Jhereg – Tip Of The Iceberg

jheregAlright, before we begin I just want to throw out a note to all you authors out there: please stop writing books out of chronological order – it is killing me. This is the third major series I have read this year that the books do not sequentially and chronologically lineup, and while these series are great (Drenai, Craft, and Vlad Taltos) I can’t help but wish they were in the right order. Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about Jhereg. If you follow this blog you will know of our undying love for the great Sebastien De Castell (author of The Greatcoats). While interviewing him last year we asking him his favorite fantasy books, and he mentioned Steven Brust has been a major influence on him. We had no idea who that was (forgive us) but then we took /r/fantasy’s top 100 quiz later that month, and Jhereg came up as one of the great fantasy classics that we had somehow missed – so we immediately added it to our book club reading list.

For those of you who don’t know, Jhereg follows the story of Vlad Taltos, a Jhereg assassin, and his various adventures throughout his life. It is the first book in a huge series named after the protagonist. Jhereg is about establishing Vlad as a character, meeting some of his companions who are featured heavily through all the books (like his Jhereg familiar), and attempting to kill a particularly difficult target. The books are short, only about 200 pages each, so they are fairly focused on a single task/event and chronicle a major event in Vlads life. Vlad is a wise cracking and funny lead, which is good because he is the only POV. However, while I would describe him as amusing, it is more the occasional smile to yourself kind of funny as opposed to the laugh out loud. Vlad falls into an interesting category of protagonists that have strength not because of their personal skills or talents, but from their connections and friends. He solves problems through his vast network of allies, similar to The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher if you have read it. It is an exciting style of writing, in particular because Brust is so good at characterization and world building. His characters are varied and well developed, all with their own personalities and quirks.

In addition, his world building, while slow to kick off, is very strong. The world of Vlad Taltos has two races, essentially humans and elves (called Dragaerans). Vlad is a human, but he lives in the elven part of the world where humans are looked down on heavily. In addition, the elves are separated into a number of houses with very different ideals, jobs, and quirks that are all named after different animals. Each book in the Vlad Taltos series is named after one of these sub houses and deals with a plot line involving that house. The Jhereg house (named after a psychic dragon like creature the size of a cat) is one of the only ones who allow the admittance of humans, and is the house that Vlad belows too. Brust does an amazing job at intra world politics, and the map of how each of the seventeen (that’s right, SEVENTEEN) houses feel about one another would need a wall two stories tall to accurately map out. While you will feel a little in the deep end breaking into Jhereg, Brust manages to keep the information intake manageable as he introduces on house in full per book, while a few houses are always a part of the plotline (due to Vlad’s membership in the Jhereg and his connections to other houses).

In the end, reading Jhereg was an interesting experience that was mostly positive. The first book is short, fun, and simple. When I finished it I was curious about the world, but neither hooked or turned off. In response, I decided to read the next two books in the story (Yendi and Teckla), which I will talk about at a later date. While Jhereg left me a little lukewarm, the first three books has given me a glimpse at what all of the people in the intro were talking about, and I am very excited to press on. Jhereg is a decent read, and I recommend you check it out. If you are even slightly intrigued by it, keep going, because there is an exciting and fun adventure around the corner for you.


Jhereg: 7.5/10
Yendi: 9.0/10
Teckla: 8.5/10

Altered Starscape – Conflict of Disinterest

26001236Hey there readers, I’m Alex, a new guest poster here at The Quill To Live, and boy do I have a treat for you. I recently read Altered Starscape: Andromeda Dark Book One by Ian Douglas of Star Carrier fame. Altered Starscape follows one Lord Commander St. Clair, a naval officer within the newly proclaimed United Earth Directorate, as he leads his crew to set up an embassy at the galactic center- a super massive black hole. Upon arrival, an attack blows up the space station and the blast throws the Tellus Ad Astra (the ship) and its crew into the black hole. In ways that can only be explained by some science, it throws them four billion years into the future, where the majority of their time is spent encountering the mysterious enemy, known only as the “Andromedan Dark.”

