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...moreAmazon
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 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 meant...moreRead 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!(less)
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meant...moreRead 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.(less)
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 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?
This story had a lot of familiar elements. A girl who doesn't know her own powers, a magical school, a villain out for world domination, a romance between childhood friends... But for every similar element, I kept thinking of another story which had done it better. I'm not saying I'm against authors using similar elements and reinventing stories, but it would be nice if I got something new out of the story...
I think it all started with the characters. Alina is our heroine in the story. She's been orphaned by the war, and now in her late teens has been recruited as a mapmaker in the army. Little does she know that she's actually been blessed with the super rare magical ability to summon light, the only ability that might finally destroy this magical rift of darkness that splits their country. So now she's whisked off to MagicGrisha School to harness her abilities. Anyone in their right mind would be excited about this, right?
Alina is one of the most bland main characters I've ever read. She may be super gifted, but she doesn't want to stand out, and makes it a point not to. She's practically anti-social, with on-screen interaction with only her teachers and this one other girl. Then, as the plot moves forward, she is all self-sacrificial, telling her love to kill her to make sure her powers don't fall into the hands of the villain. So we're left with a main character who's an anti-social martyr with low self-esteem. If she doesn't even care about herself, why should we care about her?
I suppose perhaps Alina's love interests might help in this, but honestly we see so little of them it's ridiculous. Mal is her childhood friend and fellow orphan that Alina has glommed onto all these years. But as soon as her Light powers are revealed, she's separated from him for over half the book. It's only upon a chance reuniting that their feelings are rekindled. And even then, he says he didn't realize he loved her until she was gone. Such a charmer, isn't he? Past that he acts so stony, besides one humorous breakdown, that I can't see any attraction whatsoever.
The Darkling is our other prospective love interest. Most powerful Grisha, wielder of Dark magic, leader of the Second Army, and second only to the King, he's got it all going on. He's also got that mysterious vibe going on, plus a tragic backstory to boot. But because he's so big and powerful and important, we hardly see much of him either, such that any romance he might have going with Alina seems completely rushed and lusty. I mean, it must be nice having someone believing in you and noticing you for once, but slow it down a little. In fact, if things had turned out differently, I'd probably root for him over Mal.
But what really disappointed me was providing a fascinating world and mythology, but only giving us glimpses when it was necessary for the characters. Normally I would praise this, as I'm never a fan of unnecessary exposition dumps or pages of unrelated world description, but the scraps of mythos we were given were far more enticing than the story being followed. Case in point, there's a school of magic in which magic is treated more like a science than a mystical force, but because Alina's powers are so unlike anyone else's, we never get to see anything anyone else does. And the little we do get to see, concerning Alina's own training, takes place mostly off-screen.
I can see why an author wouldn't want to go too far into the magic school, seeing as it's practically become cliche these days. So what about the other aspects of the world? The deep political strife? Hardly mentioned and then handled completely off-screen. The ancient mythology? There's this magical stag whose antlers can be made into a super-powerful magic-amplifier, but other than mentioning some "Gods" in passing, I never understood why this herd and this stag were so magical. In fact, I never understood where any of the Grisha's magic stemmed from.
Ultimately, I feel as if the story got in the way of the details. There are some gems of characters in the background who I would have loved to learn more about, discover why they do some of the things they do. Instead they just do things because the plot says so. Same goes for the mythology. We need a super-powerful amplifier that's super rare and hard to find...how about a magical stag's antlers? Yeah, that sounds cool, and it'll get super-hunter Mal back into the plot. We need our heroine to find out about the villain's plot but not from him...PLOT TWIST!
Yeah, there are a lot of plot twists in this story. Not that I'm against surprises or convenience in stories, but when the entire thing is built up of plot twist upon convenience upon nondescript happenstance, then I get a bit annoyed. Give me reasoning behind one thing. Give me lore or prophecy or something that explains why a character acted in this perfect way, and I might buy it. Give me logic and I'll be even more understanding. But as much as I love fantasy, I don't love lazy fantasy.
On that note, there have been a few reviewers questioning the semi-Russian-ness that the book obviously draws from. If you're interested in the author's explanation, you might want to check out her page describing some of the terms and variations she came up with. For me, I didn't really mind. I didn't see it as a distraction, but I can see where Russian speakers might get annoyed. To each their own.
While I was underwhelmed with this book, I'm going to give the series another shot with the sequel, Siege and Storm. I'm hoping to see some more character development, especially with our lead, and perhaps some more juicy mythos thrown in. But really, if there isn't a little more development in something, then I'm going to drop it.
Overall, Shadow and Bone left me wanting. If you've got some time and are in the mood for a high fantasy YA rooted in a non-European setting, then I'd say give it a try. No language, but there is a make-out scene and some fantasy death, so I'd put this in the high school and up range. Perhaps not the most original piece of literature out there, but if you're eager for some plot twists you may want to check out Shadow and Bone for yourself.
This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous book, Halflings, or don't mind knowing some major spoilers for it. Guardian,...moreThis review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous book, Halflings, or don't mind knowing some major spoilers for it. Guardian, however, will remain spoiler-free.
If Halflings had me torn, Guardian has me ripped apart. And not in a good way. Sure, Halflings disappointed me in some respects, but it at least still had enough to make me hope for improvements. Guardian managed to nothing but infuriate me chapter after chapter. But let me start at the beginning.
Nikki Youngblood has lost everything she knows and loves. Her parents were murdered. Her house was emptied by her mysterious godfather. Even her dog was slaughtered by hellhounds. All she has left to cling onto is her half-angel protectors, two of whom are trying to become a bit closer than protectors. So it just stands to reason that they all need a vacation.
Yep, no Twilight rip-off here; this love triangle is on the move. And what better way to solve angsty problems than trapping eleven teenagers on a boat together? Obviously God knows what he's doing here.
Okay, all joking aside, there seriously are eleven teenagers on a private boat crossing the Atlantic for about half this book. During that time Nikki is both focusing on training herself in otherworldly matters and trying not to cause either of her love interests to give up their eternity for her. Add that to thrilling activities with the other Halflings such as shopping (with the girls Vegan, Winter, and Glimmer), homework (with Zero), and admiring the view (of Ocean, Sky, and Dash [characters, not scenery]) and she has a busy schedule indeed.
Nikki's emotional range for the majority of this book went from Woe is me to I'm a horrible person. The few times of happiness she experiences are always overshadowed by the fact that she's hurting her other love. That's right, she's still deeply in love with both Mace and Raven. But when she finally makes a decision between the two, she happens to overhear everyone talk about how she's damning him, and how selfish she is, and how it would be better if they'd never met.
And therein lies one of my biggest peeves of the book: the villanization of women. Yes, Nikki is being an idiot stringing along two guys, but they're allowing her to do so. Neither of the guys seems to have a problem with knowing they're both under consideration. But to everyone else, she's a whore and a temptress. During one of the eavesdropped conversations, they even go so far as to make this reference:
"God was the perfect father, yet Adam still chose sin." "Yes. For a woman." [Location 2588 of ARC]
In one of the other overheard conversations, Glimmer, who has never liked her, makes the comment that if [Boy] is too stupid, then Nikki should be taking matters into her own hands and leave. Vegan and Winter stay silent, which Nikki takes as agreement. Once again, the blame of the matter lies not with the boy, but the inherently evil woman. Obviously Nikki, and her feminine ways have seduced the half-angels into romancing her. And if their minds have been overcome by her poison, then it falls to Nikki to do the right thing.
Oh, please. I'm all for girl power, but there's only so much for which Nikki can be held responsible.
