As someone who was totally new to Cathy Clamp’s work, I was very excited about the opportunity to read Forbidden, book one in a new series set in the Sazi universe. A “reboot” of sorts, the novel takes place ten years after the events at the end of The Tales of the Sazi, featuring a new story and new characters – a fresh start, essentially, and a perfect jumping-on point for a newcomer like me.
Indeed, there’s not much you need to know before starting this series, and any required knowledge is helpfully provided by the author. For example, I found it interesting that the two protagonists of Forbidden actually first appeared in the original series as relatively minor characters. According to Clamp’s afterword, the heroine Clarissa Evans (who goes by Claire Sanchez here) was in Moon’s Fury as one of the young victims of a child abductor. All grown up now and an agent of the Wolven, Claire is being sent to investigate a string of missing children cases in the remote town of Luna Lake.
For obvious reasons, the mission hits a bit close to home, and Claire finds herself struggling to deal with unpleasant memories on top of trying to figure out the complex hierarchy of her new pack. The community at Luna Lake is unlike anything she’s had to deal with before, on account of it being a former refugee camp for displaced Sazi and lost orphans. Shapeshifters of all sorts live together here, including owls, falcons, bears, cougars, and of course wolves like Claire herself. On her first day, she meets another wolf named Alek, a Sazi orphan who grew up in Luna Lake after being adopted into a family of owls. Sparks fly between them immediately – both the good and bad sort – but whatever attraction or differences they have between them, solving the mystery must come first…before it’s too late for the missing kids.
Right away, I was captivated by the magic of this world. There are all sorts of Sazi, like those who can turn into wolves, big cats, birds of prey, snakes, etc. There were also the little things that charmed me, like the fact they can talk in their animals forms, or use food smells (most often desserts, I find. Or maybe I just notice them more because of my sweet tooth) to identify the emotional states of other Sazi.
I was also amazed by the social dynamics of Luna Lake. You don’t have to be familiar with the Sazi series to understand that it’s a very special community. The bird shifters aren’t big fans of the cats, the cats don’t much like the wolves, and the wolves can’t stand the smell of the birds, but at Luna Lake all the groups manage to live in relative harmony because that’s the only way to ensure survival. For Alek and other Sazi like him who were adopted by the Williams, the town is literally one big family. Even though he is a wolf, Alek is a big brother to owls, eagles, bobcats, other wolves and more, and there’s this sense of solidarity and togetherness about Luna Lake that gave me all the warm and fuzzy feels. Yet, there’s also a cost to that peace. Over the years the pack has developed a way to identify their “omegas”, and these low ranked individuals are treated poorly and forced to do all the dirty jobs in town. It made me feel really unsettled and angry towards Luna Lake’s leaders and those townsfolk who turn a blind eye to this blatantly unfair and broken system.
Be aware too that while Forbidden is described as an Urban Fantasy mystery, in some ways it actually reads more like a paranormal romance. Claire and Alek’s relationship is often the focus of the story, and the mystery elements of the plot are in truth not that substantial. To really get into the story, you would need to buy into the chemistry between Claire and Alek, and that was perhaps my problem; I didn’t feel like I got a chance to know either of them very well before they were thrust together, and right on the heels of them falling in lust came the obligatory plot contrivances to introduce conflict between them. I also found Alek too self-absorbed for my tastes and Claire too much of a “special snowflake”, which all made it harder for me to care about their developing relationship. That said, I’m not a big reader of PNR so there may be a lot genre norms and nuances that I’m not accustomed to, so feel free to take my opinion on the romance with a grain of salt!
The world of the Sazi does have the benefit of being fully fleshed out and realized though, from all the groundwork that has been established by the original series. Just this little taste of it has gotten me hooked, and I find myself wanting more. Certainly if you have a love for stories about shapeshifters, you need to check this one out for the many different kinds of creatures alone. Recommended for urban fantasy/paranormal romance readers and fans of strange and beautiful magic....more
Boy is a Mage, brought up on lessons about the power of illusions, taught that reality is a sham and that people are shadows – and oh, no matter what you do, do NOT trust those lying, stinking Mechanics.
Girl is a Mechanic, a master of logic and equations who prides herself on the fact that no machine is beyond her abilities to fix, and of course, Mechanics are just so much better than those useless Mages.
Then boy meets girl. Everything changes. Alain and Mari come together after their caravan is destroyed by bandits, only managing to survive the treacherous journey back to civilization with each other’s help. They begin to discover just how much their Guild elders have kept from them, secrets and misconceptions that have been keeping the Mage-Mechanical rivalry alive for all these hundreds of years.
Then the power of Foresight unexpectedly comes to Alain. He learns something that Mari doesn’t know – that she is in fact the prophesied chosen one who will unite the two great guilds and save the world. As the two are sent to Dorcastle amidst rumors of uncontrolled dragons and sabotage, Alain can hardly begin to describe the way he feels for Mari, but he does know staying away from her as his masters had ordered is not an option.
The Dragons of Dorcastle is a sweet little story about the serendipitous partnership between two people from different divides, who end up realizing they were wrong about everything they thought they knew about the other. I’d never read anything by John G. Hemry AKA Jack Campbell before, though I do know a bit about his military sci-fi Lost Fleet series, which I can’t imagine can be any more different than this book, a Young Adult-ish fantasy and steampunk romance.
Surprisingly though, this was very good. A little standard, perhaps, and playing a bit too safe when it comes to ideas. However, seeing as this book was originally written to be an audiobook exclusive for Audible Studios, it wouldn’t surprise me if a fun and practical story like this – intended to appeal to a wider and more general audience – was a conscious decision. And it was probably the right decision; I can see it being the perfect choice for anyone in the mood for an entertaining and light read looking to pass the time, though it’s possible that diehard genre readers may be left unsatisfied.
But hey, here be dragons. Well, okay, maybe not exactly. I don’t actually hold this against the book, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyhow that I find the title a bit misleading. There’s some dragon activity for sure, though it doesn’t come until very late in the book, and relatively briefly. Relating this to my thoughts above, I can’t help but to think the name was another clever move to boost appeal. Granted, the story does present a rather intriguing mystery about the dragons at the end, so even though they aren’t the center of attention, we are left with some major dragon-related questions to ponder and there’s no doubt they will play a bigger role in the next book.
Perhaps the novel’s greatest strength is its focus the characters. Most of the book is spent developing the relationship between Alain and Mari, even when the two aren’t even in the same scene. We’re in their heads all the time, experiencing their thoughts and emotions as contemplate the other. The narrative does an especially good job with Alain, whose capacity for emotions has been all but stripped by the Mage guild. The way I looked at the situation, it’s actually a lot like reading about Spock falling in love. That is to say, it’s no easy feat. The author deserves my admiration for pulling it off.
Let’s face it, too: I’m a sucker for Forbidden Love. Despite being YA and the style of prose leaning towards younger audiences, I really enjoyed the delightful romance blooming between Alain and Mari. It’s a relationship I find more “cute” than “passionate”, but nonetheless it worked surprisingly well for me.
In the end, The Dragons of Dorcastle is not a terribly original or noteworthy book, but I really liked it. Its down-to-earth style, entertainment value, and wonderful characters made it very hard for me to resist its charms. All told, a very good book to just curl up and relax with....more
I admit The Wrath and the Dawn wasn’t initially a book I was drawn to, but as time went by, the concept started to grow on me. I still would have preferred a stronger fantasy component, but its hook – the fact that its story is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights – became more intriguing the longer I thought about it.
The book introduces us to sixteen-year-old Shahrzad, getting ready for her marriage to Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. It’s a sad affair for her family, who all believe it will be the last time any of them will see Shazi alive. Everyone says that young Khalid is a monster, for what kind of man would take a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise the next day? Shazi, however, had volunteered herself for this, and she has a plan (arguable, but more about that later). Not long ago, her own best friend was taken and killed by the Caliph. Now Shazi is determined to find out why Shiva and all those other young girls had to die, and she won’t stop until she gets her revenge.
Things are not as they seem, though. Shazi may have escaped death for a day by captivating Khalid with a story, cleverly withholding the ending by the time dawn arrives, forcing the Caliph to put off her execution in order to find out what happens. The more time she spends with the boy king, however, the more she realizes he is not the monster everyone made him out to be. Still, he did kill all those women, and the reason for that is a closely guarded secret that no seems to know or want to talk about. While seeking answers, Shazi finds herself slowly drawn to Khalid and even begins to fall for him. But when her first love Tariq learns of her marriage to the Caliph and comes riding to her rescue, Shazi will have to make a choice.
I found this book to be one part romance, and one part A Big Question. The former is relatively straight forward; Shazi marries Khalid, realizes that he’s actually not that bad, the two fall in love. It happens very quickly, almost too quickly for my tastes. Here’s another Young Adult novel, where in its eagerness to get its two lovers together, we lose out on a lot of the emotional layers that make the relationship convincing. And how was Shazi supposed to take revenge on the Caliph after marrying him anyway? She didn’t even really try. Her half-baked plan didn’t seem to go much farther beyond enticing him with stories (and I do wish she had been able to tell more of them), so all I can see is the instalove being a decision of convenience. Thing is though, I could easily look past this in favor of what I really felt was the most interesting aspect of the whole book.
Enter the big question: Why did Khalid kill Shazi’s best friend Shiva and all those other wives of his? That’s the mystery that really caught my interest and kept me reading, and it was treated in the exact opposite way as the romance, an intricate puzzle that slowly unravels. For that I was very happy, and I liked how the author took the time to make the answers worth it.
I was also most impressed with Shazi’s character above any of the others. I liked that she had such class and dignity, but also a strong personality that wouldn’t stop her from teaching a lesson to someone who shows her disrespect. She’s also truly fearless, as evidenced by the calm and quiet way she decided to volunteer to marry the Caliph knowing very well it could mean her death, and also by a scene where she strikes out at an attacker even when she very literally had a blade to her throat.
There was really one factor about the writing that made me stumble. Five words: Attack of the purple prose.
“But the thought that she might lie to him – that those eyes, with their unpredictable onslaught of colors, flashing blue one instant and green the next, only to paint his world gold with the bright sound of her laughter…”
Occasionally there will be a glaring overkill of these flowery phrases or paragraphs. I think it’s pretty common with relatively new authors who are also extremely talented writers though, who maybe just need to know when to dial it back a little.
Still, on the whole I do think Renée Ahdieh writes beautifully and has a bright writing career ahead of her. While it may not be perfect, The Wrath and the Dawn impressed me and so I’m on board to see what happens next....more
Son of the Shadows may be the second book of the Sevenwaters series, but it is not a direct sequel. Instead, the story follows the youngest daughter of Sorcha, the brave young woman in Daughter of the Forest who was set upon a quest to save her six older brothers from a terrible curse – and succeeded. Liadan proves to be just as resourceful as her mother when she is abducted by outlaws on the road, managing to maneuver her way out of the dilemma by offering her healing services to an injured member of the group. This is also how she meets the Painted Man, the leader of the band known to be a cold and heartless killer.
Despite it not being a direct sequel, it is still perhaps necessary to read Daughter of the Forest first before tackling Son of the Shadows. Threads from the first book’s story carry over to this one, and if you aren’t familiar with them it is easy to become confused or lost. In fact, as someone who jumped into this book right after reading the first one, I still feel like I’m missing something. The meddling Fae are back, reminding us that there is still a prophecy to be fulfilled and a darkness to vanquish. Sorcha may have set Sevenwaters on the right path, but it is up to Liadan to take up the mantle now and continue what her mother started. However, nothing really develops in the grander scheme of things; we don’t get to see the great evil rear its ugly head even once in this novel, and I’m not sure if the Fair Folk’s prophecy progresses that much at all.
