Category Archives: Must Read

Review #83 – #85 The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

There are stories so epic that they change you after the reading of their tales. As a child who grew up with tales of Middle Earth and Narnia, who rolled dice for the first games of Dungeons & Dragons ever released and dreamt of Boldly going when no one had gone before… I have high standards and award 5 stars stingily.  This is one of my 5 star favourites.

The Deed of Paksenarrion is a large “mass market edition” of Elizabeth Moon’s brilliant first fantasy trilogy that gathers up all six hundred thousand words of her original novels in a single volume.  My copy is well loved and growing tattered with each visit, but it remains a truly amazing and original world in which to lose yourself. It reads like the best D&D adventure ever played as it chronicles the adventures of Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter, a tall young girl who runs away from an arranged marriage to a pig farmer in order to learn all she can about becoming a warrior.

Anyone who has ever Larped, RPG’d, rolled dice or dressed up as a character, will find themselves wishing they could be part of this amazing tale, despite the trials and tribulations as the main character and those around her are swept from one adventure to another.  The thrilling saga weaves itself to an astounding and satisfying conclusion with plenty of weaving paths along the way.  You can almost sense Paksenarrion “leveling up” as she gains experience as a mercenary fighter and is eventually claimed by a higher calling.  Elizabeth Moon creates a lush world of kingdoms in peril, mysterious elves, evil plots and tangled loyalties that is both believable and engrossing.  Once you get caught up in the first chapter, you find yourself struggling to put the book down for such mundane things as eating or sleeping.  A few of the stains on my copy are proof that I got so engrossed in this story that the spoon or fork got distracted on its journey to my mouth!

The Deed of Paksenarrion does not shy away from the ugly side of war, the perils of the command chain or the fears that face the helpless.  It does not glorify battle the way some video games seem to either.  Instead, Elizabeth Moon creates a truly outstanding story where battles are marvelous echoes for all of the struggles we humans face in our lives.  The courage and determination, the tenacity and conviction with which some of these vivid characters face their destinies reminds us that humans are capable of great things.  We have only to try instead of running away or taking an easier, darker path.

If you have never read The Deed of Paksenarrion, hunt it down. It MUST be on your book “bucket list”.  I wish I could share your excitement as you read it for the first time.  If you have already discovered how truly unique and amazing this book is, chime in and share what you loved best about it as a comment.

I was thrilled when Moon returned to this timeline in 2010 and created a different set of slightly overlapping adventures that take place after the events in The Deed of Paksenarrion.  It gives me more things to read and review before the end of the year and this challenge!

The Deed of Paksenarrion Paperback format, 1024 pages, published in 1992 by BAEN Fantasy

Originally published as Sheepfarmer’s Daughter ©1988, Divided Allegiance ©1988 and Oath of Gold ©1989

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Review #75 The World Wreckers by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The World Wreckers used to be considered the “last” of the Darkover novels.  Written in 1971, it details the time period after Sharra’s Exile when outside interests hire a covert company to destroy the ecosystem of Darkover.  They hope that if enough damage is caused, both ecological and societal, the planet will appeal to the Terran Empire for help and thus become and open, unprotected world whose resources can be taken advantage of.

This is a time of great personal distress for Regis Hastur, one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s most intriguing characters.  He faces challenges in his personal life, his political future and the future of his very world.  Yet, amid it all, he finds a way to work with a select group of telepathic misfits and unite most of the Laran-gifted people on his world in a Telepathic Council.

What makes The World Wreckers so moving is not the obvious exploration of gender relations and the attachments we form with each other. Rather it is the character of Andrea Closson, the mastermind behind the World Wreckers, who captures the reader’s fancy as we grow to understand that she has the deepest secret of all to hide.  Andrea becomes a pivotal point in the destruction or salvation of the planet… one that gives this book a truly beautiful, creative and masterfully written ending that never fails to make me tear up.

