Review: The Skystone

The Skystone
The Skystone by Jack Whyte

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a new (well, relatively – 1990s) take on the Aurthurian legend, Jack Whyte looks not at King Arthur himself, but who came before him. How did Camelot come to be in the first place? What world events allowed the fabled kingdom to be created?

Set in the dying days of the Roman Empire, Roman general Caius Britannicus and his friend Publius Varrus, an ex-soldier and blacksmith, combine forces, resources and families to found a colony. Here they strive to protect their loved ones and their way of live from the barbarian invasions they know will be coming. The end of the Roman Empire is the end of the world as they know it. Their ultimate goal is to stop Britain from falling into barbarism, to uphold loyalty, discipline and honour in their small pocket of the island.

This novel was a great start to another epic retelling of the Arthurian saga. I can’t wait to see where this series goes. There is a little too much military history/strategy for me to give it a full five stars, but the characters are well developed and the attention to detail is phenomenal. I even love the “sciency” bits where Varrus tries to work out the origin and identity of the mysterious Skystone.

“Magic, after all, is no more than the product of knowledge others don’t share.” 

I keep guessing at which characters will morph into traditional Arthurian roles, but I think I am likely way off. Too early for that yet. Clearly, Excalibur will be smelted from the Skystone. But I must say that if the Lady of the Lake is reduced to a mere statue, I will be disappointed.

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Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Awaking to pain, heart-break and intense hunger, Lena must learn to face a frightening new world. She has left her family, friends and all she ever knew behind to start a new life –  but her intended partner in this new life was shot down during their escape. As she is nursed back to health and then adopted and trained by Invalids for the resistance, Lena’s character develops from the weak and confused girl we met in Delirium to a strong(er) and determined young woman.

Remember Lena? She lives in a world where love – amor deliria nervosa – is a disease. By law, everyone must be cured at the age of 18 in order to maintain law and order.

In Delirium, Lena meets and is infected by falls in love with Alex, only weeks before she must receive the cure. Convinced of the folly of her society, Lena runs away.  Only the sad ending to the last book is that Alex did not escape with her – he is shot by the border guards, and she is alone.

In Pandemonium, we follow Lena’s continuing story as she fights first for her own survival in the wilds, then as a member of the anti- government, pro-love resistance, and finally to save herself and her unlikely partner when kidnapped during a political rally.

It should be noted – this is a YA dystopia. There are definite parallels to the classics Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale but we’re really looking at a teenage love story, with a dystopian dressing up. This would make me extremely critical if it wasn’t well done, but it is.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Book 1 was good but not great. Sequels tend to be worse, and if I hadn’t had a few dollars left on a Kobo gift card, I probably would not have bothered. I am very glad I did. Oliver has drawn me further into the saga with a few not completely unexpected but still risky plot twists. I am greatly looking forward to Book 3.

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (February 28, 2012)
ISBN-10: 006197806X
ISBN-13: 978-0061978067

The Valley of the Horses by Jean M Auel

Banished by the Clan, Ayla strikes out on her own, looking to find a mate of her own kind, one of “the Others” (Cro-Magnon man) to accept her into his family. When still alone after months of travel, Ayla settles in a cave near the river, thus beginning an astonishing series of first discoveries for mankind: domesticating animals, riding horses, building a horse cart, starting fire with flint, end more. And when you think nothing can top her ingenuity, she discovers an extremely handsome and well endowed young man. Go Ayla.

Having enjoyed but not been blown away by Clan of the Cave Bear, I had high hopes for improvement with book 2 in the Earth’s Children  series. It started well. I was actually really enjoying the first half of the book. Yes, you are required to suspend belief somewhat, to think that Ayla is so smart that she discovers just about everything. But I could do that. It is supposed to be representative, to show the reader how early man may have discovered such technologies. You don’t have to take it literally.

Then there was Jondolar. It was clear with the double plot line that Ayla and Jondolar were bound to meet at some point, and while I wanted it to happen, I think my biggest problem was that I really didn’t like him much. Too perfect. Too arrogant yet annoyingly and unbelievably self-conscious.

And then there was the sex. I was briefly taken in by their mind-blowing sex. Briefly. There is such a thing as too mind-blowing. This was impossibly good, and poorly written at that. If I want a bodice-ripper, I know where to find one. Auel should have stuck with her strengths – meticulously researched historical fiction.

Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Crown (Nov 27 2001)
ISBN-10: 0609610988
ISBN-13: 978-0609610985