Tag Archive: magic


Covenants

Lorna Freeman’s first Borderlands novel, Covenants, was aggressively recommended to me by a friend. Once again I was unable to find it at any bookstore, though I did see part 3 once, an improvement on past efforts. After receiving it in the mail along with Fanuilh and a few others, I finally decided to get to it. This was back in April. I began reading it on a business trip to South Carolina, but since my driving partner was quite the talker, I didn’t get much reading done. Thirty pages the whole trip. Maybe. I found myself reading it off and on over the next few months, often reading a chapter early in the morning, then setting the book down. For the most part the chapters are short, so I was able to get one in while getting ready to head to my job that I’ve now left.

I learned while reading that I do not like paperbacks over about 350 pages. This one’s around 550, and my thumbs hurt from holding it open. I’m one of those people who would prefer to keep the spine smooth, so doing so with such a thick book is a challenge. For the most part I managed to keep the book in good shape. There are a couple creases, but you’ll never see them unless you look closely. Can’t feel them either. The cover art on the American release is beautiful with sun warmed clouds and detail in every inch, even deep into the background.

The only thing it’s missing is butterflies. Really.

Our hero, Rabbit, who is not the cat up there, is drawn along for the ride most of the story. The reader is too, wondering what the heck is going on. Whatever it is, there’s plenty of it, both on screen and in the background. This is one of those books you could read multiple times and get more out of it each time. One reading can be a bit overwhelming, and it doesn’t help that Freeman even leaves words for you to figure out, when it wasn’t always necessary. New words work best when they’re for something we don’t have in our world, but when used for every day things (including linking verbs) it can be confusing until you see it enough to figure out from context. I’m pretty sure “sro” was “sir” and “e” was “and,” etc., but even if it adds a bit of flavor to the world, it works better to keep them as what we know. My opinion anyway. The former gets particularly convoluted with how nearly everyone seems determined to refer to people by long titles, here full of book exclusive words.

The story is told from Rabbit’s POV, a rare experience in first person for a fantasy novel. The only other one I can think of off hand is Song in the Silence (and it’s sequels,) but unlike there, this one is all Rabbit, all the time, so we stay as lost as he does for a while. He isn’t going to stop to tell you what’s what, especially if he doesn’t know. We’re pulled into the world as though we understand it.

And he certainly knows a lot, but for a while it has nothing to do with what’s happening. His background becomes more important to the story as it moves along, and we see just how deeply tied he is to many important individuals.

Early on the remains of a sprite and dragon are found (turned into a staff, and shield and tunic respectfully. . .or, disrespectfully?) and this especially doesn’t sit well with Rabbit since he was close friends with them. At that point the story gets rolling and for the most part it doesn’t slow down until the end. When he makes it back to the land where he grew up, and we meet many new characters, the story bogs down a little because there’s so much more to digest, right when everything prior was beginning to take form, including why butterflies keep swirling around him.

There’s plenty of magic, weirdness, and great characters you grow up with over the course of the novel, and I’m quite interested to read the next two to see what happens. Still, there’s an incredible amount of detail in the world, and it’s best to have a few goes at it to fully understand everything. I actually had to do this post with the guidance of a friend who’s more or less an expert on the series. I’ll certainly come back to see what happens to Rabbit in the future.

For now, something a little simpler . . .

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The Dragon and the George

I first heard of Gordon R. Dickson’s, The Dragon and the George, in middle school after watching The Flight of Dragons, an animated classic based on the novel, though with Peter Dickenson’s ideas on dragons incorporated into the story. The novel’s far less sciencey, but our hero, Jim, shares his counterpart’s scholarly nature. Due to a friend reminding me of the book recently, I finally decided to pick it up. So, off I went to my favorite book stores only to find that no one had it. Odd, I thought, as I could have sworn I had seen it every time I wasn’t looking for it. Eventually I had to order it used. I have an old hardback copy from the 70s with a delightful painting by Boris Vallejo, who’s done every fantasy piece you’ve ever seen.

note: Actual knight cannot summon castles from his lance.

It begins in the modern world and for a while feels like a fantasy version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Dickson and Adams seem to share a similar sense of humor. Eventually Jim’s better half, Angie, is victim to an experiment that sends her away to a fantasy world. Jim follows, but when he arrives, he finds out he’s ended up in the body of a dragon. And so begins a quest to learn just how the heck to be a dragon, and somewhere in there rescue Angie from the forces of evil.

