Review: Spirit’s Chosen

Note: Today’s review was written by K. Imani. Technical difficulties prevented her from uploading it today, so I took care of it for her.

SpiritsTitle: Spirit’s Chosen
Author: Esther Friesner
Genres: Historical/Fantasy
Pages: 475
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Purchased from Amazon
Availability: Hardcover on shelves now

Summary: Himiko’s world is falling apart. An attack by the Ookami clan has left many from her tribe dead or enslaved. And those who remain in the ransacked Matsu village are certain they’ve angered the gods. Amid the chaos and fear, Himiko hatches a plan to save her beloved tribe. Traveling through the treacherous wilderness with her best friend Kaya, their only goal is to free her clan folk from the Ookami. At every turn she encounters other tribes and unforeseen challenges. But just when it seems that she will outwit Ryu, the cruel Ookami leader, she is captured. Held against her will, Himiko starts to realize that not all of the Ookami are her enemies and every step of her unconventional journey has prepared her for something greater than life as a princess. Though she may not see her path as clearly as the spirits seem to, there’s more adventure (and even unexpected love) for this young shamaness and warrior. (Via Goodreads)

Review: After finishing the book a few nights ago, I’m still unsure as to what to think of it. There were parts of Friesner’s novel that I enjoyed and then there were parts where I just kept reading because I knew I had to write this review. One of the reasons why I think I’m blasé about the novel is because the novel I read before this one left a mark on my heart, had me mourning that the story was over. With Spirit’s Chosen, I put the book down and finished cooking dinner. No sadness, no missing of characters or Friesner’s world, just done with the book, ready for the next.

As I thought about my ambivalence, I asked myself what caused this feeling? Was it the characters? Was it the world? Was it the style of prose Friesner use? What it the story? What?

And then I realized, there were two main aspects of this novel that rubbed me the wrong way and the main one is the main character, Himiko. Now, I’m pleased that Friesner chose to write a character of color, specifically of Japanese descent, and set the novel in a historical time period. On the other hand, Himiko annoyed me a bit because she is a bit of a Mary-Sue. She is a like-able character and the reader wants to root for her to succeed, but she doesn’t have any faults. None what so ever. She always is able to maintain a positive attitude despite what is thrown at her and is always able to come up with the proper solution that succeeds every time. In fact, at one point when she experiences an obstacle and starts to finally have a breakdown, after she tells Daimu (her love interest) why she is upset, she ends up comforting him! I was completely taken out of the story at that point because it was so unrealistic. I realize that Friesner is trying to promote a strong female character, a warrior, but for a reader to connect, to really believe in the character, she must exhibit some faults or else the reader doesn’t truly trust the main character. I feel like Friesner got so caught up in her sweeping historical fiction with a strong female character that she forgot to give her character, and others, more depth.

Spirit’s Chosen is a sequel to Friesner’s Spirit’s Princess but the way she structures the novel allows one to read this novel without having read the first. Friesner gives tidbits here and there of relevant information, as needed, from the first novel and it doesn’t overwhelm Spirit’s Chosen. Friesner definitely did her history, and visited Japan which she writes about in her afterward, and this level of attention and detail comes across beautifully. The world that Friesner creates is very real and believable, and is what makes the novel somewhat interesting.

Recommendation: If you like epic historical fiction with balanced characters, I’d say skip this one, but if not and you just love historical fiction for the romance of another era, then this one is for you.

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Review: Hammer of Witches

hammer

Title: Hammer of Witches
Author: Shana Mlawski
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Pages: 400
Publisher: Lee and Low Books/Tu Books
Review Copy: NetGalley Digital Arc
Availability: April 9, 2013 (but may already be on shelves since the hardcover arrived early)

Summary: Baltasar Infante, a bookmaker’s apprentice living in 1492 Spain, can weasel out of any problem with a good story. But when he awakes one night to find a monster straight out of the stories peering at him through his window, he’s in trouble that even he can’t talk his way out of. Soon Baltasar is captured by a mysterious arm of the Spanish Inquisition, the Malleus Malificarum, that demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life. Baltasar, of course, doesn’t know where the man is—or that Bal himself has the power to summon genies and golems.

Now Baltasar must escape the Malleus Malificarum so he can find al-Katib and help him defeat a dreadful power that may destroy the world as they know it. As Bal’s journey leads him into uncharted lands on Columbus’s voyage westward, Baltasar learns that stories are much more powerful than he once believed them to be—and much more dangerous. (Image and Summary via IndieBound)

Review:  “My uncle Diego always said there was magic in a story. Of course, I never really believed him when he said it.” So begins this tale filled to the brim with stories. They are most often magical and overflowing with mystical creatures, adventure, and hidden, but simple truths.

Baltasar has grown up with amazing stories swirling around him. Fortunately, the stories continue throughout his adventures. They are the jewels that bring sparkle and life to this book. The plot line runs in a relatively straight line, but is peppered with all kinds of tales. The stories feature murder, revenge, demons, golems, a unicorn, and quite a few ferocious creatures that are the stuff of nightmares. Stories are powerful here regardless of their truthfulness. As Baltasar learns to his surprise– perception is often more important than fact.

Characters were also a bright spot in this tale. Baltasar, our storyteller extraordinaire, meets many friends along his journey. A few of them are female  characters who definitely add depth to the story. One in particular refuses to be locked into the roles other people choose for her and she schools Baltasar quite thoroughly.

From the title and cover, I was expecting a fantasy and possibly some history, but had no idea how MUCH history. I appreciated learning about this time period and came to the realization that I have not read much about the Spanish Inquisition in the past.

The title had me puzzled initially, but that is because I had never heard of the document before. The Malleus Malificarum, or Hammer of Witches, was written in the 1400s and led to the persecution of witches or people thought to be witches. Without that base of historical knowledge, I had to read and re-read some things, but most readers will likely be able to follow the events regardless. In addition, Shana provides a great author’s note at the conclusion which points out the relative historical accuracy of the book and where she took artistic license. She also offers many links to primary and secondary sources on her website. I find that I am always craving a bit of non-fiction with historical fiction, so this fit the bill perfectly.

Recommendation: Get it soon particularly if historical fiction is one of your favorites. This is a unique book blending fantasy and history with a diverse cast of characters.

Extras:

Sneak Peek of Hammer of Witches

National Geographic Channel video about the original Malleus Malificarum

 

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