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Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)
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Footsteps in the Sky
Footsteps in the Sky
by Greg Keyes
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
6 used & new from CDN$ 13.67

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting hard SF based around Hopi Native American traditions, May 26 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Footsteps in the Sky (Paperback)
Pros: plot centres on native american beliefs, realistic characters, interesting alien life forms, hard SF elements

Cons:

Descendants of the Hopitu-Shinumu Native Americans colonized Fifth World agreeing to terraform the planet for the Vilmir Foundation - what they call the Reed - in return for ownership of the world when it was fully habitable. But a rift has formed between those who live on the coast, trading with the Reed for technology and renouncing the backward ways of their forefathers, and those who live on the pueblos, the Traditionalists, keepers of the old ways and old religion. When three alien spaceships appear in orbit the coastal Tech Society believe this new technology could help them throw off the yoke of the Reed, assuming they can control it. Meanwhile, a traitor alerts the Reed to the presence of the ships, prompting them to send a group of colonial peacekeepers to secure the ships for themselves - or destroy them should they prove hostile.

Unknown to the colonist these are the alien ships that performed the original terraforming on the planet that made it possible for humans to eventually inhabit it, but the ships’ very long lives have made their AIs unstable and they’re unsure if allowing the invaders to inhabit this world is something their Makers would have approved. In an attempt to answer this question, one of the ships creates a clone to meet the inhabitants and see if they deserve life, of if the ships should wipe the planet clean.

The background for the plot is fairly complicated - and takes a few chapters to set up - after which the story itself is quite straightforward. I loved the world-building. The author’s father worked on a Navajo reservation when Keyes was young, so he learned a lot of the stories and beliefs that are recounted in this novel. I found the stories of the Kuchina, the origin of the Hopi and the prophecy that sent their ancestors to this planet in search of a new home really interesting. I also loved how SandGreyGirl could both question and in some ways blindly believe the teachings of her youth. The complexity of the emotions examined by her and Tuchvala, concerning beliefs and how the world changes you, were believable. I also liked how inheritance passed through the female line, and how that changed gender dynamics. It was interesting to read how SandGreyGirl sometimes took female lovers because it reduced the chance that her partner was after her land and the pressures of marriage that relationships with men brought up.

I appreciated the variety of characters, some likeable and other less so. Everyone felt real, with understandable rationalizations for what they were doing, even the various antagonists. The only hesitation I had here was with how Sand and Tuchvala relate to each other at the end of the book.

You don’t learn much about the Makers, the ones who built the ships, but what you do learn is quite interesting.

There are hard SF elements, though I don’t know if all the physics were accurate. I appreciated that space travel took years and that time passed differently for those planet side.

I’d have loved a few historical notes in an afterward explaining what, if any, of the things Keyes attributes to the Hopi people were made up for the book (beyond the prophecy).

It was an interesting book that brought out some questions about the nature of belief and had a fair bit of action.

The ABLES
The ABLES
by Jeremy Scott
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
25 used & new from CDN$ 7.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Great cast of characters, May 12 2015
Ce commentaire est de: The ABLES (Paperback)
Pros: highly unique pov, great cast of characters, dry sense of humour,

Cons: several small errors ruined immersion, some aspects of the story were hard to believe

For Parents: some swearing, some violence

The day before starting grade 7 at his new school in Freepoint city, Philip Sallinger’s dad takes him aside for ‘the talk’. But it’s not the sex talk Philip expected. He, his parents, and most of the people in their remote city, are superheroes, or as they call themselves, custodians. But Phillip’s blindness creates an obstacle with regards to using his power, and he finds himself in the special education class with others who have physical and mental differences.

Along with his new friends, Phillip must overcome the prejudices of those around them, and help protect the city from a dangerous enemy.

The novel is told from Phillip’s point of view and while much of the book includes visual clues to what’s happening, there are a lot of auditory and other sensory descriptions as well. The book takes Phillip through a variety of challenging experiences and it’s great watching him grow up, even if he does make a lot of mistakes.

The group of kids on the whole was excellently written.  They’ve each got a disability (two are blind, one's in a wheelchair, one has down syndrome, one has extreme athsma and one has ataxic cerebral palsy), but they’ve obviously learned to adapt and end up doing a large number of remarkable things throughout the book.  The author never forgets that certain things are more challenging for them, but also shows that those challenges are surmountable by determined individuals.

I really appreciated the book’s dry sense of humour, especially Phillip and James’s so called ‘blind humour’.

