Beyond Strange New Words

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

"[But] I fear that in the individual lives of all but a few, the balance is in debit - we do so little that is positive good, even if we negatively avoid what is actively evil."
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien - J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 80

Love and Intrigue by Friedrich Schiller

Shiller's Early Dramas: Love and Intrigue/Wallenstein's Camp/The Piccolomini/Death of a Wallenstein - Friedrich von Schiller

Love and Intrigue* is a play from the German Classicism era, although its tone is more that of Romanticism. Ferdinand von Walter, a premier’s son, and Louisa, a music teacher’s daughter, fall in love; their love, however, stands little to no chance against their vastly different social statuses and political intrigues.

Therefore, Love and Intrigue is a tragedy, something akin Cinderella meets Romeo and Juliet. The young sweethearts are sacrificed at the expense of the premier’s past sins and their cover-ups which demand ever more convoluted intrigues for him and his accomplices to retain their positions, their hopes resting on Ferdinand doing his father’s bidding.

Thus, upon Ferdinand’s refusal to comply due to his affection for Louisa, a plan is set in motion to break them apart. Alas, the way Ferdinand handles the knot of intrigues he finds himself in left me with mixed feelings about him, mostly because of his blindness to the possibility of the said intrigue.

Unlike Ferdinand, the sixteen-year-old, innocent Louisa, is anything but ignorant and blind, and I loved her for how astutely she sees through people and their intentions and how she strives to do right by people she deems she must do right by, which is – as it was meant to – her very downfall.

Of the other characters, Lady Milford was intriguing and rather likeable, while the play also employed your typical assortment of villains and more or less stock supporting characters.

All in all, Love and Intrigue is a good enough read for a work that really should be seen in a theatre, and its themes give food for thought at the present time just as they did when it was written.

This review was originally published on my book blog.

 

* I only read Love and Intrigue of the plays in this book but I couldn't find a stand-alone edition to shelve on here.

Green but for a Season (Captive Prince short stories #1) by C. S. Pacat

Green but for a Season: A Captive Prince Short Story (Captive Prince Short Stories Book 1) - C.S. Pacat

Green but for a Season is a Captive Prince short story about the relationship between Jord and Aimeric, set during the events of Prince’s Gambit. Or so the summary says, but it is actually mostly about Jord and less about Aimeric or their relationship, although that worked just as well for me.

 

Anyway, I had taken a glance at a few spoilers, so I thought I knew what to expect, but I wasn’t ready for this. So many Laurent feels!

 

Because, while Green but for a Season takes on Jord’s way into Prince’s Guard and his perception of the goings-on around him, we get to see the beginnings of Laurent’s struggle against the Regent. Through Jord’s eyes we witness the (re)formation of the Prince’s Guard and its struggles: Laurent gaining his men’s loyalty by first and foremost showing them his loyalty, the Regent’s attempts to sabotage him and nick his succession in the bud (and now we know why!), and Laurent’s perpetually astonishing foresight and character.

 

The red-line of the story, Jord’s and Aimeric’s relationship, falls from the forefront into the background while Jord reflects on the differences between aristocrats and commoners that make him wary of Aimeric interest. Thus, their relationship’s advancement is subtle, but fittingly so, and ends on a note where the reader can garner the rest from Prince’s Gambit, so Pacat does not need to repeat parts of the story, which is just another plus.

 

I feel like I shouldn’t write too long a review for such a short story, so I will stop here by saying that Green but for a Season is a delightful addition to the series and another gem in the already beloved world of the Captive Prince.

Kings Rising (The Captive Prince #3) by C. S. Pacat

Kings Rising: Book Three of the Captive Prince Trilogy - C.S. Pacat

Note: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18.

 

With Damen’s identity revealed, he and Laurent must now face their usurpers while their fragile alliance is put to test by themselves, their allies, and their enemies.

 

I was very happy to discover that I had been right about one thing. And very unhappy that I also called the second thing, which… makes the Regent an (even more than you thought) utterly despicable character. Poor Laurent.

 

There really is nothing more to say that I haven’t said in my reviews of the first two books. In Kings Rising, Pacat continues to beautifully develop the characters and their relationships amidst the turmoil of the political plots.

 

I loved seeing how far Damen and Laurent have come from the beginning, becoming their better selves with each other’s help: Laurent opening up and learning to trust, and Damen learning to play dirty (so to speak) and cunningly; and still they both remain themselves, only stronger. But mostly, I loved how much they were willing to do for each other, including sacrificing their lives for the other.

