I’ve actually not read the first book of the Brilliance Saga, but was reassured when told I could read A Better World without having to tackle Brilliance first. And that was absolutely correct. Not once did I feel lost or confused, thanks to a detailed recap of prior events in introduction chapters. As a new reader, that’s always appreciated (and I’m sure those familiar with the series might also find the reminders helpful, if it’s been a while since you read book one).
Taking place in the not-too-far future, this series is based on the premise that 1% of the population are born as “Brilliants”, individuals who possess special abilities allowing them to do some pretty amazing things. After 30 years, this has created a growing social chasm between these exceptional people and the vast majority who are “norms”. As with the case of most societies where such a divide occurs, you have dissension and a clashing of ideologies. And then you get the violence.
Fear has led the government to clamp down on brilliants, leading some of the extremist groups to fight back. A terrorist organization of brilliants called the Children of Darwin have shut down Cleveland, Tulsa, and Fresno, cutting off power and supplies to these cities. Nick Cooper, former anti-terrorism agent and a brilliant himself, has been called in by the president to help stop those responsible and to prevent a civil war.
Those who have read Brilliance would already be familiar with Cooper, though I was only meeting him for the first time. As a character, he makes a fascinating study. He’s a brilliant, but also a dedicated to hunting down abnorms involved in terrorist activity. The crimes perpetrated by the Children of Darwin go against everything he stands for, but the methods used by the government for controlling brilliants have also proven questionable, like taking Tier 1 children from their parents and placing them in “academies” which are nothing more than maximum security prison camps and brainwashing facilities. Cooper has realized that the situation isn’t black and white, and has already shifted alliances once. The questions and the indeterminate grey areas continue, and because things are never as they seem, you never know what’s going to happen next. Cooper, who has always believed in doing the right thing, is placed in one moral dilemma after another when he realizes he could be harming more people than he saves.
Even good intentions can lead to disastrous consequences, and I think it’s this theme which makes Cooper’s personality easier to take, separating him from the multitudes of do-gooder protagonists from a lot of other books. He came across initially as a rather self-righteous and naïve character, but by the end I could hardly fault him, as he goes through a rather rough time learning these difficult lessons. There were several tremendous game-changing developments I hardly saw coming, which just thickens the plot. As tensions between norms and abnorms continue to escalate, and the population in the besieged cities grow ever more desperate, I started to wonder if war really was inevitable. The ending will probably shock you as it did me.
There were only a couple issues that took away some of the impact, which I think bears mentioning. In the book, the government was able to mobilize 75,000 troops in a matter of hours to the rural plains of Wyoming, but then struggles to find enough manpower to shift and transport food to three mid-sized cities full of starving people even after a week? I don’t know if I buy that. Debating plausibility in a science fiction novel is probably a moot point, but the story still takes a hit in my eyes, mainly because the plight of Cleveland plays such a huge role. I also love the idea of brilliants, and the explanations for individual powers are pretty unique; in many of the cases, they are based on principles of science and physiology. A woman can become “invisible”, for example, moving unseen simply by being able to predict exactly when to move where no one will be looking. A man seemingly moves at super human speeds, but only because he perceives time differently than everyone else, experiencing each one second as slightly more than eleven. In contrast, I wasn’t entirely clear on the nature of Cooper’s own gift, which involves “reading intent”; perhaps it was better explained in the first book, but rather than a brilliant, he really just came across as a regular guy who was extraordinarily bright and perceptive.
Otherwise, I thought this was very enjoyable. While jumping on board mid-series might work with this book, it may not be possible for the next. A Better World does end on a pretty serious cliffhanger, and author Marcus Sakey sets us up for big things in book three. I can’t wait to see how things will resolve after that climactic ending.(less)
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.(less)
This book is an interesting look into our not too distant future, perhaps one that is more plausible than we think. Mobile devices have already led to wearables, miniature electronic devices that act as an extension of our minds and bodies. Implants, therefore, are just the next logical step. Called “boosts”, these implants are processors that integrate with the “wet brains” in our heads, allowing us to do incredible things such as record memories for posterity, visit a virtual ballgame while your physical body is lounging in your living room, or even fire up an app to improve the taste of the food you’re eating.
But what happens when so much of the human experience is controlled by a computer, which in turn could be controlled by another person, a corporation, or even a government? In this downright Orwellian scenario envisioned by Stephen Baker, China has become the world leader in this boost technology, though Chinese implants are not subject to the same strict privacy laws as the chips negotiated for use in America. Yet, just days before a national upgrade, US software developer Ralf Alvare notices something troubling in the incoming update – an open gate which would render American chips as vulnerable to surveillance and invasive manipulation as the Chinese chips.
I found myself enjoying the premise of the novel, especially since the issue relating to the regulation of personal information is a pretty hot topic right now, as it pertains to laws regarding the collection, storage or use by governments and other organizations. The themes become even more relevant, considering our society’s love for new and shiny gadgets, and technological advances don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. The Boost can be viewed as a cautionary tale, perhaps – a warning of what might come to be if we let ourselves relinquish control to our obsession with new tech.
Baker does a good job making his scenario fascinating and believable. In a world where most people are “boosted”, things like telephones, newspapers and even street signs have become relics of bygone era. Even more interesting to note is the attitude towards those who have opted against the implant. Known as “wild”, these people who solely rely on their wet brains to do their thinking and experiencing aren’t looked upon with disdain so much as pity. But really, who should be pitying whom? That was the question I kept asking. In almost all the cases where a boosted character has lost their access to their chip, they become lost, despondent and miserable. Having depended on their implants for so long, they cannot even do simple math in their heads or remember the most basic information. While I don’t recommend being a Luddite, it’s hard to miss the message about the dangers of relying too much on technology. You never know when you’ll be without it, or if it’ll be compromised.
Admittedly, I went into this novel expecting a high-octane techno-thriller, but I was wrong about that. It was probably never meant to be one, though I think I would have liked it more if it had been written in that style. Instead, I found the book lacking a bit in suspense and dramatic intensity, and the pacing also faltered in places due in part to constant insertions of back stories and exposition. In the end, I think I found the novel’s concepts to be way more exciting than the actual plot.
Still, The Boost was an entertaining read. The energy levels were just a couple notches shy of where I would have liked them to be, but otherwise I enjoyed this book. It could change the way you look at technology, and if at first the idea of a boost in your head sounds like a good idea, you might want to think again. (less)
I am glad we’ve not heard the last of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire, even if Jorg’s chapter of the saga has concluded. As far as endings go, that was a necessary and felicitous curtain call, even though I couldn’t be happier with the way things played out. But of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve had enough of this brilliant dark world.
Regarding his latest novel, Mark Lawrence has stated that what did not want to do was give us Jorg Ancrath again but in new clothes. Well, Mr. Lawrence, you can rest easy about that. I don’t think anyone can mistake that wicked, tortured young psychopath we first met in Prince of Thorns with his new protagonist in Prince of Fools.
Courage is overrated, as a character like the glib but glorious Prince Jalan can attest. A self-confessed liar, coward and cheat, our main character is also a bit of a rakish playboy, with an easy charm to him that makes him instantly endearing, for all his foibles. See? Nothing like Jorg. But the two of them are contemporaries, if you are wondering where The Red Queen’s War fits in relation to the original trilogy. As such, I don’t think fans of The Broken Empire will find much of a problem settling in. We even get to meet Jorg and his Brothers, albeit very briefly, in an unforgettable scene. Despite the mostly new faces though, Mark Lawrence has no trouble convincing me I am back in the haunted, post-apocalyptic milieu with which I first fell in love. As strange as it sounds, given the kind of place we're talking about, it was a bit like coming back home.
