Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mad Kestrel - Misty Massey

A swashbuckling tale about pirates that has surprisingly little actual piracy. Kestrel is a natural magic user in a world where magic is highly regulated, with "promises" or those with talent taken away by a shadowy society of mages. She runs away and finds that saltwater runs in her veins, taking up as the quartermaster to a pirate ship.

This book just didn't quite hit the mark with me. Perhaps it was the pacing, it started out relatively slow, but had a steady buildup, and as it approached the end I kept on thinking to myself "There has to be a sequel, it can't tie up everything in these few pages left!" The climax and ending was like a cannon shot, sharp and short. Even though the story had been building up to that moment, things came together in a single burst of action and it was over with. Or perhaps it was the lack of actual piratical activities, the only ship that they take is essentially their own ship in harbor, all others are merely past references, in fact, I don't believe that there was actually a cannon shot in anger, the closest we get is a warning shot across the bow.

The characters are also a mixed bag. The most loveable ones, such as Kestrel's friends from the bawdy house and of course Binns, tend to be out of the picture much of the time. They also tend to be solid archetypes, but with a few secrets to give them a bit of depth. Some of the crew is given life by their actions and descriptions, and that's something I would have liked to see more of, but for the most part they were rather forgettable. McAvery, the dashing rogue, is, well, there isn't much to him that doesn't appear on the label. Or at least if there is, he doesn't show it, he's there as a foil and romantic interest. I couldn't help but imagine him always having a self satisfied smirk while he plotted out how to get into Kestrel's pants. Add in the fact that he knows and exploits Kestrel's attraction to him moves his actions from romantic over to creepy in my opinion. Kestrel herself however, I couldn't help but like, she's a flawed heroine, and that shows through her internal biases and impulsive nature. And even though there were times when I wanted to slap her for being an idiot, I couldn't help but admire her guts and determination, as well as her quick thinking.

Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey was enjoyable, but plagued by inconsistent pacing and characters. It was also not quite what I expected, being more of a character based book, with piracy being almost incidental to the plot. There was so much potential there for a really wonderful book, but most of it is just not utilized. All in all, Mad Kestrel won't blow you away or give you a "wow" moment at the end, but if you've got a nice rainy afternoon then by all means go ahead and give it a go.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Burn Me Deadly - Alex Bledsoe

There's always the question of whether the sequel will live up to the original, especially when the first is as powerful as the Sword-Edged Blonde was, but I have to say that I was not disappointed at all with Burn Me Deadly. Fair warning, there are going to be some spoilers in this review.

Burn Me Deadly does have a change of flavor from the original, in that it is what I'd call a setting book. In the Sword-Edged Blonde, Eddie traveled far and wide to uncover mysteries, now we explore his home base and the area surrounding Neceda. Something that Bledsoe does quite well is interweave the stories of the people that in other books might fade into the background, or be conveniently pushed offstage when the plot doesn't need them anymore. Such as the wandering scribe who is most definitely on his own mission, the anti-government survivalist family, or even the guardsman that threatens to move in with Eddie and Liz if he gets fired. Little details like that turn this into a living world, admittedly one that's situated in the backwoods and lonely hills. Ones inhabited by a dragon cult that is at once exotic and rural, more evocative of serpent handlers in a backwoods church than of the bloodthirsty fanatics usually encountered in fantasy worlds.

Now there were a few moments that brought me out of the fantasy. One of them being a trick sword in a scene that reminded me of the movie Blade. Now it was nice to learn a bit more about the swords now that we know that them having make and brand names isn't just a one off joke, but the "special grip so it doesn't slice your hand open" gimmick was a bit much. This was a relatively minor problem though as anachronistic elements were tossed in every now and again, mostly for comedic effect, so it wasn't glaring.

The real gem of this story was in learning about the characters and relationships between them. Eddie and Liz's relationship have a very real and mature feeling to it, of people who genuinely care about each other, and aren't the young starcrossed lovers you usually see in fantasy.

While the body count has gone down, it still retains that deadly edge which keeps you on your seat. Good people(and horses) die, and not all of them die in epic battle, there isn't that aura of invincibility that usually surrounds well liked characters, which I think is necessary if a rather gritty fantasy like this. Anyways, Burn Me Deadly by Alex Bledsoe proved to be another great read, it has a stronger emphasis on setting than its predecessor, but proves to be every bit as entertaining.
(Note: This review was on the ARC copy, as such there may have been changes between it and the print version)