Book Review: Thornbear by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: Thornbear by Michael G. Manning
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This image was pulled from the Amazon buy page for review proposed and is used for that reason in accordance with copyright doctrine.

Thornbear is the first book of the Champions of the Dawning Dragons series, which is the third series in the Mageborn saga. My review for the earliest series (Embers of Illeniel) is here.  My review for the central series (Mageborn) is here.

Spoiler Free Summary:  In Thornier, Gram, named after his grandfather, is a young man raised in the shadow of his legendary father’s name, but he doesn’t have the opportunity to prove himself as his mother refuses to allow him to work to become a knight. Just as he gains a secret mentor, he also meets a young woman who seems intent on winning his heart. He’ll have to choose which path means more to him when his friends are threatened.

Character:  It was nice to see some familiar faces in this story, but most of the book centers around Gram. Gram is just enough of his father to be endearing. His kindness and compassion do a lot to build sympathy. His earnestness (a key trait of his father) is what drew me in. What surprised me was how quickly I grew to appreciate the bear. (Her name escapes me at the moment, but she was probably my favorite character in this particular book.)  I will say this book doesn’t hold up in comparison with others from my perspective. This book is essentially a teen romance story. It’s a well told story, and if you like the themes in that sort of book, then you’ll love this.  I just don’t, though. It’s not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. It just focuses on a plot line (relationship) that I’m not much of a fan of.

Exposition: This was pretty seamless here. The time jump in this book wasn’t as much of a challenge as the one I noticed in his earlier series. There are some scenes that slow the pace, but at least those scenes deal more with Gram’s training than his other challenge.

Dialogue: If the romance between Gram and his lady friend didn’t have this dialogue, I’d probably be less of a fan. That said, the wit and interaction of these characters carried me through a plot line that isn’t normally my cup of tea.

Description:  I enjoy the way Manning can make description a part of the action. Most authors (including me) tend to have “blocks” of description. Here, the visuals (mostly visuals anyway) are a part of what’s happening. This allows the scene and setting to add to the story rather than interrupt it.

Overall:  I hung with this book because of how much I enjoy this universe as a whole. I don’t really think this one holds up against the others, but it’s enjoyable. The ending has a few big payoffs, and there was enough interesting material to hold my attention. Fans of young-love romance will like this far better than I did. CONTENT WARNING: I won’t go so far as to say some of these scenes are explicit, but there is definitely some material in this book that might challenge some readers. As is usual for Manning, this is treated in the interest of realistic situation, and the actions characters take have consequences.  This book does a better job of setting up the saga than anything else, but it was still cool to look at this new generation of characters.

Thanks for reading

Matt

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Book Review: The Final Redemption by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: The Final Redemption by Michael G. Manning
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Image taken from the Amazon buy page for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

This is book five of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here.  My review for book two can be found here. My review of book three can be found here. The review for book four is here.

Spoiler Free Summary:  In The Final Redemption, Mordecai is in quite an awkward position because of what happened in book four (remember, I said no spoilers). He’s gained some horrific, destructive powers, and those powers have isolated him. The last dark god has set his sites on bringing the world to its knees, and Mort has to use his newfound power to take on someone many times more powerful than even himself. He has to do all of this without friends or family.

Character:  Mort took center stage here. By taking everything from him, we were able to see him in a different light. His changes did a lot to set up not just the climax of this book, but the next era in the Mageborn universe. That said, all of our favorites are back for this final showdown with the big bad of the series.

Exposition: Manning was back at full strength here. I’m more certain that the heavy exposition I mentioned in book four was more because of the huge gap between books than anything else. Here, we get what we need when we need it. Sure, there’s some dialogue loosely hiding some exposition, but at least in that manner, we don’t feel force fed information.

Dialogue:  I love the interaction between Mort and the dragon (whose name escapes me at the moment). Some of the other conversations are great. James has a bit of time in the limelight as does his daughter, who steals a bit of the show. Their dialogue was crips and fun to read.

Description:  This book doesn’t rely on description nearly as much, which is a relief to me as I’m not a big fan of it. It does a good job of highlighting what matters (and BOY does some of it matter). It helps create the visual tone and mood of the story. It’s visceral without bogging the story down.

