This is presented in fairly standard classical fantasy-land - horses for transport, candles for light, swords for weapons, kings who actually rule, castles and taverns, non-standard names - oh and dragons! All well done, and beautifully described - the scene setting is wonderful. I did miss a map though, several countries and rulers, an emperor and an invader are all introduced early on and I struggled to remember who ruled where and what their significance was.
The blurb does the book no favours - young prince chosen for a magical task, meets beautiful young commoner with magical abilities of her own, they fall in lurve, and the future of mankind rests on their young shoulders... Mmmm - true to a tiny point, but this is much deeper, much... more! For a start our hero is 25 - not a youth, and our heroine an educated, intelligent, 20 year old (yeah, yeah, so she's breathtakingly beautiful, but she's refreshingly unaware of that fact).
Corin is the only prince of Caithen. Bad things are looming, allies are failing to step up to the mark, and Caithen's ruler is feeling somewhat exposed. In the midst of this, Corin is battling with inexplicable memory lapses, an inability to talk about certain topics, his father's dog suddenly attacking him, and other odd occurrences. Then he meets Tam - literally bumps into her, and both are instantly smitten. No fool, she knows what being courted by royalty means for a commoner, but she accepts his invitation to dinner any way...
The fist quarter is setting up and just as I was beginning to think get on with it, it got on and became gripping and things move along briskly. Corin's strange mental shift are explained, and Tam acquires some odd abilities of her own - question is, are they both being manipulated to another's end? And can they do anything about it if they are - or do they even want to?
There are some pretty important supporting characters who generally stay rather remote - they contribute to their scenes then go - not people we learn about in any depth, and there are the dragons - seeking their freedom and with no humanity or compassion about them.
Corin and Tam are a fine pair to carry to story - they're principled and intelligent and in love - I'm not giving much away by that. Their love is a strong constant through most of the book - this isn't a romance with pitfalls and conflict thrown in to trip up the love story. There's plenty going on without needing that. The author lets her characters fall for each other, and then stay smitten, supporting each other all the way.
So, at some levels this is classic, classical fantasy. But that isn't enough of a descriptin. The author at the end thanks Jane Austen, " whose language I liberally borrowed." so that should give some idea of the style of writing here - it's nicely descriptive - for example:
"Her name is Alina. Her father is a baron in Kariss."
Kariss. Farmland, but poor soil.
Sort of dooms poor Alina doesn't it?!
I enjoyed this, will read it again, and would love to hear the audiobook version, if there ever is one. The language here is something to be taken slowly and I'm a bolt-reader. Well worth trying.
on 2 July 2014
If you're looking for a fantasy book then you best run for the hills now. This book is set firmly in the romance genre with a bit of fantasy thrown in. Yes it is set in a fantasy world, but it could have been better with less romance and more dragons.
Anne Leonard's writing style fluctuates as the opening chapters come across stronger and more polished than the heart of the novel, yet overall the entire book is solid. Corin is nicely established in the opening chapters as a capable leader and a young man with a good heart who struggles to deal with his obligations. Tam is similarly established as a strong, young, and clever woman who aspires to rise above her caste. Both characters are a bit too perfect, and to some extent annoyingly so...
"...with the most astonishingly beautiful face he had ever seen. She was a well-bred and well-educated young woman, even an accomplished one. She spoke three languages besides her own and could draw, sing, play the piano, and do embroidery, all of it inoffensively. She could converse on poetry and morals with equal grace. She had improved her mind by extensive reading. But her education did not end there. She dressed wounds, mixed medicines, sat by the dying. She helped her father with his experiments and his writings. When he saw something interesting under the glass, it was she who drew the picture for him. She had done other work too, assisting her brother with his accounts, shipping lists."
....she even manages to sit so incredibly still or is such a beautiful creature "that a butterfly landed briefly on the flower in her hair."
I like fantasy and imagination as much as the next person...but come on!
With that said, their romance story plays out well, even if it is rushed. The dialogue between them is natural, even amusing at times. However, the court intrigue and military drama surrounding them, isn't nearly as strong or as detailed. There were glimpses here and there of a solid high-fantasy core, but Leonard always seemed to pull back just as I was getting into things. To be fair, that element clearly is not the focus here, but it did have an impact on how the story read. The final chapters move along at a great pace, with some genuine moments of dramatic tension, and the ultimate climax more than pays off on the promise of the opening prophecy.
For those who enjoy light romantic fantasies then Moth and Spark is the perfect book for you. However, if you see yourself as a fantasy dragon hunter, then you hunt elsewhere.
I like many other people were taken in by the premise of a world about Dragons - if only.
