Friday, May 31, 2019

The Warrior Maiden (Hagenheim)

Title: The Warrior Maiden

Series: Hagenheim (Book #9)

Year: 2019

Author: Melanie Dickerson

Summary: Mulan isn’t afraid to pretend to be a son and assume her father’s soldier duties in war. But what happens when the handsome son of a duke discovers her secret?

Mulan is trying to resign herself to marrying the village butcher for the good of her family, but her adventurous spirit just can’t stand the thought. At the last minute, she pretends to be the son her father never had, assumes his duties as a soldier, and rides off to join the fight to protect the castle of her liege lord’s ally from the besieging Teutonic Knights.

Wolfgang and his brother Steffan leave Hagenheim with several other soldiers to help their father’s ally in Poland. When they arrive, Wolfgang is exasperated by the young soldier Mikolai who seems to either always be one step away from disaster... or showing Wolfgang up in embarrassing ways.

When Wolfgang discovers his former rival and reluctant friend Mikolai is actually a girl, he is determined to protect her. But battle is a dangerous place where anything can happen — and usually does.

When Mulan receives word that her mother has been accused of practicing witchcraft through her healing herbs and skills, Mulan’s only thought is of defending her. Will she be able to trust Wolfgang to help? Or will sacrificing her own life be the only way to save her mother?

Review: After a bunch of Dickerson books that weren't so great and regretfully cliche, The Warrior Maiden was a breath of fresh air. I was a bit skeptical going into this book, but once I got into it, I was hooked. The one thing you want in a good Mulan tale (a tale of a girl dressing as a man and going to WAR) is battle scenes. And we got battle scenes. I was sooooo impressed.

Mulan is the illegitimate child of a soldier and a foreign mother. Her father's wife, the woman she calls mother, has raised her and loved her, and Mulan would do anything to protect her. After a priest prophecies that she will be a great warrior one day, Mulan begins training with her father's young friend, Andrei, who accompanied the great Mikolai into many battles and knows how a soldier should act.

Disaster strikes when her father dies two weeks before being conscripted into service again. Forced with the possibility of losing their home, Mulan takes his place, with Andrei at her side. She knows pretending to be a man is a dangerous position, not only because battles can be deadly and because they're going to face the bloodthirsty Teutonic Knights, but also because the Church forbids a woman from dressing as a man.

She earns quick repute among her fellow soldiers when she leads a successful attack on the Teutonic Knights. The duke of Hagenheim's son, Wolfgang, at first feels threatened by her apparent prowess in archery, but soon learns to accept and trust her as a fellow soldier.

The character of Mulan was spot-on. She's fierce and brave, but still feminine in her own right. Melanie Dickerson really made me believe that she was a real person. Mulan loves her mother, and she's incredibly loyal to her. Her fighting skills are incredibly believable, and I loved that (FOR ONCE) she didn't get kidnapped!

I wasn't crazy about Wolfgang, but he's a good-enough hero, once you can get behind him. Mulan really stole the spotlight. Andrei was great, and I wish there could have been more of him. I actually really liked Wolfgang's brother, Steffan, and the complexity that he added to the story. Really looking forward to reading more of him in Dickerson's next novel The Piper's Pursuit (a Pied Piper retelling), and I'm hoping she doesn't water him down too much to become the next Hagenheim hero.

The whole historical aspect of this novel was super interesting. Mulan must keep her secret of dressing as a man because it's against Church law for a woman to wear men's clothing. And then you've got the whole angle of her mother creating a special healing salve that people think could be demonic, and how THAT all plays into the story. Dickerson really pulled out all the stops to impress me with this one.

The religious language and preaching in this book seemed a bit heavier than Dickerson usually does, but it didn't bother me. Since so much of the plot is dependent on Church laws and tradition, I didn't think it was terribly overdone. I had a lengthy talk with a history expert/snob about the book once I was done reading it, and we agreed that most of the historical details in this novel were really well done. (Teutonic Knights for the win!) Except for the Church's Trial by Combat. I'm sorry; for that, I really think Dickerson just wanting to write another dramatic jousting scene. So, it's really cool, but (in my opinion) stretching the historical accuracy a little too far.

Advisory: One of the things that did kinda annoy me was the romance. But as usual, for a Dickerson novel. It doesn't take Mulan to be attracted to our hero, and once he discovers her secret, he's fairly quickly attracted to her. They think an awful lot about kissing each other before it actually happens, and then they share a number of kisses before the book ends.

