Mini-Reviews: Queen, Unsuspected, Thieves

Rachel Bach, Heaven’s Queen

***Warning: SPOILERS for previous books in the series!***

In this conclusion to the Paradox trilogy, space mercenary Devi Morris and her lover Rupert are on the run, trying to figure out how to save the universe from the constant threat of the phantoms. Devi is determined keep her promise to save Ma’at and her Daughters; but since they’re the only known weapons that actually work against the phantoms, she’s fighting an uphill battle. Luckily, Devi’s good at thinking outside the box, and with Rupert at her side and some help from unexpected places, her crazy plan just might work. This is a satisfying conclusion to the Paradox trilogy, but you really need to read all three books to understand what’s going on. And I must confess, I was kind of tired of this series before I even picked up Heaven’s Queen. It’s a lot of space battles, Devi obsessing about her fancy suit of armor, Rupert declaring his undying love for Devi…I got bored after a while. I was underwhelmed by the romance; it felt very over-the-top and teen-angsty to me. Nevertheless, I’m glad I finished the series, and hardcore fans of the genre might enjoy it more than I did.

Charlotte Armstrong, The Unsuspected

In the eyes of the world, Rosaleen Wright’s tragic death was a suicide, but Rosaleen’s friend Jane is convinced it was murder. Jane turns to her friend Francis for help, telling him that she thinks Rosaleen’s employer, the famous radio personality Luther Grandison, is guilty. Francis immediately takes action, ingratiating himself into “Grandy’s” inner circle by pretending to be the husband of his ward Mathilda, who supposedly died in a shipwreck. But when Mathilda turns up alive, Francis must use any means necessary, including straight-up gaslighting, to maintain his cover and bring the killer to justice. So, yeah, the plot of this book is bananas, but I actually really enjoyed it! I thought the inverted structure of the mystery would make it less exciting, but there was plenty of forward motion to keep me on the edge of my seat. I also liked the main characters, especially Mathilda and Jane — and while Francis does some pretty despicable things, he’s conflicted and regretful enough that I ended up liking him too. Overall, this was a super fun and compelling read — I stayed up way too late to finish it — and I definitely want to read more by Charlotte Armstrong!

Megan Whalen Turner, Thick as Thieves

***Warning: SPOILERS for previous books in the series!***

This fifth installment of the Queen’s Thief series centers around Kamet, whom we briefly met in The Queen of Attolia as a slave and personal secretary to Nahusheresh, then the Mede ambassador to Attolia. Now, despite his master’s disgrace, Kamet is content with his power and status in the Mede empire. But the sudden death of Nahusheresh changes his life irrevocably: Kamet is forced to flee, or he and his fellow slaves will all be tortured and killed. He finds an unlikely companion in an Attolian soldier (whom, it turns out, we’ve also met before), who promises Kamet safety and freedom in Attolia. But Kamet has other plans, as does the Attolian king, Eugenides. This book is pretty uneventful compared with the rest of the series; most of it follows Kamet and the Attolian on their journey as they hunt for food, sell their belongings for cash, and evade their Mede pursuers. But the development of Kamet’s character and his friendship with the Attolian are a delight, and of course we get a bit of Eugenides and a few other familiar characters at the end. I heartily recommend both this book and the entire series — I can’t wait to read the next one!

Review: Washington Black

Washington BlackEsi Edugyan, Washington Black

George Washington Black is an 11-year-old slave, born on a sugar plantation in Barbados and doomed to a grueling life working in the cane fields. But when the master’s brother arrives at the plantation, he changes the course of Wash’s destiny. Christopher “Titch” Wilde is a scientist, and he enlists Wash’s help in building and testing a flying machine of his own invention. Titch also teaches Wash to read and encourages his talent for drawing. Eventually, a tragedy at the plantation forces Wash and Titch to flee, and their subsequent adventures take them as far as the Arctic and beyond. As Wash faces an uncertain future, he also ponders his identity as a black man in a hostile world and questions the significance of various relationships in his life.

