Book Review: Stone Cold

Stone Cold by Devon Monk; This cover makes no sense. Ignore the gun. Imagine some dark magic floating around or perhaps the aurora borealis playing across the whites of his eyes.

Stone Cold by Devon Monk; This cover makes no sense. Ignore the gun. Imagine some dark magic floating around or perhaps the aurora borealis playing across the whites of his eyes and then you’ll be on the right track.

Stone Cold is book two of Devon Monk’s A Broken Magic series, which, in turn, is a spin-off from her Allie Beckstrom series. If you haven’t read Hell Bent, book one, read that review instead.

Recapping from Hell Bent, Shamus wields Death magic and works best with Terric, who handles Life magic, yet both men generally wish to stay as far away from each other as possible. However, in Stone Cold when their nemesis Eli Collins appears, killing Shame and kidnapping Terric, not even death will keep them apart. It’s non-stop action from that point forward as Shame endeavors to not kill his friends, eliminate his enemies, and maybe just save the world.

What I like best about Stone Cold is how Shame is such an adorable asshole. Monk nailed that juxtaposition. Unlike Hell Bent, in which I had to struggle through various points of his assery and build my understanding of his situation, Stone Cold strikes an excellent balance from the start, making Shame an incredibly likable jerk (on paper, at least) throughout the entire story. Action fans will find no shortage of thrills, but characterization wins this book for me.

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Book Review: Honor’s Knight

 

Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach

Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

Honor’s Knight is book two in Rachel Bach’s Paradox trilogy. Read about book one, Fortune’s Pawn, here. While Fortune’s Pawn had a great deal of armor love and focus on Devi’s job as a mercenary, leading some to categorize it as military sci-fi, Honor’s Knight clearly lands in good ol’ space opera.

Devi has had her memory erased regarding most of the final excitement in Fortune’s Pawn, and an aversion has been set in place for her love interest. Unbeknownst to her, it’s understood that if she remembers what has been erased, she’ll be eliminated. The romantic aspects of the story take a far back seat. The focus in Honor’s Knight is Devi figuring out what is going on in the universe, who the good guys are, and possibly maybe hatching a plot to fix things. Of course, Devi would also like to feel in control of her life and her mind. We get more magical science, lizard people, and ginormous clan ships. Military moral conflicts arise. Bach tosses out some deeper questions, such as whether the end truly justifies the means or whether ignorance can, indeed, be bliss. The various plot escalations are fun, and, despite being the middle book, Honor’s Knight does a better job of feeling wrapped up at the end than Fortune’s Pawn did. Overall, Honor’s Knight is action driven with conspiratorial boosts. Highly recommended!

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Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn

Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach; Cover design by Kirk Benshoff--Terrific cover, very evocative of the book

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach; Cover design by Kirk Benshoff–Terrific cover, very evocative 

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach surprised me. Devi is a mercenary with ambition. Her great passions are her high-tech armor and her lovingly named weapons. Having reached the highest pay-grade of the top armored company on Paradox, her home planet, she promptly resigns, aiming for a position amongst the super-elite king’s guard. In order to prove herself, she signs on with The Glorious Fool, assured that if she could stay alive during one year of security work on the Fool, the king’s guard would see her as a serious contender. But staying alive on the Fool is harder than expected.

Fortune’s Pawn delivers SF action, with lots of fight scenes including vamped up armor and alien creatures. Along with Devi determinedly kicking something’s ass, an underlying story of intrigue emerges. The Fool and the people on it aren’t what they seem, and Devi oscillates between not really caring and wanting to know more. As a reader, I appreciated the building layers; the book produced a more complicated story than I’d expected from the first chapter.

Devi is not subtle. She’s not a deep or calculated thinker. She appreciates large quantities of hard alcohol and uncomplicated flings. These are not the types of characteristics I generally admire. Yet, the more I read her story, the more I found I actually liked her. Devi unapologetically pursues what she wants. She also sticks closely to her Paradoxian honor. Towards the end of the book I found myself liking more and more her non-traditional attributes.

Some of the crew of the Fool includes the mysterious captain, his strangely silent and inactive daughter, an oversized bird that seems to exist primarily to bitch (although he is the 2nd in command), a lizard doctor of a species known to regularly eat humans, a mystical roommate, and a handsome cook, whom Devi immediately wants to get in her bed. Fortune’s Pawn packs in believable friendships and a growing romance. Book one ends rather abruptly, so if you find yourself liking it, then get your hands on the rest of the trilogy, Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen. Rachel Bach also writes fantasy under the name Rachel Aaron.

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Vahine

Vahine, 9.5" x 8" graphite on bristol

Vahine, 9.5″ x 8″ graphite on bristol

I found some amazingly evocative photographs by Francois Nars collected in his book Tahiti: Faery Lands and I couldn’t wait to try and draw one. You should hunt down the photos–they’re great.

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Posted in Art Tagged

Twitter

Tunnel Falls on the Eagle Creek Trail

Tunnel Falls on the Eagle Creek Trail

I’ve recently joined the Twittersphere. You can find me there at @_Shannon_Knight.

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Book Review: Vessel

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst; Cover art by Jaime Ibarra.  Beautiful cover, isn't it?

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst; Cover art by Jaime Ibarra. Beautiful cover, isn’t it?

In Sarah Beth Durst’s Vessel, Liyana’s duty is to maintain perfection and die the day her goddess takes over her body. However, on the appointed day, her goddess does not arrive. Her tribe deems her unworthy, abandoning her in the desert to die. Instead of death, the raven god Korbyn finds her, telling a tale of kidnapped gods. Despite the story coming from the god of tricks, Liyana believes him. The two seek out the other vessels, but the journey is full of dangers, not everyone is eager to die, and the more time Liyana spends with Korbyn, the more she wishes to live.