But speaking of the guys, here's how they hold up in this book. Mace is still head-over-heels over Nikki. He may have feigned trying to cut back on courting the human, but he's back in full-swing here. From close-quarters maneuvering to giving gifts, he's one love-sick puppy. That is, until he thinks Nikki has made her choice and is now his property.
I kid you not. Once Raven is out of the picture, and Nikki is supposedly his for the taking, he gets super pissed off at every independent decision she makes. She decides to try training against a hellhound without his supervision (but other Halflings) and he flies off the handle. She goes out for a motorcycle ride without him, and she's being reckless. She gives someone a goodbye kiss, possibly for forever, and he tells her she needs to "Stick to the rules" before storming out. Even rag-doll Nikki realizes that's going a little far.
But it's okay because Mace is instantly sorry that his actions had repercussions and totally wants to accept Nikki for who she is now.
And then there's my boy, Raven. Raven comes off as a little douchy-er at times, but other times he's just as deep and romantic as ever. I'll admit, his attitude of 'you know you love me, and I can wait for you to figure it out' ground on my nerves. I remembered his cockiness, sure, but for him to tell her that to her face was just a turn-off.
I mentioned that Raven left the picture, and spoiler-ish, yeah he does. There's this huge event maybe halfway through where Nikki reaches out to Mace first/more than Raven, so he decides enough is enough with this mushy stuff, it's time to get some real work done. It's a little more complex than that, but you get the gist. He's still torn with the darkening of his soul and this quote really sums it up:
Raven cared about the society of one: himself. At least he had until Nikki. She'd changed him—both destroyed and remade him. There was a soul beneath his flesh. It had been a cold and shriveled empty place until she ignited it. Now it burned, and the awakened fire might kill him—if, of course, he wasn't already dead. [Location 2017 of ARC]
Love has reawakened his hope to keep fighting the darkness, but at the same time that Love would condemn him to the darkness.
Which leads me to my greatest disappointment of the book: the twist. It wasn't completely out of the blue—I could see evidence for it in both the last book and this one—but instead of sucking me in, it was more of a let-down for me. Also, the explanations for why it was a surprise to absolutely everyone, including the semi-omnipotent ANGEL, read more like weak excuses than plausible reasons. No me gusta. *
And did I mention there are also villains in this book? I mean, we know about creepy Damon Vessler (though, it seems no one EVER informs Nikki—bit of an oversight?) from book one, but apparently there are also Halfling hunters. Yes, apparently there are people who know about the existence of Halflings, and are trying to capture them with titanium. Also, these hunters know the Halflings are based in France and enjoy attacking innocents there whenever their plans are foiled. Want to know more? Too bad, 'cause there's no more information about these people.
Add in the constant female bashing, the disappointing twist that shouldn't have been, and sloppy writing including the Halfling hunters and two random instances of Vine narrating, and by all rights I should not be continuing this series. I shouldn't, I really shouldn't.
...But I will.
For two reasons: 1) I still like Raven. Like, really like him. And 2) Nikki post-twist interests me. There's such a huge, HUGE change that I feel like I'm reading a completely new story. I don't know that I'm looking forward to the next book, but at this point I'm intrigued enough to give it one last try. Oh, and did I mention it ends with a cliffhanger? That might have something to do with it as well.
Overall, I was disappointed with Guardian, but I think most fans of Halflings will continue enjoying the series. Most of the issues I had with the book were simply continued from the previous, so if you didn't mind them there, you probably won't notice them here. No language or sex to worry about, but it does have violence and dark overtones toward the ending. Based on the violence and the nature of some situations, I'd recommend it for high school and above. For someone already invested in the characters, this book will be impossible to put down.
Approximate Reading Time: 6.5 Hours
Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Zondervan via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
* Due to formatting restrictions, I had to leave out a couple hidden spoilers from this review. If you are interested, you can read the unedited review at The Wolf's Den.(less)
Halflings has me a bit torn. You could say I'm half-and-half with this one. On the one hand there were characters I loved, mysteries and questions that had me hooked, and twists I never saw coming. Unfortunately there were also cliché situations, demeaning language, and parts that felt religiously preachy. So I guess I'll just start at the beginning and see what you think.
There are a lot of characters to go over, but the main focus is only on three: our narrators and points of the love-triangle, Nikki, Mace, and Raven.
Nikki is arguably the main character, seeing as the majority of the book is in her perspective. She's your typical pretty but doesn't know it, strong but unsure, karate master and artist, 'normal' female teenager. In other words, she can handle herself in normal situations but once the paranormal shows up she needs to learn how to be taken care of.
Which is where Mace and Raven come in. Both are half-angel, half-human, but as far as attitude is concerned, they're on opposite sides of the spectrum. Mace is the by-the-book guy. He's given orders, he follows them to the letter. Raven is the cliché bad boy with the heartbreaking backstory. Both think they have Nikki's best interests in mind, and both go about their separate ways of trying to protect her.
Now, to the author's credit, Nikki isn't completely helpless for the entirety of the book. I'll admit I had my doubts, starting with the quote leading in to the first chapter: The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Genesis 6:2 ...Okay then. I'll go more into the religious points later, but this was just...wow. Follow that gem up with Nikki passing out what seemed like ten times in the first five chapters, continually being hunted/stalked (not only by bad guys), and never playing an active role in her plot (a lot happens, but none of it stems from her choices), and I really had my doubts.
On the other hand, Nikki did have her moments of strength. She does manage to fight on her own at a couple critical points, she decides to take control in her romantic relationships, and the final choice in the book does ultimately come down to her.
Unfortunately, in the larger scheme of things, these moments were fairly insignificant, so I can't really call Nikki a heroine as much as a damsel. I think she has potential in later books (at least I hope so) to become more of an active role in her own story, but as far as Book 1 is concerned, not so much.
In fact, I'd say the more interesting stories of the book were about Mace and Raven. Even the tag on the front cover is about them: What if following your heart meant losing your soul?
Being Halflings, they are bound to an EXTREMELY strict and arguably unfair code of conduct. Halflings are decendants of fallen angels mating with humans in the hopes of tainting all human blood lines. Not good in the eyes of Heaven. So they're not only outcasts of Heaven, but Earth as well. They're offered these missions to fight the forces of evil as a sort of penance for existing. If they die while carrying out their duties, they might be accepted into Heaven. However, if their souls become too blackened, aka if they partake in sin, they eventually start working for the other team. And in their case, sin also includes falling in love (and acting upon it) with a human.
This is the crux of both Mace and Raven's issues. Mace, the straight-laced, golden boy of this team of Halflings, suddenly finds himself in love with Nikki. Sure, it's one of those cheesy love-at-first-sight deals, but at least it's still interesting to watch him struggle with his temptation. As much as he wants to protect her and make her happy, allowing himself to love (and be loved) would doom them both.
Raven, on the other hand, has a different issue altogether. He's already discovered the futility of their situation and is teetering on the edge of destruction. When he meets Nikki, he's suddenly intrigued. There's something special about her, and he's determined to find out what, even if it does mean fighting off the darkness a little longer. I don't know if his interest ever really turns as romantic as we're led to believe, but I hope he and his story continues to be riveting. (Can you tell he's my favorite?)
Now, if you'll excuse me a moment, I feel like I have to give one of the minor characters some MAJOR props. Krissy is Nikki's best friend. You wouldn't know it from the time they spend together in this book, but they've apparently been besties for quite a while. At first, I hated Krissy for pushing the super-girly route on Nikki, because, please, you're only pretty if you dress the part. But when Nikki started getting the attention of these three (or at least two) super hawt guys, Krissy never once became a vindictive witch. A small feat? Not in YA lit these days. So thank you, Krissy. More minor BFFs should aspire to be like you. But I digress.
