Work has been insane lately--in between my day job and my own writing, I've scarcely had time to sleep, let alone read. I had to pass on a ton of ARCs that I was actually looking forward to reviewing, and I'm so painfully behind on my hard copy reads. A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES has been giving me sad eyes for over a week now, and I haven't even been able to pick it up.
(SOON, MY PRECIOUS. SOON.)
THE HAREM MASTER leaped out at me on Netgalley because of its title. Even though I am not a huge fan of fantasy, there are three things that are pretty much guaranteed to at least make me take a look: harems/concubines, assassins, and court intrigue.
This book boasts all three.
Demir is Harem Master in Tavamara. This means he is responsible for the safe-keeping of the concubines in the royal harem. He trains them, looks after them, and sees to it that their lives are as comfortable, safe, and pleasant as possible. Traditionally, harems were a highly respectable, almost sacred, profession, but corrupt rulers have steadily been changing the ways of the harem for the worse. Now, the sons of nobles are often blackmailed into being concubines as a way for the king to get back at those he doesn't like, and killed if they displease their fickle ruler.
When the king's son, Ihsen, returns from war, along with his princess, the old monarchy is threatened, and the harems hang in the balance, especially from outside pressure from foreign diplomats. Demir finds himself attracted to Ihsen, but he also is forbidden from romantic relationships because of his profession, and also because he needs to stay loyal to the concubines of his harem first and foremost.
THE HAREM MASTER has a lot of court intrigue, and a lot of LGBT sex. Which should make it an awesome book, but for me, it was merely a good one. The first problem is that it takes a while for the book to gain steam. Once it does, things get a lot better, but in the beginning of the story, I had a hard time staying interested. There are a lot of pointless descriptions of clothes and jewelry and food. Everything everyone is wearing is described in full every time they appear. This is also a problem I have with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, although at least in her case you can claim she is just being especially true to the historical details she so painstakingly researched for her novels.
Another problem is the sex. It is not badly written but also seemed very tepid. At least, to me. I think part of that was there was just so much sex, and most of the sex scenes were repetitive. After a while, I was kind of like, "Oh look, they're having sex again. And describing the outfits while they're having sex! Yay." I will say this, though: there are all kinds of sex in this book, and a lot of it is polyamorous. Want to read about a whole bunch of guys going at it together, all at once? IT HAPPENS IN THIS BOOK. How 'bout a bunch of girls having an orgy? THAT HAPPENS TOO. Is het more your thing? It happens as well! (Although no orgies, just straight up M/F. Also, no F/F/M, or M/M/F.)
That is actually something that made me raise an eyebrow. The way it works in Tavamara is that everyone is bisexual. Men and women marry, but they keep harems of the same sex. I thought this was an interesting idea, but it also troubled me, too. Why can't same sex couples marry? Why do they only keep same-sex harems? But then as the book went on, I realized it was probably so people wouldn't get pregnant with all this gratuitous unprotected sex, because apparently in Tavamara, having children out of wedlock can get you killed! Something that is mentioned a couple times, and then kind of glossed over. Um, what?!
Weird sex and weird gender/sex roles aside, there was some really great writing and plotting in this book, and I enjoyed the court intrigue and assassin plots of THE HAREM MASTER. I'm not sure this author is a good enough fit that I would immediately go out and buy all her books, but if I was asked to review more, or saw them appear on Netgalley, I would be willing to give her stories another go. This was a fun read, and I did enjoy it, even if it had its share of flaws.
"Do not be so quick to dismiss the responsibilities of your life, for they march in hand with your privileges" (34).
I am a sucker for books about Tudor England. I hoard them, and even though so many of them are terrible, or little better than wallpaper historicals, I scarf them like ill-gotten chocolates and only experience remorse and self-loathing when they are gone.
THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTER had an irresistible hook, though: what if Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, had a daughter?
Andersen takes that topic, and runs with it: and to be honest, I had a little trouble keeping up with her, because she makes it all so believable, so interesting, that I kept wanting to stop and look around at this amazing world she'd crafted.
TVD is set in the middle of Elizabeth's reign, during Mary Stuart's imprisonment in England. Elizabeth has learned of something called The Nightingale Plot, a plot whose purpose is to free Mary and make her queen once more--even if Elizabeth must die.
My reaction, on finding out what this book was about, can be summed up thusly:
The two main characters in this book are Lucette Courtenay and Princess Anabel (Anne Isabel).
Lucette Courtenay is actually the Queen's niece, but was adopted and raised by the Courtenay family. Her sisters, Pippa and Charlotte, and brothers, Stephan and Christopher, also have roles to play in the storyline, and are all very well fleshed-out. I actually ran to Wikipedia to look them up and see if they existed, but apparently they do not, which made me sad.
Princess Anabel is the daughter of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. She is just as strong and clever as her mother, but also vulnerable and passionate, too. She does not play as large a role as Lucette, but has some of the best lines in the book.
She did not want a marriage of balanced equals, always pushing against one another for the advantage. Better to marry a man who would owe everything to her, for then at least there would be a chance of personal affection--or at least a good imitation of it (102).
"I am the daughter of the two cleverest, wariest monarchs of the last hundred years, and though I may have instincts, I will always consider carefully before making my choice" (157).
When Elizabeth finds out about the Nightingale plot, she has it investigated and learns that one of the chief conspirators seems to be coming from Blanclair, the household of one of the Courtenays' oldest friends in France, the LeClercs. Her intelligencer suspects it is one of the sons, Julien or Nicolas.
Stephan is sent to Queen Mary's household to ingratiate himself with the Scots Queen. Lucette, on the other hand, is sent off to Blainclair to spy. Because she is a woman, both the Queen and the intelligencer know that she is less likely to be taken seriously and therefore more of a threat. She is determined to do whatever it takes to get information, even to seduce the brothers, to save her queen.
My reaction at this point resembles something like this:
The two brothers are as different as night and day. Nicolas is a reclusive widower with a young son named Felix. Julien is an aloof and brooding womanizer. Both brothers fall for Lucette, but neither of them is what he appears to be: they both have dark secrets, and both of these secrets are dangerous.
Sometimes romance in books like these threatens to overtake the plot or lead to out-of-character decisions. Instead, the romance added even more tension to what was already a very tense plot, and added another dimension of feels to the writing.
"I want to be undone by you. I want to be the one to come to pieces in your arms, to forget there is anything in this world but the two of us" (196).
My reaction, at this point, looks something like this:
I started to suspect from the brilliant characterization and wonderful writing that this book would at least be a four-star read. But when the sexual tension led to some rather steamy things, and Laura Andersen delivered some choice wtfuckery that wouldn't be out of place in one of those golden age bodice rippers (castration!), and when that epic showdown towards the end happened and made me realize that even I didn't know how this story would end, I realized it might be a five-star read.
And it was. THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTER was an excellent work of alternate history that takes one of history's most famous queens and makes her even more interesting and awesome. There is scheming, girl power, court intrigue, betrayal, dark secrets, and even romance.
I haven't read any of the other Tudor Legacy books, but THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTER works as a standalone. I really want to read the other books now, though. Like, really, really badly. Even if they're only half as awesome as this book is, I'm sure they're great. Because this was awesome.
Seriously, why aren't you reading this yet? Oh, right. Because it doesn't come out until May 19th. Well, bookmark your calendars and place your pre-orders, then. BECAUSE THIS IS AWESOME.
This book hooked me from the start with its premise. Tudor fiction and chess-focused? If you're at all familiar with who I am and what I do, you know that I find chess fascinating.
THE TOURNAMENT takes place in 1546. Elizabeth is a young girl, studying under her brilliant (almost Sherlockian) tutor, Roger Ascham. Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, has issued invitations to the best chess players across the globe, one of whom resides in Elizabeth's own court: Mr. Giles.
As part of Elizabeth's education, Mr. Ascham elects to have the teenager accompany him to the Ottoman Empire along with Mr. Giles, Elizabeth's chaperones, Mr. and Mrs. Ponsonby, and Elizabeth's rather salacious and sex-crazed friend, Elsie.
THE TOURNAMENT is super quotable. Ascham is really wise and it shows.
It is also batshit insane.
From the moment Elizabeth and her party arrive in the Ottoman Empire, it's clear that they're not in England anymore, Toto. Reilly portrays the society on the verge of its decline: beautiful art and with many achievements in math and science under its belt, but also beginning to crumble under corrupt rule, and increasingly strict religion-based laws.
Pretty soon, people begin showing up dead. Or disappearing. And not in nice ways, either. Drowned, mutilated, poisoned, tortured...there's an assassination attempt that involves feeding someone to a pack of wolves (luckily it fails).
In many ways, THE TOURNAMENT is like a bodice ripper. There is a lot of sex in here (remember Elsie?). THE TOURNAMENT is set in brothels, with prostitutes. It has orgies. There is pedophilia and also rape. One of the villains has a whip made from the hair of all the little boys he's raped (I was having ANISE flashbacks). THE TOURNAMENT wouldn't have been out of place in your 1970s canon of wtfuckery.
What really made this book for me--apart from the first person narration with Elizabeth, Mr. Ascham, and the chess, obviously--was the court intrigue and the sheer complexity of the murders. In fact, the murders in this book parallel a chess game, with various pieces (i.e. characters) affecting how other characters play out later on in the story. I was even surprised a couple times.
THE TOURNAMENT is not a book for the faint of heart, but I do think if you can stomach weird sex and overt violence, it's a must-read. Before reading this, I assumed Matthew Reilly was another one of those airport bookstore-type authors, who's all flash and no substance. I am revising that opinion.
This was a buddy read with my Goodreads friend, Rabbit, and I have to say that it was a definite step-up from our last endeavor, TENDER THE STORM. WILD BELLS TO THE WILD SKY, a line taken from Tennyson's poem, "Ring Out, Wild Bells" takes place in Elizabethan England. The book is about the half-English, half-Spanish Lily Christian, and her transition from childhood to adulthood in the midst of personal tragedy and political scheming.
Basically, Lily as a child witnesses some very suspicious behavior from a man who plans to do the Spanish gov't a solid by assassinating Queen Elizabeth. He attempts to kill her and her family but doesn't succeed quite as he hoped. In fact, he fails miserably--but at a terrible cost to Lily.
When I look back on the events in this book, it has a very Princess Bride-like feel to it--marooned on a tropical island, befriending exotic animal sidekicks, traveling with a band of gypsies, daring escapes, Middle Eastern bodyguards with scimitars, attempted murders, court intrigue, unrequited love, attempted rape, bumbling comedy relief, bitchy mcbitcherson romantic rivals...BELLS is an odd mixture of some really dark shit told in a really light way, which gives it a fairytale feel.
You're probably wondering why this book only gets three stars from me in spite of its gorgeous writing and truly unique plot. That's a valid question, and one that I can't really answer, except to say that this book didn't really "click" for me. I was really into it in the beginning, and then I kind of lost interest. Lily is just too...nice. Almost naively so. I didn't really like her younger siblings much, especially Dulcie. I thought they were annoying. The villains weren't as evil as I usually like to see in bodice rippers (points for innovation), and Whitelaw was too much of an asshole to be a beta, but too "nice" to be an unapologetically asshole alpha, either. I didn't much care for that, either.
This is good for a bodice ripper, though. The huge cast and attention to historical details made this an interesting read, even if it won't be topping my favorites lists, and I loved that title. I also loved the recurring characters, and how McBain foreshadowed things quite nicely so when certain events happened they didn't seem like deus-ex-machinas. Actually, there's a bit of a sad story behind this author and her books. She was one of the first really famous bodice ripper authors, on par with Kathleen Woodiwiss, but then her father died and she gave up writing and sort of withdrew from the public eye, which is terribly sad, because she is so much more talented than Woodiwiss.
If you're just getting into vintage romance novels, I think WILD BELLS would be a good jumping off point because it doesn't have any of the seriously messed-up stuff that some of the more (in)famous novels do (i.e. no torture, no (successful) rape, no whippings, gang-bangs, etc.). The weird shit that does happen is actually pretty tame, and there isn't any sex at all between the H and the h until the very end (although you can watch him banging a few other women in the interim--wink). Definitely a starter bodice-ripper, and also on that note, not really for me.
In a genre dominated by anglophiles, and their love for medieval England, The Winter PalaceYou can read my reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian!
In a genre dominated by anglophiles, and their love for medieval England, The Winter Palace stands out for its epic portrayal of Catherine the Great's ascension to power.
The story is narrated from the POV of a court spy of polish decent named Varvara, who is a young teenager when we first meet her. She catches the attention of the nobility for her sharp eye and her willingness to please, and the empress Elizabeth decides it might be in her favor to have someone so young and innocuous in her employ. Varvara's teacher is Count Bestuzhev, Chancellor and spymaster, who takes payment from her in the form of sexual favors.
Catherine does not actually appear in the novel for a while. When she does, it is as a foreign princess from Zerbst named Sophie. Her mother ends up leaving court in disgrace, but Sophie renounces the ways of her homeland--and her mother--in order to continue living in the powerful Russian empire. But the empress's favors are fickle, and she is quick to use both Varvara and Sophie Catherine as her pawns, marrying them off to whom she will, in order to better protect her own interests.
Stachniak does a good job showing the cutthroat ways of court life. Family is turned against family, lovers against lovers--the only loyalty that matters is to the crown. It's a very empty, unsatisfying sort of life, and apt to end quite prematurely, and this was portrayed quite beautifully.
At the same time, though, the characters seemed quite watered down. I didn't really care for Varvara at all, and I felt like the characters of Peter, Catherine, and Elizabeth weren't done justice. They all struck me as a bunch of petty, spoiled children. Catherine's transformation from ingenue to regina seemed very abrupt and sudden. I would have liked to see her fleshed out more.
Fans of Philippa Gregory will almost certainly like this book; their narrative styles are strikingly similar. I was hoping for something more polished and less plebeian.
2.5 to 3 stars.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. This in no way biased or shaped my reading or opinion of the book....more
Captive Queen takes place in the twelfth century and chronicles the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the middle of her life, when she first meets Hen
Captive Queen takes place in the twelfth century and chronicles the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the middle of her life, when she first meets Henry of Anjou. Thirty-year-old Eleanor is not happy with her ascetic husband, Louis, who is incapable of meeting her sexual demands and whose plain lifestyle bores her, and whose treatment of her native Aquitaine brings her pain. She falls in love with Henry immediately, who is eighteen, in the prime of his life, and more than happy to do what Louis cannot. Eleanor contrives to get an annulment of her marriage with Louis and the new couple are presently bedded and wedded (in that order, precisely).
So why didn't I love this book? I'm not entirely sure. I was certainly all set to. Pretty cover aside, Eleanor really is a fascinating historical figure. She was a woman years ahead of her times, who was not content to be ruled by a man. The sad thing is, because she was a woman, what she wanted really didn't matter - queen or no - and her headstrong nature only served to infuriate the men she was married to. Her convoluted story, beginning at fifteen with her marriage to Louis, her marriage to Henry at thirty, the birth of her many children, the rise and fall of Thomas Becket in her husband's good graces, and her ultimate imprisonment, are all absolutely fascinating, and on par with the insidious Borgias, the cold Medicis, and the crazy Tudors. By all rights, my reaction should have looked like this:
There were several things about Captive Queen that really put me off. They were apparent from the beginning but gradually worsened, to the point that the story I would have awarded a 3 or a 4 was quickly becoming at most a 2.
1. The writing is very chunky. There is almost no white space on the page. AND THERE IS SO MUCH OF IT. Eleanor's life is really too long and eventful to be chronicled in one mere volume, and the author's frequent skipping around through time was confusing. It would have been far better for her to make this a series. Or, failing that, simply the story to such an extent that it is a constant, but sparse, narrative, like E.L. Konigsberg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (one of my favorite stories about Eleanor of Aquitaine).
2. The constant, constant, constant sex. Quite honestly, this took up much of the narrative in the first fourth of the book, and the language was always the same. Henry is always mounting and thrusting and admiring Eleanor's (or whomever he happens to be doing's) bosoms, shapely figure, etc. I get the point of showing their passion, but was all this repetition reallllly necessary to the plot? Reallllly?
3. The portrayal of Eleanor as a victim bothered me. I mean, yeah, OK, her lot sucked. But she was powerful. Captive Queen made her seem like a slutty, whiny, greedy baby-machine, and she really wasn't like that at all.
4. Henry is domineering and often cruel. When a village, for example, fails to bring what he deems proper dinings for royalty, he orders them to tear down their prized defensive walls, one stone at a time. He cheats on Eleanor with countless women, sowing bastards left and right, even forcing Eleanor to bring up one of them in her own household as if it were her own. He takes a fourteen-year-old mistress, and when she dies shortly afterwards of untreated breast cancer, he begins sleeping with his middle son's thirteen-year-old betrothed.
Eon is proof that it is possible for a writer to fill their work with tropes and cliches and still be original. I seriously believed I wasn't going toEon is proof that it is possible for a writer to fill their work with tropes and cliches and still be original. I seriously believed I wasn't going to like this book. For starters, Eon/a is the 'chosen one.' For another, she is a girl crossdressing as a boy, and no one must know! She's also a cripple, a bitch and, at one point, even a hardcore drug-user. Interesting.
Despite the slow beginning, I was unable to bring myself to put the book down. Goodman did a really good job researching Asian culture. She managed to create a believable world that does not smack too heavily of any particular country, replete with a rather unique magic system that was very intricately thought-out. All the customs and etiquette were fascinating, and I was able to picture what was going on at almost any given moment.
And even though Eon/a is still a Mary Sue, she does have weaknesses and is not a perfect character. There was definitely emotional disconnect going on, and I found myself thinking, "She doesn't seem to be feeling the right emotions for this particular situation," but I'm guessing that might be chalked up to the fact that Eon/a was raised as a boy all her life and boys aren't supposed to show emotions.
Eon/a strove to be a Rat Dragoneye all her life. Even with her handicap, her master took a gamble on her because she could see all twelve of the dragons, and he took that as a sign of her worthiness. Eon/a is shocked when, during the ceremony, she is passed over by the Rat and chosen instead by the Mirror Dragon: a dragon that has not been seen for nearly five hundred years.
As Dragoneye Coascendant, she is taken to the emperor's court to train and assist the emperor. But there is a rift in the kingdom. A disenfranchised prince plans to take the lands by force with the assistance of the nefarious Rat Dragoneye, Lord Ido. There is a rebellion forming against him, but their efforts will be fruitless against such a powerful lord and his faithful magician . . . unless they have magic on their side, as well.
But Eon/a has a terrible secret. In addition to being a girl in a world where girls are supposed to be powerless and such betrayal would warrant immediate disemboweling, she is unable to harness the powers of her dragon. For reasons unknown she cannot call the Mirror Dragon to her. And if she can't arm herself properly in time, her powers might very well be sundered from her- in more ways than one.
Eon is a long mother of a book but it doesn't drag once you get past the rather tedious first fifty pages. I'm not sure if I'd read book two in a real hurry, but book one was very nicely done and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
4 to 4.5 stars!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Phedre is perfect and beautiful except for one fatal flaw: a crimson mote in one eye that marks her as one for whom pain and sexual pleasure are one.Phedre is perfect and beautiful except for one fatal flaw: a crimson mote in one eye that marks her as one for whom pain and sexual pleasure are one. Her...quirk...catches the eye of one of the lords who likes to keep a finger in each of the political pies. Since all the major politicos enjoy sadomasochism in one form or another, Phedre is an ideal candidate to probe them for information. But since this is an erotica novel, Carey does not shirk on the sex. The result is a non-stop BDSM party, which makes 50 Shades of Grey look more like Fifty Shades of Vanilla. However, even romance fans will find this novel somewhat difficult to swallow (heh), because the first 150 pages are as dense as Tolkien's Silmarillion, and just as dull.
The book takes place in an alternate version of Europe, with D'Angeline being a lot like France. They believe their land came from the seed of some really horny angels, and their deities all mostly have something to do with sex: Elua (god of being free to love whomever and however "as thou wilt"), Namaah (god of really, really, damn-I-can-barely-walk sex and prostitutes), and Kushiel (BDSM god). D'Angelines are considered the pinnacle of their civilization, and all the other "savage" societies (i.e. Italians, Spaniards, Germans, and Romanians - not called such in the novel, of course, but it's obvious what they are) are insanely jealous of this rocking (don't come a-knocking) society.
Kushiel's Dart is one of those over-hyped books, the reactions to which tend to be highly polarized. I found the (excessively graphic) descriptions of blood-play heinous and disturbing. For example, the villainness, Melisande, forces Phedre to say her safe word by threatening to insert a sharp blade into her vagina. Phedre is whipped, cut, paraded in public naked, beaten, slapped, threatened with death, and pricked, in addition to a wide variety of somewhat more "normal" sexual practices (done in crude and humiliating ways, of course), and, of course, she enjoys every moment of it. The fact that she receives her sexual training at ten, and deflowered at twelve does not make this any more palatable.
The violence and gratuitous sex is a *little* easier (read: not that much) to stomach once Phedre actually comes of age. My favorite portions of the book - and what kept me reading for the most part - were, ironically, what most people hated: the politics. I love court intrigue. That's why I have a shelf dedicated to it. I love seeing royals plot and scheme, playing games of thrones, and planning political coups. It's cool, it's interesting, and takes considerable intelligence to carry out well. Unfortunately, a lot of the intrigue was lost among the sex. Phedre literally sleeps with every character (man or woman) in this book at least once - or wants to. Or they want to.
Reader's rendition of Phedre's flee from the Skaldic warriors:
Er . . .
Worst of all, this book drags on forever (it's like 1,000 pages, so if you don't like it, it's not going to be over quickly at all), and I feel like Carey lingers on a lot of unimportant scenes. Even Phedre herself starts saying, "And there's no need to describe what other acts I did, you all know what a depraved bitch I am." I skimmed the last 150 pages because I've been reading this for several days now and I am just so tired of it, I can't even say.
I don't understand why Phedre is on the list of strong female protagonists in fantasy. She doesn't really have a choice. She's sold into sexual slavery over and over, she hates being a masochist and bemoans her curse and how it keeps her from being able to be with a man - or woman - who will treat her right. Her only value, really, is the services she provides to others. Is she strong because she can take a shit-ton of physical abuse and walk away? Is she strong because she doesn't kill herself, the way she contemplates earlier on in a fit of misery? I don't get it. I found her character repulsive, hypocritical, and a disgrace to women everywhere.
Who thinks the idea of Cinderella retold with an assassin is a good idea? Okay, now who thinks it would be interesting to read about this same character, except instead of killing people, this assassin spends all her time smirking, insulting people, and describing her ball gowns, her reflection, how much she loves candy (especially suspicious candy left in her chamber), and how hott the prince and his captain of the guard are?
Are you still interested in this concept?
Yeah, me neither.
This was the hyped-up book of 2012. All my friends were reading it and it was receiving five star reviews left and right. And then they started trying to get me to read it. You'll love this! They said. It's got a strong female protagonist! they said. The love interests are amazing! They said. READ THIS BOOK! They said.
Celeana is one of the worst, most cliche female characters I have come across in a work of fiction. I am honestly surprised that this book has the critical acclaim that it does, because save for some decent writing and a handful of good ideas, it is mostly terrible. In fact, this book could just as easily be titled HOW TO WRITE A MARY SUE.
Seriously, Celeana "Perfect McSpecialton Snowflake" Sordothien is the textbook example of Mary Sue. She has all these abilities and amazing talents that are mostly told to us, not shown. And as I read on, I began to suspect that all this telling was meant to overcompensate for the fact that these abilities were often undermined by the character's own actions. She was a dunce.
Celeana is the worst assassin in the world. People can sneak up on her easily, and they do. Despite setting booby traps, people continue to surprise her--usually while she's sleeping. Her idea of a deadly weapon is to stick some pins into a bar of soap. She eats strange candy she finds in her chamber (one and a half pounds of it in one sitting--Lord help her if it really is poisoned). Her assassin cred mostly comes in the form of telling people, "I could have killed you in X amount of ways, but I didn't want to!" Never mind that this string of logic wouldn't fool a five-year-old, people seem to buy it.
No, the only thing that matters about Celeana is that she's pretty. And being pretty is enough to make everyone do what she wants, even though she's supposed to be a slave fighting for her freedom in a series of vicious tests. Instead, we get numerous descriptions of Celana's appearance (blonde, blue eyes, very pretty), her elaborate gowns (with elaborate descriptions), how hott Chaol and Dorian are (SO HOT! BUT SHE'S ABOVE SUCH THINGS! OBVIOUSLY! HA HA! HAHAHA!!!! NOT!), and how awesome books are! Yes, this one interest is intended to flesh Celeana out, to give her some depth meant to set her apart from other women--women like Kaltain, who are just as inspid and pretty, but who love men more than they love books and therefore are sluts! Evil sluts! Boooo!!!
Despite having such a toxic personality, she instantly befriends one of the visiting princesses, Nehemia. And for reasons that are never explained to my satisfaction, she can speak Nehemia's language fluently! (Mary Sues have talents and abilities that are super special, often with little to no reason except to make them super special. Case in point: Celeana also plays piano. Expertly. And does she play the piano broodingly where a love interest can happen upon her and gaze moonily? But of course! OF FUCKING COURSE. BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT MARY SUES DO).
She also ends up winning the hearts of not one, but two men! (Mary Sues are the center of pretty much all romantic drama and sexual tension.) What makes it especially icky is that these are men who think pretty lowly of women ordinarily. Dorian goes through women like socks, sleeping with them and flirting with them but never dating them seriously because I can't stomach the idea of marrying a woman inferior to me in mind and spirit. It would mean the death of my soul (202). What a dramatic douchebag he is. I bet he jerks off to John Mayer songs.
Don't try to sell him to me. He's pretty much just Adrian from the Vampire Academy series, except without the vulnerability. Except Dorian comes off as a bro who might put rohypnol in your tea.
Chaol is actually a character I could like, but he's also a stereotype. Classic tsundere, he's cold and aloof to Celeana because he must fight his attraction to her! Even though he isn't the type to do so, he is constantly giving her leave when he would probably kill other people for the same slights and insults. He gives her presents. And every single one of his POVs usually involves him mooning over how she seems so deep and feminine and pretty for such an evil, vicious assassin. Oh, and naturally he speculates over whether or not she's a virgin and if this is why Dorian is interested....
I think what upsets me most about this book is that, despite allegedly having a "strong female protagonist" Celeana has very little agency. Most of the things that she accomplishes in this story are accomplished for her by men or with the help of men. Because she's pretty. There is actually a very strong anti-woman theme in this book because there are only three female characters who get any airtime (I guess you could say four, technically, but I'm sticking with three): Nehemia, Celeana, and Kaltain. Nehmeia is interesting: a rebel leader, a woman of color, and a rather pragmatic woman, I would much rather read about her. But no, she's nothing more than an accessory to Celeana, something to dangle off her arm and make her seem more amazing by comparison.
And then there's Kaltain. Another interesting (but very flawed) female character who I also would have preferred to read about. Celeana slut-shames her ruthlessly, and gets Nehemia to do the same. In fact, there's a very anti-woman vibe in this book that is all the more uncomfortably for how easily it slides beneath one's awareness. Just check out this line:
"I hate women like that. They're so desperate for the attention of men that they'd willingly betray and harm members of their own sex. And we claim men cannot think with their brains! At least men are direct about it" (71).
And yet, Celeana does this, over and over again, and you could argue that in her case it's worse, because she's actually successful and this is shown in the book to be a meritorious thing.
And then there's this uncomfortable line:
She never had many friends, and the ones she had often disappointed her....She'd sworn never to trust girls again, especially girls with agendas and power of their own. Girls who would do ANYTHING do get what they wanted (92).
So now it's not just women who abuse other women for men are bad. No, now it's WOMEN WHO HAVE AGENDAS AND POWER are bad. What the actual fuck? Again, Celeana is a huge hypocrite because, again, that is exactly what she's doing. It's classic Mary Sue to have double-standards for your beloved characters and to have everyone take this as the status quo, but I'm not buying it.
THIS IS A SERIOUSLY PROBLEMATIC STATEMENT, AND I HATE IT.
This book had so much potential. But the actual championships are pretty much glossed over in favor of more Chaol/Celeana/Dorian airtime. The foreshadowing was weak, because there was so little writing devoted to it. And even though the romance is very tame, there are random incidences of violence casually thrown in with little context (for example, at one point, Celeana casually says that one of her fellow mines was raped and then killed. Lovely). THRONE OF GLASS is a bad book that needed editing, cutting, and rewrites. Then maybe, maybe, it could have been a good book. But hey, if you don't mind the idea of seeing an incompetent character navigate a bloated labyrinth of smirks, tepid romance, no action, and lots and lots of descriptions of food and dresses, be my guest.
Female assassins are bad-ass, right? Well, imagine a school full of female assassins-slash-nuns. That's right. Ismae and her sistren are the handmaiFemale assassins are bad-ass, right? Well, imagine a school full of female assassins-slash-nuns. That's right. Ismae and her sistren are the handmaidens of St. Mortrain, the god of death. Ismae bears death's mark over her shoulders, from when her mother attempted to abort her while she was in the womb. She is immune to poisons, and can see Mortrain's marque - a discoloration on the skin that can tell when - and how - someone is supposed to die. She can also, briefly, communicate with the souls of the recently departed.
All I would have had to hear was assassin school, but His Fair Assassin also deals with herblore, court intrigue, and poison. Oh, and the love interest is super sexy. Gavriel Duval - I WANT YOU TO BEAR MY CHILDREN. Looking at the reviews, I can see why people thought Ismae might have fallen into lust with him too quickly, but she retained admirable control over her impulses while she figured things out. I loved how she did not let love come before duty, and her desire to do the "right" thing.
This is pretty long for a young adult book, but the pages just fly by. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, and the setting is in an alternate magic-laden medieval Brittany. Ismae is trying to protect the duchess from nefarious suitors who plan to take her kingdom by force if they have to, and France seems to be the grand poohbah of nations behaving badly. There are plots and counterplots, fights and secrets, and, of course, unresolved sexual tension. Teeheehee. This is definitely a book for older young adults, as it does deal with some issues that younger readers might not understand fully, though it isn't explicit at all.
Once I got through the emotional rollercoaster, I wanted to hop on for another ride. But the next book isn't out until 2013. OH MY GOD HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME? Now I remember why I don't like reading the first book in a brand new series. I have to freaking wait.
No, it's okay. Take all the time you want, Ms. LaFevers. I'll wait, and die a little inside each day in the process. MOAR FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MOAR.
I hate to sound like a rabid fan girl but -- THIS BOOK WAS AMAZIIIIIIING. VALEK I LOVE YOU PLZ HAVE MY BABIES KTHX!!!!!!1! And now that I have that ouI hate to sound like a rabid fan girl but -- THIS BOOK WAS AMAZIIIIIIING. VALEK I LOVE YOU PLZ HAVE MY BABIES KTHX!!!!!!1! And now that I have that out of my system . . . I have been wanting to read Poison Study for a looooong time. Everyone had good things to say about it, and the blasted thing was popping up left and right on those "people who liked this book also read . . ." lists. And this book lived up to ALL the hype.
Yelena is about to be executed for the murder of her caretaker's son when she is offered an alternative: she can be the Commander's taste-tester. The book takes place in a fantasy world ruled by martial law after the old king was killed, with the lands divided up into districts governed by Commanders or Generals (if you've ever read Hunger Games, the layout is quite similar). She quickly finds that poison testing is no picnic. Her boss, Valek, puts her up to numerous tests involving smelling, searching, and tasting poisons -- which sometimes results in bouts of horrible illnesses. As there is such a strong incentive for escape, Valek also feeds Yelena a poison called Butterfly Dust, which will kill her slowly and terribly should she try to run away.
I liked Yelena's character. She's very strong but vulnerable at the same time -- as the plot progresses, she starts to heal from her weaknesses and learn from mistakes and grow stronger in a different, more healthy way. I liked how self-sufficient she was, and how rarely she had to rely on rescue from another man. Valek was hot with a capital H, but there weren't passages devoted to his gorgeous good looks until the very end, when Yelena actually started considering him as a love interest. Mostly, I think, she was attracted to his personality and his confidence. All of the characters in this book had fantastic personalities -- they were complex, with conflicting motives, and often acted in unpredictable ways. It's been a while since I've read a book with such sparkling characterization -- especially in the third person! Like there's this one memorable scene where Margg, the housekeeper who has it in for Yelena, insults her and then storms out -- but she trips over the fold of her dress, ruining her exit. There are lots of instances like that, where the characters' human tendency to err shows through and I liked that.
Maria Snyder also doesn't hold back on the unpleasantness. Being sick makes you coated in vomit. Being in prison means no baths, which means bodily odors. Characters are not spared the unpleasant consequences of bodily secretions and poor living conditions. This lends a concrete sense of reality to the plot, which makes the scarier moments much more terrifying. Especially when Yelena finds that her new post at her Commander's castle is a veritable wasp's nest of intrigues. Spies are everywhere, and some of them work for the father of the man she killed, who desperately wants revenge. Her Commander seems to be in the center of it all, which leads her to make some pretty serious choices regarding which side she'll take and how she's going to find out what's going on without getting herself killed. I read the entire book in under 24 hours and picked up the sequel, MAGIC STUDY, from the library today. Katniss Everdeen, eat your heart out....more
the main problem is that none of his characters are likable. it's like titus andronicus, where EVERYONE in the play is either an instigator or a victithe main problem is that none of his characters are likable. it's like titus andronicus, where EVERYONE in the play is either an instigator or a victim. you feel sorry for the victim but their personality is generally downplayed a lot, especially by the people around them. that's kind of like what game of thrones is like. there's a ton of gratuitous violent sex; gore for the sake of gore; numerous foreshadowings that don't actually foreshadow anything for hundreds of pages (if at all); and wooden characters that aren't fully fleshed out to their potential.
i was really interested in the idea of a kingdom where summers and winters last for decades but he didn't really go into that much. nor did he go in much depth about the others, who were terrifying, or what few good characters he had (i.e. jon, who kind of reminds me of ender, from ender's game). i got so tired of hearing eddard stark bitch, and sansa go all moony, and arya acting like a reject from a tamora pierce novel. it was just so... stock. it makes me said because martin had some good ideas--even a couple great ones--but they just weren't done well.
i'm not sure if i'll read any other books in the series......more
After Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves has always been my favorite of King Henry's wives. I was excited to finally get to read a book that tells thAfter Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves has always been my favorite of King Henry's wives. I was excited to finally get to read a book that tells the story from her point of view. She is probably the most endearing character in the book: a young woman, taken from her country and brought to a horribly grotesque husband in a strange land where she can't speak the language. However, she braves it the best she can and is never petty or conniving.
Personally, I found Catherine Howard and Lady Rothford (Jane Boleyn) deplorable characters. Jane was annoying because she was just so selfish and bitchy (Gregory really seems to hate the Boleyns and the Howards for some reason; they're always portrayed as really horrible people). Catherine was annoying because her POV always consists of long descriptions of her jewels, clothes, and admirers.
Definitely not my favorite of her books, but Phillipa Gregory is like crack for the historical fiction aficionado. Even though they're not necessarily historically accurate (Anne of Cleves was NO Joss Stone. She was supposedly rather unattractive and had a bad case of pockmarks and spat a lot when she talked--her voice, as Gregory likes to think--was not melodic. Her accent was quite bad), they're full of romance and intrigue and OMG!drama.
The life of King Henry VII is far better than any soap opera....more
It's like a soap opera. In fact, it IS a soap opera.
King Henry VIII wants a male heir, but his Queen is old and on the verge of hitting mIt's like a soap opera. In fact, it IS a soap opera.
King Henry VIII wants a male heir, but his Queen is old and on the verge of hitting menopause and therefore incapable of providing heirs. Enter Anne Boyeln. She seduces him, doing everything BUT consummating their relationship in an attempt to trap King Henry into marriage. I happen to be a sucker for historical fiction based in the Tudor period, so I was curious how it would play out. At first, I was definitely getting into the book. It had sex, intrigue, and fast-paced action. Plus, British history is fascinating.
Oh, Henry, you bad boy.
The Boleyn family are cutthroats, determined to succeed at any cost. The Seymour girls are also rallying for the king's attention, which doesn't make momma and daddy Boleyn happy at all. So they decide that Mary should be the one to seduce the king, since she appears to have the king's favor. For a while, everything is hunky-dory. She gets all sorts of pretty dresses and diamond-studded gewgaws, which she rubs in Anne's face, and even provides the king with two children.
Anne doesn't like this. She's used to being the center of attention. And when Mary is pregnant, and starts getting fat and unattractive, Henry VII switches his attention to Anne. She plays him like a fiddle, with a whole battalion of flirtation techniques at her disposal. For a while, Henry VIII switches his attention between the two women, unable to decide, and their greedy family watches the situation carefully, trying to decide how to use the situation for their own gain.
I felt like Philippa Gregory was getting a bit preachy, as if saying, See? Look at those money-grubbing Boleyns. Serves them right for not caring about their wonderful daughter Mary's happiness! What a martyr! And that Anne Boleyn sure got her comeuppance, didn't she? I hated that Mary was made out to be some kind of martyr when she was just as calculating and cruel and greedy as her sister. Both of them took delight in each other's misery, and when Mary's luck finally runs out, we're just expected to feel SORRY for her?
Philippa Gregory likes Mary. A lot. The book plays favorites, and doesn't even bother to do it subtly. And it's hard to get into a book where all the characters are just so utterly unlikable. It was a fun, light read, but I kind of wish there was a tl;dr edition....more