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Series Review – The Tomorrow Series

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023



Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

The Tomorrow series by John Marsden, first published in the 1990s, consists of 7 short novels intended for the upper end of YA readers (i.e., there is discussion of sex and some sex scenes, people get killed rather graphically, and there’s some torture).  The actions taken by the teens, and the results, are not completely believable but not totally implausible either. It’s written all from the POV of Ellie, in a lengthy diary format, and it’s her take on the events that pulls in the reader.  Fair warning, not everyone is going to survive.  This isn’t a series where you can dip in and out, it needs to be read start to finish.

TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN starts it off with a group of Australian teens on a camping trip. They’ve bushwhacked their way into a deep, barely accessible canyon called Hell where legend has it a hermit lived decades ago.  At the bottom, it’s a pleasant place with plenty of shade and water. Ellie, who organized the trip, and her friends spend a nice week lazing around the campsite. When they come out, their homes are empty and their pets are dead. Where is everyone? Ominous signs lead them to the horrifying truth: during the national holiday, a foreign country has invaded and seemingly conquered Australia, and everyone they know is being held captive as the invading army moves to occupy the country for its own people.  The kids hurriedly head back into Hell before they too are captured.

Ellie and the others are just teens. What can they do? They don’t want to be guerilla fighters but they aren’t about to turn themselves in either. As it turns out, with a little ingenuity they manage to inflict some significant damage on the invaders but not without cost.

THE DEAD OF NIGHT, the second book, Ellie and the rest explore away from their hideout and come across a group of other resistance fighters. They are so relieved to find adults, but it isn’t going to be that easy. Once again they need to strike the enemy by themselves.

A KILLING FROST: Lots of action and heartbreak in this one. Ellie evinces a certain sympathy for the invaders – it doesn’t stop her from fighting back – but it’s a point of view I could not sympathize with.  Her thought is that the invaders have some justification for their actions because Australia refused to take in more immigrants.  This seems to me more like an opinion the odious Major Harvey would have. Again, she doesn’t stop fighting and it’s to her credit that she feels bad about the people she’s killed. She rightly has concerns over what this will do to her, and her friends, in the long run.

DARKNESS BE MY FRIEND: Ellie and the remaining kids reluctantly return to Wirramurree with a group of guerilla soldiers, intent on sabotaging the military airfield that the invaders have built there. Not a lot of forward motion in this episode.  Once again, Ellie spends a lot of mental anguish on killing the enemy.

BURNING FOR REVENGE: The group decides that safely – safe is relative to be sure – sitting in their refuge isn’t what they want to do. A scouting mission turns incredibly dangerous very fast.  It’s a roller-coaster of action for almost the entire book.  And they come across something unexpected.

THE NIGHT IS FOR HUNTING: There’s more mouths to feed now, and the occupiers are getting closer to finding the hideout.  It can’t keep going on this way forever. A lot of interpersonal tension here, and fewer explosions, but still a taut story that moves along the plot.

THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN concludes the series. The group is asked for just a bit more action as outside forces gather for “D-Day” to take back Australia.  Can they escape with their lives just one more time? There are definitely uncomfortable scenes in this one. I liked how Marsden ended it – the war’s over but life is not going to ever be as good as it was.
















Fantasy Friday Review – No Time Like the Past

Friday, April 7th, 2023

No Time Like the Past by Jodi Taylor

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

NO TIME LIKE THE PAST by Jodi Taylor is the fifth entry in the Chronicles of St Mary’s, an institute whose mission is to travel back in time and observe history. There are some unadvoidable spoilers for previous novels, so you have been warned. A new reader should start with the beginning, JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER, which I reviewed earlier and linked here.

It’s been a few months since the tumultuous events of A TRAIL THROUGH TIME. St Mary’s, which was in rubble at the end,  has been mostly repaired, but there are now budgetary problems.  Plus there’s a ghost that only one person can see.  The team needs an easy expedition, say a nice stroll through the Crystal Place in London of 1851, before the serious stuff begins.  The serious stuff is going to be collecting some artworks supposedly destroyed so they can “find” them later and claim the credit.  Plus St Mary’s is going to hold an Open Day, with activities for the public and a team boat race, and later Max will get to take her team to Thermopylae.  Why you’d want to see that is beyond me, but I am not an historian.

Of course none of these things will go as planned. It’s another break-neck pace with harrowing disasters and dramatic rescues every outing,  but at least all our favorite characters will survive it. There are no twisty surprises in this episode; Max is firmly embedded in this new timeline and for now, there’s no hint that any different lines are intruding.

My logical brain is definitely starting to nitpick at a couple things though. Why doesn’t Taylor have Max – or anyone else – question how it is that evil villains know where they are when they travel into the past? You’d think this would be of great concern.  After the epic disaster at St Paul’s, why do they assume it won’t happen again in Florence? Saying the Security team will be on hand is not an answer.  But it could be I missed something.

