Book Review: Wrayth (A Book of the Order, #3)

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Wrayth

Title: Wrayth
Author: Philippa Ballantine
Publisher: Ace
Release Date: April 2008
Length: 309 pages
Series?: A Book of the Order #3
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Supernatural, Thriller, Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Goodreads Giveaway
Challenge: n/a

Find the book: Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis

In the Empire of Arkaym, the Order of Deacons protects and shelters the citizens from the attacks of the unliving. All are sworn to fight the evil forces of the geists—and to keep the world safe from the power of the Otherside… 

Although she is one of the most powerful Deacons in the Order, Sorcha Faris is still unable to move or speak after her last battle. Even her partner, Merrick Chambers, cannot reach her through their shared Bond. Yet there are those who still fear Sorcha and the mystery of her hidden past. 

Meanwhile, Merrick has been asked to investigate a new member of the Emperor’s Court. But when Sorcha is abducted by men seeking Raed Rossin, the shapeshifting rival to the throne, Merrick must choose where his loyalties lie.

Review

*I received this book through Goodreads First Reads book give-aways quite a while back. I was concerned about starting the third book in a series, so Phillipa sent me the first two! Without that, I can honestly say I would not have enjoyed this book as much, and I definitely would not have understood s0me things that happened and the importance of so many things in this story.

Warning: this post may contain spoilers or necessary information found in the first and second books. To get acquainted with this series, read my reviews: Book #1 here and Book #2 here.

Again, Ballantine has produced a story that is jam packed with dedication to intricate details. The story of Sorcha and Merrick, the remarkable and ill-favored Deacons, have weathered several storms together, experienced what most Deacons don’t see in a lifetime of dedication, and have seen the corruption of their own Order (of the Eye and Fist).

Many years ago, the old Order of the Circle of Stars tried overthrowing the Empire and taking control. They fled to the underground, although all thought they had been destroyed. Sorcha and Merrick found out otherwise in the first two novels in the series, and it shook the bedrock and foundation of their ties to the new Order, which formed to protect the Empire and its citizens from geists, geistlords and other manner of unsavory things from the Otherside.

Unfortunately in their last promenade to save the Empire things did not go quite according to plans, and Sorcha was left trapped inside her own body, paralyzed. It is a terrible thing to have your mind running, hear and overhear conversations, and not be able to say or do anything at all. Despite her strong Bond with Merrick, it is not enough to bring her out of this stupor. Merrick has stopped visiting, and now the Abbey and Council want to assign him a new partner – after Sorcha has been kidnapped!

After their last run in with a geistlord, in the ruse of a goddess, Raed the Young Pretender has been on the run from Emperor Kaleva and in search of his traitorous sister and former captain, but this time he is on his own. His crew is dispersed, and his first mate is determined to find him – with Sorcha’s help.

Once again, there is trouble in Vermillin within the palace. Kaleva has taken a stranger, a minor noble by the name of del Rue, into close confidence to the disgruntlement of his sister. The more she inquires, the more he shuts her out. The identity of this man is no stranger to Merrick, who is left holding the bag when del Rue pulls a fast one on Kaleva and the princess and the future of Arkaym is in question.

This does not bode well for the Empire or the Order, especially after Sorcha makes a deal with a geistlord, the entire Order loses the power of the Strops and Gauntlets, the Abbey is destroyed, the Deacons are on the run and The Tormentor is again on the lose.

The Rossin, a geistlord who made a deal with his ancestors, has not left Raed. In fact, he is in leagues with Fensema, another geistlord who wheels and deals with the Rossin, and has innate ability to track and stalk the Rossin. The Rossin seems to operate more and more independently unawares of Raed the Young Pretender, giving readers a nice glimpse of the set-up of the fourth book. The Rossin even struck a deal with Raed in the search for his sister that the Rossin can now be subdued but still access Raed’s conscious. I found in this book that the Rossin is very much more tamed, and humane (an ironic twist, I know), than in the previous books, but I think perhaps this is just setting up the groundwork for what will occur in the next book.

Sorcha discovers the painful and terrifying truth of her own history and birth, explaining the many remarkable peculiarities about her and her strong Bond with Merrick. She uses this knowledge of her mother’s last few desperate hours to save Arkaym.

Nynnia, Merrick’s lost love, is still helping Merrick and Sorcha from the Otherside…and ultimately saving Arkaym, again. I suspect in the fourth book she will also make an impact, even though her character has since long departed.

You can continue reading the Book of the Order series with Ballantine’s fourth installment, Harbinger.

