A Merchant in Oria by David Wiley

Being a columnist at Our Write Side, I got my hands on a copy of A Merchant in Oria by David Wiley as an advanced reader copy. Other stuff happened that led to me not getting this review done until now. So—Dave, I am sorry this took way longer than expected—without further delay, here is my review of A Merchant in Oria.

A Merchant in Oria is a fantasy novella by David Wiley. Firion is a young merchant who thinks he is a savvier trader than he really is. It is his dream to trade with the dwarves from Oria. Little does he know the adventure in store for him when he attempts to make that dream come true.51+17JTU5YL._AC_US218_

Likes

First off, one of my favorite things about the book is how Wiley creates a lovable but inept character in Firion. The believability of Firion’s naïve ineffectiveness is spot on. He is very much so the everyday man who gets put into a position where he must step up to be the hero or walk away. Wiley achieves a good balance of believable incompetence without taking it too far. When Firion needs to step up, he does so in a way consistent with the characterization Wiley built to that point.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book is Wiley’s storytelling ability. The story pulled me in and kept me engaged right from the first page to the last. I even found myself wishing the story had a little more to it by the time I got to the end. There is an effortless and fun quality to the storytelling in this novella that is refreshing and refined.

Finally, I liked Wiley’s world building in this story. Even though it is a novella, I did not get the sense Wiley stinted on his world building. The different countries and kingdoms were well defined as was the political intrigue amongst them. Each of the races in the story were distinct and developed. Even details like clothing and language were addressed. I felt like Wiley has spent time in that world and it shows in the way this story reads.

Dislikes

There were two things that disappointed me a little. First, the ending seemed to be a little too easy given Firion’s characteristic struggles to be a hero. I would have liked the ending to be drawn out just a little more, play into his challenges, and find the resolution it did despite Firion’s problems. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending itself. It just seemed a little rushed getting there.

The other piece I missed was the excellent characterization for the villains in the story. Wiley did such a nice job with Firion and his companions, but the villains seemed to get left out of that. I am uncertain if this was done intentionally or as an oversight, but it would have been nice to see them fleshed out as characters more.

Conclusion

A Merchant in Oria is a fun, light, and enjoyable read, particularly for anyone who loves fantasy. There are several good things happening in this story that well outweigh any downside to it. I am looking forward to seeing more of what Wiley can do. Overall, I give this a 4 out of 5 stars.

Unexpected Rewards by Jane McGarry

Standard disclaimer: Yep. This is another book I got for free in exchange for an honest review.

Unexpected Rewards, book 2 of the Not Every Girl series, by Jane McGarry is a young adult sword and sorcery fantasy novel. The main character, Olivia, is reUnexpected Rewards Coverpaid for her service in book 1 by being brought to the castle as one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. This does not impress Olivia much, though it allows her to remain close to her love, Prince Liam. Havoc ensues as Olivia attempts to adjust to living in the palace when she would rather be with the squires and knights training, and a plot to assassinate the King is uncovered.

Likes

The biggest thing that caught my attention in this book is the level of detail McGarry puts into the story. She does an excellent job of giving enough well thought out detail to give the feeling of living in a medieval castle, yet does not bog the story down with it.

Like ink stamp

McGarry has clearly put some thought into her world creation with these details.

I also enjoyed the cast of characters. McGarry did a good job of creating a believable group of people, from the shallow, vain, and self-centered established ladies-in-waiting, to the Queen who is more than she seems and the King who has his own agenda. While some of the character development is not as thorough as it could have been, I still feel McGarry has handled it well in this YA novel.

Finally, I liked that McGarry did a good job of filling readers in on the major events in book 1, which helps make this book stand on its own some, without beating readers over the head with it. I had not read book 1 prior to this and did not feel I missed out on anything critical to understanding this book. At the same time, she did a nice job of telling a complete story in this book while leaving some loose ends as a set up for what I presume will be book 3 in the series.