Fighting/violence. Since there are battles and sieges, people are injured and killed, but nothing is too terribly descriptive.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

At Your Request (Apart from the Crowd)

Title: At Your Request

Series: Apart from the Crowd (Book #0.5)

Year: 2017

Author: Jen Turano

Summary: After Miss Wilhelmina Radcliff’s father lost the family fortune in a poor investment decision, she finds herself banished from the fashionable set within New York society and directly into the wallflower section. Taking on work as a social secretary in order to help with family expenses, she spends her time penning out invitations to all the most sought-after events, wondering if her life will ever improve.

While languishing one evening at a ball given by one of the esteemed New York patriarchs, Wilhelmina is appalled to discover that Mr. Edgar Wanamaker, her oldest and dearest friend, and the first gentleman to offer her a marriage proposal, has shown up at the ball unexpectedly, having been absent from New York ever since she rejected his offer years before.

Review: Sometimes one needs to post a negative book review; and as much as it hurts, it's necessary.

I picked up this e-novella on my Kindle a while ago when it was free on Amazon. I tend to do that kind of thing, to give myself a variety of things to read when I'm bored or in otherwise need of entertainment. This was a quick read. It's only a few chapters long, and I'm trying desperately to keep that in mind as I'm writing this review. I will say now (and not repeat) that it would have been much better fleshed out and longer.

Wilhelmina Radcliff has been reduced to a wallflower at social events. Once the bell of the ball, her social standing has taken a turn for the worse after her father loses his fortune in a bad investment and her suitor dumps her and spreads around a story of a flawed personality.

But that's before Edgar Wanamaker comes back into her life. Once her childhood best friend, there's now an awkwardness between them since she rejected his proposal of marriage at her debut into society.

My biggest problem with this book is that there's -- incredibly -- no action. The whole novella is basically conversations of things that happened previously, and we never get to follow the action of what actually happened WHEN it happened. It may just be a pet peeve of mine, but if you're going to tell me a story, let me SEE it happen. SHOW me the story; don't give me the play-by-play synopsis by a dialogue after the fact. The novella still could have kept its length, I believe, even with just following the action. And this story COULD have had a good bit of stuff happening. I mean, Edgar falls on the ice -- but we don't even get to see his fall. Seriously?

The only interesting thing about Wilhelmina is her name. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. She's almost set up as a proud, stubborn young lady, but she does absolutely nothing to live up to that. She overcomes every problem far too easily, and gives up any prejudice and pride to get her happy ending.

One last soap box: The most unrealistic part (I agree on this point with a number of other reviewers on Goodreads) is the beginning when Wilhelmina gets stuck under her chair in an effort to avoid Edgar. Why on earth does she go under her chair? Unless it was a large, overstuffed divan or lounge chair, I can't imagine how she thought she could actually hide behind it. Especially since she's not a small woman and she has a rather large bustle on the back of her dress. And then her hips and bustle get stuck under the chair in a situation that should be hilarious but turns out more unrealistic and painful to read.

Hey, at least it has a really pretty cover.

Advisory: Light romance leading to a few kisses.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Redemption (Legacy of the King's Pirates)

Title: The Redemption

Series: Legacy of the King's Pirates (Book #1)

Year: 2006

Author: MaryLu Tyndall (M.L. Tyndall)

Summary: Charlisse Bristol sets off on a voyage in search of a father she never knew, only to become shipwrecked on an island. She longs for a father’s love to fill the emptiness in her soul from an abusive childhood, but resigns herself to a lonely death of starvation. Her salvation comes in the form of a band of pirates and their fierce, enigmatic leader, Captain Merrick. 

The last thing Merrick expected to find in the middle of the Caribbean was a beautiful maiden. Now he is burdened with the task of not only protecting her from his crew, but from himself. A recent convert to Christianity, Merrick is haunted by a sordid past while he struggles to become a better man and accepts a mission from God to hunt down the most vicious pirates on the Caribbean. 

Charlisse can make no sense of Captain Merrick. A pirate who prays and drinks rum? Breaking her vow to never trust any man, she finds herself falling for the pirate/priest, who more than once risks his life to save her. When she confides in him her quest to find her father, Merrick agrees to help. What he doesn’t realize is Charlisse’s father is the ruthless Edward the Terror, the one man Merrick has vowed to hunt down and kill. 