The story itself is a military space adventure, following the crew as they discover a breadcrumb trail of interstellar coordinates left behind by another species. As they reach each location, the crew finds several wondrous and derelict superstructures. Most of these were variations on the Dyson sphere, a construct that encapsulates a star. As the ship approaches the objects, the size grabs the reader’s imagination. However, upon landing on the artifacts, the language employed leaves the reader wanting, destroying any sense of awe I had. Too many of these discoveries were shoved into a short span to evoke any sort of fascination or make the reader feel small.  There was no sense of human scale, as the environment becomes uninteresting scenery where the marines  engage in battle. With a little time and some flourish, these landscapes could have been unforgettable. Instead, they’ll continue to float in space, and the reader couldn’t care less.

The few scenes of action that do take place are exciting. Especially important is Douglas’ ability to illustrate the chaos of the scene without getting lost. While not as engaging as some other military science fiction I’ve read, the story is built on clear action with a good amount of frenetic tension. There were moments of confusion, distress, and triumph that blended together in a satisfying way. The enemy’s otherworldly ability to appear out of nowhere using the fourth dimension was a delightful addition that made the conflict more exciting as well.  However, as the story pushed on, I was less and less engaged as it became apparent that the Dark’s sole motivation was mere domination. Each successive battle felt like there was less on the line, instead of ratcheting up to a climactic battle that sets the stage for future books.

Another positive aspect of the book is Douglas’ willingness to talk science. Black holes, fourth and onwards dimensions, spacetime, faster than light travel- you name it, this book probably mentions it somewhere. Luckily, Douglas spends a decent amount of time trying to explain the theory, even working to break it down so that the reader can follow along. Because St. Clair is no scientist, he relies on his crew to explain, allowing the reader to feel included. To me, this is Douglas’ strongest skill in this book, even though he makes a bad habit of explaining after the fact.

Douglas doesn’t only depend on the latest scientific theories to tell his story, but frequently turns to other science fiction writers’ ideas. Unfortunately it never feels like a tribute, as the book descends into a show of one-upmanship.  Douglas builds his world on concepts introduced by the likes of Asimov and Niven.  Instead of accepting the fictional worlds they created, however, he uses them as a jumping-off point to promote what he believes to be his own shinier, more streamlined ideas.  The book also tends to follow in the tradition set forth by Heinlein. As if it were an ode to Starship Troopers, Douglas blends military action with musings on the nature of civic responsibility and personal liberty. Regrettably, the book read more like an self serving update to the genre, rather than an expansion of science fiction.

As I continued to read the book, I became painfully aware of its incompleteness. Douglas rarely spends the time necessary to polish his ideas. From his history of robots to the establishment of the imperial United Earth Directorate, I never felt that any major theme or idea in the book was satisfactorily explored. Everything was the beginning of something that turned out to be nothing, which was disappointing. While it makes sense to set a foundation in book one of a series, everything felt unfinished in a “project due tomorrow” sort of way. On top of that, all these small parts served as reminders to the reader that they are, in fact, reading a science fiction book.

Altered Starscape continues to fall apart from there. It’s hard to discern what the point of the book actually is. Is it just a military sci fi romp? Is it a discussion of freedom within an inherently rigid societal structure? Is it a sightseeing tour of a future universe we can only begin to imagine? These are several of many questions that never get answered. It also doesn’t help that our point of view is very limited. As the book is written in the third-person, following mostly St. Clair, every scene feels tinted and in some ways tainted by the main character’s perception. St. Clair’s feelings set the standard for every character’s  feelings and the tone for every interaction, regardless of his involvement in the scene. The narration is intended to be taken at face value, hiding nothing about St. Clair’s intentions, and offering no alternative perspective.

This problem is only compounded early in the book, where the entirety of chapter five is devoted to St. Clair’s political and personal views. St. Clair’s worldview consists mainly of notions of individual freedom, a dislike of concentrated power, and distrust of those willing to use that power. The bluntness with which they are unveiled shades future interactions between St. Clair and his peers. The rare times when St. Clair engages with his dissenters were lectures, not conversations.  These diatribes occur at different times throughout the book, and never feel like they are a part of the plot. On top of that, there is very little nuance in these interactions. It was disengaging, as no character really had an ability to dialogue with the protagonist. This distance is further solidified by the fact that St. Clair’s convictions are never truly tested, almost making them pointless.