Dislikes

I do feel like McGarry fell victim to some extent to an issue much of young adult fiction struggles with. Olivia is sixteen years old and manages to solve the plot to assassinate the king before anyone else does? This seems to stretch the bounds of believability to me. I do have to give McGarry some credit in this aspect, Olivia did not become a Mary Sue in that she did not put it all together entirely on her own.facebook_like_dislike

Another thing that felt like an overdone trope is that rags-to-riches element. Granted, Olivia at least is not on the poorest end of the spectrum, but she certainly was nowhere near being at a station to catch Prince Liam’s eye had it not been for events in book 1. Yet, against all odds, they end up together and it is true love. Now, understand, it is not that McGarry did a poor job of writing this particular dynamic; it’s just that it has been done almost ad nauseam to me.

Conclusion

Overall,  I would give Unexpected Rewards by Jane McGarry a 3.75 out of 5 stars. It is well written with a well-developed and diverse cast of characters and strong world creating. While there are several tropes that feel overused to me in the book, they do not detract much from the overall readability and enjoyment of the story.

four-stars

Urban Mythology by Eric Keizer

Here’s a little change of pace – an advanced reader copy of a book!  Of course, this is in exchange for an honest review.

Urban Mythology CoverUrban Mythology by Eric Keizer is a collection of free verse poetry centered around an urban theme (as you could probably guess from the title).  Now, please keep in mind that as I review this book, I am not as familiar with reviewing poetry as I am prose.

Likes

I loved that Keizer had multiple levels and innuendos in his poems.  I’m not sure there was a single poem in this book that was straight forward.  The thought he put into each one to develop this is beautiful.

Like ink stamp
Vector illustration of “Like” in blue ink stamp

I also love that the poems themselves tell a story when reading the collection as a whole.  I can see now the poet walking around his city, engaging it with all five senses, to tell the story of what he sees in verse.  I think that’s a cool touch with this collection – each poem speaking, and each part coming together into an exponential whole.

Finally, I really appreciated the down-to-earth way in which the collection was presented.  I’ve had occasionally come across poetry collections that end up feeling pretentious in how they are organized and packaged.  This was certainly not the case here.  Keizer provides a more accessible and refreshing entry into the poetic world.

Dislikes

It’s hard to say what I didn’t like about this book, particularly since I am not as good at critiquing poetry.  I think the one thing I would like to have seen is facebook_like_dislikea little bit clearer thread throughout the book.  There were a couple spots where I felt like the thread between each of the poems seemed a bit murky.

Conclusion

Overall, I really enjoyed this little book of poetry.  Keizer paints a beautiful, gritty, and real portrait of life in the city.  He does not shy away from the seamier side of this life either.  I would give this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars.  It is on sale now so grab a copy and tell me what you think!

four-stars

Blade of the Destroyer By Andy Peloquin

Here’s my41YjDU7S1AL standard disclaimer for most of my book reviews: I got a copy of this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.  On to the review.

Blade of the Destroyer by Andy Peloquin is a dark fantasy story set in a medieval style world.  The Hunter wanders his city not realizing he is lost until events force him to take a good hard look at his life.  What he finds and the choices he makes lead him on a blood soaked mission to make changes.

Likes

I absolutely loved the world-building Peloquin did with this novel.  It is evident that he put quite a bit of energy and thought into many of the details in his world, right down to why he chose the names he did for many aspects in the novel.  For example, Bucellarii is a unit in the Roman army, which is fitting for the role they play in Blade of the Destroyer.  Yet, Peloquin does not overwhelm with detLike ink stampail despite this effort at world-building.  The details are doled out like bread crumbs, just enough to keep interest both sated and piqued at the same time.

Another piece I loved about Blade of the Destroyer is that Peloquin did an excellent job with the pacing.  To me, it is an easy trap to fall into when putting as much effort into the details as Peloquin did, but he does a nice job of keeping the pacing to the story on point.  Events roll along quickly, but not out of control.

