The Rithmatist

Hmm, where to start other than saying this is a Brandon Sanderson novel, and at this point he’s pretty much going to get money from me for every book that he writes, so of course I read this one.  On we go.

Book StatsThe Rithmatist

370 pages

Fantasy, Steampunk

First book in the series

Characters

The main character in the book is Joel, a young man attending the one of the premier schools in the country, Armedius Academy.  He isn’t especially intelligent enough to attend the school, nor is his family rich in any way, but his father had worked there for years before he died and as a way of thanking his family the principal offers him free tuition.  Joel is an interesting character, one who enjoys learning a lot, just not the things that those above him think that he should be learning (similar to myself in high school in some respects).  Joel is a bit of an outcast, liked by most of the people that he meets but never really fitting into any of the cliques that form in society.  Throughout the course of the book he also meets Melody, a cheerful young girl who is a rithmatist but doesn’t really care to be.  The juxtaposition of the two – the cheerful girl who doesn’t care for being a rithmatist and the slightly dour boy who wishes beyond everything else that he could be – is played off well in the story.  All of the side characters in the book were solid as well.

Setting

The book is set in an early 1900’s version of America where instead of being the full continent, it consists of about 60 large islands.  There is also a very large steampunk aspect to the world, with varied and powerful machines set up and used throughout the story.  It’s an interesting way to set the story within our world without it being our world.  By doing this he gains the advantages of having a story set in our world, you know the general geography and where everything is in relation to other areas, along with a rough history of the world, but he also gets the benefits of having a fantasy world, where the magic and political order doesn’t feel out of place.  It’s really a well done setting.

Plot

The book starts towards the end of a school year as Joel starts to figure out what he wants to do with his schedule.  Through a bit of trickery on his part, he manages to find a way to work with a professor who is a historian of Rithmatics, the magic of the world.  As he starts working with Professor Fitch he finds out that Fitch was chosen to investigate the disappearance of a young girl who was training as a rithmatist.  The book plays out as a murder mystery, but by the end it starts to turn into the epic fantasy style of series that Sanderson is known for.

EnjoymentThe Rithmatist2

The characters were all fun, and the story was fast paced and interesting (I actually read the book in one sitting, yeah, all 370 pages.  To be fair, it’s a YA book, but a fairly long YA book.).  I actually think that one of the biggest weaknesses for most of the book – and this is rare for me to say about a Sanderson book – is the magic system.  It’s a very visually intensive magic system, and until you see it in use later in the book, it’s a bit hard to visualize exactly what is going on.  There are illustrations throughout the book that help with this, but it’s still a bit strange (more on the illustrations later).  As always Sanderson had a neat twist on the end of the novel, it’s really this twist which allows for the expansion of the single book into a bigger world and story.  The book could have been good without it, but I’m always a fan of big series with lots of books, so that works out for me.  It’s also good because it took me most of the book to fully understand the magic system, so I’d like to see more books with the same magic system now that I have a really good idea of how it works.

Now, one of the things that helps the magic system, and in many ways the book as a whole is that there are illustrations before every chapter that depict the circles used in the book, as well as illustrations throughout the pages that depict the ‘chalklings’ as they’re drawn.  In the acknowledgements of the book, Sanderson mentions that Ben McSweeney – the artist for the pictures within the book – threw out the idea of doing a graphic novel of the story, and in some ways I think that it might work better than the prose version did.

Overall Grade

I enjoyed the book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series once it comes out.

8/10

Footnote here, the first picture is the actual cover of the book that I have, but I think I like the second picture better, I’m think it might be the UK cover for the book, but I’m not sure.  Either way, it’s a cool picture for the book.

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NPR’s Top 100 Teen Novels

So a while ago I had this post where I first talked about NPR’s summer poll where they were looking for the top 100 Teen Novels.  Well, they’ve finished tallying up all the votes and their final list is up.  Here’s a link to the list, and here are my thoughts about it.  (I’m not going to talk about every book, just some of them.  I’m also going to include links to those books that I have reviews for if you’re interested and haven’t read them.  For a series the link will be to the review of the first book unless otherwise noted.)

