I felt like a little too much focus was on the love triangle. Maybe it was because I didn't expect it going in, but one would think that a girl disguiI felt like a little too much focus was on the love triangle. Maybe it was because I didn't expect it going in, but one would think that a girl disguised as a boy in a medieval-ish army would have more worries than which boy she liked more. Sigh. The badass fighting eventually got going, but the triangle and romance in general was the main focus a bit more than I would have liked....more
After that non-ending from the last book, I was excited to dive into this one. After all, we had a new genie on thAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
After that non-ending from the last book, I was excited to dive into this one. After all, we had a new genie on the loose and I had no clue where this book was going to take her, even after watching a slightly spoilery interview with the author. So, I guess if you're looking for a new big bad to show up and the genies having to work their magic to save the world, you're going to be kinda disappointed. But if you're interested in seeing how a teen deals with a life-changing, magical decision, then you'll probably want to continue reading. I mentioned the last book had no dénouement*. Well, get ready for 350 pages of dénouement, because it's time to deal with the consequences!
Margo is a control freak with an alpha-type personality. She's never been one to care about social circles or popularity, since those are often well out of anyone's control, but when it comes to her life and how she lives it, she has a plan for just about everything. Even when it came to her wishes, she had to think for days, even weeks before she could settle on what the best three wishes could be. But then Xavier happened, forcing her to make a choice that threw all her plans out the window.
Now Margo's a genie, which means granting other people's wishes, whether she wants to or not. Not only that, but she's also forced into bodies that are pleasing to her masters. What happens when you throw a teenager, and one who craves control at that, into a completely alien and subservient situation? Needless to say, fireworks are gonna fly. I enjoyed following Margo's struggle through her normal and paranormal coming-of-age struggles, and I liked where Margo's priorities led her for the most part, especially when it came to one particular attack. She can read a bit self-centered at times, but I chalked it up to believable teenager-ness, and I'm happy to say even that was addressed/dealt with eventually. So, yes, I enjoyed living in Margo's head for a second book.
Oliver was my big unknown coming out of the last book. Would his personality change now that he couldn't read Margo's mind? How much would he—could he change for her once his vessel changed hands? Well, I'm happy to say I really liked where his character went in this book. He's still super supportive of Margo, even more so in some aspects, and most of his personality remains consistent from where we last left off. But what I liked most about him was even though he was presented as an experienced genie and Margo's only available guide to genie-dom, he didn't automatically have all the answers. He wasn't infallible, and his word wasn't law. In other words, Oliver has quickly moved up the ranks as one of my top YA boyfriends of all time.
I was definitely grateful for the increased participation of the secondary characters in this book. Yes, each of them did end up serving a specific purpose, but at the same time I still appreciated their prominence, especially in the paranormal romance (PR) genre. (What, you mean the couple isn't the only thing that matters?) From Naomi's concern over her best friend's uncharacteristic behavior, Vicky and Simon's support toward (and somewhat fangirling over) the whole genie thing, and even Margo's mom showing a few fleeting moments of motherly support and life-learned wisdom, they all added depth to Margo's world, making her non-romantic conflicts all that much more substantial.
Speaking of love, there is a very good reason love-related wishes aren't allowed in G- or PG-rated content: forcing someone to love you against their will is a magical form of rape. Suffice it to say, a couple love wishes happen in this book, and the word rape is correctly used to describe the situation. I will go ahead and say/spoil no physical sexual rape occurs in the book (it is still YA after all), but I do want to mention it as a trigger warning.
This book is not afraid to tackle some huge issues, rape being one, but gender identity being another. It's mentioned in the book blurb that Margo's "being a girl is called into question". Genies are forced to take a form pleasing to each master they have, and this body becomes their new "base" as long as that master holds their vessel, though practiced genies can change to any form at will. Needless to say, at one point Margo finds herself in a male body and has to deal with the mindset of being male yet still identifying as a female. Also dealing with a female Oliver at times was interesting. Add in a few other PR tropes getting dealt with and I, for one, enjoyed most of what this story had to offer.
However, the most frustrating thing for me was the fact that I figured out the big solution to Margo's problem before I even picked up the book. No, seriously, I knew exactly how to give Margo what she wanted as soon as I finished the last book. Unfortunately that made most of the drama and indecision in this book annoying to trudge through. I already had the solution, why did it take weeks and 300+ pages for the characters to figure it out?