For all that, Son of the Shadows was an enjoyable read, almost as much as Daughter of the Forest. It does lack a bit of the cohesion I found in the first book, which had a clear direction given how it was a very faithful retelling of a well-known fairy tale. Marillier plays around more with her characters and plot with this one, having freer reign to do as she pleases with the story. For one thing, the romance here is much heavier and more in the forefront. Liadan and the Painted Man fall swiftly for each other, whereas Sorcha’s relationship in the previous book was a much slower burn. The love story elements are more overt and in your face this time around and doesn’t come across as naturally, but it’s still very deep and full of passion.
Still, it’s an excellent follow up and a worthy addition to the saga of Sevenwaters, which looks to have more in store. It’s clear now that there’s a lot more to the narrative, and the effects aren’t going to be limited to just a few characters. Instead, multiple generations in the same bloodline will be touched forever. Son of the Shadows is different from the first book, but in a good way. And it doesn’t stray too far from the overall themes that I’ve come to appreciate about this series, mainly the fairy tale and mythological undertones to the setting and story. And of course, Marillier’s writing is beautiful as always.
This book is put together slightly less elegantly and doesn’t tread as lightly as its predecessor, but I still loved it....more
Echo 8 is the first novel I’ve read by Sharon Lynn Fisher, but I’d known from before that her work is usually characterized by mixture of Science Fiction and Romance elements. That sounded just fabulous to me, and well, ultimately I believe one’s overall enjoyment of this book will entirely depend on how much you prefer in your balance of each genre!
With themes like alternate worlds and parapsychology at its core, Echo 8 follows a brilliant young researcher named Tess Caufield in a near-future where doppelgangers have begun appearing mysteriously and randomly from a parallel universe. As far as Tess and her team could tell, these shadowy “Echoes” are from an alternate earth that has been struck by an asteroid, but how these hapless individuals ended up being here, and how to keep them alive on this world after they have teleported are questions scientists are still trying desperately to work out.
However, Echoes also have the unfortunate tendency to drain the life energy from people they come in physical contact with. This consequently led to the assignment of FBI special agent Ross McGinnis to Tess’s security detail, much to her chagrin. This arrangement is further strained when Jake, the latest Echo to dislocate to Seattle Psi from the other earth touches Tess and almost kills her, setting off a chain reaction that will have profound significance for all three lives.
Remember what I said earlier about how you like your balance of sci-fi and romance? After finishing Echo 8, I’ve determined that this book is without question heavier on the latter. The scientific theory and technology involved in here is sufficiently explained but clearly written in a way so that the reader can enjoy the story without having to look beyond the surface details. Those used to harder sci-fi with a stronger emphasis and comprehensive look at the technical aspects won’t really find it here. On the other hand, if you’re fancying yourself a good romance, then you definitely won’t be disappointed.
No question about it, Fisher has a real talent for writing hot, sweaty, passionate lurrrrrve. Perhaps a bit too fast and intense for me, if I’m to tell the truth. Heck, I’m all for scorching love scenes, and I’m not exactly a fan of crawling slow burn romances either, but I’d prefer to see a relationship proceed at more of a simmer. In Echo 8 we’re thrust into a complicated love triangle almost right away, and the first time two characters get together it happened very quickly, too quickly for me to be truly convinced of their feelings for each other.
In general, the weight of the romance also came at the expense of story and character development. Often I could tell that the plot yearned to be something bigger, something more, but all told it ended up being rather straightforward and predictable. There’s not much depth to Tess beyond her obsession to help Echoes and her complete lack of concern over whether or not she gets killed trying to do it. This drives Ross crazy of course, but his soft spot for Tess means it never takes much to talk him into letting her do anything she wants. We go through this cycle repeatedly with these two characters, while Jake pines for Tess and struggles with his feelings for someone he knows he can never have…or can he? Like the science fiction aspects, we’re given just enough information about the three main characters to appreciate the twisty relationship dynamics behind their…unique situation. The level of romantic drama here is extremely satisfying, but once again, some readers might find themselves wishing for more out of the plot and characters.
In sum, Echo 8 has a very interesting and ambitious premise, even if it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. It is first and foremost a Romance, and in this area the book indubitably excels, practically burning up the pages with its fast-paced love story and red-hot desires flying all over the place. It’s perhaps too strong on the romantic side of things for my tastes, but I suspect those readers who are more inclined towards that will enjoy this novel very much. Everything about it is designed to appeal to genre fiction readers who enjoy a very healthy dose of romance, and without a doubt it is successful in this endeavor. And I have to say, even with the issues I mentioned above, I liked this book and found it to be a fun read....more
I was a bit taken aback by the tepid to cool reviews I’ve been seeing for this one. Not that my own review is all that glowing, I realize, but while Talon probably won’t rank among my favorite Young Adult novels read this year, I had a lot of fun with it. By all means not a bad book. Surprisingly, most of the disappointment appears to be from fans of Julie Kagawa’s other series. I’ve never read anything else by her though, so there’s really nothing for me to compare this to.
But let’s move on to what the book is about. Talon is about dragons…but also not really. If you’re looking for a novel featuring these magnificent creatures in all their winged and scaly fire-breathing glory, you’re not going to find much of that here. What you have instead is a small group of dragonkind who spend most of their time in human form, hoping to infiltrate our society and one day take over the world again. A secret faction of dragon slayers called the Order of St. George is determined not to let that happen, and their members continue to hunt dragons like they have for time immemorial.
The book begins as two young dragon siblings, Ember and Dante Hill travel to California in their human forms to begin training for their future positions to serve their home base of Talon. Ember is fascinated with humankind, and wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer living out the full teenager experience – beaches, arcades, ice cream parlors, the whole shebang. Her brother Dante on the other hand is a lot more disciplined, and does not like it one bit when a rogue dragon shows up in their territory, distracting Ember from her training. Meanwhile, St. George has received the rumors of new dragon recruits in the area, and the young soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian and his partner are tasked to hunt these Talon agents down and kill them.
Encouraged to mingle and blend in with other teenagers, Ember and Dante spend most of this book as humans. But unlike other books with shape-shifting dragons (like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for example, which I thought did a really good job developing the culture and world of the draconic characters), it’s difficult to think of the dragons here as anything but human. This is what I meant when I cautioned not to think of Talon too much as a “dragon” book. Despite a few scenes of Ember thinking as a dragon and being a dragon – and they are quite few and far between – the author often seems to put her human persona before her draconic one. Plus, the setting is modern and urban. Ember’s life revolves around surfing, parties, friends and boys. Very little is known about the dragon home of Talon and Kagawa doesn’t really get into it. For those craving a bit more fantasy and world building, I can see how that could cause some frustration.
As such, this ends up being your rather typical contemporary young adult novel with a light fantasy twist, complete with love triangle and just a dash of forbidden love. Despite being exactly what I expected, it was undeniably entertaining.
After reading this, however, I admit to being skeptical of Kagawa’s writing. It’s obvious that she can spin a good yarn, but there were some plot elements that were so illogical and downright silly, it can be difficult to take these characters seriously. First of all, if you can take any form and you’re trying to covertly infiltrate and gain influence in human society, I would not do it as a teenager. Good luck gathering any useful information to bring back to your overlords, unless they’re interested in how your airheaded friend thinks so-and-so is so totally gorgeous and has nice abs. Talon is also so bad at this undercover secret agent stuff, I’m not surprised St. George managed to narrow their search down to Ember and Dante and their group of beach bum friends in like all of two seconds. You’re a dragon spy, and you’re seriously going to stick with Ember for your name? You might as well paint a target on your back and wear a big sign that says “I’M THE DRAGON!” and hang it around your neck. The Order of St. George doesn’t seem that much more competent either. At one point, Garret admits to his partner that he is getting too close to Ember and recommends stepping back from the mission. Instead of allowing Garret to do so, what does his partner do but tell him to take advantage of this new development to go even deeper into the case. Um, no! As soon as one of your soldiers gets emotionally involved and becomes compromised like that, you pull them the hell out. A lot of the problems that St. George experience near the end, they brought most of them on themselves.
These little moments aside, not much else detracted from the experience. Yes, the story is pretty standard but ended up being more interesting than the description made it sound, and it held my attention to the end, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of YA. The next book, predictably called Rogue, looks like it will delve deeper into the both the secret Order of St. George and the dragon organization Talon, so hopefully readers get the world building we want there....more
I’m disappointed to say the least. Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls was a trilogy I read a few years ago, and while it might not rank up there as one of my favorite Young Adult series of all time, it had its moments. One of the highlights was the supporting character of Isabel Culpeper who was a bit of a queen bee, plus she’s angry and bitter to boot. And yet, I found her to be a lot more interesting than the very blah protagonist of Grace Brisbane, and I was rather fond of Isabel. I was also intrigued when I found out she would be starring in her own book Sinner along with Cole St. Clair, the rock star/werewolf with whom she started a budding romance towards the end of the Mercy Falls trilogy.
Sinner begins in California, where Isabel has started her new life, going to school preparing to be a doctor while working part time at a clothing designer’s store. Cole on the other hand is trying to make a comeback to the music scene after being rehabilitated from a life of booze and drugs, by — ugh! — agreeing to be the focus of a godforsaken reality TV show, of all things. When he arrives in LA, the first thing he does is look up Isabel, hoping to rekindle what they had from their days back in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
There’s really not much else to say about the plot. The story zips along at the speed of molasses, and for the longest time I tried to figure out what the conflict was, only to resign myself to the fact that there really isn’t one. Cole does his reality TV show thing while acting like a prima donna, and Isabel goes about her daily life putting up with his crap.
To be fair, Sinner ended up being a completely different book than I expected it to be. First of all, it probably falls more into the New Adult category instead of YA, following the characters like Isabel in their post-high school life, and werewolves or not, the themes are more contemporary rather than related to speculative fiction. It has very few paranormal elements compared to the Mercy Falls trilogy, so few that I was just barely able to label this one a fantasy.
My main issue, however, wasn’t the lack of fantasy elements or the fact that there was hardly any story. My problem was the vacuous, insufferable prat that was Cole St. Clair.
For the love of God, I don’t remember him being so annoying in the original trilogy. A big pet peeve of mine is bad boys who try oh so very hard to be a bad boy. Let’s face it, if Cole hadn’t gotten lucky and become a rock star, he would have ended up living in a cardboard box in some alley, offering to take your verbal abuse for chance at a bit of change. And who knows, he still might end up that way. He’s already washed up at this young age, reduced to dancing-bear status on an insipid reality TV show.
The sad part is, I still really like Isabel’s character, which made it doubly hard to watch her fall for this joker when all I wanted to do was scream at her to run, run away! Get as far away as you can from this idiot because God forbid if you end up marrying him he’ll end up a worthless thirty-five-year-old has-been, having pissed away his royalties on cars and parties, with no aspirations other than to be a professional layabout because working for an honest living is just sooooo lame. He’d probably let his looks and physique go too, because exercise and taking good care of one’s health is something, like, everybody does! And we all know Cole’s just too cool to go along with everyone else!
I feel kind of bad for being snarky, but it just makes me so ANGRY. I think this was my problem with the Wolves of Mercy Falls series as well. The trilogy started well enough, but things went downhill in the last book Forever when the characters suddenly developed these horribly bratty and angsty attitudes. To a certain extent you have to expect a fair dose of youthful naiveté in YA, but this whole “OMG I hate everyone and everything!” and “Adults are stupid morons and I totally know better than all of them!” kind of thinking gets a bit old, especially in Sinner when we’ve supposedly left high school far behind. Frankly, Cole’s behavior towards his parents made me sick, especially considering how by all accounts they are perfectly good, sensible people. The worst thing Cole can think of to happen to him is if he became his dad, because apparently, Cole thinks being a responsible contributor to society is boring. Go figure.