Gunter Adler is particularly illustrative of these interactions.   Adler, the leader of the civilian portion of the Tellus Ad Astra, is portrayed as a sniveling man who flexes his power to enrich himself under the guise of civic duty.  In contrast to St. Clair’s unquestioned stability and virtue, Adler is shown to be weak of mind and spirit through his inability to act in the interest of anyone but himself.  In keeping with the superficial nature of their relationship, Adler spends most of his time belittling St. Clair without actually challenging the substance of what St. Clair says.  Had Douglas added weight to Adler’s character through deeper conversations, he would have also added dimension to St Clair as well. Instead the reader just gets to enjoy the show without witnessing any moral consequences of these leaders’ decisions.

In the end, I just couldn’t enjoy this book. Unfortunately for Douglas, I’m a tenacious little bastard and powered through, trying to enjoy the little bits of the book that felt like they belonged to a larger narrative. Even though it’s clearly written with the intention to continue as a series, Douglas just tried to do too much with very little space. The characters never felt fully fleshed out. Even St. Clair only felt characterized to the point of relatable, but reluctant hero. After the initial politics were outlined, I read it out of spite. While there is still so much more to discuss, I will end this here for fear of this review turning into a political rant. I recommend this book only to people who aren’t concerned by their personal politics or those who want to read it in spite, to discuss it afterwards.

Verdict : 4.5 out 10

Heartstone – Pride, Prejudice, and Dragons

30037275The lovely people at Harper Voyager must think I am super lonely, because they keep sending me fantasy romance novels (don’t stop). As this is the week of Valentine’s Day, I decided it would probably be appropriate to review one of the standout reads from the group. That one in particular is Heartstone, by Elle Katherine White. I am not immensely familiar with the works of Jane Eyre, but the book distinctly feels like a piece evoking her writing style in a fantasy setting – a version of Pride and Prejudice I can really get behind. It turns out the addition of dragons makes almost any book something I am interesting in.

Heartstone tells the story of Aliza, a quaint farm girl, who is the middle daughter of a fairly large family with a ton of girls. Her home is being raided by wild griffons, and things have come to a head when the most recent attack leaves her youngest sister dead. To deal with the menace, the town bands together and spends enough money to hire riders – essentially mythical exterminators, The riders are all warriors that have bonded with mythical animals to help them combat other creatures, and the warrior’s companions run the gamut from large super bear to wyvern. However, there is one family – and only one – that have bonded with one of the greatest creatures of all, dragons. Our male love interest in the story is, of course, from this family, and is one of the riders who comes to the village to deal with the griffins. While I am no expert at romance novels, this seems to me a fairly standard set-up for most novels (minus awesome dragons) and I was ready for a decent story with some of my favorite giant lizards thrown in for some flair. What I was not ready for was how good Elle Katherine White is at worldbuilding.

The characters in Heartstone are good, interesting and immersive to the point where I was invested in their lives and story, but what really drew me in was the world that White has crafted. The setting and politics of Heartstone are extremely well developed, making the world feel like a real place that people inhabit. The creatures and places of the story are some of the coolest I have read in recent memory. You have things like forge-wrights, creatures of flame and metal that work smithies and craft things out of heartstone (the hearts of other mythic creatures) with their bare hands. Or several locations with rich histories and vividly described towns and homes that stand out in my memory. This is a world I want to be in longer and more. The riders themselves fascinate me. White dives in to their training and history slightly, but not nearly enough for my liking. This story left me wanting to hear more and more of White’s world because I didn’t get nearly enough.

The issues of Heartstone stem just from that, it is too short. I felt like White needed to make this a trilogy – something I don’t often say – because it just needed more space. I felt the relationships in the story developed a little too rapidly, the ending was a bit abrupt, and I was left wanting to see a lot more of the world than I got to. However, as they say, if your critique of a book is that there needed to be more of it, it is a sign you were enjoying yourself.