Reading The World Wreckers again in linear context added more poignancy, even though I read Hastur Lord so much earlier in the year.  It was that review in fact that set off this huge rereading of all the Darkover novels.  I find myself wondering what will capture my fancy once the books finally run their course.

Paperback format, 215 pages, published in 1971 by ACE Books.

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Review #67 Rite of Passage by Alexi Panshin

There are books that change your life when you read them.  Books that somehow alter your perspective on the world for the better and make you feel more prepared to face the challenges in your own life, even if that novel is a work of fiction.

Rite of Passage was first published in 1968 and won the Nebula award that same year.  Written by American SF critic and author Alexi Panshin, Rite of Passage is a semi-dystopian novel about the Universe in 2198.  The Earth no longer exists, destroyed amid desperate wars and overcrowding.  Civilization is preserved aboard 7 giant ships that travel amid the hundred colony worlds that still hold the human civilization.

Mia Havero has grown up on one of these ships in a safe and secure environment, but as she approaches her fourteenth year, she must prepare for “the Trial”, a month long exile amid the wilderness on a colony world.  Those who survive this “Rite of Passage” return to the ship and are considered adults. This tradition ensures that the ships do not become overpopulated as well as weeding out those who cannot survive by their own skills or cunning.  The only problem is that the planet they are being sent to turns out to hold a lot more challenges and dangers than usual, including one threat that may change Ship society forever.

Rite of Passage is a single person narrative with a strong, young female voice, which makes the fact that it was written by a man in his late twenties as a first novel all the more remarkable.  It is not only an amazing story, but the way in which Mia wrestles with personal challenges, moral dilemmas and her emerging identity as an individual instead of a child make this an incredibly powerful coming of age story.  I first read the novel in my teens, bought my own copy in my early 20s and have reread the book at least a dozen times since then.  One of the advantages to being a speed-reader and devourer of books is that you read so many stories, you forget small details until you read a book again… then you savour it all over like a favourite meal, warm bath or childhood tale.

Amid the current slew of YA dystopian and coming of age novels, Rite of Passage not only holds its own,  it rises above many “modern” books due to the excellence of writing, the believability of the characters, the power of the narrative and the universality of the experience we all face called Growing Up.  This novel proves that a good story, especially classic Sci-Fi, is truly timeless.  There are very few books that I would rate at the full 5 stars… but Rite of Passage had to be among them.

Paperback format, 239 pages, copyright 1968, Timescape copy published by Pocket Science FIction in 1982

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Review #45 Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I’ve always found second novels in a trilogy hard.

I blame this almost entirely on George Lucas since I was part of the generation that saw the “first” Star Wars movies on the big screen (Don’t even get me started on that numbering system!)  I can still remember emerging into daylight from “The Empire Strikes Back” is a depressed, numb haze.  Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, Luke has not only lost a hand, he’d just discovered that Darth Vader was his FATHER and nothing felt quite right with the world.  The incredible joy and optimism I’d felt watching Star Wars had been replaced by a dark cloud and a little voice inside yelling “I have to wait HOW long until I find out what happens?”

There are plenty of first novels, most notably Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, that I wish had stood alone as books instead of being mucked with.  This is the single biggest change that I have noticed in the past two decades… the pressure to create stories, characters and worlds that can be broken up into installments, marketed and merchandised.  Whatever happened to simply telling a great story?

Given my apparent “secondbookaphobia”, I approached Insurgent with trepidation, especially since the first novel had impressed me so greatly. Veronica Roth’s amazing sequel to Divergent not only healed some of those scars… it may have healed some entirely. For the first time, I discovered a second book in a trilogy that I actually liked better than the first!

Since so much of this incredible tale depends on plot twists that blind side you, action that takes your breath away and the deepening of characters introduced in the first novel, I am not going to ruin anyone’s fun by giving away details that any website could provide.  Instead, I will commend Roth for her astounding ability to create such a unique, captivating and vivid dystopian fantasy.  I was so thoroughly engrossed in reading one section that my teenagers actually searched the house to see where Mom had disappeared to!