Finally, I also enjoyed the multiple layers to the story.  What seemed like a straight forward story became a complex and dynamic story.  Peloquin leaves tantalizing hints about what’s to come without giving much of his hand away.  Plus, this is the first book in the series, which means not all of the hints are resolved by the end of the book.  Even so, Peloquin did a good job of wrapping up the story arc in this novel while leaving the larger arc open for the next book.

Dislikes

One thing that bothered me was that, at times, Peloquin belabored a point a bit too much.  For example, The Hunter needed to play the part of an aristocrat, which he has done before.  However, The Hunter hates the aristocracy, so playing that part is distasteful to him.  During these scenes in the book, this point is hammered home a little more than necessary to me.  Peloquin seems to pull back some from this as the book progresses, which was nice to see.facebook_like_dislike

The other thing I didn’t like as much, and is probably more of a snobby nitpick than a true flaw in the book, is the end.  The bad guy, and no I’m not going to ruin the surprise, ends up giving this monologue about The Hunter and how bad The Hunter screwed up, etc.  Now, to be fair, it is not a straight monologue.  Peloquin did break it up some.  To me, though, it still felt like the bad guy monologue trope that is wearing thin.  It would have been nice to see that worked in a little more than it was.

Conclusion

Overall, I immensely enjoyed this book.  It gets bloody and goes in some rather unpleasant directions.  It certainly fits the dark fantasy/horror end of speculative fiction.  I think the good things outweigh any nitpicks hands down.  For anyone who enjoys this particular genre, pick up this book and read it.  You won’t regret it.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.four-stars

The Machine by E.C. Jarvis

It’s been a while since I’ve managed to get a book review posted and this one is embarrassingly overdue.  As usual, though, I received this book in exchange for an honest review.  On to the good part.

The Machine by E.C. Jarvis is a wild ride into a steampunk world where the slightly childish shop girl, Larissa, is thrown into adventure head first and learns to grow up some along the way.  Airship battles, pirates, religious mystics of multiple persuasions, and a cat keep thing spiced up along the way.  Now, make a note, this is not a book for younger readers.  There are some graphic scenes and details along the way, tastefully done, but graphic none the less.

Likes

Jarvis did an excellent job with the pacing of this story.  It keeps you guessing and rolls right along.  In a few places, I got worried that the whole thing would come off the rails, but Jarvis kept it under control.  I love how she kept me engaged in the story without it being too difficult to follow.

I also loved the characterization.  Each character had his or her own distinct voice, role, and motivation throughout the story.  Larissa evolves the most throughout the story, though Cid and The Professor also manage to grow some as well despite their best efforts.  I never had a question in my mind or felt that the characters bled together in any way.

Finally, I think Jarvis wielded a deft hand at building her world.  At every step of the adventure, scenes were set with enough detail to picture them while not being overwhelming.  Little details like how Larissa’s clothing felt after a scene where she’s caught up in an explosion lent a level of realism to the story I appreciated.  And the political machinations?  I am left wanting to read the next story just to find out what happens.facebook_like_dislike

Dislikes

I had only two issues with this novel.  First, while the other characters were so well done, Holt seemed to stay a little flat to me.  He did have some growth in terms of how he interacted with Larissa by the end of the book.  However, he still seemed to be about the same character as he was at the start of the novel.  A little more growth would have been nice there.  Unless, that is, Jarvis saved that for the next book in the series.  I’ll have to check that out.

The other issue I had is with Larissa.  There were a couple occasions where she seemed to make choices that were a little at odds with who I understood her to be as a character.  It felt like her development seemed a bit rough at times, such as how this naïve shop keeper’s assistant accepted her role as a captain so easily.  No, I’m not going to give you more than that as I do not want to spoil it for you.

four-stars

Overall I enjoyed this foray into the steampunk world.  The pros of this book far outweighed the cons in my opinion.  I give this book a solid 4 out of 5 stars and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.