But while the writing style and setting may be instantly recognizable, we have a story here that is altogether very different. And yet, even the slippery Prince Jal can’t avoid running afoul of the dark sorcery that is rife in the Broken Empire. Finding his fate magically bound to that of an escaped slave named Snorri ver Snaggason, the two strike up a partnership in order to try to break the spell. We had an inkling of the Broken Empire’s vastness back in Jorg’s story arc, and here we are given the chance to explore even further as Jal and the Norseman’s journey takes them to the frigid and icebound north, towards Snorri’s homeland.
The two encounter many dangers along the way, including necromancy and other unseen malevolent forces. There is no escaping the Dead King, whose plans run far deeper than anyone can expect. Nightmarish beings called the Unborn are raised and fed by the stolen potential of lost infants, sent to carry out his bidding. Gruesome, disturbing elements such as these serve to push Prince of Fools into Horror territory.
And yet there is also a glimmer of optimism, a thread of light that I can easily pick out amidst the doom and gloom, making me feel that this book is actually “less grimdark” than the original trilogy. Prince Jalan, who assures us he has little ambition – beyond getting drunk, winning bets and seducing women – is really more of a hero than he gives himself credit for. I see a young man who wants to be more than just “that prince who is tenth in line for the throne”, even if he doesn’t care to admit that to himself.
The idea of the unlikely hero is not a new one, certainly, but the difference is Mark Lawrence actually makes me believe that Jalan has it in him. Jal’s growing friendship with Snorri also brings to light a hidden side of him, and vice versa; I think the two of them play off each other perfectly. The story displays the classic quest narrative, one that is very character driven. Forced to work together, the relationship dynamics between this pair of disparate and conflicting personalities is what makes this dark adventure shine.
There is no doubt this is a Mark Lawrence novel – pick it up and you will immediately see the hallmarks of his storytelling and writing style which made The Broken Empire trilogy such a incredibly addictive read, replete with his darkly droll humor and very quotable dialogue. Fans won’t be disappointed. But rest assured Prince of Fools is also a one-of-a-kind tale featuring a very different protagonist. Jal has immense potential, and if this is what Lawrence can achieve with his character in just one book, I can’t wait to see what’s next.(less)
I confess, I’m not very good when it comes to pulling information out of book descriptions. But all I know is, when I first heard about The Girl with All The Gifts, it piqued my interest right away. Here you have a story about a bright young girl named Melanie, who for some reason everyone seems deathly afraid of. Being held at gun-point while being strapped into a wheelchair just to go to class? Judging by level of paranoia with which she’s treated, you’d think little Melanie was Hannibal Lecter. The book jacket may be a little scarce on details, but there’s definitely something strange going on.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised me when this book turned out to be Horror, and yet it did. Finding out about the genre, however, just made me even more excited to read it. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, OH HELLO, THEY DO!
By now, I gather it’s pretty safe to explain why I had myself a personal little freak-out when it hit me just what I was in for with this story. After all, the revelation comes very early on in the novel and is hardly a spoiler, not to mention the book has been out in the UK for months now and the cat is out of the bag. But avert your eyes now if you would prefer to know absolutely ZIP about the book going in. Anyway, my excitement levels exploded when I realized that The Girl with All The Gifts…has zombies.
And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. What makes this a great zombie book – a great book, PERIOD – is the science. Ah, gotta love science. Like I always say, if you want to see some scary stuff, look no further than Mother Nature. Heck, some of the most frightening, bone-chilling things I’ve ever seen in film aren’t in horror movies, but are in those dang Planet Earth documentaries. Who could forget the “Jungles” episode and the importance of fungi as illustrated by the life cycle of Ophiocordyceps unilatertalis? Oh, the sheer horror of watching the parasite take over an ant’s brain before the fruiting body explodes out of the back of its victim’s head, all while Sir David Attenborough goes on calmly narrating in those smooth, dulcet tones. That sequence was beyond traumatizing – but also fascinating. I remember being obsessed with the idea, thinking to myself, holy crap, someone pleeeeease write a zombie book based around this!
Well, even though the video game The Last of Us might have done it first, M.R. Carey ended up granting me my wish. And he does it in such a spectacular way, wrapping this fantastic idea around a story filled with mystery, action, and lots of gut-wrenching heartbreak. The Girl with All The Gifts is everything I look for in a zombie book – tight, energetic pacing with all the savagery, suspense and tension – but it’s also so much more. For me, this book is the next step in zombie fiction, delivering on the survival and post-apocalyptic elements we all know and love, while pushing the envelope with new ideas and deep characterization.
Due to its nature, it’s not surprising that the zombie-apocalypse survival subgenre tends to feature ruthlessness and characters with hard hearts who show no pity. But seeing the themes of mercy and compassion enter into the equation here is a nice change of pace. A lot of this is due to Melanie. If you also guessed from the description that there’s something different about her character, you’d be correct. Melanie is definitely a special little girl, and she’s part of what makes this book such an exceptional, atypical zombie novel and such a joy for me to read.
Even though I can probably go on for another couple pages about why I loved this book, I really don’t want to give too much away. There are lots of surprises, including an unpredictable ending that truly stunned me. I loved this book to pieces. Haunting, powerful and poignant, The Girl with All The Gifts is a novel I would recommend highly and without reservation. (less)
Cyberpunk is another one of those science fiction subgenres that have been more miss than hit with me in the past, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving more of it a try, hoping to find something that’s more my liking. So even after my inability to get into William Gibson’s Neuromancer – a book considered a seminal work in the cyberpunk field – I still decided to check out Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which has been described as leading in the next wave following in the footsteps of Gibson.
Indeed, in the classic cyberpunk tradition, the book has its setting in a near-future dystopian with elements of hard-boiled detective film noir and overall a very bleak worldview. The city of Pittsburgh is a pile of rubble and ash after its destruction by terrorists in a nuclear blast. Ten years later, survivor John Dominic Blaxton still mourns his wife and unborn child while most of the world has moved on. Our protagonist is a marginalized loner, addicted to drugs as much as he is addicted to his memories of his lost life by immersing himself in the Archive where he can relive moments with his wife in a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh.
Dominic’s work also involves investigating deaths recorded in the Archive for insurance companies. One day, while pursuing a claim, he becomes obsessed with the apparent murder of a young woman when he discovers that her records have been tampered with, evidence that someone is trying to cover up the circumstances of her death. His digging around doesn’t go unnoticed. Like many cyberpunk protagonists, John finds himself manipulated by higher forces and trapped into a situation where he has little control.
Thomas Sweterlitsch has created a future where technology runs rampant. Everyone has an adware implant in their head and access to information is near ubiquitous. People have become wholly dependent on the computer chips in their brains, and the result is a dehumanized society with a strong sense of disenchantment and nihilism. Feeds run continuously in an endless stream, with up-to-the-second news updates. Grisly details of accidents or crime scenes are made public at the speed of an eye blink, along with the darker secrets of the victims’ lives. The society eats up their sex tapes as voraciously as they revel in the graphic violence.
