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Book Reviews: Guardian of the Gold Breathers by Elise Stephens

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I received this book free for review from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

The nutshell on this book is that it’s a fairly standard one of the genre in which a young person finds that they are somehow special or exceptional and must overcome some set of trials in order to achieve an elevated status in the world. Just think Harry Potter and the like.

This is a YA novel so I consider three simple questions when evaluating it. The first is to ask if I there’s any reason I wouldn’t want my kids to read it. I have a zero-tolerance attitude when it comes to sex and drugs and this one is clean as a whistle in that respect. Kids won’t pick up any negative lessons and they certainly won’t learn any “new” words. For those that are of a deeply religious bent, do know there is magic and the like.

One small word of caution, however, that requires a non-specific spoiler. Our hero goes about his journey and comes to a conclusion that from the perspective of those not in the know, looks exactly like getting burned alive. I would not want readers to somehow get the impression that the best way to escape a troubling family situation has any resemblance whatsoever to actual death. I think the risk is fairly small but it is something to note.

The second question is to ask if there’s any reason I would want my kids to read it. I love when a book teaches a lesson and this one does a fair job of demonstrating the virtues of loyalty and dedication to a goal. While I don’t think these themes are necessarily front and center to the narrative they are present and certainly not overly intrusive to the story.

The last question is to ponder whether kids will actually want to read it. In this case, I think the story is a rich one and it gives the reader plenty to enjoy and look forward to on each succeeding page. My only reservation is that kids might get a tad confused because the book seems to lack continuity in places. I won’t go into specifics but it feels like the book has been cut down from a longer version and sometimes references to previous events creep in that were edited out. I can’t validate this, of course, but a few times I asked myself, “When did THAT happen?”

In summary, reading this as an adult I found it pretty entertaining and it is a solid entrant in the YA market. The aspect that stands out for me most is the ending. The author closed this story in a way that balanced closure and uncertainty brilliantly. I’d be intensely interested in reading a sequel; this could bloom into a wonderful series of books akin to Pern.

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In The Kingdom Of Dragons: Dwarf And Dragon – Reminds me strongly of an episode of the Smurfs

As usual I received this book free in exchange for a review; this time via NetGalley. Also as usual I give my scrupulously honest opinions below anyway.

This story is written in the standard fantasy milieu featuring grumpy, irascible, greedy dwarves and large destructive dragons that ravage the countryside or protect it depending on your point of view. We also have dual narrative threads with one existing in the real world and one taking place in a sort of dragonish afterlife of sorts.

On the positive side, the story flows along well enough I suppose and at least threatens to be interesting at times. There’s a reasonable amount of action but nothing you can’t tear your eyes away from. The cast of characters is broad and interesting enough, I suppose.

The negative side of this book though really does a good job of overshadowing anything good about it. Firstly, it reminds me strongly of an episode of the Smurfs. For those that remember the Smurfs used the the word ‘Smurf’ to mean just about anything from expletives to Smurfberry wine. This book has the same premise except that their word is Dragon. They’ve got the Dragon guard that wears Dragon leather and they have Dragon shields and they all drink dragon blood, though it’s not clear if this is an every day thing or just an occasional thing. All this focus on dragons despite the fact that there only really seems to be one dragon in evidence early on and he’s certainly not big enough to be supplying all this leather and blood by himself. If I had a dollar for every time this book mentions drinking dragon blood I could go buy a better book… or ten.

Continuing on the negative side, while the cast of characters is broad, it’s not really clear to me as a reader who belongs to which race. Characters flit into the story with almost no introduction and then vanish for a hundred pages. Those characters that are left and consistently present seem to behave in ways that don’t make a lot of sense and generally the cause given for any erratic behavior is that someone at some point has gone and drunk dragon blood, or drank the blood of someone who drank dragon blood, or been around someone who drank dragon blood. You get the idea.

In summary, there’s the kernel of something good here but it seems to be just a kernel. The whole thing is so intent on talking about dragons and all the great drink recipes that exist for their life’s blood that we forgot to have a sensical plot. It’s possible that this book could be great but right now it’s just … not.


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