Sunday, November 16, 2014
Joel can afford to attend Armedius Academy only because he’s been granted full tuition by the principal. His mother cleans the campus, and his father used to make chalk for rithmatists, before he died. Joel, sadly, is not a member of the small secondary school within Armedius. He’s not a Rithmatist, despite always wanting to be one. The fact that he’s obsessed with rithmatics and has a natural mind for the geometry that forms the core of rithmatics doesn’t matter. Joel isn’t one of them.
But this summer, Professor Fitch lost a duel that forced him to tutor students, and Joel manages to get himself assigned as Fitch’s research assistant. Now, Joel has a real chance to learn some rithmatics. He just has to get past the other student Fitch is tutoring, a struggling, highly annoying rithmatist named Melody. Add in the new, arrogant professor Nalazar, who won that duel against Fitch, and the fact that rithmatist students have suddenly begun disappearing from campus, and suddenly, Joel has his hands full with more than just trying to find a way to become a rithmatist.
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://brandonsanderson.com/
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings—merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.
As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery, one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.
Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in worldbuilding, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.
It’s difficult to lock down a real time period in The Rithmatist, but I’d put my guess sometime in the late 60s or maybe in the 70s. Don’t quote me on that, though. It could well be set in the last few years. Thanks to the novel being set in an alternate America featuring a form of geometric chalk magic a few centuries old, it’s impossible to say if social norms would have progressed the same way and times they did in our reality. But considering Joel ends up at an ice cream shop where a scoop is expensive at nine cents, and where there’s a little hubbub about one of the clerks at Armedius being a woman, well… it’s easy to surmise if impossible to confirm.
The alternate America Sanderson built is highly intriguing, and I wish I knew more about it. We don’t have 50 states. America is a series of islands, 60 of them, including the warfront of Nebrask, the California Archepelago, Georgiabama, and East Carolina. I got such flutters of laughter whenever I heard another tidbit of the United Islands’ names. Georgiabama made me outright laugh the first time I heard it. It struck me as a nice little snack that still had the familiar ring of home to it (though I don’t live in Georgia or Alabama.) There’s a pleasant creativity to the islands that is perfect for the story Sanderson wrote.
My only experience with Sanderson before reading The Rithmatist was with his closing out Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I’d never heard of him before then, and I think I must have been living under a rock or something. A lot of me wondered what Sanderson’s own voice was like after reading Wheel of Time, because the only experience I had was of him writing someone else’s characters and world. I found some bits of writing that were obviously him, but so much of it still sounded like Jordan, I didn’t have a lot of insight into his style.
Yeah, his voice was there. In reading The Rithmatist, I was able to reconcile the two. Sanderson’s voice comes out clear in Wheel of Time, if The Rithmatist is any indication. Sanderson has an exciting clarity with just a tad of quirkiness to his writing style. He’s easy to follow while not being simplified. There is much to this novel that is character-centric, and the people populating this novel are spot-on. One could take just about any line of dialogue from the novel out of context and still know who said it. The three main characters, Joel, Melody, and Fitch, are easiest to identify. There’s no blandness to Joel as a protagonist. He’s definitely a teenage boy, and Sanderson nailed the qualities that make it easy to pin down his age. I guess that’s probably because Sanderson was once a teenage boy himself.
Having read his closing of the Wheel of Time series, I was eager to get to know Sanderson on his own turf, and The Rithmatist was a good first choice. The magic system of rithmatics is intriguing, with the chapter openings often describing diagrams of different defenses or outlining a tidbit of rithmatic theory that ends up coming into play during that chapter or later ones. This was an excellent bit of extra understanding that prevented infodumps and keeps the reader from being lost in the rithmatic practices. That was masterfully done.
I’ll admit that, this having a mystery to it, I started guessing who I thought “done it”. I don’t normally do this, but sometimes I just can’t help being struck with a theory about how things will pan out. I ended up suspecting three people. One was merely on principle, one because I really thought he was the culprit, and the third because I was second-guessing my confidence in that second guess. Sanderson ended up completely flipping the mystery on its head for me, and while the very back of my head was shouting, “I knew it! I knew it!” I was pleased that I’d been duped. He’s avoided cliches with this mystery, but doesn’t rub it in if the reader was wrong.
The Rithmatist was an utter joy to experience. The depth of the magic system and how it ties in to religion and the history of this alternate America are well-thought-out and permeate the world. It makes sense. This is one of those novels where the protagonist may not always get what he wants, and neither does the reader… but both can be okay with that.
Would I Recommend This Book? Most definitely. The Rithmatist is YA, but anyone can enjoy this. Sanderson tells a tight and intriguing story with some great comedy, a great mystery, and fully fleshed-out characters you can’t help but want to spend more time with. I give The Rithmatist a chalk-drawn 4 out of 5 stars.