It’s this brutal, emotionally numbing aspect of cyberpunk that makes it so hard for me to click with this genre. Strangely enough, I can handle most kinds of gritty, dark fantasy without issue, but these near-futures and the negative effect of technology on human society have a way of cutting too close for comfort. All everyone seems to care about anymore is pornography and violence, and it is so off-putting not to mention mentally draining. The themes of grief and loss are also at the forefront of this novel, which makes reading it a real struggle if you’re not feeling in the mood for something so despairing. It’s hard to watch Dominic go through life relying so heavily on the Archive; instead of helping, the technology has pretty much halted his healing all together, and he hangs on to his grief like his wife died yesterday instead of a decade ago.
This wasn’t a bad novel, however. I thought the world-building was fantastic and the mystery, hardboiled noir and crime thriller elements were done very well. This is a story about a man destroyed by tragedy and the events that ultimately pulled him out of his funk and allowed him to move on, but it is for the most part a very stark, very depressing and sometimes disturbing book. I don’t regret reading it and I would recommend this to cyberpunk fans, but consider holding off if you’re in the mood for something lighter.(less)
A little bit like Lord of the Flies meets The Breakfast Club meets The Mist, Monument 14 is about a group of children holed up in a superstore after a freak hailstorm causes a chemical leak from the nearby weapons manufacturing site, leading to contamination of the whole town.
On the surface, this book seemed like it had a lot of potential. Books featuring kids in stressful, survival situations always seem more chilling and disturbing to me than books starring their adult counterparts. Children, after all, are the picture of ultimate innocence; in an ideal world we wish to protect them from all the troubles and anxieties of adulthood. Even most adults would be ill-prepared to handle a sudden disaster, so I can’t even imagine how much worse the burden of responsibility would be to a teenager. Without strong guidance and a lack of organization, it’s not surprising how quickly a group situation can devolve.
The kids in this book range from ages 5 to 17, all stranded passengers from a couple of school buses that were wrecked by the severe storm. Naturally, a hierarchy of leadership develops, with the older teens taking care of the young’uns. The dynamics are made more interesting by the differences not only in the characters’ ages, but also in their personalities, backgrounds and upbringing. Unfortunately, this does mean that almost everyone is pigeonholed into rather predictable and clichéd stereotypes. Main protagonist and narrator Dean is the “booker”, a quiet and somewhat awkward late-bloomer who has long harbored a secret love for Astrid, the popular and perfect hot girl. Astrid however is the girlfriend of Jake, the football jock. Among the high-schoolers, there’s also the bully/bad boy Brayden, the solemn and live-by-the-book Boy Scout Niko, who happens to have a thing for the kind and motherly Josie. The roles are cast, and the stage is set for some serious teenage drama.
The younger kids actually proved more intriguing and to have more well-rounded personalities. A couple of them genuinely surprised me, displaying a level of maturity and problem solving skills that even surpassed some of the teenagers’. In fact, I think one of the book’s main weaknesses is its gradual divergence from the “we’re all in this together” theme towards a greater emphasis on the relationships and soap-opera aspects of the older kids. The story was a lot more engaging at the beginning when the whole group dealt with the challenges of surviving together, addressing issues like mob mentality, who should be in charge, and how to explain the situation to the elementary children who are frightened and don’t understand why they can’t go home. Once the focus shifted to become more about “who’s crushing on whom”, the book became more typical and less special in my eyes.
While I loved the premise, another strike against this book is the whole reason why Dean and the other kids are trapped in the superstore. The explanation given – that the chemical leak is a gas causing different reactions based on the exposed victim’s blood type – is a bit weak and unconvincing. Victims with O-type blood will become mindless violent savages, while another type would break out in boils and blisters, while yet another type would experience no outward signs but may suffer infertility and reproductive difficulties, etc. Leaving aside how such an absurd model of symptoms made me want to bash my head against the wall, the theory of the chemical disaster did not feel that well thought out. It felt like the author needed a reason to put the kids in this particular jam, and seized upon the first idea to come to mind without fleshing it out, giving it more logic or detail. Perhaps that’s why the book also threw in the extreme weather and a massive disaster on the east coast, just to make the situation bigger and severe than it is.
As expected, Monument 14 also left off on a cliffhanger (these days, I’d be shocked if a YA novel didn’t). Still, it’s a strong start, with a great idea to work with, and just a tad wobbly on the execution. I haven’t decided if I want to continue with the series yet. Looks like it’ll be another short, quick read, so if the opportunity arises, I may take it. (less)
Self-absorbed, annoying, moody, smug, dissatisfied, spoiled, fake, maudlin, insecure, aimless, whiny, stupid, pampered, emo, vain, egotistical, small-minded, excessive, inconsiderate, thankless, pretentious, snobby, entitled, mercurial, immature, depressed, hypocritical, mean-spirited, cynical, clueless – just a small sample of the words I could use to describe the characters in this book.
No, The Magicians isn’t going to your big smiling ball of sunshine no matter how many Harry Potter comparisons you see slapped on it. Instead, you have a book featuring a much darker, grittier and almost satirical aura, a “New Adult” urban fantasy about letting the unhappiness of wanting something you can never have consume you. We follow disillusioned Quentin Coldwater, a high school student who never really grew out of his love for a series of novels he read as a kid about the adventures of five siblings in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, what can the real world offer him?
Imagine how he feels then, when he discovers that magic is real. And not only is it real, Quentin himself is a promising young magician, accepted into very secret and highly exclusive Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in upstate New York. It should have changed everything. Quentin should have been ecstatic.
But he is not. But of course he’s not. Magic isn’t going to make Quentin happy. Neither is finding out that Fillory actually exists. It’s a sad moment when the realization hits. There’s really no cure for what ails Quentin, except one thing and one thing only: a few years of life experience and a whole lot of growing up. Well, that or maybe a swift and forceful kick in the seat of his pants.
Thing is though, you can write a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character. I don’t mind. Not even if your character is an insufferably whiny little ingrate. You just have to give me a reason – any reason – to make me care about what happens to him. That’s not too much to ask, is it? My issue with this novel wasn’t so much with the mopey protagonist than it was with the directionless storytelling. In fact, I was quite excited for the first part of this book. I couldn’t get enough of the magical school idea the author’s jabs and funny references to Harry Potter and other humorous injections. That there was no sign of a main conflict didn’t bother me at this point either, as I was relishing the setting and enjoying myself too much.
Around the midway point was when the book started to lose me, coinciding with Quentin’s graduation and life after Brakebills. Until then I never really bothered asking where the story was going, and hadn’t felt the need to – but eventually there was a creeping sense that giving Quentin and his magician friends “real life” problems like relationship hang ups and dismal prospects for the future just wasn’t going cut it. Like, dudes, I get that y’all are bored with life. But I’m bored with you too now. Sorry. Worse yet, there is absolutely no development in their characters or personalities (unless you count decline as growth) and that’s absolutely mind boggling when you consider how a person’s time at college should have been the most formative years. I don’t know anyone who left college the same person they were when they arrived.
Admittedly, the final handful of chapters about the discovery and exploration of Fillory had their charm. Possibly enough to salvage my feelings for this book for a solid rating. And I suppose the conclusion, while incomplete and flinging the doors wide open for a new adventure, also manages to offer a sense of closure and satisfaction in its own unique way.
This book isn’t bad, apart from the pacing issues. The ending gives me hope for Quentin, and the promise of more Fillory makes me feel very optimistic about the next book.(less)
When I think about Young Adult books from Pyr, words that spring immediately to mind are “distinct”, “unconventional” and “unique”. I guess that’s why I’ve been counting on this book to lift me out of my YA slump. I’ve been feeling rather burned out by the love triangles, broody heroes, and paranormal/fantasy settings in this category lately, and Earth Girl looked like the perfect cure to this particular malaise.