Because this is a story about coming of age and finding one's own path in life. Where the last book had a big bad villain, this story's main conflict is Margo dealing with the consequences of her own choices. Yes, she does have to deal with some very douchey people, friendship misunderstandings, college acceptance letters, and musical rehearsals, but in the end she's mostly dealing with the responsibility of the choice she made. And it's pointed out multiple times that she didn't have to do it, but she chose to do it, and now she has to decide what that choice means for her future. Excuse me a second while I give another energetic fist pump.
One last thing I think it's important to know before heading into this book: The Fourth Wish is the conclusion of Margo's story. The Art of Wishing is a duet/duology/two-book-series. This is the end. And I'll admit, part of me was kind of disappointed. I mean, I went into this story expecting some new big bad to show up, cause conflict, and finish with some cliffhanger a la The Empire Strikes Back to lead us into Book 3. But that isn't the story, and the rest of me (that isn't hung up on YA PR tropes) is very glad of that. It isn't padded or stretched out with extra conflict just to fill the trilogy trend, instead it knows just where to end. Granted, the ending felt a bit fast (as was the first book's, since I forgot to mention that), and I would have loved for the last scene to have lasted a tad longer with more character interactions, and of course I wouldn't say No to a continuation, but ultimately the ending felt complete I appreciated where this story ended.
Overall, The Fourth Wish was a thoughtful and satisfying conclusion to an innovative and fun series. I'd highly recommend it and its prequel to anyone eager for a little common sense with their YA paranormal romance or those that want a fresh look at genies. There are mentions of rape, an off-screen sex scene preceded by some on-screen making out, and some physical violence which I believe keeps this in high school range. So if you're tired of the same old tropes and are looking for something different, something daring, something magical, then I would definitely recommend you check out The Art of Wishing and The Fourth Wish.
Confession time. The sole reason I picked up this book was to read it for/with Booze Your Own Adventure's book club. A few weeks ago they mentioned that they were going to talk with author Lindsay Ribar (SPOILERS INCLUDED) about her debut, The Art of Wishing, and recently released sequel, The Fourth Wish. And, while I'm a bit late to the party, I figured I might as well dig in and see what this YA paranormal romance genie series had.
I kinda wish I had read this before Robin Williams' passing.
Margo was fun to read. She could easily read like the typical snarky modern heroine but there was enough other to her that she was still interesting to read. Despite being a stellar musical (think Into the Woods or Sweeney Todd) performer and singer/songwriter, she's still mostly introverted, which I hear is actually more typical of great musicians than you might think. She's also got parents who constantly come and go on honeymoon after honeymoon.
Actually, Margo's issues with and dealings with her parents was one of the best parts of the book for me. Not only are there reasons for the parents' limited involvement with Margo, but she actually addresses the problems she has with those reasons. She reacts to her parents' behavior and her imperfect relationship with them. They're not just some prop that says, "Listen here, you can't go to the ball because we must provide conflict," but they're people Margo has to live with, flaws and baggage included. There's actually one line I love in reference to them; Margo's just come home from rehearsal and her first kiss with her new bf and sees lights on in the kitchen:
Earth to Margo[...]. You do actually have a life beyond rehearsals and music and boys. [pg 111]
Yeah, yeah she does. And that's what made reading her such a nice change from some of the paranormal romance lately. With Margo I felt like I was reading about a person who discovers magic exists in her reality, not someone thrown into a new reality. The paranormal elements don't rewrite normalcy, like suddenly people accept the main character's complete change of routine/personality/social interaction as nothing new, but rather the paranormal elements' clash with normalcy is what adds conflict to her story.
And one last quick aside about Margo. I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of "Margo" as a name. But with the story told in first person from her point of view, the name is not actually written all that much. So if you find the name as unbelievable as I do for modern high school circles, then at least it's not shoved in our face over and over.
Now on to that paranormal element I was talking about. Oliver is a little hard to get a handle on. He's witty, kinda charming, mostly sweet and soft-spoken. He had a couple of nice quirks to him, like being a photography buff, that fleshed him out a little, and I liked that he had Margo's best wishes in mind. Here's the thing though: he's a genie. Which means his goal is to grant his master's every wish. Being a genie also allows him a form of mind-reading so that he can better grant his master's wishes. So you've got a guy whose sole purpose is granting our heroine's every desire as the romantic interest. Am I the only one who sees an issue here?