There were a number of problems with the novel, some of which are probably not things regular readers will notice or care about.

For example, we’re told early on in a mini history lesson that a pre-Biblical group of superheroes, who faced off with a supervillain, called themselves “the Ables”. This made no sense to me. We’re given the etymology for the use of the term ‘custodians’, so it struck me as wrong that a late middle English word would be used to describe an ancient group (especially by themselves). Yes, you could argue that it’s the modern translation of the word they would have used, but then why not use that word, or at least tell us that word? English didn’t exist as a language when this group was alive, and it would have made the superhero world’s history sound more authentic if an older word had been introduced with it, a la: “They called themselves ‘ipa’, which is Aramaic for ‘having the means to accomplish a task’. We call them the Ables.”

Occasional imprecise use of language kicked me out of the narrative. By which I mean that something was implied in the text that’s later explicitly refuted. There’s a scene where something embarrassing happens and Phillip wakes up wondering what rumours would be circulating. The impression I got from the scene - from the language used - was that this was the next morning after the event happened, but a few pages later I learned that several weeks had passed. I was left wondering why he’d be worrying about rumours that he must have heard by now and were likely dying down by this point. Each time this happened I found myself rereading the earlier section to figure out if I’d read it properly and/or had missed something. On one occasion I realized that Phillip had assumed something that turned out to not be true, but on others the text really did contain a contradiction.

I also spotted a few minor continuity errors, but these didn’t impact the story at all.

There were some aspects of the story that I didn’t really believe. There’s only been one death in a SuperSim over numerous years - despite the variety of powers on display and lack of training many of the kids apparently had - and that one death was caused by an inability to see? the SuperSim seems like the kind of activity that would, at the least, injure several people each year, regardless of how careful everyone tried to be. I was surprised that grade 7 students were allowed to participate at all, considering they were just gaining their powers and hadn’t had much training yet. The kids in the book learn so much more about their powers outside of school than inside of it that I wondered what official superhero training they were receiving, beyond history lessons, that would even prepare them for the superhero life.

I thought that the fallout from Donnie’s accident was overblown, considering his down syndrome had nothing to do with what happened, though this was pointed out by Phillip in the text.

Certain aspects of the plot were a little predictable, but on the whole the book went in directions I didn’t expect, with the SuperSim and other actions.

Despite these issues, the writing for the most part was smooth and entertaining. There’s a lot of variety in the action and the book is never boring. There are a few swear words used - in a realistic context - at the end of the book and minor violence a certain points in the book.

While I enjoyed the book, particularly the unique point of view and characters, the number of times I was jolted from the story due to small errors decreased my immersion. There’s a lot to like here - especially protagonists not generally seen in fiction at all, let alone a superhero story, and I do recommend it. Just try not to read it, as I had to, with a critical bent.

Binary
Binary
by Stephanie Saulter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.87
26 used & new from CDN$ 6.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Great follow-up to Gemsigns, May 5 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Binary (Hardcover)
Pros: interesting mystery, character development, minor romantic elements

Cons: only learn snippets of what’s happened since book 1

Several years have passed since Eli Walker presented his recommendations with regards to the integration of gems (genetically modified humans) with the general human population. Gems are finding recognition despite lingering hesitation from the norms around them. They’ve had time to think about their futures, including marriage and children - something many gems know won’t be possible without help due to their modifications. Bel’Natur is headed in new directions and wants Herran, a severely autistic gem,’s help with their project. The police are sent an anonymous tip that some of the locked up genestock isn’t as secured as everyone thought. And Aryel Morningstar’s foster father and siblings, Rhys and Gwen, are visiting London. Rhys, has a dangerous medical condition that knowing his genetype could help cure, but he and his twin were rescued from an experimental black lab, and all his gem enhanced efforts to uncover information about it have been unsuccessful.

The novel starts off slowly, reintroducing you to familiar characters and gradually adding in the new players for this book. Some characters (most notably Gabriel’s family) are absent. It’s not clear at first how much time has passed since the events of book 1, though you eventually figure out it’s been 3 or 4 years. You don’t learn much of what’s happened in the meantime, mostly snippets, but you’re left knowing that while some things have improved, others are taking longer.

The main plot threads start a few chapters into the book, giving you time to get grounded in the characters again before the police mystery begins, Rhys goes for testing and Herran starts his new job. The various plot lines converge at the ending, creating quite a few explosive reveals. You get to learn about Aryel’s origins as well as some interesting things about Zavcka’s past.

