Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: February 17 to 22, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I have never audiobook’d a whole series before, but I might have to for this one because Simon Vance is simply amazing. He should read all the books that way I could enjoy them all, even the ones I probably wouldn’t like–pretty sure he could make me like ’em. So 5 stars for him and 4 stars for the book itself because, honestly, I don’t know how far I’d get or how much I’d enjoy if I’d read these books on my own.

The writing is very descriptive, with long passages about early-19th Century culture and society of both Britain and China, and then there are more long passages about politics and intrigue. The previous book was mostly about Napoleon and his continued efforts to take over the rest of Europe; this book expands on that some more, but now there’s also China thrown into the mix as both Britain and France fight for the Celestial Emperor’s favor.

In middle of all of that, you have Temeraire and Laurence and their unbreakable bond. Or, well, what we thought was unbreakable. It was revealed at the end of the first book that Temeraire is a Celestial, the most prized breed of Chinese dragons, and here we learn that Celestials are companions only to Emperors and crown princes. Laurence is most definitely not royalty–he’s barely nobility–and so the Chinese disapprove of his bond with Temeraire, and they would very much like their dragon back. The British aren’t willing to comply with the request, but they see it as an opportunity to gain an alliance with the Emperor–and to one-up the French–and so they ship Temeraire, Laurence, and the rest of their crew halfway around the world.

Peking and Macao of the early-19th Century are a sight to behold for the British envoy and a whole new world full of wonder, for Temeraire especially who’s eager to learn of his birth country and discover his roots. The lives of dragons of the East are fascinating to him, and the more he learns about them, the more he’s pulled away from Laurence. Laurence, too, is fascinated by the treatment of dragons in Peking, and not just of the Imperials and Celestials, but of the smaller and less important breeds too. He’s surprised that they all can live among people so peacefully, and thus comes to understand why Temeraire is so taken in by what he sees. At the end of this book, Temeraire and Laurence are still in China.

I’m most impressed by how Naomi Novik inserted dragons into actual history, and with just a little adjustment, she’s inserted dragons into the tides of Chinese politics that will forever change the landscape of China for centuries to come. Colonialism is on its way, gradually at first but it’s coming nonetheless. I can’t help feeling a sense of dread, knowing what’s coming in just a few years, but since this story is told from the British perspective, there’s a sense of accomplishment and celebration in the writing, especially near the end, when the British envoy have permanently established themselves in China to open up more trading opportunities.

It will be interesting to see how much Novik sticks to or deviates from history in later books. I looked ahead and see some hints of Temeraire and Laurence traveling the Silk Road, visiting the Ottoman Empire, and making a stop in Russia. Lots to look forward to, and I can’t wait.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 15 to 23, 2017
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Simon Vance to the rescue once again as he saves another book for me that I would have set aside for another time or probably indefinitely. Not the book’s fault though since it’s perfectly fine and well written for a historical fiction. It was more a case of bad timing when I picked it up, too much going on and not enough time or energy to spare and all that, but I made it through, with a lot of help from the audiobook which was superbly read by Mr. Vance, and I really enjoyed it.

The story reimagines the Napoleonic War years from the perspective of Will Laurence, an English captain, formerly of the navy, currently of the air force, and the dragon Temeraire which he took from a captured French ship. The pair bonded over a short period of time and grew to become a funny, sweet, interesting partnership by the end of the book. Some of my favorite moments consist of Laurence and Temeraire talking about books, battle tactics and strategies. There’s no magic or magic systems, no mysterious relics or quests, no coming of age farm boy set out to save the world since this isn’t high fantasy; dragons are the only fantastical elements here.

And the dragons in this world are intelligent and can communicate with their handlers and crew, and their interactions are really fun to read, or more accurately, really fun to hear Simon Vance read because he’s got a lovely voice and he has different voices for all of the characters, but the dragons’ voices are by far the best. The historical aspects of the story are well done and really immerse you in the time period, save for the part where there were dragons involved and both England and France used them like fighter jets, intelligent fighter jets with personalities and quirks. But this too, inserting dragons into this part of history, was also well done and really added to the overall historical feel of the story.

The reason I switched to audio was because of the slow beginning. Not much happened following the capture of the French ship as Laurence and his crew waited for Temeraire to hatch, and not much happened afterward when they left the navy to join the air force. While Temeraire was interesting, Laurence was not, unfortunately. Although a captain and in his thirties, he still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of personal obstacles to overcome, and he didn’t become interesting until he fully gave in to the life and culture of the air force and dedicated himself to Temeraire (and dragons in general). By this point, more than half the book was over, and without Mr. Vance’s reading, I most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far or past all of Laurence’s shortcomings to really get into the story.

I’ve only read one other book by Naomi Novik and that’s Uprooted which was mostly okay, so I went into this book expecting it to also be mostly okay, but found myself enjoying it a lot, especially once more characters and dragons were introduced. They’re all a lot of fun except for Rankin whom I’d like to stab–repeatedly, but that’s another matter, unfinished business, saved for another time. Since there are 8 more books of dragon adventures, I look forward to continuing this journey with them.

