Want a Book to Curl Up With on a Stormy Night? Read Twice Dead.

Life continues to be interesting. At times like these, I’m so grateful for the listening ears of family and friends, for my life, my kids, my health, the fact that I’m sleeping much better than I have in years, even the fact that I can’t keep a pair of sunglasses to save my life. It all means I’m alive and blessed! And I’ve got so many books! What more could a woman ask for? Speaking of books, I read Caitlin Seal’s Twice Dead recently, and thought I’d tell you a little bit about this dynamic read.

What’s Twice Dead About?

From Amazon:

Naya, the daughter of a sea merchant captain, nervously undertakes her first solo trading mission in the necromancer-friendly country bordering her homeland of Talmir. Unfortunately, she never even makes it to the meeting. She’s struck down in the streets of Ceramor. Murdered. But death is not the end for Naya. She awakens to realize she’s become an abomination–a wraith, a ghostly creature bound by runes to the bones of her former corpse. She’s been resurrected in order to become a spy for her country. Reluctantly, she assumes the face and persona of a servant girl named Blue.  She never intended to become embroiled in political plots, kidnapping, and murder. Or to fall in love with the young man and former necromancer she is destined to betray.

The premise of it reminded me vaguely of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, another YA book that deals in the slightly morbid. I understood Naya pretty quickly, which I enjoyed. Too often, amateur writers seek to grab readers from the get-go with dramatic scenes and decisions that range from the hard-to-understand all the way to bizarre. It’s a good writer who can start a book off with a bit of quick characterization, revealed by how Naya interacts with her father, then plunge into the “inciting accident” (her murder), and follow that through with reactions that make sense AND keep the plot advancing smoothly and quickly. Seal does that with this book.

Who Would Like Twice Dead, and Why?

This is the type of book you read on a stormy afternoon, snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket. It’s a little moody, and there’s romance.

What’s the Deal?

On Amazon, it was $17.99 (whew!). It’s now $12.32.

 

Young Elites by Marie Lu is a Gripping Read With a Disappointing Ending

I am such a begrudging fan of Marie Lu’s Young Elites. This book was so wonderful in so many ways, but the ending was SUCH a disappointment for me. Nevertheless, I’m in the minority, judging by the 4.1/5 average rating from 554 reviewers on Amazon, and the 3.92/5 average rating from almost 100,000 reviewers on Goodreads. Those are very good numbers. Let me tell you a little bit about Young Elites, so you can buy a cheap copy and decide for yourself!

What is Young Elites About?

From GoodReads:

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites. He is to destroy them before they destroy the nation. But he may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways. Of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It’s amazing how the power-struggle theme of this book parallels the theme of the two other books I’m reading right now: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

Quote from Young Elites: "It is pointless to believe what you see, if you only see what you believe."

Who Would Want to Read Young Elites, And Why?

If you like gripping reads that pull you hand-over-fist into another world, you’ll like Young Elites.  The theme of Adelina’s struggle to embrace either her good or bad side was gripping. Lu did such a good job of developing the plot quickly. She built suspense and intensity from almost the very first page. The different dynamics between the Adelina and her sister, her and Enzo, her and the other Young Elites, her and her father, were quite unique. The premise and world-building were thorough yet efficient, enough to satisfy even the most hard-core fan of fantasy or speculative fiction..

However, (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT, I was so saddened by the fact that the finale was so horribly unsuccessful and that, ultimately, Adelina chose to embrace the bad side of her power. That Enzo died, that the Young Elites expelled Adelina, etc. was the opposite of how things should’ve gone. (END MAJOR SPOILER ALERT).

But, like I say, I’m in the minority, so definitely consider checking it out from your local library or buying it because…

What’s the Deal?

You can get Young Elites from ThriftBooks.com for $3.79!

 

 

 

Everneath, a YA Retelling of the Persephone Myth: Book Review and Deal

According to myth, the ancient Greek god Hades abducted the goddess Persephone. He took her to the Underworld and forced her to marry him. Hermes rescued her, but Hades tricked her before she could return to the surface. He fed her pomegranate seeds, and by so doing, ensured that she would have to return to him every six months. This is the how the Greeks explained the seasons: Winter was Persephone’s Underworld time, and Summer was not.