My instincts proved correct.
The story of Earth Girl takes place in the far-flung future, narrated by eighteen-year-old Jarra. There are many names for people like her. Handicapped. Throwback. Nean. Ape. All of them mean one thing: that she is among the one in a thousand born with an immune disorder that confines her to earth. Humans have developed portal technology at this point, using it to colonize a multitude of worlds, but Jarra can’t visit any of them. If she traveled anywhere she would go into anaphylactic shock in seconds, and die if not returned immediately to earth’s atmosphere.
But even in the year 2788, humanity has its bigoted attitudes. So when the time comes to enroll in university, Jarra chooses her preferred subject History, but decides to invent a fake military background for herself to apply at a school on another planet whose class of norms who would be on earth for the first year of practical studies. Jarra is sick and tired of being looked down on for being handicapped, and she’s determined to show a bunch of stupid Exos just what an ape girl is capable of.
There is therefore nothing subtle about the social message in Earth Girl. This is a book infused with emotion and meaning. But even beyond this, there is so much more to love. While the plot may be a bit predictable at times, very little else about this novel falls prey to clichés, especially when it comes to the characters. You meet Lecturer Playdon, for example, and might immediately label him a hardball professor, bent on giving our protagonist a hard time – because adults obviously are in YA novels just to get in the way! Or take Dalmora Rostha, daughter of a rich, famous vid director. She’s totally going to be the snooty, spoiled and annoyingly fake arch nemesis in this story, am I right? Now the lascivious pair of Betas though, surely they are there just to provide comic relief, cause trouble and flunk out?
Nope, nope, and nope, wrong on all counts. This book will surprise you at every turn, and I can’t tell you how refreshing that is.
I also confess, I have another reason for loving this book. For you see, in the context of Earth Girl, Jarra’s “practical prehistory studies” is just another word for Archaeology. And I love Archaeology. While studying it and going on digs in college, I’d always entertained thoughts of future archaeologists excavating our modern cities and wondered what they would make of our civilization from the things they find. It’s like the author was reading my mind! When Jarra and her class dig up the ruins of New York, the methods and technology they use may be very different, but still the systematic methods are there and so is the culture and spirit of a dig site. World building is fantastic in terms of creating a great atmosphere.
My only quibbles are minor. The dialogue can be stunted at times, making Jarra and her friends sound and act like they are much younger than their eighteen years. Fian, the romantic interest, is probably the worst offender. Jarra also seems to be an expert at everything. A character even makes a joke about this at one point in the novel. As well, there is a tendency to tell instead of show and moments of overt info-dumping, but as many of these instances are worked into a classroom setting, they were easily forgivable. Other than that, as you can see from my rating, this book was close to perfect.
Thank you, Janet Edwards, for breathing some new life into YA for me. Earth Girl was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to the next book. (less)
To some, The Voices is going to be just another haunted house ghost story. To others, it will be one of the most terrifying books you’ll ever read. I’ll admit I came very close to not reading this, simply because the novel’s description made it sound much too scary. As a parent of a toddler, I had a feeling this one might cut to close for comfort and give me nightmares. But true to form, in the end I just couldn’t resist a good horror.
The year is 1976, the hottest summer in the United Kingdom since records began, and Christopher Norton and his wife Laura and baby girl Faye had just moved into their a grand old Victorian era home in the desirable neighborhood of Hampstead. A composer by trade, Christopher spends much of his time in his attic studio recording music, and before long he starts to hear strange voices on his tapes. Around the same time, Laura beings to notice knocking sounds from the baby monitor and baby Faye seemingly to babble at something unseen…
Haunted houses have long been a horror fan favorite, and whether you love it or hate it, they’re here to stay. The reason why certain tropes tend to stick around is because they’re so effective – if you can’t feel safe in your own home, then where can you? – and though I’ve read plenty of books and seen many more movies based around this idea, I don’t seem to be tired of it yet. It’s interesting because the narrative structure of The Voices actually reminds me so much of watching a movie, with regards to the use of familiar themes or the way particular events have a very cinematic quality to them. The book is also intensely atmospheric, heightening the creep factor and delicious sense of dread.
In truth, The Voices is a rather uncomplicated novel. But the author, being a clinical psychologist, knows just what to say to make you squirm. Tallis builds his story around a very believable, very flawed couple, giving them a depth of emotion not often found in characters in this genre. Christopher and Laura might not be parents of the year, but their thoughts and reactions towards the strange happenings in their house are so realistic you just can’t help but feel a connection. There were a couple scenes that really shook me up, because 1) they involved a baby, and 2) I know how awful it feels to worry for your child. There were things here straight out of my worst nightmare.
But the haunting is also just one single aspect of The Voices, a piece of a larger story with a complex web of relationship dynamics. I liked that there was more substance to this novel than just the horror elements, and in fact, my only complaint is that these minor plot threads weren’t more cohesive and connected to the overall picture. There were a lot of other things going on with Christopher and Laura’s lives outside their creepy old house, and while I got the feeling they were all relevant to the story, I just couldn’t figure out how. A little more direction would have probably made for a tidier conclusion, but I was still overall very impressed at the well-roundedness of the novel.
If you’re in the mood for a good ghost story or a classic haunting, The Voices is a very good choice. It’s one of the more memorable and chilling horror novels I’ve read of this type, and a genuinely freaked me out in more than a couple instances.(less)
I was very excited when I first heard about Trudi Canavan’s Thief’s Magic, and doubly more so when I discovered it was going to be an introduction to a brand new universe we’ve never seen before. I’m not completely unfamiliar with the author’s work, having read The Magician’s Guild, book one of her Black Magician trilogy, but knowing that she has two series and a couple more novellas based in that world of Kyralia which I haven’t even yet come close to finishing, I was glad to have a fresh start in Millennium’s Rule.
Magic and magic users seem to feature strongly in Canavan’s books, and that’s no exception here. At the beginning of this novel we meet Tyen, a young archaeology student (though calling what he and his professor and fellow students do “Archaelogy” might be a bit of stretch…they’re more like tomb robbers) who discovers a sentient book while excavating an ancient tomb. The book can read the minds of anyone who makes physical contact, communicating through text appearing on the pages. Calling herself Vella, the book claims to have once been a sorcerer-woman, until she was transformed into her current form by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. She has been gathering and storing information through the ages ever since. Sensing bad things to come if Vella were to ever fall into the wrong hands, Tyen decides to keep her to himself for now, but as we all know, a secret this big is always bound to come out sooner or later.
Meanwhile in another world, a dyer’s daughter named Rielle harbors a secret of her own. From a young age, she has had the ability to sense magic – and hence the potential to use it. However, Rielle’s society could not be any more different from Tyen’s, where magic is used freely (and some might say TOO freely) to power their fantastical machines. Instead, the priests of Rielle’s world teach that to use magic is the equivalent to stealing from the Angels themselves. Anyone caught committing this crime is published severely then cast out from the city to live out the rest of their lives in a prison. Rielle is therefore all too happy to just keep her head down, hoping to also to do what her family wants of her and find a prospective husband. But then she meets and falls in love with a local artist named Izare, which is patently NOT what her parents had in mind. Oh, hello, Forbidden Love.