The strength of the main character, Tris, was also one of the reasons that I love these books. As John Wayne so aptly said “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.”  Despite the traumas endured in the first novel and the shifting layers of her entire world in the second novel, Tris emerges as an empowering example for young women of pushing through fears and challenges while staying true to yourself.

The end of Insurgent took my breath away with its stunning revelations.  It also recaptured some of the joy and wonder of being able to imagine your own ending that is so sadly lacking in modern storytelling.  Like the ending of the movie Inception, there was the possibility to imagine what might happen beyond the story you’d just enjoyed.  Imaginative readers will have the chance mull over some intriguing options as they wait (I cannot promise that it will be patiently) for this accomplished writer to release the third book, so far untitled, in this innovative series.

Hardcover format, 525 pages, published in May 2012 by Harper Collins

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Review #43 Divergent by Veronica Roth

Every so often a novel comes along that shatters the mold of its genre and pushes the boundaries of what you expected.  In the slew of Dystopian novels I’ve read as part of the CannonballRead#4 challenge, Divergent stands out as the most unique and captivating first novel I’ve read since I bought a copy of The Hunger Games at a SCBWI conference in New York  in 2009.  My family devoured the book and knew long before the series became so popular that it was a story that stood apart from others.

Divergent is as unique a novel in its own way and perhaps even more captivating.  The plot has been summarized countless times but here are the barest facts for those who still have not heard about this story. It is set in a dystopian version of Chicago where society has been divided into 5 distinct Factions; Candor (who prize honesty), Abnegation (who embrace selflessness), Dauntless (who embody bravery), Amity (who seek Peace), and Erudite (who strive for knowledge).  Regardless of which Faction they grow up in, on the appointed  day of their 16th year, after special testing, each young person must publicly choose which Faction they will belong to or become one of the Factionless who live in abject poverty and squalor. The only problem is that a few special people can belong to more than one faction… their personalities are unique enough that they can be hunted.  Right before she has to choose, Beatrice Prior discovers that she is different… that she is Divergent.  Revealing that could endanger her new life as she leaves her Abnegation family and Faction behind… that is if the training to be accepted as a full member of the Dauntless Faction doesn’t kill her first.

Divergent took my breath away. This is the single most impressive book I’ve discovered in the past few years.  I found myself riveted by the struggles of the main character to define herself against all of the rules and philosophies that she had grown up with.  It was as empowering a tale as it was captivating, challenging readers of any age to be true to themselves and who they really are, even as it kept them glued to the pages with a futuristic, breathlessly vivid and suspenseful story. I truly admire a new writer that can keep me guessing  as to where the story is headed!  Divergent was as powerful a read for me at 46 as it was for my 17 and 13 year old daughters.  All of us inhaled this book and then fought over who would read the sequel next.  Since I am the Mom (and I bought Insurgent)… I won!

Paperback format, 487 pages, published in 2012 by Harper Collins

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Review #41 Svaha by Charles de Lint

There are books that you read which change how you think about the world.  There are also books that write about subject matter and issues far ahead of the trends.  Svaha by Charles de Lint is both of those for me… altering the way I think about our environment and a true dystopian tale written some 20 years ahead of the current bandwagon.

Svaha, a Native word for the moment between seeing the lightning and hearing it’s thunder or the waiting for promises to be fulfilled, is an incredible tale set not to far into our own future.  Thanks to the fame and fortune of a single Native American musician in the 1990s who invested in the education of his People, the “Clavers” as they are called by the rest of the world, became the most technologically savvy race on the planet and withdrew into Enclaves of their own design after New York and Lost Angeles were destroyed by terrorist warheads and the rest of society began to crumble. By the time the Food Riots hit Europe, Russia and the United States had collapsed after a limited nuclear exchange and Japan had claimed Canada, there were 12 Enclaves across North America, two in South America, two in Australia, one in Africa and one in Siberia as well as 3 space stations owned by the  Native Nations.  These united tribes withdrew from the Outer Lands to preserve what they could of Mother Earth while everything else fell into chaos and a huge gulf between what the rich and the poor could afford emerged.