As I said, I do not usually go in for romance novels, but Heartstone had me invested from start to finish. While its short length took away from a bit of my enjoyment, I have also marked down Elle Katherine White as one of the most exciting debut authors I have read in awhile. I will certainly be paying attention to her future releases as I think she will have a successful writing career ahead of her. I would love to see White write an epic fantasy with this level of worldbuilding. Regardless, if you are looking for a little romance this week, or like Pride and Prejudice but think it needed more dragons, The Quill to Live recommends you check out Heartstone.

Rating: Heartstone – 7.5/10

All You Need Is Love – 25 Perfect Love Quotes In Fantasy


Fantasy art by Sergey Lesiuk, Ukraine.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. Fantasy books are not usually considered the best places to look for love. With the constant sword fights, dragons, and grim dark plot lines there is often not a lot of room for love. However, there are still tons of instances of beautiful affection to be found if you know where to look. To celebrate the holiday of love I have compiled a list of 25 of my favorite quotes from fantasy that express love to use on your significant other (or to acquire one). All of them are guaranteed to cause hearts to explode with affection and increase the happiness of all involved. I hope it brings a little bit of love to each and everyone of you, and have a wonderful day.

  • “Love is not about conquest. The truth is a man can only find true love when he surrenders to it. When he opens his heart to the partner of his soul and says: “Here it is! The very essence of me! It is yours to nurture or destroy.” -David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
  • “You are the harbor of my soul’s journeying.” -Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
  • “Quit being so hard on yourself. We are what we are; we love what we love. We don’t need to justify it to anyone… not even to ourselves.” -Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves
  • “At first glance, the key and the lock it fits may seem very different. Different in shape, different in function, different in design. The man who looks at them without knowledge of their true nature might think them opposites, for one is meant to open, and the other to keep closed. Yet, upon closer examination he might see that without one, the other becomes useless. The wise man then sees that both lock and key were created for the same purpose.” -Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension
  • “In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.” -Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
  • “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
  • “And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
  • “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” -Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
  • “You have made a place in my heart where I thought there was no room for anything else. You have made flowers grow where I cultivated dust and stones.” -Robert Jordan, Shadow Rising
  • “Love doesn’t sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new.” -Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
  • “There is a primal reassurance in being touched, in knowing that someone else, someone close to you, wants to be touching you. There is a bone-deep security that goes with the brush of a human hand, a silent, reflex-level affirmation that someone is near, that someone cares.” -Jim Butcher, White Night
  • “It was well for him, with his chivalry and mysticism, to make the grand renunciation. But it takes two to make love, or to make a quarrel. She was not an insensate piece of property to be taken up or laid down at his convenience. You could not give up a human heart as you could give up drinking. The drink was yours, and you could give it up: but your lover’s soul was not you own: it was not at your disposal; you had a duty towards it.” – T.H. White, The Once and Future King
  • “She did not think it was love. She did not think it was love when she felt a curious ache and anxiety when he was not there; she did not think it was love as she felt relief wash over her when she received a note from him; she did not think it was love when she sometimes wondered what their lives would be like after five, ten, fifteen years together. The idea of love never crossed her mind.”  -Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs
  • “Love is not a whim. Love is not a flower that fades with a few fleeting years. Love is a choice wedded to action, my husband, and I choose you, and I will choose you every day for the rest of my life.” -Brent Weeks, The Blinding Knife
  • “A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.” -Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant
  • “I guess each of us, at some time, finds one person with whom we are compelled towards absolute honesty, one person whose good opinion of us becomes a substitute for the broader opinion of the world. And that opinion becomes more important than all our sneaky, sleazy schemes of greed, lust, self-aggrandizement, whatever we are up to while lying the world into believing we are just plain nice folks.” -Glen Cook, Shadow Games
  • “Love is like recognition. It’s the moment when you catch sight of someone and you think There is someone I have business with in this life. There is someone I was born to know.” Daniel Abraham, Rogues
  • “All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.” -Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni
  • “I have known you since the world was born. Everything you are is what you should be. Everything you should be is what you are. I know all of you, and there is nothing in you I do not love.” -Matthew Woodring Stover, Caine’s Law
  • “He’d told me the world could be the most lovely place you could imagine, so long as your imagination was fueled by love.” -Sebastien de Castell, Knight’s Shadow
  • “The heart is neither given nor stolen. The heart surrenders.” -Steven Erikson, House of Chains
  • “How can you regret never having found true love? That’s like saying you regret not being born a genius. People don’t have control over such things. It either happens or it doesn’t. It’s a gift – a present that most never get. It’s more like a miracle, really, when you think of it. I mean, first you have to find that person, and then you have to get to know them to realize just what they mean to you – that right there is ridiculously difficult. Then… then that person has to feel the same way about you. It’s like searching for a specific snowflake, and even if you manage to find it, that’s not good enough. You still have to find its matching pair. What are the odds?” -Michael J. Sullivan, Heir of Novron
  • “He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man had been called.” -Neil Gaiman, Stardust
  • “Well,” she said, “I should think it would do every man good to have a wife who isn’t as in awe of him as everyone else is. Somebody has to keep you humble.” – Brandon Sanderson, Warbreaker