Overall:  There was one particular scene during which I wanted to cry. I HAVE cried while reading some books, but I didn’t cry during this scene. It was sad, and it was painful. I’m just trying to create a range so you know my emotional spectrum. This is a satisfying end to a great era in an even better universe. I still feel Tyrion’s era was the most satisfying so far, but I’m still a big fan of the story as a whole. This book puts a reader through a strong range of emotions. It puts a nice bow around all the plot points and teases the universe going forward. I think fans of epic fantasy will enjoy this series.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: Flash Point by C.L. Schneider

Book Review: Flash Point by C.L. Schneider

1d9390_4ee81ce131994bb6a2bd27ca1f5088ab~mv2Spoiler Free Summary:  Flash Point is the first book in the Nite Fire saga. Dahlia Nite is a half-dragon shifter who patrols Sentinel City for magical creatures who’ve gotten out of line. If they snack on humans, she’s the one who enforces the diet plan. But when the secrets of the past she thought she’d escaped return, she’ll have to protect humanity from the ghost of her own history.  NOTE: remember, this book just won the 2017 Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal in the Adult – Fiction – Urban category.

Character:  Strong female characters are so rare in fiction these days, but Dahlia delivers. Schneider’s strength is in her character (and world building), so this isn’t surprising. She does have weak moments, and some of them are even traditional problems women are given in fiction, but that is a sub-plot in a complex story, and not the main crux of a plot that most other authors use far too much. Dahlia is strong, smart, resourceful, and proactive which are all things I love in any character. The biggest problem some authors have when they use female characters is they give them nothing but relationship problems. This character is a woman who is a cop. That character is a woman who is a mage. Dahlia is a bad-ass, half-dragon detective who happens to be a woman. This alone would have made this book stand out, but there’s more. I will say that, unlike her Crown of Stones series, I didn’t necessarily connect to the other characters the way I did with those in Stones. Then again, I didn’t exactly connect with to many people besides Ian in Magic-Price either. I do expect these other characters to continue to grow on me, but they didn’t quite snag my heart the way Dahlia did.

Exposition: As the first book in a series told from first-person, I expected a bit more exposition than I would have liked. Honestly, I got about as much exposition as I thought, but I didn’t get any more, and what I got all connected to the story. Schneider doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too much foreshadowing. There is more going on. This story hits at that, but what the reader sees is what the reader needs to have a sense to this story.

Dialogue:  I’m a bit neutral here. It wasn’t boring or stilted by any means, but it wasn’t overly memorable either. It didn’t have the same punch as her previous work, but holding someone to that high a standard is perhaps unfair. The dialogue is effective, but not crisp.

Description:  What helps Schneider here is her use of intense detail in key moments. My imagination does a ton of work for writers, and when someone beats me over the head with detail, it slows me down and frustrates me. Here, Schneider gives general settings, but hones in on the key parts (Dahlia’s shifting and empathy come to mind first).

Overall:  CONTENT WARNING: There are some steamer scenes here, though none as visceral as those in Crown of Stones. I still think the Mageborn saga (all eras) is my favorite story of the year so far, but I give Flash Point a solid second best book I’ve read in 2017 so far. I can’t remember the last Dresden Files book (when it came out) I read was, but Dahlia stepped in and filled that void quite nicely. I’m confident fans of that series will enjoy this one.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: The God-Stone War by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: The God-Stone War by Michael G. Manning

51cnOJqN3lL._SY346_This is book four of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here.  My review for book two can be found here. My review of book three can be found here.

Spoiler Free Summary:  In The God-Stone War, which takes place seven years after book three, things are looking up for Mordecai. He’s moving forward with plans to unite kingdoms. His dear friend and uncle is king. His children are grown strong. But when a visitor from a neighboring kingdom comes by, things fall apart quickly. Penny, his wife, has a visit from her future self: “If you want any of your children to survive…” What will he do when he learns failure is the guaranteed death of his entire family? When the threat of angry gods comes down, what will he do against it when his powers are then taken from him?

Character:  Penny stole the show again for me here, but Mordecai is the driving force behind the saga and this story. Manning does a great job showing his struggles and emotions without bashing readers over the head with it. The cast of characters here really does a nice job. I’ll talk a bit more about this book (obviously), but these characters are what kept me in the story and turning the pages.