About the Author

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Pip Ballantine

Born and raised in Wellington, New Zealand, Philippa is a writer and podcaster of fantasy fiction. Immersed in books from an early age, she moved onto to become a librarian. She’d been dreaming of being a writer since a teenager, but in the last ten years she’s devoted herself to it.

She’s the author of the Books of the Order series from Ace Books. Also, with Pyr books the Shifted World series, Hunter and Fox (2012) and Born and Made (2013).

Philippa is also the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair (2012).

Philippa currently resides in Manassas, Virginia with her husband and co-writer Tee Morris, their daughter and a clowder of five cats who keep them all in line.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Goodreads

Book Review: The Recipe Box

The Recipe Box
The Recipe Box

Title: The Recipe Box

Author: Sandra Lee
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: July 2013
Length: 225 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Chick Lit, Cooking
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased @ Scholastic book fair
Challenge: n/a

First off, this book is written by a woman who hosts several different DIY type TV shows, and throughout the book she has included recipes that correspond with the foods mentioned in the book. There are 16 recipes listed in an index at the back of the book. I fully intend to try out some of the recipes.

This book delves into the complexities of a woman’s mind, and the relationships with her mother and daughter.

Family secrets. Pride. Fear. Self-realization. And it all starts with a small, wooden recipe box that’s traveled the Atlantic from Sweden to the American midwest…and a birth certificate found tucked in the back of it.

This small, family heirloom creates doubt, havoc and leads to nearly a lifetime of running: running from everything. Until a best friend’s sad end leads to some unique wishes, statements and sentiments sent in a variety of ways.

Grace Holm-D’Angelo is fighting her past, running from it, and making some of the same mistakes with her own daughter. With the death of her best friend, she’s not splitting time between LA and her hometown, but most definitely not making any heartfelt visits to her mother. Grace carries a lot of baggage that she’s refusing to acknowledge to anyone, and as high school friend and co-worker Ken point out, she has always had a hidden agenda.

Until all that she’s trying to hide erupts like a raging volcano. When she picks her daughter up from an LA police station, she can’t keep up the ruse. Teenage Emma is sent to live with Grace’s mother, and complete her school year in little New London, which his home to a great group of folks who are all willing to help. Indeed, Grace’s high school nemesis is now doing anything she can to help out. It’s a wake up call for Grace, as is the letter she receives from her high school bestie, Leeza, after her death.

Returning to New London, Grace keeps running into hometown handyman and fireman and high school English teacher Mike, who is helping Emma in completing her schoolwork. Where there’s one, there’s three. Grace’s ex-husband, Brian, now successful with his business, comes barging back into the picture, as well as rich chocolatier Von, Leeza’s Swiss cousin, whom Grace had a brief fling with years before. Von is a flitty guy, like a butterfly: here one second, gone the next. He does things on his terms and his time. He befriends Emma in aims of getting into Grace’s good graces, but Grace quickly shuts that down due to her past, and some fears and doubts she is not yet ready to voice.

This novel comes full circle, with not only Grace’s own self-realization and growth, but also that of many of the other characters. It really made me reflect on my relationship with my mother, and hers with her mother, and the changes over the last 15 years in those relationships, the difficulties we experienced, and perhaps set ourselves up for, and the solid ground we are on today.

It is a heartwarming read, especially for mothers, sisters, daughters and best friends.

Perhaps my favorite line from the entire novel comes at the end, by none other than Von:

Our mistakes should not go without apologies. 

About the Author

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Sandra Lee

Sandra Lee, a multi-Emmy® and Gracie award-winner, is an internationally-acclaimed expert in all things kitchen and home. Sandra Lee has predicted and changed the trajectory of American lifestyle with her signature “smart and simple” philosophy. She empowers people of all walks of life to create memorable meals, hospitable homes, and creative crafts and shows them how to entertain for every occasion―with ease.

Sandra is the editor in chief of Sandra Lee Magazine and the host of four highly-rated culinary programs on Food Network and Cooking Channel: Restaurant Remakes, Sandra’s Money Saving Meals, Semi-Homemade Cooking and Taverns, Lounges & Clubs. Additionally, Sandra is the host of HGTV’s Sandra Lee Celebrates, a series of prime time entertaining specials.

Widely-respected for anticipating the needs of the modern homemaker and consumers, Sandra has launched several lines of home, garden, seasonal and craft products and produced a successful DIY home improvement series. Her newest kitchens, tabletops, housewares, seasonal decors and domestics collections are available exclusively in Kmart/Sears, entitled Sandra by Sandra Lee.

