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Meljean Brook

REVIEW:  The Kraken King Part I-IV by Meljean Brook

REVIEW: The Kraken King Part I-IV by Meljean Brook

Jane’s Note: I asked Brie from Romance Around the Corner if she would be interested in reviewing Meljean Brook’s Kraken King books because I felt like a) I’ve reviewed too many of Brook’s books and b) I kind of consider her a friend. So for transparency purposes it made sense to get someone else to do it. 

Unfortunately Brie couldn’t come up with anything bad to say about these stories. Maybe you’ll have to read them for yourself to see what problems Brie couldn’t spot.

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REVIEW: The Kraken King, Parts I-IV by Meljean Brook

  • The Kraken King Part I: The Kraken King and the Scribbling Spinster
  • The Kraken King Part II: The Kraken King and the Abominable Worm
  • The Kraken King Part III: The Kraken King and the Fox’s Den
  • The Kraken King Part IV: The Kraken King and the Inevitable Abduction

Dear Ms. Brook,

Now that the Guardian series is over, I’m happy to inform that my enthusiasm for your books hasn’t dimmed one bit, which is why The Kraken King was my most anticipated 2014 release. What I didn’t anticipate was that the book would come in serial form, something I’m coming to terms with, and the reason why this review is going to be mostly general and incomplete, because I’ve only read the first four parts and I’m trying to avoid spoilers.

Our heroine is Zenobia, Archimedes Fox’s sister. Archimedes is a famous adventurer who became popular after he started publishing novelized recounts of his travels; books that, unknown to the public, Zenobia writes for him. They are forced to live a lie, because Fox isn’t just an adventurer, and his real identity puts her in constant danger, so she lives a relatively quiet life filled with longing for the adventures that she’s only experienced through her brother’s letters and her imagination.

When Zenobia’s best friend asks her to accompany her to meet her husband halfway across the world, she jumps at the chance to finally go on a trip and do some direct research. She hires two bodyguards to accompany them, and embarks on her first real adventure that doesn’t involve getting kidnapped. And then, of course, everything goes wrong.

Before they reach their destination, the airship they’re traveling on is destroyed by a group of flyers. They are rescued by a man named Ariq, who takes them to a part of Australia known as Krakentown, a place that serves as a refuge for smugglers and revels. Zenobia quickly recognizes Ariq as the infamous rebel known as the Kraken King. She fears that if he finds out who she is, her brother will be in danger, so her plan is to leave town as soon as possible. The problem is that Ariq is torn between how much he likes her and how much he suspects her, so he’s not letting her got that easily, thus Zenobia’s mini adventure goes from planned and safe, to exciting and unpredictable.

In a Steampunk adventure series filled with clever inventions and zombies, the complex, compelling world-building should be its shining point, and still, your heroines are always the one element I keep getting back to. These remarkable women display a wide range of nuanced characteristics that let us know that strength comes in many shapes and forms. Zenobia, who, take my word for it, is simply fabulous, has many compelling and heroic character traits: loyalty, intelligence, self-awareness, patience, and resourcefulness, yet none of those are physical traits. She’s inventive, yes, but she isn’t physically strong. Instead, she relies on her intelligence, creativity and practicality. And when contrasted with larger-than-life Ariq, she never comes across as outmatched, demonstrating that these different forms of strength can be as empowering as the more physical kick-ass women.

And speaking of strength, Ariq, who may or may not have a huge dick, but who is certainly not a huge dick, is an alpha male who escapes labels by the sheer force of his complex characterization. Yes, this guy is the biggest and strongest of them all, but instead of irrational possessiveness, what he feels for Zenobia is awe, admiration, respect, and eventually, love. It’s also great to see a world that until this point had demonized all members of the Mongolian Horde, from the perspective of a Mongolian who rebelled against the cruelty of an empire, but who is, of course, capable of separating the tyrants from the people.

