Review | Solomon’s Ring (Daughters of Light # 2), Mary Jennifer Payne

34230722In this sequel to Finding Jade, demons have crossed the rift into the real world and twin Seers Jade and Jasmine must deal not just with demonic forces but also with Toronto mayor Sandra Smith, who appears hell-bent on sowing fear to justify her protectionist policies. Solomon’s Ring ramps up the action and fleshes out the real-world elements only hinted at in Finding Jade. Despite its supernatural elements, the novel feels very much rooted in the real world.

Toronto is one of the final remaining cities surviving the ravages of climate change. The city has historically been welcoming to refugees from around the world, but a series of violent incidents have given rise to a fear that some of the refugees may actually be climate change terrorists, using Toronto as a platform to advance an environmentalist agenda. In response, Mayor Smith argues for the need to close Toronto’s borders and increase domestic security, and institutes policies to increase surveillance of refugees. This should all sound uncomfortably familiar to readers; Solomon’s Ring holds up a rather unflattering mirror to things being said and done today.

Solomon’s Ring expands slightly on the mythology around the Seers’ powers and shows us Seers more confident and comfortable using these powers. The book also begins to show the links between the demon plot and the real world one, as demons play a role in the real world political drama. A magical object has the potential to at least alleviate the real world conflict, and the Seers must go on a quest to return this object to its rightful place. I love that Payne keeps the climate change piece realistic — regardless of how the villain’s plot turns out, some issues like climate change and people needing to leave their homes behind will not be magically resolved.

I also enjoyed seeing the dynamic between Jade and Jasmine develop, and particularly Jade’s insecurities about her place in the real world after so many years. Jasmine is selected by the mayor to head her youth task force, and while neither twin really wants to be a tool for the mayor’s propaganda, I can understand why not being picked alongside her sister would shake Jade’s confidence. I can also understand why Jade chafes against her mother’s overprotectiveness, and how afraid she is to confront what she went through in The-Place-in-Between.

Beyond Jade, however, and to a lesser extent Jasmine, the other Seers aren’t well-developed at all. Rather, they’re defined mostly by their birth order (older twins are headstrong and younger twins are more thoughtful) but otherwise feel interchangeable, which makes it difficult to care when they’re in danger. Worse, the Seers, and in particular Jasmine and the other older twins, make many stupid decisions that put themselves in unnecessary danger, only so something big can happen to advance the plot. For example, despite the dangers of a new type of demon and terrorist attacks, the Seers decide to go out late at night to do extra training or walk around the city to fight bad guys but with no actual strategy in mind or urgency to do so. Still, the energy and excitement as they fight is palpable, and the book is a fairly quick, fun read.

Solomon’s Ring ends on an exciting note and promises readers an exciting Final Battle in the next book.

Blog Tour Schedule

Check out the other stops on the Solomon’s Ring blog tour this week!

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Thank you to Dundurn Press for an e-gallery of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel # 1), Josiah Bancroft

17554595The cover of my advance reading copy of Senlin Ascends includes a Goodreads review from a reader named Paul: “You need to read this! Don’t read the blurb, dive in blind.” I took his advice and dove in blind, but managed to read as far as I did only because I ended up reading a few of the glowing reviews mid-way through. Senlin Ascends isn’t a book for everyone — but based on the reviews, for the right kind of reader, it is an unexpected, brilliant delight.

In Senlin Ascends, mild-mannered schoolteacher Thomas Senlin takes his young wife Marya on the trip of a lifetime for their honeymoon: the much-acclaimed Tower of Babel. Senlin has a tattered, dog-eared copy of the guidebook in his pocket and has spoken often to his students of the many wonders of its various “ring-doms.” Wealthy tourists can take an airship to an upper level and enjoy the view; more frugal travellers like Senlin and Marya must start at the bottom and make their way up. Their destination is the third ring, which is purported to have hotels and resorts and basically everything needed for a vacationer’s paradise. Unfortunately, Senlin loses sight of Marya at the ground level, and as he discovers from other travellers, groups that are separated in the Tower rarely find each other again.