“How did you come to see it?” [Laurence] said with interest, turning it over in his hands and brushing away more of the dirt.

“A little of it was out of the group and it was shining,” Temeraire said. “Is that gold? I like the look of it.”

“No, it is just pyrite, but it is very pretty, is it not? I suppose you are one of those hoarding creatures,” Laurence said, looking affectionately up at Temeraire; many dragons had an inborn fascination with jewels or precious metals. “I am afraid I am not rich enough a partner for you; I will not be able to give you a heap of gold to sleep on.”

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on,” Temeraire said. “I do not mind the deck.”

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Review (and reread): The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: March 3 to 10, 2015
Read Count: 2
Recommended by:
Recommended for: I honestly don’t know

The good news is I don’t hate this book. The bad news though? I still don’t like it. Everything I said after the first read still stands. It’s beautifully written but executed without the depth this story needed (or deserved?). There’s a ton of potential here, TONS, but very little of it is explored in the storytelling. Plot and character development become stagnant and level off half way through the story, and I think that bothers me most of all, that there’s a lack of progress, a lack of tension building up, as the story moves forward. However, there’s a fascinating dreamlike quality to the prose that makes the reading experience quite surreal. So don’t read for story, read for the lovely words that conjure such lovely images in your mind.

Even though I didn’t like this book the first time around, it’s always made me wonder if that was my fault for not putting in enough effort. But now I know. It isn’t because the timing was bad or that there had been too much going on. It’s because this book isn’t for me. We’re too incompatible in too many ways. Now that I have that figured out, I can stop wondering. Even if I’d read it while in a better mood and at another time, I probably wouldn’t have liked it more. And I so wanted to like it.

The past stays on you the way powdered sugar stays on your fingers. Some people can get rid of it but it’s still there, the events and things that pushed you to where you are now.

The writing is lovely.

“I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held. Trying to control what cannot be controlled. I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.”

The setting is also lovely.

You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.

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They are enthusiasts, devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent. They seek each other out, these people of such specific like mind. They tell of how they found the circus, how those first few steps were like magic. Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars… When they depart, they shake hands and embrace like old friends, even if they have only just met, and as they go their separate ways they feel less alone than they had before.

The vivid descriptive details are very lovely.

Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that…there are many kinds of magic, after all.

And cover art is just gorgeous.

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It’s gorgeous on the inside too. I wanted to like it so much for the hardcover.

 

I think this book would have worked better as a collection short stories. Each character could be featured in their own short story with the rest of the characters as supporting cast, and the stories could share one common link that tie all the characters to the Night Circus. That nesting style that worked so well for Cloud Atlas could work for this book as well.

Review: Renaissance (Assassin’s Creed #1) by Oliver Bowden

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: June 4 to 9, 2014
Read Count: 1

Not bad, or rather not what I had been expecting. It’s okay overall but could have been better. Hopefully the next book is an improvement.

Since this book (and series) is based on a video game and the author is known for penning newsstand pulp thrillers, I thought the combination would turn out to be some kind of pulpy disaster, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent plot-driven, light historical fantasy story about the life and times of Ezio Auditore. Those who’ve played Assassin’s Creed II already know this story and how it ends, but if you’re a fan of Ezio and feel like revisiting the journey, this book is a more detailed substitute to the game.

Ezio’s journey is one of vengeance, and he finds himself on this path after a conspiracy tears his family apart. His father and brothers are arrested and publicly executed for treason. Ezio escapes this fate by sheer luck. Barely out of his teens and left to hold what’s left of his family together, he quickly takes his traumatized mother and sister out of Florence to escape further persecution. Still a wanted man with a lot of unresolved issues, he sets out on a path of vengeance to unravel the conspiracy and kill all those responsible. Along the way he uncovers more family secrets and his true lineage.

With help from interesting friends and acquaintances he meets along the way (like da Vinci and Machiavelli), Ezio becomes a skilled assassin and follows in the footsteps of his father because it’s destiny. He tracks down and dispatches his foes one by one until he gets every last one, which leads him to the end of the conspiracy. But the story doesn’t end there. Just as this conspiracy is wrapped up, more or less, a bigger one is set into motion.

Reading this book is almost like playing the game.

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Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 16 to December 12, 2013
Read count: 1

This book is one of the few that works better as an audiobook because it’s got lovely flowing sentences that sound great when spoken aloud, especially by the great Jim Dale. There so many lovely fantastical sensory details that suck you right into the dreamy magical world of Le Cirque des Rêves. The downside, however, is it’s a chore to read on your own, as I found out (more below the spoilers).

I started out reading and I really enjoyed the first few chapters, but then the story went on and on for too long without much happening, and so all those lovely fantastical descriptions lost their luster and became grating. I lost full interest somewhere in the middle, right around the time I realized the competition between the two rival magicians was going nowhere and that it wasn’t actually a competition, more like an awkward one-up-man-ship.

So I ended up finishing the read via Jim Dale on audio. He’s amazing, so amazing he saved this book for me. Anyone who’s interested in this book should try it on audio first.

Now for the hard part. I’ll try easing into it.

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