The Recipe Box is her first fiction book.

Find the author: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Book Review: The Keeper of Dawn

The Keeper of Dawn by J.B. Hickman (Shadeflower Press, 2012)

cover art
cover art

Genre: YA, fiction

*Nominated as a finalist for Young Adult Fiction by the Midwest Book Awards.

*Awarded “Reviewer’s Choice” for Midwest Book Review.

*Contender in Round 2 of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest 2013.

I received a digital copy via Smashwords in return for an honest review.

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Symbol and Theme, Reader’s Theatre, Reflections
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Raker Island, Map of Raker Island, Timeline
  • Math: “Design the Island” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of Wellington Academy

This is Hickman’s debut novel, and I found it interesting that he shared how pieces of this book came to be, including the title and some of the research he did. If you are a budding writer, you may want to check it out.

They had become a stain in my memory, the letters bleeding indeterminably together. But their impact lingered. 

Hickman most definitely hits the proverbial nail on the head, in so many ways in The Keeper of Dawn. Rebellion at its finest. It rips away the prestige of privileged boys and exposes what lies behind them, both in their personal lives and their school/career lives. The Raker Island lighthouse is both a symbol and a motif in this novel about four young boys sent to boarding school. I could not put this book down, and thought I’d finish it in one sitting. But life interrupted, and I had to finish in a few installments late at night which I think detracted from the momentum of the novel, and also the emotional connection between the characters and I. I’ve tried to capture all that I could in this review without spilling the beans, but let me tell you two things: Hickman’s written a stellar novel, and you won’t be disappointed! This book belongs alongside other award-winning young adult novels about coming of-age, life lessons and facing demons of the past.

Nothing stays for long. Nothing but that lighthouse.

Oh, how true this proves to be…

Sons of great men are sent to a belly-up island resort turned prep school, Wellington Academy, off the coast of Rhode Island. Rebellion is in the minds of adolescent boys, especially the flashy Governor’s angry son, Chris, who detests his father’s attitudes and tries to be everything his father is not. He acts out extremely to bring a glaring light onto Governor Forsythe.

Jacob Hawthorne, the main character, is a serious 15 year-old son of privilege. Yet he is nervous to meet his father, the “great vanisher” who continually disappears out of his life, on the celebratory parents’ day at his school. His mother professes that he’s a great man, but she’s not entirely convinced herself. Indeed, Jacob is sent to Raker Island to Wellington, the same resort island his parents honeymooned on. He’s been sent there so he won’t follow in his older brother’s footsteps, and he’s determined not to enjoy a moment of it. He yearns for his father’s approval – would even settle for acknowledgement – and has stolen a photo of his father from his mother’s wedding album. His father stands on the very same island he is now imprisoned on, and he often finds himself gazing at the photo.

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Mr. Stanley Roper (Normal Fell)

Benjamin Bailey, Jacob’s roommate, is the overweight kid who’s always left out, and swears he plays fair. Although he is a pessimist – or rather, because of it – he keeps his “unfavorable opinions to himself.” However, that quickly changes when popular Chris cozies up to him for a covert mission after lights-out. It goes terribly wrong for Ben, who then avoids the boys even though they rescued him. Things continue to get horribly worse for Benjamin at Wellington, forcing him to leave. 😦

Derek Meyhew is the equivalent of Mr. Roper from Three’s Company: the nosy neighbor, always butting and barging in. In the very first chapter, he’s telling Benjamin how to do up his tie with the eerily foreshadowing comment: The secret to a proper noose is you need just enough length to hang yourself. 

After a run-in with the ill-fated Chris and his sidekick Roland leaves them all with the punishment of helping the maintenance man, Max, restore the buildings and grounds, and another run-in with a group of upper-classmen and two quite accidental plays on the football field during an intramural game between halls, Jacob’s in for it. There will be no more “flying under the radar” for Jacob Hawthorne at Wellington…but a bond grows between him and the school’s maintenance man, Max, that will prove invaluable.

Looking for Alaska | John Green
Looking for Alaska | John Green

These boys band together for mischievous purposes at Wellington, breaking quite a few rules. The old abandoned lighthouse, rumored to be haunted, serves as a place that makes these young men face the the not-so-well hidden realities of their lives, their families, and ultimately their destinies, serves to leave the buried secrets and fears in the dark…and incites them to grander adventures. It reminds me starkly of the barn scene (The Best and Worst Days) in Looking for Alaska in such a way that both makes me happy as a reader, but sad given what I know will eventually happen.

