Tag Archives: alternate history

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

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!

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Redd Becker Book Review

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay brings to life a rich fantasy world with interesting historical scenes of chariot races, the deceitful life of courts and politics between feudal kingdoms. The time period depicts religious powers braced against pagan beliefs that causes mistrust at every turn.

Guy Gavriel Kay Attends to Detail

Kay writes with more description than I prefer, but it is Kay’s detail and intimate portrayal of characters that suspends the reader in the novel’s time and place. Exotic voluptuous detail heightens every scene. The perspective of the story moves easily from one point-of-view (POV) to another in third person omniscient with multiple plots creating the fabric around the main character, Chrispin; a mosaicist ensnared between powers.

Chrispin is called to the city of Sarantium to make mosaics for the emperor’s personal chapel. He’s immediately thrust in the middle of palace intrigue, but he is not of it. Byzantine court is dissected from multiple perspectives.   In this epic tale of intrigue we follow the mosaisist, Chrispin. He struggles against the forces around him , while struggling to maintain integrity.  

My Rating five-stars

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel KaySailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay
Series: The Sarantine Mosaic #1
Published by Earthlight on November 4th 2002
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
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Crispin is a master mosaicist, creating beautiful art with colored stones and glass. Summoned to Sarantium by imperial request, he bears a Queen's secret mission, and a talisman from an alchemist. Once in the fabled city, with its taverns and gilded sanctuaries, chariot races and palaces, intrigues and violence, Crispin must find his own source of power in order to survive-and unexpectedly discovers it high on the scaffolding of his own greatest creation.

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine, a great library adventure

Redd Becker Book Review

Paper and Fire by Rachel CaineRachel Caine once again wrote a wonderful action adventure. One confrontation leads to another. Overcoming mechanical lions, scrounging in Alexandria’s alleyways, and the intricacies of an all-powerful-library-gone-awry add wonder to Jess’s quest.

Action is fun, but by mid book I missed something. Plot driven scenes sacrificed emotional growth opportunities for the characters. The main people introduced in Ink and Bone  continued their well-designed parts, but they didn’t change. The exception was Scholar Wolf.  While acting as a teacher students distain in the first book, he became a vulnerable victim of the library’s evil in Paper and Fire.

Two-thirds of the way through the story a dramatic twist initiates changes for everyone. Relationships were tested and characters allowed to develop. It was perfect timing to keep me motivated.

For those interested in writing: Caine’s first chapter is a wonderful example of doing all the things writers are advised to do in opening a book–definitely worth a look.

My Rating five-stars

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine, a great library adventurePaper and Fire (The Great Library, #2) by Rachel Caine
Series: The Great Library #2
Published by New American Library on July 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Steampunk
Pages: 357
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Let the world burn.
With an iron fist, the Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion and, in the name of the greater good, forbidding the personal ownership of books.
Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower, doomed to a life apart from everything she knows.
After embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.
But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, and the Library, which is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…

Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop, where wolves, vampires and humans meet

Redd Becker Book Review

Marked in Flesh by Anne BishopIf you like dogs or wolves, as I do, this is a particularly fun read. Anne Bishop creates a world where wolves rule – sort of. They shape-shift to human, but their thinking doesn’t mesh with human expectations. A wolf’s perspective creates humor in unexpected encounters. Oh, how species can misinterpret each other.

Bishop’s world building is wonderful. Bishop presents us with an alternate history of the United States, settled by humans from across the ‘Atlantik’, where animals act as nature’s guardians. Everything has a say in how the earth develops: animals, elements, elders, vampires and a new breed of human who receive pictures of the future during altered states. In this universe humans are a lower species, but some of them haven’t figured that out yet.

Anne Bishop writes on many levels

True to sci-fi tradition social commentary is ever-present: environmental issues, greed, power, compassion. While integrating theme, Bishop weaves plenty of subplots through the story and she creates characters with individual motives and personalities.

For those interested in writing: This is a good example of 3rd person omniscient POV. Personally I would like a bit more attention to the main characters. Meg and Simon Wolfgard carry that role, but there are so many characters to care about that it’s easy to lose track of Meg’s thread.

My Rating five-stars

Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop, where wolves, vampires and humans meetMarked in Flesh (The Others, #4) by Anne Bishop
Series: The Others #4
Published by Roc on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal
Pages: 399
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For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and within their community...
Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.
But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs…

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

Redd Becker Book Review

The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

Ear, Eye and Arm is Tendai’s coming-of-age story. He leaves home with his younger siblings as a boy and returns a man. Nancy Farmer writes each adventure the children encounter deftly while spicing them with basic human foibles. Issues woven between the lines include: greed, power, laziness, unrestrained talk, retardation, childhood innocence.

