Vampirates Book 4 Black HeartI picked up a copy of Vampirates: Black Heart and only realized when I was about to start reading that it’s not the first volume in a series, as I had thought, but the fourth. Oh well! I read it anyway. I’m really not sure I was missing much, though my synopsis might be a bit vague.

Twins Grace and Connor have found themselves in some strange circumstances since their father died, their mother having died – more or less – when they were infants. I gather there was a shipwreck, and they were rescued by pirates – Connor – and Vampirates – Grace. Each was immediately attracted to the lives of their rescuers, Connor joining a pirate crew and Grace befriending the Vampirates. At the beginning of this volume, they’ve been briefly reunited and are in position to learn about their mother and her history. Also to get embroiled in internal Vampirate politics and a possible clash building between the mortal Pirates and the Vampirates and deal with first romance, them being fourteen and this being a vampire book.

I was not expecting either great writing or a great plot. I was rather hoping for a trashily fun book, with swashbuckling.

I am sad to report that there is decidedly little swashbuckling.

There are, however, rather a lot of exclamation points, often at rather inappropriate times. For instance, a character who is supposed to “come across as an old curmudgeon”¹ should not use exclamation points. Ever, really, much less often. On a similar vein is, “‘No!’ Cheng Li said very calmly.”² On cannot, by definition, exclaim calmly.

The pirates are overly civilized, the good Vampirates are boring, and the evil Vampirates are unconvincing in their evil. The strange lapses of sense³ could be somewhat forgiven by fun and swashbuckling, but alas, both are lacking.

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¹p. 412
²p. 491
³Why is a character who’s supposed to be kept out of combat being trained for a deadly combat mission? What is up with the “pregnancy spell”? How is the idiot character better at negotiation than the intelligent captain?

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Vampirates: Black Heart

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The Sorceress Book Cover Michael ScottI loved the first two books of this series, The Alchemyst and The Magician. The Sorceress is the third, and it is well written, continues to richly use myth and legend to excellent and at times surprising effect, and is enjoyable. And yet, it kinda fails.

The recap: All the myths and legends are real. Seriously: all. And there’s a prophesy about twins who could save or destroy the world. Nicholas Flamel, an immortal, believes Sophie and Josh Newman are those twins. He takes them under his wings, protects them from the bad guys who want to use them to destroy the world, gets their magic potential awakened and starts their training.

Of course, if Flamel hadn’t found them, they may not have been in any danger in the first place. And the process of awakening their auras, the source of their magic, could have killed them or driven them mad.

Which we’ve known since page 204 of the first book. Which Sophie and Josh have known since page 204 of the first book. Hell, they spend fifty pages dealing with it. And then they seemed to move one. So why, I ask you, do Sophie and Josh act like they never knew, and feel the need to spend a chunk of the third book freaking out about what could have happened? It was big, it was traumatic, and, for the characters, it was all of six days ago. And they… forgot? Weren’t really paying attention during the several arguments? In which they were participating? It’s one of a handful of blatant continuity errors, though it’s the one that bothered me the most.

In The Magician, the author asked us to believe something that made very little sense; in The Sorceress, he asks us to be surprised by something that I always assumed. Between this and the continuity errors, I’m starting to feel that he doesn’t respect either his readers or his characters. He could be writing amazing, rich, detailed, thoughtful books; we know, because he did it in the first book (and, basically, the second). Instead, the seeds of that amazing, rich, detailed third book are mired in sloppiness. And that’s unbelievably frustrating.

Available May 26, 2009

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The Sorceress ~ Michael Scott

The first two installments of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel are really good, and no, they’re not Harry Potter rip-offs. J.K. Rowling and Michael Scott both take the characters of Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel (aside: awful name she’s got, eh?) from legend. History is reasonable certain that they were born in the fourteenth century, and died in the fifteenth, but there’s been some funny hocus-pocus involving graves…

Anyway, beginning in The Alchemyst and continuing in The Magician, two perfectly normal teenagers – twins, of course, Josh and Sophie – are caught up in perfectly abnormal events after Josh’s employer at a used bookstore is attacked by a couple golems in an attempt to steal a book. Naturally, this is not just any book; it is the Codex, and the bookstore owner is not just any bookstore owner (though even the most ordinary bookstore owner is, by nature, awesome), and these are not just any twins.

Ready? Set? Go.

This is fantasy and modern mythology at its best. The magic is used consistently and is powerful but limited; the myths are fascinating and well enough explained that you don’t need to go running to wikipedia constantly, but not so thoroughly explained that you get bogged down in exposition. And while the more curious reader may want to go for wikipedia after finishing, the author’s note adds a nice bit of extra information. The characters feel true – the potential for jealousy and the fear of being left behind are particularly well done – whether Gen Y teenagers, nigh-immortal humans, or being much, much older than that. Even the bad guys are complex and nuanced, without for a moment compromising their bad guy status.

Just as good is the writing. I’m pretty good at reading on the subway, getting lost in the book just enough to appreciate it without missing my stop. I’ve actually never missed my stop due to a book. (Yet.) Reading The Magician, I had a couple very close calls. The pacing is intense; you’re constantly being pulled along to the next plot point, to the next realization. Even when there’s a moment to breathe between dangers, the stuff you learn and the interactions between characters are fascinating and keep you absorbed. If anything, at a few points the narration moves too quickly. I had to fight the temptation to skim; I wanted to know what happened, but there were so many details I didn’t want to miss.

Now comes the part of this review I’ve been pondering since the idea of this blog was planted in my brain a couple months ago. There is one substantial flaw in The Magician, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to explain it without giving things away. I think I will just say that at one point, the author decides to play with the minds of the readers. Gentle reader, don’t let him. Believe what your instincts tell you. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.

And I hope you do get there, because these are bloody good books, and with more to come. YAY!

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Not a great book, but not bad, either. It’s your standard child of a book collector finds something interesting and gets involved in something big and fantastical, all revolving around a book. (If you don’t think this is a trope, you’d don’t read the same books I do. Which, come to think of it, is probably why you’re reading this. Either that, or you’re my friend.)

Note that I’m not complaining about the trope – I love books about books – but it just was a fairly mediocre entry into the annals of the genre. The kids were okay – twins just turning thirteen, who don’t get along – but the adults were pretty flat, especially the overprotective best-friend-of-dead-mother. The plot does manage a few fun twists, one of which is actually fairly brilliant. Overall, it was a fun, quick read, but you probably don’t need to go out of your way to find it.