Guess what, I'm not. THE STORY ACTUALLY ADDRESSES THIS!!!
I won't go into details on how it addresses it, as that's a huge part of the conflict down the road, but the fact that it was even mentioned at all was SO AMAZING to read. Magic doesn't make it okay, if anything it makes things much more complicated. And I loved that about the story. THEY EVEN ADDRESS THE WHOLE MAGIC CREATURE AGE THING:
"Also, technically I'm a teensy bit older than most sophomores." "Oh, god, I knew it," I moaned, covering my face with my hands. "I mean, I didn't really, but you've been dropping hint after hint after hint, and I should have known. I really should have. Oh god. I'm one of those girls." "What girls?" he asked, perplexed. "Those girls. The ones in all those books and TV shows. Some dumb high school girl falls in love with some supernatural guy, and he's all, 'Behold, I am five million years old!' and she's all, 'Oh my god, how can you ever love pathetic little me!' and he's like, 'Because of my destiny!' or whatever. It's just so...ew. You know?"[pg 177-178]
There's about a page and a half more on the age thing, plus a lot of pages AND TIME spent on some of genies' other quirks. Sorry if the caps are getting obnoxious, but guys, this felt really, really great to have addressed in a YA paranormal romance. Not only did I have an icky feeling about the love interest, but the author did too. And she addressed in the story why there should be an ick factor. I cannot tell you how happy I was, but let's just say there was much fist pumping.
Yet another thing I had a happy double take with was the villain. Xavier does a lot of things that seem completely crazy, but then you find out there was reason to his madness and you're kinda blown away. Like stabbing Margo. Not only does it intimidate her and disable her somewhat, but there's also an even more crafty and villainous motive to it. And I loved that he worked like that. Yes, he does serve as the trope of the big bad who wants to kill our main love interest, thereby introducing conflict in our heroine's life, but he was given more of a reason than power or revenge. And actually his reason, crazy though it might be, was a little tear-jerky. I may not have empathized with him, but I at least sympathized a little.
And then there's that ending. I'll admit, I pretty much expected what happened at the end about halfway through the book. I just didn't expect it to happen that close to the last page. This book doesn't end as much as it segues into its sequel The Fourth Wish. There is no dénouement, there's simply the climax and a 'let's go!' that might as well read To Be Continued. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing, but I had a problem with how much was unresolved. And there is a TON left unresolved. I'm very hopeful for the sequel and luckily I have it right next to me to continue, but for anyone looking for a stand-alone, don't even think about it.
Overall, The Art of Wishing was fun to read and had a lot of unexpected turns that kept me engaged throughout. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a new avenue of YA paranormal romance or those interested in a different, modern take on genies. There are references to Robin Williams' genie and some of the mythology concerning their "freedom" might trigger responses (my sister cried when I started recapping to her). There is minor language, some knife violence and some romantic situations which I believe puts this comfortably in high school range. So if you're looking for a series with a good sense of itself and some humor and magic to boot, then definitely give The Art of Wishing a try.
I admit, my main motivation for reading this one was to satisfy both the genre and key word challenges for April. However, I was also excited toAmazon
I admit, my main motivation for reading this one was to satisfy both the genre and key word challenges for April. However, I was also excited to read it after the description brought back memories of one of my favorite childhood stories, Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing With Dragons. With nontraditional princesses, intelligent dragons, and a few fairytale throwbacks, I eagerly dove in.
Princess Ahira may not be Somino's average princess, but she is definitely this age's average heroine. Strong-willed, possessing mild beauty and standard intelligence, she is every bit a rebel against conformity. Her main passion is doing anything her mother would disapprove of, which includes taking in sunlight, skipping out on classes, and cleaning. Since the first two are pretty much accomplished through her kidnapping, the last is basically all she does to pass her alone time. As heroines go, Ahira is the typical 'every girl' who everyone inexplicably loves through no merit of her own, but miraculously saves the day at the end to earn that undeserved praise. Aside from being a tired trope, this also has unfortunate consequences to the treatment of other characters, but I'll come back to that later.
The dragon that takes her in was far more intriguing for me. Azmaveth (I tripped over the name multiple times even in my own head) is an inventor of spells and is constantly experimenting on himself. At first he comes off as far too pathetic and whiny, reminding me at times of a Woody Allen role, but he eventually grows into a more self-confident and friendly character. He's also extremely accepting and appreciative of all of Ahira's work and quirks. Not that there's much to dislike, but it's still nice to see.
