“Goldenhand” by Garth Nix (HarperCollins, 2016)

The long-awaited (whether it’s published two weeks after the last one or two years, it will always be long-awaited) fifth installment of the Old Kingdom is out! Goldenhand is the one fans have been waiting for, featuring many old friends we’ve cared for and wondered about for some time: Sabriel, the Abhorsen; King Touchstone; Lirael, Abhorsen-in-waiting; and Nicholas Sayre; and yes maybe Chlorr of the Mask is involved somehow too.

Sabriel and Touchstone are on their first vacation in a very long time. The word from the Clayr is nothing is going on and nothing is going to be going on involving necromancers or dark beasties. Lirael, the Abhorsen-in-waiting, is holding the wall – so to speak – for the time being. Of course, it is exactly then that things take a turn for the terrible and dark. After rescuing Nick Sayre from one of those scary, dark beasties, she makes the decision to take him to the Clayr’s Glacier on a paperwing to see if she can help him with his free magic problem. It is there she will eventually meet someone who knew her mother well, and who bears a very important message for her. A message that has far reaching ramifications that will affect people on both sides of the wall.

Fans will be absolutely delighted with Goldenhand. Nix has certainly not lost his touch, as readers are plunged into the creepy world of the Old Kingdom with its gates through death and the terrifying things that reside there. The story is compelling, as readers get to see some old friends they’ve dearly missed, while new views and plots about the Old Kingdom are revealed. Goldenhand may be one of the best in the series!

Originally written on November 22, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Goldenhand from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson (Delacorte, 2013)


It seems that whenever Brandon Sanderson puts his head down to write something, the resulting story is usually an incredible one that any reader will enjoy. The man is talented; it’s as simple as that. Sanderson had a second young adult novel come out in 2013, after the Rithmatist, and kicks off a new young adult series called The Reckoners with Steelheart. It’s your classic fantasy tale of superheroes, except all the superheroes in this book happen to be supervillains.

It all started with a strange comet and an even t that came to be known as the cataclysm where a certain number of the population gained superpowers and became known as Epics. David got to experience the supreme power of epics first hand when he was at a bank in Chicago, when the epic Steelheart murdered his father. Since then, ten years have passed and David, while living through hard times, has devoted every spare moment to learn what he can about the epics of the world.

He knows a couple of things: each epic possess his or her own unique power and with that power they have a key vulnerability. Some of these “weak points” he has discovered about the epics, others he is still learning. He also knows there is an underground rebel group looking to fight back against the epics one at a time. He’d love to join up with this rebel group, known as the Reckoners, but they’re very good at remaining hidden and undiscovered. But then again he’s also very good at finding things out that you’re not supposed to.

Sanderson takes a great concept of the superhero, makes up a bunch of them, then turns it on its head and makes them all evil. But whether he is writing fantasy or science fiction, the magic abilities of his characters always have limits in some way, just as the superheroes we know so well, like Superman or Spiderman, or the many others. Whether you’re a kid, or an adult who’s a kid at heart, you’ll love Steelheart.

Originally written on April 12, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Steelheart from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“The Rithmatist” by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2013)

The Rithmatist

To spend a day in the mind of Brandon Sanderson would be a truly awesome adventure. It’s good that he’s such a hard-working writer and brings out multiple books a year, so readers get to enjoy his complex and fascinating story ideas. He does it again in The Rithmatist, creating a unique world, with an incredible magic system, some compelling characters, and a story that quickly becomes a favorite.

This is not the United States you are familiar with; this is a different world. There is the United Isles, consisting of a massive collection of many islands, each named with their own peoples and ways; some names are familiar like Texas, Wyoming and Montana; others are enticingly alien, such as the Californian Archipelago, Crockett, Georgiabama, Canadia, and New France. On a number of these islands are Rithmatic Academies, where Rithmatists train and are taught to become skilled warriors to join the battle, and defend against The Tower on the island of Nebrask. Our story takes place on the island of New Britannia, at the Armedius Academy.

More than anything in his life, Joel would like to be a Rithmatist, but during his inception ceremony, things didn’t go right and he wasn’t given the Rithmatic power. Rithmatists are those who have the power to give life to chalk shapes, and chalk drawings known as chalkings. A Rithmatist’s first line of defense against enemy chalkings is a perfect circle drawn around them which the chalkings will attack, but the more perfect the circle is, the stronger defense the Rithmatist has. If a portion of the circle isn’t perfectly curved, it is a weakness that the chalkings soon tear through it. There are many circles of defense that can be drawn to aid and protect a Rithmatist, named after their creator.