Unfortunately this is a romance in disguise because the entire story revolves around Prince Corin and Tam, and to be fair its quite boring.
I began to skip pages, lots of pages in fact trying to get to the good stuff and when i do that it hasnt grabbed my attention.
Now im not saying it is a bad book, far from it, i am just saying that i personally didnt enjoy it.
I think the Blurb is massively far fetched, The Princess bride meets game of thrones - Really ?
Why do all publishers compare their books to Game of Thrones. Get a grip. Eastenders has more in common with GOT than this book.
A library book in my opinion, i certainly wouldnt buy it.
'Moth and Spark' is something of a wolf in sheep's clothing - or rather, a pink cuddly bunny in dragon's clothing. It's a romance story masquerading as a high fantasy epic. Don't be fooled by the hand-drawn map at the beginning, or the fantasy filled prologue - this is first and foremost a love story. It is a historical romance with a few dragons for good measure. That's not meant as a criticism - it's decently written and the romance is well done, but it's good to know what to expect from a book.
The story is enjoyable enough to read, although it's nothing special. The prose is easy to read and unpretentious, even if it does lack that sparkle you look for in a really good book. The pace is slow - far too much of the book is spent in the build up, and then the exciting conclusion is raced through in the last third of the novel. After a build up that had started to get tedious, I'd really hoped for a better pay off at the end. The fantasy backdrop does give it more than the average romance, and the parts about life in court and politics (albeit fictitious politics) are well handled and show the author is perceptive.
The couple at the centre of it all are likeable, but not loveable. I wasn't emotionally invested in their fate. There are a lot of good supporting characters, whom I found more interesting and that I cared for more deeply. Unfortunately a lot of these get lost along the way and their fates are never made clear. The heroine, Tam, is less irritating than many such characters, but is too perfect to be true. She reads like an authorial insert - the sort of person we'd all like to be, but nobody really ever is. All the same, I didn't dislike her, which is more than I'd say for most female romantic leads I encounter.
In terms of the fantasy, Leonard has carefully created a world with politics and geography, and a bit of magic. Sometimes I found it hard to keep track of who was in league with whom, and which countries were located where (the hand-drawn map could do with being bigger). But don't look for Tolkienesque depth to the world - it's just not there. The magic is extremely vague and disappointing. Even JK Rowling offers more in the way of explanation about the 'logic' of her magical world (and even ardent fans admit that's not one of the Potter author's strengths). But in this case it just demonstrates further that the purpose of the fantasy is to provide an unusual, glamorous backdrop to the love story.
I neither loved nor hated this novel - it was OK, it was readable. It isn't memorable, and it isn't even as good as some of the fan fiction I've read. I would recommend it more strongly to fans of romance novels, particularly historical romance. Readers who enjoy Philippa Gregory night like it, as long they don't mind a bit of fantasy mixed in. For those who are more drawn to the magical elements of a fantasy story, there may not be enough here to hold the attention. There's nothing new or exciting to be found. I think the political elements of Leonard's imaginary world are the strongest and realest aspect.
Before reading this book, I came across the author's blog post about her thoughts on her book being described as 'conventional' in critical reviews (here: [...]). With such a spunky answer to a somewhat burdensome verdict, I decided to pick this: I *like* conventional stories - the savour is in the execution.
*The following contains spoilers*
[Note: I have omitted a synopsis as other reviews have covered this. I'm just going to dive right into what I thought.]
This book had a little of the flavour of Seraphina, a book I loved, by Rachel Hartman - in its prose, its world, its concept. I particularly liked Leonard's concept of dragons, whose manifestation in the physical world were a minute expression of the entirety of a dragon, that exists differently to humans over space and time. I would have liked to have spent a bit more on the human-dragon link.
Overall, I'm left a little underwhelmed. The book starts off interestingly and well, with those little flashes of deftness of prose that read almost lyrically, but as I passed the hundred-page mark, I think I understand what the critics meant.
The central couple, Tam and Corin, have a romance that doesn't feel earned. I generally have trouble believing in soul-shaking love that happens within a day, but I'm usually willing to go with it if the rest of it makes up. I really tried to believe it here: that is, I believe that Tam and Corin love each other. But I have trouble accepting that this much feeling can happen in a day or two days (I am not exaggerating the timeline). And that it just all seemed so...lustful...made me occasionally wonder if I was reading a Romance Book - seriously! It's all hips! thighs! shoulders! more thighs! other private bits! and initially I was like, STOP ALREADY, GET A ROOM, but by the end I was just bored and irritated - every. single. interaction. is loaded with lust to the extent that it just didn't even make sense: whether in the middle of a lethal battle, a council, a council of war, everything and anything, whatever was happening, in word, thought, and deed, they were doing something.
