Posts Tagged ‘Tamora Pierce’

So, with the New Year almost upon us soon we will have to choose the top five books for 2014, and let me tell you, it won’t be easy. There have been many great novels I have had the pleasure to read in the last twelve months and, while it is true that in the last three months my posts have become irregular, I am ready to retake this beautiful tradition for a whole new year. But, before I announce this year’s greatest books in barely 21 days, I will quickly review those which I haven’t been able to write about due to my tight schedule:

The Woman who rides like a Man

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This year I have discovered the amazing adventures of Alanna of Trebond, a young girl whose deepest desire is to become a knight. Both Alanna, the First Adventure and In the Hand of the Goddess got a 7/10 punctuation because, even if the books usually don’t offer as a deep account of the stories we are presented with, the characters, the writing style and the sheer imagination of Alanna’s world make up for it.

The third installment of the tetralogy  begins with a very promising start, in which our protagonist and her manservant must battle hill people just to be taken prisoner by the dessert tribes and the situations which take place from this point are heartwarming, optimistic and enthralling for the reader, captivating both adults and children alike as Alanna struggles to be accepted and change an old society which ignores women.

Sadly, we find again that the writer just scratches the surface of all the situations she creates without offering us a deep look at the reality which these characters are living in. What’s more, several conflicts which have been several books in the making, such as the love triangle between Alanna, George and Jonathan, are abruptly ended and solved without stopping to think twice about it.

Finally, for the first time in the series I believe character development becomes a weak point of the novel. The characters don’t answer to external stimuli as they have in the last novels and their reactions seem forced. Just a way for to create drama at the expense of a sensible storytelling. One example of what I am saying is the moment in which the male apprentice grabs the sword. Yes, he is proud, but we never seen a trace of sexism in his behavior until the moment in which there needs to be a new conflict.

Final score: 6/10

Annihilation

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Annihilation, written by Jeff VanderMeer, is a delightful thriller which tells us the story of an all-female expedition  to an area known as the Southern Reach, a piece of the United States which, because a never explained natural mutation, has been closed to the general population. After the tragedies which have struck the last expeditions, this group of four women is sent with the mission to observe and categorize everything they see, but their mission will soon be jeopardized as it becomes clear that whoever send them there never thought they would make it back.

Annihilation is a mostly fast paced, captivating thriller, which present us with amazing and complex characters, all of them working to achieve their own goals because of their own selfish motives.

One of the greatest achievements of this small novel resides in its writing, which really creates an atmosphere of tension which surrounds the reader and allows him or her to feel the anguish which these women are experiencing in their own flesh.

The main character is also a complex creation, filled by conflicts between the best and the darkest parts of her personality, debating at every step whether to behave selfishly or help her mates. This makes for an enthralling read which will have the readers on the edge of their seats.

The only weak point that I see to the novel is that the pace sometimes loses its strength and fastness with no apparent reason, leaving us some sections which may interrupt the otherwise great reading experience.

Final Score: 8/10

The Scorpio Races

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The Scorpio Races, written by the incredibly talented Maggie Stiefvater (thanks god I don’t have to pronounce that, tells us the story of a young man and a young woman who leaves on a mythical situated near northern Europe, where every year there is a race in which the inhabitants try to compete against each other by riding cannibalistic sea horses. Each of them has his or her reasons to want to compete, but only one of them can win.

This spectacular novel is a mix of amazing storytelling, enthralling main characters and beautiful writing style which have transformed the Scorpio Races in one of the best books I have had the pleasure of reading this year.

Both characters are complex figures which will captivate the reader, who by the end will just be trying to decide who does he want to win the race (not an easy choice, I am still not sure myself). They are likeable, but at the same time they are far from perfect, creating a couple of human beings with whom you may identify.

The imagination an amount of work put into this novel have been rewarded with several well deserved awards, which are just one more proof of the literary value of this amazing YA novel.

Final Score: 9/10

The Left Hand of Darkness

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The Left Hand of Darkness, written by Ursula Le Guinn, tells us the story of a human ambassador calles Ai who arrives to the frozen planet of Gethen with the mission to convince the autochthonous sentient hermaphrodite race to join the Ekumen, a trade alliance of worlds. Ai will have to maneuver in order to fulfill his goal while surviving among the conniving alien species, being witness of how his presence alter the social and political status quo of Gethen.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a gritty, realistic tale of political science fiction which, if you enjoy the genre, is a must read. The complexities of the characters and the situations in which they find themselves  make for a brilliant experience which always leaves the reader wondering what will happen next.