There have been almost 140 retellings of that myth, according to GoodReadsKaitlin Bevis identifies eight that are young adult re-tellings. One of those is Everneath by Brodi Ashton. It’s the first book in a trilogy, followed by Everbound and Evertrue. Overall, I enjoyed the whole series, although the second book not as much as the first. For those of you who like YA romances, this is a series to get, especially with the deal I’m going to tell you about.

What Is Everneath About?

From GoodReads:

Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished. She was sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now her captor has allowed to return to her old life…before she’s banished back to the underworld forever. She has six months before then for good-byes she can’t find the words for. She has six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack. He was the person most devastated by her disappearance, and the one she loves more than anything. But there’s just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki’s time on the Surface draws to a close, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life. She has to decide between cheating fate to remain on the Surface with Jack or returning to the Everneath and becoming Cole’s queen.

Why I Liked Everneath, Everbound, and Evertrue, And You Might Too

I absolutely LOVED Everneath; ten stars all the way. It was good in part because Ashton switched deftly between flashbacks and present day, while still moving the plot along. And the main characters of Nikki and Cole are wonderful and HUGELY complex, Jack a little less so. I really liked Everbound too, but it felt like a slightly different book. Because it had less love triangle and more action and took place in a very different setting, it took a little getting used to.  There is a good amount of teenage angst in all three books. The reader’s suspension of disbelief might be stretched sometimes. But all in all, these are enjoyable books for fans of the YA genre.

What’s The Deal?

On Amazon, you can get the first book for $3.75, the second for $4.99, and the third for $5.24, all on Kindle. There is a novella between books one and two, called Neverfall. Goodreads refers to it as the actual book 2, but it’s not necessary to follow the main plot.

A small glass crown, upside down, with blood dripping from it, dripping over the words "Red Queen"

Book Review & Deal: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, a Powerful Read

I went to St. Louis, Missouri over the weekend to visit my brother and his wife and their two kids, and I had long layovers going to and coming from, so guess what I did? I read. Three books. One of them was Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. I’d heard how good this book was for years, but it had honestly sat on my bookshelf for a good while. I’m super glad I finally took the time to read it, and that I was able to find you a deal on it so that you can read it too!

What is Red Queen About?

From Goodreads:

Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood – red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power. Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime. But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

Who Would Like Red Queen And Why?

Because it deals with monarchical power structures and has magic in it, it’s similar to Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson, Traitorborn by Amy A. Bartol, and its sequel Secondborn. Anyone who liked those books would like Red Queen. I’m definitely seeing a motif in all of these books, one that seems to extend into reality a little bit these days: it’s not good to bestow too much power on one person or group of people, because it’s hard for anyone to handle too much power without becoming greedy or hungry for more, and because that always makes everyone else feel disenfranchised. What do you think?

The writing is crystalline, meaning that it’s clear and multi-faceted and sharp. The emotion is tense throughout without being overwrought. The plot is big and far-reaching but still personal. Trust me, it’s a good read. Also, you’ll probably have the buy the sequel, Glass Sword.

What’s the Deal?

Get Red Queen for $4.66 on ThriftBooks.com.

Visual?

via GIPHY

A quote from Red Queen: "The sun begins to rise behind Cal's head, framing him against the dawn. It's too bright, too sharp, and too soon; I have to shut my eyes."

 

Book Review & Deal: Lost Years of Merlin, For $3.46

You know when you’re looking for a book to capture your kids’ imagination, or find one that’ll make them realize that they actually like to read? Maybe you make your kids keep their brain’s active during the summer, like me, or you have a child that’s a voracious reader and are struggling to keep up with their demand for books. Or maybe you’re an adult looking for a fanciful read yourself. For all of you, I recommend Merlin: The Lost Years, Book 1 by T.A. Barron. It’s one of those books that is just fanciful enough to enchant even the most recalcitrant reader, but plenty fanciful for those who like a good escape. I read it for the first time as an adult a few years ago, and enjoyed it alot. Merlin: The Lost Years, Book 1 is a great book for which I found a great deal.

What Is Merlin, The Lost Years About?

From Goodreads:

A raging sea tosses a boy upon the shores of ancient Wales. Left for dead, he has no memory, no name, and no home. But it is his determination to find out who he is – to learn the truth about his mysterious powers – that leads him to a strange and enchanted land. And it is there he discovers that the fate of this land and his personal quest are strangely entwined. He is destined to become the greatest wizard of all time–known to all as Merlin.

