Review of The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

First in the Kingfountain Series

The Queen’s Poisoner is one of those books that doesn’t fit a specific age range. While written in the style and level of a YA novel, the main protagonist is only eight years old and adults play the focus to the primary plot-line and most subplots.

A boy goes to court as a hostage to insure his parent’s loyalty to a cruel king. The parents have already failed the King’s tests of loyalty, however, which places the boy at risk of being killed. Old Queen's Poisonerpalace alliances come together–some in efforts to save the child, while others hope to get rid of him. The previous Queen’s Poisoner appears as the boys best hope for survival. With magical powers imparted to her from the Fountain, she plots to trick the king into pledging his allegiance to the child, instead of killing him. The obstacles are many, while the boy’s life remains in the balance.

Although the king holds Owen’s life in his hands, Owen realizes that he is not entirely bad. The king appears selfish and cruel to most people, however, Owen begins to understand that loneliness and issues of trust can impact even the greatest of kings.

Owen develops allies in the Queen’s Poisoner and the king’s spy. An unexpected friendship with another child, Elyzabeth Victoria Mortimer also comes into play. The antics of the two children add comic relief throughout the story. Hurrah for the humane humor Wheeler incorporates. Always welcome in a story.

The Queen’s Poisoner Leaves You Wanting More

By the end of the book we wonder how Owen will use the magical powers he develops in future escapades with Elyzabeth Victoria Mortimer. If you enjoy this story, as I did, you won’t be disappointed that Wheeler followed up with five additional books in the series.

Why do I like this book better than many YA stories of palace intrigue? Wheeler includes enough conflicting motives and plot twists to keep the reader guessing, some funny, some intriguing. I also liked that action, intrigue and complex character motivations didn’t overpower underlying philosophical themes.

Wheeler’s Religious Bent Adds Depth

It was not surprising to find that Jeff Wheeler claims that his religion  and membership in LDS  (Latter-day Saints) are his highest priority. Although Wheeler doesn’t preach his religion, the values he brings from his believes provide depth to the palace intrigue of his stories.

He incorporates an understanding of basic life issues and includes many life lessons in the The Queen’s Poisoner. Love of family and loyalty serves as the thread that holds Owen together. That and the friendship he forges.

Wheeler challenges Owen with lessons in loneliness, his own, as well as the king’s. And through Owen we learn the value of keeping secrets and that we can’t believe everything we hear, especially about other people.

Chapter 1 Analysis

The first chapter of The Queen’s Poisoner introduces Lady Eleanor, and Owen, her youngest child. Lord Kiskaddon soon arrives, anxious because he has betrayed the king in a pivotal battle in which their eldest son died. Now, another child must go to the king as hostage for Lord Kiskaddon’s loyalty.

The chapter ends with a plethora of questions. The primary question however being which of Lady Eleanor’s children will be sent as the hostage.

Chapter 1 presents Lady Eleanor’s point-of-view (POV). Her perspective clearly establishes the bond between her and her son, Owen. Her POV in this chapter however breaks continuity with the rest of the book in which we read from Owen’s POV.

There’s lots of telling rather than showing in the novel, but plenty of amusing action in scenes keep the pace flowing. Long paragraphs often define details of the world and one line paragraphs interspersed periodically provide needed visual and literary relief.

Excerpts by Dominic, a spy in the court, opens most chapters, including the first. The journal entries are written in first person as a diary from the 10,000 foot level. By putting these snippets at the beginning of chapters readers acquire knowledge unavailable to Owen.

Review of The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff WheelerThe Queen's Poisoner (Kingfountain, #1) by Jeff Wheeler
Series: The Kingfountain series #1
Published by 47North on April 1st 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Religious, Young Adult
Pages: 334
Goodreads

King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.

Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.

Review of The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Book Review by Redd Becker

Although I’m not a fan of horror, I took the opportunity to dive into Rick Yancey’s novel, because it received the Printz Honor Book award. The gruesome is definitely forefront. Each chapter contains monsters by Rick Yanceyand blood and gore and horror. The story is so well written, however, that I understood the American Library Associations choice.

Written in first person, as a sort of diary by Will Henry, we learn about an underground world we only imagine in nightmares. From chapter one, when Will and his mentor receive the bodies of a dead girl and a headless monster who has half eaten her, the story does not let up. The monstrumologist, Dr. Warthrop, sets to work dissecting the dead bodies. The looming issue, however, remains How many  more monsters remain? The unlikely pair contact help and make plans to search out the rest of the clan of Anthropophagus monsters.

