Book Review: Starlighter by Bryan Davis

Hi there…

Every now and then, a new young adult (YA) book comes to my attention to read. As a parent, I’m always on the lookout for well-written fiction with positive role models. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that YA is based in the real world and fairly boring for those of us a bit older than the target audience. Though the real world can be exciting in and of itself, I tend to look for a bit more of an escape for my eldest daughter.

Though the Eragon and Harry Potter series both have kids in leading roles, except for the first couple of books I never really felt they were aimed at the pre-teen market. Starlighter, the first in the new Dragons of Starlight series from author Bryan Davis seems to be tailor made for younger readers.

Starlighter focuses on two main characters from two different worlds linked by history – Jason Masters, newly appointed bodyguard to the governor; and Koren, a slave to the whims of dragons. Each seems built to be a hero and save the day.

Jason’s brother Adrian is the bodyguard to the governor. When Adrian goes on an adventure to discover the truth behind a conspiracy that’s lived in rumor and half-truths for a generation or more, Adrian leaves Jason in his role as bodyguard to Governor Prescott and gives him a message tube with a cryptic message. The message opens a can of worms that leads Jason on a wild ride through dungeons, caves, and into a whole new world…

Elsewhere in the solar system, Koren is discovering that the dragons of her world may also be keeping secrets. For generations, her people have served the dragons tooth and claw – mining, cleaning, raising more children as slaves. The dragons say they are protecting her people, but Koren discovers many of them are waiting for the prophecy of a mysterious black egg to come true. Unfortunately, the prophecy may also lead to the destruction of her world.

As with much young adult fiction, these characters are larger than life with amazing resolve and fantastic skills to keep them alive on their perilous journey between worlds. Along the way, they meet other characters like Randall Prescott, son to the governor who turns out to be an ally; Elyssa, a girl thought kidnapped by bears who can see glimpses of the future; and Tibalt, a crazy prisoner with riddles containing clues to what they should do next.

With 400 pages, the book moves quickly with great descriptions to help readers visualize each step of the way – from the smell of the noxious gas released during mining, to the rising cold waters as the group is trying to figure out how to open the gateway between Jason and Koren’s two worlds. Davis’ writing style reminded me a bit of The Eye of the World – the first book in Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series.

By the end of the book, I was left with many questions and wondering what Jason and his friends would do to survive the trouble they find in the dragon world of Starlight, so I’ll definitely be interested to see what happens in the next book of the series. However – I would definitely recommend this book to younger readers instead of adults seeking more complex themes.

That’s not to say that Starlighter isn’t an enjoyable read. The concept of a pair of worlds bound together through a shared history and the enslavement of humans by dragons is not something I can recall in other fantasy fiction. However, it’s pretty easy to see who the good guys (and dragons) are and who isn’t helping out the characters as they chug along.

If you have a pre-teen interested in a fantasy story with swords, magic, and dragons – I’d definitely recommend you pick up a copy of Starlight for their enjoyment. Davis has a gift for storytelling I’ll be sharing with my daughters soon!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great books from Barnes & Noble below!

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Book Review: Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Hi all!

In 2003, a young author’s first novel hit the national stage. Since then it was spawned a movie and two follow-on volumes in the series, with a fourth book still to come. Eragon took the world by storm and Christopher Paolini has continued riding a wave of success ever since.

Eragon began the story of a simple farm boy named Eragon, whose life is turned upside down by the discovery of a polished blue stone in the wilderness near his home. The stone turns out to be a dragon egg containing the dragon Saphira. And King Galbatorix sends his many evil servants (including Ra’zac, Urgals, and the shade Durza) to capture or kill them.

Forced to flee, Eragon and Saphira start on a long series of adventures that teach them how to use magic, fight, and defend what is right. Eldest, published in 2006, continued to tell the tale of Eragon becoming a Dragon Rider and gaining not only the strength but the self confidence to aid the Varden (rebels fighting against the oppression of King Galbatorix).

Brisingr is the third book in the series, published in September 2008. Brisingr continues the saga began with Eragon (2003) and Eldest (2006). Brisingr is the word for “fire” in the ancient tongue of Alagaesia and was a great name for the book, as the story builds to its conclusion by the last hundred pages or so.

What was originally planned as a trilogy is now going to be a series of four books. The original draft of the final book was too large and Paolini and his publishers decided to break it into two volumes.

The book begins with Eragon, Roran (Eragon’s cousin), and Saphira on a quest to rescue Katrina, Roran’s betrothed. Roran gets quite a bit of focus in the book, as he discovers his place among the Varden and gains a reputation of his own. Eragon and Saphira continue to learn their abilities and limitations as well as some nice surprises.

I was swept away by Eragon like many others when it came out in 2003. Paolini’s story was epic and wove influences of J. R. R., Tolkien, Dungeons and Dragons, and the traditional hero’s quest into a narrative that made me want to know more. Eldest left me wondering where the wordsmith had gone. And unfortunately, Brisingr seems to have similar issues. Brief shining passages or whole chapters were there to remind me of the lightning in a bottle that was Eragon and what a gifted writer Paolini is, but it could have been so much better. The story continues to engage me, but I have to hope the writing will improve.

A case in point was the chapter in which Eragon and an Urgal War Chief travel together from the Varden camp to the Dwarven Kingdom. There are some amazingly insightful passages where Eragon and the War Chief talk after a meal and wonder how their two races could ever learn to live together in peace. Urgals and humans had fought many bloody wars and it would be difficult to break the cycle of violence. When Eragon asks what will happen if the Urgals break the peace agreement, the War Chief simply states that he hoped Urgals still lived across the sea, because there would be none left alive in Alagaesia.

And yet Paolini falls into a common trap for young writers, relying heavily on lists of items or events to set a scene. One example of this has Eragon and his cousin Roran putting on armor piece by piece in excruciating detail. Another instance occurred in the same chapter cited earlier with Eragon and the Urgal War Chief. Paolini describes the entire journey from the Varden camp to the Dwarven Kingdom nearly a blade of grass at a time.

One possibility I’ve considered about the difference between the first book and the last two is that he had much more time to consider his words carefully and edit the work before it went off to the publisher. Publishing cycles being what they are, he must have been writing fast and furious to get these books out by the deadlines necessary to have the books typeset and printed for his fans. However, someone should step in at some point and make some recommendations on how to tighten up his prose. He’s gifted at writing dialogue and masterful at plotting the story, but the spaces in between are the places he seems to have problems.

All that aside, it’s the story that has kept me reading the series so far. I want to see what happens to Eragon and Saphira. And now Roran has a much larger role to play, so I’m curious to see how that plays out as well. I will be one of those people in line to purchase the fourth book when it is finished and released.

Brisingr has a thrilling tale hidden among the 748 pages and is worth the time to read. Definitely check it out!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the Inheritance Cycle at Amazon:

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