Who Would Like The Lost Years And Why?

The Lost Years reminds me slightly me Penric’s Demon by Louis McMaster Bujold, as well as The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. They’re mysterious, rural, a little bit moody, with young protagonists. It also shares a lot of elements with The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, which I also highly recommend; it’s about kids on a quest that brings them in touch with ancient powers. If you or your kids like “quest” books (think 39 Clues), books about kids with powers, or books set in wild, old England, you’ll like this book. There are seven books in the series, mind you, so if you get started with one, you’ll probably have to read the rest.

What’s The Deal?

If you buy The Lost Years from Amazon, it’s $7.10 to $8.99, depending on whether you want a Kindle or paperback copy. BetterWorldBooks.com has a copy, however, for $3.46 with free shipping. That’s a $3.62 difference.

 

Book Review: The Rose and The Crown, a Nice Read

I’m still elbow deep in my hunt for an editor/content manager job, and have been transitioning my kids to summer, which always includes a neighborhood getting-out-of-school party:

What my neighborhood does to celebrate the end of the school year.

A post shared by Jamie Moesser (@jmoesser) on


…as well as more substantial chore charts (with the accompanying wailing and gnashing of teeth), and shopping for shorts, summer clothes, and braintime activities. We like to do lots of hands-on things—read-a-thons, science experiments, art projects, museum visits, etc.—and have accumulated a lot of materials and resources over the years for that, but I like to take them shopping for new kits, books, etc., whatever gets them excited about continuing to learn over the summer. Of course, I pay them for their chores, with Braintime being one of them, so there’s that. As the summer progresses, I’ll share ideas and stories of our learning escapades, and I hope you’ll share yours with me too, in the comments section below!

In the meantime, I read The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinleyIt’s a speculative fiction book about a young princess who doesn’t look the way people of royal birth in her kingdom look, and doesn’t feel like a princess because she’s been told since she was born that her mother, upon giving birth to her and seeing she was a girl, turned her face to the wall and died of despair. Aerin is shy and retiring, but when a power-hungry village in the north of her father’s kingdom starts causing problems that he has to go and tend to, she’s left to deal with the threat of a dreaded dragon. She struggles, not only with the burden of figuring out how to do that and strengthening her fortitude so she can, but also against the perceptions that everyone has about her and she has about herself, that it will be impossible for her to defeat the dragon.

What I Thought of It

Although the plot knits together fairly well, it takes a while to get going, and the climax is over in two seconds, which makes it feel somewhat anti-climatic. She’s led to a dark wizard who wants to take over her father’s kingdom, but she strikes him down (rather easily actually), which indirectly helps her save the whole kingdom. It was a nice read.

Who Might Like The Hero and the Crown

If you liked The Waking Land by Callie Bates, Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson, or Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold, you’ll like this book.

If you’ve got a Kindle, it’s available on Amazon for $5.38, which is 23% off the paperback price.

 

 

Book Review: Memory of Fire, a Rich Read

I found myself jumping back and forth between four books this past week: Memory of Fire by Callie Bates (speculative), Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA sci-fi/apocalyptic), Torment by Lauren Kate (paranormal?) , and Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis (sci-fi/paranormal?).  Let me tell you about Memory.

What Memory of Fire is About And Who Would Like It

Memory is the sequel to The Waking Land, which I reviewed here. Like that book, it is a rousing story of magic versus evil, told in vivid first-person. It is rich in storylines, thick in ambience, and strong in style. It’s the story of Jahan Korakides, who is called to broker peace with the nation of Paladis after he helps his girlfriend, Elanna Valtai, win peace over the despotic ruler of the smaller kingdoms of Eren and Caeris. Elanna and Jahan are both sorcerers, though Elanna’s magic is a much more powerful, land-based power.

As Jahan seeks that peace with the monarchs of Paladis, the story also becomes very much one of him striving to overcome the damage and trauma done to him when he was young by a woman hired by his father to grow his magical powers, and find his brothers, who were also hurt by her. The monarchs of Paladis want to eliminate sorcery altogether, and don’t know that Jahan is a sorcerer and tied so closely to Elanna. The citizens of Paladis want Jahan to lead a rebellion that would have sorcerers holding just as much political power, if not more, than non-sorcerers. He just wants to heal, find his brothers, and get to safety, but quickly finds his way blocked and a different course laid out for him.

