Brakebills: Hogwarts Lite for America

Courtesy of goodreads.comSo SyFy has this fun new show called the Magicians that is based on a trilogy of the same name by Lev Grossman. The first book in the trilogy is also called The Magicians and it features a late teen boy (17-18) named Quentin Coldwater who lives in Brooklyn and is insanely smart. Like in a school of smart people where he and his friends are all Hermione Grangers. And yes, these sorts of schools do exist and the kids that come out of them are crazy, crazy smart…though not very well versed in social interactions.

I’ve really been enjoying the TV show and I have to admit…I was a little disappointed in the book. This first book is Quentin taking a test and getting into a school for magic. No, not Hogwarts but Brakebills. Brakebills is on the Hudson River in upstate New York and is, essentially, Hogwarts lite.

You enter a campus that no none magic person can find. Magic interferes with technology. You’re not allowed to tell anyone about magic (statute of secrecy!) and you get sorted into a house…I mean, specialty. Seriously, there’s a sorting process, but it’s a not until second or third year so it isn’t exactly like Hogwarts.

Oh, and there’s also an incomprehensible but internationally adored wizard game! Luckily this is some weird form of chess called welters and not something involving broomsticks. There’s also a Hermione Granger (Alice…something) and a Ron Weasley (Eliot…something) and a number of other brave but insignificant character that may play a larger role later on. We’ll have to wait and see.

I think the second book will be more interesting, or at least I’m hoping. There was no real conflict in this book. It was just Quentin being insecure and learning magic. Even HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone had Voldemort show up at the end. Imagine of in that book, Voldemort had never shown up and Harry just had a regular school year. Yeah, not that interesting.

But, seeing as I plunked down 30 bucks for the trilogy (the sample was interesting enough that I thought the first book would have just a little more oomph), I’m really hoping that it’ll get better.  I’m guessing that this is Grossman’s first book. It has potential but he didn’t really need that much character building. Rating: C

Crescent City Fae

Courtesy of Deannachase.comI love New Orleans. It’s an awesome city with tons of interesting history. Also, beignets. Mmmm. So when I see a book set in Nola, I tend to give it a chance. I’m rather disappointed that I gave Influential Magic by Deanna Chase a chance.

This series revolves around a faerie named Willow Rhoswen (already with the really? feeling). She owns a cupcake shop in New Orleans. A magic cupcake shop. Literally because she weaves potions into her cupcakes. Some of which are dangerous enough to require a government license to purchase. It reminded me a little bit of what Professor Snape says in HP 1 about brewing glory and stoppering death.

At any rate, Willow is apparently allergic to vampires, which are rife in New Orleans. So naturally, she’s totally in love with one. To be fair, he wasn’t a vamp when they started dating. This guy was essentially ordered to date her, get close to her, because apparently her brother was some sort of fae big wig or something. That’s really unclear.

In fact, there was a surprising amount of this story that I felt just didn’t make sense. I’m assuming that this was the author’s first book because it was super Scooby-doo. Or maybe super Adam West Batman. I felt like the author tried to do plot twists but instead of being “oh wow, I didn’t see that coming” it was more of a “why did you do that?”.

I had to force myself to finish this book. Right away, the female lead wasn’t a character I enjoyed. She was trying to be the I can handle myself type and turned into the save me Prince Charming type. I really hate when that happens. It seems that a lot of books with strong female leads always end up with them falling all over themselves for one (or more) men.

I think what really, really bothered me about this one in particular is that it was clear that the man she was having feelings for had lied to her and manipulated her and yet she was still going oh but I still love him so! Am I the only person out there that would toss a guy (or gal if that’s your thing) out on their ass for being a lying bastard? Ugh.

It was an extremely disappointing book and I’m glad that the trilogy (I really should have just bought the first book *sigh*) was only three bucks on Amazon at the time I got it. And I was using a Christmas gift card.

Seriously, skip this series. If you want good urban fantasy or fantasy set in New Orleans, go for Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches or Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series. Crescent City Fae…not so much. Rating: D.

Mistborn

Courtesy of goodreads.comSince I was terribly disappointed in that steampunk book that I reviewed last week, I thought I’d check out something that’s not part of my usual reading repertoire but which one of my all time favorite authors, Jim Butcher, spoke about at a Q&A I went to. That would be Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.

I got myself a sample from our friendly neighborhood Amazon.com Kindle store and then I immediately bought the trilogy. Not just Mistborn, the first book, but the whole trilogy. It has the feel of a far, far dystopian future mixed with the more traditional swords & steeds fantasy.

The book revolves around two Mistborn skaa called Vin and Kelsier. Mistborn refers to people who have “supernatural” (in quotes because it isn’t really supernatural, but not everyone has these traits) abilities fueled by the burning of ingested metals (pewter for strength, tin for enhanced senses and up to 8 others). Most people only have the ability to burn one metal (pewter burners are call Thugs, tin burners Tineyes) but those who can burn more than one metal are called Mistborn.

These abilities are supposed to be relegated to the nobility, but Vin and Kelsier are, as mentioned skaa. Skaa are peasants. Well, serfs in the old Russian tradition, really. They have no rights, are worked to the bone and the nobles can take advantage of them in any way they wish. Women can be used in the most vile of ways and must be killed afterwards, lest the aforementioned Mistborn abilities get passed on to a bastard.

Not all nobles are as careful as they should be, so there are a whole slew of skaa who can burn one metal, and a few who are Mistborn. Most of these people are thieves and conmen, which sounds like a bad thing until you realize that they target mostly noble houses. And trust me, in this world, that isn’t a bad thing.

Kelsier is our lead Mistborn and he recruits a bunch of single metal burners (I think there’s a term for these folks, but I can’t remember what it is) and Vin to pull a job. They’re going to bring down the Lord Ruler, the despot who have ruled over them for around a thousand years.

This is a long game, a year or more in the making. Kelsier has a definite plan but it’s also clear that he’s keeping a good portion of that from his fellow thieves. Kelsier gets his fellows to quietly raise a skaa army from those who aren’t already beaten into submission from a thousand years of grueling and intensive labor. It’s a small army.

He himself manages to start a war between the noble houses by using his Mistborn abilities to attack them in their keeps. Since only nobles are supposed to be Mistborn, they all think that the others are attacking them. Its almost beautiful how well Kelsier plays them.

While doing that, he trains Vin, who had been a young and female street urchin who was just trying to survive and not be raped. Vin transforms from a suspicious, rather mousy kid to a suspicious, talented Mistborn who can act well enough to infiltrate the nobility as a part of their long term plan.

This book was really, really good. I’m not usually one for the more traditional sort of fantasy. I like my Harry Dresdens and my Jane Yellowrocks with their screw you attitudes, cars and destructive tendencies. 😀 That said, this book was amazing and I will definitely be reading the other two books. I’ll have to take a break in between however because as good as this book is, it is a long and chewy read.

I can’t recommend this enough, especially because I didn’t see the ending a mile away as I tend to do with a lot of books and movies. I like a writer who can keep me guessing, or who can at least write well enough so that if I do see the end coming, I’ll still be happy I read the book.

Sanderson does a great job with the characters, showing them grow and change over the time of the book. His world building could have been a little better, but I think that in the context of the book (meaning the Lord Ruler essentially writing history), it works well. I’ll be interested to see where the next two books go. Rating: A+