Evil forces are at work against Charlisse and Merrick: enemies, battles, imprisonment, jealousy, and betrayal, all threaten to destroy not only their new found romance but their very lives. It will take a miracle—or several—for either of them to survive. 

Review: I love a good pirate book. Great characters, epic adventures, lots of piratey goodness... and, sadly, that wasn't exactly this book. Good pirate books are really hard to find (unless it's Batson's Pirate Adventures; EPIC).

When I first picked this one up (if I'm completely honest), I almost put it down after the first few chapters because I got bored. There's a storm and sinking ship, a pillaging pirate attack, and all in just the first four chapters, but I got really tired of the author TELLING me everything. The style felt choppy and kinda stunted. But I pushed through and decided to give it a second chance. It got better the further you got into it, as the style got easier to read. She still tells an awful lot, but the writing definitely got smoother.

Charlisse is a young lady from a fine family in England. True, she never knew her father, but she knows enough about him from the loving letters he used to send her mother. But after her mother's gone, and she's left at the abusive hand of her uncle, she flees England to find this amazing father who penned such loving letters.

A terrible storm rips apart her ship as she's traveling to the Americas, and she ends up stranded all alone on an uncharted island. Convinced she's never going to see another human again, she tries to scratch out a life for herself -- but wonders if it would be better to die than to face the hand of what she sees as an unmerciful God.

Merrick has turned from piracy to working for the English and Jamaican governments. After God got a hold of his heart and changed his life, he began questioning everything he used to live for. But a more compassionate hand as a privateer captain doesn't always render him a favorite with his crew. Adding a girl to the mix isn't exactly the best decision, but he knows he can't leave this poor girl alone on the island.

The ship battles were pretty cool. I mean, when you pick up a pirate book, you want some cool pirate action, and the author didn't skimp on the pirates. Sloane was probably my favorite character, and I wish there could have been more of his lovable self. He was such a great friend to Charlisse (almost like a loving uncle or grandfather, I thought) when she was convinced she was friendless, and you couldn't help but cheer him on. Thomas, too, was great.

The father angles in the book were pretty cool. I like a good daddy tale, and this book has two estranged daddys to take care of. Charlisse is trying to find the dad she believes must love her and want to care for her, and Merrick is running away from an over-controlling father.

Advisory: Lots of romance. The author keeps it pretty clean, but it doesn't take long for Charlisse to notice the hero's rippling muscles and handsome features. Likewise, he is attracted to her early on, and then you end up with a boatload of mushy descriptions and kisses. I wasn't too crazy about their relationship as, especially at the beginning, it felt very physical and fake. Further on, as they learned more about each other, I wanted to root for them more, but I got quickly disgusted with the amount of attraction.

Since you're dealing with pirates, there are a few times that the author touches on the immorality and sexual dealings the pirates have with women on shore. Charlisse, as the only woman on a pirate ship, is sometimes put into positions where the men try to make advances on her. The author handles the situations well, but for all that's included in the book, I would have to recommend this for an older audience.

Also, pirate action and violence. There are battles, like I mentioned before, and some descriptions of blood and death (because you can't have a pirate book where people don't die), but I thought it was well balanced for the tone of the book.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Starlighter (Dragons of Starlight)

Title: Starlighter

Series: Dragons of Starlight (Book #1)

Year: 2010

Author: Bryan Davis

Summary: For years, tales of dragons from another world kidnapping and enslaving humans have been circulating in Jason Masters’ world, while for a slave girl named Koren, the stories of a human world seem pure myth. Together, these two teens will need to bridge two planets in order to overthrow the draconic threat and bring the lost slaves home.

What if the Legends Are True?

Jason Masters doubted the myths that told of people taken through a portal to another realm and enslaved by dragons. But when he receives a cryptic message from his missing brother, he must uncover the truth and find the portal before it’s too late. At the same time, Koren, a slave in the dragons’ realm, discovers she has a gift that could either save or help doom her people. As Jason and Koren work to rescue the enslaved humans, a mystic prophecy surrounding a black egg may make all their efforts futile.

Review: I want to say that reading this book recently was the first time I'd ever read it, but it tasted familiar. I'm not positive I read it years ago, and forgot about it, or if I've read another book that was very similar. Blame it on my mom brain. Or maybe this book was just a bit too predictable.

