Gift of the Shaper – D.L. Jennings

Source: Goodreads

Thornton Woods has always lived in the small village of Highglade, where he assists his father, Olson, in their forge. On a routine trip into the neighboring town of Lusk, Thornton and his best friend, Miera, barely escape from black-clad thugs who claim to want something other than money from the pair. Their return trip moves even more dangerous, and by the time they reach Highglade, Thornton’s father is nowhere to be found. Convinced the thugs have kidnapped him, the young apprentice will stop at nothing to find the only family he has. With the help of Ynara and Kethras, two of the near-mythical cat-like race known as Kienari, Thornton and Miera set off on the thugs’ trails. Along the way, they make discoveries about their world, it’s creation, and the parts they must play in it’s continued existence.


I first discovered this book through Instagram, of all places. The author had reached out to me about a book we mutually loved and later offered to send me a copy of Gift of the Shaper. I became wrapped up in the semester’s coursework, but we’ve stayed in touch and I was able to read his book during my Christmas break. You guys. This book is really well done. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve become friends with the author. Sure, there are a few moments where I’m pretty sure I missed a character walking into a room or mounting/dismounting a horse or two, but those are tiny things that probably only I would catch.

Gift of the Shaper is a debut, high fantasy novel, set in a world where select groups of people can channel the magic of creation or destruction to do their will. Into the middle of this conflict are thrust a young blacksmith’s apprentice and his childhood best friend, completely unaware of the danger lurking just out of sight. The world building is smoothly done, the reader learning about the land through characters and their actions, rather than being info-dumped on. The characters themselves are strong stock, each one an individual with physical differences and personality quirks that make this book one of the most racially and culturally diverse that I’ve read in a while.

In addition to the rich world and cast, Jennings implemented some of my most favorite tropes, which I won’t discuss here to avoid spoilers. There were characters I loved, and characters I loved to hate, like Captain Durakas, who may be in the running for the most sexist person in Gal’Dorok. But every single person had a purpose and a connection to the story, and that’s what made me love every second of it. Now I just have to wait for Jennings to finish writing the sequel.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars.

The Grey King (The Dark is Rising, #4) – Susan Cooper

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Source: My Photos! Also, find the book on Goodreads

Struck down by an unknown illness, Old One Will Stanton is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in Wales to recover. In his unhealthy state, Will is not aware of much that has been going on besides the weather, and indeed it is not until he meets a boy named Bran that his memories of being an Old One return to him. Bran has been visited by Merriman, and together he and Will begin the search for the harp with which to wake the sleepers.

 

What made this story especially interesting were the additions of Bran and his dog, Caval, as companions for Will instead of Merriman. In fact, Merriman hardly made an appearance. The secondary characters really carried this story, with Will just tumbling along headfirst into danger among them because he can’t understand Welsh. This small fact truly holds the entirety of the plot together, as Will knowing Welsh would uncomplicate his journey significantly.

The start of this book was rough and sharp. We are never given any description or name for the illness which Will had, just that it clouded his mind and weakened his body, making him forget all about the Old Ones for a time. It is never even expressly stated where he caught the sickness or if it was caused by the Dark. It’s as if Will woke up one day from a bad dream, realized he had been asleep for a few months, and just kind of had to guess what to do next to help the Light. The majority of the plot surrounds Bran and Caval anyway, and I felt as if Will was simply an avenue for explaining their presence. Overall, the story was good, but it felt disconnected from the previous three.

 

HHC Rating: 3.75 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Over Sea, Under Stone
Book #2 – The Dark is Rising
Book #3 – Greenwitch
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Coming Soon!)

The Bear and The Nightingale (Winternight, #1) – Katherine Arden

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Photo: Goodreads

As if you all didn’t already know of my love for fairytale retellings based on my reaction to Uprooted last year, let this be a testament. In this version of the classic Russian tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, Katherine Arden reimagines Vasya as the youngest child of a wealthy trader and his late wife, who herself was the daughter of the late ruler.