Red Sister – The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown

red2bsister2bcoverSo I read an ARC of Red Sister, by Mark Lawrence, back in December but I have been holding off talking about it because I wanted to review it closer to publication date, and because I needed to calm down a little so that this review wasn’t the word vomit equivalent of “go buy it now”. I like to think that Mark and I have a fairly interesting relationship in that I have moved from one of his loudest detractors to one of his larger fans. The Thorns trilogy was really not my thing, but I found The Red Queen’s War charming, fun, exciting, and very well written. When Mark announced that he had a new series coming out, in a completely new setting, I was excited. I looked forward to seeing if my enjoyment of Mark’s work would continue to grow, and maybe his new book would be his best yet. I was not ready for Red Sister.

Red Sister is of a fairly different style than Mark’s earlier books, but is still completely him. The book feels like the spiritual sibling to Name of the Wind and Blood Song, but might surpass them both for me.  The book tells the story of Nona, an orphan of sorts who enters into the Sisterhood – an order of battle nuns that specialize in training girls to be Sisters. Sisters are trained to be warriors, scholars, tacticians, and magic users all in the service of a well rounded education in being awesome. The book’s plot is character driven, revolving solely around Nona’s life and various challenges and events that confront her and how she handles them. Mark has always been an excellent character writer, and a focus on this as the driving force of the book was an excellent choice – as he has only gotten better. The cast is fantastic, and the book places a large emphasis on friendship and the development of relationships that really struck home for me. Red Sister takes place in a magic school of sorts, and the teachers are some of the best since Harry Potter. Their charismatic classes, weird personalities, and clear love of their students nailed my guilty pleasure of magical schools when it comes to fantasy.

The characters are phenomenal, but the world is no slouch either. In traditional Lawrence style, there are some interesting things going on in the world that I won’t spoil, but the magic system might be one of my favorite of all time. The world of Red Sister has four ‘schools of magic/powers,’ each based on bloodlines. People of the world are descended from four distinct groups, each with their own powerful traits. While most individuals have had so much mixing they do not have the powers of any, a small collection are still able to access the powers, abilities, and traits of their ancestors. Some of these people can even access to more than one. Gerants are gigantic, hunskas can move at extreme speeds, marjals have small unique magic powers that remind me of the x-men, and quantals can manipulate energy around them to powerful effects. Nona is a hunska – but we see action from all four and the interplay between these groups is some of the most exciting reading I have done in a long time.

Speaking of Nona and her hunska abilities, the combat in this book is astoundingly good. Red Sister would do Joe Abercrombie proud and has some of, if not the, best fighting I have ever read. As mentioned, hunskas can move at extreme speeds but they also can perceive time more slowly allowing them to assess their fighting as it happens. Nona’s ability to have an inner monologue of analysis while she is fighting for her life enhance the thrill and adrenaline of fights greatly. In one particular scene involving a test, I got so immersed in what was happening my significant other started shaking me because I had started screaming aloud without realizing it. The combat is that good.