Kohath, Azmaveth's steward and bane of Ahira's existence, was the stereotypical guy who is too perfect it grates on you until you give in to his charm. Sure he's smug and vain, but he's focused solely on Ahira's happiness and safety, so that makes him perfect for her. Yeah, maybe, but I wished we had some personality to him. You know, outside of what he feels toward Ahira, or the jealousy toward any other guys in the vicinity. A bit cliché and bland, if you ask me.
So the main characters weren't the most interesting, surely the fairytales should provide some innovation, right? Unfortunately, the fairytales did little to help. It was mostly along the lines of, "Think you knew the story of Snow White and the seven dwarves? Or Hanzel and Gretel? Or even Sleeping Beauty? Look at these new, unconventional twists!" A fairytale reference lasted all of a page, sometimes even less, and then it was gone, never to be referenced ever again. I may have chuckled once or twice, but since they had nothing to do with the story at all, they felt more forced than anything else.
Which only added to the horrible pacing. Really, the story didn't know where it was going. Ahira is kidnapped, given to a dragon, and then spends 50% of the story wandering around aimlessly, cleaning, and getting to know Kohath and a few other minor characters. I found myself checking my progress constantly, hoping I was nearing the ending because nothing was happening. Eventually Ahira is clued in to a huge battle looming between the good magical creatures (dragons, unicorns, griffons, etc.) and bad magical creatures (valkyries, ogres, trolls), but very little changes concerning her day-to-day activities. Instead of fetching potion ingredients, she talks to other creatures, or fetches other potion ingredients. Not exactly riveting reading material.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, no "griffon" is not a typo. Well, it is, but not by me. This book is unfortunately riddled with typos. All but twice, the mythical beasts are called griffons (which are a type of dog) instead of griffins (the half-eagle/half-lion). There are other less common misspellings spattered throughout, maybe two or three per chapter, plus a rather prominent name mix-up where Kohath is accidentally named Azmaveth during a conversation, so buyer beware if you can't stand typos.
Now, I can get over a few typos here and there, but what irked me the most about this story were its women. The women in this book range from beautiful and stupid, to ugly and crazy, to beautiful and evil, with Ahira being the only sane/reasonable/good woman in all creation. I wish I were joking. The main villains are valkyries, women with magical voices that curse any who hear their song. Ahira meets one about halfway through the story and is appalled not only by her stupidity but her (GASP) short miniskirt.
As I stared at this valkyrie, I felt some of my fear and respect for enchanted beings drop. This valkyrie was wearing the shortest skirt I had ever seen paired with high-heeled blue boots and a short, blue blouse. Hardly the clothes of choice to be stomping around in a forest. ... I dropped my flute and froze in terror of the miniskirt and the sword.[Chapter 9]
But bashing on 'promiscuously'-clothed women isn't enough, for there are the princesses to attend to. Three of Ahira's fellow kidnapped princesses are there basically to play up how great and unique Ahira is by comparison. I'd say they were stereotypical princesses, but that would be doing the stereotype a disservice. One does nothing but blabbers on and on about men who want to date her, one does nothing except make horrible art pieces, and one literally drools or sleeps all the time. But at least they're all good looking, which is more than the last princess has going for her. Not only is Cinders clearly paranoid and delusional, but she's also ugly.
I was dumb struck by her speech because she looked more like a cross frog than anything remotely beautiful—and I say that with the frankness of a girl who is no beauty herself. [Chapter 1]
Because it's okay to call someone an ugly frog so long as you're not a supermodel. Honestly, that last princess should consider herself lucky, because holding any beauty at all means you're stupid, shallow, and would be better off keeping your mouth shut. Basically, this book's mantra is "Beauty is usually a companion to stupidity."[Chapter 8] And this mantra is so important, they feel the need to repeat it again a couple chapters later. You know, in case you forgot the vast number of examples it had already provided.
