Review of “The Vampire Gift Book 1: Wards of Night” by E. M. Knight

cover imageOverview

Title: The Vampire Gift: Wards of Night
Series: Vampire Gift, bk 1.
Author: E. M. Night
Published: Edwards Publishing (April 20, 2016)
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 408 pages
Age: 13 +

Summary

One minute Eleira is preparing for an ordinary night of studying in the library at Stanford, the next she is waking up a prisoner of three beautiful vampire brothers and their powerful mother, the vampire queen.

She quickly learns that (a) vampires are real and (b) the vampires need her for her blood (but not in the way you think). Also, the vampires live in “The Haven,” a place of perpetual night removed from the outside world.

As she struggles to come to grips with this strange new reality, and with her growing attraction to one vampire in particular, one thing becomes clear: her life on “the Outside” is over, and there’s no going back.

My thoughts

I’m not really a devoted fan of vampire stories, although I do admit I enjoy them occasionally. However, I did not choose this book on the basis of its vampire storyline. I chose it because it was available to read for free with Amazon Prime, and because the cover looked interesting. Being aware that titles available to read for free are generally not award winner quality, I adjusted my expectations accordingly. In the end I have mixed impression of this book. I think that young paranormal romance aficionados would enjoy it, but that those who have read widely in the genre will find it lacking. Those with no interest in vampire / teen girl interactions should probably steer clear.

On the positive side:

  • The writing is overall consistent and free of errors.
  • The cast of characters is sufficiently varied, yet appropriately confined for the scope of the book (there aren’t dozens of characters to keep track of).
  • The pace is quick and even – good for keeping the reader’s attention.
  • The writing does a good job of “showing” and not “telling.” If there is exposition, it is generally delivered through some device like a flashback or conversation.

On the negative side:

  • The writing feels juvenile or amatuerish at times.
  • The dialog can seem clunky and awkward, with occasionally cringe-worthy badness.
  • The characters are somewhat two dimensional.
    The female lead has no agency for 99 percent of the story.

This is, of course, book one of a series, and the ending seemed promising. I think the author has a lot of potential, and I would definitely explore more of her/his works in the future.

My Rating

Overall: C
Story: C
Characters: C
Originality: C+
Cover art: A-
 
Final verdict: If you love teen vampire-action-romance, go for it. Otherwise, give this one a pass.

 
Originally published on http://yablrb.blogspot.com/ by me.

Book Review: Brute by Kim Fielding

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Title: Brute

Author: Kim Fielding

Edition: ebook

Rating: ♥♥♥♥
Summary: Brute is an ugly giant of a man with a beautiful heart and soul. When his stunted life as an unskilled laborer is interrupted by a clumsy prince, his life is forever changed. I found this to be a well-developed story with endearing characters and a solid plot.

Thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised that the prince was not the love interest in this story – that role falls to a blind prisoner — an accused traitor-witch. I should note that the story has some shortcomings. In places, the plot progresses too quickly, and the reader is simply told that such-and-such has occurred. This is most noticeable in the development of the relationship between Brute and Gray, which would have benefitted from a bit more transition between cautious strangers and full-blown love. However, it’s such an original story, with such amazing characters and a gripping plot, that I had to give it four stars (especially since it made me cry, which = +1 stars). I’m especially impressed with how well the author presented a complete, well-developed fantasy world to the reader without boring the reader with tedious world-building. The reader is given glimpses of a complex and detailed setting without becoming distracted from the main characters.

Highly recommended to fans of m/m with unusual characters and an original storyline.

Casket of Souls by Lynn Flewelling

(Written October, 2015)

Series: Nightrunner, book 6

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 2012

Rating: ♥♥♥½

Summary: Flewelling’s sixth entry in the Nightrunner series takes place entirely in Seregil and Alec’s home city of Rhímenee, which is actually something of a nice change after the last three books (Book 3 took place in Aurënen, Book 4 in Plenimar, and Book 5 in Aurënen/traveling/Plenimar). The gist of the plot is that various groups of conspirators are plotting to assassinate various royals, and Alec and Seregil must discover their plans before it is too late. At the same time, a mysterious illness has come to the city — the Sleeping Death. As more and more people fall victim, and even the wizard Thero can’t determine why, Seregil and Alec begin to suspect something more sinister than mere sickness is at work. Besides Seregil and Alec, this book also features their friend Thero, Princess Klia, and, of course, the Cavishes.

