Wexler - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

The Forbidden Library
(The Forbidden Library series, Book 1)
Django Wexler
Kathy Dawson Books
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: Alice has always been a good girl, studying hard and following the rules and never being a bother to her tutors... but everything changes the night she sees her father talking to a fairy in the kitchen. Dad always told her storybook creatures like fairies weren't real, but there's no mistaking what the winged man is - nor is there a doubt that it's somehow responsible when her father suddenly leaves on a steamship the next day, a steamship that goes down with all hands. When the swarm of solicitors finish picking the estate's bones, Alice finds herself packed off to "Uncle Jerry", a man she never knew existed, and his peculiar estate in the countryside. Here, in his great mysterious library, she meets a talking cat, a mystery boy, dangerous books imprisoning magical beings, and powers she never knew she had - powers that might lead her to the fairy man and the truth about what really happened to her father. But first, she's going to have to break a few rules...

REVIEW: Another discount find, this middle-grade book has obvious appeal for those of us who love reading and fantasy. Alice makes a competent, intelligent heroine, not above the odd mistake but never one to whine or bemoan or give up, no matter the odds. Surrounding her are numerous characters of often dubious character, each with their own agendas and a certain disregard for the consequences to others... traits that Alice begins to pick up by association as her Reader abilities - the power to enter magical books and bind their prisoners to her service, among other things - develop. The story moves at a good pace, with some great descriptions and real peril, though the ending is more of a hook for the next book than a solid conclusion (something I've sadly gotten used to in this day and age, where series are the rule rather than the exception.) Still, I enjoyed it, and - marketing tactic or not - I'll be looking forward to Book 2.

You might also enjoy:
Plain Kate (Erin Bow, YA Fiction - In a superstitious land, a girl sells her shadow to a witch for safety, then must win it back with help from her loyal cat)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
Ink and Bone (Rachel Caine, YA Fiction - In an alternate near-future, a son of book thieves applies to join the Great Library that controls the global flow of information)
Knight's Castle (Edgar Eager, YA Fiction - A boy's wish sets him up for an adventurous, magical summer)
The Neverending Story (Michael Ende, YA Fiction - A storybook pulls a schoolboy into the world of Fantastica)
The Inkheart trilogy (Cornelia Funke, YA Fiction - A bookbinder's voice can read people out of stories... and into them)
Author Vs. Character (Lazette Gifford, Fiction - Sick of mistreatment, a character fights with his author)
Claws (Mike and Rachel Grinti, YA Fiction - When her sister disappears, a girl accepts a talking tomcat's offer of help, not realizing the price)
Libriomancer (Jim C. Hines, Fiction - A man who can pull items out of books must save the world)
Librarian: Little Boy Lost (Eric Hobbs, YA Fiction - A bookish boy discovers secrets and dangers in a mysterious library)
Teller (Chris Howard, YA Fiction - A teen boy learns he can manipulate reality with stories and paintings)
The Quill Pen (Michelle Isenhoff, YA Fiction - Oppressed by his strict father, a boy in elder-day New England discovers a magical quill pen that may write him a new future)
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup, YA Fiction - Writing stories in a special journal makes them come to life, for good or ill)
Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria (Rahma Krambo, YA Fiction - A housecat must help defend a powerful book from evil forces)
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica (James A. Owen, YA Fiction - Three English men, destined to be famed authors, travel to the magical Archipelago of Dreams, inspiration for myth and story since prehistory)
Guardians Inc.: The Cypher (Julian Rosado-Machain, YA Fiction - Able to understand any written language, a boy is recruited by a secret organization to help save the world)
Endymion Spring (Matthew Skelton, YA Fiction - An American boy in Oxford discovers a mysterious old book with ties to a dark cult and the roots of history)
Behind the Canvas (Alexander Vance, YA Fiction - A girl discovers a magical world composed of oil paintings)