What do these two plot lines have to do with each other? Very little, actually. Reading Thief’s Magic felt essentially like reading two-books-in-one. The novel’s structure can be a little jarring if you’re not expecting it. We first start with Part I which follows Tyen’s story, and several chapters after that Part II begins with Rielle’s. The novel continues like this, alternating back and forth between their narratives. Actually getting the hang of this perspective-jumping isn’t all that difficult, but Canavan likes to tease, and she seems to have this knack for choosing the most suspenseful moments to make the switch between characters. Often, I would find myself pulled away into Rielle’s story just as I was getting completely drawn into Tyen’s, or vice versa. This format was both simultaneously addicting and frustrating, though I have to admit I kind of liked it.
When it comes down to it, I’m just completely hooked by these two characters and their respective worlds. Both Tyen and Rielle are written very well, even though occasionally their naiveté would grate on my nerves. However, their decisions – misguided as they are sometimes – always led to interesting things happening. I’m fascinated by the differences in their cultures and how each of them view magic. I love that their own personal conflicts take them on completely disparate adventures, so that the individual challenges they face differ profoundly as well. I’m especially intrigued by Rielle and her struggles in a society where unauthorized use of magic is treated as the greatest sin, where women like her have very little choice and practically no future when they are discovered to possess magical abilities.
I don’t know if Tyen and Rielle’s paths will ever cross, though something tells me that they will – but that particularly story is not for this book to tell. At this point, I feel I’ve been given enough information to formulate a tenuous theory on how the two characters’ worlds are linked, but for the most part we don’t get too many answers on that front. I really enjoyed following both story lines, but if you’re the kind of reader who prefers self-contained story arcs or at least some closure at the end of a novel, you won’t really find it here. It’s a factor to think about, though I already know I will be picking up the next book in spite of it. Thief’s Magic may have all the hallmarks of a “Book One”, but Canavan has crafted a very fine beginning (technically, TWO very fine beginnings) and I want to find out what happens to both Tyen and Rielle. (less)
To tell the truth, Dämoren didn’t start off high on my priority list of books to read when I received it for review, though it did hook my attention when I was told there would be wendigos (seriously, more books need wendigos). The cover, while very pretty, also did nothing to draw me in, showing a partial image of a bladed revolver. Hey, gunblades are neat and all -- but that also tells me very little.
Then a couple weeks ago, while trying to choose my next read, I was struck by a sudden surge of spontaneity and decided to pick up Dämoren and give the first few pages a shot. An hour later, I realized with a jolt that I was still reading, and that I was already almost a third of the way in. The weird thing about that hour, is that it honestly felt like a mere few minutes. Dämoren simply took me by surprise. I’ve read my fair share of stories about demon slayers and monster hunters, so admittedly I wasn’t expecting this first book of Seth Skorkowsky’s new urban fantasy/horror series to be that much different.
Once again, I am sorry to have underestimated the dark fiction of Ragnarok Pub. Rest assured Dämoren will satisfy all your needs in the action and thrills department, but what I was most impressed with was the world building and unique body of lore Skorkowsky has created, which offered a fresh new take on the angel/demon mythos.
Central to the novel is the concept of holy weapons. In the world of Dämoren, these weapons are sentient entities that if you’re not careful you may actually grow to care for them and even start thinking of them as characters themselves! Somehow the author has managed to imbue unmoving, unspeaking objects with personalities of their own. For when these holy weapons form a bond with a wielder, he or she becomes irrevocably aware that their weapons are alive and that they speak to their souls. No one knows how a holy weapon comes to be, but they are the only way to kill a demon. And the love a wielder feels for their weapon can be even more powerful than any attachment to another human being.
It is so with Matt Hollis, the main protagonist and owner of Dämoren, the name of his holy sword pistol. As a child, Matt was the only survivor of a wendigo attack on his family, making it out alive thanks to a man named Clay Mercer who killed the monsters and rescued the young boy. The former wielder of Dämoren, Clay had resigned from a secret order of demon hunters called the Valducan, and left his holy weapon to Matt after he died. But many years later, the Valducan leadership has taken an interest in Matt’s activities and asked him and Dämoren to rejoin their ranks, due to a sudden influx of coordinated monster attacks and attempts to destroy holy weapons. Unfortunately, this was not a decision welcomed by all, as some of the Valducan see Matt as corrupted. For while Matt had survived his childhood wendigo attack, he was also bitten by one of the creatures.
So, get this: In the world of this novel, all monsters – everything from werewolves to vampires, ghouls to lamia – are all essentially humans, but possessed by the souls of the different kinds of demons inhabiting them, giving rise to their physical and characteristic traits. A bite is how a demon “marks” a person, making them an available vessel to possess if or when their old body perishes. Now you can see why the other Valducans might be giving Matt the shifty eyes.
The book is just filled to the brim with cool ideas like these, not to mention the fact Matt’s special condition gives him some rather handy powers (blood compasses! Can you say awesome?) or the sheer variety of terrifying monsters, both new and familiar, that you’ll come face to face with within these pages. There’s certainly no shortage of action. I also classified this book as an urban fantasy, but in reality the plot will take you to many places across the globe, from the wilds of western Canada to the outskirt villages of Florence. So not only does it take place in variety of environments, Dämoren is a truly international adventure.
Although it will read perfectly fine as a self-contained novel, I was also happy to see that it is a “book one” implying that there will be more in the future. When the Valducan Order expands, one thing I'd love to see is more kickass female knights like Luiza. As one of the only two major female characters, I wasn't surprised that the role of "love interest" fell to her as well, but more to the point, I think the special relationship between a holy weapon and its owner is one of the most intriguing aspects of Dämoren and I would love to see this uncanny bond further explored with an even greater diversity of characters. Really looking forward to see what else Seth Skorkowsky has in store for us. (less)
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.(less)
Jarra has carried out a successful rescue mission, saved lives at the risk of losing her own, and received the Earth Star and the highest honor of the Artemis medal. But still our protagonist finds herself defined by her disability.
I’d been eagerly waiting to read this book ever since I read Earth Girl. Earth Star is the sequel, picking up right where the first book left off. Things have pretty much returned to normal after the events of the unprecedented solar storm that put the New York dig site and Jarra in the spotlight. The whole world knows she’s Handicapped now, that she is among one in a thousand born with an immune system disorder that confines her to earth. But while most of her classmates have come to terms with learning her secret, not everyone has been so accepting of Jarra.
I continue to enjoy this series for its ability to engage as well as its departures from the usual YA conventions. Unsurprisingly, these books probably won’t be for everyone, though I do wish more people knew about them. Not only is there an important message, I also love the universe Janet Edwards has created, and here she expands the idea further by throwing humanity a curveball – the possibility of aliens on Earth’s doorstep. When the military discovers a strange sphere in orbit, the planet goes into high alert and Jarra is drafted to help.
You would think that the arrival of an extraterrestrial presence might bring humankind together, but that isn’t the case. The book continues the theme of showing how deep-rooted bigotry and intolerance can be, even though Jarra has proven herself to be as capable as any Norm time and time again. The prejudice against the Handicapped has been ingrained in this society for generations, and Earth has become a second-class planet, with those who have the immune disorder somehow seen as less than human.