It also didn't really match the character: Tam is meant to be smart and modest, but put her within a mile of Corin and she becomes a lascivious imp, and they basically throw themselves at each other every time they meet, regardless of the situation or circumstance, which often didn't match (like, 'hey, my frenemy hanged herself!', 'great, let's get happy!'). And then there was this gem: 'he wanted to desire her, but could not'. And I also don't like adultery storylines in general, so Corin's casual adultery without consequences made me cold for his character to begin with.
By the time you get to the last fifth of the book, you realise the first four fifths were all in preparation for that. Those proportions are wrong! It should be the other way around! 1/5 setup, 4/5 plot! The pace was all off to begin with and when you reach there, you realise why: a pretty, courtly set-up is not the *point* of the story, it's its *starting* point. So it shouldn't take up that many pages. Why spend half a book wondering about a murder only to have the culprit quietly end up dead off-page with no more said about it?
In conclusion, the writing was good, and often almost musical (= very, very good). The plot was interesting, the world was well-built and appealing, the characters were likeable, but the problems of character inconsistency, timing, pace (and therefore plot-movement) caught up with it in in the last stretch of the book. Coupled with some things that I specifically dislike, that made it uneven reading for me. This is a book I'd borrow from the library, rather than buy.
This is a fantasy based book with a well developed world and characterisation. I found that there was the usual honeymoon of settling down and familiarising myself with a new work and this was where the authors tendency to go into detail was enjoyable.
However the tone of the book changed quite deliberately akin to a historical romance novel with brimming with court intrigue and politics to the point where the fantasy was sidelined and maintained through various scraps of passages, normally involving dragons. It was almost as if these creatures were NPC's in a slightly weird romantic RPG, featuring only in cut scenes- or a literary effort akin to Phillippa Gregory decided to pop in a bit of dragon. Yes it could be enjoyable, but the potential wasted and probably not what the reader signed up for.
I think is the reader is armed with this knowledge, rather than the generic glorifying blurb that accompanies this book, they would be happier to start and finish this otherwise good effort. I found myself slightly cheated.
The dragons have chosen the heir to the throne, Prince Corin, to free them from their enslavement to the mad emperor Hadon. Tam is a commoner, invited to the court at Caithenor to keep her sister-in-law company while Cina's husband - Tam's brother - is away. While at the court, she witnesses a man's death and discovers that she is a Seer. Setting tongues wagging with their whirlwind romance, Corin and Tam are separated when hostile armies invade Caithenor, and both must first survive the war against the Empire and its allied forces and, once reunited, are faced with an impossible choice.
I read some very favourable reviews of this debut novel, but I have to confess to being more than slightly underwhelmed by it. I think the story has potential, but unfortunately the author has decided to let the romance between Corin and Tam take centre stage, rather than focusing on the more interesting and rewarding thread involving the dragons, how they came to be enslaved and how Corin must overcome several obstacles if he intends to free them. The result is a romance with dragons as minor players, and a very unevenly paced one at that: Tam and Corin take up so much space in the novel that the war and the final confrontation with Hadon felt unduly rushed, and I was convinced until very nearly the end of the book that the story would end on a cliff hanger, with a second book describing how Corin frees the dragons and providing the answers to some of the unresolved questions and unexplored avenues in terms of plot development and imagery; sadly, this is not the case. I admit that I enjoy a romantic sub-plot now and then, but here I felt that the romantic angle was shoved unnecessarily into readers' faces, and in my opinion at least lacked the essential ingredient for a love story: palpable chemistry between the two lovers; just because the author tells us that Corin and Tam are falling in love and can't keep their hands off each other, doesn't mean that the spark transmits to the reader, and I feel less would definitively have been more in this case. Corin and Tam are likeable and I did feel for them, particularly towards the end when the romance took a back step to allow for more character development, but I took to Corin more as Tam is just too perfect to be entirely believable, apart from a mischievous streak, which felt slightly contrived at times.
I also did not get on with the author's style of prose at all: her sentences are on the whole quite short, giving the overall impression of being abrupt and devoid of atmosphere and eloquence. The author moreover claims to have borrowed extensively from the language of Jane Austen in her writing, but to me this felt preposterous and I nearly laughed out loud when I read it, as there is no evidence of it that I could detect: missing is the fluency and sparkling wit, the clever pacing of the story line; a case of wishful thinking, methinks. I think part of the problem is that the novel can't decide whether it is a fairy tale or not; it has certain hallmarks of fairy-tale stories (love at first sight and against the odds, dragons, an evil adversary, destiny), even making reference to the stories of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (with an intriguing role reversal), and yet in my opinion the prose was completely at odds with the events described; for an example of economic yet poetic prose that enhances the setting turn to Kate Danley's The Woodcutter to see how it's done right.