But, you know the message wouldn't be clear if they didn't also provide examples of the opposites being true. If an ugly person was smart, clever, or at least useful, then all would be justified. No? Can't afford any ugly? Well, just throw in a tan princess and that will be just as good. No, really, check out Ahira's thoughts upon running into a random girl in the forest:
I instantly liked her, not because I'm a great judge of people or anything, but because she was quite tan, even more so than me. At home I had to listen to hours of lectures delivered by my mother that were usually titled something along the lines of "Proper Ladies Are Not Tan." So, whenever I met another sun-kissed female I felt a great bond with them. [Chapter 13]
You know, it's one thing to paint broad strokes on a message like, "Don't judge a book by it's cover," or, "Beauty is only skin deep." But writing an entire book to 'get back' at the beautiful people is just too much. Especially when it's targeted at younger readers. I can get behind encouraging girls to think outside of the box, not obsess about beauty, think for yourself and the like, but to unabashedly target all women outside the not-too-pretty, not-too-ugly median is just disgusting.
I know it seems like I'm ripping this book to pieces, but I actually don't hate this book. I think I'm more disappointed than anything. Really, if it had a couple more passes through some tough criticism, had some more polish to it, it probably would have worked out most of the issues I'm bringing up. Maybe I'm at a disadvantage of having read so much to compare it to, whereas its target audience may not have. But I have to call it like I see it, and at this point I don't see anything that would have me recommending this above other books in the same genre.
Overall, Princess Ahira was a cute story, but I found it sorely lacking. If you enjoy rebel heroines, cutesy fantasy, or are looking for a fluff story for a younger reader, then you might give it a try. No language or sex, and extremely mild violence sits this in the perfect range for middle grade readers. While I had a hard time getting over my own nostalgic expectations, a new reader may find this story much more enjoyable, so if you're at all curious about Princess Ahira, I'd say definitely download the free sample and see for yourself.
I will apologize beforehand if this review gets a little repetitive because it is so hard not to make constant TwiAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
I will apologize beforehand if this review gets a little repetitive because it is so hard not to make constant Twilight comparisons. No, really, almost everything in this book can be traced back to Twilight. You've heard of the Twilight Clones? Well, get ready to meet the clone to end all clones...except better?!
Violet is your typical humdrum person who transfers to a new school and is simultaneously befriended by a bunch of people AND gains the attention of the aloof hottest boy in school. Sound familiar? Thankfully she has the good taste not to instantly alienate her new friends (except when the boyfriend is involved), and she is supposedly actually good at something: fencing. I say supposedly because, apart from maybe two practice sessions, we never actually see her fence.
Still, Violet was leagues ahead of some of the other YA Paranormal heroines I've read lately. She readily accepts and values friendships, she has talents both physically and academically, and when faced with a problem she actively tries to solve it. Also, she gets mad at her boyfriend. And not just, 'Oh, you don't spend enough time with me,' or 'Why can't we have sex now?' She actually dumps him when she finds out he's keeping secrets from her. Oh, and she actually values her own safety. Shocking, I know. So while she is insanely familiar to a certain B.S. we all know, I found her so much more likeable, and thus readable.
Similarly, Violet's romantic interest, Aiden, shares a lot in common with a certain other boyfriend. Aiden is easily the hottest boy in school, the one all the girls swoon over, yet he has remained completely uninterested in everyone...until Violet shows up. But even as he starts to open up to her, he reveals even more mystery, and danger. It turns out that his special abilities come at a cost, endangering everyone around him. So he has made it his life's goal to find a cure, to rid himself of his abilities, especially now that they threaten someone he truly cares about.
Yeah, Aiden is another one of those dangerous boys with a heart of gold. A tortured soul who's finally found true love. But Aiden actually seems worthy of that love. He isn't overprotective—he actually helps Violet train to protect herself, and gives her space when she asks—and he listens to other's suggestions during a crisis. He does fight for control over his curse at times, but it's well-established that he's been searching for a cure for years prior to this romance, so it's not as if he's changing his very nature just for a girl.
And that's part of what made the romance so much more tolerable (heck, believable) than others I've read. The boy wasn't overly dark and brooding, his personality during the relationship wasn't drastically different than how he 'normally' acted. And the girl wasn't a limp doll whose every action was based around the guy, she had friends and hobbies that continued through her romance. I'm not saying every single aspect of the relationship was perfect or wholly believable. There still was love at first sight, and some very quick forgiveness turnarounds, but I at least rooted for both of them and felt good when they were together.
I touched a bit on Aiden having "special abilities" earlier, but I feel I should expand a bit. Everyone who goes to this boarding school has some sort of psychic abilities. Astral projection, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, you name it. It's like Hogwarts (a similarity the book actually references). But mind games aren't the only things going on in this book; there are also shifters, werewolves, and even vampires. Convoluted much?
