Friday, July 20, 2012

Throwdown Update #2

Hello again, everybody--sorry for the delay (computer problems). Let's get to it, shall we?

Book number two for me was Gina Damico's Croak.

Lex was a good girl: loving daughter, devoted twin, straight-A student. But at age 16 she has been possessed by a towering rage that causes her to lash out violently at everyone around her, friend or foe. Out of options, her parents send her to stay with her Uncle Mort for the summer. Uncle Mort is not what Lex expected. It turns out Uncle Mort is a Grim Reaper (scythe and all), and he wants Lex to join the family business.

Croak is Gina Damico's first novel, and it shows. It shows in her infectious enthusiasm for her characters and world. It shows in her exuberant descriptions. And it show in some uneven plotting and pacing and some short-shrifting of characters and motivations.

This is book one of a series, and it's clearly introduction and set-up for adventures to come. But it feels like a lot of set-up for a small payoff (at least in book 1). The abrupt ending is also pretty dark for a story that has been pretty humorous, albeit darkly humorous.

Still, it's a fun, quick read. Damico has an ear for snappy teen dialog and the premise is interesting enough that I'll be on board for book 2.

Book three was Black Powder War by Naomi Novik.

The third book featuring Novik's unique mashup of Napoleanic War tales and dragons, Black Powder War sees Will Laurence and his dragon Temeraire leaving China and making their way overland to Istanbul to take charge of 3 dragons eggs purchased by the British government. The journey is rough, their guide is questionable, and Laurence struggles daily with an incredibly intelligent dragon who has little respect for any authority that isn't his and who has begun to wonder at the way dragons are treated by humans.

I'm really loving this series. I should have picked it up years ago, but somehow I didn't. Clearly, I'm an idiot. Novik goes out of her way to ground these books in gritty, historical reality and to integrate dragons into her world as realistically as possible.

But as fascinating as the realism is, Novik's real gift is for characters, from Laurence, very much a man of his times who is being forced to confront the validity of many of his beliefs about the way things ought to be, to Temeraire, an extremely powerful adolescent with a curious mind and a loyal heart. The other characters, human and dragon alike, are memorable and well-drawn.

If adventure stories are your thing, you'll love the battle scenes and various shenanigans the characters get up to and you'll forget that the dragons aren't supposed to be there. If historical fiction is what you look for, you'll love the rich detail of London, China, the Ottoman Empire and daily life for a soldier in wartime. And if dragons make your heart go pitty-pat, you've simply got to meet Temeraire and Volly and Lien and the rest.

We've had a couple more sign-ups for the contest and consequently some new check-outs, but I'm still awaiting my first batch of returns so I can tote up pages. I have high hopes for today as folks often come in to stock up for the weekend.

My count so far: 954 pages read, which comes out to 19.08 books.

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