Trigger Warning:Mentions of molestation/rape in the review below.
Tell Me More:A common plot device among historicalnovels is the lack of female agency...moreTrigger Warning: Mentions of molestation/rape in the review below.
Tell Me More: A common plot device among historical novels is the lack of female agency, and in the stories I've enjoyed most, the female characters are able to either shake that off or use it to their advantage. Their ability to recognize that they are capable and smart and powerful gives those stories depth where you could otherwise have cardboard cutouts. Sadly, this is not the case in The Ring and the Crown.
Melissa de la Cruz's newest novel begins with two young women who are purported to hold power, and to an extent, they exercise some of that power. The mystery of how they would grow into their titles and magic drew me in, but the bulk of the story focused on romance and gossip. That won't necessarily be a bad thing for all readers, but I had expected a story about two girls on the threshold of their adult lives and the external conflict (read: war) that threatens them, not a historical version of Gossip Girl. Marie and Aelwyn make efforts to change things, but flip-flop so often between their choices that it could give one whiplash. Sexual acts are mentioned quite a bit, and molestation (of a character by her uncle) and rape occur in scenes, enough to make me wonder why there are no trigger warnings in place.
At the end of it all, my question remains: What was the point of all the struggle? If the choices that Marie and Aelwyn made would be negated and dismissed, then why would we continue to cheer for them? Obviously, because they want a different life than the one dictated for both of them, but I closed the book without feeling like their hearts wanted that. They settled, and I never got the sense they would fight beyond that. Perhaps that was the agency readers were supposed to see, the "serenity to accept the things they cannot change," but I find that hard to believe when the book opens with two epigraphs, one of them a call to action from Beyoncé. Aelwyn comes the closest to taking that action, but it doesn't feel satisfactory.
As a reader, the book asks me to at least be emotionally invested enough to want to know what happens to these characters and why. I did not find them unlikeable, but neither did I find them characters to cheer for and support. They simply exist, paper dolls swaying in the wind, their actions still dictated by the machinations of the court.
The Final Say: The Ring and the Crown will please readers looking for Tudor-lite fare, complete with intrigue and drama.
If I had three wishes from a genie, I still don't think I'd be able to wish for Laini Taylor's writing ability. This is now my favourite series of all...moreIf I had three wishes from a genie, I still don't think I'd be able to wish for Laini Taylor's writing ability. This is now my favourite series of all time. I need to reread it immediately. I probably won't have time. BUT I WILL MAKE TIME.
Tell Me More: If I had three wishes from a genie, I still don't think I'd be able to wish for Laini Taylor's writing ability. When I first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone three years ago, I was prepared to be disappointed. The sheer scale of this story was overwhelming to realize, and nothing was predictable. Fast-forward to Days of Blood and Starlight a year later, and not only had Taylor expanded Karou's worlds, but she had also laid out some truly excruciating choices for her characters. Dreams of Gods and Monsters brings it all to a close, and that close is as horrifying as it is exquisite, as painful as it is filled with hope.
As things stand at the end of Blood and Starlight, Karou and Akiva both make the same choice, just articulated and executed differently. Karou chooses to hold onto a hope for her people, helping them in the only way she knows. Akiva chooses hope in the form of quiet revolution. Taylor doesn't pit them against each other for the reader to choose the better character, but she does let their actions speak for themselves, because neither are perfect choices. The fire that drove Madrigal and Akiva all those years ago is still there, and it continues to drive the story forward, even when the characters don't realize it. Their love isn't perfect, and it takes so much of who they are, but they are and have always been stronger together.
Like most final books in a trilogy, Gods and Monsters contains the most expansive world yet, and the story is spread throughout several settings and points-of-view. While most of the book is still told through Karou and Akiva's eyes, Taylor also introduces several new characters. Eliza is my favourite among them, her backstory intriguing and unique enough to rival the seraphim for my interest. Through her, the reader sees the chimaera-seraphim struggle the way humans would, with the added dimension of religion versus science. It all boils down to belief and the awe-inspiring, terrible things done in the name of belief, whether that belief is in power or religion or hope.
In this series, Taylor gives readers characters to believe in. They might be in shapes not easily imagined or seen, but they represent the potential for their respective worlds. Karou follows her heart, even in the face of terror, even when her life is threatened. Akiva doesn't accept defeat, but charges forward to take action, even when it seems hopeless. They're inspiring not because they are powerful, but because they recognize their limitations and press forward anyway. Parallels could be drawn between them and the Faerers, who did not recognize limitations and things better left unseen. Zuzana and Mik may not be fearsome creatures like the chimaera or seraphim, but they are resourceful and clever and honourable. Hazael and Liraz make some truly difficult choices, but their belief in each other and Akiva empowers them through those choices.
The Final Say: Dreams of Gods and Monsters is the kind of story readers dream about, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of tale. The emotion and wonder of Karou and Akiva's worlds are laid out in gorgeously rendered prose that will live in your dreams long after you close the covers. Laini Taylor has made me an admirer for life.
Tell Me More:Satisfying conclusions to a series seem to comefew and far between, and as a story's world expands, the more there is to wrap up. Happily...moreTell Me More: Satisfying conclusions to a series seem to come few and far between, and as a story's world expands, the more there is to wrap up. Happily, Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy sails past satisfying right into amazing, with Ruin and Rising answering to the stakes that Shadow and Boneand Siege and Storm have created.
The astonishing terror of Ravka has not been diminished in this novel, despite the weakness that plagues Alina Starkov. While she is physically incapable of fighting back against the Apparat, it hasn't stopped her from speaking her mind and trying to find ways to escape. And that's the sum of Alina: she is strong not just as a Sun Summoner, but as Alina too. She might hate being called a saint by the people who worship her, but she also doesn't see the powerful sense of self that she carries. Whether or not she deserves the title doesn't matter so much as the fact that her desire to do good and save the people she loves is obvious to the people around her. Each book has found her questioning her abilities, but never that drive to protect, and Ruin and Rising affords her the chance to do that, but possibly at a very steep price.
Sacrifice is not a new theme to the series, and almost every character is faced with harsh choices that take a piece of their souls. (view spoiler)[Nikolai sacrifices the presence of his parents to provide Ravka with a fair and just king, and that choice only proves to be the beginning of his pain. The Darkling sacrifices every other possibility of a fulfilling life in his pursuit of power, and while many readers (including myself for a good long while) may still want him to be with Alina, this book proved that their paths still lead in opposite directions, as similar as they might have been. Mal sacrifices any other possibility of a purpose to fight--"I am become a blade," his back declares unswervingly, and as I read it, I couldn't help but mourn him. (hide spoiler)]More than ever, the reality of war and destruction and loss of self is present in this novel.
Does Bardugo succeed in translating that reality into a story that completes this trilogy well? Some readers may feel a twinge of deja vu for Mockingjay, as both stories end with similar choices from their protagonists. My review of Shadow and Bone brought up the way both Katniss and Alina are capable of carrying their stories from start to finish without a love interest, and that holds true for Ruin and Rising. (view spoiler)[I don't know that I wanted her with Mal or the Darkling at the end of it all, I don't know that that aspect of it was earned. I was more satisfied by Alina's choice to disappear into normalcy than the knowledge of who she ends up with, and I felt that if nothing else, Alina had earned a life that would never ask more of her than what she could give. Whether or not she choose to give more anyway is up to her, and if that translates to a great love and marriage, then more power to her. (hide spoiler)]
The Final Say: Ruin and Rising is the perfect title for this phoenix of a novel, a true expression of the chaos and strength that lives in each of its characters.