Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Review: Foxmask

Eyvind's daughter Criedhe has loved her friend Thorvald for her entire life. When Thorvald turns eighteen, he is given a disturbing piece of news by his mother, Margaret: that he is not Ulf's son as he had thought, but the traitor Somerled's. Desperate to find out whether he is truly Somerled's child in nature as well as by birth, Thorvald embarks on a voyage to find his father, who was banished from the Light Isles. Thorvald doesn't know that Criedhe has been watching him, and that she has stowed away on his ship to be with him. He is angry when he finds out, but by then they are already too far out to sea to simply turn around and take her home. This is a story about a young man's quest for his father, a young woman's journey to find love, and an ancient feud. Not quite as well-written as Wolfskin-- there wasn't enough time in the beginning to get to know Criedhe before she followed Thorvald to the ends of the earth, with the end result that I didn't really liked her at first. This act of love simply seems silly rather than courageous, something that she herself comes to admit later on in the book. Thorvald and several of the support characters are more interesting, though Thorvald isn't tremendously likeable either. Overall, the book was interesting and a good read, but not a fantastic one. My rating is 3.5 stars out of 5. [462 pages.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review: Wolfskin

All Eyvind has ever wanted in life is to be a Wolfskin, a warrior of legends serving the god Thor. When his elder brother, the Wolfskin Eirik, comes home, he brings Eyvind an unexpected task. Eirik's comrade Ulf doesn't quite know what to do with his younger brother, Somerled, who has witnessed terrible tragedy and become extremely withdrawn. It has become Eyvind's task to befriend Somerled and teach him how to be a boy. As clever Somerled and strong Eyvind spend time together, hunting, climbing trees, and learning combative training, they grow in their friendship, which becomes a brotherlike bond rather than an enforced task. In time, they become blood brothers, swearing an unbreakable oath to one another.

The years pass, and Eyvind becomes a Wolfskin of renown. As Ulf prepares to depart for a place known as the Light Isles, Somerled's newfound happiness wanes, disappointed that his elder brother is leaving him behind yet again. Eyvind speaks up for him to the Jarl, the ruler of their settlement, requesting that Somerled be allowed to go to the Light Isles. Ulf doesn't want Somerled to come, but he can hardly say no to the Jarl. In turn, Eyvind ends up also going along on the voyage, something he doesn't really want to do. As they reach the Light Isles, Ulf makes a peaceful contract with the king there, and the two peoples dwell in peace alongside one another. When Ulf is viciously murdered, Somerled takes over in his brother's stead, and the once-peaceful settlement becomes one of violence and bloodlust. Eyvind must put aside his blind obedience to Somerled and their blood bond, and search for the truth in order to save both peoples.

This is an epic tale based on the dark fairytale of The Singing Harp. There is a depth of cultural richness in this novel that makes the story gripping and believable. It's believable because it's very true to life. While reading it, I could really feel characters' pain, love, loss, longing, and betrayal as if it was my own. Some parts are so beautiful they'll make your heart ache; some so cruel and horrific you'll want to weep. This is not a book for the fainthearted-- some of the unsettling parts are quite graphic, and there are some sexual parts that make this book inappropriate for younger readers. The good and the bad twine together in a way that makes it feel like an epic of your own personal history. I give it 4 stars out of 5. [489 pages.]

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: Cybele's Secret

A companion novel to Wildwood Dancing, this book takes place six years after the events of its predecessor and is told from the viewpoint of Paula, one of Jena's younger sisters. The scholarly Paula has been chosen to assist her father on a business trip to Istanbul to obtain a long-lost yet valuable artifact known as Cybele's Gift. Upon arrival, Paula and her father learn that one of their business associates has been killed, possibly in connection with the artifact--they aren't the only ones who want it, and apparently some bidders are prepared to pay any price to obtain it. Number one on Paula's list of suspects is the dashing pirate Duarte Aguiar, a man of ill repute in the city. Paula's father entreats her to hire a bodyguard to keep her safe during their stay, and she eventually hires a man named Stoyan. Stoyan is muscular and well-built, an excellent bodyguard. His previous employer, however, was the business associate that was murdered while Stoyan was away, so Paula questions his motives. While trying to learn whether she can trust Stoyan, Paula is invited to the house of a wealthy independant woman named Irene. It's not safe for women to walk the streets of Istanbul alone, so Paula must have an escort to get there-- either Stoyan or Irene's steward, the eunech Murat, while her father tends to business. The quest for Cybele's Gift is filled with danger, and Paula and her friends will be tested to their limits. Who can Paula trust? Who will stop at nothing to obtain the precious artifact? And why does the pirate Duarte seem so interested in Paula? The story that unfolds is interesting and exciting, but nowhere near as good as its predecessor. It's still a good story, however, and I'd give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. [424 pages.]