I mentioned earlier that I found some of the writing to be a bit preachy. This was mostly in terms of religion. I know that when dealing with Heaven, Hell, angels, demons and whatnot, you have to explain your world and all the rules therein. But more times than not, I felt talked down to. Whether it was because of my own beliefs, or because I'm female, I continually had a hard time feeling accepted in this world.
For example, going deeper into the mythology behind the Halflings, they mention that all angels are male, such that very, very few Halflings are female. Wait, why are there no female angels? Is it because females are impure, or just because having love & reproduction among angels would be too complex?
Furthermore, because of the whole temptation/falling to evil thing among the Halflings, love is seen as a bad thing, an inconvenience, a torture.
How...how does that even work?! I mean, we're dealing with angels, God, and holy beings here—so how does Love equal bad? I get the difference between Love and Lust, I do, but Lust is NEVER mentioned. Not once. So that's not the fear factor here.
Again, according to the mythology, Halflings are forbidden from perpetuating the tainting of the human bloodline through mating. What this says to me is in this world, Love automatically equals having offspring. Not having babies? You're not in love. No same-sex couples, no impotent couples, no couples using birth control. Love equals babies, no ifs ands or buts.
And despite all that...I'm going to keep reading this series. I feel like, because all the characters see the fallacies and unfairness of the system, they have no choice but to fix it. I honestly can't see any of these characters, including Nikki, lying down and being happy with how things are. I just can't. And since rebellion is brought up multiple times in the course of the story, I can only hope that means a change in the future. I'll let you know next week when I finish my ARC of book two, Guardian.
So, overall I'd say I enjoyed Halflings as a start to a series. As with most books about angels, sin and such, it's going to be polarizing, so I can see a lot of people being put off on that front. It has a few other issues here and there, but on the whole I found the potential to outweigh the flaws. No language or sex to worry about, but it does get rather graphic in some of the fight scenes. Based on the violence and the nature of some situations, I'd recommend it for high school and above. At the very least an interesting character study, join the war of Good vs Evil and those caught in between in Halflings.
Past Review: I'm thinking I'll have to review the whole 'series' on the blog instead of going piecem...moreRead my review of the three parts at The Wolf's Den
Past Review: I'm thinking I'll have to review the whole 'series' on the blog instead of going piecemeal. But here's my thoughts so far...
Part 1 was an okay setup. You introduce the problems, get a little bit of backstory, and start in on the progress of the plot. Unfortunately, actions, emotions, jokes, everything seems very rushed, which is a shame because there's no ending whatsoever. I feel like if there wasn't going to be an ending, or even an attempt at a resolution, then there was no reason not to stretch things and take some time.
As it was, we had secondary characters given maybe a page before being pushed aside/forgotten, characters going through emotions within a couple panels then pulling 180's, and jokes... Okay, the jokes were actually handled pretty well. Sokka/Toph rocks, even if they don't end up together. Still, somewhat disappointing for the series' continuation.
That's not to say I'm not planning on continuing on. If there's one story component that Part 1 does well, it's making you want to come back for more. The questions posed are all carried over from the end of the show, so many fans are already interested in them from before starting this. And now that we know they'll actually be addressed, we're even more invested.
Unfortunately, I feel that some of the questions (will Aang have to 'deal with' Zuko?) are a bit dated since the new Legend of Korra series has already answered those very clearly. But for those of us who are still invested in the characters, it will be interesting to see how these conflicts are resolved instead of if they are.
As for the art style, I was pleased overall. Everyone was recognizable (except for maybe Suki, who I think was there for a scene but have no way of telling) from the show, despite a slightly altered appearance. The drawings were a little chibi, very young-looking, which was strange considering this is supposed to take place after the show. Zuko's really the only one who truly looks older, which I think is mostly because of stress, not actual aging. I was also a little miffed at Smellerbee's new lips, instantly identifying her as a girl whereas she was more androgynous in the show. But overall it was recognizable, detailed, and a nice trip back to the Avatar world.
Ultimately, something fans of the show will no doubt be itching to get their hands on, but not something I'd see a newbie seeking out.(less)
I've owned this book for quite sometime, though it's taken Reading With Tequila'sgroup read to finally delve into it. I've also been long overdue, ac...moreI've owned this book for quite sometime, though it's taken Reading With Tequila'sgroup read to finally delve into it. I've also been long overdue, according to certain friends, for reading Gaiman's books. And having seen the movie, I was interested to see how the book/movie stacked up, and if I preferred one over the other. With all that in mind, I dove into Stardust.
Tristran, who I would rename Tristan if I were reading out-loud, was not much of a character to follow. He's a hero of unique and mysterious lineage, who possesses gifts he didn't know he had, and who embarks on a quest of true love without much thought at all about what he might need along the way. Any other book, he'd be dead in two seconds. But here, everything works out for him. It's almost sickening how easy things are for him.
And then there's his prize, the "attractive woman with a hot temper" who he discovers is in fact the fallen star Tristran set out for. When she's first discovered and captured by our hero, she (rightly) refuses to aide him in dragging her away. But a few minutes later, she begrudgingly agrees to join him, hobbling along on a broken leg. That was sure easy. Honestly, for being a person, the star (sometimes called Yvaine) doesn't do much more than an inanimate object. She sure didn't have any more of a personality.
In fact, I'd have to say the most interesting characters were the villains. There's this side story involving seven brothers vying to become the heir to the throne, which involves them all trying to kill each other. And then there's the main villain, the Witch Queen who is out to capture and kill the fallen star in order to regain her eternal youth. These villains are all dark and wonderfully evil, and it was fun to follow them through their dark journeys. Their endings were somewhat disappointing, but not completely unforeseen given the type of story this was.
Oh, yeah. Did I mention this is a fairytale?
Having said all of that, I really can't fault the book for sticking to the fairytale tropes. Having it read to me via audiobook took me back to when my mom used to read me Grimm's Fairytales*. This was a much longer, much more intricate fairytale—one that was obviously written for an older crowd. And yet it had all the same elements that we grew up knowing and loving. The hero who could do no wrong, the fair maiden who was to be his prize, and the villains who we loved to hate and, in some cases, fear.
And make no mistake, this is a fairytale that strives to be just that. It isn't a modern fairytale, it's not a new imagining, a twist, or an expansion on ones you might know. As such, you'll no doubt find problems in characterization, huge coincidences, and conflict resolution if you go at it like it was a regular fantasy novel. This isn't a really a novel in anything more than binding**. So if you're looking for something deeper, you might want to try something else. Perhaps the movie?
I mentioned before that I'd already watched the movie adaptation of Stardust. Honestly, I wish I hadn't. Mind you, I haven't seen it in ages and didn't think I'd remember much at all. But as I read, I found myself remembering quite a bit, actually (primarily the ending). And since I knew/recalled how things fitted together, I'm sorry to say I can't report as a true first-time reader.
However, with my strange combination of reading/hearing the book for the first time while following the story for the second, I can report that I still greatly enjoyed the reading experience. I found the story clever and whimsical enough that I didn't mind re-learning things as much as I thought I might. And really, the language and tone of the book differ so much from (what I remember of) the movie, it's two completely incomparable experiences. Both enjoyable, but definitely different.
And speaking of experience, I think my experience was greatly impacted by the fact that I listened to the audiobook as I read. Hearing another person telling the story instantly brought me back to my childhood, putting me in the right frame of mind. It's said that poetry needs to be read aloud to be experienced properly, and I think some stories are the same way. Fairytales, ghost stories, old legends, all require the right ambiance to evoke the best response, and I think verbal storytelling is the right ambiance. Just something to keep in mind.
