Story Blip: A Review of The Light Keepers by Mande Matthews

Astrid is a young woman with incredible power, isolated from all save her mother, Isla, and her protector, Balin. Even her voice escapes her, which is where the trouble lies.  Astrid can enter the shadowwalk and view people in other locations. Because she is mute, Astrid cannot sing to the Mother – the source for the power of light – for protection against the evil Shadow. Without that protection the Shadow will know Astrid’s location and could destroy her easily when she to enters the shadowwalk. But entering the shadowwalk is the only thing that comes naturally to young Astrid, and the visions provide the closest thing to companionship she can have. Isla’s strength is waning and soon she will be unable to conjure the ward. Astrid must learn to sing to the Mother despite her physical inhibition or face the danger of the shadowwalk alone.

The Light Keepers is a short story proceeding Mande Matthews’ ShadowLight Saga. Calling it a short story may be an exaggeration, though; I’d say it’s more of a teaser. The story ends before a full plot can develop. Instead, this prequel sets the stage for the saga by introducing the world and providing history on a principal character. It does its job, though. I was intrigued enough to be indignant when it ended.

Matthews spins the tale as if we are already familiar with her world and yet does not leave the reader confused. She introduces unfamiliar concepts but provides enough information in the next paragraphs to explain them. Similarly, most questions brought up in the text are answered. The ones that are not will most likely be answered in the saga. The overall quality of her writing is above average, but not impressive, and here’s why:

Hiccups occur with characterization. Astrid is not as deep as I would hope for a protagonist. I know that she is lonely, but I don’t feel it. Isla, Astrid’s mother, is also flat because there is not much interaction between mother and daughter. Balin, Isla’s warrior, is the easiest to understand. He lives for one purpose: to love and protect Isla, which extends to protecting Astrid.

Because of the generally smooth storytelling and my interest in the saga, I give this prequel 3.5 stars. Well done, Matthews.

Advertisements

Another Reason Why You Ought to Visit the Underworld: A Review of Disconnect by Imran Siddiq

cover-for-disconnectWhen I say “Underworld” I’m not actually talking about life after death, but the depressing underground world of Imran Siddiq’s novel Disconnect.  It’s a place where families grow up in darkness and dependent on the refuse of those who live in Overworld.  Right away I want to let you know that this book is not written in “American” English; some readers like that, some don’t.  I’ve never minded as long as I could understand the structure, and I was able to follow Siddiq’s writing just fine.  Now, on to the good stuff:

Disconnect clocks in at a light 279 pages and is told from the point of view of Zachary, the only son of single-father Marcus.  Zachary and his dad live on a space base orbiting Jupiter and they reside in the ghetto underground district known as Underworld.  Overworld and Underworld rarely interact, but Zachary happens to find a working Intercom while scavenging.  Thus his adventures begin.

Through the intercom, Zachary talks to a girl named Rosa.  She’s the only child of Ambassador Kade.  Zachary and Rosa talk several times, and even meet in person.  In their time together, however, the teens discover a sinister plot by the ruling council to clean out Underworld—of everyone and everything.

I liked this book for several reasons, one being that the main character is a boy.  I like female main characters a LOT, but it was refreshing to read something from a male perspective and especially from one that was so genuine.  Zachary grew up simply, and so he thought about things simply.  For example, when he overheard some sketchy communications between soldiers, I (the reader) understood what was going on, but Zachary didn’t—and of course he wouldn’t!  He grew up in Underworld where there was no politics!  I’m glad Siddiq maintained the integrity of Zachary’s voice no matter what happened.

What I found lacking in Siddiq’s writing was overall fluidity.  His story was very interesting and had many exciting parts, but it really, really, really needed work with a fine-toothed comb to smooth out phrasing and compositional issues.  Verb agreement, sentence structure, and so on needed some serious work.  I don’t say that to be rude, just straightforward—if you enjoy a good story and can power through somewhat novice writing, then Disconnect is for you.  I give it 3.5 stars.

cover-for-everblue

Move Over, Vampires! A Review of Everblue by Brenda Pandos

cover-for-everblue

Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Vampires are cool, but I always thought it was creepy to fall for a creature that drinks blood for sustenance. I mean, really. However, mermaids and mermen are a totally different story. That’s what Brenda Pandos’ book Everblue is all about, with a healthy dose of adventure thrown in. Now on to the good stuff:

Everblue clocks in at 305 pages and is aimed at a younger YA audience; I’d say 12- to 16-year-olds. It’s written from two points of view: regular high school student Ashlyn Lanski (Ash) and home-schooled teenage merman Finley (Fin). Ash is best friends with Tatiana, Fin’s twin sister. They grew up together on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

Ash is the high school swim captain and has a secret crush on Fin, not knowing he’s a merman. He knows that one kiss from his lips would seal them together for eternity, so he tries to avoid a relationship. Most merpeople avoid all contact with humans, but Fin and Tatiana love living on land. There’s just one problem: the mer king is ordering merpeople to start preparing for a war with humans and has a hidden grudge against Fin’s parents.

There are several points in favor of Everblue, namely that Ash, even though she has a crush on Fin, is not completely obsessed with him. She enjoys the company of other guys at the school and lives a normal life. Also, Pandos does an excellent job writing the story from Ash’s point of view—I was really able to get inside her head! I also enjoyed the lore and history of merpeople and the way their world worked. It wasn’t perfect but it made sense and it was consistent.

The novel also includes intrigue and fighting among the merpeople, but the violence doesn’t escalate to gruesome levels. This was refreshing because a lot of YA novels nowadays go for shock factor (case in point: Hunger Games). Pandos kept it realistic and tense. Anyway, keep this in mind in case you’re looking for something edgier, but for those who enjoy a good, clean YA, this is it. The only issue I had with the book was how rapidly the chapters changed perspective; at times I think Pandos could’ve had 2 or 3 chapters from one character before moving to the other, but that’s just me.

This book deserves 4.5 stars. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“Harry Potter and the Natural Twenty” By Sir Poley

Happy Tax Day, for all of you American readers out there. Don’t forget to thank a public employee for all of the hard work that they do for you. Anyway, on to the review for Harry Potter and the Natural Twenty by Sir Poley.

Ah, fanfiction. Commonly used for up-and-coming authors to get their voices heard without going through the rigmarole of original worldbuilding. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of this meta genre, though I recognize how useful it can be. This is nowhere more true than in crossfiction (crossover fanfiction is where two disparate literary universes meet in someway). Or so I thought.

Lately, though, I’ve found that a well-written fanfiction piece can be every bit as good as an original piece. Take Harry Potter and the Natural Twenty. As the title would suggest, it’s a crossover between J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon and Dragons games.

The Natural Twenty is something of a parody on D&D: Milo, an eleven year old adventurer who took the Wizard class is somehow summoned into the home of a Deatheater living near Hogsmeade. Milo has to adjust to a world where the very rules of the universe are different from what he’s used to (though he still uses his original rules)–and Hogwarts has to adjust to him.

If, like me, you are only vaguely aware of D&D’s mechanics and lore, don’t worry. This story is still mostly understandable. The only thing that took me back is realizing that something like 1d6 means rolling a six sided die. Otherwise, Sir Poley does a decent job of explaining the rules and his tongue-in-cheek humor will make the explanations fun.

The Natural Twenty stands at thirty-four chapters and, according to the author, is twice as long as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), which this fanfiction follows.

I highly recommend reading the Harry Potter series before reading this, however. As a fanfiction, this story does not enjoy the same level of world immersion that enriches the original.

Derelict by Lisa Cohen

Derelict is a light sci-fi novel about four teens who are stuck on a backwater asteroid station. At first, all any of them can think about is escaping the station and their horrible parents, but things take a turn for the worst when they actually realize their dreams. Join Ro, Jem, Barre, and Micah as they first revive an ancient derelict spaceship and then struggle to survive the consequences.

Each of the teens are especially good at what they do, though it’s not immediately obvious how some of their talents will help the crew survive. In fact, watching some of the more esoteric skills prove useful was one of the big draws of this story for me. The other major draw was seeing the way that these teens overcame their upbringing.

Saying anything more would probably involve major spoilers, so I’ll let you read this human interest story for yourself. Note that while this story is YA, it does involve some swearing, a hint of lesbian love (unfulfilled and off-screen), a small scene of violence including self-violence (in order to escape), and drugs (a fictional drug similar to marijuana which forms the fulcrum of one or two major plot developments).

Lastly, this is considered a first draft. While it is well-written for what it is, it still involves a fair number of misspellings and other rough spots.