Probably the strongest point of the novel is the way by which the setting changes and evolves, allowing us to bear witnesses as a society evolves responding to the presence of a recently discovered alien who they consider a sexual freak. The way the different countries react to his attempt to contact their governments, becoming more radical in their own ideals as said government tries to maintain the illusion of absolute control: We witness the rise of a movement similar to Nazism, a government which acts as Stalin’s communist regime… all of it told through a beautiful evolution of events which don’t feel forced or overly dramatized.

Final Score: 9/10

NPCs

NPCs

What happen when four NPCs witness the untimely death of the heroes of the story? That’s the premise that Drew Hayes uses in order to create a somewhat enjoyable but sometimes superficial and uninteresting novel. NPCs takes place in a role playing game world ruled by a mad tyrant who goes around giving impossible quests to heroes and murdering anyone who may stand in the way of his little game. Fearing to be blamed by the heroes’ death, the four NPCs will take their places and live the adventure of their lifetime

The premise is enjoyable, and some parts of the book are incredibly funny, especially if you have played classic RPG be.  NPCs  is filled with internal jokes and crazy theories that you may appreciate and it has a fine sense of irony, offering to even the most casual player something to laugh about.

Sadly, that only constitutes a part of the book and the pages between these jokes are filled with a superficial storytelling, sloppy conflict management and non-existent character’s development, which makes this book a slow and irritating page turner with no interest whatsoever for those who have never played role playing games before.

Final Score: 3/10

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If you have read my early reviews (look at me, talking as if I had been doing this for years) you may know that, despite being a little too simplistic and predictable for my tastes, I loved Alanna: The First Adventure. Following the best of my traditions, I was a little bit distrustful about the second installment of the series because I had heard it was even more simplistic than the last, that’s the reason why it took so long for me to read it. I can assure you, dear readers that I have seen the face of this second installment and the Song of the Lioness quartet is still as enjoyable as the first day we met. (and I am still blaming Tamora Pierce for eating up all my free time with her book)

This review contains spoilers of Alanna the First Adventure.

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Strong Points: The characters, the setting, the writing style..

Weak points: too simplistic sometimes.

In the hand of the Goddess, written by Tamora Pierce, the story starts one year after Alanna and Jonathan defeated the Ysandir in the dark city. Under the guise of Alan, the girl is now the squire of the prince and her Ordeal, the process the initiates must pass to become knights, is drawing near. This soon will become the least of Alanna’s worries for greater problems threaten the kingdom’s stability: from the outside a great army of turanians has been prepared to attack Tortall and every knight and squire is being sent to meet this threat; but there is a second internal threat only known to Alanna, the ambitious Roger of Conté is getting ready to strike against his cousin Jonathan, and take Tortal’s throne once and for all.

Alanna surprises us again for her depths and her internal conflicts, showing us that she happens to be a strangely complex character for a youngster’s novel. She is not a perfect model that some writer thought could serve as an example for children to live their life in a certain way, she is human being, a celebration to living your life however you seem fit but always accepting the responsibility that comes with that decision. As every human being she is burdened by indecisions, lack of self-esteem and doubts about herself and everything that surrounds her and that makes Alanna a rich and interesting character full of life that the readers will enjoy and with whom they will sympathy.

But when it comes to characters the greatest surprise is the way that some of them have acquired certain depth compared with the first book. Sir Myles has become even more likeable than before showing us certain complexity which goes beyond the paternal figure we have already seen or, better said, it goes deeper into the role. Tamora Pierce shows us a kind man who has learned of his limitations and the limitations of others, but also a clever man who knows how to play with the image he gives to the world. Jonathan and George Cooper go beyond their respective roles as friends to become two young men torn between the love they bear to Alanna as a woman and the friendship their beard to Alan the squire, in particular Jonathan becomes a personification of the storm of feeling that a teenager may feel when he is stroked by love (we have all been there, god knows we have all been there) and that makes his character a lot deeper, being in constant conflict with himself and Alanna.

The world that Tamora Pierce has managed to create with the Song of the Lioness is simple, but at the same time wonderful and full of magic. The society the author has built is like a well-oiled machine, it moves perfectly, there are not contradictions between the books and no weird rules destined to make the world more complex just for the heck of it. The kingdom of Tortall happens to adapt perfectly to the tone of the novel and, besides that apparent simplicity, it manages to pull the readers inside the pages making them become involve with the novel.

While the characters and the setting are the strongest point of the novel, there is something else that keeps you reading until the end: Tamora Pierce’s impeccable writing style. Not only are her descriptions simply amazing, but the language used to write this book is fluid and easy to read. It doesn’t feel simple; it is not a language that you would consider for younger audience as soon as you start reading, but she uses is with such normality, without attempts of showing off or creating a complex composition, than the effect invites you to go on reading.