Overall, I loved this adult fairytale. I'd recommend it for fantasy lovers who are in the mood for a fun adventure, Brothers Grimm gore, and a teensy bit of romance. There is one sex scene (comprised of two paragraphs) and one F-bomb, along with quite a bit of violence. Still, I think a crafty storyteller could easily make this a great story to read to their kids, so I don't really have an age recommendation. If you're craving something nostalgic, whimsically simple, and with just enough of an adult spin not to feel guilty about it, I'd go pick up Stardust.
Approximate Reading Time: 3.5 hours
*You know, the one where Cinderella's step-sisters chop up their feet to get the slipper to fit and get their eyes pecked out at the end. Or where Snow White chokes on the apple and is revived when the dwarfs drop her on her head. Great bed-time stories, huh?
**Actually, it turns out this was originally released by DC Comics as a four-part illustrated story. I think people seeing that binding would get the storytelling/fairy-tale reference a lot easier, don't you?(less)
Picking up where Demonglass left off, Sophie has just fallen smack dab in the middle of a sticky situation and once again has to use her snark and wits to save her skin. However, thanks to a binding spell that's trapped her powers, she doesn't have her amazing magic skills to help her out, so now all she's got to rely on is her sarcasm and a little help from her friends to save not only herself, but the whole world. Not exactly what the Hex Hall brochure promised.
Sophie is the same character as always. Sassy, headstrong, and a little too snarky for her own good. It was an interesting move stripping her from her magic completely, leaving her at the mercy of her enemies. And it kinda worked...but at the same time it didn't. She's literally powerless to anything anyone tries, but she won't shut up. She says a couple times that her mouth runs when she's scared, but it seems like there's no difference from when she's not scared, so she just comes off as unfazed by anything. This can either make the character seem brave or just unbelievable, and unfortunately the latter came through for me.
But what about her buddies who have her back? Them I liked, even if their emotions came off as a little too convenient at times. Archer is still the same snarky bad boy with a good hear. Cal is the stoic rock who can keep everyone grounded. Jenna was the perfect best friend, but I'll admit she was a little too perfect at times, a point which even Sophie recognized. But mentioning your mistakes doesn't make us forgive them.
Which brings us to the last member of our Scooby gang, Elodie the ghost. You'll remember Elodie from book one as the super-bitchy antagonist/rival who ended up not being as bad as our heroine first thought. Book two had Elodie as a typical plot booster, letting Sophie know information she couldn't have possibly known in order to get her moving in the right direction. Here, Elodie is the super plot convenience. Not only can she snoop around gathering information, she can also possess Sophie's body at any time in order to do magic, even when everyone else's powers are blocked. Can't have your heroine perform magic? Don't worry, cause this seemingly non-related event which happened in book one created a loophole!
Which is unfortunate, because I think Elodie's character could have benefited from even more development had she not just been a plot contrivance. In book one she said that she was sent to Hex Hall because she made someone vanish completely, and while she was there she accidentally killed a classmate and framed another in the pursuit of power. Why is she suddenly helpful? Is this atonement? Is she merely helping Sophie in order to be free of her? Yeah, what she does in relation to the Cal/Archer/Sophie triangle is a little character driven, but honestly that situation didn't need her help. I would have liked to see more of what made her tick, but unfortunately what she did was seen as more important than why she did it.
But if you thought Elodie was the only loophole, think again. Like me you may have already seen this coming from the end of the last book, but Sophie's mom is a Brannick. Now, this could have been handled in an interesting way, but it wasn't. The Brannicks being Sophie's family could have been a huge exploration into how magical and non-magical people could coexist, or even a stepping stone towards a treaty between Prodigium, Brannicks and The Eye, seeing how Sophie is the union between magic, Brannicks, and is dating Archer. But no, they're treated mainly as a giant info-dump, explaining Sophie's past, what's happening now, and what the next step is. A huge waste, if you ask me, of a pretty elaborately constructed loophole.
You want the backstory of said loophole? Well remember how Sophie and her mom moved around constantly? Yeah, it's because her mom had a magical (and 90% sure demon) baby and knew her family would hunt her down because of it. So the fact that Sophie knew nothing about ANYTHING all her life wasn't because her mom was a normal human, it was because her mom intentionally kept it from her. But it's okay because now we have people who can help us take down the bad magic people. Crisis averted! Personally, I've always been against withheld information for the sake of withholding it. It makes me downright furious unless there is a valid explanation for why it was done. Here, no reasoning, no apologies, no nothing because the fate of the world is a little more important and O gosh, it's good to see you. NO! NOT OKAY!
Furthermore, the loophole-leading-into-info-dumps screw with the themes the series has already established. In Hex Hall, Sophie was given nothing and had to do her own sleuthing to figure things out. Demonglass had a little less sleuthing but still had her going behind people's backs to gather information. Now all the mystery is taken out of everything because she's suddenly being showered with information left and right. Even the villain is in on the dumping!
I kid you not, there is a scene where Sophie is called into the same room with baddie, Lara Casnoff and told point-blank what her motivation is and what her plans are. Okay, not only is this bad writing, but it's insulting to the characters. This villain isn't stupid. That's established in Demonglass by the fact that no one knew what she was doing, even as it was happening right under their noses. So don't make her reveal her entire plan to the one person who can bring her down. Don't make her motivation as weak as "Daddy wanted it". And most importantly, don't rewrite her as super crazy. She's smart, she's sneaky, and she's obviously been working hard at this for quite some time. Don't make her a stupid, rambling, crazy witch for the sake of an easy ending.
However, where Lara failed epically, her sister Mrs. (Anastasia) Casnoff was a gem of a supporting character. We've seen her for three books now, and her characterization only grows more intricate as time goes on. While Hex Hall had her merely as a knowledgeable headmistress looking out for her charges, and Demonglass showed her as an undercover villain working behind the scenes, Spell Bound wove both elements into a surprisingly strong character. I won't give away too much, but despite her relatively minor role overall, I think Mrs. Casnoff will be one character readers will remember even more than characters their own age.
In fact, the students were completely wasted. Yeah, the entire cast from Hex Hall makes a return here a la the takeover of Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows. But even as Sophie and her crew plot and scheme to take down the Casnoffs, there's no attempt whatsoever to use the other students as backup. Heck, they don't even make any attempt to tell them what's going on. And it's not as if everyone's powerless — the shifters can obviously still transform, and who knows what magic the fairies are capable of — but no, the chosen ones leave everyone on their own. 'Cause that'll make the final battle even more dramatic and awesome!
...Or not. What could/should have been an amazing action-packed battle sequence is completely glossed over and handled off-screen. Not even gonna elaborate on that, it's just disappointing.
In all respects, this book just didn't fit. The strength of the series was in its frivolity, when Sophie could be a snarky girl exploring a new world and new abilities and having fun. Throw in some romantic angst and some drama so the main character can grow cause it's YA, but the story was still about discovery and fun. Once the fate of the world was at stake, the tone changed. It was no longer about a snarky girl discovering new things, it was about a warrior taking down the bad guys. And Sophie just never was a warrior, neither in training nor mindset, thus throwing her in the middle of things just didn't feel right.
That being said, I still think the ending was handled just about as well as it could have been. Once the action concluded, the characters felt organic again, especially Sophie. I really liked how the deaths were handled, how they actually had weight even after a month had passed. And I loved how the ending felt like a new beginning; there are still lose ends here and there, uncertainties still ahead, but that's just how life goes.
Overall, I think fans of the series will still appreciate this conclusion. It's not perfect by any means, but the gang's still here for those who love 'em so I'd definitely recommend it for Hex Hall enthusiasts who are pining for the wrap-up of Sophie's journey. There is some mild language, teen romance, and a good bit of violence including some battle scenes and torture, so I'd recommend this for late middle school and up. While I found Spell Bound a rough piece of work, I still appreciated the series as a whole and look forward to exploring Hawkins' next series in the near future. So if you're looking for an action-packed finale with your favorite snarky heroine, go pick up Spell Bound today.
