Wow. If you guys thought book 1 ("Grave Mercy") was any good, you're going to love "Dark Triumph". This book is a lot darker (no pun intended) compareWow. If you guys thought book 1 ("Grave Mercy") was any good, you're going to love "Dark Triumph". This book is a lot darker (no pun intended) compared to book one, so it's not exactly the feel-good read of the year. However, I think it's kinda an important read, as it does bring up current tough stuff issues couched in this fantastic story of Mourtain and his Handmaidens in 13th century Brittany/France/England. If anything, LaFevers has only gotten better at her craft, and it really shows. If you've started your journey in "Grave Mercy", you simply must continue it with "Dark Triumph".
What I love the most about this trilogy - all three girls we were introduced to in "Grave Mercy" as the main cast (Ismae, Sybella, Annith) are all getting their own books. "Grave Mercy" was Ismae's book, "Dark Triumph" is Sybella's, and the upcoming "Mortal Heart" will be Annith's. I thought that was really cleverly plotted on LaFevers' part - it allows us to really get to know each girl that appeared as more minor in the main cast in "Grave Mercy", and it also serves to tell as their own story as interweaves with that of the fate of Brittany as a whole. I love it when an author of any genre can do that, and especially with this trilogy, where I've really grown fond of all of the characters (antagonists included) and the world. I'm going to be bummed when "Mortal Heart" comes out next year if only because it'll be the end. Unless we get one more book. Please let that be the case.
To those who have already read the book - did anyone else get a slight "Beauty and the Beast" re-telling vibe, aside from the Beast of Waroch's nickname? I kind of did - with Sybella as the beast, having to fight all of her demons in order to become a real girl once more. More than "Grave Mercy", I feel that there is more of a fairy tale feel to this particular installment in the trilogy, and that made it all the more wonderful. Sybella not only fights her enemies (and the Abbess' enemies) in this book - she fights her own demons, which makes her really shine. And boy, does Sybella have a LOT of inner demons to fight. I feel like LaFevers has definitely improved in the "killing her darlings" for emotional payoff department drastically between these two books with Sybella's fight, and that's why this one gets a straight 5/5 stars from me.
The rest of the technical areas are flawless, so I won't really go into them. We do get a slight expansion of the world with more of Sybella's backstory and how her family ties into the Brittany war in the worldbuilding department and in the character building department (two birds, one stone). We see how much Sybella has really gotten a raw deal out of life - and though we got hints of it while seeing her with Annith and Ismae in the convent, we also see how it continued while she was in training there. It was nice to see how her streak of bad luck with things didn't magically stop when she stepped through the convent doors, and how she had to work harder than anyone one else to get approval - only to have her first big mission to be a slap in the face from the Abbess (and seriously, what is the Abbess' problem here? I hope we get that answer in book 3).
Throughout many points of the book, Sybella's story is not easy (nor should it be) to read. There are a lot of "tough stuff" issues that are contemporary (yet seem to happen throughout all throughout history) - familial abuse, both physical and sexual, just to name the two largest ones for those who get triggered easily. I won't spoil too much, but you'll be wanting to give Sybella a huge hug by the end of the book. However, you'll also love her for getting through these issues because she figures out her role in Mortain's trio of her, Ismae, and Annith - if Ismae is His Mercy, Sybella is His Justice. And I LOVE that LaFevers was able to turn all of that pain into such an awesome self-realization. Sybella is not a victim, and she makes that clear throughout the book. But her being able to reign in her desire for revenge, to turn it into something useful for her self-created family was wonderful to see.
Final verdict? This is just too awesome a sequel, and one of the best sophomoric efforts for 2013 so far. "Dark Triumph" is out today through HMH in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!
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I wanted to like this more than I did – “Cross My Heart” has wonderfully lush imagery and sensory language used, but unfortunately, it all3.5/5 stars!
I wanted to like this more than I did – “Cross My Heart” has wonderfully lush imagery and sensory language used, but unfortunately, it all felt a bit too simple for me. I think that this would be a good book for older MG to young YA audiences as it’s quite easy to follow – for me, a little too easy to follow. It is indeed a gorgeous story filled with mystery and intrigue, but I wish it had been a bit more complicated that it had been.
Sasha Gould definitely does have a superb sense of how she uses her sensory language and imagery – it’s what saved the book for me as the picture she paints of Venice (and of the convent) is lush and luxurious and I didn’t want to leave it. I could feel the fabrics, feel the masks, taste the salty sea air, smell the beggars. Gould has a wonderful talent here and she used it to her utmost advantage with really bringing Renaissance Italy to life in this book. In fact the term “Magical Realism” comes to mind a bit with the use of the secret society and the way they move within Venice, and that was really well done. I really enjoyed the parts with the Segreta meeting the most.
