Search This Blog

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Review: The Duke's Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad

The Duke's Handmaid

ISBN: 978-0986451737

Have you ever read a book that refused to be pigeonholed? In some cases, that can be a negative, in that the author shoots all over the place and so hits nothing. In other cases, as we have here, the author creates her own unique story that accomplishes several things.

Is this a fantasy? Well, not really. Yes, it is a different world than our own. Yes, you'll encounter some odd creatures, and a caste-like society where the author explores the different reactions from both sides of the servant/slave issue. And yet, once you're in the story, it really doesn't seem too different from our world. Difference circumstances, same issues and people. You'll not find magic, elves, dwarfs, or dragons in this story. Not even hobbits. Instead, you'll find some well developed characters.

Is it science fiction? Hum, it is set on another planet, with two suns. Yet, that's about the extent of it. The society is less developed technology-wise than our own, still using horses for transportation. The feel is more Medieval.

Is it a romance? We're getting warmer. There is a romance involved, but if you're thinking boy meets girl, they fall in love, but encounter problems they overcome in the end, it's not really a romance as such. Indeed, while the story is focused primarily on the relationship between Keedrina and the Duke, the servant-master relationship it is filtered through creates a very highly unusual romance story. Indeed, even knowing this, the ending is a bit of a surprise. It is a romance, but not the standard variety. It will challenge your assumptions on those grounds.

Is it an action/adventure? You could say that. Early on, there is action and difficult situations that must be dealt with. We come into the story after Keedrina has lost her family and she is the only surviving heir. The Duke quickly gathers a gang of town folk and they ride off to deal justice to the perpetrators. While there are big gaps where guys who want action will find scenes more focused on the romance angle than moving the story forward action-wise, you will find political intrigue, back-stabbing, and a conclusion that will keep you glued to the page till the end.

So, what do we have here? The story of a girl who loses everything, and willingly gives of herself to serve the man she loves. You have a story of amazing loyalty, convicting humility, and graceful love, despite the cruelties she faces.

Indeed, the book is more about her love than the Duke's. He's a man that causes revulsion one minute, and admiration the next. He can be extremely cruel to his enemies, but faithful and loyal to his friends and servants. He is a flawed man operating in a flawed culture. And yet, finds a woman in Keedrina that convicts him and changes him. Indeed, will not let him go.

While the book speaks of great violence and the depravity of the society, Ms. Hokstad delivers it in a PG-13 manner. She doesn't gloss over evil, but neither does she wallow in it. The writing is easy to read and pulls you into the well-developed world. The characters are interesting and engaging.

A most unique story of loyalty that provides a stark contrast against the harsh realities of a slave society. Prepare to wince, cry, and laugh. Easily a recommended read from this reviewer.

Note: The publisher gave me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guest Post: Why Publishers Run With the Crowd

Another blogger, Michael Lynch, has offered to post a piece I wrote, actually in a discussion on a list. But then I tweaked it a bit more for prime-time. So I'm guest posting once again.

Check it out: Why Publishers Run With the Crowd

Thanks, Mike, for the invite, and everyone go take a read.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Book Review: Legendary Space Pilgrims by Grace Bridges

ISBN 978-0986451720

Legendary Space Pilgrims reminded me of C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy along with a dose of his Chronicles of Narnia while firmly remaining its own unique science fiction story. If you like exploring, experiencing new places, along with a bit of an adventure, you'll enjoy watching the two main characters, Mario and Caitlin, not only escape from their forced labor on the planet Monday, but do so guided by a voice Mario hears in his head. The voice leads them to several planets before they discover their ultimate mission.

I especially enjoyed the worlds explored by the characters, which are well developed as evidenced by a detailed history unfolding as the novel progresses. The images Ms. Bridges paints with her words activated my imagination and brought the story into the realm of the possible.

I also enjoyed watching the relationship between the two main characters develop. Though they had a history together, the mind-swipes used to control them caused it to be new each time. Once they escape, they learn to explore their relationship beyond the limits imposed by their former world, and they struggle learning to incorporate their new experiences with each other.

The constant presence of the voice provides another developing relationship that they work to understand and follow. As we often experience, they don't always get it right but growth happens all the same as the voice guides them to fulfill their destiny.

Most questions that came to my mind found answers before the book ended. The few that didn't are left for a sequel to finish out the story. Yet, I learned enough to satisfy and wet my appetite for the next book.