As weird as it sounds, considering her abrasive personality and the things she’s done, I found myself feeling sorry for Zavcka in this book.

While Gwen indulges her first love, music, by way of meeting a popular gem musician, Rhys starts up an affair with one of Aryel’s friends. It’s a sweet affair, made serious at times due to Rhys’ condition and his fears for the future.

While I would have liked to know more about what happened to some of the characters from the first book and what happened in the interim, this was a great book that once again delved into human psychology to show how various people react to new and challenging circumstances. There’s the heartbreak of the couple who can’t conceive, the norm who married a gem and faces ridicule from co-workers, adulation from music fans, revulsion from those who want a return to the way things were, and more. The various reactions all feel honest based on where different people come from and their circumstances. As with the first book, the POV is squarely with the gems and their sympathizers. It’s a fantastic follow-up to Gemsigns and I can’t wait to read the last book in the series.

Of Noble Family
Of Noble Family
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.38
28 used & new from CDN$ 20.38

5.0 out of 5 stars Touching end to a wonderful series, April 28 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Of Noble Family (Hardcover)
Pros: considerate treatment of several… delicate issues, wonderful depiction of a loving relationship, interesting plot

Cons: last of the series

Vincent receives word of his father’s demise. His brother, the new Earl of Verbury, has suffered a recent accident and requests that Vincent go to Antigua to deal with affairs on their estate there and look for a possible updated will. Reluctantly Vincent and Jane take ship, where Jane becomes increasingly ill. It’s soon apparent that she’s with child. It’s equally apparent, when they arrive on the island, that affairs on the plantation are not as they expected.

You’ll want to refresh your memory of the events of the previous books, particularly book three, Without a Summer, before reading this one, as Vincent’s family plays an important role and his childhood and other events from his past are revisited. Similarly, Jane’s problems from the end of book two, Glamour in Glass, are brought up a lot with regards to her pregnancy.

Kowal writes with consideration about the treatment of the slaves on the plantation, showing Vincent and Jane’s ignorance and reaction to what’s going on, from disciplinary measures and substandard housing to the ever present threat of rape from their owners and overseers. There are a few scenes that are uncomfortable to read in the way that it’s easier to look away than to face the realities of the past, even when delivered through fiction. This is equally true with regards to some of the difficulties Jane faces with her pregnancy.

It’s such a pleasure seeing a loving marital relationship in a fantasy book depicted with such intimacy (by which I mean openness, not graphic content). The way they know each others habits and can understand their moods based on small gestures and noises is wonderful to see in print, as is their honest desire to help each other cope with the difficulties they face.

It’s sad to see such a wonderful series end. I really enjoyed the touch of magic Kowal brought to the Regency period and can’t wait to see what she does next.

Quintessence
Quintessence
by David Walton
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.69
22 used & new from CDN$ 5.26

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating alternate history where the world is flat..., April 14 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Quintessence (Paperback)
Pros: great world-building, entertaining

Cons: surprisingly swift resolution to numerous problems

The Western Star returns to England from the edge of the world purportedly carrying treasures untold, but the hold is full of barrels of dirt, rocks, and seawater, and the crew has mysteriously died. Stephen Parris, physic to the ailing King Edward VI, attempts to increase his knowledge of the human body by dissecting corpses, an act that would mean his execution if discovered. The most recent body he examines, from The Western Star, is remarkably preserved and has some bizarre characteristics. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist, determined to find the elixir of life, and believes the tales of wealth the admiral of The Western Star told before he died. He convinces the king to finance a second mission for the repaired ship and persuades Parris to accompany him on his voyage of discovery.

This book is set in a world very similar to our own where the Earth is, in fact, flat, and a mysterious substance called quintessence - the fifth element, the essence of life - is found in creatures that live close to the world’s edge. The book, consequently, has a lot of fantastical creatures, starting with a beetle that can fly through walls and a manticore that can speak mind to mind using its tail as a connection port. Learning about the different creatures and their miraculous properties was highly entertaining.

I’m currently learning about the history of science so it was a real pleasure to see Aristotelianism argued against atomism (not to be confused with the modern atomic theory).

The book doesn’t pull any punches with regards to what life was like, either with England in its time of tribulation (with the succession), shipboard life, or the challenges of learning about a new land. I especially appreciated that the Spanish inquisition was used accurately - as a way to wipe out heresy, not a series of witchcraft trials. Again, the horror of the institution isn’t toned down at all, and the true targets, conversos (Jews and Muslims who professed conversion to Catholicism while retaining their beliefs in secret), are briefly shown in focus. Witchcraft does come up, but in the contexts of body snatching and magic.