As a novel, it saddens me to say this, especially since according to her foreword it sounds like a pretty important book for the author, but Sinner felt kind of pointless. For me, it was also 300-ish pages of teeth-grinding aggravation, thanks to the big, cuddly ball of phony that was Cole. Read this if you’re fan of the Mercy Falls books because you’ll probably want to see what happened to two of the more important side characters from the trilogy. That’s what I told myself I wanted to do, and I don’t regret reading this because at least I got to follow up with Isabel, but unfortunately not even her chapters could make up for her co-star....more
This book would be perfect for readers looking for a well-balanced blend of fantasy with a historical fiction-type setting, overlaid with a story laced with a heavy dose of the kind of chaste, slow-burn romance one might find in a traditional Regency novel.
Graham Marshall – Gray to family and friends – finds himself out of favor at Merlin College when a midnight errand goes terribly wrong, landing himself and a couple friends in the infirmary while another boy loses his life. Disgraced, Gray is sent away to the summer home of the arrogant and unpleasant Professor Appius Callendar until such time the college can decide his fate. It’s there that Gray has the pleasure of meeting the professor’s middle daughter Sophie, who for some reason Professor Callendar seems to neglect and disdain. There’s certainly no love lost between father and daughter.
Even though he was told none of the Callendar girls were born with any magical talent, Gray senses something strange about Sophie. Because proper women studying magical theory is considered scandalous in their society, Sophie has been secretly learning it herself from the books in her father’s library. She’s delighted to meet Gray, finding him very different from the pretentious and foppish young men her father usually invites home from the college, and is grateful when he offers to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. The two of them strike up a friendship, and so when astounding revelations are revealed about Sophie’s past, Gray is wrapped up in the whirlwind of events. And here he was, thinking his life was complicated!
From page one, I was drawn in by the gorgeous writing. Admittedly, it can be somewhat difficult to get used to. Clunky and awkward in some places, it’s not exactly what I would call easy on the eyes, with a style and tone suited to the historical era. But it’s extremely effective when it comes to setting the mood, and once you adapt to it, the reading goes much faster and smoother.
The novel’s greatest strength is the characterization. Gray and Sophie take center stage, and the whole book is told through their perspectives, which alternate back and forth – a lot. Again, it can be distracting, at least initially. The author jumps between Sophie and Gray whenever it suits her, so that sometimes you can get a few paragraphs of Gray’s point of view and then abruptly we would switch to Sophie as she picks up the narrative. Regular readers of romance are probably used to this, but it was something else I had to adjust to at the beginning.
After getting the hang of things, it was easier for me to simply sit back and soak in the story. It bears emphasizing again that the characters are just great in this; because the relationship between Gray and Sophie are so integral to the story, it makes sense to establish and build upon them early, and that’s what we get here. Before Gray and Sophie can get to know each other intimately, the reader has to get to know them as individuals, which makes their eventual coming together that much more satisfying. As I mentioned before, theirs is a slow-burn romance (the kind where everyone around them can see what’s going on before the two can even admit it to themselves) so if you’re looking for instant gratification, this is not the book you’re looking for. We’re also not talking fiery passion or red hot love scenes here, keeping things clean and proper with good manners!
The heavy focus on G+S notwithstanding, that’s not to say the other characters were forgotten or underdeveloped. In fact, my favorite character was a supporting character, Joanna Callendar, who probably has more personality in her little finger than her sister Sophie had in her whole body. Sad to say, as much as I liked Sophie, she was an idealized character, a special snowflake that came across just a little too perfect in a lot of ways, and that makes her less interesting than the spunky, lippy and slightly insolent Joanna.
By the same token, plot is probably not this novel’s strong suit. A lost princess, a prophecy foretelling the return of “The One” and the pivotal role they play in the fate of a monarch and the kingdom…it’s a little clichéd, perhaps, but it’s also not a negative if you go in knowing what to expect. This book is obviously more interested in telling Gray and Sophie’s story, it makes its intention loud and clear right from the start, and so a lighter, less original plot is something I could overlook.
Bottom line: The Midnight Queen is a very beautiful, very atmospheric novel about young love, slow-going at times, making it feel like very little happens while the author develops the two characters. You can probably predict the outcome of the story with no effort at all, but the emotional payoff is worth it if you stick around and give the book a chance to let Gray and Sophie to resolve their feelings for each other. Recommended for fantasy lovers who want romance, but who also won’t mind the slower, sweet-and-tender but also more subtle approach....more
Erin Lindsey is also E.L. Tettensor, author of the mystery-fantasy Darkwalker that I enjoyed so much last year. So needless to say, I was really excited to read her new novel The Bloodbound, a sword and sorcery adventure with a more romantic bent.
The book introduces readers to Alix Black, a soldier and scout in the king’s host. I always enjoy it when I come across fantasy stories that feature both men and women fighters, and seeing someone like Alix, who is a noblewoman of a sort, in the army is doubly refreshing. Despite being one of the Greater Houses, the power and influence of the Blacks have waned over the years, leaving only Alix and her older brother Rig. Alix has left the life of luxury behind, trading in her gowns and lavish balls for leathers and her blood blade, swearing her service to King Erik.
But what she didn’t expect was actually becoming Erik’s bodyguard. When the king is betrayed on the battlefield by his own brother Prince Tomald, Alix rescues Erik and is named his protector. Leaving her comrades in the scouts behind, Alix becomes Erik’s personal guard but also a trusted confidante as the two grow closer. Complicating matters is Alix’s relationship with her former fellow scout and more-than-just-a-friend Liam, but what is a loyal soldier to do when her sovereign ruler requires her protection and the fate of their entire kingdom rests on the outcome of a brutal war?
While The Bloodbound might not be breaking new ground, it has all the ingredients for a winning fantasy novel. It has a strong female protagonist, who is deadly capable without being a cutting, embittered warrior. No damsels in distress here; we see a gender role reversal from the norm, with Alix doing her fair share of the rescuing, saving Erik’s kingly hide time and time again. There’s also an intriguing, fast-paced plot involving a traitorous royal brother and an invading foreign army. The world building is also rich but subtle, with plenty of the magic, history and politics of the book’s world getting through to the reader without ever becoming overbearing. And then, of course, there’s the romance.
I’ll admit, I had my reservations when I first encountered the love triangle. Torn between Erik and Liam who have both expressed their true feelings to her, Alix knows that eventually she will have to choose between them. But love is not as important as duty when you’re a king, a noblewoman, or even a common soldier who may be more than he appears. Meanwhile, a usurper threatens to take the throne and an attacking enemy force has the dark magical power to do great evil, so the Alix-Liam-Erik situation is further muddled by political need.
While I knew going in that The Bloodbound would have strong emphasis on romance, the love triangle still threw me off a little. Considered a staple of the Young Adult novel, at first I wasn’t sure how I felt to see it in my adult epic fantasy. However, after pondering the matter, I realized that even though love triangles are a common trope, my problems that stem from them have nothing to do with the love triangles themselves, but actually how they are written. Erin Lindsey ends up avoiding a lot of the common pitfalls, opting to forego the angst and melodrama, sparing me a lot of frustration and eye-rolling. Without the drawn-out dramatics of your typical love triangle, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit. The romance is almost in perfect balance with the rest of the novel, and doesn’t distract too much from the overall bigger story.
All in all, this makes The Bloodbound a very special book. It mixes the modern with the classic, with the result being an epic fantasy type novel that would also be very easy to get into for fans of YA romance or Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance. An engaging love story is something I feel is missing in a lot of epic fantasy, so this book worked very well for me. It gives equal weight to both the romance and the fantasy world-building elements.
All told, this is a very well-written novel that I believe has wide appeal as well as the potential to connect with many kinds of readers. It can be read as a standalone, with a satisfying story and no cliffhangers, though it does keep the door open for future possibilities. I love the author’s style: simple and elegant, which is how I like it. No matter what name she writes under, I’m a fan....more
It’s been a while since I’ve read a satisfying maritime fantasy. “I wish you luck, love, and adventure,” says a character to the protagonist in the beginning of this novel, and incidentally that’s exactly what we get. Starring a princess masquerading as a young man, along with pirates, magic, a secret map and untold treasures, perhaps the “adventure” part is what we get the most of all in this story that takes place mostly on the high seas.
Princess Clarice is the daughter of the Duke of Swansgaarde, the eldest of twelve girls (I know…YIKES!) and one boy. While the arrival of a son and heir apparent was a much celebrated event, this left the family with a dilemma – they cannot possibly secure the futures of Clarice and her eleven sisters, as that many royal dowries would surely bankrupt the already small and modest Duchy. The girls, therefore, were raised from an early age to be able and independent, preparing for the day they would be expected to make their way into the world and find their own fortunes.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that a book really wants you to get into the action right away. These books tend not to weave the world’s history into the story and instead the authors push everything you need to know right up front. Readers of House of the Four Winds might find its prologue and the first couple of chapters to be exposition-heavy, outlining the Duchy of Swansgaarde’s circumstances and thus also explaining Clarice’s fighting prowess and motivations for traveling on her own to see the world. Granted, it’s not the most subtle way relaying the information, but it’s efficient and fast, and looking back, the introduction gave the book an almost fairy tale-like “Once upon a time…” quality, which was actually quite nice.
Then we get to the meat of the story, an action-adventure tale with a bit of romance thrown in. As the first princess to seek her fortune, Clarice has decided to play to her strengths as a sword fighter, and intends to hone her skills in the New World across the ocean. Disguising herself as a young nobleman named Clarence Swann, she is charmed by the charismatic and handsome navigator Dominick Moryet and books passage on his ship the Asesino, sailing under Captain Samuel Sprunt who is said to be extraordinarily lucky. There might have been more to Sprunt’s “luck”, however, as the unfortunate crew come to discover when tensions mount and an uprising becomes inevitable.
If your fancies run towards the nautical, then you’ll be in for a treat. Your journey will start with the down-and-dirty details of everyday ship living, as well as meeting the various crew members and officers, all of this seen through Clarice/Clarence’s eyes so it is all very natural and relevant to the young princess’ learning. The authors make it a fascinating experience and the story only gets better as the events unfold, leading to a mutiny and the discovery of a hidden island controlled by pirates and an evil enchantress. Pirates, of course, are always a fan favorite. The plot is also kept fun and lighthearted with the protagonist’s efforts to keep her disguise a secret, even as she begins to fall for the winsome Dominick. Mistrust between the factions aboard the ship keep the story interesting, not to mention the possibility of the crew of Asesino turning privateer themselves.
My only issue with this book involves certain aspects of the writing, especially when we are reading about significant events that I feel should hold more weight and suspense. In my opinion, these scenes weren’t very well executed. Deaths of important characters were glossed over unceremoniously. Fight scenes were cut-and-dried without much sense of urgency. And of course, the prime example was the critical and inevitable moment when Clarice’s identity is revealed to Dominick, and the result was a fizzle at best. There was no outrage and no shock of betrayal, and even if Dominick were the most understanding person in the world, I would not have expected his response to be “OMG I LOVE YOU TOO!” Things tied up just a little bit too neatly. Considering how Clarice kept the truth of her identity from the whole crew for pretty much the whole book, with everyone believing she was a man this whole time, I would have expected a more realistic reaction.