There are few monstrumologists and few of them are equipped to help in the pursuit. As a new species to the country that immigrated to New England, they quickly adapt to their circumstances and threaten to eat the entire village. Will Henry and the doctor are on a quest to exterminate the pod of Anthropophagus before the species feed on the entire village and continue to spread.

If you’re squeamish about blood and gore, Rick Yancey’s book isn’t for you, because gore predominates in every chapter.  Written with personality and quick-clipped voicings, the reader stays engaged with the twelve years old protagonist. Will is young for what he’s doing, but reality isn’t a concern as we go with the story anyway.

Rick Yancey Receives Printz Honor

Yancey writes with finesse. Undoubtedly that’s why the American Library Association granted him the Michael Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. The story wouldn’t convince me to read more horror, but I enjoyed Yancey’s interpretation. For those who enjoy horror, I’m sure it would hit the mark.

The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a Topeka, Kansas school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. For more award winners check out the lists on their web site.

Review of The Monstrumologist by Rick YanceyThe Monstrumologist (The Monstrumologist, #1) by Rick Yancey
Series: The Monstrumologist #1
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on July 20th 2010
Genres: Alternate History, Horror, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 434
Goodreads

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill

by Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill reminds us that updated fairy tales still have a place in Kelly Barnhillyoung adult literature.  She incorporates a plethora of iconic images and arctypes in forming the story. Stars, the moon, a  dragon, a tower prison, a witch in the forest who eats children, orphans, nuns, a mad women and helpless babies. Even a cloud of doom covering the village harkens back to fairytale imagery. A slight tweek to the iconography was a delightful dragon that didn’t grow up.

As with any good fairy tale or fable sprinkled within the story are words of wisdom such as forgiveness, fear of what others tell you, overprotecting those we love and the power of hope.  “It’s awfull to be cut off from your own memories.” “The answer is too easy, my friend. Look deeper.” I found Barhill’s messages about orphans and adoption, however, somewhat idealized.

Barhill sets the story between a village covered in the cloud of doom around a large bog and a forest. Her travels walking in Costa Rica influenced her choice of location and descriptions.

Kelly Barnhill Wins the 2017 John Newberry Medal

Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly BarnhillThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
on August 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Magical Realism
Pages: 388
Goodreads

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule -- but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her -- even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.

Review of Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

from Towers Trilogy

Radiant tells a coming-of-age story set in a dystopian world where magic is the Radiantcurrency of power. The heroine’s apparent power, seeing ghosts, gets her more trouble than any food or shelter she could trade for its use. She is shunned by most, even residents of the lower city. This makes her more than just a lonely orphan. She’s desperate. Her deep longing for companionship leads her to defending a ghost who’s powers have lasted beyond death. The ghost’s future may be as a zombie in another person’s body, if Xhea doesn’t help. A powerful high tower in the upper city wants the ghosts magic to run their complex. Xhea willing puts her life on the line for the ghost, Shai. As they work together Shai teaches Xhea how to unlock her power. Dark magic flows through Xhea. Not the type of magic the towers want for good, and not a power Xhea wants used for bad.

Chapter 1 Analysis of Radiant

For those interested in writing: A well turned phrase is a wonderful talent and Karina Sumner-Smith uses plenty of them. Although not flashy, they imbue the narration with her unique style.

Review of Radiant by Karina Sumner-SmithRadiant (Towers Trilogy, #1) by Karina Sumner-Smith
Series: Towers Trilogy #1
Published by Talos on September 30th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Goodreads

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

Review League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

#9 in the Termeraire Series

Naomi Novik skillfully writes the tension of opposing forces. Termeraire #9 by Naomi Novik Whether dragon cooperating with humans or allegiances between world nations, she hits her target. League of Dragons explores the internal political struggles between rulers and military forces as allies fight for rule of the world.  When Napoleon promises dragons worldwide new rights previously deprived of them, the balance of power may be at en end. The allegiance of dragons with humans is key to political tranquility.

Novik creates an alternate history of Europe where dragons are common and Napoleon’s forces attempt to take over the world. As #9 in the series, this story begins with Laurence and his dragon companion, Termeraire, trying to locate Napoleon. Although they have successfully rid him of Russia they believe he’ll soon return.

