Monday, November 21, 2011

Young Junius by Seth Harwood

Young JuniusYoung Junius by Seth Harwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I waffled back and forth between a three and four star rating for this story. I finally settled on four, because, despite the violence and somewhat bleak outlook of the story, I found it compelling and hard to put down.

This is another book that is a departure from my usual fantasy/science fiction fare. I'd read a few short blurbs online that sounded intriguing, and the setting was particularly attractive to me. It is set in 1987 Cambridge, MA, in the area surrounding the Alewife stop on the MBTA subway line. I use the Alewife station on a somewhat regular basis going in to Boston, so, while things have certainly changed since 1987, a lot of the references were very familiar.

The story follows 36 hours in the life of 14 year old Junius Posey, growing up in the slum area of Cambridge surrounding three towers run by two rival drug pushers. Junius is determined to find out who shot and killed his older brother. He and a friend go into the tower territory where they end up shooting one of the members of one of the drug gangs. Junius is given fifty dollars by his mother, who tells him to run to an aunt in NY for safety. Junius ignores her instructions, and continues to look for his answers. In the course of his quest, Junius becomes involved in an escalating war, bringing the two young men, the police and the drug gangs to a bloody, violent confrontation.

It is the characters that make this such a fascinating read. They are real and gritty, with depth and life. None of them are cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Even the hard edged drug lords have shades of grey, and are not completely evil. All of the characters, from older than his years Junius, his tough as nails mother, and his drunkard father, to the crack addicts and drug dealers in the tower projects are real and believable. They live on the pages of the book and pull you into their complex, if violent, world.

At its core, this is a mystery: who killed Junius' brother? And while the answer is discovered, it is the larger story of the ruthless, violent world surrounding that mystery that makes this a powerful read.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Man Betrayed (Book of Words 2) by J.V. Jones

A Man Betrayed (Book of Words, #2)A Man Betrayed by J.V. Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part 2 of J.V. Jones’ Book of Words trilogy is pretty much on a par with the first one. That is to say, I read it and basically enjoyed it, but still wish I hadn’t read her later stand alone, The Barbed Coil, first. To be fair, this trilogy were Ms. Jones first published works, and it is good to see that she got better with later stories.
The storyline continues from The Baker’s Boy, with Jack and Melli still on the run from their respective troubles at Castle Harvell, the evil Prince Kylock still maneuvering to take control of the kingdom, and various other nobles and clergy adding to the political machinations.
It is the political intrigue that keeps this book interesting. There is a lot of backstage intrigue, alliances made and betrayed, and no one is completely who they seem to be. Unfortunately, the characters are still a bit flat and clich├ęd- Jack is the innocent youth with potential he doesn’t quite grasp, Melli is the spoiled young noblewoman who discovers a strength and resolve no one gave her credit for, and Prince Kylock is the cold and ambitious heir who kills the ill and bedridden king in order to take over the throne. There is some growth in a few characters, but nothing too far outside the expected. I still find the interspersed fill-in-the-blanks scenes with Bodger and Grift a bit on the annoying side, despite the humor in their exchanges. The one character I do enjoy is the boy, Nabber. He is fun and interesting, with a bit more personality than some others, even though his is not a main plot line.
There is not a lot of in-depth world building in the book, as well. The world is made up of the usual rival kingdoms, each vying for dominance. It’s a decent setting and serves the story well.
All that aside, A Man Betrayed is still not a bad read, even with its shortcomings. The plotlines around the various major characters, as well as some minor ones, are drawn rather nicely together, pulling the story to its climax. It reads fairly quickly with good pacing. I would recommend the two I have read so far (and I will go on to the third to see how the whole picture plays out) for those looking for a decent, but not extremely deep, fantasy series.

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