The story begins in the endless sprawl of the Toronto-Quebec Corridor where the “plexes” offer safety to the wealthy and the squats are the home of those who are just struggling to get by.  Beyond this tenuous hold on civilization lie the Wastes where bands of radiation poisoned humans prey on whatever or whoever are foolish enough to wander into the barren territories.  Gahzee has been sent on a one-way mission from his Enclave to find out why one of their flyers has gone missing and to ensure that the computer chip with its advanced technology and closely guarded secrets, does not fall into the wrong hands.  Along the way, he discovers that perhaps Dreamtime and Realtime are not as far apart as they once seemed.  Can the ancient knowledge of his people reach out to those in need of hope?  Will he find a new tribe among these strangers or a new band of enemies against which to fight?

Svaha is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  I made the mistake of loaning my original copy to a friend after it was Out-of-Print.  When this edition was released in 2000, I bought it the minute I saw it to fill the void on my shelves.  After reading it again as part of this challenge, I made my oldest daughter read it to compare to the current slew of dystopian novels we’ve been devouring.  Like me, she found it hard to put down, engrossing and thought-provoking to read and satisfying in how well the story ended.  The blend of Japanese culture and language with the Native philosophy was even more appreciated since our visit to Tokyo last year.

If you have never read this incredible book, it should be on your bucket list!  I hope that some of the younger readers out there will discover there are tales told over 20 years ago that deserve as much attention as the “newest” ones they read right now.

Paperback format, 300 pages, originally published in 1989 by Ace Books.

First Orb edition by Tom Doherty Associates November 2000  ISBN 0-312-87650-5

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Review #38 Infamous by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Infamous is the third book in the Chronicles of Nick YA series written by Sherrilyn Kenyon.  After reading the second novel, Invincible, I decided that I couldn’t possibly wait for this next installment to come on sale or be published in a paperback format.  That is usually one of the true tests for a series.  As a voracious and speedy reader, I tend to try to stretch my book budget as far as possible.  This year’s Cannonball Read #4 challenge has made me throw caution to the wind on more than one occasion and just indulge!

Infamous begins as grippingly as Invincible ended. Nick Gautier has just discovered that the man he thought was his uncle offering advice is actually his future self trying to undo a terrible reality that brings on the world’s destruction.  Nick now knows that his father is not just a criminal, but a ferocious demon who choses to live in prison to feed off the evil energy that pools in such places.  Talk about  a heavy burden to bear at 14!  Is the future set in stone no matter what?  Will those closest to him still protect him or bring about his destruction once they learn the truth.  Can he trust his own advice from the future or is he embarking on a new path because of the brave choices he continues to make?

This novel was probably the most satisfying of the series so far.  Nick is still a wonderful blend of sarcasm, spunk and teenage cockiness, but the challenges that are now being thrust upon him push him to the limits of his emotional and physical endurance.  Kenyon has known her own share of hardships in her life and somehow transposes some of her own indomitable tenacity into her main character.  The story lines are touching and the adventure is EPIC!  The way the characters weave together unexpectedly only makes this story shine.  From the way Bubba’s mother gripes at him to the pathos of how people deal with tragedy, Infamous is a roller coaster ride that can have you laughing then tearing up in less than a dozen pages.  Amid so many of the series churned out to entice young readers, the Chronicles of Nick stands out as one I would heartily recommend to anyone between 13 and 93 who loves great stories and doesn’t mind descriptions of things that go bump in the night.  It will be a long wait until March 2013 when book 4 in the series Inferno is due out.  In the meantime, I will explore her other adult romance novels where Nick first appeared and know that I will have the fun of rereading the first 3 once the 4th one is published, just to make sure that I remember all the great details!

Hardcover format, 468 pages, published in 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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