True Honor

006

 

by Dee Henderson

Published 2002

This is the third book in Henderson’s “Uncommon Heroes” series.  These books are stories that focus on members of various branches of the military.  The first two, as a I mentioned, were really more love stories than thrillers.  In True Honor, though, the thriller aspect does make a bit of a reappearance.

Henderson started writing this book in 2001, which, as you may recall, was interrupted by the tragedy of 9/11.  Henderson felt the necessity (since her stories are usually set in “today”) of restructuring her story to engage this monumental event.  Over ten years later, it’s actually quite intriguing to read a book that was written in the throes of the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a reminder of many of the conflicting feelings from that time.

One thing that really stands out is the idea that 9/11 was an act of war, that led to war, and that that war would have clear parameters and a tidy ending.  In 2014, we know that that wasn’t the case.  The “war on terror” was nothing if not consistently vague.  Henderson manages to combat that in her own story by creating a very specific villain for her characters to chase, thus enabling her story (and characters) have closure in the end.

This was as well-written and engaging as most of Henderson’s stories are, especially when I was able to set aside the knowledge of what was going to “happen next” in real life, and simply enjoy the excitement of the fictional story I was reading.

I think the problem with this book was that it was a bit emotional (being written at an emotional time), and that it couldn’t decide if it should be more of a love story, like the first two in the series, or a thriller, like the O’Malley stories.

Overall, this was probably my least favorite of all of Henderson’s books I’ve read to date (although since I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of them, especially the O’Malley series, that’s really not much of a criticism), but was still a decent read.

Thornspell

004

by Helen Lowe

Published 2008

You don’t have to follow my blog very long to know that I really enjoy fairy tales, and retellings of fairy tales.  I’m always interested to find a new perspective on an old story (or old perspectives in new stories :-D).  Thornspell purported to be the story of the PRINCE from Sleeping Beauty.  And since that is actually one my favorite fairy tales (both in the original and, actually, Disney’s animated version), I thought I would give it a try.

Unfortunately, the main word that comes to mind is just dull.  The story never really engaged me at all.  The characters, especially Prince Sigismund, never really stirred a lot of sympathy in me.  I didn’t really care a lot about their successes or failures.  I’m not sure why, though, because the premise is promising.

I think part of it was that it felt as though Lowe was sort of making up rules for the world as she went along – and that’s a totally different feeling from an author who tells you different rules as you go along.  For instance, someone like J.K. Rowling may tell you a new rule in the third book, but, in retrospect, you can see how that rule has actually been operating throughout the earlier stories; you just weren’t consciously aware of it at the time.  But with Lowe, the introduction of new rules or parameters consistently felt a bit jarring, a sort of, “Oh, I guess I’d better tweak this so I can make this happen” kind of feeling.  Personally, I feel like this is the big difference between fantasy writers who really make a story believable, and ones who just write an alright story.  (Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Robin McKinley, Patricia Wrede – I could go on, but those are the ones who immediately come to mind as authors who have mastered the ability to build incredibly real worlds, ones where the rules seem so natural that everything flows beautifully.)

The other problem was that Lowe wanted to somehow build a relationship between the prince and the sleeping princess, except, of course, she’s sleeping.  She she creates this sort of ethereal ghost-person-girl who comes along and happens to save the prince multiple times.  But since we aren’t actually told that this is the princess until the very end, it left me, as the reader, feeling a bit conflicted.  Yes, it’s awesome that he really likes this fairy-girl, but we’ve already learned that he has to marry the sleeping princess so…???  It also felt as though this aspect of the princess was created simply so the princess could be a strong, independent woman; even though the story was technically about the prince and his perspective, this strange girl kept inserting her story line – it felt jarring.

Overall, the characters felt stiff and unnatural, which was in keeping with the entire world.  While a good concept, the writing didn’t flow in a way that actually engaged me, and finishing it was more of an exercise in the desire to not have a DNF than any real interest in the conclusion.

Black as Night

by Regina Doman

Published 2004

So my sister really wanted to borrow this book before it was due at the library, and she spirited it away before I had a chance to take a picture…

At any rate, this is the sequel to The Shadow of the Bearand, like the first book, is the retelling of a fairy tale – except set in modern times, without magic.  In Black as Night, Doman tells the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I was more than a little impressed at how she capture all the basic tenants of the story even though she didn’t have magic, a witch, or dwarfs.

Doman seems to understand what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale, and thus her stories are unmistakably fairy tales.  Black as Night was fairly believable.  The story was well-paced and engaging.  In this particular instance, dumping us into the middle of the story and then feeding us bits of the back-story as necessary really worked (sometimes it’s just confusing), as it definitely added to the confusion and terror that Blanche (the heroine) was feeling.

I think that the scariest part of this story was the same as it was with The Shadow of the Bear – injustice.  That Blanche, though completely innocent, could be so completely framed, was terrifying.  That those whom she should have been able to trust now suspect her, leaving her friendless and alone – that really fit the essence of the story of Snow White.

As I mentioned when reviewing The Shadow of the Bear, Doman is unashamedly Catholic, and her characters are as well.  This is a major part of the story, but it works.  Anyone who has truly come to grips with their religion knows that it is a huge part of who you are; the Catholicism of Blanche and some of the other characters is an intrinsic part of who they are, and without that aspect, much of their motivation, hope, encouragement, and yes, even frustration and despair, would be lacking.

While I think that the book will read fine for someone who is not particularly religious, it may still make someone who believes differently uncomfortable.  For me (a protestant Christian), the only confusing part were moments where Doman assumed that her readers were Catholic and thus would completely understand what was going on.  It wasn’t usually difficult to follow, but, for instance, she seems to assume that the reader will know the difference between a friar and a monk.  It’s a sort of running joke throughout the book where someone says something about a monk, and one of the friars points out that they’re actually friars.  I had no idea that there even was a difference, and finally had to look it up.  It seems as though it would have been just as easy to, the first time it was mentioned, actually tell the readers – something along the lines of, “Oh, we’re not monks – our focus is on serving those around us, rather than living a cloistered life – we’re friars.”

A large part of this story is Blanche not knowing if she is going crazy or not, and Doman gives us that very well – wasn’t even sure whether or not Blanche was going crazy.  Even though at times it felt a little over-the-top, Blanche’s paranoia and fears were very real.

This book was longer than The Shadow of the Bear, and in some ways it felt too long.  I can’t say exactly where it dragged, but it did, a bit.  It was a book that, when I was actually reading it, I didn’t want to put down, but when I wasn’t reading it, I didn’t feel inspired to pick back up.

In short, it was a gripping read, but could have lost some pages without losing too much story.  It was intense, well-written, an excellent fairy tale, though perhaps overly religious for some.  However, I definitely recommend it as a sequel to The Shadow of the Bear (they really need to be read in order).