Exposition: Normally a point of strength for Manning, I have to admit the exposition in this book, particularly in the beginning, is super heave on exposition. I found myself grinding through a ton of world building and history. Part of this, I feel, was to cover the seven-year gap between books, but it slowed the book down. Once the book gets running, Mort and his cast once again takes center stage and shine.

Dialogue:  The dialogue here is not only solid, but a charming part of one of the twists in the book. I enjoyed it. I like how Manning uses this to push the plot and develop characters.

Description:  This was also an essential part of this book. This book relies on this element of storytelling, which isn’t my personal bag, but fans of vivid description are going to enjoy this book. I’m unlike most readers and authors in this regard. I tend to like a little less description. Manning usually has a lighter mix, which I like, but what’s important to note is the description in this book is more than usual for him, but not more than usual for most authors.

Overall:  This book was simultaneously what I’d been waiting for and not what I wanted. The last book in this era of the saga brings it all back, but the heavy-handed exposition and more detailed description seemed to take away from what should have been the best book in the series. However, if you skip this book, you’d be making a tragic mistake. The plot twist at the end of this book is brilliant. That, combined with the woven threads of the earlier era of the saga establish this book as a great part of the whole story.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: The Unleashed by Bentz Deyo

Book Review: The Unleashed by Bentz Deyo
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This cover was taken from Amazon.com for review purposes under fair use doctrine. The other images were taken from Mr. Deyo’s website for the same purpose.

Spoiler Free Summary:  This was the February Book Cover of the Month. I’ve already reviewed the December Book Cover of the Month, which you can find here, and the January Book Cover of the Month, which you can read here. In The Unleashed by Bentz Deyo, Leam Holt has already saved Harbing from destruction, but he begins this story with amnesia and in enemy territory. Trapped between two machinators, Leam is the linch pin for both of their plans. The forces of light work to free Leam, but they want to use him. The forces of darkness want to keep Leam, but they want to use him, too. What will he choose to do if/when his memory returns?

Character:  Leam is a strong lead character. His conflict is honest and real. By the end of the book, I was furious on his behalf for the number of things done to him for the sake of either side’s plans. Leam is earnest, and that earnestness is compelling when he’s being trained and encouraged to do awful things. Those issues get expanded upon when he realizes how terrible his actions really are. I’d also like to mention Eloa, who steals the show from my point of view. She spends a good portion of the story trapped, but she not exactly helpless. Her arch hinges on that situation, and it makes me appreciate her. Gideon, the antagonist, also has in interesting story line that I wanted to learn about.

Exposition: I actually could have used a bit more in this sense. This is the second book in a series, and I think reading the second book took away from the story. I grew to like Leam, but a lot of his arc depends on the reader already knowing what’s happened. That made it hard for me to connect, so if any of this book interests you, I’d strongly recommend buying and reading the first before you move on to this story. I’m of the opinion that doing so will limit questions and issues that I had.

bio-3Worldbuilding:  Despite the fact that I wasn’t really sure who some of these people were and why they mattered, one thing Deyo did do was ease the reader into this world and magic. Where the characters didn’t make much sense early on, the world grew on you, and that made the book a bit easier for me. There were some aspects I wasn’t sure about, but I’m not going to hold the fact that I didn’t read book one against book two.

Dialogue:  The dialogue worked, particularly in regards to developing character. A lot of my connection to these characters formed during conversations. Deyo used this technique with pretty much every character. What made it work is the dialogue didn’t feel like  a forced infodump. Instead, you learned about the characters’ pasts and their personality through genuine, realistic conversations.

Description:  It’s honestly been a while since I read this particular book. I got backed up with reviews and reading, so I’m not sure how fair I’m being to the book in this regard.  What I’ll say is I remember the actions the characters took and how they felt about them. I don’t remember much about what any of the characters looked like or what the settings were like. I remember appreciating the detail in the magic system and some of the intense scenes, but the overall description felt a bit vague in terms of the characters.

Overall:  This story was enjoyable by itself, but I think people would like it more with the context of the first book. Leam’s story was the most compelling part of the book. His arch is emotional, touching, sad, and tragic. I’ll admit this book wasn’t so good that I’d insist on going back and reading the first, but I’m glad I read it. The magic system is cool, and this plot has a nice little cat and mouse sort of “Spy vs Spy” feel that I really enjoyed.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: The Archmage Unbound by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: The Archmage Unbound by Michael G. Manning

Unbound is book three of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here.  My review for book two can be found here.