Vessel didn’t hook me on the first page, although the desert imagery was vivid. After Liyana was left to die, her strength shone more clearly, and upon Korbyn’s arrival I was pretty well riveted for the rest of the novel. I liked the characters–Liyana did not do what I expected her to do and I’m a sucker for a trickster god–but I really enjoyed how the plot revolved around interesting questions. For instance, the desert people would die without the assistance brought by the gods, so did that make the sacrifice of vessels, which was necessary for the gods’ arrival, the correct path to take? None of Liyana’s vessel companions served as background fodder, either. Each, through their personalities, represented valid points regarding the dilemmas faced while breathing life into twists and turns of the story. Also, Durst’s use of mythic parables, stories within the story, was perfectly executed; they flowed with the core story, never interrupting it, always adding to it, and creating another layer of magic. The end result: I found this book delightful.

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A Fish Tale

"A Strange Light" 4"x 6" watercolor

“A Strange Light” 4″x 6″ watercolor

I think this fisherman is in for a bigger surprise than he’s already had. Based on lessons from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s latest Dreamscapes book.

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Book Review: Stitching Snow

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis is a science fiction adaptation of “Snow White.” From the readers’ perspective, however, clear connections to the fairy tale don’t appear till about a third of the way through the book. This is just one method Lewis uses to make the story appear in an entirely different light. Stitching Snow could also be read as a YA space opera thriller.

Stitching Snow opens with Essie, whom we later discover to be our Snow White, cage fighting miners. Essie is also talented at circuitry, programming, and robotics, which she collectively refers to as “stitching.” Her drones, such as Dimwit and Cusser, follow her around exhibiting their namesakes and regularly reminding me of Star Wars. Perhaps as a balance to Essie’s wonder skills, or perhaps simply to continue to carry out the theme of defying expectations, Essie is incredibly brusque. I never could quite bring myself to like her. Yet, the rough princess with brains and brawn, and no mention of beauty and grace (although her desirability is made clear through other means), is refreshing in the canon of fairy tale literature.

A handsome man crash lands in Essie’s home mining territory. He avoids sharing why he’s there, but it eventually comes to light that he’s seeking the missing Princess Snow, who plays an important role in an interplanetary struggle of politics and warfare. Stitching Snow contains action, betrayal, abuse, love (twisted and innocent), and the desire to take responsibility.  This is not a sweet retelling.

Action and space opera fans can let the fairy tale elements take a back seat. Meanwhile, fairy tale aficionados will find plenty of details to think on, such as the way within Stitching Snow that the miners leave Essie at home to work for them. Or a different unwholesome reason why a stepmother might suddenly feel threatened by her stepdaughter. Or how Essie’s parents decided they wanted her to have hair as white as snow–and how this type of arbitrary parental expectation is significant of a deeper problem. Stitching Snow is not one of my favorite retellings, but I’m glad I read it, and I’m happy to see fairy tales continue to be recreated.

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Book Review: The Clockwork Dagger

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

I found Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger to be a refreshingly magical take on steampunk. Octavia Leander is leaving Miss Percival’s academy on her first assignment as a formally trained medician–a magical medicine worker. While a very proper lady, Octavia begins deviating from her instructions on page one, which made me like her at once (despite her initial actions being naive). She is a lovely combination of bold and soft, continually defending her right to make her own choices and use her own strength. A steampunk adventure ensues with airships, assassins, warring countries, an unlikely princess, and a tiny gremlin. (I really liked the princess and gremlin!) There’s an original magical system with arboreal roots to back up Octavia’s healing arts and a budding romance with a man who may not be whom he seems. The juxtaposition of danger and propriety keeps the novel feeling light and fun. Underlying feminist notes add appreciated depth. I read the bulk of the story after returning home from a medical procedure and feeling altogether awful: The Clockwork Dagger was just the medicine I needed.

The sequel, The Clockwork Crown, will be released on June 9th.

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The Invisible Princess of Donkeyskin

Donkeyskin

“The Invisible Princess” from Donkeyskin, 20 x 20 cm watercolor & ink

Fairy tale people know “Donkeyskin,” but people who have based most of their fairy tale knowledge on Disney films are unfamiliar with the story. When they hear it’s one of my favorite fairy tales, sometimes they ask me to tell it to them. If they really want to hear it, I comply. The inevitable response: Why in the world would you like that story?

“Donkeyskin” makes people uncomfortable. There’s plenty of unsavory in the story. Yet “Donkeyskin” is a fairy tale that resonates. The person who is supposed to be the princess’s greatest support and the place that is supposed to be her safest haven both transform into great danger. The princess seeks safety by giving up everything she knows, running, and hiding. She transforms.

One of the things that has always struck me about “Donkeyskin” is that even though the princess is beautiful, arguably the most beautiful woman in the world–or perhaps because she is beautiful–people do not see her. Rather than being a person, she is a lovely face, a trophy expected to surrender all agency and endure any abuse. Following her fairy godmother’s advice, the princess attempts to dissuade her enemy by asking for unattainable gowns. Princesses requesting beautiful gowns is quite acceptable. However, the unmake-able beauty of the celestial gowns is made. Repeatedly. Wearing these astonishing gowns, the princess becomes more invisible than ever. But this invisibility is not the kind that will save her. Instead she appears profusely symbolic of the beauty that others wish to possess. When the princess wraps herself in the dirty, freshly skinned donkey hide, she vanishes in an altogether new way. There are some things, such as poverty, filth, and abuse, that people do not wish to see.

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