Firstly, I think I need to present a little background on my experience. I typically like to re-read series before tackling the latest release—it serves as a refresher and helps me zone-in before I start reading the new one. So before picking up Traitor's Son, I revisited and reconnected with Kelsa and Raven in Trickster's Girl. Unfortunately, I think that was a mistake.
In Traitor's Son, Kelsa is no longer the focus; now it's all Jase. And I didn't really connect well with Jase. Maybe it's because he's a guy, maybe it was the car obsession, maybe it was the ambivalence towards nature, or maybe it's simply that he wasn't Kelsa in any way, shape, or form. In fact the Author's Note sums it up perfectly:
Finally, I owe the state of Alaska an apology for...shortchanging it. In Trickster's Girl, my protagonist traveled from Utah to the Alaska/Canada border—and Kelsa is a nature girl who could appreciate and marvel at the gorgeous places she passed through. Jase, the protagonist in Traitor's Son, is not a nature boy. In fact, he's the kind of kid who can drive the Glenallen Highway, otherwise known as Glacier Alley, and not even see the ethereal ice floes that look like they're floating on the other side of the valley, because he's thinking about his car. (It's an amazingly cool car, but still!)
In a novel, you see the world through the eyes of your protagonist. Jase is who he is, and that means I can't describe the [long list of grandiose landscapes and amazing experiences in nature I've experienced in Alaska]. [...] Alaska is fantastic. And through Jase's eyes, there's simply no way for me to do it justice.
It took reading the entire book and the Author's Note to finally stop thinking of Jase as a poor replacement for Kelsa and finally think of him in terms of himself. In that light, I did come to appreciate and respect him as a character. But I also think I might have saved myself a lot of trouble had I not read these books back to back.
Which is strange when you realize these two stories are grouped together in a series. On the one hand, the stories share a majority of the same characters, the same world, and essentially the same quest. But everything else, from pacing to protagonists, are completely alien to one another. I've read multi-character series before, but I've never read a story that changed so abruptly from one character to the next.
But perhaps I should back up and give you Jase's story.
Traitor's Son picks up exactly where Trickster's Girl left off, with a medicine bag being thrown over the border to a boy. But this time, we're in Jase's (the boy's) perspective. Jase is an Alaskan Native—3/16ths, anyway—whose life pretty much revolves around his car. And his car is nice. Those maglev (magnetic levitation) cars might be the way of the future, but who wants to hover when you can burn rubber in a vintage Tesla Roadster?
But as much as he hates to admit it, Jase's life isn't just cars, work and school. He's also the son of the lawyer who helped disband the Native corporations, and the grandson of the man who fought to keep them in place, thereby helping preserve their culture. In other words, he's caught in the middle of a generational and cultural rift that has all but torn his family apart. He's got enough trouble with trying to stay out of this fight, so you can imagine the last thing he wants is to get involved with another one.
Of course, that's just what this medicine bag and a beautiful girl named Raven force him to do. Apparently the girl who tossed the bag at him was on a quest to heal the magical energy stream that runs through the planet, and now that duty has fallen to him. He just has to activate three more nexus points and the healing will be complete. But the shape-shifting enemies who can hunt him even in his dreams may be the least of his problems if he doesn't start believing in himself.
That's right, this is a coming-of-age story, so a lot of it focuses on Jase coming to terms with who he is and what he can do. In terms of pacing, it works pretty well. There's some action here and there, but most of it focused on Jase's decisions—whether he thought he should run away and hide or whether it was time to stand up and fight. I'll admit that the whole disbelieving Raven part dragged on a little long for me, but I think that came from just finishing the previous book and already knowing everything. In terms of Jase's character arc, it worked.
What I had the hardest time understanding were the politics. There's an exposition-dump conversation between Jase and Raven, basically explaining why the title of the book is what it is, and how Jase factors in to everything. I never fully understood it. I think I got the gist of it in my explanation above, but even reading it four times through I don't know if I completely understand the situation. Heck, Raven's politics are more straight-forward than the tribes' were. Thankfully, the political backstory is only to clarify the fact that the majority of the Natives hate Jase. If you can understand that, you can understand the story.
Another thing that threw me was the romance. Firstly, I found it strange to think of Raven as a girl when I'd just finished a book in which she was a boy. I get it, Raven is a shapeshifter who doesn't even live in our world and who probably doesn't care about genders anyway. But in the last book, it was made perfectly clear that that's what Raven was - an alien and definitely not someone to get romantically interested in. Here...even though Jase is told the whole story, and is at one point even convinced that Raven's an alien, is still kinda romantically interested in her. Maybe it's just that he keeps seeing her nude and that's how this guy's brain works?
And going off on a slight tangent for a moment - why was it when Raven turned girl she was also suddenly delegated to damsel-in-distress? While I was sorta weirded out with the flirting and whatnot, I was also excited to see what Raven-lady would do. He was pretty kickass in the last book, and now we'd see a kickass chick to fill in for the lack of Kelsa, right? Well, if kickass suddenly means being out of the picture for the majority of the book and then ending up inexplicably in a cage, then... Wha—NO! Why?!
Though I will admit the baddies were pretty bad-ass. Otter-Woman is back and badder than ever. Her henchmen were big and bad, but they seemed the typical grunts. Otter-Woman was the brains behind the operation, and when that operation includes manipulation, lying, attempted murder, kidnapping, and the eventual destruction of the human race, you've definitely got a great villain. I only wished I could have gotten a little more backstory on her, like her own telling of how humans might have lost her trust other than through ignorance. But really, it's a small quibble, and she's scary enough that I don't really mind.
So that's Traitor's Son in a nutshell, but how did it hold up in terms of a series continuation/conclusion? Well, as I said at the beginning, I connected so much with the characters and themes of the last book that I was disappointed not to see them again. Trickster's Girl was much more a story of environmental healing and a quest-type storyline. Traitor's Son is more of a story about discovery and struggling with oneself with a war-type storyline. Does it work? Well, it's definitely unique. And so long as you can accept that the protagonist's story is contained within their respective book, it makes it so you can read the 'series' in either order.
Overall, Traitor's Son was an engaging, imaginative, and inspirational read. I'd recommend this to those interested in Native American culture, coming-of-age tales, or anyone who read Raven's first story. Strong language is non-existent (unless you find offense with "carp") but there is a lot of talk of sex/lust and quite a bit of violence toward the end, so I'd advise this for high-school and up. Even set in a world where futuristic tech blends with ancient magic, Hilari Bell still manages to make the story seem real through her characters, whether it be Kelsa or Jase. So as long as you don't mind becoming attached to a guy who happens to drive a Tesla Roadster, you might want to give Traitor's Son a try.
Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours
PS. I had to go through and fix the majority of times I wrote "Jase" because I had accidentally written "Jace" from The Mortal Instruments series.(less)
When I got the e-mail from NetGalley offering a limited (2-day) offer for the ARC of Grave Mercy I jumped at the chance. The premise sounded interesting, and if not completely unique, then a welcome change from the majority of YA lit being released these days. I applied and was accepted within a day or two.
Upon discovering that the book was 500+ pages I'll admit I was pretty intimidated, especially since I was only two weeks away from the April 3rd release. Nevertheless, I promised myself I would try to get it read near the release date.
I started reading on March 27th and my heart sunk. The narration was dry and choppy, details were minimal, and, most importantly, I couldn't find any personality in Ismae whatsoever. I couldn't believe I was dooming myself to read over 500 pages of this.