Probably the greatest fault of this novel is its simplicity, but I don’t mean simplicity as a lack of complexity, which sometimes in this book is alluring, I mean it as a lack of depth and development. The book tries to tell too many things in too few pages which results in starting narrative arcs which suddenly finish without having been explored. The character of Delia of Eldorne is sadly underplayed, taking into account that at the beginning it looks as if it is going to be a central piece of conflict; the turanian war and the turanian commander Hilam of Keir are also underexploited, leaving a sour taste in the readers mouth when everything is said and done. Finally, some internal conflicts are not used to its fullest potential and are limited to two or three pages and then forgotten as the author moves on.

While sometimes it leaves you wanting for more, In the Hand of the Goddess is an amazing book aimed to young readers which I whole heartedly recommend for those parents or elder family members who want their youngsters to start reading and to everyone who loves fantasy.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

I know I promised reviews would come slower now that Christmas break is over. I know that I had planned that with the end of vacations it would take me between one week and a half to two weeks and a half to read a book and write a review about it. I blame Tamora Pierce. Also the book was short. I promise.
AFA

Strong Points: The characters, the setting of the novel, the descriptions

Weak points: very predictable, the ending feels rushed

Alanna: The First Adventure is the first book of the Song of the Lioness quartet, a book series for youngsters written by Tamora Pierce. It tells us the story of young Alanna of Trebond, a young noblewoman whose dream is to become a knight. Dressing up as a boy see travels to court with the hope to train as one, stepping into a world full of adventure and extraordinary characters.

Probably the first thing a reader learns when he picks this book is that Tamora Pierce has a knack for descriptions. The author is able to entrap the reader into this book just by telling you what Alanna is seeing at each moment. Her description of the market when the main characters arrives to court for the same time is a real wonder that shall pull you into the pages as you read on; full of people, colors and sensations, the picture appears vividly in our imagination and making us feel, for a moment, as if we really were among those people. The character’s description is also rich and precise, an art that in my opinion is disappearing now that the authors just seem to stop in the most striking features of its character and then move on quickly to the action.

Alanna: The First Adventure surprises us for the richness of its setting. The author has managed to create an amazing society which will capture the reader’s attention for its simplicity but at the same time for its plausibility. Old hatreds, social classes and different cultures find their way into these pages, coming alive before our eyes. The rules of the knights’ training and how the academy is described can’t help but remind us of Hogwarts, but here is the thing: The book was written in 1983. One thing the reader must take into account is that when Tamora Pierce wrote this novel, it hadn’t been done before. We are seeing the real deal, the original base that may have inspired our beloved Harry Potter and other books of such nature that we may have read as youngsters and believe you me, this original version has little to envy to those who came after.

The strongest point of the novel is, undoubtedly, its characters. Alanna surprises us for her depths and inner conflicts. She is a girl who considers herself inferior to men and who needs to prove herself again and again just to be able to feel good at what she is doing; her inferiority complex also affects the way she relates to her friends and teachers, being unable to accept favors or take the easy road. Other character that surprises is George Cooper, the King of Thieves, probably the shadiest of the lot; it is surprising to find a character that makes crime his business in a book for such a young audience, but he is a breath of fresh air and helps to make the story even more interesting. The rest of the characters are not as deep, some of them being just the embodiment of a role, such as sir Myles, who represents the fatherly figure, Jonathan, the all-too-trustful prince who Alanna must protect, Coram, the loyal manservant, or the duke of Naxen, the stern but goodhearted tutor. But even if this characters usually don’t go beyond that which they embody they still hold a certain allure for the readers.

Sadly, the book is also very predictable. The reader knows what is to happen almost from the beginning. There are no surprises in the narrative, no sudden twists that make us stare at the pages to see if we rad correctly. The villain is known almost from the beginning, giving us the impression that everyone is a total fool except for Alanna and you can tell who is to discover Alanna’s secret as soon as they are introduced. We can’t forget that this is a book for young audience but I feel that a little bit of mystery would have been appreciated.

Tamora Pierce makes a good job building the climax toward the ending. The small pieces of information Jonathan and Alanna receive from the other characters, the description of the Black City and its reflection on the flames whenever Alanna casts a spell. We really want to learn who or what is in the Black City, but sadly it all resolved fast and undetailed in the last few pages, leaving the reader with a certain feeling of disappointment.

Alanna: The first Adventure is an enjoyable book to read that will relax the reader for its simplicity and alluring storyline. You will get fond of the characters very quickly and will be thirsty to know what will happen to them in the next pages, making it a very difficult book to put down. I would also recommend this book for those parents trying to get their children to read, for I think it is an amazing introduction to literature in general and fantasy in particular.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

¡Hasta la Próxima!