Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Slayers by C.J. Hill

Genre: Fantasy, action
Rating: ****
Pages: 373
Tori knows St. George and the Dragon Camp isn't her typical vacation the moment her sister's BMW pulls into the parking lot. The fencing practice and college level medieval history lectures are expected-after all, they're supposed to be learning how to slay dragons. But motorcycle riding and rifle shooting-with your eyes shut? Isn't  that a little extreme? Never mind how the "advanced campers", cabins twenty-six and twenty-seven, are two miles off from the main camp and must be kept secret.
Nothing gets easier when she discovers the truth. Dragons are real, the advanced campers, including her, are descended from the fabled dragons knights. Oh, and they're the only ones who can stop the dragon lord Overdrake from conquering Washington D.C. and eventually the world.
Tori didn't sign up to save the world. She not to happy about leaping fifteen feet into tree limbs and getting her hair singed off by the kind, scholarly, flamethrower-wielding camp director. Her fellow campers don't approve of her blonde highlights and trunk full of designer clothing. How can a pampered senator's daughter take down a dragon?
I picked up this book because I've read and several other by this author, all of them contemporary high school fiction or fairy fantasy.
This was not what I expected. Fewer hilariously awkward situations, more machine guns.
The plot is almost perfectly paced, the action intense, the romance kept to a tolerable, practical level for dragon slayers. The way the dragon business was set up stretched my imagination a little. A slayer is created when their pregnant mother goes near a dragon egg. It's not known how this works, only that it has to do with the triangular bumpy thing on a dragon's forehead and the kid's DNA. Their genes are passed down from dragon knights, who altered their DNA by drinking an elixir prepared by alchemists. That's the true goal of alchemy, by the way, not transforming ordinary medals into gold. Then there are dragon lords, who are different than dragon knights.
The main thing that bugged me was the guys. All of male advanced campers are tall and hot. Don't forget the rock-hard muscles. I know they're superhuman, I know this is a novel where dragons can exist in the real world, but having all the guys hot isn't realistic.
With an unforeseen twist, and Slayers is an intense action debut with an ending that will leave you burning for the sequel. Well, if you can call it a debut.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Locked in Time by Lois Duncan


(Left: 2011 cover, the one I read. All the rest: Retro versions)
Genre: Mystery, thriller, paranormal, but definitely not a paranormal romance
Pages: 242
Rating: ***
Things were hard enough for Nore when her mother died, but now her father is remarried and moved from New York to Louisiana. Her new stepbrother, Gabe, is alright-even attractive. His sister Josie may be awkward and moody, but isn't that how everybody is at thirteen? But  something's not quite right about Lisette, her young, contolling, privacy freak of a stepmother.
As Nore spends more time with the Berge family, it soon becomes apparent her they're concealing a dark secret stretching back for centuries.
Locked in Time was originally written in 1985 and then revised for paperback in 2011. This gives it one blessed advantage-it's not a Twilight wannabe. Gabe isn't your smoldering, dark man of mystery. Nore's brain cells may take their sweet time figuring out his secret, but she's not another TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) heroine throwing herself into a pair of cold, waiting arms when every meager scrap of common sense in her possession tells her to run the other way and get a real boyfriend. There's some mild, crush type romance, but Nore's got the rationality to put her own life above, well, certain death.
The Berge's secret is obvious from the first thirty-four pages, if not the title and tagline. Forever young, forever evil. 
There's just enough vivid description and clever metaphors to qualify it as well-written, if not for Nore's stiff, formal voice. She favors stuffy words like 'whom', though she's not supposed to be nerdy. I know everybody claims the last generation of teenagers was smarter, but I can't believe 'whom'. Which brings me to the next problem: the perception of teenagers in general, both Nore's and Lois Duncan's.
Josie is thirteen, four years younger than Nore. Josie is awkward and unsightly, Nore is a blonde bombshell.  And no, it's not a Scott Westerfield style 'age doesn't determine beauty' theme. I don't know whether to blame Nore or Lois, but somebody here has a weird perception of age.
     "When you're seventeen and a half, being pretty comes with the territory. Smooth, unlined skin, shiny hair (mine is strawberry blond) trim hips, firm breasts-that's what being young is all about. I know that I'm not going to look this way forever. Twenty-five years from now, if I'm lucky, people might call me 'interesting looking'. That's the best I can hope for, and it will be good enough.
     But, at this unique time in life, I'm pretty, and that makes me happy."
Is that really how it works? Ooh, goodie. Two more years and I get to be strawberry blonde!
Here's her description of Josie:
     "One day, perhaps, her beauty would match her mother's but at this point nothing about her had come into proportion. Her nose was too long, her mouth too wide, her chest still flat and bony, and she had the overall look of knobby-kneed colt.
     Her appearance brought back painful memories of my own transition from childhood to adolescence. I breathed a sigh of relief that this stage of life now lay behind me."
Youth doesn't work that way, and beauty isn't the only thing she's screwed up. Nore is portrayed as confident, benevolent, and intelligent. Josie is supposed to be moody, every outburst and emotion are blamed on her age. I personally thought she was pretty mature, especially given the circumstances she's had to live through. The simplest, most excusable answer is that Nore's another self-centered blonde bimbo, but she applies this view to her own life.
     "At thirteen years old, I suddenly declared war on my parents. They abruptly became 'the enemy', bent on wrecking my life with their unreasonable regulations. Everything I wanted to do seemed to be forbidden. I couldn't stay out past eleven; I couldn't go to concerts; I couldn't attend parties unless there were adult chaperones. The one time I cut class to go to an afternoon movie with some friends, I was hauled out of my theater seat by my father, when the attendance office called. (All of my friends had normal parents who worked out side the home.)
     It was a horrendous year for all of us, but I did move past it."
     Some people consider thirteen an unlucky number, but we don't wake up on our thirteenth birthday and go evil for the next 365 days. You'd think Lois Duncan, being an experienced and decorated writer, would have noticed that in the twenty-six year gap.