These tiny quibbles aside, The House of the Four Winds is a fine tale of swashbuckling adventure. The story is to be taken lightly and enjoyed at face value, and the book is the boisterous seafaring romp it was meant to be. As another bonus, it wraps up nicely with satisfying ending. This conclusion along with the series name of One Dozen Daughters leads me to wonder if future books will focus on Clarice’s sisters’ individual journeys instead, rather than continue with Clarice herself. If that turns out to be the case, then there’s no telling the places this series can go; the possibilities are exciting and endless. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing more....more
The Golden City is a book that may take a bit of patience to get into, but it ends up being well worth the time once the story gets going. It also stands out for being one of the more unique novels I’ve read this year, with its one-of-a-kind setting in an alternate Portugal around the turn of the 20th century and its rousing combination of subjects like dark magic and sea folk.
The book begins with an introduction to Oriana Paredes, a spy for her people called the sereia. As a member of a race of sea folk banned from the city by the ruling king, Oriana has been posing as a maid working undercover in a wealthy aristocratic household for two years, but has befriended the family’s lovely and vivacious daughter Isabel. When Isabel decides to elope to Paris, Oriana decides to help her make her escape by disguising themselves as simple servants. But before the young women could depart, they are abducted and left to die in an underwater trap. Saved by what she is, but at the same time forced to watch Isabel drown, Oriana is set on a course to uncover the mystery of a string of similar murders and seek justice for her human friend.
Ouch. I just want to say how surprised I was at how hard I took Isabel’s death. While it is revealed in the book’s description, I didn’t do much more than skim the back cover before I started reading and so the beginning was still quite a shock for me. But it was a good kind of surprise. In just a handful of pages, J. Kathleen Cheney has established a realistic friendship between the two girls and made me care for Isabel and the prospect of her grand romance. And in a blink, that life was taken away. It was a very effective and impactful (not to mention heartbreaking) way to start the book, and it only worked this well because the writing was so convincing. At this stage in the story, I still had only a vague sense of the bigger picture, but I understood the desire for vengeance as the driving force behind Oriana’s actions. I seized upon it, looking to it as the backbone of this novel, despite all the questions still buzzing away at the back of my mind.
For believe me, there were questions aplenty. While overall I enjoyed The Golden City, it did take me a while to immerse myself completely into it. Books that thrust me into the middle of situation tend to have me at a disadvantage. Admittedly, I will also sometimes overwhelm myself by asking too many questions. Possibly the biggest blank for me was Oriana’s role as a spy. The goals of her mission were never really clarified, and I wasn’t sure what kind of information she was supposed to be bringing back to her superiors. The “City Under the Sea”, which is a massive underwater art show featuring replicas of the aristocratic houses placed there by a mysterious artist, was also another source of confusion for me. A project that is so grand and ambitious even by today’s standards would have plenty of buzz and investigation into it, but it seemed like much of the city took its appearance for granted.
In fact, it is the replica of Isabel’s house in the City Under the Sea which should have been Oriana’s water grave, if she weren’t a sereia. After extracting herself from the death trap, she finds herself adrift in a city whose citizens would arrest or do worse to her if they discovered her true nature. That is until she crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira, a police consultant who has secrets of his own. Like Oriana, Duilio is looking into the disappearances of servants from wealthy households, but he is also the half human son of a Selkie (mythological creatures said to live as seals in the sea but shed their pelt to become humans on land) and is also in the midst of investigating certain crimes against his family.
Which leads me to the main reason why I’m glad I found a book like The Golden City – Sirens! Selkies! I am always on the lookout for good books about “sea people” that aren’t rife with The Little Mermaid clichés or that don’t simply portray creatures like sirens as malevolent seductresses. Cheney does a fantastic job providing Oriana with personality and purpose, and I love the cultural, historical and mythological details she has worked into her world.
In time, something more than a business partnership develops between Oriana and Duilio, but the romance is in no way distracting or overbearing. The romantic elements, like the mystery elements, are well blended and balanced. It won’t be enough for everyone, but it was perfect for me as someone who prefers a more subtle and natural approach to romance, and the author teases the relationship between her two characters just enough for me to remain invested in seeing how their feelings for each other will be resolved.
In sum, The Golden City may start off slowly, but the payoff will come. Somewhere along the way, it just clicked. And most of the answers I sought were answered by the end of the book. If an alternate historical with a dash of fantasy and mystery sounds like your thing, or if you’re intrigued by a story set in a unique place starring magical sea creatures as its main players, you may want to push this up to the top of your reading list. I’m looking forward to see what will happen in the next book of this series....more
When Angry Robot announced in the summer of 2014 that they were shutting down their Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry, I was among the many readers saddened by the cancellation of their books and series. But thank goodness for at least the small mercies, like Danielle L. Jensen’s Malediction Trilogy being picked up by the parent company. Stolen Songbird was one of the best YA titles I read last year, and I was looking forward to continuing Cécile’s story in Hidden Huntress.
The sequel picks up shortly after the events of the first book. Cécile has recovered from her harrowing escape from Trollus, but it also means being separated from her love, the troll prince Tristan who is still trapped in the city beneath a mountain, sealed in by a witch’s curse. Determined to save Tristan, Cécile is willing to do anything – even if it means entering into a magically binding deal with the tyrant troll king, who tasks her to break them free by hunting down the elusive Anushka, the one who cast the original curse so long ago.
Meanwhile, Tristan is at his lowest point. He is shunned by his people, and only has few remaining loyal followers at his side. His power-hungry father will stop at nothing to escape their mountain prison and unleash the power of the trolls on the outside world, but Tristan is just as resolved to do all he can to stop him. Neither Tristan nor Cécile were prepared for the extent of the king’s Machiavellian cunning though, or just how far he would go with his manipulations.
On the whole, I actually thought Hidden Huntress was an even better book than its predecessor. This surprised me somewhat, considering some reviewer opinions I’ve seen expressing disappointment that Cécile and Tristan were separated for most of the story, and I thought for sure I would feel the same way. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. In a case like this, distance apparently does make the heart grow fonder. Because of their magical bond, Cécile and Tristan are able to feel each other’s emotions more deeply than most couples even when they are far apart, creating a very intriguing dynamic. I felt too that the opportunity gave each protagonist the time they needed to fully develop as individuals, something that might not have occurred if they had been together. Tristan, for example, got his chance to really shine, occupying almost if not just as much page time as Cécile. Though I personally didn’t find his chapters as interesting as hers, his mission in Trollus was no less important, and I really appreciated how much of his personality we were able to glean from his perspective.
As much as Cécile and Tristan’s separation pained me, ultimately I believe the decision was worth the benefits to the plot. Sometimes, I find physical romance can take a back seat but the resulting novel ends up being just as satisfying. The story of Hidden Huntress is more sophisticated and even more entertaining than Stolen Songbird, placing a stronger emphasis on the bigger picture and also allowing supporting characters to play larger roles. The city of Trianon is a whole other world, but as a rising opera star following in her mother’s footsteps, Cécile has to tread just as carefully. Genevieve de Troyes was mentioned in the first book and I was very curious to finally meet this woman who has made such an impact on her daughter’s life. Let’s just say she was not what I expected.
I wouldn’t surprise me though, if readers are divided on Hidden Huntress. Danielle L. Jensen made a bold move, and it’ll pay off for some but perhaps not for others. It worked well for me for many reasons, some of which I’ve outlined above, but I also found it important that Ms. Jensen showed what would happen to her characters if they were placed under terrible pressure. Many will probably find some of Cécile’s decisions in this book frustrating, but to me they were an extension of the determined young woman we met in the first book who is loath to give up on something she believes in even if it drives her to extremes. We already had the chance to see the romance spark and develop between her and Tristan in the first book; I was glad to see that this book went further beyond giving readers more of the same, deciding instead to explore the greater mysteries. The page count is probably just a tad higher than I would have been comfortable with, but I got a lot out of it in the end, so I can’t bring myself to complain too much.
Hidden Huntress opens up the world, simply put. It felt bigger and more encompassing, upping the ante for all involved. The pull of the story was irresistible, given how so much more now rests on the success of our protagonists. Everything that the first book set us up for comes to fruition, complete with welcome twists and unexpected surprises. If nothing else, that incredible ending sure has me eager for book three....more
The adventures of Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko continue in Silver Mirrors, but the second novel of the Apparatus Infernum series takes a decidedly different tack. Of course, our two CID investigators have another mystery to solve, but their mission this time takes them across the ocean, over the treacherous peaks of the mountains, and deep into the fire elemental mining tunnels of the north.
Needless to say, I found Silver Mirrors to be a much more exciting novel than the first. The premise of the story – that the world’s elementals are unsettled and running amok as a result of the destructive events of the last book – is perhaps tenuous at best, but it hardly mattered. The important thing is, we get to go on an adventure out of the city and onto the high seas with our two protagonists. And thar be pirates!
Also threaded into this thrilling ride is the ever-present romantic side plot, with the sexual tension between Ritsuko and Mikani about to boil over and explode any second. Seriously, these two have it BAD for one another. And of course, everyone sees it except for them. If you prefer slow-burn romances and delayed gratification when it comes to love stories between characters, I can’t recommend these books enough. But it also behooves me to say it probably wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for how oblivious they are. Reading about the two of them dancing and flailing around each other’s emotions is a bit like watching a couple of hopeless players at game of charades. It’s hard to believe they actually make a living doing detective work and solving mysteries. But you know what they say about good things coming to those who wait. I think that goes for the characters and the readers both, and for now all we can do is root for Ritsuko and Mikani.
But I’m glad I decided to read this sequel not just for the progression of their romance, because there’s a lot more to the world of this series. Silver Mirrors expands it by having the characters travel afar, and not for the first time I wished a book would include a map. We also learn more about the magic and its limitations. For instance, when the behaviors of elementals are disrupted, the different instruments and devices they help power can also become unstable or fail spectacularly altogether. It wasn’t until this novel that I finally got a sense of the living, breathing connection between the mortal and the mystical.
The Aguirres are clearly not afraid to take their books into new territory. While Bronze Gods was more of a whodunit murder mystery, Silver Mirrors reads like an action-adventure with the characters embarking on a perilous quest. Book two may be a continuation of book one, but even so, the two stories can’t be any more different. It mixes things up and keeps this series interesting. Obviously, the Mikani and Ritsuko situation is something I’d like to keep an eye on, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what the authors will do in future installments and where they will take us next. ...more
I admit it, I read this book for FORBIDDEN LOVE! Turns out though, it was not exactly the kind I had in mind. I expected a little more chemistry, perhaps? A little bit more of that "it's you and me against the world"? The Winner's Curse ended up giving me two lovers who actually spent more than half the book locked in conflict with each other, and so their romance lacked some of that je ne sais quoi which makes forbidden love so scandalous and delicious.
Meet the two star-crossed lovers in question: Kestrel, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a Valorian general, who one day visits a slave auction and spontaneously decides to buy Arin, a native of the Harrani lands her people conquered. Their meeting, however, was no accident. Unbeknownst to Kestrel, Arin is actually a high ranked member of a group of Harrani rebels, planted purposely at the auction to draw her in. As a slave in the Valorian general's home, Arin would be in a position to gather intelligence and plan his people's uprising.
What neither of them counted on was that their master and slave relationship would eventually evolve into friendship, deepening into love. But that journey was far from passionate for me; instead, it felt tepid and sometimes even bordered on awkward. It's tricky creating chemistry when both your characters are torn between their loyalties to each other or their own people, and the story never managed to convince me that there was ever really any trust between Kestrel and Arin. Seeing as The Winner's Curse is essentially a romance, that's a pretty vital ingredient to be missing for me.
