Recent Reads is a monthly reading wrap-up, with mini-reviews of all the books I finished in the past month. I’ll also share what I’m currently reading and any other books that are in the pipeline. Want to share your bookish happenings, too? Feel free to do so in the Comments section at the end!
You know what I realized while finishing this post? Next month is July, when writers and bloggers celebrate the year’s halfway point by looking past on their 2016 reads and achievements so far. I’m not ready for that yet! :S
Mind-boggles aside, I managed to read five books during May. Out of those five, I’m reviewing four, including two brand-new YA fantasies, an eerie children’s classic about the Fey / Fair Folk, and a novella collection set in one of the most popular fantasy worlds at the moment. Which one was my Read of the Month? Let’s find out!
By the way, I’m still taking votes and suggestions for next month’s blogoversary! Click here to check out the poll and share your feedback before Thursday, June 16th.
Read of the Month: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
Before Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, and Ned Stark were born, there was A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Ser Duncan the Tall, a hedge knight with origins unknown even to him, travels the continent of Westeros in search of lords who need an extra swordsman. His squire is a mystery, too – a young, shaven-head boy who goes by the nickname Egg, but is really Prince Aegon Targaryen. And in this trio of novellas, which is complemented by Gary Gianni’s stunning illustrations, readers learn how this unlikely pair meets, watch their relationship grow, and discover what both characters are willing to do for one another.
I struggled with A Dance With Dragons last year because of its length, overabundance in detail, and the “grimdark” aspects wearing on me. Knight‘s novellas, however, are collectively a fresh drink of water. I loved both lead characters for different reasons. Ser Duncan (a.k.a. Dunk) isn’t the sharpest blade on the belt, but he’s humble, stubbornly loyal, and admirably courageous. And Egg is full of personality: bright, daring, and too outspoken for his own good. Together, they offer a candid, wide-eyed perspective into a land where morality and chivalry are often rejected for personal pleasure and agenda.
As for the novellas, each builds on the history that fans may already know about Westeros, with more insight into the reign of House Targaryen. And, each is delightfully entertaining thanks to Egg’s youthful bluntness (seriously, he can be so funny!) and Dunk’s knack for getting in over his head. “The Sworn Sword” is my favorite, with subtle romance and Dunk’s steadfastness despite being caught in a web of deception. The other two stories are also very good, though they suffer from long-winded description. And with few scene breaks (and no chapter breaks), sometimes it took too long to feel like I could come up for air. But the characters and the gorgeously detailed illustrations make A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms more than worthwhile. This is seriously the most fun I’ve had in Westeros in a while – unless you count the Game of Thrones TV show, of course. 😉
Other Books I Read in May
In this sequel to last year’s The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh brings us back to the desert-land love story between a cursed boy-king and the wife who once wanted to kill him out of revenge. Khalid and Shahrzad are now apart, after Shazi was taken from him and forced to reunite with her family and a spurned lover who wants Khalid dead. With war against the neighboring kingdom (ruled by Khalid’s uncle) looming and her father playing with ancient, destructive magic, Shazi knows she can’t afford to wait. So, she strikes out on her own to learn more about the powers she’s discovered within her – and to find a way to break Khalid’s curse, once and for all.
Most everyone I know who’s read The Rose and the Dagger has loved it. Me? Well… I loved the first half of it. The tension between Shazi and her family, the increased presence of magic (and magic carpet rides!), the continued use of lavish sensory details that bring the Middle-Eastern inspired world to life – no wonder I had a hard time putting this down at first! There’s less room for romance as a result of the new conflicts, but I didn’t mind. And to watch Shazi refuse to be a victim, and proactively seek ways to learn about her powers and help Khalid, was both thrilling and consistent with her character.