You might enjoy this if you put more emphasis on romance than plot and character development in your choice of reading, but this was not for me.
Firstly I'd like to point out that I wouldn't normally review a book I didn't finish but since I got this book from the Amazon Vine program I'm obliged to write a review even if it is a negative one. Secondly I'd like to point out that I HATE not finishing a book, I'm stubborn like that and I can nearly always find something positive to say about the books I read. I'd actually consider myself a fairly forgiving reader but you may not believe that after reading this review.
I picked up Moth & Spark expecting an awesome fantasy story full of dragons and magic but in reality I got an incredibly boring, overly detailed story about court politics and an insta-love romance. Considering I made it to page 161 out of 368 (even if it did take me nearly a month to slog that far) I think I gave this book a fair shot. If you bear in mind that this story is supposed to be about a boy (Corin) who has been tasked with saving the dragons from slavery I think you'll be as surprised as I am to discover that nearly half way in there have only been three (yes I said THREE!) interactions with the dragons. Once in the prologue, then there is one incident where we see them flying in the distance and then a third slightly more exciting occasion when Corin actually gets to ride a dragon. What might surprise you is that while this book over describes every single thing that happens down to what everyone is wearing and what they had for breakfast, the event where he RIDES A DRAGON is over within a couple of pages. I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed I was - I'd waited so long to get to the good stuff and it was glossed over as if it was completely unimportant.
If I wasn't irritated enough by the complete lack of dragons the insta-love between Corin and Tam was enough to make me want to throw the book across the room. If you don't believe me on how quickly this romance happens here is a bit more information about their first 4 interactions:
1. He saw her across a crowded room and was impressed by her beauty (they didn't speak and were in the same room for less than 2 minutes).
2. They had a VERY brief conversation in the library (I'm talking less than 5 minutes but probably not even that).
3. After their five minute conversation he can't get her out of his head so he invites her to dinner where they spend a couple of hours talking and of course share a goodnight kiss.
4. The very next morning they meet in the garden and he's already ruminating on how madly he loves her (Quote from the book: "He had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. Before they'd even finished eating he had known he was hopelessly, entirely, in love" That was obviously quite some dinner the night before!).
From there onwards the couple can't keep their hands off each other and they're both constantly thinking how unfair it is that they are so in love but can never be a proper couple because he's a prince and she isn't a suitable bride.
I tried pushing on past that, you will never know how hard I tried, but another 40 pages in and I'm so bored I want to stab my eyes out with a fork just to stop the torture. Obviously looking at the other reviews you'll see I'm in the minority here so I don't want to put people off giving this a try. What I would suggest is getting your copy from the library so you haven't wasted your money if you end up disliking it as much as I did.
I had such high hopes for this book, I'm obsessed with anything dragon related and I couldn't wait to dive into this series. It pains me to write such a negative review but this book really is NOTHING like the blurb suggests and I was left so incredibly disappointed because of that.
on 2 May 2014
Moth and Spark is Anne Leonard's debut novel and one that grabbed my attention from the word go. I mean dragons, revolt, and magic--what's not to love? And I had a fantastic time reading the book. It has a somewhat Austen-esque sensibility to its language, something acknowledged by the author in the relevant section in the back of the book, which I just love. Much of the naming conventions were familiar as they seemed to have been drawn from Hellenic culture. For example the Empire is called Mycene, Tam's name is Liddean - perhaps derived from Lydia - Corin and Caithen reminded me of Corinth and so on, yet the world itself didn't really seem to reflect this Hellenic influence. Instead it's very much its own thing, more medieval on the cusp of the Renaissance than classical. The setting and language were wonderful as were the characters that populate the novel.
But at the same time I felt a bit conflicted about the narrative and mostly about its treatment of its heroine Tam. On the surface it's all I could want in a book, a woman with agency set to change the ways of society, enlightened King and Prince who actually agree that things ought to be different and yet there was something that felt a little off. I couldn't put my finger on what exactly it was that nagged me, but serendipitously the morning after I finished the book I read Liz Bourke's latest Sleeps with Monsters column which dealt with representation of women in fiction. There was one section dealing with subjectivity and agency that crystallised exactly what was bothering me about Tam's development and I'm going to quote the most germane part of said section here.
Because often the writer thinks that they have given the female characters--sometimes there is only one female character--subjectivity and agency, but they have written the character with subjectivity and agency only so long as those qualities revolve around a male character.