Thoughts: It was good, but in some ways unsatisfying. The plot was fairly solid — better than books 4 and 5, but not quite on the same level as the first three. We got to see a bit of development between Seregil and Alec, but this is pushed aside as the chapters are taken up by visits to various nobles and interactions with other characters. I’d have liked to see more about how they are each dealing with the aftermath of the whole Sebrahn thing. We get a few mentions about Alec’s sadness at having had to let go of Sebrahn, and Seregil’s continuing anxiety about Alec after what happened to him in Plenimar. Still, they were enslaved, tortured, separated for weeks or months, and so on — but none of that seems to have had much of a lasting effect on their characters.

I was also disappointed that Alec and Seregil don’t seem to have learned anything new in this book. In the other books, they’ve discovered either something significant about their pasts or about themselves. I’d also have like to see them learn some new skills, or put their skills to more impressive use. I mean, the bad guy wasn’t even that impressive in this one, but he came off as being almost more clever than Seregil. Maybe it’s because they were supposed to be somewhat similar, but still — it doesn’t seem like he should have been as much of a challenge as he was.

I’m still looking forward to the last book, though. Maybe everything I’ve been hoping for will happen in that one. I’d like to see lots of impressive archery from Alec, learn something special about either character, see lots of relationship details, and some character development for Seregil (he was honestly a bit flat in this one).

Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner, book 4

Genre: fantasy

Year of publication: 2008

Rating: ♥♥♥

Summary: The old queen, Idrilain, has died, and Phoria is now the ruler of Skala. Suspicious and jealous of the loyalty her sister, Klia, commands from the army and the people, she left her unofficially exiled in Aurënen at the end of the last book. Now, she sends Alec and Seregil to bring word to her that she is to return to Skala. En route, Seregil and Alec are attacked by raiders, carried off to the enemy land of Plenimar, and sold into slavery.

For most of the book, Seregil and Alec remain captives, subjected to various forms of torture and subjugation. The man who holds them is an evil alchemist who needs Alec’s blood to create a strange, inhuman creature called a rhekaro, which is purported to have amazing powers of healing. In the meanwhile, Seregil encounters a ghost from his past, and Alec’s mixed blood complicates matters.

Finally managing to get loose, Alec and Seregil’s future is uncertain, and the events they experienced in this book will certainly have a lasting impact on their characters and on the direction of the next story.

Thoughts: This book was, unfortunately, not as good as the first three in the series. Just in terms of physical appearance, it had a more YA feel — larger type with lines spaced further apart. The plot was not as detailed and well-paced as the previous stories, and the setting (most of it takes place within various cells and rooms of the alchemist’s house) was not as interesting. Furthermore, the regular supporting characters did not get to make much of an appearance.

The whole captive/bondage thing got really tiring after a while, and I began to wonder why the author had taken the story in this strange direction. In retrospect, I’m more forgiving – mostly because I feel like she wrote herself into a corner, but unlike many other authors, managed to write herself back out again pretty admirably. There are a few plot holes and questions left unanswered, (like if Phoria wasn’t behind the kidnapping, why did she send Alec and Seregil to Aurënen instead of just using one of Thero’s message sticks?), but nothing too glaring. In the end, some critical pieces of Seregil’s past are revealed, and the setup for the next book looks more promising.

Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1998

Rating: ♥

This was on a list of gay/lesbian mysteries I found, and I’m not sure why. As far as I could tell, the characters are all very hetero, though it’s possible I missed something, because I didn’t read the last half of the book very closely.

Summary: Claire is a Keeper, charged with containing and sealing magical anomalies. On a dark and stormy night, Claire and her talking cat, Austin, stumble into a ramshackle B&B to take shelter. In the morning, Claire discovers that the owner has disappeared and left the inn, along with the attractive assistant/groundskeeper Dean McIssac, to her. Together, Claire and Dean discover a sleeping woman in room 6, and a hole to Hell in the basement.

