but it’s hard to really judge this until we get more of the picture. I liked it enough, I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure just how good a job this episode did. But I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from here so have a better idea.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.6: Spiraling by Marie Brennan: Just when things were looking up . . .

SpiralingSpiraling

by Marie Brennan
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.6

Kindle Edition, 47 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: May 24, 2018
Yesterday, Serial Box tweeted:

Defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory as warders Ojo Kante and Kris Denn search for answers and their superiors grow eager for war.

That’s about the best way to sum up this episode without getting into too much detail. As much as last week’s episode was a reaction to the events of the episode 4, while setting the table for the next arc — this episode was a reaction to the final chapter from last week.

Which was a doozy and deserved these 47 pages of fallout. I’m not going to say anything about the main story because I’ll just ruin things for people who haven’t read it yet. I will say that I could not have been more wrong after last week’s episode when I guessed what was on the horizon. While I found what Brennan did with the characters most obviously impacted (Kris, Ojo) with this — Michiko was by far the most interesting character this time out, and had a lot more to do than one would expect.

I have no real clue about what’s going on with Lavinia and Bellona in this episode — which is pretty cool, because you know that’s going to explode in a week or two. I have a theory or two about Lavinia’s actions, but am halfway convinced that I’m wrong and that the writers have something far better in store. I can’t help but assume that Bellona’s plans will fail — mostly because that seems in keeping with the character. But if she succeeds, it’ll make Lavinia eat a little crow. Either will work for me.

I’m looking forward to episode 7 more than I’ve looked forward to any of the others. For the first couple of weeks, I talked about the promise of this series — it’s being fulfilled now, and I’m glad I stuck with this through my initial ambivalence.

—–

3.5 Stars

BOOK BLITZ: Daughter of the Sun by Zoe Kalo

Daughter of the Sun
~ Cult of the Cat Series Book 1 ~
About the Book:

Title: Daughter of the Sun
Series: Cult of the Cat Series, Book 1
Author: Zoe Kalo
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy / Paranormal
Word Count: 93,000 words
No. of Pages: 330

Mystery, adventure, a hint of romance, and the delicious sweep of magic…
Sixteen-year-old Trinity was born during a solar eclipse and left at the doorsteps of a convent along with a torn piece of papyrus covered with ancient symbols. Raised by nuns in the English countryside, she leads a quiet life until she’s whisked away to the Island of Cats and a grandmother she never knew. 
But before they can get to know each other, her grandmother dies. All that Trinity has left is a mysterious eye-shaped ring. And a thousand grieving cats. As Trinity tries to solve the enigma of the torn papyrus, she discovers a world of bloody sacrifices and evil curses, and a prophecy that points to her and her new feline abilities. 
Unwilling to believe that any of the Egyptian gods could still be alive, Trinity turns to eighteen-year-old Seth and is instantly pulled into a vortex of sensations that forces her to confront her true self—and a horrifying destiny.
Get Your Copy of this Book. Available for FREE for a LIMITED TIME ONLY! 


About the Author:

Storyteller at heart…


A certified bookworm and ailurophile, Zoe Kalo has always been obsessed with books and reading. The pleasure of writing and sharing her fantasy worlds has remained. Today, Zoe passes her stories to you with lots of mystery, adventure, a hint of romance, and the delicious sweep of magic.

Currently, she balances writing with spending time with her family, taking care of her clowder of cats, and searching for the perfect bottle of pinot noir.

Contact the Author:
Website * Facebook * Twitter

Born to the Blade 1.5: Trade Deal by Malka Ann Older: Tying up loose ends and loosening some new ones

Trade DealTrade Deal

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.5

Kindle Edition, 25 pg.
Serial Box, 2018

Read: May 17, 2018


After all the excitement last week, we get a little bit of a breather here as we see some of the fallout from what happened in Kris’ trials. Michiko has to answer to Lavinia for the way things went against Kris and she finally updates her ancestors on the same events. Not for the first time, I wondered if the advice and counsel she’s able to draw upon from her ancestors is really more of a curse and burden than a gift and help. Still, between her own self-doubt and the scrutiny of just about every authority figure in her life, Michikio seems to be reconsidering things and maybe making some positive steps. I have high hopes for her as a character.

While Michiko is under the microscope, Kris is could maybe use a little scrutiny. Between becoming a Warder and completing is first acts as one Kris is starting to settle in. It’s a lot of fun watching the new reality settle in. There’s a sense in which Kris didn’t give a lot of thought to how things were going to be after the trials. I can’t tell if that’s because no one really thought it’d happen, or Kris needed to focus on the immediate challenge first. I’m not sure that Kris has been as interesting before — showing questionable judgement, and an impressively growing awareness of what the future can be.

There’s a little bit of action that’s not really fallout from the gauntlet, but is what we’ve been waiting for, pretty much centering on the person of Ojo. Kris and Ojo finalize the trade deal they promised to make, and then the final shoe drops with what’s been going on with Penelope. While this is happening Ojo gets some news from home that colors everything he does. He’s still the character that interests me the most, even as I’m sure the series really wants me to focus on Kris and Michiko.

This installment isn’t just wrapping up what was left dangling after episode 4, it sets up the stories the series will be focusing on next. This isn’t going to be your typical fantasy series, and will a lot of fun to see what it ends up being — although reading the characters and plots will be better. Given the last paragraph, it’s going to get exciting soon.

For me, the character of Takeshi stole this episode. I liked watching him at work in Episode 4, but honestly, I didn’t pay all that much attention to him before. But between his attitude, his secrets, and his non-Warder activities, he really seems like quite the guy (watching the reactions of the younger Warders running into the concept of non-Warder activities was great, by the way.).

While there wasn’t much transpiring in this episode, I really appreciated it for the character moments, and what it seems to be setting up for the future. I’m feeling better about Born to the Blade as a whole, too. In short, this was good stuff.

—–

3 Stars