And that right there was exactly what I felt Tam fell victim to. When we first meet her she's just arrived at court and not too impressed with the position of women there - presumably everywhere, but court is the book's main focus - and definitely set on not following that path. Tam's an intelligent girl, who has been trained by her father, a medical doctor, and has been his assistant in treating patients for years. She wants to be useful on her own terms, to utilise the knowledge she has, not be an ornament and let all her training go to waste. But as soon as she becomes enamoured with Corin and enmeshed in his affairs, she still makes her own decisions and does unconventional things for a woman, except not in her own cause but to aid or remain with him. Added to that was the fact that both Corin and his father, King Aram, at different times deplore the fact that the position of women is so circumscribed by propriety, not to mention that both Corin's sisters are considered capable and brave, yet neither of them seem to actually actively try and change how women are treated. Together these things grated and for me lessened the impact of Tam's character. Because Tam is truly wonderful.
Tam is witty, dry, stubborn and smart. She's a rationalist and unapologetic about it, sometimes even straying into not-quite scorning the other girls' less cerebral interests. But she also has a good heart and wants to do right by those she cares about. Tam is an outsider in more ways than one. Not only are her interest different, she's a commoner and only welcome at court by the invitation of her sister-in-law who is a noble. So while she is at the court, she is not of the court and this colours most of the interactions she has at court, not just with the nobles, but with those who serve them as well. Prince Corin is lovely as well. He's not arrogant, but competent and sometimes not sure enough of his own competence. In many ways Tam is the more mature one in their relationship and the one who is supporting him, not the other way around. Their relationship is delightful, despite the disparity in their positions they treat each other mostly as equals and their banter and verbal sparring is very entertaining. While I found Tam the more interesting character, Corin's growth during the book was the more interesting and profound. He goes from a competent, but self-conscious young man, to a self-assured leader.
The court and its politics were fantastic. I really loved the world Leonard created and the sections at the Caithen court and in the women's wing strongly reminded me of regency- era novels of manners. The simultaneous camaraderie and rivalry between the young ladies hoping - or perhaps expected is a better description - to find a husband is deliciously sharp-witted an warm. Jenet is a lovely friend to Tam, as is her sister-in-law Cina, but even the odious Alina is well-drawn and while not likeable or sympathetic, she is interesting and in a way rather pitiable. The intricacies with the different countries that were part of the Empire and those outside of it were fascinating as were the role the dragons and their riders play in the Empire's dominance and the way they were brought under the Empire's control by the wizards. I also rather loved the way the wizards were part of Caithen, yet independent and apart at the same time.
Moth and Spark is very much a standalone novel. The story is complete in and of itself. I'd love to learn more about the world the book is set in, but at the same time I couldn't pinpoint where the story is incomplete to dig in further; I just want to know more about Caithen. If you like complex political novels, delightful regency romance, and dragons then Moth and Spark is a novel that should speak to you strongly. I absolutely adored it, despite my reservations laid out above and I can't wait to discover how Leonard will develop as a writer. The book was published in trade paperback at the start of this year by Headline and will be released in paperback at the start of July.
If, like me, you enjoy reading romance and fantasy equally, then you should find plenty to like in this tale of dragons, courtly love and politics. If, however, you prefer one over the other, then expect long periods of waiting impatiently to get back to what you like best.
This is no cloying, sentimental romance, though. Nor is it hot and heavy. Tam is far too sensible a woman to lose her head over a pretty face, and even if Corin does exactly that to begin with, he soon learns there’s much more to this woman than meets the eye. Yes, he’s a prince and she’s a commoner, but there’s a refreshing lack of angst over cruel fate and the gulf between their social states.
This is probably due to the looming threat of war and those pesky dragons.
Like the romance, the fantasy elements are quite low-key. Dragons just happen to exist in this world, and though there is power and wizards, there are no showy magics or flashing lights. They’re all just tools to be put to use in everyday life and war.
This is a slow-paced tale, with some uneven moments of action, and there are definitely some sections which seem to have little point to them. There is also a sad tendency to have all the interesting stuff happening elsewhere, thanks to the limitation of the main characters POVs. I would have loved to have had more of an overview of this world and a bit more interaction with other characters. The plot is great, but Tam and Corin are a little dull and restricted at times, preventing the story from being all it could be.
In all this is a decent romantic fantasy, striking a fairly good balance between the two. It’s a story of love amidst the intricate politics of war. It’s a good read, and has all the makings of an epic, but it isn’t. Thanks to its tight focus on the two protagonists it’s just a tale of a man and a woman falling in love, with tricky tasks to do and hard consequences to face.
It’s solid, enjoyable and has dragons. I liked it.