I very much enjoy all the history. Taylor sends her characters to major historical events that we learn about in high school and sort of remember, and fleshes them out with “first-hand” reports. I’ve looked up many of them and admired how well she works in the human side of the battles. The book ends with a lovely, funny, feel-good event. I admit I was surprised and (cautiously) pleased. I felt a bit more emotionally involved with Max than I have in previous books, all to the good.

In conclusion – another action-packed race through events, lots of descriptive detail, and short enough that I read it straight through. Very enjoyable and I’m looking forward to #6.







Fantasy Series Review – The Sharing Knife

Friday, February 10th, 2023



THE SHARING KNIFE is a four-volume fantasy series by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Bujold is well-known for her science-fiction series, marketed as the Vorkosigan Saga, and her fantasy series set in the World of the Five Gods. She sometimes has a romance element and that’s very strong here.

WARNING: The first book has semi-graphic descriptions of a miscarriage, and it is referred to several times over the course of the four volumes. Some may be sensitive to the topic.

BEGUILEMENT, the first book, introduces the world, but it’s definitely more concentrated on the romance between the two protagonists, Fawn and Dag. Fawn, unmarried and pregnant, runs away from the family farm, is abducted by creatures controlled by a monstrous malice, and has to be rescued by the Lakewalker patroller Dag.

Dag is a Lakewalker, people with a talent known as “groundsense” – they can feel “ground”, the life force that emanates from everything. Malices, or blight bogles, are things that emerge from the earth and suck the ground from everything around them, while at the same time making and controlling other beings. If not stopped they could potentially kill off everything living in the world.  Lakewalkers hunt malices. Only they can kill a malice with a very specialized knife, thus the title SHARING KNIFE  Fawn is of the farmer society, in this world just regular people without Lakewalker talents. This is an agrarian society, with no evident government or ruling class.

Back to the plot. Fawn is left with major injuries and while nursing her back to health, she and Dag fall irretrievably in love. But marriage between a Lakewalker and a farmer is not done. Even casual hookups are seriously frowned upon. How can they possibly make a life together when both societies don’t just disapprove, but are ready to cast them out?

Bujold is a master at keeping the reader involved; Fawn and Dag are of course very likable characters and the reader wants them to get together.  But this reminds me too  much of Harlequin romance. Dag and Fawn hit an awful lot of cliches. Looked at with a critical eye, Fawn in particular is just too, too sweet. And if you’re in a critical mood, the age gap between them will leave you grinding your teeth.  There were a couple more things that grated.  Nonetheless, I still liked BEGUILEMENT and in fact I liked it best of the four.  But none of these books are meant as standalones, they build one on the next.

Book 2: LEGACY. Fawn and Dag are newly married by farmer customs but have also created their Lakewalker marriage cords. The cords are made and infused with the ground of each partner, and swapped. Each person can feel the live ground of the other and know they are still alive and well. Dag had to do some interesting groundwork in order for Fawn to get her ground into the cord, but it worked.

That is pretty much the entire bit that this book hangs on. Much slower paced than the first, it tells how the couple travel to Dag’s home Lakewalker camp, and the struggle they have to convince the Lakewalkers they are really, truly, married. Dag has to go on a patrol to kill a dangerous malice and is badly injured along with many others. No one will listen to Fawn’s desperate pleading until she takes off on her own to find him. This time she gets to save his life.  There’s a lot of family tension in this book, and a lot of the same arguments over and over again.

In book 3, PASSAGE, Dag and Fawn have left Hickory Lake Camp. After the malice disaster that befell Greenspring, Dag can’t stop thinking about all the farmers who died as opposed to the relative few Lakewalkers. He believes that if farmers knew more about and trusted Lakewalkers, that wouldn’t happen again. But Hickory Lake Camp isn’t going for it. Dag has also promised to take Fawn to see the ocean, so they’re going to travel downriver on a flatboat. A lot of characters will be  added, including Fawn’s brother Whit. Of course they’re going to meet up with river pirates enslaved by a renegade Lakewalker. Dag learns a lot more about his abilities as a maker, and gets to save Fawn’s life again. And they make it to the ocean.  We see a bit more of this world’s people and scenery, and the flatboat travel is interesting.