Vasya is indeed beautiful, but with a wild streak. As her elder sister begins preparing to marry, Vasya’s father Pyotr realizes that there will be no women to run Vasya’s life and makes the decision to remarry himself. At his brother-in-law’s insistence, he marries a woman whose faith dictates her life, and who is nearly as young as his sons.

About this time a young priest is rising to prominence in Moscow, threatening the power of the grand duke and the tentative peace across Russia. The grand duke decrees that the priest will travel with Pyotr when he returns to the north and to serve as the regional priest.

Vasya’s new stepmother and the new priest begin implementing Christian values in place of the old traditions, threatening the ancient spirits that protect Vasya’s homeland. As the townsfolks’ faith in the old ways waivers so do the life forces of their protectors. Vasya can see and communicate with the mysterious creatures, and soon finds herself the protector of the protectors. But a greater evil lurks in the forest, and it is only a matter of time – as the old ones weaken – until it wakes and comes for it’s due.

 

Much like Uprooted did last year, The Bear and the Nightingale transported me to another realm,  another time. The twists and turns! The intricacy of the plot! The landscape itself was so beautifully depicted that it took my breath away. Arden has succeeded in creating a future classic with a permanent place on my shelf. And it’s a series! The second book, The Girl in the Tower, was released last year and the final book in the trilogy has been announced for release sometime early next year. I cannot wait to dive back into Vasya’s world: magical, dangerous, and filled with religion and court intrigue.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars.

 

Other books in this series:
Book #2 – The Girl in the Tower
Book #3 – The Winter of the Witch

 

 

Sorcery and Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Cecelia and Kate, #1) – Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

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Source: Goodreads

 

Magic is in the air in Regency England. Cousins Kate and Cece find themselves separated for the London season, with Kate off to London and Cecelia stuck in the country. Known to their family as troublemakers, it is no surprise that the distance between them can’t prevent these two from getting into a scrape of epic proportions. And it all starts when a witch attempts to poison Kate at the Royal Society of Wizards induction ceremony.

 

I picked up the Kate and Cecelia series in middle school because Patricia C. Wrede was one of the co-authors and I had just finished and adored The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Little did I know that this series would blow me away as well! Wrede and Stevermer write back and forth in letter form in character. This was quite confusing at first, but once I got into the swing of things I forgot that it was presented in letters and simply became wrapped up in this world where magic exists alongside my favorite time period. The letter format eliminated the need for chapters, and also placed the reader in a forever-cliff-hanger so that I found myself reading quite past my bedtime because I needed to know what was going to happen next.

Kate and Cece are strong and independent female lead characters – MY FAVORITE – and the men whose problems they become entangled in are delightfully equal parts pride and chivalry.

This is one of those series that I just want everyone to read because it’s so innovative and unique. I can’t wait to dive into the second book, The Grand Tour.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book 2 – The Grand Tour
Book 3 – The Mislaid Magician
Book 4 – Magic Below Stairs

Reviews for other works by these authors:
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Book 1 – Dealing with Dragons
Book 2 – Searching for Dragons
Book 3 – Calling on Dragons
Book 4 – Talking to Dragons

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance – Ruth Emmie Lang

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Source: Goodreads

 

Weylyn Grey was raised by wolves. Ever since, he’s been a little bit different. He’s never sure why, but mysterious things tend to happen around him and his horned pig, Merlin. Through his friends Roarke, Mary, Meg, Lydia, and Duane, we learn about Weylyn’s life and its challenges.

 

I was granted an ARC of this book from NetGalley, and I purchased a finished copy as part of my Book of the Month box for October 2017.

This book was marketed as an American fairytale meets magical realism. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it either of those, it does have the same sort of feeling as Big Fish. Weylyn’s presence is often associated with strange occurrences in nature, but he assigns all of the magical talent to his horned rescue pig, Merlin, not realizing that it has been him all along.