And then I hit Chapter 6—glorious Chapter 6—which takes place three years later. Now Ismae is seventeen and has had three years of training, friendship, and (most notably) learning to read and write. I absolutely loved the contrast of the two Ismaes and the ingenuity of the transition. Suddenly I couldn't wait to dig into the rest of the book.
Ismae turned out to be a fiery character. Determined to prove herself to her betters and Mortain, God of Death, she at first appears confident and cocky. But once she's out in the real world, her confidence takes a nose-dive and she's much less sure of anything, especially her own feelings. Normally a huge change in personality would throw up red flags—it's so rarely done well—but thankfully, this was one of the rare exceptions.
I think it's partly to do with the pacing of Ismae's story. Too often these days you have a character trying to go through their arc within two-or-three hundred pages. Honestly, that's not much room for change, so we're often given near-perfect characters becoming nearer-perfect characters. Grave Mercy has 549 pages to take us through Ismae's self-discovery, and it uses every single one of them.
But as much as I loved reading through Ismae's struggles and triumphs, I did think the 'overcoming her past' segments were covered extremely quickly. I would have liked to have seen more struggling with it besides when she was in her home village. The mother segment, especially, felt kinda out of the blue and rushed to me.
Nevertheless, I was hard-pressed to put this book down—in fact, I only did so twice. Between the assassinations, political intrigue, and romantic undertones, there was a lot to keep me interested. And that doesn't even cover the historical setting and information that kept being woven through. I've always been a bit of a history buff (even minored in college), so I savored each and every new tidbit I found—including the only swear word used in the whole book, Merde (pardon my French).
The fantasy of this book, even though it's a major plot point, is actually pretty subdued in comparison to the rich history. There aren't any spells or incantations, no witches brews or magic wands, and the closest things to magical creatures are the crows used as messenger birds. Pretty much, the only magic here is attributed to Mortain, God of Death, and it's pretty simple. He casts a marque upon someone—a black spot of sorts that shows how the victim will die— and his daughters follow his commands. Throughout the course of the book the mythos does evolve slightly, but on the whole I wouldn't worry about it if you're adverse to fantasy.
Similarly, I have a hard time calling this book a romance. Though Ismae eventually does fall in love, I found it to be more a part of her journey towards self-discovery—finding she's able and allowed to love—than an actual romantic plot. Conversely, there are many mentions of sex (Ismae masquerades as a mistress for much of the novel) and a couple allusions to rape but, keeping in the YA genre, there aren't any actions of either. Well...actually, there may have been one, but I honestly couldn't be sure.
After all this, I don't know if I've conveyed how much I loved this book. There's so much there that I don't know how to cover it all, nor do I really want to since it's just too good to spoil! I will say this about the ending: perfection. I'm excited to see what the next book, Dark Triumph, has in store for us, especially since it's about— Oop! Don't want to give too much away...
Overall I found Grave Mercy a refreshing and intriguing start to what I can only imagine will be a wonderful series. I'd recommend it for those who love Historical Fiction and YA, but don't mind a little Fantasy and Romance thrown into the mix. There is a fair amount of violence and many references to sex, so I'd place this as appropriate for late high-school and older, despite the young characters and inconsiderable language. Daunting as the length may be, Grave Mercy is one book you surely don't want to miss.
Approximate Reading Time: 9.5 hours
Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.(less)
I had a hard time with Crushed. You know those made-for-TV movies that start out with a nasty girl as the main character...moreAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Smashwords
I had a hard time with Crushed. You know those made-for-TV movies that start out with a nasty girl as the main character, but after she's dared into spending time with this one guy she stops being nasty and becomes a better person? Well, Crushed was kinda like that.
Kristen and her sisters started out as real witches. Yeah, the magic kind, but the other kind as well. Cyndi was by far the nicest, Brittany had the most attitude, and Kristen, our narrator, was supposed to be the median between the two. She had enough sass to support the strong female role, but was sensitive/logical enough not to be a "bad-girl".
My problem was I never sympathized with her. She and her sisters have played this "Game" every year of high school (possibly even before) where they cast a love spell on some boy then force them to do small (and eventually big) tasks for them. Carry books, drive them home, buy their lunches, etc. Then, at the end of the year, they recall their spells and compare how strong they became. Kristen has been the winner the past 3 years.
So right off the bat, we're given a character who has willingly enslaved at least three boys. Not because she really needed him to do anything, but because she and her sisters wanted to see which one of them could do it best. And I'm supposed to feel badly for her because...? Well, she's a Straight-A Student, and she's never had a date, and...she's not near as bad as Brittany. I'm sorry, but the whole enslaving her peers for fun thing hasn't been balanced out yet. Not even close.
And it wasn't like in the movies where the Mean Girl turned out to have some redeeming quality that made her more likable (to us and the guy). No, the big reveal that made the boy sorta start liking her was...she's so confused about what she wants to do with her life. Yeah, you and every other teenager on the planet.
But moving on to someone I did like, our second narrator was pretty awesome. Sure, he's that bad boy with a heart of gold stereotype, but getting to see into his head for once was an enjoyable experience. Especially having him be just as disgusted at Kristen's behavior as I was. I did think he changed his opinion of her too quickly, but nevertheless the romance was fun to follow from both sides.
Yes, this is definitely the classic mutual-hate turns to mutual-love scenario, which is one of my favorites. If you have to have a romance, I like the characters to have to put some effort into it. There was a lot of opposition on both sides of the equation here, but unfortunately, for all they went through, I thought the payout was pretty mild. All the romance came at slow, intimate moments, completely ignoring the passionate kiss that could follow life-and-death scenes. In short, the romance was cute.
The villain, on the other hand, was pretty intense. Not only did she wield a lot of power, but she was smart enough to play the long con. I was never absolutely sure who the villain was until the big reveal. And even then, I still held out for a surprise twist. The underlying mystery was fascinating to follow, and was honestly the main thing that kept me reading to the end.
Which was lucky, because I also wasn't thrilled with the writing. I know it's a self-published piece, so I shouldn't be overly critical of things like typos and word-choice, but it just wore me down after a while. Don't get me wrong, it was readable, I didn't get lost or confused at what was being said. But it didn't enchant me like so many other books I've read.
Moreover, there were a couple continuity errors I just couldn't get over. At one point one sister points out that another sister's aura is black. The chapter ends. Next chapter starts and the three sisters are talking. Not about the fact that having a black aura is super scary/weird/unusual. Not even about the fact that one of them almost died. No, they're talking about Zach and the Crushed spell. Really?
At another point, the characters burst into a room to find the villain holding a hostage. Every single character is mentioned in the scene. The villain vanishes with the hostage and the other characters retreat to make their plans. Two pages later, the narrator is thankful that "at least [villain] still thought [person] was trapped in the family room". Uh...no. That person was the one who burst into the room first, actually. This 'element of surprise' is mentioned a couple times after that as well.
And one last peeve of mine, which I really hate to end on but will, was the lesbian issue. Fairly early on, Kristen's arch-rival calls her out in front of a crowd of people to try and start a fight. After a few catcalls are exchanged, the rival starts this lovely speech:
"Isn't it funny how Kristen never has a boyfriend? Guys talk, you know? Lots of boys ask her out, but she turns them down every time. She wants you to think it's because she's picky, but we all know the truth deep down. Don't we?" Kristen stood frozen to the ground, unable to breathe. Her mind raced in violent circles, trying desperately to find a way out of this mess. Gina was about to start a nasty rumor. Rumors could kill an otherwise perfect image and plunge that person into a sea of unpopularity. She had to think fast, had to act fast before... "Kristen doesn't like boys." Gina folded her arms over her chest, looking more pleased than a cat with a bowl of fresh cream. "She prefers girls." [Chapter 3]
It's brought up again a couple times later when the possibility of a girl Crushing another girl is discussed. First Kristen doubts the possibility with Cyndi, then the sisters share a giggle when it's revealed that the villain did indeed Crush one of them.