Okay, so their relationship was not as swoon-worthy as I would have liked, but no matter. The world, the characters and the story soon won me over, and I enjoyed this book a lot. While it is what I would classify as "standard" YA, it still contained plenty of surprises within its pages. I did love the setting, with the flavor of a historical fantasy. A martial civilization like the Valorians which also encourages women in their army fascinates me. If anything, I wish the scope of the story was bigger to encompass more of the events in the wider world. There's a lot of potential for world building here; because of the narrow focus on Kestrel and Arin, we only get to see a tiny slice of what's happening.
Forbidden Love just happens to be a trope I can't resist, but the comments I made above notwithstanding, if you are a fan romance I would still highly recommend The Winner's Curse. But if it's excitement or a thrilling adventure you're looking for, you might want to reconsider. The pacing is a lot more quiet, with a decent chunk of this book dedicated to getting Kestrel and Arin together, and it's a gradual process not achieved through any wild or fierce means. There's perhaps a slight pick up in pace in the final handful of chapters, but keep in mind the story itself isn't about providing a lot of action, it's about character development and building a relationship. The careful way in which Marie Rutkoski does it is undeniably this book's crowning glory, and even though the romance itself fell a bit flat for me, I'm sure for many others it will be the most engrossing aspect.
Despite the shaky love story, I really liked this novel, and I'll no doubt pick up the next book when it comes out. I'm still holding out for an exception forbidden romance to emerge triumphant from this series, and I think it still has a chance, not to mention things end just as the story gets even more interesting....more
Finding a series where the momentum of the first book carries through to next and beyond is pretty special, and when you find one, you know it’s a keeper. The tone of Heaven’s Queen is in keeping with the fast-paced, and action-filled rollicking good fun of the previous two books in the trilogy, and ends things in an explosively spectacular manner. You really don’t want to mess with protagonist Deviana “Devi” Morris; that’s just like an invitation for bodily harm and extensive property damage.
Hot-headed and not one to hide the fact, Devi is an even bigger force to be reckoned with when she’s angry -- especially with a deadly alien virus in her system. Through no fault of her own, she has gotten herself tangled up in multiple government conspiracies, had her private memories screwed with, and on top of that she’s on the run with what feels like practically everyone in the universe on her heels. In other words, just another average day in the life of our main character. Thing is, stubborn and reckless as she may be, Devi just wants to do the right thing. And that’s just a little tough to do when everyone is standing in the way and you have no idea who to trust.
But actually, there is one person Devi can count on, and that is Rupert Charkov, the man she once thought of as only the Glorious Fool’s cook, but now knows is a lot more than he appears. Those who have been interested in following the progression of the Devi-Rupert relationship (and I include myself in this group) will be happy to see their romance resolved in here, after a fashion. In any case, there’s no more ambiguity when it comes to where they stand, not like there was in the last book. In fact, I would say this one lays on the romance more thickly than either of the two novels that came before. That in itself isn’t a surprise; the romantic side-plot has been growing steadily in importance over the course of the series, so it’s only natural to see it come to fruition. What I hadn’t expected to see though was so much romantic drama in the first half of the novel.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If there’s one thing to take away from these books it is that Rachel Bach/Rachel Aaron never does things by halves. That’s the beauty of the trilogy. Everything about it is larger than life, from the in-your-face main character and her sexy and suave love interest to the amazing planets and exotic aliens, the twisty plot and the danger and thrills. It’s pure candy for the mind, and perhaps it’s fitting for the romance to be a little over-the-top as well, though definitely not overbearing.
A positive side effect of this is that Devi’s feelings for Rupert has added a layer of complexity to her character (it wouldn’t be love if it didn’t at least alter her perspective of herself of the world a little bit!) and to me that makes her more than just a trigger-happy merc. There are many ways for a woman to be strong and Devi prides herself on her independence, physical strength and military expertise, and while she is aware of her own faults she is also not ashamed of them. It’s true she’s not always agreeable or makes the best choices, but that’s Devi for you. She knows what she wants and won’t let anyone get in the way…not even herself. I love the fact that the foundation of who she doesn’t actually change all that much throughout the course of the story, and instead she adapts to changes in order to make the best out of a situation.
But what I guess readers really want to know is if this was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, and I would say absolutely. If you’ve enjoyed the spirit and high-energy pacing of the previous books, you’ll likely enjoy Heaven’s Queen as well. The author pulls out all the stops for this one, with action scenes worthy of a summer Hollywood blockbuster as the line between friend and foe continues to be blurred and the last few chapters of this book are absolutely insane.
Not only are these books entertaining, they’re also super accessible and you definitely do not need to be a card-carrying reader of the sci-fi genre to appreciate the story. If you’re looking for an invigorating and adventurous read with plenty of excitement and some humor thrown in, I highly recommend these Paradox books. Checkmate! Don't ask me why I said that, it just seemed appropriate. ...more
So I don't usually read contemporary Young Adult, but when I saw the description for Second Star I was instantly intrigued. My tastes typically run towards speculative fiction, but I figured a reimagining of Peter Pan, one of my favorite fairy tales, is still close enough to be in my comfort zone. Then I heard there was also going to be a Peter, Wendy and Hook love triangle in it and ... well, okay, my curiosity just got the better of me.
I'm so glad I read this one, though. Speaking as someone who can count on one hand the number of contemporary YA books I read in the past year, I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. But keep in mind, if you're looking for a story that stays true somewhat faithful to the Peter Pan mythos, you might not find it here. Second Star isn't so much a retelling but a complete reinterpretation, with a lot of elements that are only loosely based on the original classic.
Firstly, the characters are all surfers. Wendy Darling, newly graduated from high school, takes off on a search for her missing brothers John and Michael, twins who disappeared months ago, suspected to have drowned in a surfing accident off the coast of California. But Wendy believes they are still out there, and follows a series of clues to their whereabouts. Her search leads her to meet Pete, a mysterious boy who takes her to a secret cove called Kensington (presumably a reference to Kensington Gardens, where Lost Boys who fall out of prams when their nannies aren't looking are swept off to Neverland to live with Peter Pan) where he lives in an abandoned house with his gang of surfers, all young runaways and squatters who have no place else to go. One of Pete's constant companions is a quick, small and blond girl named Belle, who immediately dislikes Wendy out of jealousy, and is always trying to turn the other boys against her. On the other side of the beach lives Jas (a short form of James, as in James Hook) a surfer dude and drug dealer. Jas' peddling of a new drug called "fairy dust" had led to a falling out between him and Pete, and now the two are bitter enemies. Oh, and there's also a dive bar in this book called The Jolly Roger, described as "a bad scene".
There are tons of other little references like this, which are really fun to spot and to see the author spin the various elements of the fairy tale to make them fit in the story. The title Second Star and how that term was used in context is in itself one of the best examples. Of course, the only downside to a book like this is that the characters themselves are limited to an extent by their roles and archetypes in the original story. After all, you can try adding depth but only go so far before they become totally unrecognizable from the characters that inspired them, but I think for what she had to work with Sheinmel did a really good job putting her own flair and originality while staying as close as possible to the spirit of Peter Pan.
I also don't know much about the author, but I would not be surprised at all if she surfs. I thought the idea of using surfing as a metaphor for flying in this book was simply brilliant. Surf culture fits this story so well, and the way the author describes the feeling of being on the waves is so realistic and passionate, I can practically smell the salt water, suntan lotion and surfboard wax. The exhilaration that comes from riding a huge wave is so palpable I can see why Sheinmel chose to compare it to flight.
As always, there will be no spoilers in my reviews, but I just have to say the ending kept me awake for two hours even after I finished the book. I just couldn't get it out of my mind. I thought about the many ways one can analyze the story of Peter Pan and how J.M. Barrie himself had explained in the novel the nature of Neverland, a boundary-free and adventurous place in the minds of children that are never the same from one child to the next. In the end, I can't say the conclusion in Second Star was really what I wanted, but I suppose it was also very fitting.
This book was fun, but also poignant, which I did not expect. I don't regret picking it up....more
I wish I could say this book just wasn't for me because I'm not into YA paranormal romance, but that wouldn't be true. In fact, I quite enjoy this genre. Nothing beats a good love story for giving me all the warm and fuzzy feels, and the best ones do just that. On the flip side, however, there are books like Sweet Evil that somehow manage to diminish the mood by pushing all the wrong buttons. There were a couple things about it that I found off-putting, though I'm aware it's a matter of personal taste and that others might not feel the same way.
Unfortunately, the characters Anna and Kai too closely resemble a couple of my biggest pet peeves. Pet peeve the first: a weepy, insecure female protagonist. I have no problems with Anna being the living embodiment of goodness (in fact, I admire her all the more for it) but naivete and innocence does not have to translate to neediness, ceaseless pining, crying or completely falling to pieces over a guy. Especially when the guy in question has done so little to deserve such obsession. So many times I just wanted to shake her and ask her where she has misplaced her self-respect.
Which brings me to pet peeve the second: male love interests that are pure scum, just wrapped in a pretty package. Take away Kaidan's good looks and hot accent and all you'll have left is arrogance and patronizing smugness. I'm not even taking into account his (literal!) life's work to sleep with as many women as possible. Seeing as he is the half-human son of the Demon of Lust, I'll just let that one slide as an ingrained part of his nature. Still, regardless of whether he can help it or not, most sane people tend to find that sort of behavior repellent. So what does that say about Anna, who falls head over heels for this guy anyway?
All right, with that out of the way, now I can tell you about the things in the book that DID work for me. Sweet Evil offers an interesting take on angels and demons and how they interact with us mere mortals here on earth. It's a deliciously sordid affair involving the demons of sins/vices taking over the bodies of men in order to have children with human women, resulting in the half-demon sons and daughters called Nephilim. The intricate system and hierarchy of fallen angels described in this book shows that much care and effort was put into world building, proving Sweet Evil is not just about the romance, and that there is actually quite a lot of substance behind the story as well.
In spite of this, the plot flounders in many places for being too convenient and coincidental for my tastes, as in it's very obviously done for the sole purpose of forcing the characters right where the author wants them to be. Otherwise, you know there would be no story. For example, Anna's demon father who has been behind bars for the last sixteen years suddenly has a parole hearing coming up, well-timed to be just right after Anna meets him for the first time. And then, of course, there is Anna's mom Patti. What mother in her right mind would allow her teenage daughter to go on a road trip alone with a seventeen-year-old boy (son of the Demon of Lust, no less), just the two of them driving across the country and staying in hotels by themselves, to visit a total stranger in a penitentiary? That's just a little too hard to swallow.
I will give the story this, though: at no point did I want to stop reading. That I was going to see this whole thing through was always a foregone conclusion, despite the character flaws and the hitches and holes in the plot. I was entertained, even if I felt little sympathy for either Anna or Kaidan. Like I said, I had some pretty idiosyncratic reasons for why this book ultimately didn't work for me, but I can also see how other readers with a penchant for the young adult genre and paranormal romances may find plenty to like. ...more
You know how some books you just don't realize how addicted you were to them until it occurs to you how badly, desperately, severely you're craving the sequel? Yeah well, this is one of those cases! I even broke away from my February reading list to fit this one in as soon as I received it for review, because I knew I couldn't wait any longer.
I'm happy to report Honor's Knight is just as much fun as the first book. In that, it certainly did not disappoint. But speaking of which, before I go further it probably behooves me to warn readers that this review might contain spoilers for Fortune's Pawn. I don't think there's any way around it when talking about this book, since it picks up right after the events of the last one. So if you'd like to skip this and read my review for the first book instead, I'll totally understand. Better yet, you should just pick up Fortune's Pawn! It was the most fun I've had with a sci-fi in a very long time.