While this sounds like a promising setup, the delivery falls short. I felt like I couldn’t get into the swing of the language, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I was missing something or it was just bad. I’d read some glowing reviews of this book and the others in its series, so I was surprised at how bad it was.

I think I would have liked this book a lot more when I was younger — like 12 or 13. At my current, more advanced age, I found the writing too full of mistakes, and the humor too forced. I felt the book tried very hard to be clever, and failed.

Traitor’s Moon by Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner, book 3

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1999

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Summary & thoughts: The third installment of the Nightrunner series was a bit of a slower read than the first two books. The bulk of it is taken up by political intrigue and careful mystery solving, rather than action. It takes place in Seregil’s homeland of Aurënen, and revolves around Princess Klia’s efforts to establish a trade agreement and gain Aurenfaie aid for Skala’s ongoing war with Plenimar. Meanwhile, Seregil is dealing with the emotional pain of returning home while still under the ban of exile, and considered a murderer and traitor by most of his own people.

A tiny bit is learned about Alec’s mysterious heritage, but nothing concrete. A few things happen to Alec that hint at something special about him, but nothing comes of it by the book’s end. Given Flewelling’s deliberate plot pacing, this could well be setting the stage for the next book.

As for the main attraction: Alec and Seregil are now officially lovers, but the book remains decidedly PG-13. I was disappointed that most of their relationship development seemed to have happened “off-stage” between the end of the last book and the beginning of this one. Their devotion to each other and the strength of their feelings are now taken for granted.

Supporting characters: Thero does indeed step in to fill the place of the “wizard friend,” and becomes more likeable; in fact, he is actually one of the most dynamic character in the series, in that his character changes as the story progresses. Beka remains a strong supporting role, and gains a love interest of her own during their time in Aurënen, who promises to be an interesting addition in his own right. I could see Beka having her own book — or even her own series. We also get to know Princess Klia better, and her relationship with the other characters deepens.

I strongly respect Flewelling’s ability to write a complex, high fantasy story without making it a chore to read. I also love how Alec and Seregil’s romance is almost incidental. It’s part of their characters, and it’s the reason I read the books at all, but without it the plot would be just almost as compelling, and the characters just as strong.

Magic’s Price by Mercedes Lackey

Series: Last Herald-Mage, book 3

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1990

Rating: ♥½

⊗SPOILERS⊗

I’m angry at this book, but I feel like I shouldn’t be surprised. The plot of this series was always a bit weak and juvenile, the writing always a bit too melodramatic; but things didn’t really tank until the last 1/3rd of this book. 

A powerful and mysterious enemy is killing off Herald-Mages. No one knows who he is, or why he’s doing this, or where he comes from, or how to stop him. After all the Herald-Mages are dead except for Vanyel, the “Last Herald-Mage” sets out to track down the bad guy and kill him. Along for the ride is Van’s new love, Stefan, who is supposedly the reincarnation of Van’s dead lover.

This was all fine, and I might have given the book 3 hearts if it hadn’t bombed at the end. It was the rape thing that really threw me. Vanyel is a crazy-powerful herald-mage, who could level a city with is mind, but he gets gang-raped by a bunch of bandits? WTF? I’ve read plenty of books that feature sexual violence, and although it’s definitely not something I like to read about, it doesn’t make me hate the whole book on principle. In this case, it was just so random and out of place. It didn’t do anything for the story or the characters, at least that I can see, and it just seemed like such a weird thing to make Vanyel’s character deal with at that point in the story.

Looking back over the series, I see that Vanyel is basically a perpetual victim. Even when he’s powerful, he’s a victim of “fate,” or “duty,” always being made to suffer for one reason or another. Maybe that wasn’t such a cliché for gay character back in the late eighties and early nineties when this series came out, but it’s definitely cliché now.

Maybe I’m not judging the series on the right criteria — or maybe it just hasn’t aged well. I can imagine being a young teen at the time this came out and absolutely loving it. Now, with so much more great quality stuff to choose from, I guess I’m just not impressed.