Lets start at the top.  Not surprisingly, The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling took the number one place on the list.  And I couldn’t agree more, I’ve said before that I think this is one of the most important series of books to come out in the past 20 years because it’s one of the only series in recent memory where kids were breaking down the doors of bookstores because they wanted to read the books the day they came out.  I’m glad to see it this high on the list.  (Book 1Series Review)

#2: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  I really enjoyed this series, and I thought it was well written, but I also wonder if this is more of a “what’s popular now” pick than some other books.  I think this list came out at the perfect time for The Hunger Games to be this high.  (Again, I’m not saying that it isn’t deserving, I really enjoyed the books.)

#8: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I don’t know if I’d really qualify this one as a teen book.  I think it’s primarily on the list because it’s taught to high school students on a regular basis.

#10: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I loved this book and I’m thrilled that it’s on the list, especially since it’s this high.

#12: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams.  Again, not really sure if I’d consider this to be truly a teen novel, but a lot of the humor in the books probably works better for teens than for some adults.  I enjoy the series and can’t complain about it being on the list.

#17: The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  Wonderful book and I’m glad to see it here.  It’s a really interesting example of a sort of meta-fiction where the author plays with a lot of what we normally take for granted about books.

#19: Divergent Series by Veronica Roth.  I can see why it’s up this high, because the story in the first book was executed quite well.  Unfortunately, if you have any knowledge of psychology and how personality works the worldbuilding completely falls apart.

#25: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.  This is a really weird book that has a unique narrative voice.  I thought about choosing this book for my 10th choice, but while it’s a very interesting way of telling a story, I don’t know if it’s the kind of book I would give to a teen to try to get them to read more.

#27: Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer.  I haven’t read the books (and don’t plan on it) but I’ve heard a lot of people say that they aren’t very well written, and that they don’t do a whole lot to encourage women to be strong on their own.  However, I still say that any series that gets people to read is a good thing.

#28: Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld.  I haven’t read these, but I did vote for The Leviathan Series by Westerfeld, and I’m glad to see him on the list.

#36: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  Another fantastic book that I’d highly recommend.  There’s also a very good movie based on the book, which makes it highly accessible as a story in multiple formats.

#38: A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  We read this book in my junior year English class in high school, and this is one of the few books that I’ve gone back and re-read after school.  I really like this book and I would highly suggest it.

#41: Dune by Frank Herbert.  This is a great book, truly a classic piece of literature, but it’s not a teen book.

#42: Discworld/Tiffany Aching Series by Terry Pratchett.  I recently read The Color of Magic by Pratchett, and I think it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read.  I personally prefer the Xanth series by Piers Anthony which is very similar to Discwold, a continuing series of books that take place in the same world with a rotating cast of characters. (The Color of Magic, Discworld Book 1)

#48 The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini.  Another one that I haven’t read but that I endorse for the same reasons as Harry Potter and Twilight, anything that gets people reading is a good start.

#65 The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.  I’ve read the first book in this series and have the other two, but I read the first book well before I started my blog and didn’t want to do a review for the second book in a series without having the first on here so I’ve been putting them off.  (I’ve since done that several times, most notable with Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, where I have reviews up for books 2-9 but not Ender’s Game.)  The first book was fun and did some interesting things with fantasy tropes.

#74 The Maze Runner Series by James Dashner.  This is a series that it definitely thriving because of the current dystopia trend in YA.  The first book was decent, the second was actually pretty good, but the ending of the series left me really upset that I read it at all.  (Book 2Book 3)

#82 I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak.  Another great book that I’m glad to see on this list.  I would personally like to see it higher, but The Book Thief is his better known book and might have taken a few votes away from this one.

#92 Leviathan Series by Scott Westerfeld.  I loved this series, but I can understand why it’s this low on the list, steampunk is a really weird genre to get into.  I do have to plug one thing about the books, they have illustrations in roughly every chapter that add a lot to the series, I’d highly suggest this to kids.

Overall I don’t have a whole lot of complaints about the list.  I’m pleased that everything that I voted for made the final 100, apparently I have some good taste in books.  My biggest complaint is still no Ender’s Game, but it was their decision not to include it on the list.

So what do you think?  Did the voting public come up with a good list?

Goliath

Goliath is the third book in the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, the book came out September 20th, and I’m actually a little mad that I waited this long to read the book, it was a wonderful conclusion to the series.