I get it, being labeled gay is uncomfortable when you're not, and sure, it can be seen as a detriment to popularity. But why enforce the stereotype? Why use "gay" as a weapon at all? I never saw Kristen's popularity as key to her character. She's labeled as being popular, but never hangs out with anyone except her sisters (and eventual boyfriend). She's described herself as not caring about any guys there, and is focused on college and her future. If that's the case, why the hell would she care about being called a lesbian?
But no, she has to prove right then and there that, 'No, wait, I'm totally straight! See, here's my secret boyfriend!' Cue her ordering her latest enslaved boy to act like he's her boyfriend. Ugh! Can you see why I had a hard time forgiving her? But back to my point, I thought the knocks at lesbians were rude and could have been left out of the story completely.
Overall, I was disappointed with Crushed. I thought the story concept was interesting, the mystery surrounding the villain was engaging, but the main characters and writing left me wanting to get it over with. Sex, language, and violence are negligible, so I'd say it's appropriate for the middle-school crowd as well as high-schoolers. While Crushed and I had our differences, I think it could make an enjoyable read for those who like YA Paranormal-Romance, but are tired of the vampires and werewolves ruling the scene.
Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 hours
P.S. Though not my favorite book, Crushed was an engaging introduction into a world of powerful witches, a world I'd like to visit again. The second installment, Witch Hunt, features a brand new cast coming into their own trials and triumphs. And from the sample I've downloaded from Amazon, I'm already looking forward to reading more.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. (less)
First off, if you hate spoilers of any kind, you may not want to read this book's Prologue. Don't get me wrong, I liked how it introduced the narrator's (Zoe's) voice, and I thought the action was a great hook to get me reading. But I will admit that it gave away a good portion of the book's plot, erasing the tension in much of Part 2. So I guess if you're unsure of whether or not you want to read it, give the Prologue a read; if you're set on reading it, go ahead and skip to Chapter 1.
Zoe is our main character and narrator for The Dig, and I connected with her fairly early on. She reminded me a lot of myself: reserved, a bit socially awkward, sort of a wallflower, extremely observant. But instead of sitting on the outskirts of high school (or boarding school) culture and wishing she were a part of it, she wishes she could run as far away as possible.
I get it, she's a loner. But I got tired of the flip-flopping between, "woe is me, I'm so awkward, I hate being alone" and "everyone else is so shallow/preppy, I'm glad I'm not like them." I swear, I kept waiting for a Holden Caulfield "phony" to show up somewhere. All her flashbacks and ancient-to-modern comparisons painted the world as having three types of people: Jocks, Preps, and Archaeologists (oh, and her). I'm sorry, but that's an awfully narrow worldview for a seventeen year-old who's actually traveled the world, don't ya think?
The other characters left me begging for more, and not really in a good way. It's pretty bad when I know CeeCee (who appears only in Chapter 1 and flashbacks) more than any of the people she meets in ancient Greece. Creusa felt like more of a plot tool than a real character, or friend for that matter. Just another thing for Zoe to comment on. I will admit that Blondie was nice to read about, but he never threw me any curve balls, so I lost interest after a while.
And the Gods and Goddesses? Chalk them up with a paragraph apiece, and that's pretty much all we get. There was sooo much potential, like say after she finished summing up their personalities in 2 seconds maybe having them prove her wrong? Even in some tiny insignificant way? But no, it was cut and dry as soon as she saw them, and hardly any interaction afterwards. A major letdown.
Two seconds was about all the attention afforded to most of the descriptions, actually. Being an historical fantasy, I was expecting to be immersed in the intricacies of the ancient world—the architecture, the clothing, the customs, possibly the food. Maybe I'm just spoiled by Tamora Pierce. I honestly couldn't tell that we were in ancient Greece aside from Zoe's insistence that that's where we were. No identifiable landscapes, no clothing details (other than maybe a couple togas and a cape), no interesting customs, and frankly the mythical creatures only made me more confused. And the cantina? What?
Romance was extremely thick in this one. For being so judgmental of her classmates' boy-crazy behavior, Zoe jumps into the love pool pretty dang fast. I'm not saying it's completely out of character, especially in a YA book, but it did dominate the story a bit more than I expected/wanted. What is covered is extremely tame, no lusty thoughts or actions here, but it gets pretty gushy towards the end.
And speaking of the end, a little warning: The Dig is the first in a trilogy. Now, being part of a series doesn't automatically mean that the ending is going to be cut off...but in this case it is. Just thought I'd warn you.
And yet, despite all my issues and complaints, this was an enjoyable read. No, really, I liked the book. I put it down maybe twice, and once was only because I was dog tired. Honestly, my biggest problem with it was seeing all of what could have been. The concept was intriguing and I very much liked the voice and style of writing, but then I'm left with all the shortcomings. It was a great book to stir up the imagination, just not the best to dissect and analyze. Still, I'm looking forward to the continuation of the series, I just hope to see more overall. Especially the side characters.
Ultimately, I'd recommend The Dig to younger readers who enjoy romance, fantasy, adventure, and snarky girls. Underwhelming on the historical front, but a quick and easy read nonetheless. Language, romance, and violence are all G-rated, but I think the heavy emphasis on romance and cliques would keep it at minimum at Middle Grade level. The first of what looks to be an entertaining trilogy, The Dig (aka Zoe and Zeus) is a fun romp through a world of fantasy.
Okay, so last semester at Hex Hall didn't go as well as Sophie had hoped. Between her major crush, Archer trying to kill her, her gre...moreAmazon ~ Powell's
Okay, so last semester at Hex Hall didn't go as well as Sophie had hoped. Between her major crush, Archer trying to kill her, her great-grandmother killing her best frienemy, and finding out she's actually a demon, there's nothing else Sophie can think of that could make her life suck even more. Well, except maybe finding out that she could snap and kill everyone around her without warning. Yeah, that'll just about do it.
The good news is there's a way to remove the danger entirely. The bad news is it would take away her powers and quite possibly probably kill her.
Determined not to be a danger, Sophie travels to England with her father (demon), her best friend (vampire), and her betrothed (warloc—wait, WHAT?!) to go through with the Removal. But once she arrives, she's met with shocking news that puts her plans on hold. With newly-made demons mysteriously appearing, The Eye increasing their attacks against Prodigium, and nearby Archer sightings, who would have thought the Removal would be the least of her worries?
Before I get started, I've got a quick cover complaint: The cat's still there. Um...why? Didn't we already establish in the last book that there are no cats? Okay, fine, it's cute and sorta points to witches. So maybe a stranger looking at the cover would get clued in that it's about magic...is that any reason to keep taunting those who are reading the books? Oh, and don't ask me the significance of the reflection, since I'm pretty certain the only nice dress Sophie ever wears is black. Complaints aside, it's still a gorgeous cover.
If you were hoping to find our main character with even more humor, wit, sarcasm, and overall snark, you should be very pleased. Sophie is as sassy and endearing as ever, perhaps even more-so without vindictive classmates or prying professors around. Her style of snark may not be for everyone, but I found her voice to be a mirror of my own—we just clicked. Jenna, I hate to admit, wore on my nerves a bit. I didn't think she was fleshed out any better than before, and even repeated her past brooding a couple times. Still, she ended up being able to put petty arguments aside eventually so in the end she's still on my good side.
