Review of Dreamdark: Blackbringer, by Laini Taylor



by Laini Taylor

Firebird (Penguin), 2007. 437 pages.
Starred review.

Magpie Windwitch is as different from the other fairies in her world as her world is different from your “typical” fantasy fairy kingdom.

Fairies have been in the world for eons longer than humans, and thousands of years ago, fairy champions had great battles and sealed all the devils into bottles. The sealing spell on the bottles ensured that nothing existing at that time could possibly break the seal. But humans showed up on earth some time after that, and the seals had no power against them.

“Magpie sighed. One devil, just one in all of devil history, had granted three wishes to the human who freed it. Magpie had caught that troublemaking snag five years ago and put him back, but the damage was already done. The mannies had a mania for it now, and every chance they got they freed some wicked thing back into the world, and they surely didn’t get wishes for their trouble.”

But the devil whose empty bottle Magpie finds at the start of this book is no ordinary devil. The fishermen are gone, but there is no blood. When Magpie reads their last memory, it is only of darkness. Most sinister of all, the bottle was sealed by the Magruwen himself, one of the great djinn who made the world, but is now sleeping. He wouldn’t normally bother with a mere devil.

Most fairies wouldn’t worry about it, either. But Magpie is different. She and her crow “family” can’t let it rest, and her attempts to set right this evil unloosed on the world bring her to terms with her own destiny. Ultimately, the very existence of the world rests in her hands.

Along the way, she meets some others her age who seem, like her, able to sense the Tapestry that makes up the world, each in a distinctive way.

Laini Taylor has constructed an intricate world with feisty, memorable characters. The different fairies and fairy clans have different types of magic, usually intriguing. I especially like the one who can knit himself a magical skin with wings that work. (It makes sense. Knitting is magical!) There’s even an imp with the gift of serendip that can find anything it seeks, wherever it may be.

Magpie is incredibly tough and loyal to her crow “brothers.” But she still has the vanity of a lass, hurt when an elegant lady turns up her nose at the dirt of battle sticking to Magpie and her unpolished manners. She’s a believable and lovable heroine.

I like fantasy books where the fantasy could really be happening, only we humans are oblivious. In that case, I’m mighty thankful to Magpie for saving the world!

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Review of His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik

his_majestys_dragonHis Majesty’s Dragon

by Naomi Novik

Read by Simon Vance

Books on Tape, Westminster, MD, 2007. 10 hours, 9 CDs.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #5 Fiction

His Majesty’s Dragon reminds me of a Patrick O’Brian naval adventure story — with dragons!

Set in an alternate world where dragons are used for aerial combat, the book opens as Captain Will Lawrence discovers a ready-to-hatch dragon egg on the French ship he has just captured. He orders all the officers to draw straws to decide who will have to give up their life on the navy, harness the dragon, and switch to the lonely life of an aviator. They all know that the new aviator will henceforth have mainly the dragon for company.

However, the newly hatched dragon has his own plans and chooses Lawrence himself. Without having given it thought ahead of time, he names the dragon Temeraire, after a ship he once served on. Then he must leave the Navy to train with Temeraire for the expected imminent invasion by Napoleon’s forces.

The facts of dragon training are presented matter-of-factly, as we learn along with Lawrence how it’s done. It’s all taken as seriously as if these were sailing ships of the time, and you find yourself completely believing in this world and coming to understand the strategies of dragon combat.

As you might expect, despite his youth and inexperience, Temeraire and his captain are drawn into a great battle at the climax. It’s all exciting and fascinating.

I listened to this book on my way to work, and found myself quickly drawn in. Simon Vance presents the different voices so you can recognize who is speaking. I found life in His Majesty’s Aerial Corps to be so intriguing, I quickly forgot it had never really happened.

Yes, an aviator’s life is limited in human companionship, but Lawrence quickly finds that Temeraire’s companionship more than makes up for it.

This is a brilliant book, and I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the series.

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