As for chalkings, they can be just about anything the Rithmatist can conceive of: a spearman, a tiger, a unicorn, a monster; the more detailed and complex the chalking is, the stronger it will be. They answer to simple commands, usually movement, a direction, and to attack. And when a Rithmatist is in a duel, which is an important part of training at the academies, it becomes a complicated trial of choosing the right defense that will protect the Rithmatist, but also give him or her a strong offense with chalkings.

The first chalkings began many millennia ago, it is thought from cave drawings, but then there were the wild chalkings, of unknown creation, that attack, harm and kill anyone, be they Rithmatist or ordinary human. The United Isles was a scary place back then, but now these wild chalkings have been kept secured within The Tower, but it’s necessary to have a formidable army of Rithmatists to keep up the defenses to hold these chalkings back. This is the most important role of the Rithmatist.

But getting back to Joel, he isn’t a Rithmatist. He spends his days at the academy, doing his regular classes at a mediocre level and wanting to learn as much about the world of Rithmatists as he possibly can. His father was a chalkmaker who had supposedly discovered a new form of defense, but this information was lost when he died, and whenever Joel asks his mother about it, she ignores him and continues her job of janitor at the academy.

The problem is that students have started disappearing, important Rithmatists from rich families, and nobody knows who is doing it and whether they’re even still alive. A single professor is chosen to solve this mystery, working with the police, and Joel is helping as he’s the professor’s assistant for the summer. This is his chance to learn more about Rithmatics and to hopefully help these kidnapped students.

The Rithmatist is one of those great stories that just sucks you in and never lets go. Together with the unique topography and fascinating magic system in a quasi-steampunk world using steam and other unusual forms to make everything run smoothly. It is a believe world, one in which the reader may be happy to live in, but also fear that distant island of Nebrask where The Tower stands, as the many wild chalkings attack and claw at the weakening defenses, looking to break through and kill everyone.

Originally written on June 12, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Rithmatist from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“The Water Wars” by Cameron Stracher (Sourcebooks, 2011)

Water Wars

Cameron Stracher takes on a growing genre with Water Wars, in a dystopian future young adult novel, but this is a doomed future we can all understand and possibly sympathize with as an eventuality that may one day come to fruition.  Water Wars will make you think again the next time you buy a bottle of water or take a water-wasteful bath.

It is some point in the future when one of our most important resources has become the scarcest.  In this world water is a rare commodity, and when you can get a drop of it, you need to make it last.  The United States has now been divided up into six republics that are at war with each other.  The ice caps have melted and the lakes have dried up.  The world is a different place after what became known as the “Great Panic.”  Our main characters are Vera and her older brother, Will, who do their best to help their impoverished family with an overworked father and a sick, bedridden mother.  Then Vera meets Kai, a cute boy who’s a member of a rich family that is able to acquire water with no problem.  Kai also has a special ability: he can divine the location of water.  Kai tells Vera of a secret giant well that he knows the location of.  The next time they go to see Kai they find the fancy mansion abandoned, with signs of a struggle.  It looks like Kai and his father may have been kidnapped for what they know.  And thus begins the adventure, as Vera and Will make the decision to track down Kai and find out what happened to him; the journey will take them across the borders and into the hands of water pirates and some other very interesting people you wouldn’t want to get caught with in a dark alley.

Water Wars is one of those books you enjoy for the interesting characters, the fun and compelling story, and then at the end starts you thinking about the longer ramifications of the story at hand that at first seemed simple, but the more you think about, the more is resonates with you, so that the next time your pour yourself a glass of water, you sip it slowly, deliciously, savoring each sweet, clean, hydrating drop.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on March 5, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 2003)

Amber Spyglassstarstarstarstar

His Dark Materials Boxed Set: Part Three of Three

In the final and lengthier conclusion to the trilogy, the full realization of this story is brought to light to such an extent that everything now becomes symbolic in some way, literature quotes begin each chapter, and the depth and complexity of the novel passes far beyond any childhood or young adult fantasy, presenting a complicated plot and moral for even adults to handle.  It is in this final book that the strengths and beliefs of our heroes will be tested to their extent, while our own beliefs will be in danger, when the basis for all religion and faith in all worlds is brought into question and threatened.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 2003)

The Golden Compassstarstarstarstar

His Dark Materials Boxed Set: Part One of Three

Originally published as Northern Lights in 1995, this is the story of a young girl who doesn’t know what to do or what is going to happen with her life, but soon discovers that she is on a specific course of destiny that she is unable to avoid.  While The Golden Compass is considered a children’s book, like the Harry Potter series, it is written with an adult voice in an adult language, with adult themes.  It seems that British authors give their young readers a lot more credit that American authors.  The result is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy that is by no means “just a kid’s book.”