While there were some instances where I didn't grasp the logic of the character's actions, and a couple of times solutions appeared too conveniently, they didn't distract me from the story or make the story itself implausible. Overall, I found it a fun ride and look forward to finding out how they accomplish their mission in the next sequel.

The story not only entertained me, it provided me with a sense of wonder, the diversity of God's creation, our common struggle to do the right things, or know what the right thing is to do. And above all, that it's often not about us, but about something bigger than ourselves. The character's pilgrimage reflects our own in many ways, and through them we find hope for our own journeys.

Younger children will enjoy Legendary Space Pilgrims as well as the young adult audience it is targeted for. Adults will also find the story an interesting and fun read. If you like the books I mentioned at the top of this review, you'll like this one. I recommend you obtain a copy and enjoy the journey. You won't be the same by the end of it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Review: Earthbow, Vol. 1by Sherry Thompson

Sherry Thompson's Blog
ISBN: 978-0-9825087-3-2

Any fears that Seabird and its sequels would end up mimicking The Chronicles of Narnia are dispelled with this first volume of Earthbow, by Sherry Thompson. Indeed, in feel and focus, this book departs from Seabird while still living in the rich universe created there.

First, while Seabird remained in Cara's point of view the whole time, this book has several. The storyline is more complicated, with various threads spinning around each other. Some threads touch others, some tie together, others remain lose, waiting to be wrapped up in Volume 2. The reader sees and experiences more of the world, the culture, and the darkness than in Seabird.

Second, Cara doesn't return for this story, rather her brother, Xander, is introduced into this world. And instead of experiencing Xander's entrance into the world and his acceptance of his mission, we jump into the story two weeks after he's been in the world, already carrying the Earthbow, and apparently ready to find out what he was sent there to do, and do it, though it's obvious he isn't ready.

Third, Xander, while the Outworlder, isn't the central character or focus in this volume. Harone, a key character from Seabird, acts as Xander's guide and we frequently find ourselves in his point of view, and realize he's struggling with his own journey and growth as an Enchanter, facing the dark evil that he wrestles to fight back. Another thread follows Coris, serving an evil king influenced by the dark evil that is working to enslave the lands, and his ethical struggle both to do what is right in the face of possible death, and his struggle with faith in someone greater than himself. Many other characters interact or take the points of view, but relate to one of these two threads in one way or another. As a matter of fact, while Xander is an interesting character, in this volume he is upstaged by the rich and varied cast of characters. This volume isn't as much his story as it is Harone's and Coris'.

I admit, when I first dug into this book, I was expecting Seabird II, and it threw me a bit when I didn't get that. But once past that realization, I found a greatly expanded and darker view of Narenta and the lands in this world. The characters are well drawn, complete with their own histories, flaws, and struggles. The silent enemy working behind the scenes, and those he controls, provide definite and constant tension as the story progresses. Earthbow, while in the Narenta world, is its own book. The feel is more like Lord of the Rings. Not so much in the plot, but in the scope of the story arc. The book takes on a more epic ambiance than Seabird contained.

But unlike Lord of the Rings, and more like The Chronicles of Narnia, the allegory runs deep. Alphesis still is present and guiding, but hidden. This makes the volume a great read for the non-Christian who may not bother with seeing allegorical relationships to Christian characters or principles, and simply enjoy the story for what it is: an engaging story any fantasy fan would love to sink their teeth into. At the same time, the Christian reader can read it and derive valid Christian thoughts and applications to their lives, if they wish. For either reader, they will find Earthbow a gem of a story.

The writing is well done, easy to follow most of the time. Sometimes the jumping around to different points of view takes some getting used too, and for my taste, happened too frequently in spots. Yet, it wasn't so bad that it distracted me from the story. More like shifting gears on a manual transmission. Most of the shifts are established well enough and the reader will be able to keep up with who's who and where they are. I also found many of the descriptions rich without being overbearing, and the action easy to follow.

One other note, mentioned above but bears pointing out: this is volume 1 of a two volume book. It contains books one and two. The second volume, yet to come out as of this writing, will have books three and four and an epilogue. Consequently, while there is a thread that is tied up and a climax to this book, there are also a lot of threads yet to be woven to a conclusion. I'm told that Xander will play a greater role in the next volume, and a lot of the story lines will be completed there, including Coris'. It's your traditional middle book problem. You have to wait for the next one to get the ending.

That said, don't wait for the next volume to come out to read this. I highly recommend this book. And though I rarely do this, I'll give it five out of five stars. If the follow-up fails to deliver, that would be a shame. But I have every expectation that it will deliver. And I look forward to discovering how these stories conclude.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the author.