Book Stats

537 pages

Steampunk

3rd book in the Leviathan series (sequel to Leviathan and Behemoth)

Characters

Deryn and Alek are once again the two viewpoint characters in this book.  The romance plot that was heavily hinted at with the ending of the second book was fully evident in this book and I thought it worked really well.  Along with all of the other characters that we have been accustomed to seeing from the first two books, we are also introduced to Nikola Tesla in this book.  Tesla was a scientist in the early 20th century and is probably one of the two or three most intelligent people who have ever lived.  Seeing Tesla (and some of his inventions as imagined by Westerfeld) in this book was wonderful and he was a great character to read about.

Setting

The book is the same world as the first two (obviously) but in this book the characters spend a short time in both Japan and the US.  In comparison to the European countries which were either Darwinist or Clanker both the US and Japan used both sets of new technology.

Plot

The plot continues from the first two books as the crew of the Leviathan are working to stem the early battles of what in this world would become WW1.  Westerfeld stays very close to the beginning timeline of the war but the timeline is obviously different in this book.  The overall plot of this book tracks the love story of the two main characters while they work to stop a war.  I thought the book was very well done on all aspects.

Enjoyment

I loved this book.  I started reading it this morning, and just finished it, I only stopped because it’s bowling night and nothing interrupts bowling night (not even this book, as great as it was).  (For what it matters, I bowled very well tonight; 235, 269, 203 for a 707 series.)  The world in this series was wonderfully realized and very consistent throughout.  The characters were also very fun to read and it was interesting seeing the subtle differences between actual history and Westerfeld’s history that kept showing up throughout this book.

Overall Grade

If you enjoy Steampunk, Westerfeld’s other books, or just good writing, go pick up this series now, the first two books were very good and the third book was excellent.

10/10

Series Grade

The ending is the most important part of any book or series, and the third book earned this series a 10.

10/10

Iron Angel

Iron Angel is the sequel to Scar Night by Alan Campbell.  While the book is the direct sequel, to me it didn’t really feel like the first book did a whole lot to foreshadow this book even existing at all.  This series does a couple of really interesting things, but isn’t the best I’ve ever seen.

Book Stats

493 pages

Fantasy/Steampunk

Second book in the Deepgate Codex, sequel to Scar Night

Characters

The two primary returning characters from the first book are Dill and Rachel.  We are also introduced to Hasp (another god, brother to Ulcis from the first book) who teaches Dill how to fight in this book, which helps Dill to not be the whiny little brat he was in the first book.  One of the coolest new characters is John Anchor, who is a servant of Cospinol, the god of Brine and Fog.  Anchor is literally an anchor, he tows Cospinol’s ship around through a harness he wears with a rope extending into the air leading to Cospinol’s flying ship.  Another character who has a large viewpoint is Alice Harper, who is dead and serves King Minoa as an engineer in Hell.  Overall the characters just didn’t impress me much in this book, they seem to be just along for the ride as the plot moves forward.

Setting

The setting is the best part of this book, which is both good and bad.  It’s good because it’s so far away from your traditional fantasy story that it seems fresh, it’s bad because the characters and plot aren’t done well enough to support the intricate setting.  Along with the idea of John Anchor towing the boat of Cospinol, the god of Brine and Fog, there are other gods mentioned as well.  Not in this book but mentioned in the world is the god of chains, and in this book there is also mention of the god of knives and flowers.  This is close enough to what you’re used to to be recognizable, but different enough to make it really cool.  Also introduced in this book are shiftblades, weapons that can change form quickly which make for a couple of interesting combat scenes.  There is also mention of an interesting society of swordsmen who study either the schools of Kiril or Yen and depending on the school they have a sword ranging from pure white to pure black, with the closer they are to the pure color indicating a higher rank of swordsmanship (while this is a great idea, it is very briefly and poorly used in the book).  The representation of Hell in this book is also fascinating, with each person’s soul creating their own private room in Hell.

