Spycraft and Romance: A Review of Capture the Crown, by Jennifer Estep

There is an art to be found when crafting a sequel, a careful balance to be struck, which I talked about in several opening paragraphs in other reviews.  When it comes to creating not just a sequel, but a sequel series, however, that requires a completely different skillset and outlook.  Sometimes, after a series has concluded the story it wished to tell, there is room for additional stories.  Many authors will shift focus to a different character or a different region of their world entirely.  Often, the writer employs a time jump, catching up to characters and worlds many years after the original ending.  When writing a sequel series, a careful balance must be struck; a balance between retaining old readers and drawing in new ones.  Tip that balance, and you risk alienating one or both of these groups.  For the perfect example, look no farther than the Star Wars sequel trilogy.  The first movie, The Force Awakens, achieved this balance easily, introducing new characters and keeping one or two old ones.  However, the final movie, The Rise of Skywalker, wrapped itself in misplace nostalgia to everyone’s detriment, creating a finale that satisfied no one.  The balance was not maintained.

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Heroes of the Ward: A Review of Realm Breaker, by Victoria Aveyard

Stopping, or surviving, the end of the world has become standard fare in fiction, from novels to movies, that it is essentially its own trope now.  A quick and easy way to set enormous stakes and justify any action set piece one could think of.  However, despite the proliferation of this plot building block, or maybe because of it, the end of the world is actually a rather difficult plot to pull off and keep your audience invested.  As seen in many movies, once the stakes become too big, too large scale, it can be hard to empathize with the widespread destruction seen on screen.  This trend is not even unique to fiction.  It is more difficult for humans to empathize with large-scale tragedies simply because they are too big to make sense of.  However, just like in real world news coverage, there is a way to keep people interested and invested when plotting and end of the world story; make it personal.

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Unending Legacy: A Review of Black Water Sister, by Zen Cho

We are all, regardless of background, part of an unending legacy, stretching back generations.  In some cases, those legacies are so intertwined with a specific place that they never branch out, never travel.  But, in other cases, those legacies spread across the globe.  Anyone from an immigrant family can attest to this feeling, of belonging to a culture or people that did not originate wherever you live.  For some immigrants, they try to hold onto this legacy and culture wherever they move, creating distinct communities within communities.  Others, however, prefer to do their best to assimilate—a process we call Americanization in this country—and allow their children to grow up as full members of their new nation.  But that does not erase the legacy that follows those children of immigrants, sometimes resulting in a situation where the children feel out of place everywhere they go.

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Death of the Gods: A Review of The Witch’s Heart, by Genevieve Gornichec

Norse mythology may be more popular than ever at the moment, in no small part due to the influence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the versions of Thor and Loki we see in the movies are far from their historic portrayals.  While we call it a mythology, on part with Greek or Japanese mythology, what we know of the religion of the Vikings was not written down until after Christianity had already converted the population.  As opposed to the Greeks, who recorded their tales in the forms of poems or plays, the Norse only left behind a few glyphs or runic art pieces in their wake.  But the two written sources we do have, the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson and the Poetic Edda by numerous anonymous authors, paint a picture of the gods unlike their modern counterparts.  Like the gods of ancient Greece, the gods of the Norse were fallible.  They were corrupt and vain and jealous, capable of great cruelty and constantly making mistakes.  These cultures worshiped gods very similar to mortals, with all of their flaws, and they were not heroes.

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Outlaw to Sheriff: A Review of Spellmaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Writing a sequel is always a unique problem for an author as it is usually a self-inflicted one.  It is easy to approach a story with the idea that the complete tale will be told in one book, and most authors do choose to go this route.  But there is something about the fantasy and science-fiction genres especially that draw writers towards creating more.  Usually, this is a net win for the audience, as we want to spend as much time as possible in an author’s imagination if the first book draws us in.  I have put down many books wishing that the story had not ended with the last page.  But, sometimes, the sequel does not quite live up to the expectations set by the first entry.  A sequel needs to both provide a continuation and a satisfying payoff to elements set up by the first book.  A mystery or conflict may be enjoyable while it is ongoing, but if the resolution is not satisfying, then the entire whole can suffer.