Red Sister also feels like a kinder and more mature book than Mark’s earlier work. While it is not as grim or dark as his first two trilogies, it is certainly not a bastion of sunshine. In the past I have had minor difficulty following the plot of some of Mark’s books, but Red Sister strikes the perfect balance of keeping you in the know and letting mystery build. The book grounds you in the world, establishes the status quo quickly, but then centers you on Nona’s life as a focus. This allows for a great structure, but also leaves tons of room for Mark to improvise to keep things interesting (which he does in spades). In line with this, Red Sister tells a very full and satisfying story but it only feels like the tip of the iceberg. On finishing the last page I got the sense that he is just getting started and it is only going to get better from here.

I don’t actually have any criticisms for Red Sister. It is always possible for a book to be better, but I personally can’t think of a way I would improve Mark’s newest creation. It is definitely going to be a contender for my number one spot of 2017 and I suspect it is going to sweep the awards this year. 2017, the gauntlet has been thrown and the challenge has been sounded. Red Sister has set the bar high for fantasy this year and we shall have to see if anyone can meet it. The Quill to Live unequivocally recommends Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, go buy it now.

Rating: Red Sister – 10/10

Gilded Cage – A Glittering Debut

30258320I was going through the upcoming releases when I saw that one in particular, Gilded Cage by Vic James, was getting a lot of buzz. After taking an initial look at it, I acquired an ARC from netgalley and decided that it was likely going to be a book I was supposed to enjoy more than I did. You know the type, something that is hyped as the next Game of Throne or Harry Potter, but never lives up to the sell. So I tossed my copy on my to-be-read pile and forgot about it for a month. I eventually decided I could use a break from fantasy with some historical fiction and maybe see if Gilded Cage might be ok, and then I promptly had to eat my words and feelings because it is pretty damn good.

I say it is a historical fiction, but I realized near the end that it is more akin to an urban fantasy (look a lot of people were on horses and I jumped to conclusions about time periods, it is the present. My track record with this book is embarrassing). The story is set in a present day London, but with a radically different world than ours. In the world of Gilded Cage, there are two groups of people; the skilled (called equals) and everyone else. The skilled are those who can perform magic, and it sets them above their fellow man. The skilled are treated differently in every society (some that we hear snippets of, such as Americans who hunted their into extinction) but in London they formed an aristocracy that rules over the land. In England, in order to keep the economy afloat, each unskilled must submit to ten years of slavery at the time of their choosing. Some do it young, some do it old, but they all do it. The slavery can take the form of anything from back breaking manual labor in the textile industry to being the butler or personal slave of a skilled. But no matter what the experience is horrible and usually changes the person for the worst. Our protagonists are two families, one skilled and one unskilled. The skilled family is one of the leading aristocratic families, with an older son who is a brute, a sweet middle son who is unskilled, and a strange youngest son Silyen who is quiet and eerie but is unprecedentedly skilled at… well, skill. The second family is a group just entering their slave days, some in a back breaking shanty town and some at the gilded palace of the Skilled. The plot follows several POVs in each family and what a plot it is.

The prologue of the book left me a little disappointed and made me think that the story was going to be a melodramatic sob story, but once again I misjudged it. Despite the upsetting topic of slavery, Vic James does a great job exploring the horrors of the subject without being too over the top. In addition, the skilled families are painted with a variety of personalities and shades of grey that make it both easy to hate some and hard to hate others. The book’s primary strength definitely resides in its characters, both main and support. Almost every character is well fleshed out and interesting, but for now I will focus on the three main POVs. Silyen, as mentioned before, is the youngest and most skilled of one of families. He is unhappy with the status quo of the world and dislikes that skilled live lives of luxury while the unskilled do labor – but not for the reason you would expect. See Silyen isn’t a romantic revolutionary – he is obsessed with the skill and feels that the equal’s slavelord status has keep skill from improving. Abi is the oldest child of the unskilled family and is helping protect her family in a skilled household and dig up secrets on their reclusive kind. Finally, Luke is the middle child of the unskilled family and has been shipped off to the machine shops in the worst part of the country. There he joins a revolution fighting against the equals. All their stories are fun, exciting, and filled with twists and intrigue. I really enjoyed the plot and am excited for more.