The second half, though… I’m still shaking my head over it. Ahdieh resorted to a lot of telling and summarizing of intriguing “off-page” moments that would have been great to see “on-page” instead. Some of the time jumps between chapters were jarring, too, and forced me to re-read the previous page to reorient myself. What disappointed me most, though, was the book’s ending. It relied more on politics and secondary characters than Shazi and her magic. And after so much emphasis was placed on the latter, to see an climax that didn’t show her coming into her own – well, I felt cheated. So… yeah. I’m aware I’m in the minority, but The Rose and the Dagger didn’t quite deliver on its promises for me.
Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere whisks readers through myth and time, from India to America, straight to the heart of a fraying familial bond. Nix Song, the daughter of the Temptation‘s captain, feels at home on his ship; the crew is her family, and any map is their road to a new destination. But every day, the end looms closer for her. Her father is bent on finding a map that will take them back to 1868 Hawaii, just before Nix’s mother died while giving birth to her – and going there could erase Nix’s very existence. What’s a girl to do when she feels powerless from stopping her father from saving his beloved?
It was hard to deny The Girl From Everywhere‘s pull the more I read it. Heilig’s smooth, eloquent writing immerses you in each setting, especially the still-untamed tropical wilderness surrounding Honolulu. The amount of historical research shines through, too; and the questions raised about family, friendship, and loyalty lend a more thoughtful, mature angle to this YA story. The characters are engaging, and Nix’s obsessive, unpredictable father was my favorite. Heilig has said that her experience with bipolar disorder informed Slate’s character, and her careful yet candid portrayal of his disorder made him believable and sympathetic.
At the same time, I struggled with the overall premise. Nix spends most of the book reluctantly helping her father, instead of thwarting his attempts to find the map. If a character is faced with her demise, wouldn’t she try to prevent it from happening? If Nix had put up more of a fight, I would have given The Girl From Everywhere a higher rating. Otherwise, this is a richly imagined, reflective tale that should satisfy most fans of time travel, pirates, and fantasies that blur the lines between myth and history.
Set in 1558 England, The Perilous Gard tells the story of Kate Sutton, a young maid to Princess Elizabeth who is exiled by Queen Mary I to a remote, countryside castle. Once there, Kate quickly grows suspicious of local rumors and the castle’s inhabitants. The mystery of a little girl’s disappearance and the peculiar behaviors of Kate’s guardian’s brother Christopher soon bring her face to face with the Fairy Folk and their strange, mystical ways. When the Fairy Folk decide to sacrifice Christopher so they reclaim their power on the world, Kate realizes she might be the only one who can save him – and the only one brave enough to stand up to the Fairy Queen.
I like a good classic now and then, and The Perilous Gard was a great recommendation. Kate is a fantastic heroine; she’s intelligent, logical, and bluntly honest. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself or follow her moral compass when characters try to sway her otherwise. The fantastical elements come courtesy of the Fairy Folk, from their ethereal underground realm to their practice of druidism (nature worship and blood sacrifice). This makes The Perilous Gard quite dark for a children’s fantasy, and some of the content (though not graphic) might frighten young readers. But the amount of research reflected and the weaving of Scottish and British folklore (especially the ballad of Tam Lin) makes this story absorbing and eerily authentic.
There were times when The Perilous Gard‘s lengthy passages and descriptions gnawed at my patience. But that kind of writing was acceptable in Pope’s time (TPG was published in 1974), and I understood that. Once I powered through those sections, I was able to focus on the story’s true gold – and there was plenty to be found. This is a must-read for fans of Fair Folk tales or older fantasy stories. But truthfully, anyone who’s curious about The Perilous Gard and its quietly courageous heroine should give it a try.
What I’m Reading Next
I’m about two-thirds finished with Keri Arthur’s City of Light, and then I’ll jump back into N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy with its second book, The Broken Kingdoms. (You might remember that I met her at last year’s Writer’s Digest Conference… Well, guess who’s presenting there again this year?!) After that, maybe Lee Kelly’s A Criminal Magic? Or Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf? I’m also waiting on Elizabeth May’s The Vanishing Throne, and recently won Sarina Langer’s Rise of the Sparrows in a giveaway. So, I’ll see what I’m in the mood for as June goes along. 😉
What books did you recently read? Have you read any of the titles reviewed above?