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Victorian Robin Hood: A Review of Spellbreaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Western fiction, English and American, possess an endless fascination with the Victorian era of England’s recent history.  With a reign lasting from 1837 to 1901, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch until the current Queen Elizabeth II.  During that time, the British Empire rose to what could be considered its height, with the East India Company conquering India and the empire subjugating people around the globe.  Yet, this was also a transformative time for England and much of the world.  Electrical power began to be harnessed, with lightbulbs becoming widespread by the end of the century.  It was the beginning of modern medicine, when the United States finally threw of the evil shackles of slavery, and more.  More than any other time period in England’s past, authors have enjoyed setting tales of science-fiction and fantasy in the Victorian era.  Maybe it has something to do with the advent of such stories during this time, or it could just be fun to juxtapose the uptight era with the absurdity of magic.  Whatever the case may be, Charlie N. Holmberg’s excellent Spellbreaker is the newest in Victorian fantasy.

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Legacy: A Review of Forged in Fire and Stars, by Andrea Robertson

We have all read the story before.  A group of people join together from various walks of life and backgrounds to journey on a quest.  They may have to traverse dangerous terrain, fight off bandits, or avoid pursuit by the forces of evil.  The setting itself does not matter, only that this band of adventures embarks on a journey seeking something.  But a quest does not just have to a physical matter.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a quest as an act or instance of seeking.  It does not state that a quest is just about the travel or that what they seek is a physical object.  Oftentimes, the point of the quest is not only to accomplish a mission, but to grow as well.  While a character remains in one place, they are static.  It is only through embarking on or joining the quest that they can change.

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I ♥ NYC: A Review of The City We Became, by N. K. Jemisin

While this blog has been, and always will be, a great proponent of fantasy, most of the fantasy novels I have reviewed skew towards variations of high fantasy.  Almost all take place in an alternate world; that is, not Earth in the present day or accurate history.  For many authors, creating an entirely new world can actually be much easier than trying to base your fantasy in the real world.  By creating your own world, you set the rules.  Magic works, or does not work, as you see fit.  However, even in these fantastical lands, authors are still able to talk about modern issues, usually through coded language and stand-ins.  For example, the Na’vi in the film Avatar are used as a stand-in for the many indigenous tribes of North America around the time of European colonization.  However, urban fantasy is a different beast altogether.  By using the real, modern-day world, such subjects can be tackled head-on, without euphemism or substitution.

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The Right to Live: A Review of Stealing Thunder, by Alina Boyden

Fantasy is one of those genres of fiction that can be set in any world you can imagine.  Authors can take as much, or as little, inspiration, from the real world as they like.  The only boundary to the world in the book is the writer’s imagination.  The setting and world can be as realistic as possible, adhering to real-world physics and the like.  Or, an author can go completely wild and show us something with no resemblance to our world.  So, why is it that so much fantasy just looks like medieval Europe with the addition of magic or strange creatures?  Many, many books are written by cisgender, heterosexual, white men and feature cisgender, heterosexual, white protagonists.  There are so many other voices out there, authors of diverse ethnicities, sexualities, and an entire spectrum of genders.  Their books deserve to be read too.

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Review of “Stealing Thunder,” by Alina Boyden, up tomorrow!

As it says in the title, my review for Alina Boyden’s wonderful fantasy novel, “Stealing Thunder,” will be up tomorrow.  It took me all month to get through this book, not because of the book itself or its length, but because of my own fatigue.

There is a lot of awfulness happening in the world, from an atrocious pandemic response to the constant police violence against Americans to J.K. Rowling revealing herself to be a raging transphobe.  It’s a lot to take in, and it makes it difficult to enjoy the things I would normally enjoy, such as reading.  Every time I picked up the book, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why am I reading when I should be doing something more?”

But it was important to me to finish “Stealing Thunder” and get the post up as soon as possible.  This is a novel written by a trans woman author, about a trans woman heroine.  Plus, it has some pretty cool fantasy aerial dogfights.

We need more books like this to go mainstream.

I already have the next two books on my list picked out, and I will try to get back on my schedule of reading/reviewing two to three books a month.

This blog believes that black lives matters and trans rights are human rights.