Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review: Captives by Jill Williamson

Summary: Captives is a post-apocalypic/dystopian novel about the Safe Lands a walled community of people who, though infected, live in relative luxury compared to the rest of the surrounding villages. When infertility and conception problems began to threaten the Safe Lands’ survival, they coerce the village of Glenrock into helping them. Each member of the village must decide what path to take, and the decisions of three brothers – Levi, Mason, and Omar – take center stage in this life and death conflict.

I enjoyed the diversity of characters and the unique challenges they each faced. Most of the characters, both from the Safe Lands and the outside were reasonably well developed – some better than others, but as this is the first book in the trilogy, I allow for the possibility that some will just take a little longer. I liked that, for the most part, the plot didn’t develop in so linear a way that I always knew what was coming. Characters and situations were introduced that kept me interested and intrigued to see how things developed. I especially think the friendship between Mason and Ciddah was well-developed, complex, and served to illustrate important differences and similarities between the Safe Landers and the outsiders. I also appreciated how the various spirituality (or lack thereof) played into the characters in reasonably believable ways.

The beginning of the book was a little difficult to wrap my mind around. I know the author was trying to let the situation develop in a way that kept the reader reading, but at times I would have appreciated a more straightforward explanation of what was going on so that the story could move on to developing more important aspects. This pretty much cleared up through after the first third or so.

There were some parts of the story that were not quite plot holes, but required some suspension of disbelief. Some very difficult situations were resolved in remarkably simple ways, and there were a couple points of character development that I didn’t feel made sense or weren’t explained well enough.

In conclusion, Captives is good book and, while not without a handful of flaws, is compelling enough to overlook any shortcomings. The plot and characters are good and will bring me back for book two in the series.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Review: Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard

“Before the Round Table… before Arthur was crowned… there was Merlin.”

Summary: Merlin’s Blade is a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend centered on the character of Merlin. In this book, he is a partially blind teenager whose father is a swordsmith. The primary conflict is between the Christians on one hand, and the druids on the other, who attempt to sway the village’s allegiance through the power of a mysterious black stone. As tensions mount, the stakes are raised and it is up to Merlin to take a stand, despite his weakness.

Overall, I thought the plot was good. There were a number of interesting storylines weaved together, which ultimately converged as the plot progressed. The character of Merlin was pretty likeable and had some complexity, as did Owain and Uther. I also enjoyed the descriptions, especially those of the swordsmithing – just enough detail to give you a good picture without slowing down the story.

A few main “complaints” from me. First, character development. While Merlin was a pretty well developed character, most of the other characters seemed a little flat, a little one-dimensional. This was especially disappointing with Natalenya, who started to be developed in the beginning but in the end seemed to be diminished into a girl who just screams and needs rescuing or hides in the corner when trouble comes.

Second, relationship development. Again, there was some parts that were done decently well, like with Merlin and his father, while others seemed lacking. Notably, the relationship between Merlin and Natalenya seemed to move forward in leaps and bounds without sufficient accompanying experiences to show the reader why or how this had taken place.

Third, I thought the spiritual conflict of the story fell a little flat in that it seemed a little too simplistic to me. Perhaps this is just personal preference, but for the spiritual struggle to be compelling, I think it has to go deeper than “If you abandon your beliefs, you’ll get everything you want – riches, power, etc. – otherwise, you will be killed.” While aspects of that may be involved, I would have appreciated a more complex portrayal of the struggle.

Lastly, while the writing was good overall, it wasn’t great. As a first time author, Treskillard did well, but I feel like a little more editing would have helped the story flow more smoothly from scene to scene. There were a lot of times where it just felt choppy, or where scenes that were ripe for developments were shortchanged. It is hard to put my finger on just what exactly was wrong, but I guess I felt overall the writing could have been a bit sharper.

In conclusion, Merlin’s Blade is an above average book, but not quite compelling enough for me to eagerly anticipate its sequel. Perhaps I will continue the series someday, but it is not on my shortlist.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program in exchange for my honest review.