Actually, I found the lore to be one of the few semi-original things in this story. Trying to mix science and paranormal stuff, even things like fate, can be nigh impossible. And yet Haven kinda sorta actually pulled it off. There were a lot of things I'd read before, especially on the topic of vampires, but the sciency part of the affliction sounded new. Add in some new (at least to me) vampire hunter lore, and I was hooked. I'm not sure if everything would hold up to close scrutiny, but I had fun in the world while it lasted.
The final verdict? I actually enjoyed Haven. Yes, I had plenty of eye-rolling moments and a few sighs interspersed here and there, but after all was said and done, I genuinely enjoyed myself. This was exactly the kind of fluff book you would expect it to be. The writing isn't overly descriptive, there's no heavy subject matter to think about, the romance is the main driving factor, and even the darker aspects of the characters and plot are still relatively light and happy. Is this the romance to end all romances? No, but it certainly won't cause brain damage reading it.
Overall, Haven was a surprisingly fun read. I'd recommend it for those who are in the mood for a light and fluffy YA paranormal romance. It does contain one f-bomb and a bit of 'heavy petting' in the romance department, so I'd say high school and above would be best reading this. If you're looking for something completely new and different, this isn't the book for you. But for those who want something fairly familiar with a few tweaks here and there, and especially for those who have read Twilight and Harry Potter, you should definitely check out Haven.
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meantRead my review of all three parts at The Wolf's Den.
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meant to be just one, maybe two episodes, this one part felt like it had everything an episode needed unto itself. Why couldn't these be on TV???
Am absolutely loving the Mother's history being interspersed throughout. So many questions finally getting answered!...more
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meantRead my review of all three parts at The Wolf's Den.
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meant to be just one, maybe two episodes, this one part felt like it had everything an episode needed unto itself. Why couldn't these be on TV???
Am absolutely loving the Mother's history being interspersed throughout. So many questions finally getting answered! Also, Azula is fascinating to follow through the course of the story. It'll be interesting to see if she ever does find 'her true destiny' or if she's too blinded to see it....more
This book hits the ground running. Coming fresh from Grave Mercy, I knew a little of what to expect, but that intrAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
This book hits the ground running. Coming fresh from Grave Mercy, I knew a little of what to expect, but that introduction threw me for a loop. Whereas book one started slowly, building up the world and introducing the characters one by one, Sybella's story starts right in the thick of things and doesn't slow down once. Even continuing straight off the last book, I still had to take a breath, get my head in the game, and start over after the fourth chapter.
But enough of comparisons, let's get down to what this book offers on its own.
Sybella is a heroine unlike any I've read before. Enveloped in a past too dark for even her own mind to handle, she must put duty ahead of terror in order to gather information and ultimately kill those who wage war against her friends and her Duchess. And did I mention that the target of assassination is her own father? Sybella's past weighs heavily on her throughout the book, and yet she still manages to be witty, sarcastic, dutiful, and strong in both body and will. There are times when she can be a bit mopey (and justifiably so), but these are few and far between and only serve as a reminder at how much she has to overcome both from within and without.
While Sybella is very independent, even she needs a little help now and again, and she receives most of her help in the form of Benebic, the Beast of Waroch, or just Beast for short. Though he had a small part in the last book, here is where we really get to see him in action. Beast is essentially the medieval version of The Hulk: whenever his battle lust is triggered, he won't stop until he's taken down everyone in his path. But outside of his legendary battle-mode, he is kind, compassionate, and every bit as dutiful as Sybella. Though he's not the most gorgeous hunk you could fall for (quite the opposite, actually), he's definitely going on my dream-guy list for his heart alone.
Obviously these two characters are meant for each other, which brings me to their romance. I thought it worked out pretty well on the whole. I was glad to see it wasn't re-hashing the love-hate relationship that Ismae and Duval had in Grave Mercy. It's still a bit cliche, but it still feels natural both in development and in how the characters react to it. It doesn't change them, at least not in how they act, but rather in how they see themselves and their futures. It's definitely more mature than what I've read in more contemporary (including modern fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal) young adult literature, but it's still very relatable and understandable.
Speaking of more mature romance, there is the issue of sex in this book. Let me assure you, there is absolutely, positively nothing on-screen in terms of sex in this book, but there are quite a few references to it happening off-screen both in forms of rape and incest as well as consensual. Seduction is one of the main tools that Sybella uses to her advantage, even though it doesn't always end in a bedroom. And there is even a mention of a pregnancy well below 20, which technically is fairly normal for the time period. Still, if you don't think your children are quite old enough to discuss these sorts of topics, you might want to wait until they are.
