In this case, I've waded through quite a few books in the past few weeks. Here are a couple of mini-reviews (that ended up being longer than mini, oops) of books I picked up at random.
A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
Pros: Scifi with emphasis on the sci-; intriguing Empire setup; world-building is interesting and expansive.
Cons: Way too much told-not-shown summary; annoying first-person protagonist who repeatedly says he learned his lesson only to say a few pages later that he didn't learn it after all; rushed ending.
Intellectual Rating: 3.5 of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: D+
Book Blurb: (from Goodreads) You'd think being a Prince in a vast intergalactic empire would be about as good as it gets. Particularly when Princes are faster, smarter, and stronger than normal humans. Not to mention being mostly immortal.
But it isn't as great as it sounds. Princes need to be hard to kill--as Khemri learns the minute he becomes one--for they are always in danger. Their greatest threat? Other Princes. Every Prince wants to become Emperor, and the surest way to do so is to kill, dishonor, or sideline any potential competitor. There are rules, but as Khemri discovers, rules can be bent and even broken.
Soon Khemri is drawn into the hidden workings of the Empire and dispatched on a secret mission. In the ruins of space battle he meets a young woman called Raine, who challenges his view of the Empire, of Princes, and of himself.
But Khemri is a Prince, and even if he wanted to leave the Empire behind, there are forces that have very definite plans for his future. . .
Alz's Mini-Take: This book should have been a trilogy or at least a duology because two thirds of the novel is hurried summary in order to get to an ending that has very little emotional impact because everything was rushed. Prince Khemri narrates his life to the reader, but part of the problem is that there's no immediacy--the way the story is narrated makes it clear that it's the Khemri of the future telling us about his past self, so he summarizes weeks/months/years in a few paragraphs.
The first few chapters are about how he has to get to an academy, and then when he actually gets there, he's there for a whole year--which consists of only a chapter or two, most of which is summary punctuated by one or two remarkable events. The entire book proceeds similarly with long chapters of Khemri summarizing events with a couple of anecdotes tossed in and maybe a few pages spent on actual scenes, and then more summary.
It's too bad that the blurb makes this sound like a pan-galactic
Thanks to a somewhat formal, distant, arrogant, and naive tone (quite a mix, I know), Khemri comes across as cold and unlikeable, especially since he spends a good chunk of the first half blithering on about everything he deserves and how he wants to get a really cool spaceship and cruise around the universe like the Prince in his favorite TV show. Khemri read more like a spoiled 10-year-old to me than being a teen.
The world (or universe) of the book is very intriguing though and what kept me reading. The Empire uses Bitek (biological technology), Mektek (mecha), and Psytek (yeah yeah), with the result that there's a good deal of organic matter intertwined with otherwise cold technology. There are aliens and humans and colonies and rebels and wormholes and space and the Empire really did feel like a multi-galactic presence. This book definitely falls under the harder end of the scifi spectrum as far as readability goes; no scifi lite here!
Thematically, the story deals with what it means to be human with regards to life/immortality/death, love versus intellect, superiority and inferiority, and all other sorts of big concepts that are never quite done justice because not enough time was spent on any of them. Khemri's conclusions have all the impact of reading a fortune cookie without even the pleasure of eating the cookie afterward.
A Confusion of Princes left me wishing it had been done better and also left me wanting more but since it's standalone, there's nothing more forthcoming. Try Garth Nix's Abhorsen series instead--it's much better.
Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo
Pros: Good beginning chapters. And that's it.
Cons: Increidbly stupid and inconsistent heroine; lack of cohesive plot/conclusion; inconsistent shallow idiotic characters.
Intellectual Rating: 1 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: F
Book Blurb: (from Goodreads) Malora knows what she was born to be: a horse wrangler and a hunter, just like her father. But when her people are massacred by batlike monsters called Leatherwings, Malora will need her horse skills just to survive. The last living human, Malora roams the wilderness at the head of a band of magnificent horses, relying only on her own wits, strength, and courage. When she is captured by a group of centaurs and taken to their city, Malora must decide whether the comforts of her new home and family are worth the parts of herself she must sacrifice to keep them.
Alz's Mini-Take: I picked this book up at the library knowing nothing about it except that it looked new and kind of interesting. I was also curious because of, hmm, the slant of the dust jacket blurb--Malora's the last human alive after a terrible accident, and she's all alone now with her stallion, and then there are centaurs involved, and okay, maybe it was an unwholesome curiosity upon my part, but hey! It's the blurb's fault.
The story's told in third-person present tense, which isn't my favorite thing, but the first few pages read all right, about a little girl who wants to be a horseman like her father.
And the book played me for a fool. The first few chapters are decent, as Malora's people are attacked by monstrous Leatherwings. The book blurb is kind of misleading though because there are multiple attacks over a period of time, whereas the blurb makes it sound like there's one blitzkrieg that leaves Malora the last human alive.
It was all still good though! Malora has to deal with people not believing her, then blaming her, then demanding things of her, etc. But once Malora does become the last human, the book turns stupid.
Malora and her stallion Sky are alone on the plains. Sky eventually mates with a wild mare, and from then on Malora acquires a herd of (rather incestuous, it seems) horses who are her sole companions for several years, and then she suddenly meets centaurs who want to steal her horses and maybe kill Malora, and she's totally chill with all of that because omg centaurs are so purty. They can go ahead and take her horses, and she's fine with leaving them in the care of someone she hates and mistrusts. Because omg, yay, centaur city even though centaurs are afraid of her! Also, there are apparently rebel centaurs somewhere causing trouble maybe. And there is going to be a horse race! In the meantime, Malora is the "pet" of what is essentially a centaur prince perfumier whose perfumes smell so good they make Malora have visions of the past.
Did any of that make sense to you? There's even more. But I won't burden you with it because god, I loathed Malora by the end of the book. The climax is an event that was brought up as an Important Plot Point early on and then almost completely dismissed for the rest of the book, and involves a good many Sudden Plot Devices and Changes of Heart, and then the end of the book is disgustingly pat without resolving anything.
Oh, and since you're probably as shamelessly curious as I was: Malora's love interest is only some random silver-haired wholly-human guy she sees in a dream a couple of times. There is no centaur/human romance in this book, nor is there any hint of bestiality, although there is a rather offhand mention at one point of centaurs raping humans in the past, to which revelation Malora doesn't even so much as bat an eye. Yup. Nope. Hated this boring, illogical, nonsensical book.
Read The Scorpio Races if you're looking for a good story that's about the bond between horses and riders, and riders and each other.
I was going to do more (and shorter) mini-reviews and have a couple of positive ones in there, but remembering how much I hated the two books above sapped my energy. Maybe Friday or next week I'll have a couple more since my library raid yielded many more fruits, mostly bitter but some sweet.
How often is it that you pick up a random unknown book on a whim? Got any good YA scifi recs?