What follows is a classic quest narrative, as Senlin must work his way up the rings to find his wife.His search is further complicated by the fact that he doesn’t have enough money to get back home, and that he and Marya planned to find a hotel when they arrived and so hadn’t made any reservations or plans about meeting spots. Senlin is a bit of a stuffy Don Quixote figure, his naivete slowly chipped away by the people and experiences he encounters. When he finally does come across a solid lead on Marya’s whereabouts, he gets involved in a crime caper that doesn’t turn out well.

The story has a bit of the feel of Dante’s Inferno, as each ring up gets progressively worse. The attractions of each new ring are methodically peeled back to reveal an unsavoury, dangerous underbelly. In the theatre-like setting of the second ring, for example, a melodramatic production where all visitors must play a pre-assigned role ends badly when one of the ‘actors’ takes his role too seriously, and the Tower’s administration punishes rather than protects the innocent bystanders. In the much-coveted third ring, the excesses of holiday carousing can lead one into trouble with the law, but the set-up feels more like entrapment than anything else.

There are clear allegorical elements to the story, and a lot of smart social commentary about class and bureaucracy and justice and the utter absurdity of reality. The pace is deliberately slow, likely to set up the new world in each ring and build up how the illusion of this ring will eventually break down. But it’s all a bit too heavy-handed for me, and the action was much too slow.

Senlin Ascends wasn’t quite the right fit for me, but more patient readers may get quite a bit out of how Bancroft teases out the various threads of the world he’s created. I highly recommend you check out other reviews, or perhaps check out this excerpt on the publisher’s site to see if this book is for you.

Finally, a minor quibble, but wasn’t the Biblical Tower of Babel about a bunch of people who ended up speaking different languages and not understanding each other? It may have gone over my head, but I didn’t get anything about linguistic differences in this book, and therefore, the Tower could’ve been any other Tower at all.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | Flower Moon, Gina Linko

32050239Tempest and Tally Jo Trimble are mirror twins, long inseparable and utterly identical in many ways, yet growing apart as they reach their 13th birthday. Part of it is that Tempest is more interested in her scientific experiments than in hanging out with Tally. But more than that, the twins are also beginning to feel an invisible force pushing them apart whenever they stand too close. Tally fears that she and her twin are falling to the same curse that has kept their mother and aunt apart for so many years, and she is desperate to end the curse, and save her sister as she has always done.

In Flower Moon, Gina Linko wields magic, magnetism and a family curse linked to the phases of the moon as a potent metaphor for the all-too-relatable experience of growing up and growing apart. Yes, there is a mysterious force that threatens to separate the twins forever, but there are also very real issues that the twins must confront about their relationship. Linko keeps the incidents of magic deliberately ambiguous, so that it’s often unclear if Tally is indeed experiencing a physical force that keeps her from her sister or if she is simply responding to Tempest’s obvious desire to be left alone. As a result, the twins’ real-life problems are often more prominent than their magical ones, and the book is all the stronger for it.

Much as we sympathize with Tally’s desire to rekindle her closeness with her twin, with can’t help but sympathize just as much with Tempest’s need to move out from under her sister’s shadow. In one of the book’s most powerful scenes, Tempest accuses Tally of being unwilling to consider that Tempest’s quieter, more subtle ideas can be just as heroic as Tally’s more exuberant approach, and it’s a welcome moment that really fleshes out Tempest’s character. It’s particularly powerful because we can all too easily understand where both twins are coming from. Like Tempest, we wonder why we can’t be accepted for who we are, and why even those closest to us think our hobbies are odd. And like Tally, we wonder why things have to change simply because we grow older, and why the bond between sisters isn’t strong enough to break any curse.

For a book about magic and family curses, Flower Moon is a surprisingly quiet story. There are a few dramatic moments with magic, and a climactic magical battle, but the strength of the book is very much within the relationship between the sisters and the growth both of them have to undergo. Ultimately, as Tally learns, the goal isn’t so much rekindling the same closeness you had as children, but forging a new and stronger relationship that allows room for who you are becoming over time.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen & Son for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.