I enjoyed this book and found it much more of a page-turner than I expected. Wash is a compelling narrator, and I was invested in his fate from the very beginning. His relationship with Titch is the central relationship in the book, and Edugyan does an excellent job of showing its complexity and ambiguity: Titch is kind to Wash and staunchly anti-slavery, yet their interactions are always complicated by their very different social status. However, I found the first half of the book more interesting than the second half; the plot seems to run out of steam, and the ending doesn’t really resolve anything. Which I think is intentional — after all, Wash grows from a boy of 11 to a young man of 18, but at the end of the novel he is just entering into his adult life. But I personally enjoy novels with a bit more resolution and emotional payoff. That said, I still liked the book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the premise.

Mini-reviews: Journey, Burning, Bella

Journey to the River SeaBurning BrightBella Poldark

Eva Ibbotson, Journey to the River Sea — Maia is an orphan living at a boarding school in England, when one day she is adopted by distant relatives living in Brazil. She is eager to meet her new family until she discovers that they are selfish and cruel and only took her in for financial reasons. However, she finds consolation in the natural beauties around her, the strange vegetation and wildlife, and the friends she makes in her new homeland. I’ve read and loved all of Ibbotson’s adult/YA books, but I’m still discovering her works for younger readers. This is delightful, and I think it would appeal to kids (and adults!) who enjoy exploration and adventure.

Melissa McShane, Burning Bright — This is a Regency-era fantasy novel, so obviously it’s right up my alley, and I very much enjoyed it! Protagonist Elinor is a Scorcher, which means she can start fires with magic; and she’s also an Extraordinary, which means she can control and put out the fires as well. This talent makes her an extremely valuable prize on the marriage market, and her controlling father wants to snare a rich and powerful husband for her. To escape this fate, Elinor offers her services to the Royal Navy instead. There’s shipboard combat and pirates and romance — basically everything I’m looking for from this type of book. Highly recommended if the premise appeals to you!

Winston Graham, Bella Poldark — Phew, I can’t believe this is the last book in the Poldark series! Clowance decides whether to marry again and must choose between two suitors; Bella embarks on a career; Valentine stirs the pot, as usual; and a serial murderer is on the loose in Cornwall. Not every loose end in the series is tied up, but overall the book is a strong conclusion for the characters I’ve come to know and love over the past 12 books. It’s hard to believe there won’t be any more stories about them!

Review: The Three Musketeers

The Three MusketeersAlexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers (trans. Richard Pevear)

This classic novel, whose title is somewhat misleading, follows a young solider named D’Artagnan who travels from his native Gascony to Paris in order to join the musketeers, an elite military force that serves the king. D’Artagnan naively believes that he will swiftly realize his dream and make his fortune, but his simple goal soon becomes much more complicated. Through a series of accidents he befriends the three most prestigious musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. He also becomes involved in the struggle between King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, the two most powerful men in France. As a would-be musketeer, D’Artagnan is the king’s man, but his loyalty wavers when he meets the beautiful Milady, one of the cardinal’s most influential spies. With the help of his three friends, D’Artagnan must foil Milady’s sinister plot while fighting his own attraction for her.

I actually read this book when I was 12 or so, but I’m very glad I read it again now that I have at least some knowledge of the historical context! I find it very interesting that Dumas, who was writing in the 19th century (shortly after the Napoleonic era), chose to set this story during the 17th-century wars of religion, a similarly tumultuous time for France. But even without the bigger picture, this book is quite simply a rollicking good read! It’s a long book, but the story is gripping and seems to fly by. The strength of the book is definitely its plot; by contrast, the characters aren’t developed very well. It’s fun to watch D’Artagnan and the musketeers interact with each other, but they’re essentially stock characters (Athos is the noble one, Porthos is the buffoon, etc.). And Milady is an extremely flat villain who is Pure Evil ™ through and through. In my opinion, the scheming cardinal is by far the most interesting character! Regardless, I really enjoyed this book and would love to read the rest of the series…one of these years!