Meanwhile, other boys are taking notice of the group, begrudgingly dubbed The Headliners, in honor of their morning ritual of pouring over the news headlines searching for news of their fathers, when one day all of their fathers make headlines: Chris looking for Governor Forsythe’s next ridiculous act for attention to get voted back into his cozy seat; Derek seeing how his father’s home security company is faring financially; Roland perusing his four-star general father’s new post-Vietnam military strategies, and Jacob catching up on the court rulings so he doesn’t hear his judge father’s decisions from someone else. The Headliners take it upon themselves to help Jake out when it comes to his arch enemy, “Loosy-Goosy” by playing a few pranks on him.

Dead Poet's Society
Dead Poets Society

Wellington’s new “absent-minded” history professor, O’Leary, from a rival school, is much like Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society. He invokes the students to question, to think, and he also pursues Jacob in an effort to provide some guidance and support. At their first meeting, he assures the students:

It is my job to present the facts. It is your job to decipher them. There will be no fence-sitters in my classroom. To not have an opinion is to not be informed. 

A few grand schemes lead to some very unplanned and unexpected scares and injuries, separating all the boys. Long hidden secrets are revealed; all but one. Hype and the outside world is brought to the secluded island when Wellington hosts the 1980 Senatorial Debate – and things go horribly, horribly wrong, as planned by the boys. This begins the unmistakable scrutiny of both Wellington and Chris’ governor father. But as the book progresses and nears the end, you find that things are not quite as they seem with Jacob and his father, and a long-buried, painful memory is brought into the light of day in the newly renovated and serviceable Raker lighthouse.

Denial can lie very thick in a child’s heart.

But if certain events are edited, perhaps even omitted altogether, how much trust can we put in the printed word?

I had forgotten most of it, or made up lies to decive myself into believing something less hurtful than the truth. 

The three quotes above are the essence of this book. We can’t talk about it – buy you can find out what I mean by reading the book. 🙂

The title of this book comes from a quote by a Coast Guard man whose grandfather was a lighthouse keeper:

They started a movement to preserve their profession. They wanted to go back to the way things were. All those years lighting the night sky, of preserving at least a glimmer of the dawn, and they didn’t know how to live without it. Something very dear had been taken from them, and they fought with everything they had to not let it go.

They were the Keepers of Dawn…just as Jacob will become.

The prologue is a bit disjointed, and it’s not clear in the divided section where he is. From vague comments, the first seems to be his initial trip to boarding school, while the second is back at his often deserted home. The fact that nothing looked recognizable to him suggests some amount of time has passed. The disjointedness of the first few chapters and the confusion in the last few will all be revealed – and explain these peculiarities (and in this case, tools) of writing.

Jacob’s memories don’t match up with the physical appearances of the present, but he is always pressing on … because of David. His parents hold his grandfather responsible for what happened to his older brother, David, and the reason behind why he left. Jacob seeks out his estranged grandfather to find out exactly what kind of hand he had in David’s leaving, and ends up forging a new-found bond that endures while he is at Wellington. It stays unchanged and keeps him grounded when everything else in his life is going one speed: hellbent.

The first chapter is noticeably jumpy from the first to second paragraphs, creating the same disjointedness as in the prologue. This appears again throughout the novel, juxtaposing the present with the past. It’s not clear why this is until it’s occurred few times. His flashbacks of the times spent with his grandfather are indeed juxtaposed in a sequence creating a parallel of his relationship with his grandfather and his experiences at Wellington: when he recounts first meeting his grandfather after all the years (and the David business), it directly follows the new start at Wellington; becoming familiar and less formal with his grandfather also follows an event of The Headliners in which it is apparent that they are indeed friends.

His grandfather is remarkable in that he has a lot of metaphors and similes about life, such as the following about bonsai trees:

*in reference to him, his son (Jake’s father), and David (and even Jake himself)….

Like most of us…they’re set in their ways. It’s taken years for their branches to grow to where you see them today. They have to be guided when they are young by wiring their trunks. Then the sunlight takes things from there. For most of them, it would be hard to change their location. The young ones could handle it, but the older ones like Julius here wouldn’t much care for it at all.

*in reference to his son’s absence from most of Jake’s life (and probably David’s too)….

Their name is a reminder that their life is in your hands….And they’ll know if you neglect them.

Being a good caretaker requires more than just performing the day-to-day chores. Perhaps most important of all, a bonsai needs to be loved. 

*in reference to himself and his son, and their behavior to their sons….