For more on the author, visit http://brandonsanderson.com/
Rae and her sisters lost their kingdom to an evil king. Now, their stepfather is at it again, trying to take over another throne by deposing another queen and her son, Prince Leopold. Only by offering Leopold her help, along with that of her six sisters, can Rae keep history from repeating itself? Only a mirror, an apple, and a glass coffin are standing in her way.
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://www.starlahuchton.com/
“Once upon a time, a dark evil crept into my kingdom, stealing my loved ones and the happy life I knew. The world turned against me, and I swore to become stronger, to keep myself safe.
Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince, hair dark as ebony, skin as pure as the freshly driven snow, and I became the only one who stood between him and death.
Once upon a time, our stories intertwined, and now, healing my heart may be the only way to save us all from the evil that threatens to destroy what little we have left.”
If you want to read Snow White like you've never read it before, this is the book for you. Huchton has made some amazing changes to the surface of the story while keeping the core of it true. You'll recognize the key points: the apple, the description of the "Snow White" character, the coffin, even the mirror. I came into this knowing that it was a new retelling of Snow White, but even if I hadn't, I would have recognized it. It's a great take on the tale, and Huchton more than does it justice.
And even better, it is a genderflipped version. We get the girl saving the prince, but it's not done in a way that makes the genders imbalanced. The prince is a man, definitely, and is strong. Rae is a powerful young woman, worthy of the adventure she's up against. She has her weaknesses, too, which makes her journey all the more powerful.
I've read a fair few of Huchton's works now (you can find one here) and she has one of the most pleasant styles I've come across. She's straightforward and fun, keeping things vivid and engaging from start to finish. In Shadows on Snow, her little homages to the "traditional" fairy tell style, specifically in the beginning and end, work as a wonderful gateway between the real world and the story itself. This is a book you can just sink into. It's comfortable in being a familiar old story, but still new enough to keep the attention peaked.
And the dialogue... some of what these characters-- particularly Rae-- say is true to life. I had a moment where I just wanted to Z-snap at someone after Rae made a comment. It was brilliant. Huchton has really tapped into some good material for YA readers.
This book is a real winner and a joy to read. I don't know if I can attribute this to the story itself or just the fact that Snow White isn't a favorite fairy tale of mine, but I really didn't care overmuch for the Snow White parallel character, Prince Leopold. That isn't to say Leopold is unlikeable. Quite the opposite. Then again, this wasn't really his story. This is Rae's story, and she is a heroine to relate to and admire. She's definitely a teenager with an opinion and skills, and reading things from her perspective is a blast.
The world Huchton created around the elements of the original story are rich and full, making this a world with lots more stories to tell. I hope to see more fairy tale retellings set here. This is an excellent read for young adults and not-so-young adults.
Would I Recommend This Book? Definitely. If you like fairy tells, this is a great one to add to the collection. It's witty, thoughtful, and full of surprises that revitalize the original fairy tale. I give Shadows on Snow a salted 4.5 of 5 stars.
For more information on the author, visit http://www.starlahuchton.com/
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Andy Gage is only a few years old. The body he's in, though, is almost thirty. Andy is just one of many personalities that inhabit his body. he's the newest, the one intended to run the body, while his "father" Aaron, runs things inside, keeping the personalities under control. Things are actually going well, until Andy gets a new coworker. Penny is clearly a multiple, just like Andy is, but Penny has no idea. At the behest of their boss, Andy reluctantly starts trying to bring Penny into awareness of her other sides. Helping Penny-- or Mouse, as she's usually called-- find herself leads Andy on a path that could tear down the order inside his own head.
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://www.bymattruff.com/
“I suppose I should tell you about the house…The house, along with the lake, the forest, and Coventry, are all in Andy Gage’s head, or what would have been Andy Gage’s head if he had lived. Andy Gage was born in 1965 and murdered not long after by his stepfather…It was no ordinary murder: though the torture and abuse that killed him were real, Andy Gage’s death wasn’t. Only his soul actually died, and when it died, it broke in pieces. Then the pieces became souls in their own right, coinheritors of Andy Gage’s life…”
Andrew Gage was “born” just two years ago, called into being to serve as the public face of a multiple personality. While Andrew deals with the outside world, over a hundred other souls share an imaginary house inside his head, struggling to maintain an orderly coexistence: Aaron, the father-figure, who makes the rules; Adam, the mischievous teenager, who breaks them; Jake, the frightened little boy; Aunt Sam, the artist; Seferis, the defender; and Gideon, the dark soul, who wants to get rid of Andrew and the others and run things on his own.