The other characters (new, for the most part) are all equally intriguing. Between new demons Daisy and Nick, a more friendly and talkative Cal, and Sophie's father, I'm having a hard time missing old Hecate. Plus there are a couple surprise reappearances by old friends that are sure to banish any Hex Hall blues. And the major villains of the book, though not revealed until pretty late, are once again given their fair share of fleshing-out. Makes it a bit hard to choose sides sometimes, eh?
If asked who my favorite new-to-Demonglass character was, it would hands down be Sophie's dad. He's every bit as sarcastic as his daughter, though a little more restrained, and he has a British accent to boot! For having started off as a boarding-school-series with Hex Hall, Demonglass defies the norm by placing the main character with a parent. Granted, it's a parent she's never met in person, and staying in a huge, labyrinthine home, so it somewhat harkens back to the isolated teen angle. However, I was extremely impressed with the father/daughter bond that was established. It's something not seen much anymore, and I thoroughly enjoyed it—especially when he confided in her or matched wits in sarcastic duels.
And speaking of sarcastic guys, guess who's back? If the romance in the last book was comparable to Pride and Prejudice, this time it was definitely Romeo and Juliet with just a hint of Twilight. I know love triangles can be annoying sometimes, but this one worked for me. Though the 2nd love interest wasn't established at all in the previous book, there were still clues to its possibility. So while it may seem sudden, it wasn't really random. Then, during this book, while it was present, I never found it obnoxiously so. Sophie never seemed to sway one way or the other, she simply had a choice of head or heart.
Making choices is definitely the prominent theme of this book, but that doesn't mean it's lacking in magic or action. If the main threat in Hex Hall was being caught alone, that's nothing compared to Demonglass because even numbers don't ensure safety when L'Occhio di Dio (aka The Eye) and rampaging demons are involved. Though admittedly the action is heavier toward the end, there's more than enough magical intrigue and conspiratorial mystery to keep the plot moving forward. Truly there's never a dull moment.
Unfortunately, that includes the ending as well. If you thought the cliffhanger from Hex Hall was bad, boy you ain't seen nothing yet! Once again, I'm not saying the book ends in the wrong place. Plot-wise, journey-wise, it's the perfect place to end it. But Sophie's story isn't over—not by a long shot. The end of this book is...well, I'd say it's equivalent to the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Let's just say that Spell Bound had better freaking get here soon!
I'll admit I went in to Demonglass expecting a lot, and it far exceeded my expectations. Overall, I'd say it's a perfect continuation of a magical, fascinating, and hilarious series. They may have left the school, but that doesn't change much except the architecture. I hate to repeat myself, so I'll just say if you liked Hex Hall, you're gonna love its sequel. And if you haven't read Hex Hall...what the heck are you waiting for?!
You remember in school when you were given a picture and told to write a story about it? Or maybe you've had a writing exercise where you have to use a picture and a phrase within your short story. Well, regardless of whether or not you've done it yourself, I think we can all agree Ransom Riggs has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements.
I'll admit, the photographs did creep me out when I first received the book. The majority of them are of children in carnival clothes, all with blank or staring faces, almost like they're daring you to judge them. It gave me a horror-esque vibe when I first saw it, which I'm sorry to say put me off reading it for quite some time. But regardless of whether this book was inspired by the many Ripley's Believe It Or Not-esque photographs or whether they were sought out after crafting the peculiar tale, I'm glad they were included. It gives the entire work a uniqueness that not only enhances the reading experience, but is sure to remain in the minds of readers for some time after completion.
The story focuses on Jacob, a teenager who has grown up hearing strange stories from his grandfather. Stories of children who have fantastical abilities, a kind old bird who watches after them, and horrible monsters who would like nothing better than to gobble them up. Much like believing in Santa Claus, however, he eventually grows out of the fantasies his grandfather tells. That is until his grandfather dies at the claws of one of the monsters he knows can't be real. Now it's up to Jacob to journey to the orphanage from his grandfather's past in order to uncover the truth.
While the age of our protagonist and the type of journey he takes is very similar to the typical YA fiction these days, I found the tone and style of this book fitting for a much broader audience. The writing is very matter-of-fact and reflectional rather than conversational or stream-of-consciousness. It's almost like reading a journal, or a research journal rather than having a narrator who is speaking directly to the reader.
As such, compared to most modern-day YA adventure fiction, I felt a little distanced from the narrator, Jacob. Sure, I could still tell his personality, and most of his emotions at certain points, but it did feel very much like he'd had some time between the events happening in the book to when he is telling us. It's not a bad thing, just different from what I imagine most YA readers would be expecting.
The supporting cast was equally distant, in terms of the writing, though I still got some instances where personalities shone through. Four of the 'peculiars' in particular had especially great dialogue that made me fall in love. And does every invisible man nowadays require a snarky personality? I'm not complaining, mind you, but I had to chuckle at the stereotype that seems to be forming. The rest of the children had enough description to let me differentiate them by name, but not quite enough to make me all that interested. And Miss Peregrine was...a bit more underwhelming than I would have liked, serving as a typical knowledgeable adult who won't reveal anything until 'the right time'. I don't know, I never got a clear enough read on her, so I'm still not 100% sure of her yet...
Which I suppose worked well with the whole mysterious feel the book had going for it. If the creepy pictures weren't enough to make you uneasy, the majority of the book centers on Jacob's quest to discover what is real and what isn't. It's a bit of a mystery, a bit supernatural-fantasy, with some action and adventure sprinkled in now and again. Ultimately, I was never absolutely sure what to think of anyone or anything, which made the entire experience the right kind of unsettling.
Which made the twist towards the end of the book all that more jarring. I really don't want to go too much into it here, since saying much at all would only diminish its impact for those who haven't read it yet, but suffice it to say that I had to applaud the jaw-dropping realization that Jacob has to face a good 3/4 through the story. This book truly drives home the fact that our world is full of magic if only we know where to look, though not all of that magic is good.
And speaking of things that may or many not be good, I've got to talk about a couple problems I had with the book. First off, the romance. Yes, it's YA and 9 out of 10 books have to have some boy-meets-girl (or visa versa) love story, but the style and pacing of this book didn't allow for much growth between the two. Jacob seems pleasantly surprised at best that the girl has feelings for him, and yet we're to believe that she factors majorly into his decisions? I suppose it's a major draw for those who aren't interested in angsty YA romances, but then keep it as a mutual crush, don't try to pin life-altering decisions on it. Hopefully this will be fleshed out further in the sequel(s).
Another thing I hope gets a lot of fleshing out is the time-travel magic. Granted, time travel is going to be confusing and paradoxical no matter what, but I would have liked a little more explaining at times. Yeah, I understand why things were kept vague/mysterious, but I'm really hoping that we get more solid answers as the series progresses.
Still in spite of, and in some ways because of the time travel elements, there is a timeless quality about this book which is partly why I think it appeals to both younger and older readers. The journalistic narrative style, the historical references, and the period pictures and dialogue all combine to make the story seem like it could take place any time, with any person. With so many books attempting to appeal to the now, trying to get the clothes, the slang, and the pop-culture right, it was great to read something that didn't pay attention to any of that. And in doing so, not only did Riggs create something unique from much of today's YA, but something I believe will continue to stand out in years to come.
Overall I found Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be a surprisingly pleasant journey into the unknown realms of our own world. Fans of fringe science, creepy photographs, and paranormal mysteries will no doubt enjoy this book immensely, but I'd also recommend it to those who like YA fantasy or adventure, since this book doesn't necessarily look it on the cover. Between the creepy photos and some disturbing/violent scenes toward the end, I'd recommend this for middle grade and above, though you might want to stick to daylight reading depending on your disposition. If you're looking for a book that's a little unique, or dare I say peculiar, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an edge-of-your-seat story that will have you questioning what you know to be real, what is possible, and what might be lurking just out of view.