If I were to depict it in a video, as I’m wont to do, it would be this one:

 

..only perhaps sped up a little bit and with multi-colored threads as opposed to only white ones. The finished product is intricately-woven, moves at breakneck speed, and satisfies not only those readers looking for fantasy, but also those looking for high political intrigue, romance, and deft world-building.

Nutrition Facts, Anyone?

There are a few swear words and one or two allusions to sex. There are many references to the importance of family ties, no matter how difficult they can be to maintain. There is mention of a gay relationship, handled in a very gentle way. A good amount of violence.

Anything Wrong?

If I gave Memory of Fire anything less than a full 10 stars on my 10-star scale, I’d have to dock all books with the trope of a power-hungry antagonist (or two), and there are too many of those to count. I’ve read so many books lately where the antagonist is a flat character only motivated purely by a lust for power. What does it say about me that I want a little more dimension in the antagonists I read about?

 

Disclosure: I received a free ARC of Memory of Fire from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review of the book.

Book Review: Dark Breaks the Dawn, a Romantic YA Read

I have to apologize. A couple of days ago, in this post, I said that Sara B. Larson’s book Dark Breaks the Dawn was all about power. I was wrong. While most of the story’s direct conflict revolves around the main character’s struggles to defeat the despotic ruler of a neighboring kingdom, it is actually the romance that develops between the main character and a member of her court that becomes the true underpinning of the book, making it more of a romance than anything. That being said, though, the ending brings the theme back around solidly to power, so if you like speculative books with both romance and battles, you’ll like Dark Breaks the Dawn.

It’s important for me to determine what genre a book is so that I read it with the right expectations. If one reads an adult contemporary thriller with the expectation that it’ll have the magic of a fantasy romance, for instance, one will be disappointed, but not by the fault of the book. I mentioned this in this post about Jenna Welch’s book Love and GelatoIf one reads Dark Breaks the Dawn knowing it’s mostly a romance, then one won’t be disappointed by the lack of detailed battle scenes.

What Dark Breaks the Dawn is About

Most books about queens and kings and magic that I’ve read don’t have much romance in them because the assumption or rule is that monarchs have to marry to form alliances, not for love. That rule is not brought up in this book, presumably because both of the main character Queen Evelayn’s parents were killed in battle trying to fight the aforementioned despotic ruler, and no one else cares who she marries. The young queen’s main conflict is learning to wield the power that only she has, and that she just came into, in time to defeat ruler Bayne, and sort out whether the young lord chosen to help train her likes her for herself or is being compelled to. She thinks he might be wooing her to force a wedding and the production of an heir who can carry on the line of power should she fail.

Who Might Like This Book, And Why

In that this romance is the focus of the book, and the queen is only 18, that makes this a YA speculative book, putting it in the same category as books like Cinder by Marissa Mayer, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman, and Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater. It has the slightly quicker pacing of a YA book, as well as a coming-into-one’s-own feeling, and characters who mature in their understandings and misunderstandings of what truly wielding power, both political and magical, means. Evelayne is less of a fighter than Alexa Hollen, the main character of Larson’s Defy series, which I really enjoyed, but she acts with resolve and benevolence, still making her worthy of respect as a main character and figment of Larson’s imagination.

But…

So, young adults, and adults who consider themselves to be young-at-heart (like me), will like this book…unless they don’t like cliffhanger endings, because this book has one. What is it with the cliffhanger endings? I’ve read a string of them lately, unwittingly, and I’m bugged! I hate cliffhanger endings!

No sex, violence, or profanity. Six stars out of ten. I bought and listened to this book on Audible, where it was narrated by Amy Schiels. Amy has a gentle Scottish brogue that really fits the story, and heightened my enjoyment of it.

 

Book Review: Traitorborn is Mind-Blowing

For some reason, I find myself reading multiple books right now that revolve around the theme of power: mankind’s constant struggles for it, what it does to those who hold it, how it affects those who don’t. The one I most recently finished—Traitorborn by Amy Bartol—is remarkably like Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson in some respects, more like K.B. Wager’s Behind the Throne in others, all built on premises of matriarchal monarchies, magic or magical technology, and infinite political intrigue. Traitorborn is the sequel to Secondborn and is a mind-blowing handful of a read.