Plot

The weakest point of the book to me, which again is sad because with a better story in this world it could be a fantastic piece of fiction.  Rachel and Dill begin by trying to get away from Deepgate, and then are captured and brought back into the city and thus forced back into the plot.  The book does explore the results of Dill being brought back from the dead.  Unfortunately, Carnival, who was a really interesting character in the first book, is practically non-existant in this book.  Her part is so quickly throne away that is seemed like the author just didn’t want anything to do with her character in this book.  The Soft Men from the first book actually appear in this book, but have nothing to do with the plot, which irritated me almost as much as the quickly glossed over swordsmen mentioned above.  The overall story has to do with the ruler of Hell trying to overthrow Earth since Heaven has been closed off.  Much much like the first book it just felt forced to me.  The principal viewpoint characters never seem to make their own decisions, they just go where the plot needs them to.

Enjoyment

The setting shows so much potential, and the characters might not be as bad if they weren’t just going where the plot needed them to go.  Not the best book I’ve ever read, but I will at least finish the trilogy.

Overall Grade

The potential and the ideas of the book are better than the overall execution, but if you’re looking for a fantasy book with a unique setting you can do worse than this book, but you can also do better with some other books.

5/10

Scar Night

Scar Night, by Alan Campbell.  I heard about this book during my last day in my Fiction Appreciation class this past semester.  Instead of a final exam in that class, we had to talk about a book that we liked that we thought the rest of the class would enjoy as well.  I talked about two different series, the Mistborn trilogy by Sanderson and the Serial Killer trilogy by Dan Wells.  Anyway, I heard about this series there, and it sounded interesting enough to go buy it, so I did.  Anyway, on with the review.

Books Stats

549 pages

Fantasy/Steampunk

1st book of the Deepgate Codex

Characters

The book centers on several different characters, the main characters are Dill, Rachel, Carnival, Devon, and Mr. Nettles (no other name is ever given to him, which was odd at times).  One of the brilliant things done in this book is that Dill and Carnival are angels, but they aren’t what we typically think of as angels.  Dill is heavily protected by the church in the book (which worships Ulcis, the god of chains) and is very immature and unsure of himself, and Carnival is a 3,000 year old angel who terrorizes much of the population of Deepgate.  Since we all have a stereotype for the word angel from our society’s background this works as they angels in this book are far different from what we expect.  Rachel is part of the Spine, an organization of assassin’s, and is sent to tutor Dill early in the book.  Devon works for the church and the city as a scientist who specializes in poisons which were used to help defend the city.  Lastly, Mr Nettles is a scavenger in the city who is trying to kill Carnival who he blames for killing his daughter.  The characters in the book were interesting and played off of each other as foils fairly well, this book focuses more on introducing all of the characters rather than developing them and sending them through extensive growth arcs, but they do go through small arcs in the story.

Setting

One of the interesting parts of this book is the setting.  Other than the fact that the angels exist, there really isn’t too much magic used in the book, it’s based more on technology which is what leads it more towards the steampunk genre as well as being part of the fantasy genre.  The city as a whole is also interesting as it hangs on huge chains over a vast abyss.  This is due to the religion of the book where the people worship Ulcis, the god of chains.

Plot

The plot begins in several different places at once.  Dill starts out being introduced to some of his duties within the church.  We explore some of the history of angels in the world through Dill’s story as well as being introduced to many of the other characters.  We are also introduced early on to Rachel, who is trying to help other members of the spine to kill Carnival, which also leads into the storyline with Mr. Nettles seeking revenge for his daughter’s death.  The plot was probably the weakest part of the book to me.  It starts out with several disparate plotlines that combine into one main plot about 1/2 through the book.  After they combine however, it splits back into 2 separate plotlines that really don’t work well together.

Enjoyment

The book had it’s high points and low points, I wasn’t tearing through the book at a breakneck pace, but I still wanted to see what happened next.  As I stated above, I think the plot was the biggest problem with the book.  The book seemed a little too ambitious for Campbell’s skill at the time of writing this (his first published novel).  The plot made sense throughout the book, but seemed forced or rushed at times, especially when it jumps around from character to character in later chapters.  There were also a few points in the book where I thought there were viewpoint errors.  It’s written in 3rd person, and was mostly a limited perspective, but had times where we’re in one person’s perspective and then get a thought that seemed like it came from another character.  There weren’t many of these, but the ones that were there were jarring.

