The Black Jewels by Anne Bishop

The Black Jewels are a series of books written by Anne Bishop, which are not quite fantasy, not quite romance, not quite dark fantasy, but entirely enthralling.

The author creates a world of cruel sensuality and powerful emotion in which one young woman, a child at the beginning, stands against overwhelming odds to protect the most vulnerable against the indulgences of the powerful.

At her side stand three men, her adoptive father, the High Lord of Hell, her adoptive brother, a barbarian, and her lover, a sadist. All three men have waited for thousands of years for her birth and in these three characters the author plays with our perception of good and bad, of preconceptions and prejudice.

The books, the three main in the series and the following offshoots about other characters, are so enthralling not only because of the struggle of good against evil, the distinct Robin Hood aspect of the fight for the vulnerable, or the love story - no, what draws the reader in so deeply are the multitude of relationships, friendships and loyalties, the depth of emotion and honour.

For me this is a comfort read, whenever I am a little sad, a little lost - this is where I turn. Why? Because it is a world of loyalty and friendship, of honour and love. The author gives us insight into the minds and, more importantly hearts, of the main characters in all the facets of love - the love of a lover, a father, a brother, a friend. It reminds us of what life is about - drawing a line and standing by it. In defense of all we love, all we believe in. And yes, then she also created three men I could, without a doubt, fall in love with ;).

Reviewed by:
Christine Blackthorn

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

The People of Sparks

I read the first book a few years ago and posted a review here, The City of Ember review. I tried reading this book, the sequel, a couple of years ago but didn’t get very far, then moving distracted me. After deciding to try it again, I managed to read the book in 1 day.

About the Book: "it is green here and very big. Light comes from the sky...."

When Lina and Doon lead their people up from the underground city of Ember, they discover a surface world of color and life. The people of a small village called Sparks agree to help the Emberites, but the villagers have never had to share their world before. Soon differences between the two groups escalate, and it's up to Lina and Doon to find a way to avoid war!

Overall, I liked the story. It’s not quite as good as the first book, in my opinion, but it was a decent tale. Lina is a fun character as always, finding a way to go off on an adventure. Doon is involved too and manages to get into to trouble at times but he wasn’t quite as strong in this one compared to the first book. Then there is the boy from Sparks who we meet at the very beginning of the novel. He’s just… Well, he’s a brat is the basics of it. Did not like him and probably wasn’t meant to either.

The basics of the plot is: after escaping the dying city underground, the people from Ember have to find a new place to live. They come upon a place that has struggled to survive called Sparks, who allow them some time to live near them even though they have limited resources but conflict soon arises between the groups.

It did have some interesting views on the escalation of conflicts that lead to war along with what it takes to stop such from happening. It had some good aspects and overall, not a bad story. Though it felt slow in spots, by the end things moved along and we got to see the main characters we got to know in book 1 come back together to help not only their people but those of Sparks.

I recommend it for people who have read and enjoyed the first book, City of Ember. This helps show what happens next, after they escape from their dying city and have to settle in a world post-disaster. An easy, entertaining middle grade novel.

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

The Floating Islands

I got this book at the bookstore years ago in part because I liked the cover and the title. They drew me in and the description sounded like something I would want to read. I started reading it in April, during the A to Z challenge, but learned that wasn’t a good move. I had planned to review it for day N until I figured out this isn’t a book to read in a hurry. It’s not a fast book, takes time to get through and understand what is going on, but that’s okay.

About the Book: When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.

Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . .

The book was a bit slow. Granted, lots of things happen over the course of the few hundred pages, but took a while to read. There were parts where you trudge along wondering what it all had to do with the conflict of the story, then Bam! Complications would happen. In fact, the slow then Bam! is a common thing that happened throughout the book.

At times, we would be meandering along watching Trei learning about flying or maybe Araene dressing up like a boy trying to sneak to a lecture or something then…

Death and destruction. Some meandering again then…

Threat of war.

Stuff like that made it feel both slow and intense at the same time. That and the world, oh the world. If anything, I can say I appreciated this book for the obvious world-building achieved. I don’t do a lot of work on my worlds as a writer, it’s something I want to work on, and this book did have quite the world. There is obvious history, along with other factors such as politics that becomes important. Then there is also magic and dragons, which all made for an interesting world for a story.

This book did help me understand a different bit of writing advice. Ever wonder why you should use diverse names that don’t sound similar when writing a book? I mean, twins with similar names are common, even whole big families like to use the same letters and such for names, so if we do that it will be more realistic. Right?  Here is the problem. It’s hard to keep track of the characters. This book showed that because most of the character’s names end in -ei or something with a similar sound. Even the main girl’s shortened name when she’s dressing like a boy had that same sound, -ae. I managed to keep track of the point of view characters and remember one other name. The rest, I don’t know what their names were, just new in the moment of reading that they had different roles. I will not remember their names because they all just run together due to the similarities. So, lesson learned.

I did like the characters. I always have enjoyed books where the girl fights to do something that isn't allowed cause she's a girl, ever since reading Tamora Pierce books as a pre-teen. And the boy was easy enough to read as well, Trei. He had plenty of struggles during the story as he didn't get things handed to him and he went through a number of tragedies. And the friends helped in different places. While I liked some of the ideas and decisions made sense in the moment, I did find the romance bit at the end to be a bit last minute. But that's all I'll say since it's near the end and I don't want to spoil anything. ;-)

Overall, it's a good but slow read. I recommend it for those interested in fantasy books that incorporate magic, strong world building, history and politics that can get past similar names used. Or if you're curious why you shouldn't give all your characters similar sounding names, check it out.

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