It was especially interesting to see how Weylyn adjusted to his strange life as he grew up in midwestern America in the 70s and 80s. I didn’t know how far into his life the story would take us, and it brought a surprising amount of closure to the end of the story. It’s rare that we get to see someone’s adventures through more than a single stage of life, and Lang’s take was refreshing. The characters are all original, flawed, and wonderfully human. Weylyn’s talents in no way detract from who he is a regular person – they just present extra challenges he must face as he grows up.

I enjoyed the story, and I hope they make a film version someday because I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoy other multi-part stories such as Big Fish and Forrest Gump.

 

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Greenwitch (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #3) – Susan Cooper

 

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Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

Barnabus, Jane, and Simon are returning to the small town of Trewissick for a week away with their favorite great uncle – and to recover a priceless artifact the evil Dark has stolen from a museum. With them on their vacation is a mysterious young boy named Will Stanton. Unsure whether to trust Will with their secret or to forge ahead alone, the Drews will learn the difference between an outsider and an enemy as they race against the hourglass turned by mother nature herself to stop the Dark from rising.

 

This third installment in Cooper’s pentalogy is the shortest, yet the most chock-full of character development.  Barney comes into his own talents, Simon learns to tone down his temper, Jane finds her inner strength, and Will learns how to balance being a boy and an immortal. As the trio grows to a quartet, the bonds of the light grow stronger and the Dark is pushed back yet again. Cooper does an excellent job of taking a general storyline – darkness vs light – and creating it anew. With two books left in the series, I can’t wait to see where this series goes.

My favorite parts of this book involved Jane. Sure, she’s basically the only girl, but Cooper sets it up so this aspect gives her special access to knowledge and events that the boys are not privy to. This, combined with her open mind, allows for greater understanding of the implications of Will and Uncle Merry’s powers, and the truth about the fight against the Dark. While Barney and Simon only know that magic is playing a role in this fight, Jane can see and sense that this fight is bigger than four kids and an old man against a few unsavory people. Jane, without having it explained to her, understands that this is for all the marbles, and that while she isn’t the chosen one she’s still part of the fight. She actually reminds me of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series in many ways. She’s smart, she’s brave, and she’s unafraid to be herself. She doesn’t always know why things happen the way they do, but she’s here for it, and her good heart – like in a Grimm’s fairytale, almost – leads her in the right direction.

 

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Over Sea, Under Stone
Book #2 – The Dark is Rising
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Coming Soon!)

Forging the Sword (Farsala, #3) – Hilari Bell

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Lady Soraya and Commander Jiaan have formed a tentative alliance with the multifaceted Kavi. The young commander will direct the army, the last remaining deghass will navigate alliances, and the peddler will rouse the people and forge the first Farsalan sword to be made of watersteel – the same formula the Hrum have been using to decimate the Farsalan resistance. Together, they are Sorahb reborn, and only together can they hope to defeat the Hrum nation before their time runs out.

 

The final installment in The Farsala Trilogy brings all the pieces together. Although it still moves a little slowly, there is a lot of ground to be covered, opinions and allies that must be shifted into just the right places – almost like a chess match – before Sorahb can fulfill the destiny he was created for. The combination of magic, wit, strategy, and weaponry was very cool to watch. Every step in the trio’s plan to take back their homeland was inspiring to watch and filled me with pride. Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi have developed so much since Fall of a Kingdom and it was truly a pleasure to see them shine in their big moments.

This story is not without its losses, as no war goes without casualties, and the losses are steep, both in the present day and in Sorahb’s time. But the making of a legend is no easy feat, and Hilari Bell succeeded wonderfully in her endeavor to lift the curtain on the ‘real’ story of Sorahb and the rise of Farsala.

Overall, this book touched my soul. I can’t resist an underdog story. Given how the first two books went, however, I think this entire series would read better as a compilation – all three books bound together – because of where the endings occur. It would make more sense if they were sections of one book than each as a stand-alone. Just thinking about our heroic trio makes me a little weepy with pride, but there is so much world-building and background to be shared given the story of Sorahb, that it can be disheartening to finish a book and feel lost. I think a compilation would alleviate this issue.

 

 

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Fall of a Kingdom
Book #2 – Rise of a Hero