As I'd expected, it was a joy and a treat to catch up with Deviana "Devi" Morris. I've always enjoyed courageous and determined women characters in science fiction, and Devi lends her own brand of cool to this spirited space drama, which in my opinion single-handedly makes this whole entire series. Even though she begins this book with her mind tampered with and her memories wiped, she is still the Devi I know and love. She can't remember how her security team partner was killed or why a single glance at the ship's cook now makes her feel physically ill, but none of that's about to stop her from doing her job.
Nevertheless, the wrench thrown into the relationship between her and Rupert Charkov damn near killed me. These two belong together, and to see them apart pains me, especially when I understood the reason for Charkov's tortured reactions but meanwhile Devi can't even hold on to his name. Can you tell that I'm really into this romance? Because I am. I'm not usually so taken with this much drama in romantic subplots, but I think this an exception because of how candid Devi is with the situation. There's no angst or sensationalism; she handles all her problems with the same direct, no-nonsense way -- with her wits and with her guns. I love it.
If you enjoyed the story in Fortune's Pawn, then you'll definitely like Honor's Knight as well. The first book alluded to a mystery involving the crew of the Glorious Fool, and rest assured everything is revealed here at last. The story also takes us to new places, including a handful of exotic planets as well as a brief sequence in which Devi returns to Paradoxian territory. In fact, I wish we had been able to see more of the world in those scenes; more details about the culture in which she grew up would have been very interesting. Regardless, it was pure satisfaction to watch all the puzzle pieces finally fit together, but there were still plenty of twists and turns. Alliances will shift and secrets abound as Devi becomes embroiled in something huge, something that puts the safety of the entire galaxy on the line.
When Rachel Bach/Rachel Aaron goes for action and thrills, she's clearly not afraid to go all the way. So far this series has been wildly entertaining, but to me it has also become a lot more than just a sci-fi adventure story about Devi blowing away big bad aliens (though there is also plenty of that). Like I said in my review for Fortune's Pawn, what started off as a popcorn read has gotten me more emotionally invested than I realized, and I find myself caring deeply for the story and characters. Will Devi and Rupert end up together? (I hope so.) Will she achieve her dreams of becoming a Devastator? (I'm guessing probably, but after all that she's been through, a life as a Devastator now seems kind of tame!) I'm very curious and eager to see how all of this will play out.
In short, Honor's Knight picks up the energetic pace set by the first book and runs with it, carrying on with the momentum and revving it up even more. If this trend continues, the third and final book should be outstanding. I can't wait....more
Stolen Songbird was my top anticipated young adult novel coming out from Strange Chemistry this year, and I have to say all the lusting and the pining has been worth it. Author Danielle L. Jensen opens up a whole new world for readers who love magic, romance, and enchanted lands.
Buried deep within the Forsaken Mountain lies Trollus, a city forgotten by time. It is said that monstrous trolls live there, bound by a witch's curse. However, on the night before Cécile de Troyes is about to embark on her journey to become a famous singer, she is kidnapped and taken to Trollus, where she discovers there is far more to what she thinks she knows about the trolls and their city. For one thing, they're not all hideous monsters. The troll prince she is supposed to marry is actually pretty good looking! But one thing the legends got right is that trolls are talented magic users -- the more pure their blood is, the stronger their ability. Even all the magic in Trollus cannot break the curse and set the trolls free, however. Cécile and Prince Tristan's union was supposed to be the key, but the plan ends up failing, leaving Cécile a prisoner in Trollus, biding her time and waiting for the perfect moment to escape.
But over the weeks, Cécile inevitably falls for Tristan. How I just loved the way their relationship developed! Instead of the usual formula of treating each other horribly but then falling head over heels in love anyway (a trope which is a big pet peeve of mine), Cécile finds out that the prince really isn't such a bad troll after all. In fact, he's secretly championing the rights of the half-bloods, who are part troll and part human, treated as nothing more than slaves and property by the arrogant pure-bloods. So while Cécile and Tristan may at each other's throats in public, it's actually all a part of a brilliant plan they've hatched up to throw off suspicion. What a delightful little twist to the usual YA romance.
The story also has just enough of that "Forbidden Love" vibe to it so that I just can't help myself. I like romances a lot more when they are hindered by outside forces rather than internal ones like misunderstandings between the lovers (Tristan and Cécile aren't completely innocent of this, but at least it was kept to a minimum) and the relationships usually emerge stronger and more compelling to me. Of course, the author also leaves their relationship mercilessly hanging in the first book, making you wonder what will become of the hero and heroine, but this meant she succeeded in building a lot of interest in these two characters.
There are also plenty of little surprises all over this book. One thing that is sort of a "twist", but not really -- and I'm sorry if I'm being vague but I think it would be best if it comes as a surprise to others the same way it did for me -- is the nature of the trolls.
It did occur to me as I was making my way through the story to wonder the creatures are called trolls in the first place. They are smart, quick, have super strength and magic powers, but apart from a few exceptions in the royal family, they appear mostly human. And that's when the author began to drop certain clues and I had one of those "AHA!" moments where I realized where she's going with all this. Well played, Ms. Jensen, well played! Like I said, I don't think it's meant to be some big twist because once you start catching the hints it becomes pretty obvious what she has in mind, but in that moment of clarity I started to get really excited about the future of this series.
In fact, Stolen Songbird is an excellent start all around, the first of a trilogy that builds a good framework and promises even bigger things to come. I would like to know what happens to Tristan and Cécile, but I'm especially pumped for more about the troll origins story. It goes without saying, I'm all in for book two!...more
Behold, the Young Adult sequel. This is where the real test is for me. First books of a series have the advantage of being new and shiny, and I can usually be won over by the prospect of exploring a brand new world full of fresh and interesting ideas. Second books admittedly have to work a little harder, not only because my expectations are higher now, but also because so many sequel plots invariably end up falling into a very predictable pattern.
So how does Crown of Midnight stack up? Well, in a nutshell, I can’t say it wowed me, and I probably liked it less than the first book. That being said though, I think it’s better than a lot of YA sequels, and despite the shameless rehashing of some of the same tired old tropes, there were still a couple of big surprises that kept the story entertaining.
The bottom line is, I am so done with YA romances. Girl meets boy, and if by book two they haven’t fallen in love already, this is where they will do so. Then invariably, boy will go and do something incredibly dumb – the result of a momentary lapse of judgment or just a gross failure of miscommunication – which causes girl to go ballistic on boy, throwing the entire future of their relationship in question, thereby also keeping the tension of a possible love triangle alive for just teensy bit longer. I can effortlessly name a handful of YA series that follow this pattern just off the top of my head, so I wasn’t surprised to see Crown of Midnight follow suit. Overused formulas suck. They have turned the romantic aspect into the weakest part the book. Nothing kills my enthusiasm and interest in the characters faster. And unfortunately, the book spends way too much time trying to shove the drama of Celaena and Chaol’s relationship down my throat. Maybe I’m just a bitter, jaded curmudgeon, but I just can’t find it in myself to care about such an artificial pairing.
But that’s my rant and the last of the negativity you’ll hear from me. Apart from my issues with the romance, Crown of Midnight was actually a pretty good book. Celaena has won the contest and become the king’s Champion and assassin, but instead of carrying out the king’s orders, she finds increasingly more ways to secretly fight back against his evil will, letting her intended victims go instead (ever notice how YA assassin characters actually do very little killing?) It was a relatively slow plod through the first half of the book, but once you get past this stage with its many clichés and run-of-the-mill romance, things will start to pick up.
I have to say, the plot elements in the later parts saved this book for me. The structure of the story remains somewhat predictable, but it always impresses me to see all the amazing things a writer can do while staying within a certain framework. The second half of the Crown of Midnight becomes a lot more bold and daring, which are certainly qualities I admire in a YA novel. There were a couple of unexpected developments, darker places I didn’t think the book would go. Once the pesky romance was out of the way, you started to get a lot less fluff and a lot more substance. Sarah J. Maas seriously ups her game, building up her world by weaving history and lore and magic into the story, dialing up the intrigue and mystery.
So all right then, sign me up for the third book. Despite a shaky start to this sequel, Maas has built something worthy of continuing with here, and has done some incredible things with her main character. I probably won’t hold my breath for the romantic aspect to improve, but thank goodness there’s so much more to like about this story. It’s definitely going places (literally!) and I look forward to visiting a new setting in the next installment as well as seeing the outcomes of several massive revelations....more
Moth and Spark was one of my top anticipated novels of 2014. My gut instinct told me it was going to be a good one, and while my gut might not be the best guide for a lot of things, it has hardly ever steered me wrong when it comes to books. And I was pleased to see to that it was right once again. If anything, Moth and Spark gave me even more than I bargained for.
To understand why I liked it so much, you also have to understand that I've been looking for a book like this for a long time. While I was reading Moth and Spark, a Goodreads friend of mine commented on one of my status updates with: "Fantasy with a romance sub-plot is rare." Indeed it is! Everyone who knows me knows I enjoy a good love story. And I would be reading a lot more romance, except I prefer it combined with other elements, especially from speculative fiction.
What I've always wanted to read was a meaningful and actively engaging romance in a high fantasy, but typically, most of the adult fantasy novels I enjoy merely scratch at the surface of romantic relationships. It's pretty much made me resign myself to the fact that I can only have one without the other. That is until this book came along and filled that void.
Moth and Spark is also different from a lot of romances. Yes, the love between the two main characters features heavily in this book, but at the same time it never lets you forget that both Corin and Tam are organically part of a much bigger story unfolding around them. Their relationship, as suddenly and swiftly as it occurred, is not merely the central focus with just the fantasy setting tacked on; it is part and parcel of the overall plot which involves a rich tapestry of courtly intrigue, back alley conspiracies and impending war, all culminating into a nation hanging in the balance. Together, the crown prince of Caithen and the commoner daughter of a renowned doctor must work together to save their homeland, combining their powers to free the dragons from their bondage to a mad emperor.
That's right, there are dragons. Just when you think things can't get any better, eh?
I think most of all, I loved this book for the wonderful characters that Anne Leonard has created. Call me a softie, but I like it when I see strong and inherently good, decent people find each other and fall in love. I like it when I see lovers like Tam and Corin sacrifice for each other, care for each other, and respect one another. I like that their romance is a partnership, where the chemistry is natural and mutual.
The author is also very adept at world building. She has a way of inserting very detailed information about the environment without encumbering the prose. For instance, I only noticed afterwards that there is actually a good amount of description in the text, but I hardly felt overwhelmed by them at all as I was reading. Anne Leonard accomplishes this by not laying out the background of the world all at once; instead, we gradually get to learn about things like the Empire's history or magical lore as the story progresses.
I could go on and on about a lot of the other aspects that I enjoyed, such as the magic, the dragons and their riders, the king's wizard-assassins (I really liked Joce, who was probably my favorite character after Tam and Corin), the court politics, the formal dances and elegant fashions, the sword fighting scenes and so on, but I should leave some of the more enchanting parts for people to discover for themselves. I will reveal though, that the ending involves quite a gripping scene of a duel on dragonback. Oh yes, this book gets my heart pounding in more ways than one!
Suffice to say I was very impressed with Moth and Spark, which is a debut for Anne Leonard. The novel's story of love and adventure struck the right chord with me, and it's going straight onto my shelf of favorites. I'll definitely be watching this author in the future for more....more
What an offbeat, curious little novel. I wasn’t surprised to discover that it was a Victorian-inspired steampunk urban fantasy type mystery, but it’s the other little pleasures thrown in that endeared me to this book. The sprinkling of magical elements combined with other fantasy aspects make the world of Bronze Gods more special and enchanting.