Dragon stories can be super tricky. As a dragon fanatic, I want dragon stories that don't do all the usual things with the exact same dragons. I want something different, and I don't want you to portray the dragons as absolute, thoughtless monsters who deserve to be eliminated completely. That's just awful. Bryan Davis, however, knows how to do dragons. I've read his Dragons in Our Midst series (and two succeeding series) and really enjoyed it. The other books of his that I've read, I'm really not a fan of, but I like how he does dragons, so I thought I should give this series a shot. I also recently picked up book 1 and 3 of this series at two separate second hand stores in the last few months, so I thought fate was telling me it was time.

Jason is a likeable hero who wants to do what's right. He struggles with believing the tales of another world -- a DRAGON world -- that his family believes in. Not only are the tales of dragons kidnapping and enslaving humans seem farfetched, it's illegal to believe in them. But after both of his beloved brothers leave home (and consequently disappear without any answers) to find the dragons and rescue the slaves, Jason finds himself catapulted into an adventure that cannot be stopped.

Koren is a slave of the dragons. Sure, she's probably got the best of the dragon masters over her, but life can still be rough. She wants to help the people she loves around her, but it's difficult to sneak behind their backs. Storytelling is one thing she enjoys, and everyone around her loves to listen to her tales. She just doesn't realize the danger her stories will get her into.

This story has a lot of elements from the biblical account of Moses; in a way, it almost feels like a dragon parody of the Moses story. Which I thought was really cool. It can often be really difficult to use a biblical account to weave a new story together without it seeming super cheesy and awful preachy. Bryan Davis doesn't do that; instead, this story resonates with deep themes, fun characters, adventure, and suspense. I ended up enjoying the book a lot more than I thought I would. And I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. First things first, however... I have to get myself a copy of book #2.

I think my one complaint was the amount of info-dumping in the first couple chapters of the book. There is a whole solar system to set up, with two specific planets to tell the reader about, and you get all the stuff right at the beginning. The information there is good because then you know immediately what's going on and what all the rules are, but I got bored in all the telling. I think some of those details could have been better shown, possibly through some later chapters in the book.

If you're looking for a fun and not too lengthy dragon adventure that gets you hooked pretty fast, then this is your kind of story.

Advisory: Fantasy violence. The dragons do not always treat their slaves humanely, since they do not believe them to be creatures of extreme intelligence or feeling (i.e. the humans are basically dogs to them). There is a lot of fighting and fire, but nothing is terribly graphic. And with dragons involved, of course, there are also some deaths -- which is to be expected.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, March 21, 2019

King's Blood (Kinsman Chronicles)

Title: King's Blood

Series: Kinsman Chronicles (Book #2)

Year: 2017

Author: Jill Williamson

Summary: The Five Realms have been destroyed. The remnants of the population who escaped now find themselves confined only to several hundred ships adrift at sea. Guided by hope, rumor, and a promise, they sail north into the unknown, desperate to find land that might become their new home. 

As the king's illness worsens, Sâr Wilek takes authority over the expedition and struggles to rule the disjointed people, while assassination attempts, vicious serpents, dangerous storms, and dark magic endanger his life and the survival of his people. 

One prophecy has come to pass, but another looms dauntingly in the future. Who is this promised Deliverer? And if the Magonians have him, what might that mean for the realm of Armania?

Review: This book is not for the faint of heart. If you don't want a darker, twisted, heart-wrenching tale, this is probably not for you. I -- however -- read it, enjoyed it, and had my heart ripped out and torn in half before my very eyes.

Gone are the kingdoms of the past. The land that once housed the Five Realms is no more, swallowed by the earth. And now the people who survived are confined to ships sailing for the unknown. One man claims to know where an island is, but can they find it, and will it be sufficient enough to house everyone? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, there's lots of royal and political intrigue happening upon the ships. Trevn pursues his forbidden courtship with Mielle and takes up nautical lessons. Wilek is stretched to the limit trying to keep the peace and stay on top of his slowly deteriorating father, while constantly forgetting about things. Janek's claim as the Second Arm and legitimate heir is challenged and no one knows quite how to prove his loyalties.

This book, honestly, has everything. In the middle of the ocean, the fleet is attacked by pirates and sea serpents (Dawn Treader, anyone?). Mantics are still alive, rationing out the little magical evenroot they have left, and they're just as eager to take over the Five Realms.

Trevn, as was in the first book, was my favorite. It was so much fun following his adventures with learning the ropes (literally) on the ships, and seeing his impulsive decisions (no spoilers, sorry). Inolah was fantastic, too. I mean, how many other heavily pregnant women do you know who can pick up a sword and defend themselves?? She also has a great amount of sass, though she only dishes it out regally and discretely.