There are so many other things I want to mention, like how Zenobia and her friend are basically the only white characters in the story so far, or how finally this series has a villain that promises to be worthy of its adversaries and not just a weak afterthought added at the end, but this review is already long, and there’s one more praise I want to fit into this gush-fest: The Kraken King also happens to be the most romantic (half) book I’ve read this year.  Zenobia and Ariq don’t spend that much time together, but it’s easy to believe in their potential romance, because what they see in each other is what we see in them. And unless something goes terribly wrong, I think the second half will be just as good, or at least I expect it to be. Parts I, II, III: B+; Part IV: A

Best,

Brie

As a final note for those who enjoy serials (and I guess for those who don’t), I thought the four parts were satisfying and had many elements that made them shine individually, while still working as a cohesive group. I, on the other hand, do not enjoy serials, and as much as I liked what I read so far, I wish I had all the parts (or the willpower to wait), because this fragmented reading experience is not for me.

 

 

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August Book Club Chat: Guardian Demon by Meljean Brook

August Book Club Chat: Guardian Demon by Meljean Brook

This month’s Book Club pick is Guardian Demon by Meljean Brook. It’s the conclusion to a long running series about guardian angels, demons, humans, and vampires. My favorite review is probably Brie’s from Romance Around the Corner. It has illustrations and everything. The world that Brook created is vivid and big and the conclusion to the series fit it perfectly. I don’t think you can start with Guardian Demon although Meljean does have a “story so far” conclusion that you can read before each book in the series.

But even for non readers of the series, you may be interested in the evolution of the series and what lies ahead for one of our favorite authors, Meljean Brook.

Guardian Demon by Meljean Brook, recommended by Jane

Guardian Demon by Meljean Brook, recommended by Jane

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1)  When you started this series, did you have a clear vision of where you wanted to end up or did that evolve over time?

Both. I had a clear vision of the overall story arc. I knew which layers of the worldbuilding I would be peeling away as the series progressed, I knew major plot points (especially those involving Michael, the Guardians’ leader), and I knew everything that I needed to accomplish before I reached the final book in the series.

But aside from the first two books and the final book, I didn’t know which characters I’d be using, or exactly how those characters would influence the way that those established plot points would unfold. For example, in the first book I hadn’t even thought of characters like Jake, Irena, or Rosalia — yet they play incredibly important roles in their own books and in other books. When I began the series, they were (at best) vague shadows floating around in my head. I had a few heroes that I’d never intended to give their own books — Jake was one, Deacon was another — but when I wrote them in supporting roles in earlier books, I either liked them so much that I couldn’t help myself (Jake) or I hated them so much that I thought the effort of converting them would work well in the upcoming book (Deacon). For other characters, I knew that I’d eventually make them a hero/heroine, but I waited to use them because they would best fit a certain plot point. Irena was one of those — I hinted at her existence in book #3, really introduced her in book #4, and then gave her book #5 — because that was the book where everything changes and goes to hell, and her character was the best to step in and (avoiding spoilers) fulfill a certain role.

So for the worldbuilding, that was always solid — I didn’t make up anything as I went along. The same goes for the overarching storyline. But the characters were never set in advance, because for each story, I wanted to make sure the characters’ conflicts and that plot point resonated as strongly as possible. And although I could look forward and plan ahead for some characters, until I actually wrote the book I didn’t always know how it would work out.

2)  How do you keep track of your series details? Do you have a book? A spreadsheet?

It’s all in my head.

3)  I love the “story so far” feature on your website where you summarize the past events up to the current release. How did you come up with that idea?

Even though I kept the world in my head, I knew readers wouldn’t be doing the same. Not only is there a lot of information to take in from my series, most readers I know are consuming romances voraciously — that means they have a lot of different worlds and rules to keep straight. There was also a six-month break between books in the series (and later, that time between books increased to over a year.) So I thought I’d help readers out and remind them of the important plot points that came before the current book in the series.

Plus, I knew that many new readers were intimidated by the length of the series. When new books came out, I often read questions like: Can I start here?

I found that question was impossible to answer. When it comes to series, every reader is different. Some *have* to start at Book #1. Some readers jump around in the series. Some new readers picked up Books #5, #6, or #7 and had no trouble following along; other readers were completely lost. And in each book, I spent as much time as I could re-explaining the worldbuilding and the history in the series so that new readers could follow along, but that explanation is always intertwined with the narrative and given in bits and pieces as the reader goes along. It’s not a straightforward explanation, and keeping track of “what went before” at the same time the book is moving forward isn’t always easy.

