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Review: “The Shards Of Heaven” by Michael Livingston

Title: The Shards Of Heaven
Author: Michael Livingston
Series: The Shards Of Heaven Vol. I
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Tor, 2015

I enjoy books that take history and turn it on its head, showing the secret machinations that are happening behind the scenes. This was one of those books.

Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated just before his finest moment, and now the civilized world is ripped in two. Tensions run high between Rome and Alexandria, with the fate of an Empire hanging in the balance. In Egypt, Antony has aligned himself with Cleopatra and her son Caesarion, the blood-heir of Julius Caesar. In Rome, Caesar’s adopted son Octavian gathers his forces for a war that seems inevitable. Meanwhile, the Numidian prince Juba scours the Earth for an object of power that will allow him to avenge himself on Rome for the subjugation of his people. What he finds could bring the world to its knees….

The Shards of Heaven is the first in a new series that takes the real-life history of the birth of the Roman Empire and infuses it with a healthy dose of historical fantasy behind the scenes for a fast-paced romp full of engaging characters. If you know your history, then you know certain characters are doomed from the start, but that doesn’t stop you from rooting for them. The central conceit here is that there are several artifacts that have shaped history through the ages, giving rise to myth and legend, always half-remembered versions of the truth. Poseidon’s trident/Moses’ staff, Zeus’ Aegis…and the Ark of the Covenant, the most powerful Shard of Heaven in existence. Some things were not meant for the hands of man….

CONTENT: Some strong violence. Moderate sexual innuendo, nothing too explicit. I don’t recall any profanity (though at this point its been several weeks since I finished it due to scheduling snafus), but there may have been a bit. Definitely some supernatural elements going on, kinda-sorta opposed to the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview, but also not really. To explain would court spoilers….

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Review: “The 9 Lives Of Alexander Baddenfield,” written by John Bemelmans Marciano & Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

I received an Advance Reading Copy of The 9 Lives Of Alexander Baddenfield (****) via the ARCycling program, donated by the people at Reviewing Wonderland. Many thanks to everyone involved! This in no way influences my review except to ensure that it exists, as I likely would not otherwise have acquired a copy of the book.

This is a YA novel, and I know some people see that as a stigma, but just because something is aimed at younger readers doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of the attention of older ones–just look at The Chronicles Of Narnia, The Hobbit, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, D.J. MacHale’s Pendragon series, or The Hunger Games. Of course, the opposite is also true. Just because something is aimed at younger readers doesn’t mean it is worthy of anyone’s attention–just look at Twilight or its many clones.

The Baddenfield family (and all of it’s branches across the world) has earned a reputation for villainy. From buying Manhattan from the Indians for a handful of trinkets to chopping down the Washingtons’ cherry tree and blackmailing young George to take the fall, at the root of every evil deed or disaster the world has known has been a Baddenfield. The one redeeming factor in the history of this ill-fated clan is their tendency to die young, with their deaths reeking of poetic justice. Alexander Baddenfield is the last remaining Baddenfield the world over, orphaned at a young age on a hunting expedition/family reunion that wiped out the entire rest of the clan in a series of poetically just accidents. Alexander is raised by his caretaker, Winterbottom, himself the last in line of a long family who have through the ages tried (and failed) to prevent their Baddenfield masters from meeting their untimely demises. Winterbottom is determined to finally beat the family curse, and so has spent years keeping Alexander away from anything remotely dangerous. Until, that is, Alexander one day has a “Great Idea” and sets out to find a doctor who can transplant the eight extra lives from his cat into Alexander himself. It is no spoiler to reveal that this endeavor is successful, given the title of the book, and Alexander is soon free to indulge himself with the most delightfully death-defying activities he can imagine….

I’ve seen a number of other reviewers compare this to the writing of Roald Dahl, and while I think that this is a bit unfair I must admit that it is the easiest way to convey the feel of the book. Unfair, because this is a comparison that will never reflect favorably on its subject. It would be like comparing any other piece of humorous sci-fi to the work of Douglas Adams, or a work of horror to a good Stephen King novel. Compared to the inimitable Roald Dahl, nobody will be able to measure up. However, if we must compare this book to another author’s work, Dahl is probably the closest we can find. Dahl’s habit of using a whimsical tone to describe even the worst of situations is very much in evidence here, and while you almost certainly will not like young Alexander, you will find yourself interested in his adventures. A case could also be made for comparing this book to the works of the great Neil Gaiman, not in quality or prose style or anything definable, but just that this is the kind of idea he would have. I quite enjoyed the book, even laughing out loud a couple times–especially during the first couple chapters recounting the history of the Baddenfields through the ages. I would recommend it for anyone with a sense of humor, especially if that sense of humor tends to an appreciation for the funny side of darkness and tragedy.

Content: Violence. Spoiler alert: Alexander dies. A lot. And occasionally his deaths can be a little gruesome. I wouldn’t recommend this for little kids, but for kids who are mature enough to handle the repeated death of the protagonist I would say that this would be a good read. No profanity, no sexual content.

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