I feel like the involvement of the demon/spirit realm was more in this book when compared to the first. Granted, it'd been about 4 years since I read King's Folly, so it took me a bit to remember everything and get back into the tale. But things are definitely getting darker. Gozan, Magon, and the other shadir are not content to let things slide by; they're ready and waiting for the opportune moment to take over. The number of traitors to the Hadar line just grow and grow. There's a lot at stake here, and the Five Realms are on the verge of complete collapse and ruin.

Once they think the journey's over, they're going to realize it's just the beginning.

One simply cannot write a review of this book without mentioning the end. I cannot allow spoilers, but I must at least say this: the writer in me applauds Jill for cleverly building up to that, while the reader in me is screaming out in pain and clamoring for justice.

Advisory: Again, as with the first book, harems and multiple wives and concubines are involved. While it does provide a lot of the plot for the book, Jill does start to show the polygamy as more of a sin in this book. Some characters are mentioned as acting intimate, etc. One woman wants to get pregnant and tries to seduce a man. During a wedding, the bride and groom are given a white handkerchief to prove the bride's virginity, and they are said to "give themselves to each other." I thought the topic was handled very well, but I would recommend that this series is definitely for older, mature readers.

Also, lots of violence. I lost count of how many people died in this book. The writer in me nods and agrees the deaths were necessary, but you should be warned. Battles and blood. A few women give birth, but nothing is too terribly graphic. One character's hand is smashed; several are stabbed. People get sick, and one man gambles his whole set of clothing away (again, nothing is described).

The realm of magic and spirit-stuff is heavy in this book, as I said before. To me, though, since the world is clearly fictional, it doesn't bother me. Additionally, the spirit realm parallels the eternal battle of good vs. evil. Slowly, the people have been realizing and worshipping the one true God of the Five Realms, but many still hold to the false gods. In a way, it feels like Christians in the early ages coming away from Greek/Roman god worship and finding truth, life, healing, and love in the one true God.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Elantris (Elantris)

Title: Elantris

Series: Elantris (Book #1)

Year: 2006

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Summary: Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

A rare epic fantasy that doesn't recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It's also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

Review: I did not expect to love this book as much as I did. It's just about as un-cliche a fantasy story as you can get nowadays. Some of the characters reminded me of grown-up Prydain Chronicles characters, and you just can't help but love them for it. While many fantasy books you're able to predict a good amount of what's to come, with this one -- forget it. Get ready for a wild ride, and make sure your seatbelt's bucked.

Raoden is your typical, every day prince. He's well liked by the people, he argues with his father, he's got big dreams -- until everything is shattered when he's taken by the Shaod. Now cast out and shunned, he must find a new life in Elantris, the former city of the gods, now home to the dead of a terrible curse.

Sarene is headed to a new kingdom and a new husband -- the latter who she's never actually met in person. She believes, though, that this marriage will make her happy, and she's eager to start on this new adventure. Upon her arrival, however, she's greeted with the news that her betrothed, Prince Raoden, is dead. Thrown into grieving for a man she never met, she determines to get to the bottom of his death. No one wants to talk about it, and it's not that difficult to suspect some evil at play.

Hrathen's main goal is to save a kingdom. His religious beliefs are the people's only hope for survival, since -- if they don't convert -- they'll be overturned and lost in a bloody battle. He has to convert everyone fast, and he believes the mysterious, cursed city of Elantris might have some answers.

This book is terribly hard to describe in a nutshell. Ok, it's just terribly hard to describe in any type of short description. I don't even think the summary does it justice. Sanderson has woven multiple subplots along with each of the three main characters, and the reader doesn't get a break. But all roads lead to the ocean, and it all marvelously comes together at the end. Even though this is the first book in a series (which is part of a larger Cosmos, I'm told), the ending is incredibly satisfying.

I don't know that I could properly review this book lest I fall into terrible fangirling and all caps typing. Sarene was superb. Galladon was probably my favorite and I NEED MORE OF GALLADON. I loved politics and the intrigue. I loved all the things. RAODEN was perfect; his interaction with Sarene -- ALL OF IT -- was just amazing.

See? I succumbed to fangirling and all caps. *le sigh* It was fated to happen. Just go read this. You won't regret it. I can't English very well and review anymore.