I meddle too much. I either cut too far back, or trim too often. That’s the mistake of an amateur – to try and do too much. You don’t want to smother them, but it’s human nature to tamper, to try to mold them into a particular image. It’s a mistake made innocently enough, but one that can have disastrous consequences. 

spoiler-alert

One of the many sad parts of this book was at the end of the chapter with the bonsai trees. Jake adopts one from his grandfather and eventually takes it home. The sight startled his own father and “sealed [his] fate to Raker Island” he was later to discover….and SO SO much more that I wish I could spill because I’m dying to gush about this book, but I don’t want to ruin it. I was saddened to see the progression of the bond between these boys (and the reasons for it), followed quickly by the disintegration of the boys’ friendship, as predicted by Mr. O’Leary in his warning to Jacob in the very beginning:

Are you part of it, Jake? Or are you caught up in it?….In adolescence, boys are clannish. Girls are intimate, but boys are more tribal. They’re like wolves – they socialize in packs. They’re loyal to those in their pack, but suspicious of outsiders. When a boy comes to boarding school, he is alone for the first time in his life. As a result, he loses his identity in the group. But it is also in the group that he truly finds himself. Forget about education, forget about the Ivy League and that six-figure job at the end of the road. A boarding school’s real mission is to give boys good tribes with good elders. If this is done properly, they will prosper and grow. But give them no tribes, and they will create their own without elders, and they will become irretrievably lost.

That’s what a scare is. A reminder that once upon a time you were hurt bad enough to be changed by it. 

Book Review: Spectyr (A Book of the Order, #2)

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Book #2

Life is never quite how you imagine it. 

Spectyr (A Book of the Order, #2) by Philippa Ballantine (Ace, 2011)

Genre: fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural, thriller, romance

*Let me preempt by saying Philippa sent me this book because I won her third book, Wrayth, in a book give-away. I am reviewing her first two books out of thanks for her kindness in sending them to me, and her third per the give-away rules. However, that has no affect on the review itself.

Warning: this post may contain spoilers or necessary information found in the first book, so get acquainted with this series, starting with my review of Book #1 here.

Spectyrs brought retribution on those who had wronged them.

Their shared sight dipped and swayed as Merrick tried to compensate for the staining of the ether. A scuttling sound made his mouth snap shut. Rats were running from every corner, scrambling through the walls, and skittering down the drainpipe. Animals were more sensitive than humans and always fled in the face of the undead. The noise was unnerving – even to the trained.

Beyond reality and time, the Otherside held knowledge that no human could ever possess, so the greatest Deacons of the Order had often taken chances to snatch what they could from the void.

This book continues in the principality of Vermillion, (part of the larger Arkaym nation) only one month after the attack of The Murashev, the most powerful geistlord, under the ossuary. It picks up with the despised Grand Duchess, and she is yet again getting in hot water and about to create more havoc and danger for the kingdom by calling on a goddess long without support.

I fear this addiction of yours will bring you nothing but ill.

Sorcha is (rightfully so) very cynical and bitter about the Emperor and the Order, given what happened on her assignment in the previous book and the betrayal of the Arch Abbot. The people do not trust, let alone respect, any of the Order anymore…when in fact their mistrust and fear should reside with the Emperor – or moreover, his militant sister, who just so happens to be second to the throne. Merrick is certain that time will pass and the people’s faith in the Order will return.

Life had taught her such things were oversimplifications – wishes that seldom came true in the complicated realities of existence.

When I first started reading the second book in this series, I was surprised that it started with the Grand Duchess (bad news), and not with Sorcha and Merrick on some task with the backstory from Book #1 entwined. I was a little thrown off, but then I was really thrown when “spectyrs” started appearing in the text. What is a spectyr? In Book #1 we learned that “shades” are the unliving remains of a dead person, and Book #2 gives a very short explanation about “spectyrs” – the evil cousins of shades…who want revenge. Ohhhh crap! 

But you’ll soon see why Ballantine started off with the Duchess, and the situation Ballantine sets up explains how the roles work and some of the terminology, so you don’t necessarily need to read the first book. (Kudos – that can be hard to do.) Since the great shindig with the Otherside under the ossuary a few months before (Book #1), geist attacks have continued – although some are truly real, and others are just calls of paranoid citizens who believe they have a geist in their midst. During Sorcha and Merrick’s task, we find out they are assigned areas where there are no real geist attacks…except this is not the case this time. Precious Nynnia comes to them from the Otherside and gives a warning and glimpse of the future to Sorcha – a foreboding of what is to come.

It was apparent that for every rule there was an exception. 