On that note, it should also be said that this book's title is a great indication of the contents: this book is dark. The main character suffers from a past she can't even fully remember, her brother makes sexual advances on her throughout the book, she has to deal with fearing and hating her own father yet seeing so much of him in herself, not to mention the war which is going on. There are issues with faith, with duty, love, lust, bloodlust, death, madness, sorrow, fear, self-loathing, and trust. All are well worth reading about and addressing, but again, not all ages are quite ready to deal with them yet. Not to discourage anyone from reading it, just encouraging those who do to be in the right frame of mind going in.
I think the argument could be raised of whether or not this book, and really the series as a whole 'fits' the Young Adult label. The author has talked on this herself, defining the genre (or age-range) as more a coming-of-age for mid-to-late teenaged characters. I personally support the classification of YA for these books, but I can definitely see the mature content and dark tones of the books getting them pushed to adult shelves. On the one hand, I think it's great because these books should be read by adults — they are complex and fun, contain historical characters and events, and are phenomenally written. But on the other hand, I hope these books' target audience isn't deprived of the same complexity, fun, history, great writing, and insight that can be gained from these stories.
Backing it up a bit, I really appreciated how Ms. LaFevers addressed the historical issues in her story. It's true that some liberties have to be taken in order to write a story about Assassin Nuns, but the fantastical aspects really are kept to a tolerable minimum, with more emphasis being placed on the political and strategical nature of running a country and conducting a war, that is when we're not focusing on the personal stories of our characters. Still, a lot happens in this book as far as the escalation of the war, which makes it a very exciting story, but a little too exciting when you really examine it closely. LaFevers explains in an author's note that she took some liberties with the dates, compounding about 2 years of 'political happenings' into a few months. She also includes some facts about the Count d'Albret as well as a bit of the etymology of 'saboteur'. Isn't history (and writing about it) fascinating?
In terms of being a sequel to Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph both works and breaks those bonds. I believe because of focusing on a completely new character, someone could pick this book up first and backtrack to Ismae's story without much issue. Obviously by reading the events out of order, they would know much of what happened in the first book, but they wouldn't know how or why it happened. Each book gives its character a starting point and an ending point completely separate of the events surrounding them. Also, Sybella is a completely different person than Ismae, requiring a different path to bring her to enlightenment, giving us elements that are both familiar and yet completely new. I can hardly wait to see what the next installment has in store for Brittany and for the last of our trio of assassins, Annith.
Overall, a fluffy book this is not, but Dark Triumph is definitely a worthwhile read. Fans of Grave Mercy will find many familiar faces, and are sure to fall in love with many new ones as well. I'd definitely recommend this to YA readers who enjoy strong heroines, historical settings, romance, and a hint of fantasy. Mature themes involving seduction and sex (occurring off-screen), and assassination and war (occurring on-screen) might keep some younger readers at bay, but I'd say it's appropriate for high school and older, which is its target audience anyway. This is a heavy book which is sure to stick with you well after reading it, but despite the darkness which lurks throughout, you'll most certainly take away the feeling of triumph.
It's impossible for me to start out with anything other than how much I loved this book. So there, I said it. I weAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
It's impossible for me to start out with anything other than how much I loved this book. So there, I said it. I went into this one not knowing anything other than the gorgeous cover, that it had nearly topped Amazon's Best Books of 2011 list, and that it was (most likely) YA fantasy. It took me maybe 5 chapters before I was completely hooked, and maybe just a few more before I knew I loved it.
This book read beautifully. I've read stream-of-consciousness narratives, bare-bones description narratives, and even a few artsier narratives, but this book blew me away with its way of speaking. Descriptions were neither tedious nor sparse, but were melodious, whimsical, and, dare I say poetic? Yes, though I'll admit that poetry isn't my cup of tea, I found this narrative to be poetic while still giving me the substance and form I'm used to. Much different than any other novel I've read.
That goes for the setting as well. Set primarily in Prague, there is a lot of description about the city. But though it's set in the real world, in our world, there is so much fantastical description woven throughout the mundane, it's almost like it is another world. Such that when we do travel to another world (or dimension), it doesn't feel nearly as alien as it could.
