Wednesday, March 5, 2014

In The Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters, The Oathbreaker's Shadow, by Amy McCulloch, The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier

I had three half-finished posts in my post list (actually four, but one of them is a MMGM, so look for it next Monday), and I decided to throw them all together and do another quick Wrap-up of Recent Books Read (I just decided to make that a thing), because it's DWJ March over at We Be Reading and I'm missing out on Diana Wynne Jones fan opportunities! So, moving right along:

I hope Cat Winters negotiated a good deal on the movie rights to this book, because it's going to make an excellent movie. One that I will never watch, because it will be too scary! (I can deal with spooky-scary in books, just barely.) Yes, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is all about spirits and seances, but the spookiest part is the very real historical setting: 1918, in the middle of World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic. Everyone is wearing medical masks and eating onions in a panicked attempt to keep themselves safe from a disease no one can escape. Dead bodies piled up beside the street. Maimed soldiers coming home from war. Creepy! (There are awesome photos from the period throughout the book which add to the atmosphere.) The plot was interesting, kept me guessing, and I really liked Mary Shelly Black: she goes through a convincing coming-of-age while solving a mystery and coming to terms with change and loss. Quite sophisticated writing for a debut novel, I thought.

I've got another Canadian author for you! The Oathbreaker's Shadow is an ambitious first novel with a very different fantasy scenario and a desert/steppe Mongol-inspired setting.

I don't want to give away too much, but the underlying idea of oaths being bound by magic so that an oath breaker is magically punished has a lot of potential. And the story starts with two boyhood friends who swear an oath of loyalty to each other . . . well, you can see where this is going.*

Raim is a pretty swoon-worthy main character, and I liked the potential love interest (no spoilers here!). I loved the hidden city of Lazar.

There were some first-novel awkward bits, and the magic system hasn't been explained well enough yet, but I'm engaged enough by the story to want to read the second book.

I went looking in my library for Rachel Neumeier because I'd heard a lot about House of Shadows. When I found The Floating Islands, the title and cover convinced me I'd love this book even if I hadn't been interested in the author. I was right.

Loss, betrayal, longing, choices, mistakes, consequences. Noble sacrifices, humility, generosity. These are a few of my favourite things in books, and The Floating Islands has them all. Dramatic scenes where characters challenge each other and reveal their true essence. Characters who desperately want something, and find out they can have it, and then learn the cost. People who can fly. Then there's the titular floating islands. Awesome setting! (What is it about that concept that's so compelling? It makes no sense, but do you remember the ones in Avatar? Amazing.) Loved the islands, loved the relationship between cousins Trei and Araene, loved Araene's taste/scent-based magic, loved Trei's friend Ceirfei (swoon!). (Wasn't a huge fan of all the unpronounceable names!) I would have read a lot more description and explanation, but I liked the fast pace—it was efficient; it gave me everything I needed. I'm definitely reading more of Neumeier!

*Coincidentally enough, I just read Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier, which centers around a similar plot point. Wonderful adult fantasy; my first by Marilllier, though I've been intending to try her for a while. It's in my TBReviewed pile now.


  1. Great reviews. Amy McCulloch's book looks good. I'll have to see if my library has it.

  2. The whole floating island thing seems to be part of a weird (but, I'll grant you, fun) trend. Skylanders has also become a quite successful video game series amongst young boys (as my son and my wallet can attest!).

    1. I imagine they're fun to draw! I like the ones in the Amulet graphic novels by Kazu Kibuishi.