Since they returned to Vermillion as hunted fugitives in Book #1, the new Arch Abbot is keeping an eagle eye on Sorcha and Merrick. They are assigned meaningless tasks – guarding empty halls, escorting wagons of porcelain. They are kept on a very tight leash…with Sorcha’s husband and former partner, Kolya, following along. Although she has filed for the equivalent of a divorce in their world as well as dissolution of their Deacon’s partnership, Kolya is dillusioned into thinking her leaving the Abbey to save their world was merely her living in her fairytale mindset and “sneaking out” to avoid him. Grow up, pal. Which brings up a reminder of a couple things: Sorcha still shares a Deacon’s Bond with her husband, as well as one with her new partner, Merrick. And her bond with Merrick is so much stronger it is beyond what any Deacon’s Bond should be. But then, Sorcha and Merrick also share a Triple Bond with Raed the Young Pretender that was forged in haste in Book #1, that neither of them can break…and that’s not all she wrote! This Triple Bond will serve as the integral locking puzzle piece that draws this book together.

Meanwhile, the Young Pretender receives a summons from someone I thought dead from the way the first book went and must find his missing sister. He learns he cannot trust his entire crew, and singles some out for this excursion. Connection? Oh yes. But it’s not what I thought at all – it’s SO much bigger.

Now that Kolya is out of the infirmary, which his own rash actions caused, rumors abound within the Mother Abbey since Sorcha has moved out of their chamber into a small one next to Merrick – but they won’t be there for long. Kolya is like that crazy ex-girlfriend (or boyfriend, in this case) who just doesn’t get it. And wouldn’t even if you remarried. That’s how out of it he is. We didn’t see much at all of his character, let alone characteristics, in Book #1. The only thing we really gleaned from his character in Book #1 was that he likes to defy the rules (walking among crowds during a geist attack) and that he didn’t care one whit for his marriage. Not much has changed, except we find out he’s crazy and oblivious and annoying. As hell. Oh, AND in cahoots with Sorcha’s nemesis Rictun, who I think is just as tainted as former Abbot Hastler was.

Although Merrick has grown up some during his experience, and even with the betrayal of Arch Abbot Hastler, he is completely blinded to the animosity that the new Arch Abbot Rictun has for Sorcha. Indeed, as a reader we saw this in Book #1, but now that he is the head of the Order it really piques my curiosity. Yet Sorcha seems to have an ally on the Order Council – an enemy of Rictun’s? (I hope so – I’m holding out for a revolution of sorts; each time I see Rictun’s name I read it with a stink eye.)

What he also had were eyes that would suck out a person’s soul.

The Emperor, Kal, is in the hot seat: he must choose a wife – a proffered princess from other kingdoms in the empire. He must choose wisely, and he ironically chooses Princess Ezefia, sister of Prince Onika of Chioma, who is fabulously wealthy. Chioma is a principality south of Vermillion, home to all strange spices but also the most powerful, hard-to-detect poisons…and it’s the oldest kingdom, with the same ruling family since its beginning. And there are strange rumors about their ruler, quite strange rumors. Sorcha and Merrick accompany Princess Ezefia back to Chioma…but I think they are all getting more than they bargained for. Meanwhile, Raed’s journey to find his sister leads him right to Chioma.

I can trust very few in my Court – not even my own Deacons.

During their separate journeys to Chioma, it becomes apparent that Raed, Sorcha and Merrick are battling their own very personal issues on this journey. They arrive in Chioma and it seems like Ulrich all over again. The Prince of Chioma is not safe even inside the walls of his palace. There have been several murders already – of his unusual bloodline. The first murder was his Chancellor, second to Prince Onika, but all are told he died of old age…yet there’s no body. The Deacons of Chioma are quite odd; they openly worship the “little gods”, but particularly the goddess Hatipai. They wear robes of her colors – not colors of the Order they were sworn into. And then Sorcha and Merrick get separated…

We thought we knew better. We could go where we wished, harness all that power. We thought weirstones were harmless…

We see the return of Nynnia again, and she pulls Merrick back in time to a very pivotal turning point. He discovers some insight about who they refer to as the Ancients, and why they chose to move their famed grounds to the Otherside. So much is revealed in that section, that I can’t share without ruining it – but with that knowledge, things start pulling together to come full circle for readers. Suffice to say that The Native Order (often termed The Ancients) is not dead….and it turns out, they were dabbling in the Otherside quite a bit.

Some things you can’t fix once the time has passed.