Overall Grade

The book was far from perfect, but had a lot of interesting aspects to it.  I’m still going to read the rest of the series, so we’ll see if Campbell focuses the future books more than this one.

5/10

Behemoth

Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld.  The second book in the Leviathan series which is a steampunk version of WW1.  I enjoyed the first book, and so when wandering around Barnes & Noble the other day I picked up the sequel.

Book Stats

481 pages

Steampunk

Second book in its series, sequel to Leviathan

Characters

The book follows the same two primary characters from the first novel, Deryn and Alek.  The characters are once again very well written, and I felt like there was more development to them in this book as compared to the first.  This works as it helps to make the second novel more capable of being enjoyed on its own as opposed to just a stopgap between the first and third books.  Both characters gain experience and become more competent in this book which helps move it along quickly.  In addition, the fact that Deryn is a girl pretending to be a boy played a larger part in this book than in the first book, where I thought it didn’t matter at all.  The book suggests more of a love story as an overall theme for the third book and also uses Deryn’s true identity as a girl to get a few laughs towards the end of the book.

Setting

The world is the same as the first book, but this book has the adventurers in Istanbul (or Constantinople) which is more of a Clanker based area than the first book mostly exploring the Darwinist world.  Although the book focuses more on Clanker tech rather than Darwinist beasties, there are still a few interesting animals introduced in the book.

Plot

The book begins with splitting up the two protagonists to tell of their own separate adventures before reuniting them later in the book.  At this point in the war, Constantinople was still neutral and in the story they are trying to sway the city towards preventing the war rather than encouraging it.  Deryn and Alek both use different methods to help prevent Constantinople from siding with the Germans, and it’s interesting to see how everything comes together at the end.

Enjoyment

Just like the first novel, the book was a quick read that had a lot of fun aspects to the world.  All of the characters are interesting and it’s fun watching them interact with the two main characters.  The illustrations in this book are wonderful just like in the first book and have a very distinct style that works well with the type of story being told.

Overall Grade

I enjoyed the book and I will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series which is due out in September this year.

8/10

Leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  Interesting book that I first heard about on the Writing Excuses Podcast.  The book is a Steampunk version of World War 1.  It was interesting and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, although it might be a while before I get to it, a bunch of other stuff to read and it’s getting to be crunch time with my school stuff this semester.  Anyway, on with the review.

Book Stats

434 Pages

Steampunk

First book in its series

Characters

The book centers on two characters, Alek, who is the son of the Archduke Ferdinand and Deryn, a girl pretending to be a boy so that she can serve in the British Air Navy.  Both characters are young during the time of this book, about 15 years old.  Alek has a high class upbringing and has a lot of knowledge, but very little practical experience.  Deryn on the other hand is almost the exact opposite, having much more street sense and applied education than book knowledge.  Both characters were entertaining to read and seemed realistic in their actions.

Setting

The world is split into two different factions, the Clankers who have huge metal walking machines and the Darwinists, who have huge living machines.  Basically, Darwin discovered DNA and began fabricating combinations of animals to use instead of the machines that we normally use for everyday life.  Although it sounds very bizarre, it comes across very well in the novel.  Deryn comes from a more Darwinist perspective, while Alek comes from a Clanker background, this allows the author to show both perspectives on this strange world, and he also shows how people have strange thoughts about the machines and animals that they don’t deal with very often.  It’s very well done.

Plot

The book starts at the beginning of The Great War, for those who don’t know their history (and I must admit that WW1 is not my strongest point) the war began in large part due to the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand.  The two characters start separate in the story but are forced together about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through the book.  Even though it covers WW1 which most people know somewhat how it turns out, it still works because the story focuses on the two individual characters rather than the world as a whole.

Enjoyment

The book started a little slow for me, which was partially due to the world needing to be explained.  Once I got into the book a little further, I really enjoyed it, both characters were believable in all of their actions (even the mistakes they made, they are just teenagers remember).  Another cool thing about the book is that there are illustrations throughout it, roughly one per chapter.  These are interesting as they show you the various creatures and machines throughout the world.  It’s definitely an interesting aspect of the novel and something I’ll look forward to seeing in the future novels of this series.

Overall Grade

This was a good read and I’m looking forward to reading the sequels.  Definitely a book I’d recommend for those who enjoy alternate worlds.

8/10