Last week, I reviewed two of four recently-published fantasy books that I’ve read, and I’m back this week with the last two. Like I mentioned at the end of that post, I ordered these by my rankings for them, from least to greatest. That meant that last week’s were my not-so-favorites, while this week showcases the two I really enjoyed. As always, I’d love to hear from you—have you read any of these, and if so, what were your thoughts on them? What other books, fantasy or otherwise, have you enjoyed (or not) lately? Do share!
Reviews from Amazon again.
3. Updraft ~ Fran Wilde
Published September 1, 2015
In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.
Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.
Pros: The world-building. The world-building. The premise of this world was one of the most unique and fascinating I have seen in a while—and this, in an age when new fantasies are appearing left and right, is quite a feat. The idea of living on cities that grow above the clouds, of having wings and trading between towers and the Singers and sky mouths—it was all captivating and creative. I loved the characters as well, from adventurous Kirit to loyal Nat to caring Elna to intense Wik. The pace never let up as the stakes rose higher and higher.
What I especially loved about this book was that while it showed the corruption of a government, it also showed that not all the rulers were corrupt, and that many were trying to effect positive changes. Like individuals, governments are rarely wholly good or bad. This is a point often overlooked in many modern YA books, so I was thankful it was addressed so insightfully here. The writing was also smooth and poignant. One last thing I was impressed by was how Wilde thrust us into a very foreign world, complete with new lingo, and while there were questions from the start, she never answered them with an info dump but revealed the answers throughout the story or let us use our brains and figure things out from context clues. It’s the mark of a professional author, to be able to do that.
Cons: There were few problems with Updraft, and I actually can’t pinpoint anything specific that should cause serious concern. The only reason it doesn’t get a higher rating is not because of what it had but what it didn’t have—it lacked the higher themes, the delving into deeper questions, and the truly memorable characters and scenes that the truly best books boast. However, don’t let that deter you from reading it. Although I probably won’t reread this one (I rarely reread books anyway, so that’s not saying much), it was a thrilling, brilliant, even beautiful riot of a ride.
4. The Shiloh Series ~ Helena Sorensen
Songbird published October 20, 2015
In a world of perpetual shadow, a boy is born wielding remarkable power over fire. Amos is seven when he kills a Shadow Wolf and becomes a legend in Shiloh. Everyone is amazed by him… and afraid that his father may be a madman. His father tells stories about a world beyond the Shadow, a time before the Shadow. People who tell those stories usually come to unfortunate ends.
The year Amos and his best friend, Simeon, turn twelve, they are itching to prove themselves. An impetuous plan to steal a beautiful lantern goes miserably awry, and the lantern s owner prophesies that Amos will be devoured by the Shadow. For the first time, a seed of fear is planted in Amos’s mind, and when his father is killed by a Shadow Wolf on the last day of the Great Hunt, the fear takes hold. If so great and brave a man as his father could fall to the Shadow, what hope does he have?
Does anyone ever truly escape the Shadow?
Evander is beloved by his people. He leads his band of hunters into the foothills, snatching food from the mouths of the Shadow Wolves. He rides out against the dragons that descend from their lairs in the Pallid Peaks. He shelters an orphaned girl who escapes the wolves and appears on his doorstep in the heart of winter. The people of Holt would follow him anywhere. Or so it seems.
His mother’s visions of a great light called the sun have driven her mad. But they’ve shaped her son’s mind and invaded his heart. He begins to think it possible that a sunlit world could indeed lie somewhere over the mountains. He begins to hope, to plan. But many in the prosperous village of Holt think Evander’s notion of the sun is no more than a child’s tale. The fate of his people rests on his choice. And the Shadow is watching.
The Shadow’s hold has grown strong over Shiloh. For many long years, the Bright Immortals have waited, and at last Ram has allowed them to intervene. At their behest, Simeon crafts the Singing Stone, and Isolde goes back into the Shadow to call the Children of the Morning to freedom, to light.
But the Wolf is cunning and his allies have made ready. War is coming for Isolde’s sister, Rosalyn, for faithful Orin, for Eve and Merrick, and the few remaining warriors who refuse to be silent. Will they find the strength to stand against the last and greatest assault of the Dark Immortals?
Pros: I went out on a limb with these books—I asked for them for Christmas without having read them, but the Amazon reviews and blurbs were just too enticing. Plus, Helena Sorensen contributes to Story Warren, a site I love, so I figured they couldn’t disappoint that much. Boy, was I right. In fact, they surpassed my hopes. The setting remind me a little of Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings series, with a physical, literal darkness over the land. However, in this case it was a little different: The darkness covers the whole land, to such an extent that people don’t even believe the sun exists. Anyway, I loved the unique setting, the varied, realistic, broken-yet-beautiful characters, and the detailed, Tolkien-like history to the world and the Dark and Bright Immortals.
I loved the fairy-tale-like style (it reminded me of one of my favorite series, Anne Elizabeth Stengl’s Tales of Goldstone Wood, which is probably why I liked it so much), and the writing was delicate, simple, and elegant. The books were shorter than I expected and were more streamlined and less complex than most fantasy books I’m used to. However, Sorensen kept the pace going and wove all the character’s stories and the legends of the past together in a masterful way that prevented it from being boring or overly simplistic. Most of all, I loved the messages. While I relish strong themes in books, I dislike preachy books where the message seems forced. This series seemed a ripe place for this to happen, and while there were obvious Christian connections, ninety-nine percent of the time, they were effortlessly woven in, complementing, instead of distracting from, the story.
Cons: Again, there’s little to complain about. In Songbird, I was disappointed that the original cast of characters from Shiloh didn’t feature a prominent part, as I’d hoped. Even at the end, there was little mention of them, which felt out of place. My biggest criticism of the series as a whole is that it seemed to draw a little too much from other fantasy series, especially Lord of the Rings, to the point where, very rarely, it felt cliche. There were times, too, when it felt slightly preachy.
If you are looking for a new world to be swept away by, with characters to love, laugh with, cry over as you watch their struggle to overcome the Shadow and the silence—if you need encouragement to keep seeking the sun, to keep being brave and fighting for hope—if you simply want a well-written, timeless tale—read this series.