Along the way, Jim meets others who tag along on his quest, including a dragon slaying knight and a giant talking wolf who does his best impression of a honey badger. While everyone has their moment, the latter was my favorite due in part to his no nonsense nature. The others tended to ramble at times, especially Jim. We spend a lot of time in his head and he doesn’t always take the quickest path to his point. It’s this wandering nature that bogs the story down. There was even a side plot involving the nemesis of Sir Brian, our knight friend, that took away from the adventure. I didn’t feel invested enough in him at the time to care much about it. It suffers from excess descriptions too. Dickson tries too hard at times.

I did want to like the novel more. It’s a unique set up with a man stuck not only in a different world, but in the body of a dragon, but I never felt gripped by it. It was enjoyable to see the basis for one of my favorite fantasy films, including so many of the characters who were lifted directly from it, and at least from that I’m glad I read it, I just wish it had a little more to it. I’ll have to give the nod to the movie as my favorite.

This is a book I’d have definitely loved as a teenager, and likely finished the series, but for now I don’t feel compelled to do it. Yet.

After being bogged down the past few months, it’s time to start catching up. Feels great to be back at this again.

The Elvenbane

When I read a novel by multiple authors, I often find myself wondering who wrote what and just how they worked. The first time I tried writing a novel it was with a coauthor, and what we did was email the file back and forth, adding and editing as we went. Since Norton and Lackey’s The Elvenbane was released a few years before the internet, I’m guessing it didn’t quite go that way. I’m not familiar with Andre Norton’s other works, but I did notice some Lackeyisms: her knowledge of birds, use of magical traps, and near comically evil characters.

I bought the sequel to The Elvenbane back before I knew it was a series. It was on the clearance rack at a Books-a-Million back in the 90s. I remember getting it while on a trip to Disney. I’m not sure why we were sidetracked at bookstores, but we were. The sole reason I got it is because it had an awesome cover, and I do believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for appealing cover art. I was all ready for a dragon story, a story that the cover promised. I read a few pages at our hotel but then lost interest. I think at that point I realized that it was indeed a sequel and didn’t want to get too deep into without reading the first. It’d been sitting on my book shelf ever since.

I was reminded that it was a series when I saw part 3 at a used bookstore a few months ago. Judging from it it looked like there might be some good human/dragon interaction, something I’ve always looked for to help me with my own novel and enjoy anyway. I looked for part 1. They had it. It was paperback. I’d already unintentionally committed to hardback due to my first purchase. Can’t stand having a series that isn’t all the same format. I finally had to order it online.

Even after finishing the book, I have no idea who that dragon is. The girl is easy, but the dragon? No. They’re described as being different colors than that, plus larger.

It’s a decently long story. If you have the paperback it’s topping five hundred pages. My hardback was 390 with plenty of words per page. It’s also slow. A third of the book passes before the main story even happens. Up until then its full of flashbacks and a character who we’ll never see again. It would have flowed better and been more interesting if the story started with Shana’s birth (red headed girl on the cover.) Any information given in the beginning could have been left a mystery that she had to learn about. She still does, but since we already know, it seems excess.

So the real story begins with Shana’s birth where she’s taken in by a dragon who’s about to birth a daughter of her own. It’s a take on the old Jungle Book theme with a human being raised by another kind. And while we’ve all seen it before, the authors make it interesting with an element I would have annoyed me in most contexts.

The dragons can shape shift. That’s up there with telepathy in my book of magical cop outs. Oh, yeah, the dragons can do that too.

But since they can change form, including taking a human form, Shana grows up thinking she too is a dragon, only stuck as a human (or in her case, a half elf, half human.) Of course when the secret gets out that she really isn’t a dragon, everything blows up. Her adoptive mother certainly never bothered to let her in on the secret. I do like her, but often I debated if she could be considered a bad mother. This is in particular since her real daughter is a vile little creature who seems to be neglected throughout the book. She eventually ends up getting taken in by another dragon who’s equally unpleasant. I kept wanting to see her get better, but it never happened. That might be one of those Lackey touches where if someone’s going evil, there’s no saving them. It’s frustrating.

Also frustrating came from the way of a forced relationship. Well, a relationship actually never happened, but I could feel one or both of the authors trying their hardest to bring Shana together with someone else later in the book. Maybe that happens in the sequels, I don’t know, but it never felt right. It didn’t help that there was another character that Shana had great chemistry with and who we hear over and over that when they’re together it just feels right, and how happy and content the other party is being with her. All that set up and I feel the authors were determined to avoid it.