But there is hope yet. There are plenty of those who don’t share those close-minded views. Jarra and her boyfriend Fian have gotten much closer since the first book; the two have pledged their commitment to each other and Fian continues to be Jarra’s strongest and most loyal supporter. But like I said, we aren’t going to be treated to the same old tropes here, so Jarra and Fian’s relationship also has a completely different dynamic than your typical YA novel. I wouldn’t recommend going into these books expecting a strong romance plot. It’s just not that kind of book, and I’m cool with that. Still, that doesn’t mean that it is completely devoid of romantic tension. A private person by nature, Jarra still struggles with opening up to Fian, and Fian comes across as almost insecure in his desperation to get through to her. His role feels slightly diminished here, but then I suppose the force of Jarra’s personality has a way of overshadowing those around her.
For make no mistake, these books are all about Jarra’s journey, her own exceptional fight against adversity, from without and within. But I also like the fact she is not painted as the invincible hero. Reviewers including myself have noted in the first book that her character seems to be an expert at everything and know all the answers. In spite of that, I see now that she has her fears and doubts. The message is clear: as a Handicapped, Jarra is nevertheless able to do everything that a Norm can do, but it works both ways. She’s also just as liable to fall victim to her own anxieties and lose confidence in herself, just like everyone else. After all, she’s only human. Like all of us. (less)
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. (less)
Antigoddess is the second book I have read by Kendare Blake, after the fun times I had with Anna Dressed in Blood earlier this year. And as much as I appreciate a good ghost story, I have to say Antigoddess was more up my alley.
Funny story, though: When I first added this book to my reading list, I only saw the cover and thought it was going to be a story about angels. Damn feather threw me off. It wasn’t until I read the description that I realized I was wrong, but that it was actually about something even better! Not angels, but gods. Greek gods. The mythology buff in me was tickled pink. And that feather on the cover which originally misled me turned out to be a symbol for something much more sinister…
At the heart of this novel and series is an ancient conflict stemming from the events of the Trojan War. So before reading this, it might be a good idea to brush up on your Greek Mythology 101. Or rent Troy. It’s all good! In any case, you don’t have to be an expert on all the details to enjoy this, as Blake uses her prerogative to do some very cool and unique things to the legend and the characters involved. For one, the gods themselves are dying – and in the most bizarre ways. We learn of their plight through mainly Athena and Hermes’ perspectives, the former experiencing impending death by way of random feathers sprouting in her body like a cancer. This is making all the gods a little desperate, and some are driven to insanity.
Even from the very start, we’re presented a mystery. What do the gods have to do with a teenage girl named Cassandra from Kincade, New York? Granted, she appears to have some freaky psychic powers, but the character perspectives going back and forth between Athena and Cassandra cannot be any more different. The latter’s chapters show life in your typical small town high school, while Athena and Hermes’ chapters (at least in the beginning) have an almost abstract, dream-like quality to them which I really enjoyed. While the characters’ connections are revealed early on, the plot doesn’t explode until gods and mortals meet. And then the revelations are even more mind-blowing and unexpected.
The book’s greatest strength is its characters. I suppose if you’re a god you can choose to be whoever you want to be. I liked how Blake gave her gods all different and interesting identities – from Athena’s stern demeanor to Apollo’s loyalty or Hermes’ fun-loving personality and fondness for pop culture.
Most obvious weakness? This had the feel of “first book of a series” all over it. In other words, it read like one big long introduction. Voracious readers of YA fiction will probably know exactly what I’m talking about, and probably won’t find this all that surprising. It’s not hard to guess whether a book will have a satisfying ending or leave things wide open for the sequel; once it became clear that there was no way any of the conflicts would be settled by the end the novel, I admit my interest waned a little as that “let’s just bring on book two” attitude settled in.
That said, I am on board for book two. It’ll probably be one of my higher-priority sequels too, because let’s face it – how often does a book with a good Greek mythology angle come along?(less)
I’m what you would call a book juggler, meaning at any given time you’ll find me with multiple books in my currently-reading list. From the moment I started Veil of the Deserters though, I ignored everything else on my plate, reading nothing but this book until I finished all 500ish pages of it in two and a half days. It was the only thing I wanted to read.
As a sequel, this was everything I wanted and more. If Scourge of the Betrayer was the delicious appetizer, then Veil of the Deserters is most definitely the main course. It’s always great to read an amazing book only to discover the second one is even better, because while the first book was the perfect tease, piquing my interest and whetting my appetite for more, here’s where we really get into the meat of it.
In my review of the first book, I talked about an air of mystery surrounding the direction of the plot. The main protagonist and narrator is a bookish scribe named Arkamondos, hired by the formidable Captain Killcoin to accompany his band of Syldoon warriors on their journey to complete a mission. We have very little idea of what the Syldoon are up to, since Arki himself is not made privy to the details of their quest. Why these rough and tough soldiers require a scribe or in what capacity Arki would be employed is also unknown. But in Veil of the Deserters, we get our answers. We get them in spades.
Not only that, the world building is much more substantial. The author fleshes out the world and the characters in this second installment, providing a lot more background information and history. Arki’s hunger for knowledge and his natural curiosity as a scribe is a great means to facilitate this; as he grows more comfortable around his traveling companions, they tell their stories and reveal their lives to him. We find out that the old veteran Hewspear is a grandfather, estranged from his daughter-in-law after the death of his son. We also learn that Killcoin has a sister, the Memoridon witch Soffjian who makes her first appearance in this novel. The relationship between the siblings is complicated, and we’re also in a position to find out why. This book humanizes the Syldoon, showing the reader another side to these men, letting us see that they are more than just brutal warriors.
I continue to enjoy these characters. They fascinated me in the first book, and here they are even more developed. What amazes me is Salyard’s talent for making each and every one of them unique. Not every author can do this. I love reading dark fantasy featuring raw, gritty badass characters – but sometimes a book can end up with a whole bunch of characters with practically indistinguishable personalities on account of how raw, how gritty, how very badass they all equally are. Thankfully, the Bloodsounder’s Arc novels avoid this pitfall. I liked each of the Syldoon for different reasons. Every one of them can stand on their own, displaying their individual quirks and qualities which can even extend to their behaviors and the way they speak, from Killcoin’s emphatic “yes?” to Mulldoos’ penchant for coming up with hilariously obscene insults. Now's also probably a good time to mention just how fantastic I think the dialogue is, well-written and sometimes injected with dark humor.
Arki himself is a delight to have as a narrator. He's come a long way since the beginning of the first book, evolving with every minute he spends with the Syldoon, every violent battle he witnesses. He gradually learns to shed his old life to adapt to the new one with Captain Killcoin and his men, and it’s interesting to see how the emotions war within him even as he grows more loyal to the Syldoon and makes friends among them. He's a stronger person in this book, both in the way he is written and in the manner he carries himself.
Seriously, why aren’t more people reading Jeff Salyards?! He's outdone himself with this one. The book all but throws open the doors to the world of the Bloodsounder’s Arc, giving us better insight into its history, politics, religion and magic. The sights and sounds get more magnificent. The battles are bigger and better. The story is far deeper now that all the cards are on the table, and Salyards isn’t holding back anymore. All around, this is an excellent book, exceeding all my expectations for a sequel.(less)
I wish I could write a more positive review for this book, I really do. The Shadow Master has so much going for it, including a setting resembling an alternate-history Renaissance Italy, with just a touch of that steampunk flavor with its clockwork inventions and automatons. We also mustn’t forget the biggie for me – a plot thread about a pair of star-crossed lovers separated by the warring between their families. I do get a kick out of Forbidden Love. This book just seemed made for me, and indeed I liked a lot of its separate parts. I’m just not sure how well I liked the whole.