Farmer writes in a more literary style than many books these days, but this tale was engaging. Encounters with interesting characters and compelling situations kept me reading.

Farmer created a science fiction alternate-history in Zimbabwe. It’s a future of robots and mutated humans. When three children of a high-level law enforcement official run away from home for a day’s adventure, they fall into the clutches of kidnappers. They escape only to begin a journey filled with many harrowing situations. While the children grapple with the underbelly of their city, their parents and three detectives (Eye, Ear and Arm) attempt to find them. The children’s adventures cover the gamut from: scavenging among ancient trash fields where the poor mine plastic, to helping out at ‘Resthaven”s back to nature enclave, to relaxing at a children’s boarding home, but at a price. 

Nancy Farmer Awards

Farmer gains recognition through her acclaimed awards: Newberry Honor Book, Golden Kite Honor Book and Parent’s Choice Book. There must be more.

My Rating four-stars

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy FarmerThe Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
Published by Firebird on January 14th 2002
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure
Pages: 320
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Tendai, his little sister and their younger brother escape from their splendid home to explore their dangerous city. Tendai is motivated by wanting to earn a scouting badge, and he desperately wants to prove himself, as their overprotective father has always placed tight restrictions on what the siblings can and can't do.

The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Redd Becker Book Review

The House of the Scorpion In The House of the Scorpion Nancy Farmer explores the idea of cloning in order to harvest organs to guarantee another’s survival. Farmer has a literary style of writing and uses sophisticated language to tell her stories, but this story flows easily.

This is a futuristic world where a country ruled by a powerful drug lord separates the USA from Mexico. Farmer provides plenty of detailed descriptions that make her alternate world appear plausible.

In this story Farmer unfolds for us the route Matteo, the young protagonist, takes on his journey to self discovery. He begins his life locked in near isolation as a monster without rights. Later we discover he lives as a pawn created to ensure his master’s future health.  Farmer integrates social issues in all her stories. She incorporates ideas on individual rights, slavery, loving those we fear and the effects of extreme power, in a humane in this gripping story.

Awards for The House of the Scorpion

Farmer’s book has won much recognition as a National Book Award Winner, Newberry Honor Book and American Library Association’s Honor Book for Young Adult Literature. All with well reason. I’ve enjoyed reading The House of the Scorpion twice. It was a compelling read both times.

The House of the Scorpion Discussion Questions

Schmoop has some pretty good questions to prompt discussions in class or in your book group. Or try Simon and Schuster’s Pulse Guide for Reading Groups for The House of the Scorpion.

My Rating five-stars

The House of Scorpion by Nancy FarmerThe House of the Scorpion (Matteo Alacran, #1) by Nancy Farmer
Series: Matteo Alacran #1
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers on January 1st 1970
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Pages: 380
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Matteo Alacran was not born; he was harvested with the DNA from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium. Can a boy who was bred to guarantee another’s survival find his own purpose in life? And can he ever be free?

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

Redd Becker Book Review

Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede

I enjoyed the dynamics of the large, extended family portrayed inPatricia Wrede’s story, Thirteenth Child by . Wrede did a great job of allowing the characters to grow within the story. More than the protagonist changed because of their individual challenges, therefore, allowing unexpected reactions by characters.

Patricia Wrede’s Heroine

Wrede takes us to an alternate Earth where magicians use magic to protect pioneer homesteads and frontier towns from mammoths, saber tooth tigers, steam dragons and magical mirror bugs.  Threats loom large, but their society finds ways of managing them, until, of course, they cann’t.

Eff is a wonderful female lead. Her twin, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. With this position, he is given great prestige. Eff is the thirteenth child born to a family of fourteen. She is bad luck. While her magical powers are strong, they’ve been uncontrollable and she is discouraged from using them. 

Patricia Wrede’s Frontier Magic series

Thirteenth Child is the first in the series, where Eff ventures into frontier America to help her people. Although this is the first book, it stands on its own well.

As a fun reference Ask History covers “What’s so unlucky about the number thirteen?” on their web site.

My Rating four-stars

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. WredeThirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, #1) by Patricia C. Wrede
Series: Frontier Magic #1
Published by Scholastic on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Pages: 344
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Eff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he's supposed to possess amazing talent -- and she's supposed to bring only bad things to her family and her town. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that separates settlers from the beasts of the wild.