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This image was taken from Amazon for review purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  In The Archmage Unbound, Mordecai has become a powerful figure in politics as well as a powerful mage. That power makes him a threat to those who should appreciate him. When his position and status is pit against his love for his friends and family, Mort has to do something that will change the face of his nation forever.

Character:  This is where the characters stole the show for me. I’d said in other reviews that the driving force behind reading this saga was to see bits of how Embers of Illeniel connects.  While Mort and Penny were engaging characters, this is where I truly felt a connection to them. Rose and Dorian are equally lovable. Their struggles and their journey drag the reader through a powerful book.

Exposition: This was seamless. Other books in this series can get a little weighty in the data dump category, but this book had the perfect mix of explanation and action.

5215279Worldbuilding:  This isn’t the book where we see the direct connection to Illeniel, but it’s a fine book all by itself. We learn more about archmages and the shining gods. We get introduced to, two pretty cool new characters. We get a sense for what Mort is capable of, and that has some wonderful foreshadowing elements.

Dialogue:  In his previous book, I said Manning found his rhythm, and he only continued to get better. The exchanges in this novel are powerful, snappy, and fun (well, maybe not all at once, but still good.)

Description:  I like the fight scenes the best. I’m a sucker for a good action-packed novel, and this book gives me the detail in a fight that I enjoy. It also provides a nice benchmark where I see what I  must, and my imagination is allowed to do the rest.

Overall:  I know I said the last book was my favorite, but I was wrong. Looking back at my notes and reading what I even posted on GoodreadsI can say with certainty (I promise) this is my favorite. Book 2 was fun and powerful. The last book had a scene or two that made me tear up, but this book is the winner in my opinion. I couldn’t put it down, and it seemed like  every page had something that was just plain cool.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: The Line of Illeniel by Michael Manning

Book Review: The Line of Illeniel by Michael Manning

Line is book two of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here.

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Image taken from Amazon.com for review purpose under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  In The Line of Illeniel, Mordecai is coming to terns with his status as a lord. But the history of wizards in the world has more catches than he was aware. Forced by his king to take a bond that limits his ability and could get the woman he loves killed,  Mort is struggling to find the truth. Is this bond the only think keeping him sane? Are the voices he hears those of a madman’s fraying mental state? Things come to a head when a neighboring kingdom invades. Their insurgency point? Mordecais’ newly retaken family land.

Character:  Mort is good, and Penny really came into her own. Dorian is still my favorite character by far (and he remains so). This book really helps readers connect with these characters. They’re human, but honorable. Smart, but have weaknesses. This book, to me, does the best job of setting the tone for not just the characters, but how they grown through the rest of the saga.

Exposition: Manning balanced this well. In fact, a lot of the scenes that feel like exposition dumps become valuable later in the saga. The aforementioned info dumps are few and far between. Limiting the exposition (despite the amount necessary when writing in first person) makes this feel like a fast-paced story.

5215279Worldbuilding:  While not quite the book I was waiting for, what this book does is start connecting Mageborn with Embers of Illeniel. Manning lets the deep history of his saga trickling into the story gently rather than beating the reader to death with a history lesson. He also lets the world take shape in a lot of ways. What impresses me most about this story is how gently interwoven the magic system and scope of the world are not the plot and dialogue of the story.

Dialogue:  I’m comfortable saying this is Manning’s best, most natural dialogue in the series. It’s witty, without being forced, and engaging, without being overly dramatic. In fact, one of the more dramatic scenes is undercut Ala Joss Whedon by an endearingly funny  moment. Manning’s dialogue isn’t bad, but I think this story is Manning near his best. (Embers is his best work by far in my opinion.)

Description:  This, and his work with character, is Manning’s strength. It takes skill to weave visceral imagery into a plot. Most writers are blocky with their description, making the act of reading a scene feel like a workout before the reward of a plot. Manning doesn’t do that. He gives the details of the story when they’re relevant, and the information is most appropriate.

Overall:  I think this is arguably my favorite book in the Mageborn series. The last book in the series has an argument, but this was the book that made me fall in love with these characters. While The Blacksmith’s Son wasn’t bad, I think this is the book that truly starts the series. The conflict and plots in this story are truly compelling. It kept me reading when I should have been working or sleeping, which is a great compliment for any book.

Thanks for reading

Matt