Lyra Belacqua is a young girl who spends her days roaming the many hallways and rooms of Jordan College, Oxford, where she makes friends with everyone regardless of class or status.  She’s just looking to have a good time and loves taking risks, whether it be climbing the roof of the college, or chasing and attacking the gyptians who show up every once in a while on the river.  This is a different world to ours, where everyday electricity doesn’t exist.  This is a world of zeppelins, steam and air powered machinery, gyroscopes and wheels and cogs, essentially a steam punk world.  Also in this world every person has what is known as a dæmon, essentially the embodiment of a person’s soul in the form of an animal.  When young, children’s dæmons can change form, but when they reach puberty the dæmon settles on a single form for the rest of their lives, giving one an insight into the person’s nature.

But Lyra’s world changes when first she saves her father, Lord Asriel, from being poisoned, and then learns of his work in the distant icy north where work is being done with something called Dust, the northern lights, and something about another world in the sky.  Lyra then meets Mrs. Coulter, who she immediately takes a liking to for she is so strong and impressive and knowledgeable, that is until Lyra discovers that she is the one who has been kidnapping children and taking them to the north for experimentation.  Managing to escape, Lyra joins with the gyptians who head north to find out what is going on with all this business about kidnapped children and Dust.  The rumors are terrible.  It is said that experimentation is being on separating children from their dæmons which, considering it is taboo for a person to even touch another’s dæmon, does not bode well for Lyra and the gyptians.

It is in the north that Lyra finally discovers everything that is going and more importantly, why it is happening, as well as a giant armored warrior polar bear, Iorek Byrnison, known as panserbjørne; and a Texan balloon-fighting man called Lee Scoresby.

His Dark Materials, in my opinion, is even better than the Harry Potter series for the subject matter is far more complex with truths that relate to every reader.  And with a move adaptation of The Golden Compass set for release on December 7th, now is the perfect time to read this magical series for the first time, or simply to reread it again.

Alternate Review

It is amusing to see how books branded as “children’s fantasy,” like Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, once they are nationally and internationally recognized, suddenly become pieces of literature to be read and fully appreciated by adults and the literary world.  The Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials, now released as a boxed set, fits right into this category, to such an extent that it seems the third book, The Amber Spyglass, has such a depth and complexity that it could be fully appreciated by the literati.

The trilogy begins with the hero, Lyra, acting out her strange life in an alternative world which could have been like ours some time in the late medieval period, but is not.  There are inventions and technologies here that do not exist in this world; there are also similar articles that have a different or similar name; finally there are objects that have long been ousted as obsolete by our standards, but are still in common use, such as Zeppelins.  Lyra, in this strange world, must take a journey to rescue her father who is imprisoned in a distant land.  This first book ends with Lyra almost losing her life many times, and having to make a very important decision at the very end.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2010)


In the long, impatiently awaited conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay does the job to everyone’s satisfaction, but still leaves readers wondering why everything had to get wrapped up so quickly and completely in one book, when longer series are more popular; it must’ve been something Collins had decided from the start and stuck with right up to the end.

The resistance is ready to take the dictatorial government of the Capitol down.  The supreme and primary hideout is the destroyed waste of District 13, where an elaborate system of dormitories, living spaces, training rooms and compounds, mess halls, and command centers exists beneath the ground.  Katniss is to be the spokesperson and figurehead for the resistance – the Mockingjay.  At first Katniss doesn’t know if she’s ready or even able to do this, after everything she’s gone through.  Gale is training with her, while Peeta remains a captive of the Capitol.  Then she comes to a decision after a shocking experience; she will be the Mockingjay.  The resistance begins a series advertising campaigns, as they attempt to convert all the districts against the government.  Katniss is front and center in most of them, visiting those in need and rescuing and helping who she can.  Once all districts are united against the Capitol, the final showdown will happen.

Collins continues with the magic in her writing from the first two books, getting readers hooked in from the first page, and then shutting themselves out of their own lives until they get to the end.  Collins covers a monumental amount changes, events and happenings in Mockingjay, leaving this reader wondering why this last book didn’t get expanded into two or three, giving her characters more room to develop and change with the events taking place; as a result Mockingjay feels a little rushed at times.  Nevertheless, it is a satisfying conclusion to the series, and fans will be wondering what Collins will be dishing up next, while other writers jump on the “teens in a post-apocalyptic setting” band wagon to try to cash in on the Hunger Games success.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on September 18 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

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Hunger Games Catching Fire Leviathan Abarat

“Abarat” by Clive Barker (Joanna Cotler Books, 2002)


A lot of people have been waiting for Clive Barker to unveil his newest creation since Coldheart Canyon earlier this year.  We all knew it was going to be for kids, but we also knew it was going to be classic Clive Barker, and would be a great first book in the series.  Having read this first installment, I concur with every fan’s automatic assumption.

