Patricia C. Wrede, The Raven Ring:
Remember how I said I didn’t really like reading D&D campaigns? Evidently this book doesn’t apply. It’s full of tropes that usually infuriate me into a book throwing rage, and yet I enjoyed this. I can’t put my finger on why. The story line was one of the usual things in D&D campaigns. Mom dies, so scrappy daughter goes to collect Mom’s things only to find out that Mom was murdered and people are after her things. Chaos and kick-assedness ensue. For extra good measure, there’s an aristocratic, handsome (and full of himself) swordsman. He’s good at the fighting stuff, but not as good as the heroine. There’s also a cocky and friendly thief who belongs to a mafia-like family. There is wizard wisdom and magic galore. Everyone makes a pass at the main character. (sigh…)
But it was fun and light, with just enough surprises to keep the standard adventure plot feeling comfortable and not stifling. It did have a few flaws. The resolution felt like it blindsided me, it happened so soon and with so little warning. I thought it was another complication until I realized that the book was over. It was well chosen, though, and ultimately satisfying. I also can’t help but wish that the main character didn’t end up with any of the boys and just left for home without a fellow in tow.
Seriously, though, for as cavalier as I’m treating this review I did stay up all night to finish the book. That’s not something I do often these days. I also downloaded another Lyra novel ASAP and devoured that one in the space of about six hours as well. That book was:
Patricia C. Wrede, Shadow Magic:
The book is again along the D&D Campaign lines, and I fell in love with it harder than I did the Raven Ring. Kayl has two children and a dead husband when the magic seekers come to town. Escaping them, she’s pulled into her old life in the house of the Silver Sisters. They want her to go back to the twisted black tower where a dark ooze ate her best friends, leaving only four of them alive to bring the story to others. She’s fifteen years older, out of shape, and out of sword practice, but she has to go and complete the mission (children, and all of the people from the old expedition in tow) and hope they don’t all die in the process. She has memory issues, too, and one of her friends looks to die from the prophetic visions the tower gave him so long ago.
I felt like some of the reasons to have the children along were contrived, but they ultimately played an important part in the resolution of the story, so I forgave Wrede for the wishy-washy excuses to have them go the whole way. Besides the constant bickering between the siblings (which I’m sure is realistic but isn’t always fun to listen to), that’s really my only beef with the book. The rest of it was excellent. The plot is less predictable, and left me guessing (and drooling, and wondering) to the end. Pacing was perfect.
Some thoughts about both: Perhaps what I am fascinated by most in these books is the world of Lyra. It feels real, and I’m forever learning about secret societies, different races, and different customs that fascinate me. Her characters are so well developed that it doesn’t really matter if the campaigns are standard roleplay fare, because they trump cliché with humanness. With many bonus points for books about kick-ass mothers.
At a highbrow party I would be much more likely to recommend The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevenmore, or Wrede’s Frontier Magic series to strangers, but there’s just something about both of these that makes them impossible to put down. Excuse me while I go download the next.