 

Again, I loved how the other characters were incorporated in the story that took some unpredictable turns. The ending was perhaps a little rushed, but fitting and satisfying: as the fight against their usurpers got more and more personal, it felt right that the epic battles of the second book were replaced with (much) smaller-scaled ones, but with much bigger stakes for both protagonists.

 

Here, at the end of the series, I want to say a word about the writing, which does suffer from a few mishaps and one or two inconsistencies.

 

However, considering how fast I read the series (Kings Rising only took me a day and a half!), unable to put the books down once I started them, I can say those didn’t take anything away from the overall enjoyment of the story and its overwhelming emotional impact (I admit, I’ve slammed the five stars button on an emotional high), especially in lieu of the otherwise often exquisite style that only enhances the beauty of this story. And all that more than warrants not retracting a star from my rating.

 

Finally, I hear there will be short stories. Actually, one already exists and I bribed myself to write this review by promising myself Green But for a Season as a reward. Which I will get to, shortly. :)

Prince’s Gambit (The Captive Prince #2) by C. S. Pacat

Prince's Gambit: Captive Prince Book Two - C.S. Pacat

Note: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18.

 

I only needed three days to read a book! Well, that says everything.

In Prince’s Gambit, Damen and Laurent travel to the border with Akielos to deal with the ever-lasting border disputes, facing adversaries and obstacles every step of the way.

 

The plot is full of surprises and suspense, brought on by ongoing political intrigues, and there is never a dull moment. Together with the setting, it makes up an incredibly rich story.

 

At the heart of the book are the characters, Damen and Laurent, getting to know and respect each other (and getting hot for each other.) All that while trying to stay alive, prevent a war, and unmask a conspiracy.

 

The characterisation is absolutely astonishing, the character development so well done for both characters, both starting from the opposite ends and revealing layers under layers… and it made me love both of them so, so much.

 

It is hard to say anything specific without spoilers, so I won’t. Except perhaps that I can’t with the brilliance of Laurent, who is clever and cunning and always not ten but twenty steps ahead of everyone else. Also, my heart breaks for him, because I think his Uncle/Regent might have at least tried something with him. Ouch.

 

Through the course of the book we can see how Laurent and Damen are not so different after all – above all, they are both honourable – and where they are, those differences are complementary.

 

They both come so far from the beginning, learning things about one another’s people and cultures, and changing in the process.

 

I liked that Damen is an imperfect hero, that he isn’t flawless, that he realises his own faulty preconceptions and youthful mistakes and learns better.

 

I see people asking where do other people (like me) see all of the above. I think it is because, simply reading doesn’t suffice: the series is not the kind of read you switch the brain off with and have a bit of a rest; on the contrary, you have to shift your brain into a higher gear and put in some effort.

 

However, C. S. Pacat’s writing reveals so much more than what is on the surface to someone who looks: the top layer is of course Damen’s limited, subjective POV, but underneath – between the lines, if you want – Pacat hides a veritable treasure of information.

 

One thing that shows that is, for example, the titles alone. Captive Prince and Prince’s Gambit superficially imply Damen as the prince in question, but I think the titles actually allude to both characters. For Laurent, too, is a captive to the Regent, and in the second book, there is not only Damen’s gambit for freedom, but also Laurent’s for his life and throne.

 

Like, I said, brilliant.

 

The last three chapters slayed me. I have nothing more to say. On to Kings Rising it is.

Captive Prince (The Captive Prince #1) by C. S. Pacat

Captive Prince: Volume One - C. S. Pacat

Note: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18.

 

Controversy, criticism, and calls for censorship (!) are a sure-fire way to make me read something so I can form my own opinion. I heard of Captive Prince a while back from a friend who thought it would be to my liking, but I forgot about it until I stumbled upon some heated debate over it on tumblr, and then I had to read it.

 

And am I glad I did!

 

So, Captive Prince tells a captivating (pun intended) story about Damen, the prince and heir to the throne of Akielos, whose bastard brother usurps his place, makes him a slave, and sends him as a gift to the prince of the enemy kingdom of Vere.

 

I loved the stunning setting of the story, something akin to Ancient Greece meets early Renaissance France (but with extra debauchery), both cultures thinking of the other as barbaric, and yet not so different at all, despite some striking contrasts.

 

Slavery is a quintessential part of the world in the story and the theme that provokes the most controversy. We can all agree that slavery is an abominable concept, and as such, C. S. Pacat does a great job to present it as it is, unglorified and cruel, in particularly in Vere.