Abarat is the first book in the series about a young girl, Candy Quakenbush, who lives in Chickentown, USA.  She has never felt she truly belongs in the dead end town which prides itself on maintaining the industry of its name.  And so one day she heads out into the fields, where he finds what looks like the ruin of an old lighthouse and an old pier.  Soon she meets a couple of characters, one good and one bad, and she has just seconds to start up this old lighthouse using a magic she never knew she possessed.  Suddenly the sea comes rushing in from nowhere and she is whisked away to the Abarat, a vast archipelago where every island is a specific hour of the day.  And so Candy is taken on many different adventures, both good and bad, where each time she comes close to losing everything, she somehow manages to break free.

With a vast cast of crazy and unusual characters, any reader would be struggling to deal with what they all look like and how to separate all these places.  Fortunately, Barker hasn’t only been busy writing, but he has also been busy painting for this series.  Abarat features over one hundred original designs and paintings by Barker which he has spent the last four years creating, all to do with the current book at hand.  The result is a visual opening into an impossible world that could only exist within the mind of one man.

The book ends with Candy alive and well on towards another adventure, as Barker ends with a familiar phrase: “So Ends the First Book of the Abarat.”  With three more to come in the series, one can only wonder what Candy is going to get up to next.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on December 9th, 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2009)

Catching Firestarstarstarstar

We last left Katniss winner of the Hunger Games, and for the first time in history a co-winner with Peeta, but she knows what they did has upset the government and the President, who would love nothing more than to execute them for that they did.  But the couple has become a sensation, worshiped and celebrated across the districts.  Katniss’s actions have even sparked riots and rebellions in the other districts, which she never expected to do.  The government doesn’t hesitate, stopping, destroying and killing those who are to blame, while Katniss wonder’s what her fate might be.

Meanwhile she is also fighting with what her heart’s desire, but is it Peeta or her friend Gale.  Who will she choose?  Then the unbelievable happens, creating a series of events that brings the nightmare back to her and what she thought she was done with, she must now face again, only this time the stakes are raised even further.

Suzanne Collins is a talented writer with a story-telling style that is able to suck in any reader and keep them locked in and hooked to the very last page.  There should be stickers on her books warning that once the reader starts, they won’t be able to stop!  And once fans are done with Catching Fire, they only have to wait until August 24th, 2010, though they may want to check our her earlier series, The Underland Chronicles.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 11th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Leviathan” by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, 2009)


Most people are familiar with the events that sparked the inception of World War I, namely the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo.  Leviathan begins with the assassination, but then goes on its own alternate history tangent where their son, Prince Aleksander, must flee with his loyal servants from those looking to kill him.  And then Westerfeld introduces the Clankers: great mechanical machines – some the size of small buildings – that travel across the European continent battling each other with their mighty guns.  Aleksander is traveling in the Cyklop Stormwalker.

Meanwhile, Westerfeld introduces Deryn Sharp, a teenage girl looking to be an airman in the British Air Service.  That’s right, airman, and she cuts her hair short and keeps herself disguised as a guy and soon joins the crew – through a string of unusual circumstances and adventures – of the great ship Leviathan.  The British are Darwinists, and instead of monstrous machines, they use genetically-engineered amalgamations of animals to create enormous creatures.  The Leviathan is a massive flying whale that houses an entire ecosystem, as well as a full crew within its mighty girth.

After an intense air battle, the Leviathan must flee, its injured body lumbering along, until it crash lands into the Alps, not too far from the Prince, who soon pays the strange creature a visit and our two heroes meet for the first time.  And as the creature heals itself and Deryn and Aleksander get to know each other, the first book comes to a close.  While the alternate, fantastic world setting is somewhat reminiscent of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Leviathan focuses more on setting the stage without dealing any epic punches, which will likely be made in successive books in the series.

Leviathan is a beautifully designed book, and deserves some awards for this, with its wonderfully Steampunk eye-catching cover, the inlay of the Darwinist/Clanker map of Europe, and the beautiful illustrations within the pages.  The story will capture you, the design entrance you, leaving you wanting the next book in the series.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 24th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.