Mini-Reviews: Q, Manners, Shades

QMurder Is Bad MannersWell of Shades

Beth Brower, The Q

Quincy St. Claire has put her heart and soul into The Q, a popular publication owned by her Great-Uncle Ezekiel. When Ezekiel dies, she expects to inherit The Q, but she soon discovers that there are conditions attached to the inheritance. She must complete 12 undisclosed tasks within a year, or she’ll lose The Q; and she’ll be supervised in these tasks by James Arch, Ezekiel’s solicitor, whom Quincy thoroughly dislikes. This is a self-published novel, and it shows a bit; the plot tends to meander, and there are several intriguing characters on the sidelines whose stories should have been more developed. But I really enjoyed this book nonetheless; it’s part romance, part coming-of-age tale as Quincy learns what’s really important in life. The setting is great, and I’d love to read more books set in this world! I am definitely interested in reading more by Brower.

Robin Stevens, Murder Is Bad Manners

In a British boarding school in the 1930s, Hazel Wong stands out for being the only student from Hong Kong. Luckily, she’s best friends with Daisy Wells, a quintessentially English girl whose good looks and pleasant demeanor distract everyone — well, everyone but Hazel — from the fact that she’s also highly intelligent. Daisy and Hazel have formed a secret detective society, but so far their cases have been mundane and easy to solve. That is, until Hazel discovers the body of their science teacher on the floor of the gymnasium! I really enjoyed this book; not only is the mystery surprisingly satisfying for a middle-grade novel, but I also loved Hazel and was fascinated by her relationship with Daisy. They may be best friends, but Hazel is often relegated to the role of sidekick. Fortunately, she starts to realize this and to come into her own more as the book goes on. Overall, I liked this a lot and will definitely plan to continue with the series.

Juliet Marillier, The Well of Shades

I read the first two books in the Bridei trilogy years ago, and I finally decided to pick up this final installment. It focuses mainly on Faolan, Bridei’s trusted spy and assassin, who is on the road once again on a mission for Bridei. Things quickly go wrong when Faolan meets Eile, a 16-year-old girl who is clearly trapped in an abusive household. Faolan helps Eile and her daughter to escape, then decides they must travel with him so that he can keep them safe. Meanwhile, intrigue surrounds Bridei’s court once again: one of his biggest allies seems to have betrayed him; his trusted adviser, Broichan the druid, has disappeared; and a group of Christian monks is asking to live in Bridei’s lands, threatening their traditional way of life. I’m glad I finally finished this series, especially because Faolan was one of my favorite characters and I wanted to see a happy resolution for him. I really liked the Faolan/Eile chapters, but I found some of the other sections less interesting, especially everything involving Broichan. Still, I enjoyed the book overall, and it’s reminded me how much I like Juliet Marillier in general!

Review: Blade of Fortriu

Blade of FortriuJuliet Marillier, Blade of Fortriu

In this sequel to The Dark Mirror, King Bridei of the Priteni believes his mission is to eradicate the Gaels and their Christian religion from his lands. He is a strong king, brave in battle and devout in his allegiance to the old gods, so he’s the ideal person to unite the Priteni against this outside threat. Bridei is planning a big move against the Gaels, but in order to succeed, he needs the help of a foreign chieftain named Alpin. Bridei therefore proposes to offer his royal hostage, Ana, to Alpin as a bride, hoping this will ensure his loyalty. Ana longs to marry for love, but she knows she has no choice in the matter. She sets out for Alpin’s lands in the company of Faolan, Bridei’s most trusted bodyguard, spy, and assassin. As Ana and Faolan travel together, their relationship deepens, but she is already promised to Alpin. And when she finally arrives at Alpin’s court, Ana discovers a shocking secret that will have drastic implications for both Bridei’s campaign and her own heart.

Much like its predecessor, The Dark Mirror, this book is very slow-paced, and I had trouble getting into it as a result. I find the world of this series fascinating; it’s based on historical facts (the Priteni were real, and Bridei really was their king for a time), but Marillier weaves many fantastical elements into the setting. Half the novel focuses on Ana’s story, while the other half follows Bridei’s campaign against the Gaels. Personally, I was much more interested in Ana’s story, especially since I always enjoy a little romance with my fantasy! Interestingly, the story seems very predictable at first, but it eventually veers into an unexpected direction. I wasn’t entirely pleased with the resolution of Ana’s story, but it does provide some interesting avenues to explore in the final book of the trilogy. I’ll definitely be reading The Well of Shades to see how everything turns out, but I don’t think this series is Marillier’s best work. Try her Sevenwaters books instead!