Novik incorporates wonderful historical details that add authenticity to her world view. Her depiction of Russia’s climate captures the frigid chills of their northern land.

This novel rounds off the Termeraire series at nine. I have not read the previous, however I believe all novels should stand on their own, regardless of their part in a series.

Although character’s were well defined in this novel, they didn’t go through much transformation. Their reactions appeared immediate rather then transformative This may be attributed to it being the end of a long series in which Termeraire played a central role. My expectation, however, follows the assumption that going through an adventure with a character implies that I will learn while the character learns. This story did not provide that feeling.

Since the character’s arch was not emphasized, our understanding of war strategies becomes enhanced. Novik takes this to the ultimate conclusion with her ending in this novel.

Naomi Novik’s Gamer Perspective Comes through in her Termeraire Series

The focus on military strategies and alliances is only one aspect of how Novik integrates her gaming background into her storytelling. She professes a love for computer technologies and helped build the Archive of Our Own for fan-fiction.

Chapter 1 Analysis

Novik appears to have fun playing with language. Similes are sprinkled throughout the story and she uses lots of alliteration (words that begin with the same sound) throughout the first chapter. It quickens the pace of sentences and creates a fun read. One line in the first paragraph uses alliteration in three places to punch it up. “Laurence saw its small hard shining eyes peering patiently out from beneath the brambles.” What a fun line to read.

Novik likes color and she ensures we see what we imagine in color. This provides detail, but it also correlates to emotions we associate with those colors. We often associate red with blood and military uniforms, while gold imparts images of wealth and regal illusions.

I’ve learned a great deal from Novik’s first chapter, although her style is not my favorite. Using Nancy Pearl’s Four Doors to Book Reading, I believe League of Dragons’ primary focus is world building or setting, then plot, specifically military conflict. My favorite books develop character at the forefront, however, that is a matter of taste. For those who enjoy setting oriented novels with a penchant for military conflict, the Termeraire series should captivate you.

Power Words Power the Chapter

Naomi Novik’s extensive use of power words rings true in her tale of war, where militaries clash, Napoleon is king and dragons rule the sky. One can read only the power words to obtain a clear picture of events. In the leading paragraph: dead – scavengers – raucous – dragon’s – shadow – sunken – hollow – muzzle red, create a picture that draws us in. The second paragraph includes: dead – proud – red – gold – dragon – hunger – frozen – snow – corps – peasants – epaulets, all reinforce the action. The third paragraph goes on with: descending – corps – Napolean’s army – racing – escape – Napolean – dragon – reinforcements – safely – devouring – war – no end – slaughter. Wow.

Margie Lawson teaches a wonderful course on using power words and rhetorical devices in language. You are sure to learn a lot from her.

Review League of Dragons by Naomi NovikLeague of Dragons (Temeraire, #9) by Naomi Novik
Series: Termeraire #9
Published by Del Rey on June 14th 2016
Genres: Alternate History, Fantasy
Pages: 380
Goodreads

The final adventure in the New York Times bestselling Temeraire series that started with the beloved His Majesty’s Dragon which has won fans of Napoleonic-era military history, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, and Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring adventures.

The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

Book Review, The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson

Jaleigh Johnson  gives us an adventurous heroine and a by Jaleigh Johnsonprince who befriends her in this steampunk adventure. Lina, an archivist’s apprentice has a penchant for getting into trouble. Small, agile and inquisitive she wanders the archivist’s underground city where she stumbles upon lost treasures, information and a prince-in-hiding.

Johnson provides a wonderful setting amidst a culture of archivists who study artifacts of unknown origin and puts them in museums. I particularly like the prince’s tour of the archivist’s museum. A magical cat who causes a conveniently-timed fire and a sentient ship named Merlin also provide intriguing twists.

The plot, although thinly veiled beneath Lina’s antics, revolves around a prince deprived of his rightful place in the palace. Simon, a a fellow apprentice, provides Lina clues to the prince’s predicament. Simon’s grudge against her gives him plenty of motive, while his role as lead apprentice gives him the opportunity to spy–or worse. Who is behind the attempted assassinations of the prince remains a mystery until the end.

Jaleigh Johnson writes for Young Teens

Straight-forward language, appropriate for young teens walks readers through each step of action. Johnson covers some details in action sequences too much for my taste. The descriptions can drag scenes, but for those who need or like them they are there.