Meet Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko, a detective team for the Criminal Investigation Department. He is a magical expert and brings his own uncanny Ferisher (they're like the Fae) powers to the case. She is the first female detective in her division and pushes herself to prove herself. Together, they are tasked to solve the disappearance of a young girl from a noble house, and catch the one responsible before he can strike again.
But there’s more to this story than just police work. If you enjoy a little romance or like a bit of sexual tension to spice things up, then you’re in for a treat. I got a major “Mulder and Scully” vibe from Mikani and Ritsuko, with their mutual attraction and feelings for each other smoldering beneath the surface, gradually warming up in a slow burn that’s both oh so sweet and delicious. The writing team of Ann Aguirre and her husband Andres Aguirre has succeeded in writing a very convincing romance between the two main characters.
So, here you have awesome world (check!), awesome characters (check!) and awesome chemistry between said characters (check!). But what I struggled with a little was the plot and pacing. If you’re a mystery buff, you’ll probably find yourself frustrated by the seemingly lackadaisical pace of the investigation, not to mention the police procedural aspects are a bit light. To be fair, a full-out detective story isn’t what Bronze Gods was meant to be, but just one major facet of the story. I was also a bit dissatisfied by the ending and the “twist” regarding one of the suspects, but seeing as that took place in the final scenes, it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book too much.
More importantly, Bronze Gods was an entertaining and action-filled read, with well-developed characters that actually gave me reasons to continue caring about their unresolved relationship. I like how there is no rush to get Mikani and Ritsuko together, because when it finally happens I'm sure it’ll just be all the more satisfying. I want to continue the series to see what other mysteries our duo will have to solve, but I’m also very interested in seeing where their feelings for each other will eventually take them....more
The Burning Sky is a beautifully written novel, told in what I feel is a slightly more formal tone than most young adult fiction. The main plot itself -- about a girl who discovers she is the greatest elemental mage of her generation and who now must avoid being taken by enemies that want her power -- is actually quite straightforward, but the classical style adds on multiple layers to this fantasy story.
I have to say the description of the book doesn't do it much justice; for one, it does not mention that most of it is set in Victorian England, which for me was one of the story's main selling points. This is where Iolanthe Seabourne escapes after calling down a bolt of lightning, unwittingly exposing herself as an elemental mage in her own world. With the help of Prince Titus of The Realm, she goes into hiding at the prestigious Eton College, where she masquerades as a male student.
Iolanthe thus spends much of the novel as her alter ego Archer Fairfax. At Eton, Titus tells her of his ultimate plans to bring down an evil magician named Bane, the tyrant who holds both their lands in his grip. Iolanthe, of course, is reluctant to be a part of it. Incidentally, this leads to one of my favorite scenes, in which Iolanthe tells the Prince, "Better cowardly than dead," after throwing a minor fit and accusing him of using her to his own ends.
And you know what? Instead of thinking less of her, I actually agree with her. When you read as much fantasy as I do, after a while you can get so very used to reading about valiant characters eager to step up and be the hero. So when someone comes along with a strong sense of self-preservation and admits she's afraid to die, it's actually quite refreshing. And who could blame her? Iolanthe is a just a teenager and surely a lot of adults would have reacted even worse. I was surprised at how this one little quote of honestly led me to feel closer to her. Of all the characters, I think Iolanthe was the most well written and realistic.
I wish I could say the same about the story's pacing, but the truth is the book lost some of its momentum after a relatively strong start. It comes down to a matter of taste, really. I've read reviews from readers who absolutely adored the romantic subplot, and opinions from others who weren't so taken with it. I'm of the latter camp, but only because I feel the classic, formal quality of the writing (while very nice) just wasn't that well-suited for a Young Adult love story. Personally, I didn't sense much chemistry between Titus and Iolanthe, and so the romance fell a bit flat for me. And since so much of the book is given to fleshing out and growing their relationship, I probably wasn't as engaged as I ought to be. In spite of this, I have to say there are some great tension-building scenes spread through the novel, including a very exciting climax and ending.
The concepts behind the book are incredible though, so much so that I wish Sherry Thomas had given us even more background about the world. We know why Iolanthe has to stay one step ahead of the Alantean Inquisitor, or that Titus has had his own run-ins with the Inquisition as well, but exactly how Atlantis fits into all this is still unclear to me. Also a part of this puzzle is Titus' Crucible, and his own journey to understand the mysteries that his late mother left behind. There's so much going on here, and while the book gives you just enough information to understand, I wouldn't have minded more. I'm sure that's where the next book will come in. It's likely that I'll continue the series, since I'm all for giving the romance another chance to win me over. ...more
When I first saw the intriguing description for the upcoming book Midnight Thief, I just knew I had to check it out. But with a release date of summer 2014, it was going to be quite the wait. So it was a pleasant surprise when I was contacted by the author and asked if I would like to read and review the book's prequel novella, Poison Dance. Needless to say, I eagerly accepted; I hadn't even known there was a prequel, and thought it would be an excellent opportunity to catch an early glimpse of the world and get a taste of the writing style.
Now that I've read it, I'm just as excited if not more for the first book of the series. Livia Blackburne first described Poison Dance to me as "darker, and heavier on the romance" than Midnight Thief, and probably leans more towards adult fantasy than young adult. She's absolutely spot on, as those are all things I picked up from this novella. It stars James, a skilled assassin who is approached one night by Thalia, a dancing girl who offers him a job to kill a powerful nobleman. And if he won't take it, she is determined to go through with it all the same, with or without his help.
I'm typically very picky about my short stories and novellas; characters always come first in my reading, so I find the fewer pages there are in a story, the more challenging it is to make me grow attached to or form a connection with the protagonist. However, Poison Dance impressed me immediately, painting a clear picture of who James is in a very short period of time. I also found out later that he will only be a supporting character in Midnight Thief, but that just makes me think: how much more awesome will the characterization in that book be, if even someone in the supporting cast like James gets this much thought into his back story? Livia Blackburne obviously puts a lot of care and effort into her world and characters, and if what I saw in Poison Dance is any indication, I'm sure it's going to pay off.
This novella sets the tone nicely, and gives a good general background for the world in which the series will take place. I didn't expect too much world building, but what is there definitely piques my interest. If Poison Dance is meant to build up my enthusiasm and fuel my eagerness for Midnight Thief, then its mission was most certainly accomplished. ...more
It’s over! And make no mistake, whatever I may say here about Dreams of Gods & Monsters, it was a good book, and the trilogy as a whole is a series I would heartily recommend. But in terms of expectations, I think I may have placed all my eggs in one basket. I went into this with hopes for the ending of all endings, which is unfair of me perhaps, but I desperately wanted back the magic I first experienced in Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Needless to say, the first book still reigns supreme as my favorite of the trilogy, but that being said, the third book didn't disappoint either. It just didn’t leave me as satisfied as I wanted to be, but I admit I was expecting a lot.
So the war is on in this book, with Jael at the head of the angel army. On the run, Akiva and his seraph sister Liraz have fled to the other side to join Karou, who has taken control of the chimaera rebellion through an impressive feat of deception and pretense. It’s a shockingly suspenseful scenario, considering how at any moment the ruse could be discovered, destroying any chance of a peaceful resolution. Still, at last we see Akiva and Karou fighting on the same side for the same cause against a common enemy.
But as much as it pains me to say, the romance itself isn’t doing much for me anymore. How far Karou and Akiva’s love story has fallen in my eyes, when I look back to my review of the first book and see how weak-in-the-knees I was for their tale of forbidden love. And now? I feel nothing. If I can hazard a guess, I think the second book pushed the melodrama a bit too far. Watching the characters dance around each other going through the motions (and emotions) when you know they’re going to end up back together anyway? Well, that just sort of takes the fun out of it. So Karou and Akiva reconcile in this book, like we’d all known was going to happen. Did they want a prize?
Up until the last few chapters though, and minus my gripes about the romance, this book was in fact quite fantastic. There are multiple plot threads going on, each punctuated by their moments of action and suspense, but also moments of tenderness and humor as well. When Jael’s army of angels first descended to earth, it made for a few incredible chapters where the panic and disbelief practically emanated off the page.
Add to that, we have a new POV character named Eliza, whom I initially thought was introduced for the sole purpose of showing us humanity’s reaction during the aforementioned significant event. As it turned out, she had a bigger role to play as well. I still think Eliza joined us way too late and her part in the overall big picture felt a little forced, given this already cramped storyline. However, I do love her character. I really can’t say much more about her for fear of revealing any spoilers, but she brought a great personality to the story, and that’s saying a lot, considering we already have Zuzana. It goes without saying, Zuze was simply delightful. As always!
Now for the actual ending. I wish I had better things to say about it but the truth is, I thought it carried on for much longer than it should have. Talk about an ending that overstayed its welcome. When all is said and done, the foes are vanquished, friends are reunited, all I wanted to do was bask in the glory of victory and soak up the feel-good vibes. I really could have done without a final bombshell. Especially since it felt like it came out of nowhere. Granted, that stuff usually works like a charm in action movies, and hey, it might work for you. But for me it was mentally exhausting. I would prefer not to feel like that at the end of a book, and especially not at a series-ender.
Don’t get me wrong, though. None of this changes the fact that I think the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is absolutely fantastic and one of the strongest YA series I’ve ever read. Like I said, I highly recommend these books. And if you’ve enjoyed the first two, there’s no reason at all not to read this too and finish up the saga. Despite minor hiccups here and there, it's a concluding novel well worth your time....more
Let's face it. Forbidden love is just like any other kind of love in young adult fiction. A good thing like that hardly ever lasts, at least not without being dragged through seven layers of confused teenaged angst and subjected to overused plot devices that involve mix-ups and misunderstandings. That said, I still really enjoyed this book. But the delicious passion and romance, which is what I loved so much about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, is lost and gone in this sequel, replaced by so much anger and bitterness.
Karou has finally awoken to her true origins, remembering the Chimaera she used to be. She also remembers the angel she once loved, in the world before the war and bloodshed. His people have decimated hers and killed those she loved, and so now she sets her sights on two goals: rebuilding the Chimaera army as their new ressurectionist, and hating Akiva. Meanwhile, the angel in question is wracked with guilt and heartbreak over what he has done to Madrigal/Karou, miserable that he'd found her only to drive her away again. Yet the war rages on, and Akiva must continue fighting for his own side, though not without uncertainty and a lot of doubt for his leaders and their orders.
The story has evolved to focusing on the fighting, politics and conspiracies between and within both factions. The seductive, magical aspect of this series has shifted to something darker and more violent, though I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. But like I said, there is now very little of the delicious romance that first drew me in, though I suppose this was something I'd already expected even as I was zipping to the library to snag the second book as soon as I was finished with the first. I understand you have to ramp up the romantic drama somehow to make things interesting, especially in a trilogy. Sadly, it just didn't work for me; the relationship between Karou and Akiva was at once reduced to slow, dull, typical.
On the other hand, there's so much more to this series than just the romance. When I wasn't so busy being a morose sentimentalist, I actually enjoyed this book quite a lot, especially the chapters leading up to the ending. As irked as I was with the comedy of errors that has become of Karou and Akiva's love story, the gripping suspense in the conclusion and its promise of an incredible finale in the third book went a long way to make up for my disappointment. I still like the story, and desperately want to know what happens next.