The only major cons in the book were that the ending felt a bit abrupt and that some of the details of the world could be fleshed out a bit more. The ending is a huge cliffhanger and it left me feeling like I didn’t quite get a full book. However, it certainly left me wanting more and it isn’t going to stop me from picking up the sequel as soon as possible. In addition, I felt it hard to understand the time period and state of the world occasionally and I wish that the same level of attention given to building out the cast was spent on their surroundings.

Other than these minor nit pickings, the Gilded Cage delivered a much better story than i could have imagined and is well on its way to earning a spot on my best of 2017, and it is only February. Vic James has created a fascinating new entry into the fantasy genre that is hard to classify, other than as good. The Quill to Live definitely recommends you learn from my mistake and pick up and read Gilded Cage with little delay.

Rating: 8.0/10

Bone – Worn To The Bone

bone-completeAs I have mentioned in a few earlier posts, I am trying to branch out a little bit. One of the ways that this has taken form is in looking at new and interesting mediums, such as graphic novels, to read and experience fantasy. I got the chance to check out a few fantasy graphic novels, but invested most of my time into reading Bone, by Jeff Smith. Bone is a fairly well known nine book graphic novel series about a classic farm girl/boy fantasy tale starring a princess and three anthropomorphic bones, Fone, Phoney, and Smiley. The tale follows them as they leave their hometown to escape a riot and travel through a new kingdom filled with dragons, magic, and an age old conflict.

The set up sounds fairly run of the mill, but Bone stands out as a unique take on the classic fantasy hero’s journey. Fone Bone and Thorn, a human he meets right off the bat, are the two true protagonists and they both have a lot of depth to them. Bone is dripping with charm and atmosphere and has its own unique feel, one that I like very much. Smith has a clean and punny sense of humor that I really enjoy, and it makes most of the dialogue in the book excellent. I rarely found myself laughing out loud, but was often smiling to myself as I read the nine books. The cast of characters is quite large, but they are all very well developed and likable.

The quests and tasks that the cast have to endure are quirky and weird, but in a good way. Jeff Smith has a talent for taking concepts that seem childish and ridiculous and making them very enjoyable for an adult. For example, here are a few of the topics the novels cover: a massive cow race in which everyone enters cows to race against one human, an intricate economy based on eggs, a three story French mountain lion who takes hostages, and a romance for the ages between a human and an anthropomorphic bone. All of these things sound weird, but Smith makes them work really well – all giving Bone its unique fun flavor. One final positive, the art of the novel is also fantastic. Smith has a fairytale style that suited his story really well and I loved the art from start to finish.

Despite all these positive things, I had one major issue with the series. Bone is often regaled as being great because it was written as one cohesive planned out storyline, not nine separate episodic books, something rare for graphic novels. This supposedly makes the story feel much more fluid and well written compared to its compatriots. However, if this is the case, I wonder why I felt so bored with it toward the end. The fun feel of the books never diminished, but as Bone continued into its sixth, seventh, and onward installments I just felt like I was seeing the same plot arc over and over again. The rebellious princess remained rebellious, the trouble making cousin continued to learn nothing from past failures, the protagonists continued to have the patience of angels as the support cast wore on them, and the doomsday like antagonist continued to loom in the distance. In addition, when the resolution finally came in the final book I actually found it fairly anticlimactic – especially when I thought about how much build up went into it. Bone has an amazing world that I enjoyed being in, but I left it feeling like I wished more had happened.

If you had asked me to rate Bone when I was in the first three books, I would have given you something very high. The charming cast, world, and story are all delightful and I would hope everyone would check it out. But, as the books went on the plot started to wear on me until I found myself a little bored with it despite the world still being great. Bone is certainly worth checking out, but I think I will continue to look for alternative fantasy graphic novels that have plots I might enjoy more.

Rating: Bone – 6.5/10