 

In Vere, being a slave is shameful; a slave is an object for other’s enjoyment, subjected to all kinds of mistreatment, beatings, rape. Lack of communication or miscommunication as a plot device normally irks me, but I liked how Pacat brilliantly uses it to make a point: a slave’s word in Vere is less than nothing, not even worth asking for (for the most part.)

 

Meanwhile, in Akielos, slavery is basically a profession, one a person is trained for, and is ascribed different levels of honour, although Veretians frown upon the way Akielos slaves are stripped of their own will. However, in Akielos, slavery is a trade-off: slaves’ perfect obedience in exchange for masters’ perfect treatment. (It is still wrong, though.)

  

In addition to the above, the detailed world-building of both cultures is fascinating in many other aspects, but I will leave it at that as to not spoil everything and move on.

 

Next, the characters are incredibly fleshed out, especially the main protagonists, both of whom I came to love by the end of the book (yes, Laurent, too.) The set-up for their story includes all of my favourite tropes: enemies to lovers (well, not yet), opposites attract, the hero and the (not really) villain.

 

If you are looking for romance, you will find very little of it in Captive Prince, least of all between the main protagonists, because this story is really a build-up to it. Nevertheless, you won’t be bored at all, for there is enough political and social intrigue, power-plays, engrossing interactions, and more to keep you in thrall to the last page.

 

All in all, I liked Captive Prince very much and I think that is all I can say as I wrap this up. Now, excuse me, I am in a hurry to start the second book in the trilogy.

Reblogged from Angels With Attitude Book Reviews:

Blood Rose Angel by Liza Perrat

Blood Rose Angel (The Bone Angel Series Book 3) - Liza Perrat

Blood Rose Angel is the third in the L’Auberge des Anges trilogy, but it can be read as a stand-alone, just like the other two books. 

 

Set in the already familiar Lucie-sur-Vionne, Blood Rose Angel takes us back to the mid-14th century, when the Black Death first appeared in Europe, and this terrible pestilence is what midwife Héloise, the ancestor mentioned in the previous two books, has to face. 

 

I loved reading about this specific time period from the viewpoint of common people, moreover, from the viewpoint of a heroine who is underprivileged even in commoners' terms, a woman frowned upon for her birth, often disregarded because of gender, and both valued and despised for her profession of a midwife and a healer.

 

Héloise is a brave, sometimes too reckless a woman in her beliefs and desire to help people, struggling between the profession she has pledged herself to and the dangers it brings for her and her family. Despite the troubles she finds herself in and that make her despair at times, she never gives up her call that drives her and ever revives her optimism, enabling her to take something good from the worst situations and despite everyone else. And so, her 'inferior' knowledge and methods, promoting such 'innovative' concepts as cleanliness and isolation of the sick, bring results and change her life and the lives of others forever. 

 

Through rich, well-nuanced language, Liza Perrat vividly brings to life the era full of superstition and prejudice, where the governing Church and nobility had all the power and common people had none. However, while she doesn't shy away from gritty details, she balances the toils and troubles of medieval common folk with just as lively images of joy and happiness.

 

The end result is an intriguing, suspenseful story, full of life-like characters and issues even a modern person can relate to. Hence, I very much recommend Blood Rose Angel to lovers of historical fiction.

 

Disclaimer: The author has kindly sent me a copy of Blood Rose Angel in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

 

The Follies of the King (Plantagenet Saga #8) by Jean Plaidy

Follies of the King (Plantagenet Saga) Paperback - February 1, 2008 - Jean Plaidy

The Follies of the King deals with the reign of Edward II, who inherited his father's looks, but is as unlike him as possible in any other way.

 

Preferring the company of men to that of women and the merry sides of life to the matters of the state from an early age, Edward II marries Isabella, a beautiful daughter of Philip IV of France, but neglects her in favour of his lovers Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser.

 

Utterly humiliated, Isabella bids her time, comforted only by the admiration of her people while she plots vengeance, counting on people's ever-growing dissatisfaction with their king and their hate for his male friends.  

 

Yet, when Isabella finally manages to enact her revenge, in the end I couldn't help but feel sorry for Edward. Deposed and imprisoned, he finally recognises the mistakes he made by turning a blind eye to the world around him, admitting he was an unworthy king not made for ruling, before he meets a horribly cruel tragic end.


The Follies of the King is a suspenseful story, full of twists and intrigue and has thus definitely kept my interest in reading the rest of the saga. I will take a break from it for a while, but I am already looking forward to reading the next instalment, dealing with the reign of Edward III.