I also don't want to make it sound like the book is completely devoid of love and lightness. After all, one of my favorite characters is Zuzana, Karou's best friend, who has found happiness with her boyfriend Mik. Their relationship is like a potent concoction of sweetness and humor injected right into the story -- almost like the author realized in advance that she would need to include them somehow to make everything feel less empty and bleak. It worked, for the most part; Zuzana's chapters carried a big part of this book for me. As I grew less interested in Karou and Akiva, my fondness for other characters increased. Besides Zuzana and Mik, I also very much liked Liraz and Hazael, Akiva's angel siblings and loyal companions.
And of course, Laini Taylor's writing is as beautiful as always, bringing her worlds and characters to life. In this area she has not let me down yet. Even though I didn't like this book as much as the first, there's still plenty here to gush about, as you can see. Very much looking forward to the third book to see how the war culminates as well as to discover the fates of Akiva and Karou....more
I was initially drawn to The Falconer thanks to that striking cover. Just absolutely gorgeous! And then I read the book's description and saw that the story was no slouch either. A mix of paranormal fantasy and historical fiction, the Fae, and a spirited heroine made this one sound very inviting.
It is Scotland and the year is 1844. A year has passed since Aileana Kameron was found standing over the dead body of her mother, covered in blood. Everyone thinks she has something to do with it, but Aileana knows the truth. It was a faery who killed her mother and ripped out her heart.
Now all Aileana wants is revenge. As a result, she lives a double life, pretending to be interested in frivolous things like dances and dresses when making her appearances in high society, but when the light fades she goes out hunting. Night after night, she tracks and kills Fae, using the skills learned from her mentor, Kiaran MacKay. Kiaran, who is a faery himself, has his own reasons for wanting to see his own kind dead, but Aileana doesn't care, not as long as their goals align...and as long as she doesn't get too close.
Despite bits of historical context hinted here and there, the setting didn't actually feel like historical fiction to me. Or very Scottish, for that matter. Elizabeth May has pretty much created her own world in The Falconer; the place and time period don't matter all that much to the story anyway, but the light flavor of steampunk is a nice touch. The world is filled with all sorts of wonderful contraptions, like tea dispensers and floating lights, and Aileana is something of a tinkerer, designing and creating weapons and even her own flying machine.
Aileana herself is a great character, as fiery and determined as that amazing cover makes her out to be. When it comes to female protagonists in paranormal fiction, she ranks amongst the best I've ever met, mostly because she comes off as able and intelligent rather than irritating in her conviction. However, if I had to pick a favorite character in this book, the honor would go to her pixie sidekick-like companion Derrick. I loved that humorous, honey-guzzling little guy!
I also didn't realize until after I finished reading that The Falconer has been categorized as Young Adult. I suppose in retrospect, the book contains quite a few trappings of the genre, but honestly, they didn't jump out at me at the time. Aileana is 18 years old, but her experiences have made her older than her years, and even the story's love triangle, which I usually dread, was bearable because it wasn't quite like a real love triangle. Even as a YA novel, I feel The Falconer has excellent crossover appeal.
My final thought, and perhaps also a warning, is that this book ends in a cliffhanger, perhaps one of the more infuriating ones I've encountered in recent years. The final scenes with Aileana and Kiaran against the Fae threat were so intense and suspenseful! And when I saw that there were still quite a pages left in the book, I got all anxious and prepared for the conclusion to be revealed...only to find out that the last chapter was actually a Bestiary. Arrrggh!
So bravo, Elizabeth May, you have me hooked. Some might say The Falconer is pretty standard in terms of paranormal fantasy, but so help me, it was a fast read and such good fun. ...more
The Mad Scientist's Daughter ended up giving me all sorts of contradictory and inconsistent feelings. Even though I loved this novel, there were still a ton of things that drove me nuts about it, and yet I can't help but suspect a lot of it was by design.
First of all, while I enjoyed this book, I also have to say it was also one of the most depressing stories I've ever read. Even though the tagline is "A tale of love, loss and robots", I don't actually think it was meant to be that depressing (in fact, it's got a pretty happy ending) but here you have a main character who's just so pitiful and tragic and even pathetic, I couldn't even bring myself to hate her for her many, many flaws.
At its heart, The Mad Scientist's Daughter is a deep analysis and portrayal of Caterina Novak, daughter of a brilliant yet a eccentric inventor and cybernetics expert, and we follow her character's development from childhood to her adult years. Cat is five years old when she first meets Finn, the android her father brings home to be her tutor. But as Cat grows, she discovers Finn is different from other androids. With every year that passes their relationship becomes increasingly complicated, as Cat starts to see Finn as someone more than just a tutor and friend.
And yet, what Cat attributes to love for Finn, I see it more as an obsession. I wouldn't really consider this book a love story or a true romance, and if it was meant to be, then it missed its mark completely. If you're looking for romantic tension or chemistry between two characters, you're not really going to find it here. For most of the book, Cat's feelings are mostly one-sided, and for all the times we're told Finn is sentient and one of a kind, the author still never manages to make him seem quite human enough.
So yeah, I pretty much just spent a lot of time feeling bad and really sorry for Cat. Like I said, depressing.
Still, the fact I am able to express any sympathy for her at all is an incredible achievement in itself. It's like Cat is always in her own little world, with Finn being the only thing ever on her mind. She snaps at people, not understanding why they might not feel the same way about androids as she does. She marries a man (who turned out to be a grade-A dick but genuinely did love her) out of convenience. She donates to a charity that defends androids, but I'm not convinced she actually believes in the cause or if it's more likely she's driven by her guilt and Finn obsession.
By rights, such a self-absorbed and angst-ridden character should turn me right off, but somehow Cat manages to make me like her. Maybe it's because we all know nobody's perfect. Or that when it comes to that special someone, no one can help the way they feel. I felt Cat's pain of loving someone she believed she could never have. I felt her helplessness of knowing she shouldn't have those feelings but turning them off is also easier said than done. We've all been there. That I could relate to her made it easier to overlook her many faults.
Before this, I'd only read Cassandra Rose Clarke's young adult novels and I was really keen to see what she could do with a longer, more mature story. In the end I was quite happy with the book The Mad Scientist's Daughter turned out to be. It isn't an exploration into the humanity of intelligent machines like Asimov's Bicentennial Man or the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or at least it isn't its central focus; instead, the delineation of Cat's personality takes center stage, and the plot takes a backseat to the dynamics in her relationships with Finn and, to a lesser extent, her mother and father. The premise is a cool idea, even if the story ultimately turned out to be a horribly heartbreaking one for me....more
Earlier this year I read Angelfall and was very impressed, more than I would've expected to be by a young adult paranormal novel which initially appeared quite typical on the surface. Featuring a teenaged female protagonist in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by invading angels, I figured it would do for an entertaining read, but didn't think it would go beyond covering old ground. I was mistaken, of course! I ended up loving Angelfall for the high quality of the storytelling and fantastic characters, and thank goodness I didn't discover the book until late summer because that meant much less of a wait for World After, this much anticipated sequel.
The story picks up where Angelfall left off, after the rebels' attack on the angel stronghold. Penryn had spent most of the last book trying to find her sister and ultimately succeeded in her quest, though little Paige has suffered much at the hands of the enemy and is no longer the girl she used to be. Driven out by the other human survivors that consider her a monster, Paige takes off, leaving Penryn to try and track her down...again.
Meanwhile, the angel Raffe was left scarred in more ways than one in the aftermath of the explosive assault on the Aerie, still hunting his wings that were severed and taken away from him. Penryn is crushed knowing that he still thinks she's dead, but she has more pressing things on her mind. While working for the resistance and looking for Paige, she discovers a nefarious plot at hand.
After reading World After, I still think Angelfall was a better book, though only by a small margin. The first book was a great debut that set some pretty high standards, and I knew it was going to be tough to beat. Nevertheless, the series continues to impress me with this sequel, which shows no sign of the plot slowing down. That's what I've been loving so much about this story, the fact that there is very little filler and no tedious expounding of the characters' emotional hangups or pointless dragging out of the romance. Less is more sometimes, and we all know a relationship is what's shaping up between Penryn and Raffe after all; I didn't need the extra bells and whistles to still have a great time anticipating the moment when the two of them will be reunited again.
So much of my enjoyment for a book depends on how much I take to the main character, and I think that is the key to why I'm a such fan. In a genre where topics like survival in the post-apocalyptic world (and even angels) have been done six ways to Sunday, Penryn is what makes this series stand out. She is a take-charge leader and a fighter, and the best part is that she is consistent, not switching from a tough girl one moment to a shrinking violet the next. She's also sassy, but not in an over-confident or obnoxious kind of way. Of course, she is not without her problems, but what's important is that she doesn't dwell on them or whine about the things she knows she cannot change.
Basically, Penryn feels like a real person just doing her best to stay alive in a difficult situation, though the events of this book definitely tests her mettle. While she may be resilient, she is not dismissive of her own pain or that of others'. There are some very heart-wrenching moments when Penryn sees what her sister has become and has to struggle to accept her. Indeed, what chance does the human race have, when people are turning on their own, especially on those who have endured the worst? It will also be interesting now to see how Penryn will respond to her deepening feelings towards Raffe. In my experience, nothing changes a YA heroine faster than a burgeoning romance, and here's hoping Penryn remains the strong female protagonist I know and love!...more
Rachel Bach is also Rachel Aaron, an author who put herself on my radar earlier this year after I read The Spirit Thief, the excellent first book of her fantasy series The Legend of Eli Monpress. That novel really impressed me with its light-hearted yet suspenseful story, not to mention the fun, down-earth-characters. So while we may be heading to a place a little beyond earth's atmosphere this time around, I had good a feeling that Fortune's Pawn would be just as enjoyable and entertaining.
Fortune's Pawn introduces us to Deviana "Devi" Morris, a Paradoxian mercenary not content to settle for anything less than the best -- and the best, to her, is a position with the Devastators, the elite armored branch of the king's fighting force. But achieving such a decorated post won't be easy, and Devi knows she will need a lot more experience to even get herself noticed.
Following a tip from a friend, Devi applies for a job on the Glorious Fool, a tiny trade vessel with a reputation for being a "cursed ship". Trouble seems to always follow the Fool, and it is said that one year of security work there is equal to five years anywhere else. If experience is what the Devastators want, Devi figures there's no better place to get it. After all, she's confident her skills can get her through anything.
Not entirely true, of course, as we the readers can expect. Secrets and a multitude of dangers await Devi, the kind she never would have thought to prepare for in a million years, including...love? Now, what's this? Romance in my science fiction? Oh boy, I was tickled pink when I found out, practically cackling and rubbing my hands together with glee. This is one instance where the addition of a romantic arc was definitely most welcome. I didn't think much of Devi at first, being all brawn and ambition, but throw in her feelings for Rupert Charkov, the Glorious Fool's sexy, charming and mysterious cook and suddenly she became a much more interesting and deeper character.
The plot, which I also thought would be rather simple and straightforward, took a few startling turns as well. To be honest, I'd picked this one up as a palate cleanser after my recent string of emotionally-heavy books, fully expecting it to be mind-candy I'd been looking for -- quick, uncomplicated and fun. I had anticipated a few action scenes involving high-tech battles with aliens to be the highlight of Fortune's Pawn, but much to my surprise, I quickly discovered a lot more below the surface. The book is indeed a lot of fun so I got what I wanted, but there's also an intriguing mystery here, a teasing thread that gave the story that extra boost and made it more special.
In any case, Fortune's Pawn was exactly what I needed, with its strong protagonist and her candid narrative, a colorful and interesting supporting cast (a crew member who is essentially a giant chicken as the ship's second? Brilliant!) and the story's dynamic, spirited pace. All this made it a great book that was really hard to put down. ...more