So the Story So Far is designed to give that straightforward explanation.

4)  Do you worry about “spoiling” the series for readers?

No, not really — and for two reasons. I assume that if a reader is starting with Book #6, that reader is going to be spoiled anyway. I’d much rather that a reader be spoiled with big plot points than be confused. (Not every reader would agree, I’m sure, but I assume that reader will see the spoiler warnings and turn away, anyway.)

Secondly, if a spoiler erases the emotional impact of a plot point, then it means I didn’t do my job very well. The *surprise* will be ruined, sure — and that is never fun, for readers or for writers. But if the only reason a plot point resonates with the reader is because it was the equivalent of jumping naked out of a birthday cake … that book isn’t going to hold up. If I do my job well, then that spoiler becomes a tease, instead. It will make the reader want to go back and found out how [that spoiled thing] happened.

For me, that is the real point of these books anyway (and any book). It’s not about a single plot element that can be spoiled — it’s about the adventure and the relationships, and all the small things that happen between the big moments. That’s where a lot of the best stuff is.

5)  I know you are an avid reader yourself.  Who are some of your romance influences? How about your writing influences, if different?

I used to be an avid reader. I haven’t read as much in the past few years. *sob*

Every time I name influences, my answer seems to change. I’m not sure why. There are days when I feel like my greatest influences are all the Harlequin writers from the 80s and 90s, because I was a category-reading fiend — starting when I was eight. But that also included a lot of older Harlequins, because my grandma had a spare bedroom full of them and I sneaked a ton of books out of there. Johanna Lindsey, no doubt. I read some of the classic bodice rippers, but they weren’t my favorites, and I didn’t read nearly as many of them as I did the Zebra hologram single-titles and the like. Then Silhouette Shadows came along and changed my life, because although I’d read other PNR romances before that, they were few and far between. Suddenly, there was an entire category line! Heaven.

So I’m sure that those books influenced me and my idea of romance as a genre — along with Jane Austen, all kinds of fairy tales, and Terminator. But so did Superman and Lois, all kinds of not-so-happy books, Anne Rice and Anne Bishop. It’s so difficult to point to a few, just because I start thinking of other books that influenced me, and the list always seems endless. Maybe I’m easily suggestible.

My writing influences come from everywhere, and the same thing happens when I begin to name them. Basically, I write what I like to read — and so I think about the things I’ve liked when I write, and those influence me the most. For pure technical issues, Stephen King’s ON WRITING was the only book on writing I’ve ever felt spoke to me and my process. And when I was struggling with my novella writing, I read a few favorite paranormal/SF novellas over and over to figure out why they worked for me. Those included Patty Briggs’s “Alpha and Omega,” Marjorie Liu’s “A Dream of Stone and Shadow,” Angela Knight’s “Roarke’s Prisoner,” (AK also has a great article here about keeping novellas simple), Kresley Cole’s “The Warlord Wants Forever,” and a few others.

6)  How do you feel that the series has come to an end? I’ve been reading reviews and readers were thrilled with the final book, feeling you really delivered, yet sad that the series is over.
I didn’t do everything I wanted to do with that last book (I cut out a few subplots that would have tied up a few minor plot threads), but for the most part, I’m really satisfied with how the series ended and that I accomplished almost everything I set out to do at the beginning. I’m glad I stuck to my plan of eight books and gave a solid finish. I could drag it out, because the world is complex and I could always fit more stories in, but the big story I wanted to tell is done and I feel like I should leave it there.

Which doesn’t mean I might not revisit these characters for small stories. I have a novella planned from one of the cut subplots (a companion story, but not something necessary to read to understand/enjoy GUARDIAN DEMON) and there is one other loose thread that I want to tie up — but if I do, it would probably be a story with an entirely different feel to it than the Guardian series. I can’t see that as a series, though, but just a one-off.

7) What is next for Meljean Brook?

More Iron Seas and steampunk romance! I’m working on THE KRAKEN KING right now. And I’m tossing around a few ideas for other books, some in series and some standalones, but there’s nothing official yet.

You can find out more about Meljean and her books at her website or connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.