I really liked Parris and his inquisitiveness, as well as his daughter Catherine, and her desire to learn more about the natural world and avoid marriage for the time being. I felt that Catherine grew over the course of the book, though mostly at the end, when the consequences of her actions throughout the book become clear. Parris too grows to some extent.

Sinclair is pretty interesting as a character, though he’s not very likeable. I found his experiments cool, but his willingness to manipulate people to get his way became disturbing as the book wore on.

Most of the action in the book was predictable but there were some interesting twists, mainly concerning the creatures encountered and revolving around the ending of the book.

The ending came rather suddenly and wrapped things up a little too neatly. A number of people mastered powers too quickly to be believable. I did, however, appreciate that there was no cliffhanger leading to the next book in the trilogy.

The Fire Sermon
The Fire Sermon
by Francesca Haig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
31 used & new from CDN$ 7.41

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting premise but the book left me wanting more from it than I got., April 7 2015
Ce commentaire est de: The Fire Sermon (Hardcover)
Pros: fascinating premise, interesting protagonists

Cons: limited plot

400 years ago the Blast wiped out most of humanity. Now everyone is born as twins. One child, the Alpha, is perfectly formed. Alphas teach that the second child, the Omega, is born of the poisons that haven’t entirely dissipated from the Blast, thereby explaining their deformities: a missing limb, an extra eye, the inability to speak. Visions. The Omegas, unpleasant to look at and more prone to disease, are sent away, but kept in decent enough conditions because when one twin dies, so does the other.

Cassandra is a seer, a rare Omega with no distinguishing features but the ability to sense things about the world around her. Raised with her twin brother Zach longer than usual, due to her unblemished appearance, both their lives are impacted. Zach’s fear of Omegas and the rejection of his peers causes him to have ambitions that will change the lives of Omegas everywhere, starting with Cass.

I find myself somewhat conflicted about this book. I really liked the premise surrounding the twins and the political and ethical questions regarding the treatment of the Omegas, but there’s very little plot. Most of the book is about Cass running away from her brother. That’s not to say that the book isn’t interesting, the characters pass through a cross-section of the world, and it’s a very interesting world.

While I liked Cass and Kip - a fellow hunted Omega - I didn’t end up with the emotional connection to them that I expected given the character driven nature of this book.

I liked that Cass had the idea that Alphas and Omegas shouldn’t be considered separate groups, especially given their death connection, but the few times she brings it up her idea is shot down by others. I recognize how hard changing such ingrained beliefs would be and kind of hoped to see the author tackle it by having Cass bring it up more often, wearing her compatriots down or finding new and more concrete ways of getting her views across to more people. I’m wondering if book 2 will deal more with this.

The book was enjoyable to read but left me wanting more from it than I got.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent
Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent
by Marie Brennan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
29 used & new from CDN$ 16.53

5.0 out of 5 stars A fun, lighthearted fantasy adventure., March 31 2015
Pros: excellent world-building, fun protagonist, quick read

Cons: ending felt rushed

This is the third volume of Isabella, Lady Trent’s memoirs and deals with the 2 year research voyage she took on the RSS Basilik. With her she brings Tom, who accompanied her on previous journeys, her nine year old son, Jake, and his governess, Abby.

As with the other books in this series, this is a character driven fantasy novel, following the extraordinary adventures of a female dragon researcher from Scirland. While the previous books focused on one area for her excursions, this one covers several locations where she researches various types of dragons in an effort to create a proper taxonomy for the species.

I love the degree of detail Brennan adds to these book, particularly the background tidbits that don’t strictly need to be there but show the amount of behind the scenes thought that goes into the stories. For example, it doesn’t really matter to the story that this trip took 2 years or more to plan (besides aging the characters), but it acknowledges that such travel in the past was not only expensive but also difficult to arrange. I also appreciated the occasional bureaucratic, medical, and cultural problems they encountered.

The world expands greatly as the ship stops at numerous ports, sometimes leaving Isabella’s group behind for a month or more to do research, sometimes carrying on immediately to the next location. Once again the world-building is excellent. It’s possible at times to see what real world cultures she’s adapting for her book, but each society is very different from the others and there’s a wide variety of characters and customs that show up.