Andrew’s new coworker, Penny Driver, is also a multiple personality—a fact that Penny is only partially aware of. When several of Penny’s souls ask Andrew for help, he reluctantly agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the stability of his house. Now Andrew and Penny must work together to uncover a terrible secret that Andrew has been keeping from himself…
Who knows what the heck is going on in the minds of those around you? We could all have more than one soul in our heads, for all we know, and some of us just deal with it better than others. Who didn't have imaginary friends as a kid, or try to pretend they were someone else? How often have you seen someone behave completely out of character (for them) and wonder if you really knew them at all? Don't think I'm making light of dissociative personality disorder. I'm not. It's just the closest I can personally come to identifying with it. I don't know if this is how it really is for people with such a disorder, but it's how I imagine it is. This book does, at least as far as I can tell, a good job of portraying what having multiple personalities could be like.
The changes in POV between Andrew and Penny were skillfilly done. There could so easily have been confusion, with all the different souls in their bodies, but I didn't have any trouble keeping track of things as the book went along. If Andy is in the "POV position", it's 1st person. If we're behind Penny/Mouse, it's 3rd. We get to see their different personalities from their eyes, but the changes in person-narrative make it easy to remember whose body you're in.
The writing itself is easy to follow, very thought-like. It was honestly like being in my own head... at least, in how thoughts progressed along with the events.
Set This House in Order was recommended to me by Cat Rambo. What a recommendation! This is a masterful piece of work and bears rereading. I plan to let it settle in my head for a few months before I pick it up to read it again. Ruff demonstrates an amazing talent for setting up great moments of climax as early as the first few paragraphs of the book. It's stunning, really, how perfectly the book reflects itself.
I spent a lot of time reading this forming theories of what was going on, what connections between characters (or souls) were, and how things would wrap up. I was almost unerringly wrong. Every time.
I LOVED it. This is a book of reveals, not only for the reader, but for the characters. There is one reveal about halfway through the book that really got me, but looking back, the clues were there. It is so subtly done, so skillfull... Ruff really wields his pen (or typewirter, or computer, or whatever) like a scalpel, with such precision that it is a work of art.
Would I Recommend This Book? Multiple yesses. (Is that how you spell yesses? Well, it is now.) This book is intriguing, deep, annoying at times (both the plot and the characters), confusing (both the plot and characters) but in the best ways. I give Set This House in Order a mist-covered 4 out of 5 stars.
For more information on the author, visit http://www.bymattruff.com/
Trying to get to the bottom of a missing person's case is all in a day's work for Detective Amber Payne. She and her partner, Kevin Glass, didn't expect anything odd from this contract. But when they discover the missing person kidnapped himself, it leads them down a road of questions. Why did he want to go missing? What's this super-secret project he was working on?
And why is the result of that project suddenly in Kevin's head and screaming to get out?
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://jlbrackett.com/
Detective Amber Payne and her partner Kevin Glass must solve a case of corporate espionage that quickly turns into a fight for survival in a world where cybernetic implants are commonplace, cyberspace is a realm of its own, and no one is what they appear to be.
It's never really clear just what year Streets of Payne is set in, but that's not a big deal concerning the plot. It's a futuristic/cyberpunk world, not too distant from our own, and that's enough for me. There are hints at elemnts of life from the here and now, with some tweaks- Chocaffeine, for example, which I picture as a mass-produced mocha latte, maybe, and Plasteel, a building material. The important thing with this is that none of it is odd or out of place for Amber. It's her world, and she's comfortable in it. That helps the reader immediately be comfortable and take new elements in stride, accepting them as normal at the same time as absorbing it and reveling in its newness.
Brackett has a semi-simplistic writing style that gets ideas across without words getting in the way. He's descriptive without being flowery, informative without being pedantic. It's a wonderful style to read (or in my case, listen to), that lets the reader focus on the story rather than how it's told. He's unobtrusive, but on those occasions that I actually focused on the words themselves, I got a pleasure in listening to them one by one. He has a rhythm and flow to his writing that is very pleasant.
I don't read a lot of cyberpunk, but that isn't because I don't like it. I do enjoy the genre, especially when they're written like Brackett wrote Streets of Payne. There's enough of the world outside of computers and enough inside the technical world to keep things technological without going over the head of someone who's semi-techno-fluent, like me. It's easy enough to follow along with the jargon, especially since there's a lot that's explained-- but many explanations came far enough after the introduction of the concept that I had a chance to guess at what it was. Inferring the meaning of a lot of these made the book semi-interactive, and it's pretty easy to guess what you're looking at, so it feels good to have it confirmed later.
Plotwise, this was a very tightly-told story. Threads stuck out from the central ball and then turned and wove back in, thickening the mess Amber and Kevin had to sort through. it was very well done and logical, perfect for the world Brackett set up. The whole thing was highly satisfying.
Would I Recommend This Book? I certainly would! If you're a cyberpunk or even a detective mystery fan, this is definitely a book for you. Brackett's characterization is spot-on, his setting is excellent and compelling, and the plot is a tangled mess it's fun to unravel. I give Streets of Payne a modified 4 of 5 stars.
For more information on the author, visit http://jlbrackett.com/