Point-of-view (POV) plays back and forth between Lina and the prince’s perspectives, sometimes with no chapter delineation. Johnson foregoes the customary chapter change for POV when action within a scene dictates. Sometimes the very next paragraph is from a different point of view. The first time stopped me reader, but I didn’t lose track of the characters and was good-to-go onward.

The power of love appears a prime motivator for Johnson’s characters, including Merlin, the  sentient ship, who remained parted from those of his kind for centuries within the archivists’ mountain.

Book Review, The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh JohnsonThe Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson
Series: World of Solace
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Goodreads

From Jaleigh Johnson, the acclaimed author of The Mark of the Dragonfly, comes another thrilling adventure in the magical world of Solace.    Lina Winterbock lives in the mountain strongholds of Solace. She’s an apprentice to the archivists, the wise men and women whose lives are dedicated to cataloging, studying, and preserving the objects that mysteriously fall from the sky in the scrap towns.    Lina should be spending her days with books, but the Iron War has changed everything. The strongholds are now a refuge, and the people Lina once counted on no longer have time for her, so she spends her days exploring the hidden tunnels and passages of her home. The strongholds are vast and old, with twisting paths, forgotten rooms, and collapsed chambers, some of them containing objects that have been lost and forgotten even by the archivists.    And in one of the forgotten chambers, Lina discovers a secret.    Hidden deep in a cavern is a half-buried airship like nothing she has ever seen before. She’s determined to dig it out and restore it. But Lina needs help, and she doesn’t know anyone she can trust with her secret.    Then she meets Ozben, a mysterious boy who has a secret of his own—a secret that’s so dangerous it could change the course of the Iron War and the world of Solace forever.  

Book Review, The Wish Granter by C. J. Redwine

by C. J. RedwineC. J. Redwine writes with all the ingredients of her craft. She assembles protagonist, antagonist, helpers and obstacles with characters who grow within the telling.

The princess is a fun, food centric, tomboy, who’d rather not have become a princess. When her brother signs a contract with the Wish Granter, his life and kingdom are threatened. Princess Ari decides to save all, but it isn’t easy against one of the most powerful fairies alive.

I loved the food centric bits of the story. They make Ari personable, someone I’d like to know. It’s also refreshing to have an over-weight heroine, that’s compelling in all aspects of her personality.

Can use of POV thwart interest?

Redwine use of point-of-view (POV) interested me.  Writing in first person point-of-view (POV) from multiple characters proves effective in many novel. In The Wish Granter I questioned one perspective.

The story starts with Princess Ari’s POV, who introduces setting, challenges and primary characters. Toward the middle, the young weapon’s maker, Sebastian, becomes vital and his POV becomes more relevant. He introduces the reader to aspects of the world Princess Ari is not privy.

Andrews also choses to include the antagonists POV. Coincidentally, shortly after those sections, my interest in the story floundered. I didn’t care as much about Ari and Sebastion. Fortunately, I returned reading, but I wonder whether adding the protagonist’s POV, in this case, interfered with my commitment to Ari and Sebastian, hence my commitment to the novel at that point.

I particularly liked how Redwine inferred the next chapter’s POV in the wind-up of previous chapters. Although the references are often oblique, for me, they effectively set my subconscious up for the change in POV. As a writer this is worth noting.

C. J. Redwine’s attention to the craft

Redwine has a fondness for double alliterations. Rhetorical devices of this nature lighten the read and help drive descriptions forward. She uses anaphora (repeating words at the beginning of sentences), epistrophe (repeating words at the end of sentences), anadiplosis (repeating words at the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next), and the use of structural parallelism (to enhance the cadence of paragraphs) all freely.

A twist in the plot around page fifty, ramps up the tension. Andrew’s attention to full character development, in all aspects of their lives, brings new interest to this old fairy tale.

For a short version of Rumpelstiltskins click here. For other wonderful fairy tale retellings, check out Elle Enchanted or The Goose Girl.

Book Review, The Wish Granter by C. J. RedwineThe Wish Granter (Ravenspire, #2) by C.J. Redwine
Series: , ,
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 14th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 432
Goodreads

An epic, romantic, and action-packed fantasy inspired by the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, about a bastard princess who must take on an evil fae to save her brother’s soul, from C. J. Redwine, the New York Times bestselling author of The Shadow Queen. Perfect for fans of Graceling and the Lunar Chronicles.

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.