Advisory: The people of Elantris are taken by a curse known as the Shaod. It's basically a living-dead type of situation, where they continue to live, but their hearts stop and they don't require food to eat. Their skin turns brown and their hair falls out. However, their bodies do not heal themselves (even after a simple stubbing of the toe), so eventually, the build-up of pain in one's body drives them mad. It sounds awful, but Sanderson actually did very well in portraying the Shaod. Yes, you get the sense that it's dreadful, but it's not over-the-top sickening.

There is obviously some magic going on in this book. The way I understood it was that the world is controlled by Aons, little elements/letters/symbols that only those of Elantris can draw/empower. The Shaod curse that now destroys lives used to elevate lives with a blessing: power with immortality. One character spends a good deal of the book studying the Aons, though since this is strictly a fantasy world, it is nearly impossible that anything done in Elantris could be replicated in our world.

There are also two main religions battling for supremacy in the book. I can't tell if Sanderson fashioned them after actual religions known on earth, but they did carry elements that I recognized from familiar religions. To analyze that, though, I think I would need to read more of his works to learn more about each one.

Also, fantasy violence and fighting. Several characters are injured in battles and whatnot. One cult practice briefly shows a human sacrifice.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 9, 2019

In the Hall of the Dragon King (The Dragon King Trilogy)

Title: In the Hall of the Dragon King

Series: The Dragon King Trilogy (Book #1)

Year: 1982

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

Summary: Carrying a sealed message from the war-hero Dragon King to the queen, Quentin and his outlaw companion, Theido, plunge headlong into a fantastic odyssey and mystic quest.  Danger lurks everywhere in the brutal terrain, and particularly in the threats from merciless creatures, both human and not-so-human.

While at the castle, the wicked Prince Jaspin schemes to secure the crown for himself, and an evil sorcerer concocts his own monstrous plan.  A plan that Quentin and Theido could never imagine.

In the youth's valiant efforts to save the kingdom and fulfill his unique destiny, he will cross strange and wondrous lands; encounter brave knights, beautiful maidens, and a mysterious hermit; and battle a giant, deadly serpent.

In this first book of the Dragon King Trilogy, Stephen R. Lawhead has deftly woven a timeless epic of war, adventure, fantasy, and political intrigue.

Review: It took me a bit to get into this book. One, because I've been super distracted with taking care of my ten month old daughter and trying to find time to work on my Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling. Two, because it didn't completely grab my interest at first. Honestly, I feel like I was expecting more out of this book. It wasn't bad; it just didn't captivate me. And maybe I'm too picky for thinking that.

Quentin is a young man in training to be a priest of the god Ariel, and he's pretty serious about his duty. That is, until a knight of the legendary Dragon King arrives on the temple steps, near death and pleading with the priests to help him accomplish his mission. Quentin volunteers and finds himself beginning an adventure that he believes will end with delivering a secret letter to the Queen herself.

To me, this really wasn't a dragon story, and in that I was disappointed. With all the promise of dragons on the cover and title, I was really hoping for some dragon action, but all we got was an illusion of a dragon in one scene on the beach.

Honestly, it felt more like a Robin Hood retelling. Because the good Dragon King was away at war and hadn't been heard from in years (possibly believed dead), the evil younger brother of the king is looking to usurp the throne (Prince John much, legends?). He has a dark magician on his side, which puts the odds incredibly in his favor, and the kingdom is nearly ready to succumb.

There are still pockets of rebellion, much in the Robin Hood style of archers living in the forest, and the queen herself is willing to do whatever it takes to save her realm.

This is almost your typical cliche fantasy, epic quest kind of story. A young underdog thrown from his home, embarks on a quest, befriends a wise wizard, gains the servitude of a loyal follower, and (spoiler) falls in love with the princess. We've also got some shipwrecks, illnesses, and things along those lines that deter it from the normal cliche track enough that it's not like every other fantasy out there. But no dragons. *tears* Maybe in the next two books of the trilogy. One can hope.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. Part of me just wishes it didn't taste as cliche as it did. This is an older publication, which makes sense; today's readers (myself included) are just looking for more originality. Would recommend if you're a fantasy buff wanting to read a classic type of fantasy story.

Advisory: Fantasy violence/fighting. Nothing too graphic to trouble anyone, I believe, if you're used to this kind of story. One character fights a giant snake; a few characters get wounded/sick.

Dark magic. Fighting with the younger brother/Prince John character is a necromancer who is proficient in the dark arts. He can shapeshift, among other things, but is clearly shown to be evil. At one point, he uses his magic to raise warriors into, what he calls, the Death Legion.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars