Welcome to "Howl's Moving Castle" (view spoiler)[why limit yourself to four doors when your mansion could also have, let's say, 16? (hide spoiler)] meWelcome to "Howl's Moving Castle" (view spoiler)[why limit yourself to four doors when your mansion could also have, let's say, 16? (hide spoiler)] meets "Nevermore" and "The Girl in the Steel Corset". The mixture features a refreshingly independent, smart heroine (it isn't just the narrator's stange judgement) and unforseen twists, but includes also some unnecessary lengths, the death of a favorite side-character and a fluffy sugar-coating that tasted a little too sweet for me at times. ...more
He faced her then, arms folded across his chest. 'I have no time for games.' The tips of his fingers had black rings of charcoal dust buried under thHe faced her then, arms folded across his chest. 'I have no time for games.' The tips of his fingers had black rings of charcoal dust buried under the nail and into the cuticle. 'I have work to do.' 'Not if I say you don't.' He turned away. 'I like to finish what I start.' He gave her the look she recognised well, the one of measured disdain. [...] 'Where do you propose we play?' He swept a hand around the forge. 'Here?' 'My rooms.' [...] He leaned against the anvil considering. 'Your sitting room will do. I'll come when I've finished this sword. After all I have house privileges now. Might as well use them.'
*** This review contains spoilers for the first third. *** I am so angry - mostly at myself - and as deflated as a balloon after a kiddie party in summer. Because I blatantly ignored all the lovely, thoroughly reviewed and dissected titles waiting to be purchased on my wish list since forever, quite spontaneously preordered a novel I practically knew nothing about in hardcover, and did not cancel that mistake after reading the chapters that are cockily offered as a sneak preview for Kindle - even though those left me pretty unimpressed. Sometimes all the rational things that lead to choosing a book matching my taste fly out of a hidden window in my brain.
The preorder 'happened' after an early review by a friend, who compared the book to 'Darkness Shows the Stars', which I adored. She also mentioned another title, which I did not enjoy. But I stupidly chose to be deaf on that ear. After ordering I read the sample chapters with my book-taste buds screaming 'ordinary' and 'jerk-alert-level-3' at me. Unfortunately to no avail, because by then Kristin Cashore, whose Seven-Kingdoms-books I really love, had posted a glowing blog entry in a foreboding defense of her blurb. Yes, Rutkoski was her friend, but 'The Winner's Curse' was “wonderfully excellently super-good“ etcetera, etcetera. Obviously it was me, I guessed. I failed to see the sparkle that would ignite the book after chapter 5. The preorder remained in my account, rubbing its greedy hands. And I have to say that I really believe Cashore - and Aguirre - think their colleague's story to be “masterfully plotted“ and “beautifully written“. But if I admit what good marketing triggers in me in spite of my carefully honed purchasing rules stacked around me, maybe they should admit, that friendship probably made them unable to judge impartially. It usually does.
So, I fetched the eagerly awaited book out of my postbox, dug in and ... made it until page 104 - with difficulty.
Heavens, I was bored, so very bored and indignant, too. Why? Let's see:
- There has been gushing going on concerning the world-building. What world-building? It's a standard fantasy world with neighboring countries divided by a body at water at war. Like, i.e., when the Spaniards made a grab for Granada/the Alhambra, the nation with the upper hand, the Valorians, is the one with the inferior culture. They have no music, they have almost no literature and their army's victory depended on a premature surrender of the enemy, who is now enslaved, bound to serve the victors in their former homes, and certainly waiting for a chance to turn the tables. There is some talk about dresses, pianos, sitting rooms, chaperones, horses, lawn parties and - certainly human breeding rules (those make this almost 'dystopian', he?), which state that some girls/all girls/whoever has to do her part for her country's survival either by marrying and popping out puppies at a fixed point in their lives or join the army (Isn't that combination of choices superduperoriginal? Going all house-wifey or going all Amazone? Sprinkle it a bit with grand ideas like music-is-for-the-lower-classes and you've got yourself an “exquisite worldbuilding“ ( Kirkus Review).
- At least during the first third not much is happening. Although I enjoy thrilling books there are several examples among my favorites, which are slow or whimsical and concentrating mainly on a character or even on words or ideas. I didn't notice much extraordinarity about the writing. And as the characters are concerned ...
-- Kestrel displays right in the beginning chapter that she can distinguish between fake jewelry and real gems. But it is also made known to the reader that she is aware of market place politics, empty social standards like the necessity to go out chaperoned and probably her nation's much more complex prerequisites to keep on going in prosperity, too. She later successfully makes a deal with her father, because she offers to contribute her talent to strategize to the military (“Her father gave her a level look. 'Your military strength has never been in combat. […] You’re a strategist.'“). Apparently she is sharp-minded enough to be the designated winner in the board game favored in High Society (“Kestrel especially liked it when they cheated. It made beating them not quite so easy.”) and to keep the greedy bride-seekers at bay. But all these fine examples crumble like theatre props when we get to observe the girl in action: She is suddenly too dense to notice how letting her young, spontaneously acquired and physically attractive slave rudely walk all over her in public might be interpreted by her gossip- and power-hungry peers. (Btw, I remember reading reviews that proudly pointed out the book's lack of insta-love. Hmm. It's not mutual, no. But at the very least there is an insanely amount of insta-curiosity and - rather unforgivable for someone supposedly cunning - insta-trust.)
-- Arin is that sort of undercover spy/rebel, who cannot see that blending in and going with the flow would keep him off the radar and therefore in business. Luckily his condescending display of superiority inexplicably strikes a chord in his new mistress, who does not punish him for speaking up against her friend at a social call, but books his services until further notice, allows him to roam the city ('I want the priviledges of a house slave.' 'They are yours.' 'And the right to visit the city on my own. Just once in a while.' ) and is interested in hearing his opinion while losing at board games against him. Wow, Arin-My-Name-Is-Not-Smith would do well as the upper jerk in a High School romance. All the other slave girls have the hots for him and he just has to smirk and be haughty to get lonely and misunderstood Kestrel blabbing about her war-lord-dad's weaknesses and her own shortcomings. My guess is that in spite of the implausibility of his actions the jerk-affine crowd cannot help but swoon at his feet in a puddle of happy goo. The stellar average ratings will easily be maintained on a permanent basis.
-- Forget about the rest of the cast: There is an autocratic, cold-hearted father, an opportunistic steward, a fluffy-brained best friend, whose simplicity enhances Kestrel's intelligence, a harmlessly cute admirer, a still-attached nurse and mother-replacement, an evil, influencial upper-class prick, market people, slaves, rebels and a whole gaggle of unimportant folks in fashionable attire (see cover), but - at least during the first 100 pages - they merely provide the fairy lights for Kestrel's and Arin's drama about smitten ladies led on a tight leash by brooding wannabe-slaves.
Enough. In my book boring means bad. I don't want to bore you more than necessary to illustrate my stance. And, as you surely know, being bored by what and being bored easily or not are individual reactions and traits. Should the quote on top have activated your inner swoon mode, please go ahead, gorge yourself with sexy haughtiness and do not mind my peculiar opinion.
I received an electronic review copy of B. Kristin McMichael’s fantasy romance To Stand Beside Her in exchange for an honest review from her husband.I received an electronic review copy of B. Kristin McMichael’s fantasy romance To Stand Beside Her in exchange for an honest review from her husband. To be entirely fair I have to add that he did not force it on me. I had put the debut on my wishlist first and thus expressed my unmistakable interest. That means the blame for misspending 30 minutes by struggling twice through the first 10% should be entirely mine.
Before someone else repeats my mistake and maybe doesn’t even dare to throw the towel as early as I did, I offer my review both as a payment and as means to help like-minded readers to pass go without accepting or purchasing a copy.
Believe it or not, I even plan to entice some readers into pressing the to-read-button after browsing through my ramblings, for what is appalling to me might be appealing to others. And those others stand clear in front of my mind: The unabashed admirers of strong, beautiful, physically fit, unbeatably witty, unbearably female, lime-light addicted and uncompromisingly self-promoting heroines like assassin Celaena Sardothien.
The now wildly popular Throne of Glass, too, started out as a self-published novel, but having read more than half of the story my guess is that a lot of work went into re-structuring and basic editing afterwards. All in all it turned out to be quite readable in spite of not meeting my personal taste in character design and dynamics. To Stand Beside Her did not benefit of the services big publishing houses have to offer, but if you can generously overlook that the text does not tell you what a courier/ghost courier is - except that her job is split into six skill levels, extremely legendary, kind of hush-hush and certainly mind-blowingly dangerous - , that you will long await the moment when it will revealed to you were the story takes place – apart from that it is a world with at least eight kingdoms of which five kings are wifeless and keen on getting a feisty spouse that verbally abuses them on a day-to-day basis with her special brand of smirky wit -, and that other details keep leaping spontaneously at you – like that this fantasy world has running hot water even in windowless special-prisoner castle suites, then you may blissfully dive into a novel featuring Celaena reincarnated into a parallel universe:
"Leila was the best. [...] Leila could easily enter any heavily guarded place and leave unnoticed with her assignment." "No one, no man, or woman, could keep up with her. Leila was a ghost to many and a legend to everyone else. Through her training, she had perfected the use of multiple identities so she could travel from city to city, fulfilling even the the most demanding assignments." "She had yet to find a man who could beat her in both weapons and hand-to-hand combat." "All told of encountering a lady so beautiful she would take your breath away and yet was so cunning none could cage her long enough to make her into a wife."
But, alas, almost right at the beginning Leila lets her guard slip in front of the guard after being really smug about losing a pair of newbie trackers. And, oops, the uncatchable maiden is caught. Surprisingly not for the first time. Leila proudly mentions she has already first-hand knowledge of both the men’s and the women’s section of the prison – and of five other kingdoms’, too, but she never intends to stay. She simply scales the prison’s inner and outer walls with her dainty, little feet (view spoiler)[they must really look unproportional on her, since we learn later, that she is taller than all the palace guards (hide spoiler)] and leaves before supper. Sadly her dumb Level-2-associate Kay is still inside the castle, which means she goes straight back in to fetch her out – and does not miss the chance to wiggle her tongue at the flabbergasted guards at the main gate.
Because she does not make her skills a secret and offers her new fans some in-detail glimpses into the tricks of her trade, cruel King Nalick – bless him, the first of acceptable height and muscle mass – is curious, sends for her, showers in a select mix of rude comebacks, seductive disregard and violent eye-lash-batting, and is instantly smitten. Leila languidly anticipates his proposal, because she had received five similar ones from his colleagues before. The offer of Nalick’s farther’s hand even resulted in the forced demise of her beloved fiancé. So keeping alive Level-2-Kay dictates taking different measures than that unrelenting "no" four years earlier (view spoiler)[when the heroine had been 14, should I have counted correctly (hide spoiler)]. Right? It does not hurt, though, to ask the next best priest standing in the way to help her flee as if he regularly dismisses his ruler's instructions for fun. Strangly, he does not comply.
Well. If your Celaena-addicted mind is not yet salviating yet, I give you the following last bits on top: "Leila did not approve of hurting innocent people. [...] Never once had she killed anyone who attacked her. Even those who would try to kill her did not deserve to die in her opinion." This shocking revelation of Leila’s purity of heart is apparently necessary for the story to come, for according to the palace seer Miss Smarty-Parts-Dirty-Mouth has "the power to change the world". Naturally. He elaborates "When people come in contact with you, their aura becomes whiter in color to match yours."
Should you think this is sweet, but not stickily so, go ahead and indulge. The e-book is very affordable, but it seems to lack a love-triangle.
If you feel like wiping off your fingers, just stay well behind the yellow tape. I do no know for sure, but I cannot imagine that the story improves enough to brighten your day. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more