I’m not generally a fan of character driven fantasy but Isabella is such an interesting person that I race through these volumes. Part way through this book they encounter another researcher, who helps them out. Suhail was just as fun and interesting as Isabella, and I have my suspicions about his hidden last name.

While it’s possible to read this volume on its own, there are several allusions to the events of the previous books, and a few spoilerish conversations.

The ending feels a little rushed. There’s a climactic event, after which events are narrated rather quickly through the denouement. It works for the structure of a novel but would be somewhat unusual for the memoir this purports to be.

These are lighthearted books that don’t take long to read and are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations by Todd Lockwood. It’s a series I highly recommend.

The Skull Throne: Book Four of The Demon Cycle
The Skull Throne: Book Four of The Demon Cycle
by Peter V. Brett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.32
32 used & new from CDN$ 18.23

5.0 out of 5 stars The stakes are rising, can't wait for book 5., March 31 2015
Note: This review contains spoilers for book 3, The Daylight War.

Pros: lots of politics, lots of intrigue, complex characters, the last 100 pages will blow you away

Cons: have to wait for the next book

Both Arlen and Jardir disappear after their fall from the cliff, putting Inevera in a difficult position to keep her sons alive and off the Skull Throne, while maintaining the unity of the clans that she and Jardir fought so hard for. Leesha and her companions return to the Hollow where she agonizes over what to do about her coming child, her growing love for Count Thamos, and organizing the gatherers. The Hollow leaders are soon called to Angiers by the royal family. Leesha, to help cure the Duke’s infertility; Gared, to find a wife; and Rojer, to introduce his Krasian wives to the court. Meanwhile, Arlen has a dangerous plan in mind.

Get ready for deep intrigues and a lot of politics. This book is fast paced and a quick read, despite its near 700 pages (which includes the ever helpful Krasian dictionary at the end).

The characters remain complex, with tough decisions to make and lots of compromises between how they want the world to become versus dealing with how it actually is. I loved the scenes from Ashia’s point of view, getting to know her and the other sharum’ting (female warriors). Their training was interesting, as was the family politics she was thrown into with regards to her marriage. I felt both admiration for her and pity for her situation. Though I started to find Leesha irritating in book 3, here she’s back to the woman I admired in books 1 and 2, only with more responsibilities and harder choices to make. I love Inevera as a character, even though she can be quite horrible at times. This book made me again appreciate her intelligence and drive while pitying her when things start to spiral out of control. Abban’s manipulation of power made him less sympathetic in this book, but his storyline remains intriguing. The interplay between Rojer and his wives is so interesting, especially given their various abilities.

Unlike book 3, this one doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, but it will have you cursing the fact that book 5 isn’t out yet. The last hundred pages or so really ramps up the action as all of the political maneuvering comes to fruition in unexpected ways. This series continues to get better and I can’t wait to read what’s going to happen next.

Shadow Scale: A Companion to Seraphina
Shadow Scale: A Companion to Seraphina
by Rachel Hartman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.00
2 used & new from CDN$ 15.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent world-building makes for an excellent book, March 17 2015
Pros: excellent world-building, interesting and varied characters, political intrigue

Cons: less mystery, Seraphina misses some obvious connections

With the dragons fighting a civil war and Comonot living in exile in the palace, things in Goredd remain tense. When word of a possible half-dragon mind weapon is uncovered, Seraphina is sent to find the others from her ‘mind garden’ and bring them back with her. She’s also tasked with sending aid in the form of men and supplies from the southern states she’ll be travelling through. But her task is hard and her allies few, especially when a powerful figure from her past reappears.

This is the sequel to Seraphina, a novel I thoroughly enjoyed. For those who read Seraphina a long time ago, there’s a fantastic summary at the beginning going over all the important elements of the previous book. I really wish more series books would do this.

While Seraphina had elements of mystery and romance, Shadow Scale is more of a quest story, with Seraphina combing the world for others of her kind. I have to admit I missed the interplay between Seraphina and Kiggs, who stayed behind as she travelled. While I enjoyed the whole book (seeing how other lands functioned was really interesting), I liked the second half the best. Porphyry was really fun, especially their contempt for the more barbaric southlands, which put the protagonist in the position of being the uncouth foreigner. The second half is also when the villain’s actions start to have real effects on the story.