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The Thousand Names
(The Shadow Campaigns series, Book 1)
Django Wexler
Roc
Fiction, Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: Khandar, a land of scrub and desert and rustic gray-skinned natives beyond the Demon Sea, was a sleepy, out-of-the-way colony under the banner of the Vordanai, a place soldiers only went when they messed up their careers - or when they wanted to hide. Captain Marcus d'Ivoire had nothing left in his homeland save painful memories when he joined up with the Colonials. It was a quiet place, aside from the odd raider strike... until the flames of the Redeemer swept the Khandarai people into a nationalist fervor, rising up to drive out the pale-skinned invaders. Gone soft from years of lax discipline, it was all the soldiers could do to flee the capital and protect the worthless prince when the Vermillion Throne was overrun. Fortunately, reinforcements have finally arrived - but Colonel Janus and his boatload of green recruits might bring more trouble than relief.
Winter was just a nameless soldier in the ranks - and she was just as happy to stay in the background, hiding not only her gender but a past that haunts her nightmares. Tormented by a cruel sergeant and his cronies, she learned long ago to keep her mouth shut and her head down... so it didn't help when she found herself unexpectedly promoted to fill a void when the Colonial outpost was flooded with new soldiers from the homeland. Despite her reluctance, she has no choice but to step up to her new responsibilities if she means to keep herself and her new charges in one piece against the Redeemers.
With the eccentric, inscrutable Janus at their head, the once-undisciplined Old Colonials and the untested new recruits find themselves on the march to reclaim the Vermilion Throne... but the colonel has a hidden agenda in his relentless, borderline reckless plan to reach the Khandarai capital - a plan that draws Marcus and Winter and the whole Vordanai army into heretical powers straight out of legend, powers that could tip the balance in not only the war for Khandar, but the entire world.

REVIEW: This was an impulse purchase during a recent bookstore run, based mostly on a favorable impression of the author at a con I attended some months ago. Though billed as a flintlock fantasy, there's little magic in the story (save the prologue) for quite some time. It's more about the characters and the military campaign as seen by different viewpoints, from rank soldier to captain to rebel. Battle tactics become more personal when seen from the ground, so to speak, where unpredictable enemies and flaws within one's comrades (or oneself) can affect the outcome. Wexler's research into historical warfare shows in the details lavished on these scenes, from the effectiveness of battle formations to the sounds of artillery striking stone walls - or flesh. While this was well written enough to hold my interest, I grew a little itchy for the promised fantasy portion of the tale to kick in. It finally makes an appearance round about the halfway point; from there, it builds as a background glow until it finally dominates the climax of the tale. This world's magic is no simple or lightweight thing; it's a deep, mysterious force, dangerous enough to the public (and the caster) that one can easily see why some churches of the world branded it demon-worship. The characters were decently drawn, though I admit the secondary ones sometimes faded into a swirling sea of names. As for the world, I found it reasonably intriguing, though the idea of rustic religious fanatics of a desert region rising up under an extremist banner against the pale-skinned outsiders nudged a little close to a Line, given world events. Overall, though, I enjoyed it enough to consider reading Book 2 - enough of a success that, despite some prolonged battle sequences and a touch more testosterone than I usually care to wade through, it earns a solid Good rating.

You might also enjoy:
The Ender series (Orson Scott Card, Fiction - Humans fight off interstellar invaders, then begin their own foray across the Galaxy)
The Sword and the Cross (Fergus Fleming, Nonfiction - The true story of two Frenchmen and the rough colonial days of Algiers, on the edge of the deadly Sahara)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Blue Sword (Robin McKinley, YA Fiction - A northern girl is abducted by a desert prince, entangling her in a daring, magical adventure)
Sheepfarmer's Daughter (Elizabeth Moon, Fiction - Faced with an unwanted marriage, a young woman chooses to run away and become a mercenary soldier)
Trading in Danger (Elizabeth Moon, Fiction - The disgraced daughter of an interstellar shipping dynasty finds herself embroiled in a brewing civil war)
The Temeraire series (Naomi Novik, Fiction - Alternate-world Napoleonic wars are fought by land, ship, and aerial dragon corps)
The Sword-Dancer Saga (Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A sword-dancer of the Southron deserts meets a hard-hearted fighter from the North who has bent her entire life towards one act of vengeance)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
Old Man's War (John Scalzi, Fiction - Retired men and women are recruited to fight humanity's interstellar wars for colony worlds)
On Basilisk Station (David Weber, Fiction - A dishonored captain of an interstellar navy discovers a plot against her kingdom)

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