If the book’s description didn’t make you think it already, then I’m sure its epigraph “A plague a’ both your houses!” certainly would – the basic plot is very much reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. However, this is not a romance. In fact, one of my biggest disappointments was not feeling any connection at all between the two young lovers: Lucia, daughter of the Duke of House Lorraine and Lorenzo, whose loyalties lies with the House Medici.
With the two families at each other’s throats, the future of Lucia and Lorenzo’s relationship hangs in the balance, but without first being convinced of their bond, I found it hard to stay interested. Their love story, which should have served as the starting point and foundation of the novel, didn’t initially captivate me, and as a result the rest of the story failed to deliver the desired impact.
But as I’d alluded to, there were quite a few things I enjoyed about this book. I enjoyed the appearance of several historical figures including Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci, even though they weren’t contemporaries, but their “war of the wits” gave the Medici vs. Lorraine battle a certain fantastical flare. Both are reluctant geniuses caught in the conflict between the Houses, receiving pressure from their leaders to design and build magical inventions that would give their side the advantage. The city is also threatened by plague, a problem literally at its doorstep as hordes of the sick and dying amass outside the gates. The first half of this book was quite engaging for these reasons.
Around the 60% mark, however, events of the story suddenly made a turn for the confusing. Kidnappings and assassination attempts and negotiations become entangled in mystical machines, madmen and ancients. The events were so jumbled and disconnected that I’m still a bit uncertain as to what really happened.
I think the language and the author’s writing style might have also made following the story a little more difficult. I didn’t click with some of the dialogue between characters spoken in riddles, and at times the prose also had a tendency to feel overly embellished with the use of euphemisms, especially during moments of intensity. Torture scenes or sex scenes were made incredibly awkward by terms like “serpent of sin”, “tower of ivory”, “fountain of relief”, “cave of wonders” and “mountains of the goddess”. There was speculation between me and another blogger that some of these were done purposely for the sake of satire, which I admit was something that hadn’t occurred to me. It’s possible, I suppose, though if that’s the case it’s not presented in a very obvious manner.
If the last half had been tightened up and more clear and consistent, I might have enjoyed The Shadow Master a bit more, but as it is, the book feels slightly unfinished and rushed. I had pretty high hopes, but in the end this one just didn’t work very well for me.(less)
Whenever I encounter cool, interesting new concepts in urban fantasy, it's always like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I love vampires, werewolves, wizards and such, but it's also nice to see something different every once in a while. And with this book, the idea of magical tattoos most definitely fits into the "that's not something I see every day" category.
The unique properties of "Live Ink" is what serves as the foundation for the magic system in Marcella Burnard's newest novel, in a world where tattoos are more than just body art. If integrated well, a Live Ink tattoo can enhance a person's life and augment their skills. But when things go wrong, they can also turn on their wearers and even wind up killing them.
Protagonist Isa Romanchzyk and others like her who have the ability to manipulate Live Ink can either use that power to create or destroy, making her tattoo shop a destination for both the cops and the mob alike -- or anyone who needs to get rid of a Live Ink tattoo gone bad. Isa's approach has always involved "binding" the tattoo, effectively killing it in order to save the life of the victim. Until one day a desperate friend turns to her for help, and for the first time in years Isa works Live Ink, fixing the tattoo instead of destroying it. But what she doesn't realize is that by interfering, she might as well have just painted a target on her back.
It goes without saying, when you take an interesting idea and throw in compelling characters, you get a winning combination. Nightmare Ink has this going for it. Isa's enigmatic past and her connections with both the law and the gangs of Seattle make her interesting to me. I thought I'd seen and heard it all when it comes to urban fantasy protagonists and their shady backgrounds, but I guess not! Information about Isa's history is doled out sparingly so you don't get to learn everything about her straight away, and I found myself being surprised by the darker revelations of her past even once I was well into the final chapters of the book.
However, the uneven way details are revealed also presents a bit of an issue. I noticed the introductory chapters are heavier on the info-dumps, going so far as to have a character ask Isa about Live Ink so that she can not-so-subtly explain all the ins-and-outs. But information becomes sparser after this, leaving me with a lot of questions about tattoo magic. For example, why does Live Ink only take to certain people and not others? There's also not much about the "etheric" world where a lot of Isa's interactions with Live Ink tattoos take place. It makes some of the later scenes in the novel involving her relationship with her own Live Ink very confusing. It is also implied that the Living Tattoos come from another realm, but again we don't get a lot of detail on that. There are many instances like this, and while it's a very interesting world I only wish I knew more about it!
At the time of reading, I wasn't sure if this was going to be a series, but I see now that there is at least one future book planned. In any case, Nightmare Ink works very well as a stand alone. Isa and her friends are a fantastic group of people I wouldn't hesitate to read about again, and the concept of Live Ink magic could definitely do with some expanding, fine-turning and polish that another book could provide. Despite some holes in the world building, this was overall a very entertaining read.(less)
Ruin and Rising was good, but perhaps it was just good…enough? I sat on this review for several weeks trying to gather my thoughts about this book hoping to figure out exactly how I feel about it. And in the end, I finally realized why I was so conflicted. I liked this book – and heck, up to now this series has been one of my YA favorites – but as badly was I wanted this to be the grand finale, I just couldn’t convince myself to love it.
As you would recall, Siege and Storm had the unmistakable feel of a second installment within a trilogy, with our protagonists experiencing a momentary setback. Last we saw Alina, she was in pretty bad shape, having lost her powers as the Sun Summoner. She and Mal have retreated underground with their allies, surrendering themselves to the power of the Apparat and his band of zealots who worship Alina as a Saint. But while Alina may be weakened, she is far from broken. Her mission remains the same: to capture and secure the third amplifier, the elusive firebird that would be her key to defeating the Darkling thus freeing Ravka from his iron grasp.
In truth, I had my reservations from the very beginning. The first couple of chapters almost drove me to return the book. Looking back, these were so clearly “transition” scenes that served no other purpose than to link book two with book three. As an antagonist, the Apparat was almost a non-entity, used to accomplish what was required, and then quickly forgotten. I just wanted this obligatory intro done and over with as quickly and painlessly as possible, and fortunately and unfortunately, it seemed Leigh Bardugo had the same idea. We always knew Alina’s goal was to hunt the firebird, and this brief little romp through the tunnels and caves felt like nothing more than a throwaway distraction.
Thankfully, we soon get back on the right track. We meet up with Nikolai, the outlaw prince of lovable arrogance and smart-assery, and now we can finally ask the really important questions. How are they going to go up against the Darkling? And what would a future Ravka look like if they succeed? Alina has some difficult decisions before her. What is she going to choose? Or rather, ugh, WHO is she going to choose?
In some ways, I feel validated. I still love YA, but not long ago, I told myself I can’t read them for their romances anymore. And I’m a much happier person for it. Enjoying a novel mainly for its story and characters is how I’ve come to approach YA, because if you rely on the outcome of a relationship to satisfy you, you’re bound to be disappointed. Time after time after time, predictability and tired clichés have ruined YA romances for me, and I’ve found it much easier now to just NOT CARE. It also helps that I’ve never really felt much connection to the men in Alina’s life. I’ve failed for three books to see the Darkling’s appeal. And Mal was ruined for me in Siege and Storm (you can’t get stinking drunk and kiss another girl and expect bygones to be bygones, Mal – you only get one chance with me). Nikolai was perhaps the most interesting and had the best personality out of everyone, and that told me right there he was obviously all wrong for Alina, so I never took his role as a suitor seriously.