There’s a wide variety of characters, humans (from 4 distinct cultures), dragons, half-humans, quigutl (draconic cousins), as well as people from different statuses and belief structures. Another thing I loved about Porphyry was the complexity of its language - that it has six genders and seven cases and that “[y]ou use cosmic neuter for a stranger, … And he’s a stranger until you’ve asked, ‘How may I pronoun you?’” (p207). I love the idea that this culture allows people to choose their own gender and form of address, and that you ask people when you meet, how they prefer to be addressed.

As with the previous book Seraphina is forced to grow as a person. As her dearest wish becomes a nightmare, she’s forced to make difficult decisions. There were a few times when she misses what seemed like obvious connections, but she’s 16 and in some of those cases the final result wasn’t quite what I’d expected either.

There’s a decent amount of political intrigue. I loved that though Seraphina was travelling and time was obviously passing, her communications with Queen Glisselda reminded her - and the reader - that things were happening elsewhere in the world. While some action happens off page, there’s enough on page to keep you invested in the story and the end of the book will have you flipping pages pretty fast to see how things are resolved. While the ending doesn’t tie up everything, it’s a satisfying conclusion to the duology.

Seraphina
Seraphina
by Rachel Hartman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.54
2 used & new from CDN$ 11.54

5.0 out of 5 stars Great fantasy novel, March 10 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Seraphina (Paperback)
Pros: brilliant world-building, interesting characters, interesting politics, thought provoking

Cons:

For Parents: no swearing, minor suggestive content, a few kisses, some violence, nothing graphic

Seraphina has a secret to hide regarding her mother. Her distant father warns her to avoid calling attention to herself, but her love of music makes it hard for her, especially when she becomes the assistant to the court composer. It’s a mere two weeks before the Treaty Eve festivities when the Ardmagar Comonot visits to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the peace pact between the Goredd nation and dragonkind. Not everyone is happy with the peace, especially since Prince Rufus recently died in a suspiciously draconic way. The Sons of St. Ogdo are stirring up the populace against the vile scurge even as members of the royal court make snide remarks behind the backs of the draconic embassy members. The depth of Seraphina’s knowledge of dragons and her willingness to stand up for them in the face of prejudice, brings her to the attention of Prince Lucian Kiggs, Captain of the Queen’s Guard, as more and more incidents occur. As the days count down both her secret and the peace pact are in danger.

This is a brilliant novel. The writing is top notch and the world-building excellent. It’s a pseudo-European world, but one that remembers there are other nations with other peoples, many of whom travel and have political and economic ties to each other. The religion is obviously based on Catholicism, with a plethora of interesting saints (including St. Ogdo the dragon slayer). I loved that the politics around the peace weren’t simple. The racism of humans to dragons and vice versa is covered (in multiple forms), as is the peace pact between the human nations that came about beforehand, which allowed the humans to present a united front to the dragons. I also liked that the book pointed out the uncertainty that people feel when forced to trust that their former enemy is trading in good faith.

The dragons are coldly logical, refusing to allow feelings to affect them. But when they take human form, they can have trouble dealing with the wash of emotions that come over them. Dragons that forget themselves face harsh punishments - the excision of those emotions and any memories that could revive them.

Seraphina is a wonderful character. She lies to protect herself, knowing that she’s hurting herself by doing so. I loved that many of her lies are uncovered, forcing her to face the consequences of her actions and make difficult decisions based on them. Lucian’s great, always asking questions and sometimes getting burned by the answers. Princess Glisselda was fun to read about, with her obvious intelligence and political savvy. It was refreshing to see a friendship develop between women that didn’t involve any backbiting or gossip. I also loved Orma, who tries so hard to appear human but doesn’t quite grasp all of the intricacies involved even as he often has to prove he has no emotional attachment to Seraphina.

The book has some great examples of how to stand up for yourself - and others - when facing bigotry. It isn’t easy and Seraphina sometimes does the wrong thing, but it’s great seeing examples of how to deal with bullying behaviour head on. It’s equally good that it shows the potential backlash and consequences that standing up for something can elicit.

I personally found the jump between the prologue and the first chapter very confusing. The prologue shows Seraphina’s birth, which made me think the book would progress through her life, but the first chapter jumps several years ahead, and you have to read a few chapters to understand how she got where she is now. Logically prologues tend to stand apart from the rest of the book so that was my failure of attention rather than a flaw in the text.

I loved this book. The characters felt so real and Seraphina’s loneliness so heartbreaking that I cried several times while reading it. The mystery is a little on the slow side, but I found the world and happenings so fascinating that I didn’t care. If you love fantasy, get this book.

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