The Hammer of the Scots (Plantagenet Saga #7) by Jean Plaidy

The Hammer of the Scots  - Jean Plaidy

The Hammer of the Scots depicts the rule of Edward I, who considers himself to be – and, for the most part, is – a stern, but just king, even if he brutally punishes his enemies in accordance with his belief in instilling respect through fear. 

 

Thus, Edward I proves himself to be a great king, who brings not only order to England, but also subdues Wales and brings it under the English rule, while he fails to do the same with Scotland. 

 

Taking after his father, he is a devoted husband to both of his Queens and a loving father. His children are his pride and joy, the exceptions being sometimes over-temperate Joanna and, above all, his heir, prince Edward. However, unlike his ancestors, he understands the needs of the people and brings the end to the over-the-top extravagance of the Court from the past, slipping perhaps only now and then when indulging his many beloved daughters.

 

As usually, in The Hammer of the Scots Jean Plaidy manages to give a fairly accurate historical account, while letting the reader get a stunning glimpse into the reasoning and sentiments of her characters, from Edward I to his children and his enemies, of which the most intriguing to me was that written from the point of view of William Wallace.

 

The Hammer of the Scots was a compelling book, even if it took me ages to read it, and I am looking forward to the next instalment in the series, dealing with the rule of a much different man than Edward I, his son Edward II.

 

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis

The Complete Chronicles of Narnia (The Chronicles of Narnia) - C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

Yay! I've finished the first book of The Chronicles of Narnia

 

Actually, I own all the books in this giant beautifully illustrated volume, but since getting through all of it will take time, I decided to post my opinion after each book.

 

I have been planning to read The Chronicles of Narnia ever since the first film came out and I came across this volume for a ridiculously low price on Amazon at the same time, but I've been postponing reading it for the sheer weight and thickness of it being quite daunting.

 

Also, the only way to read it is for it to lie on a desk or a bed and I like to walk around the apartment while reading, stretching my legs during breaks between working on computer. Hence, I have started reading it a few times before but never got more than a few pages in. But now I have conquered it and read at least one book! 

 

Anyway, to the book. The Magician's Nephew is a compelling introduction to The Chronicles of Narnia, giving the reader the insight into how travelling between worlds was discovered and the foundation of Narnia.

 

As a Tolkien buff, knowing of the close friendship between Lewis and Tolkien, I was on a special lookout for the similarities that I know there exist between their works. And, look, Narnia was created by Aslan's song, just like Ea was created by the song of the Ainur. 

 

The characters of Polly and Diggory grew on me instantly, and I loved finding out the origin of the wardrobe and the reason for Narnia's affinity for being ruled by sons of Adam and daughters of Eve

 

I loved the story-telling feel of the book with the narrator talking to the reader, which is pleasant both for the intended young audience as well as for an adult reader.

 

Overall, the first book of The Chronicles makes for a great start, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of them.

Reblogged from Angels With Attitude Book Reviews:

Poison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles #1) by Kresley Cole

Poison Princess - Kresley Cole

When Evie's visions of the apocalypse become true, she has to team up with the resident 'bad' boy to find the way across the continent to her grandmother, who may or may not be alive, in order to learn the truth about herself. 

 

However, it is the journey itself that helps Evie discover her strengths and weaknesses, while struggling not just with the new reality of the world in which the voices in her head are all too real, but also her conflicting feelings for Jackson.

 

Poison Princess was my second birthday gift from my friend who shares my love for Kresley Cole's IAD series and knew I wanted to try this one as well.

 

I read the first half of the book in one sitting, but then life got messy and I only managed to squeeze a chapter in now and then, so I am not entirely clear how I feel about Poison Princess. I think I will reread it at some point, if for nothing else to get a better grasp on the newly introduced mythology, and my thoughts may change on a reread, but for now I can say I really liked it.

 

Due to fractured reading, I can't really write an in-depth review, but I would like to point out a few things I loved that stayed with me:

 

  • A fantastic mythology that Cole is a master of,
  • Evie struggling with her powers and the world of magic and supernatural she has discovered: in most YA books the protagonist accepts the new reality with ease, finding little difficulty in embracing their abilities and manipulating them, which I find ridiculous. I love that Kresley Cole made Evie struggle with it all, both emotionally and physically.
  • And, related to the previous point, I loved that Evie does overcome her doubts and insecurities and embraces her new self in a new world and that she, ultimately, does it on her own.
  • All too many YA books have the classic 'boy helps the girl make it though', but in Poison Princess, while Jackson does help Evie with some things, she is a hero for herself and she doesn't need him to 'save' her after all. 