Lastly, HORIZON: On the road again, they can’t wait to be on the road again…oops sorry about that. Fawn has found out about an expert “maker” and off they go, leaving the riverboat crew at Greymouth and hoping the maker will take Dag on as an apprentice. And so he does, after the usual arguments about whether the two are really married (that’s definitely getting old).  It’s all great until a farmer kid is dying of lockjaw and Dag breaks his promise not to treat farmers. And so, on the road again, collecting an even bigger assortment of farmers and Lakewalkers in the group. The awful malice attack this time includes mud-bats, which I thought was an inspired idea of Bujold’s and definitely cringe-worthy.  It’s killed with a method I was wondering about since the first book, nice to have that explained. The book ends with a few pages concerning a visit from one of the other characters. It’s out of place enough that I can’t help but think Bujold intended to keep the series going, but didn’t, although she did wrap up that bit with THE KNIFE CHILDREN, a short novella available as an e-book.

While I enjoyed the series, it’s not on par with her other two, but I’d still rank it above many other fantasy/romance series I’ve tried. It feels uneven in that the romance is consummated, if you will, in the first volume, and after that the married couple is just trying to find their place in society. Binge-reading the series left me a little bored with the constant explanation of ground, Lakewalker abilities, and prejudices of the two societies. (I should know better than to binge-read, this always happens.) All the characters feel well fleshed out, the imagery is great especially in the battle scenes, and the idea of groundsense is quite interesting. It might have been better to have a little conflict between Fawn and Dag, they are besotted with each other and there’s never a cross word. It’s not very realistic, but I felt it made the series a good “comfort read”.




Fantasy Series Spotlight: The Dagger and the Coin

Friday, August 19th, 2022

Series Spotlight Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


THE DAGGER AND THE COIN is an excellent epic fantasy by Daniel Abraham.  Composed of five volumes, THE DRAGON’S PATH, THE KING’S BLOOD, THE TYRANT’S LAW, THE WIDOW’S HOUSE, and THE SPIDER’S WAR, it is set in a medieval fantasy world much removed from ours. There is a Dagger because this story is about war, several wars in fact, and a Coin because this is also about the economics of war and power. Don’t worry, the economic lessons are not boring.

Millennia ago, the dragons created many different races of humans to be their slaves. But mostly the dragons are legend now. No one knows what happened to them but some of their artifacts still exist – the roads paved with indestructible dragon’s jade are the most evident. The humans still exist in their varied forms – the canine looking Tralgu, the thin pale Cinnae, stocky Firstbloods, and many more. As we start, we’re not shown much prejudice between the races although sadly this is going to change.

The entire story is told from the POV of a limited cast of characters. Cithrin, a half-breed orphan raised by the Medean bank, and a financial wizard from a very young age; Marcus Wester, a one-time general now the captain of a mercenary company; Geder Palliako, a young man who wanted to be a scholar but is now an unhappy military officer; Baron Dawson Kalliam, a noble in Antea; and Clara Kalliam, Dawson’s wife.  There are many interesting secondary characters we’ll get to know, some of them rather well, and one of them has a very important secret.

As it starts out, teenager Cithrin is a refugee. Her city has been sacked by the Anteans, and she’s pretending to be a boy driving a cart with provisions. In reality she’s got the riches of that branch of the Medean bank, but she’s woefully unprepared for the deception. Marcus Wester and his second-in-command soon discover her but decide she needs protection; Marcus will never, ever, admit she reminds him of his deceased daughter. Geder Palliako, left in charge of the captured city, is going to make a murderous decision. Baron Kalliam loves his king and country, and will do anything to save it. Clara is the savvy wife furthering her husband’s career, but her life is going to change rather abruptly.

You see, it turns out that the legacy of the dragons is still very much alive in the world, just waiting for the right time to emerge. Geder is unwittingly going to bring it to light, and then fully embrace its lies while actively embracing the death of thousands and laying waste to entire countries. But maybe the solution is out there, somewhere, and also needs to be uncovered…

No spoilers here, so I won’t go over the entire plot. There is a lot of traveling involved – long and arduous land journeys, sailing trips, and flat-out running from invading armies. There are court politics and the machinations of money. A couple surprising twists show up too.  I found the smaller cast of main characters enjoyable; it’s nice not to have to keep referring back to a character list. Geder is nasty but probably the most interesting – despicable acts with flashes of kindness.  Marcus doesn’t change much at all but he’s a good, solid character with a rather fatalistic sense of humor. I thought his relationship with Yardem was a highlight of the story. I couldn’t like Dawson, but he was honorable in his own way. Cithrin and Clara change the most. I wasn’t all that interested in Clara but as the story went on she became more and more solid. Cithrin is cool (she invents paper money and inevitably the national debt at the same time, later in the story).  I also found the idea of the spider priests’ ability frightening – as soon as they revealed themselves I had so many questions –  and I loved seeing what Abraham did with it.

It all comes to a bloody and battered end, with the bad guys defeated and the good guys attempting to pick up the pieces of the world.  Not all the loose ends are tidied up, either, which leaves us with some intriguing questions. It’s a rewarding series, with excellent imagery and pacing, great world-building and while it’s not short, it doesn’t go on forever.