What Traitorborn (and Secondborn) Are About

In a kingdom called the Fates Republic, Firstborns rule society. Secondborns are the property of the government. Thirdborns are not tolerated. On every secondborn’s 18th birthday, they’re taken by the government and forced into servitude as soldiers in a bloody war. Roselle St. Sismode is the second-born of one of the most elite families in the Fates Republic, but she’s taken away like every other secondborn. And her elite firstborn mother is happy to see her go. Her mother is paranoid that she’ll kill her older brother Gabriel to gain his status, so paranoid she doesn’t see the love between the two siblings. So paranoid she’s willing to try to have her secondborn child killed while in transit to her servitude.

But Roselle had a privileged, if isolated and abusive, upbringing that has earned her the resentment of her secondborn peers. She survives the attempt on her life only to be forced into battles where her life is threatened constantly. Then she’s confronted with the opportunity to kill or spare an enemy soldier on the battlefield. Killing him means she’s like her mother; sparing him marks her as a traitor to her mother, punishable by death. Though she’s able to keep her decision a secret (you’ll have to read Secondborn to find out what it is), she finds herself almost always fighting for her life…when she’s not being regaled by various secret factions bent on destroying her mother and putting Roselle in her place. She has to constantly defend herself against various foes sent by her paranoid mother, and those who pretend to be her allies while killing her family so that they can put her in a position of power she doesn’t want, to maintain a system of government she doesn’t agree with.

The Good and Not so Good…Intermingled

Both books are set in a world of airships, electronic monikers that track every single person’s actions and movements, skyscrapers built like trees, fusion weapons, and a brutally-maintained caste system. The reason behind this caste system isn’t explained until the end of Traitorborn, and while that explanation fits where it’s placed, I would have appreciated it much earlier (or at least intimations of it) in the storyline because so much of what Roselle decides to do or not do depends upon her understanding of the caste system, which turns out to be incomplete. The world-building in this series is breath-taking; it incorporates highly-imaginative tech with stunning architecture that directly reflects the values of the people that built it.

Both books (the first of which I bought on Amazon, the second of which I got an ARC of from NetGalley) also incorporate a lot of fighting, killing, political strategizing, romance (with three different love interests, no less), and recognition of the value of filial love. If these books were made into movies, they would both be rated-R for the fighting and killing. It was difficult for me to wade through those parts, and I ended up skipping over some of them, as I’m not a fan of gruesomeness. There is a lot of political strategizing, with Roselle constantly trying to figure out who she can trust, who she can be herself—a supremely-skilled fighter who gets panic attacks from all the death she sees—around, between those who would put her in power so that she can maintain the caste system, those who would put her in power so that she can take it down altogether, and those who just want to make everybody stop fighting. If I were a person in the world of these books, I’d be part of that last group. If there’s anything that I’m tired of after reading so many books about what power does to people, and seeing it (I think) play out in real life, I think that no one person should be in charge of any country or kingdom or province, even if there are checks and balances and councils and congresses in place. But that’s just me. I’d be interested in what you think of that.

So, with the fighting and strategizing and romance (i.e., heat – no sex scenes), there’s a lot of action, and both books are fast-paced and intense. That, along with the world-building, I really liked. I also really liked Roselle as a main character: incredibly tough but also very vulnerable.  My big complaint with both books, though, other than they (like the other power-based books I’ve read recently) are based on flat antagonists whose hunger for power makes them stereotypical and one-dimensional, is that they both end with huge cliffhangers. I mean, HUGE. On the one hand, I’m absolutely convinced that I won’t read the third book in this series when it comes out in 2019 because I don’t want to reward the author and publisher for that kind of baiting. On the other hand, the cliffhanger at the end of Traitorborn is so wild and unforeseen and crazy that I might not be able to resist, especially if I can get another free ARC from Netgalley.

So, if you liked Dark Breaks the Dawn, Behind the Throne, The Sin Eater’s Daughter or books about power set in worlds other than our own, you’ll like both Secondborn and Traitorborn. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this ARC, and have provided an honest review.