Although Raed is on the hunt for his sister, and he has a handful of his most trusted working to find her…he is betrayed in the worst way possible. Reading this part, and his anguish of experiencing the terror and horror that the Rossin causes, and the fact that this beast killed his own mother, my heart hurt for him during this section. It was obvious his anguish and guilt and success at protecting from the Rossin was not considered. I felt those who betrayed him were very selfish, not seeing the big picture…but in a way, I agreed with one. Ten years of staying away, no real communication, is a long, trying, hard time.

From reading the first few chapters, I had the sneaky suspicion that an overthrow or revolution was going to happen in this book – and be exposed this time. I understand the reasons why Book #1’s geistlord fights couldn’t be explained to the people, and I thought something of the same sort (but on a more massive scale) was going to happen in this book.

I found it interesting that Ballantine references Raed’s grandfather’s reign – and the biggest problem  he dealt with was slavery. He was the Abe Lincoln of the time, which is as yet unknown, but he also kept a diary as a young intended royal and mentions some interesting things about Chioma, including a brief and unexplained comment about it being an “ancient enemy.” Hmmmmmm.

You will definitely be thrown for a loop with this book. So many things are going on, and they all pull

Book #3
Book #3

together. Geist seemed like such a huge feat, but Ballantine was definitely not prepared to go home. She went big! I give 5 stars for this detailed, well-written book.

Safety is just an illusion.

You can continue reading the Book of the Order series with Ballantine’s third installment, Wrayth.

Book Review: Geist (A Book of the Order #1)

Geist (A Book of the Order #1) by Philippa Ballantine (Ace, 2010)

Genre: fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, romance

Between the living and the dead stands a powerful guardian…

“It was good weather for a riot.”

Book #1
Book #1

Oh, you know this is going to be good, like when the cops walk into the restaurant hosting your college graduation celebration, and you tell everyone to sit back down for the show.

This book is set on the continent of Arkaym. Previously there has been some political unrest, and the people of outlying towns are miserable, desperate, resigned and starving. You can just imagine the turmoil already in place. The princes of the land requested an Emperor to rule over Arkaym. The Emperor is housed in Vermillion Palace, in the City of Vermillion, which also serves as the headquarters (Mother Abbey) of the Deacons (people with supernatural capabilities) throughout the continent. An interesting note: the royals can influence the Order (Deacons as a whole), but do not control it. The Order ranks higher than any royal, even the Emperor.

Deacon Sorcha Faris is the primary character of the book. She’s ballsy; she actually wants a riot, she smokes cigars. She has been a Deacon for 18 years. She has supernatural powers, and is an Active. Her job is to guard against signs of an uprising, but it is also her calling. There are two worlds – theirs (the real world) and the Otherside. The Otherside is a world that contains all manner of ghostly, beastly creatures, spawn of evil. Actives and and Sensitives can see and feel what’s going on in the Otherside and when Otherside creatures come into their world, but in the real world those without supernatural capabilities can’t sense these things. However, there are witches and warlocks that also practice the supernatural who are either not trained or are untrainable by the Abby (kicked out of their Deaconship). While there is political unrest in the country, it is also among the Deacons: there is a generational movement of Enlightenment occurring where the younger Deacons believe that the witches and warlocks are just as entitled to use the Otherside as the Deacons. STRANGER DANGER!!

Sorcha works with her husband of eight years, Kolya. Kolya is a Sensitive, the opposite of an Active and with different (and considered) lesser powers. Their titles say it all: the Actives are the go-getters of the group, and the Sensitives are the ones who feel out and assess a situation with powers unknown to the Actives. Each partnered pair of Actives and Sensitives share a bond, enabling them to share thoughts through their Centers. But lately, Sorcha and Kolya’s marriage has been icy. Kolya deals more directly with the people, planting himself right in the middle of mortal danger. Sorcha is barely able to save him from “the unliving,” a creature that has come through a portal that’s been opened from the Otherside. It is unlike any unliving ever documented before in the 300 years of their Order. It can read their thoughts, and it also possesses people (usually the sick and ailing).

The more interesting element of this incident is that Sorcha doesn’t save him because she loves him, or because he’s her husband. She saves him because “the other Actives would never let her hear the end of it.” In doing so, she uses a tool of the Actives – the Gauntlets. They are like leather gloves and each one is carved with one of the Runes of Dominion – flashy powers even the ungifted can see. Just as an Active has powers from the Gauntlets, a Sensitive has powers from the Strop – which is a bigger deal than the Gauntlets, and rarely used.

Due to the uncanny abilities of this geist – this unliving (terms can be used interchangeably) – Sorscha uses one of the runes that is very powerful and very dangerous…and must pay the consequences. Her husband is in a coma, and she is saddled with a new partner…for the fifth time! The girl’s earned a reputation if you know what I mean, and not just for being the strongest Active of the Order.