 

Of course, there is a necessary love-triangle (or at least hints of it), typical of YA literature, which is perhaps the only down-side of the book, if I can even call it a down-side, since I went in knowing about it and I also think Cole handles it very well.

 

Although I was sometimes annoyed with Evie's romantic struggles, I found them only as annoying as they are supposed to be, since this is a teenager discovering romance and love for the first (or the second time), and, hence, it wasn't really a bother for me.

 

All in all, Poison Princess is one of the better YA novels I read, and so far I am highly intrigued by the premise of this new series and am planning to continue reading it (unless I change my mind after rereading Poison Princess.) 

The Queen from Provence (Plantagenet Saga, #6) by Jean Plaidy

The Queen from Provence  - Jean Plaidy

The Queen from Provence deals with the reign of Henry III of England. Henry III, crowned as just a child, has a difficult task placed upon him: to overcome the heritage of his father, the hated King John, and reinstate the rule of law and order in England. 

 

Having good advisors, he is initially successful and, therefore, loved. However, as he grows up, his longing to be seen as his own man and not a mere puppet under the influence of his advisors combined with insecurity drive him to commit more and more mistakes in ruling his country. 

 

His marriage to a wilful and spoilt Eleanor of Provence only worsens the matters, for out of love for her and the desire to indulge her every wish to make her happy, the injustice and ill-thought of actions escalate to the point where he is almost just as hated as his predecessor, and the country rises against him, the unrest culminating in the formation of England's first true Parliament, unlike any others. 

 

In the book itself, Plaidy mentions the saying that a good man is not also a good king. Henry III was, mostly, a good man: a devoted, faithful husband, a loving father, and a religious man. But his love for his family was his undoing, for the care for their well-being and wealth blinded him to the greater good of his people, which he should have given more thought to.

 

I can't help myself to draw a parallel between Henry III, and even more so Queen Eleanor, and many of contemporary wealthy people with their attitude that they have some god-given right to their wealth and social status and that that right makes them indifferent to other people's lesser fortune. They may, subjectively, be 'good' people, but their 'goodness' does not reflect in their treatment of those less fortunate. 

 

As such, historical fiction serves as a great, but tragic warning; for it seems that throughout the centuries, little has changed for ordinary people, while the rich and the well-connected have always gotten their way. 

 

That makes me quite pessimistic. Yet, on the other hand, perhaps the more people look at the past and see its injustices reflected in the present, the greater chance there is that we might someday change the pattern at last. 

 

In that aspect, The Queen from Provence is a great read, not only for its amazing insight into history, but also for what it can teach us - humanity as a whole - not to do in the future. 

Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1, IAD #13) by Kresley Cole

Shadow's Claim  - Kresley Cole

Note: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18.

 

So, this book was one of the two I got for my birthday, and, darn, this was a great birthday present. Even if it took me 2 months to get to it.

 

All the things I loved about it:

  • the main paring, of course, and the fact that for a change, they didn't get to the sex part until late into the story

  • many of the side characters; the phantom/sylph is one of my new favourites, together with Morgana, the Queen of the Sorceri (and I really wouldn't mind if Cole decides to dedicate any or both of these their own book(s))

  • appearances of some already familiar characters, including Lothaire, who isn't as mad as he appears to be, right ;)

  • learning more about the Dacians and the Sorceri, as well as getting to know a new setting in IAD universe, Abbadon

  • yet again, the way the story was connected to the past instalments and the allusions and set-up for the future ones

  • and lastly, the manner Bettina's anxiety was presented, which I could relate to very much, and I loved that Kresley incorporated such an everyday human thing many people have to live with into the story.

 

There was hardly anything I didn't like. I only took away half a star for slightly exaggerated sex parts, although this goes with the genre, and classic miscommunication issues causing relationship troubles, which is also typical of the genre. But since neither of those affected my overall enjoyment of the book, I can easily let them pass.

 

All in all, Shadow's Claim is yet another fantastic story of Cole's and I can never recommend it and the entire IAD series enough to those of you who happen to like paranormal romance.

"Laura could shift the blame any old way she liked, but the stiff wind of truth would send it back to her: She hadn't ruined Daniel's life by asking him to change. She had ruined her own."
The Tenth Circle - Jodi Picoult

- Jodi Picoult, The Tenth Circle, p. 148

Currently reading

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien
Progress: 81/480 pages
The Complete Chronicles of Narnia (The Chronicles of Narnia)
C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes
Progress: 75/528 pages