Book Reviews and Giveaways: Penric’s Demon and Curse of Chalion are Must-Reads

I haven’t read many novellas in my time, and when I have it’s either been by accident or because it was a filler between releases of books in series that I loved. I happened to read a novella this past week, though, by accident and it happened to become not so much a filler between book releases but a bandage to cover the hole that the preceding books in this series, which have no impending sequels, have left. Penric’s  Demon is a novella set in the Kingdom of the Five Gods, a setting created by master science fiction and fantasy writer Lois McMaster Bujold. It was written fourteen years after the first book set in that Kingdom, Curse of Chalion, but takes place roughly a hundred years before it. I read Penric’s Demon purely on the strength of Curse of Chalion, which was a phenomenal book, I thought, and while I found the former book weaker (possibly due to it’s novella status), it was still a must-read.

What Penric’s Demon is About

In the Kingdom of the Five Gods, people’s souls belong to one of five gods: the Father, the Mother, the Daughter, the Son, and the Bastard. Some people become scholars and high-ranking religious officials by choosing one of those deities and committing their lives to studying them. The magical elements of this speculative fiction series come from the influence of these five deities. Some of those scholars, in fact, take on embodiments of them. The main character Penric, for instance, somehow inherits a “demon” from a learned female priest he encounters on the road as she dies, the demon being a collection of the spirits of animals and people that previous learneds assembled and put into her. It inhabits Penric’s body with him, carrying on conversations with him and occasionally bestowing him with minor gifts of magic for protection. Most people who receive such demons–called such because they are believed to be associated with the Bastard, who is the deity of disorder–are able to work great magic because of the spirits that possess them. Penric is none of those things and possesses no great magic, so he causes the people who discover that he’s got a demon in him to react in alarm, confusion, disbelief, and derision. Therein lies the central conflict of the book.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Penric’s Demon

The most enjoyable part of reading Penric’s Demon was Bujold’s writing. It’s dense with meaning and history, while also flowing and evocative. Take this passage for example:

Nothing much to see, now, in the dawn damp; nothing much to feel, though Pen extended all his exacerbated senses. He bowed his head and offered a silent prayer, the wording haltingly remembered from services for his father…. The grave returned no answer, but something inside him seemed to ease, as if pacified.

The other is the sweet Kung Fu Panda feel of the premise, where the protagonist finds himself thrust into a place of honor having done nothing to earn it and enjoying it while at the same time feeling wholly unworthy of it.

The conflict, however, or the reactions and actions of people that find out he has a demon in him, doesn’t really set in until two-thirds of the way through the book. Most of the book is Pen getting to know his “rider,” if you will. While pleasant and mildly interesting, it really should have been much shorter.

How That Relates to Curse of Chalion

That being said, I highly recommend Penric’s Demon to anyone who loves any kind of speculative fiction or is a fan of any of Bujold’s other works. It familiarizes you with the Five Gods Kingdom, so that you can then go read Curse of Chalion with a little bit of understanding. Curse is about Lupe dy Cazaril, a man who, at the beginning of the book, returns home to the Kingdom of Chalion (what used to be called the Kingdom of the Five Gods) a broken man, though he is only 35 years old, after having defended a castle during a long siege, only to be ordered to surrender it and then sold into slavery and eventually rescued. He gains a position as the secretary-tutor of the Princess Iselle and her companion,  Lady Betriz..

Despite his ardent desire to live a safely low-profile, peaceful life, Caz finds himself drawn into a strange and dangerous journey when Iselle and her younger brother Teidez, heir to the childless King Orico, are ordered to join their half-brother’s court.  Caz is driven to defend them from Orico and the kingdom from the civil war he’s fermenting.  Through all this, Caz comes to realize that the five gods have chosen him to act for them, though his mission is not made clear. With the second sight he is given, he discovers that a black curse hangs over the royal family of Chalion, one that he seeks to dispel for Iselle’s sake.

Like Penric’s DemonChalion is full of enchanting language and charming main and supporting characters. Because it’s longer, though, its plot is more substantial, and the conflict is well-developed from the beginning. It’s a “page turner,” not because of break-neck pacing or multiple plot convolutions, but because one comes to care for Caz and want to know what happens to him and those he cares for.

I’m giving away one Kindle copy each of The Curse of Chalion (it is only $2.99 on Amazon right now) and Penric’s Demon to one of my blog subscribers or Twitter followers. Enter here for The Curse and here for Penric’s Demon.