Meanwhile, we meet Raed, the Young Pretender. If you really want to shock him, you might use his full title: His Highness, Lord Raed Syndar Rossin, Second Vetch of Ostan and Heir of the Unsung. I don’t know what any of that means, but we learn that his father had ties with Prince Felstaad’s father, and he has been exiled for some reason. Raed is the heir to the Empire, and is trying to reclaim it. And there is a price on his head, naturally being the arch enemy of the Emperor. Due to some intense family heritage and a deal made with the devil (or the Rossin, Otherside creature of the sea in this case), Raed has been cursed – and it’s quite an evil curse at that! You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy, I’ll just say that.

Raed has called on Prince Felstaad for aid in repairing his ship – basically his only accessible possession. Felstaad is a calculating man, and uses Raed to serve his wont. He sends Raed to Ulrich, the uppermost area of his lands, where the winter (which has already begun) is harsh and only the natives of the area reside. Felstaad of course has ulterior motives – to monitor the area. The area is near a bridge built by the Emperor to bridge the “vast distances of the continent” with a port for the Imperial Dirigibles. Unusual visitors might come forth with this new medium of transportation….

As consequence for her actions, Sorcha is partnered with Deacon Merrick Chambers, a young novice Sensitive, and they are bound for Ulrich – the focus of some vicious and unusual, unprecedented attacks, just as Sorcha and Kolya faced. Merrick, although a youngster in the world of Deacons, doesn’t believe in deceiving people. He has strong morals and values. Ironically, he was raised an aristocrat, yet he finds them pretentious. Due to a very important childhood incident, Merrick is scared of Sorcha and her infamous powers.

Before setting sail for Ulrich, Merrick and Sorcha encounter an unusual guest, Nynnia, daughter of a physician to Deacons, who joins their party. She is an important game-changing player in this book. Through one of these macabre geist run-ins, Raed stumbles across Merrick and Sorcha, with Nynnia, out at sea. Based on Merrick’s abilities and assessments of these attacks, he determines that a human is causing the attacks – they are calling beings from the Otherside! Ruh row, Scooby.

Throughout this journey, the author continually feeds the reader into the mystery of discovering the identity of the one in cahoots with the Otherside. Suspicious remarks, looks and thoughts are strewn everywhere. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out – WRONG! Ballantine throws a sidewinder, knocking down your reasoning. So each time a character is removed from suspicion, you start building up for the next one who seems odd in this grand scheme that’s unraveling. And then you get the Alice in Wonderland feeling: things are not as they seem. Indeed, things are not right at all in Ulrich, let alone within the Priory, containing a Prior (head Deacon), Deacons and lay Brothers, sworn to protect the people. It seems the newly formed gang has fallen into a neat little trap.

Dark things are at work, and Sorcha and Merrick, and even Raed, must go against everything they’ve been brought up and trained to do…to save the entire country. They find there are some well-hidden secrets within the Abby and the Order. Needless to say, their world is turned upside down.

Ballantine has written a riveting story combining many popular elements: magic, supernatural, multiple dimensions, beasts, social and political strife, power struggles, ghosts, souls. But starting off was a hard read – I didn’t know what any of the terms meant, or how they all fit together. You don’t really understand what they are until halfway through the book, and even then you don’t know for sure exactly how to describe a Center, or what it does, to someone else. That is the one flaw that I saw in Ballantine’s writing; there is no introduction, no getting your feet wet and testing the waters. It’s full on BAM!

In terms of how the book is structured, this is the closest I can come to describing it: it’s as if there’s a giant puzzle, and Ballantine is tantalizingly and ever-so-slowly giving the reader a small puzzle piece at each twist and turn to complete the picture, and even at the close of the book, there are still missing puzzle pieces….or maybe, just maybe, it’s a puzzle within a larger puzzle. Interesting thought.

Despite that, it was an excellent read and I am craving continuing the series. She creates such a strong vision of the world (quite similar to Rowling doing so with the Harry Potter series), with strong characters and incredible details that consume the readers in such a way as to put them into the story (which I strongly felt when reading Hunger Games). It will definitely have you coming back for more.

I’m a quotes person, and these two quotes from the book stood out to me…

An honest man in a dishonest world could be a very powerful thing.

They all had scars and injuries – it came with being an adult, messy and awkward as that could sometimes be.

You can continue reading Ballantine’s Book of the Order saga with Spectyr and Wrayth.

Book #1
Book #3
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Book #2