Speaking of aliens, what about our blue-haired heroine? Karou is your typical teenaged heroine character: smart, witty, pretty, confident, caring, independent, curious, has a unique family, and can't shake the feeling she's missing something. And maybe it was the blue hair, her sense of humor, or maybe because we first meet her following a break-up in which she was not crushed with woe, nor completely okay either, but I instantly fell in love. She was simultaneously the ideal heroine, and yet was still realistic in her thoughts, emotions, and fears. And the love only continued throughout the book.
Karou goes through a lot in the course of the novel, but I never felt any of her actions were forced. Everything is built from past experiences, and everything is explained - again, not tediously but where it is pertinent - so you feel like you're following alongside her instead of three steps behind. And that hers is a quest for knowledge makes it even more relatable, and all the more enticing to keep reading. We want to know what it's all about just as much as Karou does. So even without being in a first person narrative, we're still just as connected throughout the journey.
But the journey isn't just Karou's, it's also Akiva's. Akiva, our love interest and sometimes narrative perspective, serves mostly as a plot device to fill in the gaps of Karou's perspective. That's not a bad thing, considering we're ultimately on a fact-finding journey so the more information the better, but it does create a little bit of a drag whenever it switches to his backstory. He's not as strong a character yet, mostly because we don't get as much time with him as with Karou, but by the end of the book I think what we get does pay off.
Romantically, Akiva is a bit creepy. Granted, he doesn't start out as a romantic interest - in fact he starts out as Karou's would-be killer. And the stalking (with possible death in mind) doesn't help his case either. Add to that a love-at-first-sight type of meeting, and you'd think I'd throw my hands up in disgust. But... it just worked. I really don't want to spoil anything, so I won't make the obvious comparison, but I guess if you're having a hard time with the guy, just hang in there for the big picture.
And speaking of Akiva, the mythology in this book was amazing. I was just discussing with a friend my disappointments with angel teen-lit lately, how some of them can be preachy or extremely narrow-minded in terms of religion. Here, there are angels and demons (of a sort), but they're not based in our world at all. In fact, it's stated pretty clearly that the world's religions don't have a clue, so religion is a non-issue.
I thought it hugely liberating to be able to deal with angels and demons as species instead of beings tied to our world or our morality. In fact, morality is highly questionable on both sides of the angel-demon war. It definitely makes choosing your alliance difficult when loathsome characters (like Joram and Thiago) and sympathetic characters (such as Brimstone and Hazael) occupy both sides. And I won't even get started on the magic system, which is more than enough to offend some witchcraft-shunning readers. Still, I welcomed the unique spin on the age-old struggle and look forward to seeing how things turn out in the 'end'.
And speaking of nearly abandoning a character-type, I'm happy to say I've found a redeemer for the 'best friend' in teen lit. Zuzana has got to be my favorite best friend of all time. In so much teen fiction these days, the best friend is either a throw-away cardboard cut-out, a source of constant drama, or ends up being more of a frienemy than a BFF. Zuzana, on the other hand, is never vindictive or jealous but is instead supportive of Karou even when things get weird. And most importantly, she's actually a full-fledged character in her own right, one with goals, feelings, interests, a sense of humor, and a story - even if she doesn't get the narrative. Her dialog scenes with Karou were by far my favorites in the book. I'm so happy to know she doesn't disappear in book two - I think I would cry if I never saw her again!
Which brings me to the ending. I can't say I didn't see it coming, even without the knowledge of a sequel, that this book would have a cliffhanger. Karou states her mission about halfway through the book, and when we still haven't gotten to it by the beginning of part four, I knew there was no way we were going to experience it before the end of this book. Don't get me wrong, this is a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, but it's not the end of Karou and Akiva's story. A cliffhanger was really the only way to put a back cover on the 432-page book, so I don't begrudge it any more than I do the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter books. Just be ready to grab book two, Days of Blood & Starlight!
Overall, I don't think there's any way to convey how much I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, nor how quickly you should read it. Any fan of fantasy, strong heroines, star-crossed romances, teen literature or gorgeous prose should check this book out immediately. There is a reason it made it to #6 on Amazon's best books list. Due to the romantic tone and some mature themes concerning war and morality, I'd probably recommend this more for high school and up, though I couldn't find any specific language, violence, or sex that would have me strongly advising against younger readers. It doesn't take a bruxis to get your hands on a copy, so what are you waiting for?