Her characters were also well-constructed and rounded, and I felt like they were full, real characters – everyone felt like a real person, acted like a real person, and it all made sense. However, I think my main problem was with the way the arcs and the sub-arcs were executed – I saw most of what happened coming way before it actually did happen, and I’m not a huge fan of that with authors. But it was very easy to follow and easy to digest, so it’ll be perfect for younger YA readers who want to get into a historical fiction book. But I do feel like a few more twists could have been added and it still would have retained its luxurious feel to it without taking anything away.
Final verdict? This is a gorgeous book and definitely worth the read and an awesome story, but it would be best for young YA readers just getting into the historical fiction genre. Older YA readers might find it a little too simple for their tastes. But this is just how I feel about it, so I urge you to go and read this one! “Cross My Heart” comes out on March 13, 2012 in North America. It’s not a stunning debut, but it’s nothing to shake a stick at, either.
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I have to say, the spin applied to the historical case of "Jack the Ripper" by Reeves in this story is one I hadn't really considered befo3.5/5 stars.
I have to say, the spin applied to the historical case of "Jack the Ripper" by Reeves in this story is one I hadn't really considered before. Yes, there have been supernatural/paranormal spins on the Ripepr case before, but not quite in this manner. "Ripper" is solid YA historical debut, mixing in a lot of the late Victoria era's different parts of culture to make an interesting read. But not all of it added up for me, and with the way Reeves put everything together, I wish that hadn't been the case.
I think my issue was that it dragged significantly in terms of arc execution, and didn't really start getting interesting until the last half or third of the book (depending on how you look at it). Even when the Ripper murders begin, the pace is sluggish, and there's no sense of urgency with Abbie when it comes to the fact that hey, she might be next (even if she's not a prostitute, she still works at the hospital and thus in the danger zone). There's also the unbelievability factor, historically, that her grandmother would continue to let her work at the hospital when the murders are going on, regardless of how highly esteemed Bartlett is as a doctor. And especially unchaperoned. I thought that part of the arc could have been cut, or could have been edited differently - had it been twisted a little more, it might have been more believable historically, and it also might have helped the arc go a bit more smoothly than it did.
The pace. The pace until the last half of the book was pretty slow, and my mind wandered quite a bit until the murders actually began, as I said before. Since pace and arc execution tie in pretty intimately within this book, it needs to be said once more that had things been edited or drafted differently in terms of how the arc leading up to the Big Reveal was executed. Until it's revealed that she really does have a connection with the Rosetti family and how they also tie into the secret society (which is such a big part of the plot), things just kind of meander along until the Big Reveal.
But even when the Big Reveal happens, we know that there hasn't been something quite right about Whitechapel Hospital all along, especially when the Secret Society motto keeps popping up everywhere along with its chalice. And then there are the visions. So I wish I could say that I couldn't see where all of this was going, but it was pretty obvious, and I could have done for a little more mystery on the author's part in terms of where the arc was going.
The characters were pretty well-constructed, so I didn't have much complaint there, and the world was more or less believable. It was more with the characters' behavior not really tying in quite right to how late Victorian society was in terms of how girls of the elite were supposed to be taken care of (always with a chaperone) and so forth. However, this is still a pretty solidly put together story, and I think this might be a good way to get younger YA readers introduced to historical fiction with a good paranormal twist, but for me, it just didn't quite ring true.
Still, it's worth the read, so go ahead and give it one. "Ripper" is out now from Flux Books in North America, other places consult your local bookseller.
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Guys, you better believe that I’m preordering this one. Yeah, it was that good. Medieval nun assassins? Hello. I was lucky enough to get an e-arc throGuys, you better believe that I’m preordering this one. Yeah, it was that good. Medieval nun assassins? Hello. I was lucky enough to get an e-arc through netgalley when they were still offering it late last year, and I’m glad I did. I wasn’t sure I would like it as much as I did, but LaFevers weaves a fantastic yet plausible tale that has major potential to become (depending on the length of the series) a new voice in YA epic fantasy. And we all know how many YA epic fantasy series there are. I think I can count them on one hand. Maybe.
Anyway, I don’t think I can gush enough about “Grave Mercy”. If you like ass-kicking heroines, this is so definitely the YA book for you.
I think the most fantastic part of this book is the worldbuilding. It’s built upon the real historical struggle for Brittany in medieval France, and the political framework laid down for the book (even down to the abbesses duking it out for the sake of the kingdom/duchy) seemed very realistic. And then there’s the fantasy – Saint Mortain and his gifted are well-positioned throughout the book, with rich mythology backing them (and the history of this fictitious Brittany) up repeatedly throughout the book. Everything is connected to Mortain (he is death, after all), and thus back into the actual world that LaFevers builds, so I felt very firmly rooted for the duration of the novel and never felt like I had to scramble for purchase as to when and where I was within the story.
The characters: very well-rounded, tightly-woven, and though I had some questions about the relationships (Are Ismae and Sybella more than Sisters-in-Mortain?), there was nothing to pick at, there. The pacing was quick, but not too quick, and the arcs and the sub-arcs fired off without a hitch. Really, there’s nothing for me to complain about or pick at here. I just kind of sat back and enjoyed the ride. I gulped it down in two or three sittings, and then promptly asked for more.
Uh, I’m now begging for more, the more that I think about it.
Ismae is a strong heroine that isn’t caught between two boyfriends, though the trope of being “caught between duty and love” was used, I could forgive it (it’s not one of my favorite tropes in any lit, especially YA) because this book was written so damn well. It was consistent, and there wasn’t insta-love, either. The relationship that happens between Ismae and her love interest is very natural, so I didn’t so much as blink when it actually happened. It wasn’t overly obvious, but you did know it was coming (it even says so in the teaser). All the same, it wasn’t rushed, but when it happened, I didn’t feel like it was forced. Though I will admit the seed of the idea that Sybella and Ismae might have been more than just fellow assassin-nuns did tantalize me quite a bit (I’d love to hear more about that in the second book, LaFevers. Please?).
Final verdict? Read it. Even if you’re not a fan of fantasy or historical fiction, I think there’s something for everyone within this very strong first book in the “His Fair Assassin” series. Be sure to catch “Grave Mercy” when it hits stores/your local library in early April. It’s really that awesome. Definitely one of the best of 2012 so far!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, librarything, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)
Wow. I really liked the first book in this duology, “Darker Still” because of its throwback Gothic feel, and I love that Gothic is regain4.5/5 stars!
Wow. I really liked the first book in this duology, “Darker Still” because of its throwback Gothic feel, and I love that Gothic is regaining its footing as a subgenre in YA right now. But with “The Twisted Tragedy of Natalie Stewart”, it not only trumps its predecessor, but ends on an awesome note that really, really is going to make me miss this world and am sad that this duology is over with. Even if you haven’t read the first book, be sure to check this release out.
While this second book wasn’t completely flawless, I feel that Hieber really, really grew as an author at her craft with this book. I feel like the characters and the world were more solidly built, and even though I did feel like the plot transition between the two main arcs could have had a smoother transition, the final product was really wonderful. It just makes me all the more sad to leave this world and these characters behind, because I felt that with “Tragedy”, I grew a lot closer and felt a lot more sympathetic to everyone in this book, villains and heroes alike.
Generally, what was really pleasing to see was the expansion of the world past demonic New York. Which was awesome, don’t get me wrong, and I love how Hieber really set the scene by shrinking and focusing her world for “Darker Still” on it. But here we get to see more of America in that time period, and London, too. We get more details (but still not enough – more on that later) on the shadowy organization (The Society) that helped trap Jonathon into his portrait, and what their other nefarious dealings involve. I love how this book incorporates small retellings of “Frankenstein” and Poe stories, though you have to look for them, into this world, and really overall ramps up the Gothic genre feel.
Okay, so my main gripe about this: The Society. We get details on them, but at this stage in the game (and part of the reason why I’m sad that we’re not getting another book – unless we are, and I don’t know it yet?), we should be getting more details than what we were given here. I understand the desire to keep The Society somewhat shadowy and secretive, and I know you only have so much space within a book to talk about them, but this is why I wanted a third book – I wanted to get to the heart of The Society and see how Jonathan and Natalie dealt with them more directly (as in, with their boss).
The ending lends itself to a wonderful way to give the reader enough room to imagine an ending where Jon and Nat team up for the rest of their lives together, dedicated to bringing down The Society and helping protect innocent people, so I can see why Hieber did what she did there concerning this main antagonist/Big Bad. So I’m a little split. I loved the ending, but I hate letting go of this world. I like the details we did get about The Society and their long game, but I don’t feel like we got enough of them when you look at where we are in this series/duology. I kind of expected more in that regard.
What was also wonderful was the growth of Natalie as a main protagonist as a whole – she really gets tough and strong, fast, but at the same time, not at a unrealistic pace. She’s had to suffer through hard knocks because of her psych-assisted mute condition, and so she’s already got a well of strength to draw upon. We finally see her really use it in this book, and generally, it was lovely seeing her really bloom and grow as a main character, and as a gal turning into a woman. For her time period, she’s really fierce, and I just absolutely loved that. We saw Jonathan grow as a character, too – well, when the demonic element wasn’t factored in like it was with the first book, and that was pretty awesome, too.
The fight scenes were just as intense in this book – just as spiritual/magical, and just as physical. Hieber’s talent with sensory imagery and language isn’t to be messed with, that’s for sure. I really felt as if I could see/hear/feel/touch/taste everything that was going on in this book, and I absolutely love it when an author can plunge me into a time gone by and still manage to make it not only feel believable, but totally plausible. The Gothic elements that helped retell Poe, Shelley, and Stoker were really threaded heavily within the sensory language area, and I was clapping my hands in delight whenever retelling pieces came up to the surface for the reader to study. LOVED THAT.
But I have to say, my favorite new character added to the cast was Nathaniel and Her Majesty’s Company for Melancholy Bastards. I definitely want a spin-off just for Nate and company. Seriously. Make it happen, Hieber. He was absolutely delightful and colorful, and I wish I could have attended his parties and plays.
Final verdict? While the ending did feel a bit rushed and I do want another book (and a spin-off with Nate), I was really satisfied with what I got in this book. If you haven’t read the first book, you might be a bit lost, so read it before diving into this one. “The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart” is in stores now from Sourcebooks Fire in North America, so definitely check it out! It’s on my best of 2012 list for a reason, guys!
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If you've been reading the blog, you guys know how much I love alternate histories. Spotswood totally knocks it out of the park in her deb4.5/5 stars!
If you've been reading the blog, you guys know how much I love alternate histories. Spotswood totally knocks it out of the park in her debut "Born Wicked". I also love anything that's set in Victorian/Edwardian times. Combine all of this and some teenage witches, and you've got one awesome book. There was never a dull moment in the story, and it felt very full and well-rounded: definitely an awesome start to a new series and a very solid first book.
I will admit that at first the alternate history that Spotswood constructs is a bit confusing in terms of how much time has gone by since the Salem witch trials and how the US has (if at all) gotten out from under British rule. Constructing a completely understandable alternate history is difficult to do, and aside from the actual time as measured in years where I got confused, Spotswood did this very well. I had to do some digging on the location of New London as I'm not a East-coast native, but I figured out that, should this hold to where the actual New London is, takes place in Connecticut. However, I could be wrong. But from where the village is compared to the "big city" of New London, this makes a lot of sense. This is the only place in the story where I had to sit and rearrange some of the pieces in the puzzle, because this alternate history itself is part of the extremely important foundation of the story. I think this where a lot of reviewers got puzzled and felt it got stilted, because you had to really grab for where we were in time and space compared to the time and space we have within the books of real history. I hope that this gets a bit more clarified in the next books in the series.
However, this is not to say you shouldn't try it. The time puzzle is interesting and it became a fun challenge to figure out where we were. And after I managed to figure everything out time-wise, I was fine. The characters all felt very real, very 3D in the completed-character sense. There wasn't anything lacking in any of the characters, and some of the Big Reveals that took place took me completely (and quite pleasantly) by surprise. I won't reveal what these Big Reveals were (that'd spoil things, wouldn't it?), but I'll just have to say that Spotswood did a fantastic job on the LGBTQIA front and fit all of that in with (alternate) Victorian times quite well.
Everything felt so real and lush on the sensory language front that I could smell the flowers, feel the fabrics of the dresses and skirts, and taste the glamoured food in the Cahill household. If Spotswood has a strong point, it's definitely in the sensory/descriptive language area. She injects magic into everything, even into the horrifying moments where we fear our witches are done for, and even into the areas where there's no witchery going on at all. That takes talent, and Spotswood's definitely got that.
Some have mentioned their issue with the love triangle and insta-love, but if you read carefully enough, there really isn't a definite triangle, which really made the book even better. It only appears that there MIGHT be one, because Cate has to go and re-examine her feelings for a childhood friend returned. I won't give away what happens, but it's less of a triangle and more of a "I should probably marry this guy, who I can get along with, in order to protect my sisters, but this guy I've totally fallen for and kind of want to jump his bones and oh, I could probably escape the entire world with him if I wanted to." The honesty about Cate's lust/desperation versus the duty she feels to protect her sisters was pretty refreshing, as was the self-examination that she had to do multiple points in the book. There was that element of insta-love, but I think that this part of it was born more out of Cate's feeling of the world closing in around her rather than a Twilight-syndrome'd "oh wow, guy in my class is dreamy and I'm going to stalk him!" sort of thing. Finn could be her way out; she's noticing him now because he's attractive AND because he could be an ally.
However, I could have done with a little more talking on Finn's part, but we can't get everything we want.
All of this makes for very fascinating reading and even more fascinating conversations about where Spotswood could be going with all of this. I'm probably really overreading into all of Cate's motives with two of my most hated YA tropes, but the way Spotswood made it all work just makes me forgive her if I have indeed overread into things. It all came together so well that I can't help but love this story, these characters, and this world.
Final verdict? Read it. I adored this book and I can't wait for the others to come out. Grab it at your bookstore or library once it hits shelves in early February 2012 (in North America, other places, you should check). One thing that's for certain - you most definitely won't get bored.
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Guys, guys, GUYS. How much did I love this book? I had some high expectations going in, and I was surprised to find each one of them fulfilled. BardugGuys, guys, GUYS. How much did I love this book? I had some high expectations going in, and I was surprised to find each one of them fulfilled. Bardugo has a new hit on her hands with “Shadow & Bone” and I…can I just have that next book now? Please? This can’t be a standalone. It just can’t. ALL THE AWARDS FOR THIS BOOK!
Set in an alternate world (or an alternate Russia, maybe?), we have magic users and soldiers both being used by the government to further a war against its neighbors. Even from the first page, this world felt complete. Bardugo is very thorough in her worldbuilding, and makes the world itself as much as a character as Alina, Mal, the Darkling, and the rest. The fantastic felt very credible, and the idea of an Unsea was absolutely delectable. She starts us in Alina’s memory of the past, then in media res in terms of her current situation in the military. What was fabulous about this world is that even though there are limits to how far you can rise in power in terms of gender, it seemed pretty equal-opportunity in terms of who does what and in what position in terms of society and its structures. I loved that there was a militaristic court – right alongside the one we know from our own recent past the world over. The Grisha, while magic users, are also a huge part of the military, and are treated as such. The Darkling leads them, and weaves himself back into the world (especially the Unsea) that Bardugo created. Everyone tied back in so neatly, and that’s so incredibly hard to do, so snaps to Bardugo for getting her worldbuilding right on her first try.
Second, it’s made clear that this is Alina’s journey from the beginning. Not that of the Grisha people, not that of the Darkling (though he does tie into a pretty nice chunk of it), not that of the pseudo-Russia that everyone lives in. This is Alina’s journey, finding out that she is indeed a Grisha, and not just your usual one. As with any rule in high/epic fantasy that has magic/wizards in it, there’s usually a “chosen one” trope, and Alina’s it. She’s the chosen one for this trope. But you know what? Since so many people have done right by that trope in the past (and because Bardugo nailed it in her debut), I can forgive its use. But she’s not treated special for the whole book – only at first, but then she’s sent into Grisha bootcamp to catch up with everyone else her age, even though she does have the rarest power of all – one to balance out the Darkling. Life as a late-bloomer Grisha is not easy, and I love Bardugo for really torturing Alina and putting her through it all, because the payoff with the last third of the book is huge (and awesome).
Third, there is romance, but there’s the question of real attraction versus that of compulsion – or rather, that of being compelled forcibly by another into attraction. The Darkling is alluring, and then there’s Mal, the childhood friend – but this is not a love triangle. At first, I thought it was – it looked like it was going to be, and I was getting pissed. But the way Bardugo turned it on its head and asks the question between the lines of real attraction versus forced compulsion was very interesting. Even when Alina may not entirely be in control in terms of who she wants more, Bardugo makes her emphasis that this is all about Alina in the end, and her choices, and ultimately, not about the love interests themselves at all. It becomes a matter of going after power for one’s future, or for desiring a “normal” life instead. The love interests are used to mark the fork in Alina’s road in terms of her character arc, and who will she choose? The Darkling, who is power? Or Mal, who is normal? She twisted this all very intricately, and I did have to think about it for a bit afterward before I finally got all of the quieter connections she made with these romances.
Finally, her use of sensory language is some of the most powerful stuff I’ve read out of all of the debuts this year – and her competition in that has been huge in the amount of talented debut authors this year. I could taste the food, feel the fabric of the clothes, feel the words on my tongue, feel the chill of the air and the bruises from training, the terror of the Unsea and the thrill of lighting it up. She makes you feel things and it’s absolutely incredible. You can actually feel the magic. This is an experience you just can’t miss for that alone.
Final verdict? You simply cannot miss this debut. Really. It’s on my best of 2012 list so far, and hopefully it’ll make your list, too. “Shadow & Bone” is out June 5, 2012 in North America through Henry Holt BYFR/Macmillan, other places check with your local vendors. This is one you’re going to want to own, and it’s definitely going to be money well-spent.
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