Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Grab your horned helmets and wooden shields! We’re diving into a Viking fantasy this time.

Halli lives in a valley founded by 12 Heroes long ago who fought monsters, called Trows, for mastery of the land. As the second son in his family, he’s a bit of a prankster, seeking attention from a village that would rather see him remain quiet and out of the way than have fun. But when his uncle is murdered by the arbiter of another house, Halli embarks on a quest, seeking revenge for his fallen kin. Along the way he begins to question his family’s history, the legends of the Trows, and his feelings for a young girl named Aud.

I had high hopes for this book. Really, I did. After seeing “How to Train Your Dragon” in theaters this last spring, Viking stories have made it onto my list of things to explore. But this book was probably not the best story to start with, for multiple reasons.

Heroes of the Valley gets off to a slow start. For the first 75 pages or so, the events that take place and background information provided (mostly about Halli’s history with his family) have little—if any—importance to the actual plot. Eventually, things picked up around page 200 or so. But Halli himself was just a boring character. I found him unsympathetic and without much drive to do anything (except complain) until his uncle is killed, and even then I didn’t believe he was genuinely interested in regaining his family’s honor. The beginning of the book insisted on how witty Halli was but I had difficulty believing this as he made page after page of untactful and stupid choices. Not to mention that his dialogue was staler than a piece of dry flat bread. Sure, he had a few funny lines, but still lacked the charisma that you would expect an insisted “prankster” to have. I think this was partially due to his perfect grammar—for a fifteen year old kid, the guy spoke like an experienced noble, using diction beyond the intelligence of a Viking teenager. Really, it was the female lead, Aud, who had the personality he should have had. She was forward, charismatic, intelligent, attractive, brave, ect., and I was sad to see that she didn’t show up more. Stroud placed her in this story to be the love interest, but for those of you seeking romance, you’ll be disappointed by the end. Though it’s clear that Aud and Halli like each other, it’s never clear what happens to the two of them.

The beginning of the novel leads you to believe that the focus of Halli’s adventure will lead him to an epic battle with the Trows (just the ancestors of the 12 houses did), due to the emphasis on them throughout the story. (Trows are creatures of the earth that come out at night and eat people. They’re never really described, except that they are human like, have sharp claws, and smell like dirt) However, instead, the ending focuses on the dying relationship between the houses, rather than the union of them against a common enemy. Though I thought the ending was cut too short, I enjoyed Halli’s display of maturity in the end and his rise to become a hero. I would say that the story is an exploration in what makes a hero - how a legend it born, how it gets distorted and dies, and how a new legend can arise when seeking the truth - rather than your typical adventure story.

Final Rating: 4/8 tentacles

Monday, July 19, 2010

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Reading this book was like eating a peppermint Yorkshire patty. Though my breath wasn’t any fresher after I closed the cover of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, I released the same “ahhh,” that normally follows the consumption of the mint treat. Girls working with dragons are nothing new to teen fiction, but Alison Goodman has created a world so different from what I’ve seen before in YA fantasy that it was refreshing to read.

The world, a blend of fantasy and Asian mythology, is incredibly original. The emperor of this land, a land much like ancient China, is guided by a council which consists of 12 Dragoneyes. Dragoneyes are people gifted with the ability to see the spirit dragons of the zodiac (for example, there’s a dog dragon, a horse dragon, a tiger dragon, etc.). Every year, with the turn of the calendar, a new one comes to power, and the dragon itself chooses a new apprentice from a pool of 12-year-old boys (so at any time, there are 24 servants to the dragons—12 masters and 12 apprentices).

Which leads us to the star of this novel, Eon. Eon is actually Eona, a 16-year-old girl with Dragoneye powers pretending to be a boy so she can become the Rat Dragon’s successor. Though she is not chosen, her participation in the ceremony awakens an even greater force: The Mirror Dragon, which has been lost for more than 500 years. The reawakening of this dragon means that Eon(a) is now a Dragon Lord and must collaborate with Lord Ion, the new Rat Dragon Master. This ends up proving to be quite difficult because—to put it simply—he’s not interested in sharing. Eon(a) quickly finds herself in the middle of a power struggle, with Lord Ion trying to take the emperor’s throne.

Though I admit that just about every plot twist was predictable, for once the predictability was enjoyable. Even from the very beginning, you can anticipate the direction the book is heading, and I found myself reading quickly to satisfy my expectations (which were met with flying colors). I'll also admit that the book was a bit long, particularly in the middle, with just a tad too much detail going into ceremonies and whatnot. But it didn't really matter because towards the end I couldn’t put the book down. The action sequences are exciting and well choreographed, and the supporting cast of characters' loyalty "aw" inspiring. This cast included a transvestite named Lady Dela, who teaches Eon(a) about the courage and importance of being true to yourself (which is, without a doubt, the main theme of this book). Well written and fun, I think it's safe to say that I highly anticipate the release of Goodman’s next novel in the series.

Final Rating: 7/8 tentacles

Friday, July 16, 2010

Break the Champagne Bottle!

Metaphorically speaking, of course. Christening this blog by literally breaking a champagne bottle over my laptop would just be foolish for...obvious reasons. I guess it would be kind of cool, but as a college student I barely have enough money to pay for school, let alone a new computer. Besides, champagne is expensive. Anyway. Hoo-ray for the first post! And let me start off by saying welcome to Oktopus Ink!

And yes, I know “Oktopus” is spelled wrong.

As this is my first blog, you’ll have to bear with me as I get used to the format and style of Google’s Blogger. For a while now I’ve wanted to start a blog, and since I spend most of my time reading YA Fiction/Children's, I figure why not do a blog about books? I like reading, and I like talking about what I read—nay, scratch that, I LOVE talking about what I read, so it seems like a match made in heaven. I’ll start with one book a week, and hopefully evolve into two books a week in the near future if I can spare the time. Some books that I review may not be hawt-off-the-press, but I will try to review things that are relatively new to the shelf or part of a current fad. Though...whether they deserve the popularity may be up for debate (I'm thinking about Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series). At the end of each review I’ll rate each book on a scale of one to eight tentacles, one tentacle meaning the book was not worth my time and eight tentacles meaning the book was god-like. Cute, no?

So again, welcome to Oktopus Ink, where I prefer to keep the ink ON the page. ;3