Those complaints aside, I really did enjoy most of the characters. It’s fun watching Shana grow up and discover her powers (hybrids have very strong magic, which is why she ends up being such a big deal to the elves who want no one to threaten their dominance.) Kemen, her adoptive dragon brother, was just darling and warmed up every scene he was in. He needed to be in there more. Valyn seemed to be much deeper than was let on and it’s always a pleasure to see someone stand up to their own kind when they know they’re wrong. Several of the minor characters thankfully had their own personalities. The villains weren’t too interesting other than Triana, a witch of sorts who we only see briefly near the end in a side plot. It isn’t really needed other than to make Valyn look like a failure.

It was a good read, just slow and frustrating at times. I do want to read the sequels just to see what happens with my favorite characters, but I don’t feel compelled to quite yet. I have a lot of new books I want to get to this year, but I’ll come back to the series eventually. It’s just a shame that it’ll never be complete since Andre Norton has passed away. I fear getting to the end of book 3 to find a cliffhanger.

The White Gryphon

Thanks to what I read for the last post, I finally had a chance to get to its sequel that I’ve owned for a decade but never read past the first chapter. This time I read the first quarter in one day during a car trip, half of which was spent with an overly bright reading light. The last quarter was finished today. Everything else took about two weeks, as along with life getting in the way, the middle lost momentum. I found it easy to put down in places and that was unfortunate.

It’s ten years later. That’s quite possibly the longest jump in time I’ve ever seen in a sequel. Those from the war camp in Black Gryphon have moved west and developed a new settlement named White Gryphon, named both from a conveniently shaped bit of geography there and from Skandranon, who no longer has the black dyes that gave him his namesake. He’s white, out of shape, having to be more of a political symbol than anything he deems useful, and overall he’s quite unsatisfied with life. Apparently the reckless guy misses risking his neck on a regular basis. What does bring him happiness are his twin gryphlets and mate. We don’t see the little ones much, but they are adorable, and thankfully the beautiful illustrations from the last book are back for this one. My favorite picture involved those two.

See, he’s white now. He’s also a tubbygryph for a while, but the artist was kind enough to Photoshop out his thunder thighs.

Still, Skandranon doesn’t feel like himself anymore. He’s miserable. Throughout the book the plot does force him to gain his old spark back, and before long he’s calling himself the Black Gryphon again. This finally leads to him requesting to be dyed again, and an amusing scene with the gryphon, Aubri, where his feathers aren’t drying as fast as he thought. I’m glad Aubri came back, though it’s sad to see him aging.

The story centers around another kingdom that has claimed the land where White Gryphon stands. Most of the scenes take place there as our heros try to come to an alliance so a war doesn’t break out. Of course it’s not that easy as murders begin to happen and it appears they’re coming at the hands (talons?) of Skandranon. This could have been an engaging murder mystery, but since we know who’s doing it pretty much from the beginning, it takes any suspense out. I know this isn’t really a mystery novel, but that angle could have been effective especially since this part of the plot is what bogged it down for me. Further frustrating is how long it takes the characters to even realize the cause of their troubles. I’ve never seen such obliviousness.

The man “who dunnit,” a diminutive creep named Hadanelith, who would fit right at home in some torture porn, is too unrealistically evil to be interesting. He’s just a nuisance you’d like to swat away and get back to the story. Now later someone feels that he must be the product of some demon, and that could have been interesting, but we don’t know. The parts of the story that really dragged on were when it cut to him or one of the mages that were helping him and we had to listen to them think about how evil and sneaky they were. That could have been summed up in a paragraph and then shown through action. At one point in the middle it went on for a whole chapter and it took me more than a day to get through it. The chapters in this book are much longer than before too. Internal monologue can be okay, but when the characters aren’t engaging and we don’t care about them (in this case cause they’re unbelievable,) it gets tedious and boring. These scenes cut time from others. Skandranon, whose scenes are always great, had to sacrifice screen time and somehow I doubt he’d like that. And not just him, but his friend, Amberdrake, king Shalaman, the grandmotherly Makke, and others.

For that matter, many of the new characters came off unlikable until later in the book. I wanted focus on those I’d grown to care about. Part of this comes from a new culture with a face-palm-inducing social structure. You can tell many people are being taken advantage of with the will of the gods being the excuse. It is interesting to see a new culture, but at the same time it’s maddening.

The way the book ended was great and thankfully didn’t feel so abrupt as the last one. The way the antagonists are taken out is highly satisfying too. I love how Lackey used one of the characters to do it who really needed a moment to shine. The satisfaction would be like if I got to punch Rob Schneider in the face. Oh, why can’t someone make a book about that?

While the book had some moments that bogged down, in the end it was still a satisfying read. I’ll look forward to The Silver Gryphon when I get to it, but for now it’s time to catch up on the other books I read this year, and something winter themed for December.  Now, what could that be . . .

I want a Kechara plus, and when you squeeze it it has to say, “Papa Skan!”