I’m not going to say what happens, naturally. But I will say Bardugo took the “safe” route. Which was pretty much what I expected, so I’m actually not too upset with the ending. I’ve come to accept the status quo in YA fiction, and it hadn’t even occurred to me that this series could end any other way. It’s entirely possible I would have rated this book higher if it had been a bit bolder and strayed from conventions, but I’m also satisfied if not entirely blown away. And if this had been the author’s plan from the start, I applaud her for sticking to her guns and telling the story she wanted to tell. Everyone deserves their happily-ever-after, and Alina got the one perfect for her which is all that matters.
I’d still recommend this series. It became increasing more predictable as the story progressed with each installment, to the point where there were really no surprises left for me by book three, but it’s an entertaining trilogy as a whole. I wish it had ended with less tepidness considering the incredibly strong start that was Shadow and Bone, but I have to say it’s worth experiencing from beginning to end.(less)
Despite reading my fair share of comics and graphic novels, I usually leave the reviewing of them to Wendy and Tiara. Theirs are always really good, whereas I wouldn't even have any idea where to begin! So, you're going to have to bear with me here. This will be my first ever comic review for the site, but I'm also really excited because it is for none other than Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden's Cemetery Girl from Jo Fletcher books. Come to think of it, it's a first for JFB too. This title is the first ever graphic novel published by them, and I was pretty thrilled when they sent me a copy.
The summary of it is as follows: the body of a young nameless woman, presumed dead, is dumped from the trunk of a car into a cemetery. But oh, actually she was still very much alive! In the rough landing, she hits her head and wakes up with no memory of who she was, or anything about her past. All she knows is that someone tried to kill her. Lost and alone, the girl decides to take shelter in a mausoleum, and as the days pass the place eventually becomes home. Combining the names from different tombstones and from the cemetery itself, the girl comes up with a new identity: Calexa Rose Dunhill.
The main plot of Cemetery Girl really gets going when Calexa witnesses a murder but is unable to go to the police, fearing that it would draw attention to herself, especially since her unknown would-be killer is still somewhere out there. But there's a bigger mystery arc here too, invoking questions like, Who is Calexa, really? Who's out to get her and why? On top of that, she seems to have developed a strange ability to see things, ever since waking up not-dead from her brutal attack. Basically, this volume contains a wonderful self-contained story, but you can also tell that the best has yet to come.
Anyway, you might think, oh what's the big deal, Mogsy! Just review a graphic novel like you would a regular novel! But I don't know. Being presented with a story visually, particularly in sequential art form, really changes things for me, especially since I have had experience penciling comic art in the past. In comics, there's of course the added factor of how well the art meshes with the writing. So when it comes to questions I ask myself while writing a review, I have to reference them to the effectiveness of the illustrations as well. You gotta check this out, though: http://www.jofletcherbooks.com/2013/1...
From this awesome panel alone, you can tell that Kramer's art and Rudoni's colors definitely "click" with the tone of the story. Cemeteries are a tricky setting to pull off in art, since they are places of such emotion. You could say getting the atmosphere just right here is very important, since that's where most of the story takes place. I think the artwork does the setting justice though, and the night time and stormy scenes are especially well done. The art in general is quite easy on the eyes.
As for the story, I felt it fit nicely with the format. With graphic novels, you could arguably get away with rushing the pace a little. Still, even as the days fly by for Calexa (Night one, Night two, Night twenty-six, Night sixty-eight, etc.), the story never loses sight of its goals. Sometimes, just a panel or two and a few lines of dialogue are enough to convey the more complex feelings, not to mention the writing makes use of quite a few silences as well, to good effect. I was most impressed by the way both writers and artists were able to develop the minor characters, like the cemetery caretaker or old Lucinda, and make them stand out for the reader.
Can graphic novels can have a "young adult" feel? If so, then Cemetery Girl definitely has a bit of that. Most likely this is due to the apparent age of the protagonist, not to mention the story also involves a group of trouble-making teens. The plot is relatively straightforward and character development may on the lighter side, but for a first volume this was extremely well done. Quite promising, too. Like I said, there are still many questions that need answering, and I find myself eager for news of the next volume! (less)
I don’t DNF books. I’m sure that is in large part due to my obsessive completionist nature. I’m still trying to learn to let go, because as everyone so wisely says, life is too short for books you don’t enjoy. But I just can’t help it. And here’s what I think is another reason for my perseverance: Hope. HOPE that the book will get better, HOPE that the story will eventually pick up, HOPE that I’ll finally be able to connect with the characters. After all, it’s happened before. There’s a good handful of books in my 4 or 5 star pile including a couple on my Favorites shelf that I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of experiencing, if I’d gone with the instinct to put them down. Sometimes, my stubbornness pays off.
A lot of the times though, it doesn’t. The Forever Watch was one such book. I had high hopes for it, because even though it got off to a slow start, the ideas and world building it in were phenomenal and when the story started picking up around the 10% mark I thought to myself, “Helloooo, now we’re cooking with gas!”
But just as suddenly as things picked up, they slowed way down again. It happened again around the halfway point. And again around 75%. Every time I thought I was finally getting somewhere with this book, the story would plunge me right back into the usual meandering, aimless pace.
It was disappointing. And even more so because of the incredible foundation laid out for us in the first part of the novel. The planet Earth has died and been abandoned, so our story takes place on a generational ship called the Noah, traveling on a centuries-long journey towards Canaan, humanity’s new hope for a home. The society on the Noah is strictly regulated with highly advanced technology, with programs like forced retirements, mandatory breeding duty for women, and designated Keepers to raise children. Everyone is highly specialized for their roles on the ship, and certain individuals are gifted with powers or implants, giving them abilities like telekinesis or super strength. Every angle of this highly intriguing dystopian society felt impressively detailed and well thought out.
But even though the world building was simply amazing, The Forever Watch faltered for me in other areas. Hana Dempsey, the novel’s main character has just completed her breeding duties, waking up from a nine-months-long induced sleep. Breeders are placed in this state for the whole duration of their pregnancy and never get to see their babies, but while Hana was aware of this, what she did not expect is the secret loss she feels now, yearning for the child she would never know. At first, I thought the narrative would continue exploring this heartbreaking thread, but then it switches tack, introducing Leonard Barrens, with whom Hana has a very special relationship. A police officer running an investigation into the violent death of his mentor, Barrens turns to her for help, and just like that the matter of her baby was relegated to the background, and doesn’t come back again until much later in the book. It was a bit maddening.
Still, I can never resist a good murder mystery and a hunt for a serial killer, in this case dubbed “Mincemeat”. But The Forever Watch isn’t your usual murder mystery either, since it doesn’t have that same dramatic tension. Granted, the book had a few surprises that hooked me in, but otherwise the plot could barely hold my attention from all the scientific jargon and unnecessary exposition which was all white noise distracting me from the main story. I felt no connection to either Hana or Barrens whose personalities were as sterile and rigid as their social environment – which might have been by design, but either way it did nothing for me. Consequently, I also didn’t care much for their romantic relationship.
The Forever Watch therefore gets high marks from me for innovation and world building, but unfortunately I am not too fond of the story or its execution. There were some great moments, but they were few and far between, not enough to generate any sustained momentum. Admittedly, the revelation at the end about Mincemeat and how everything was linked together was pretty mind-blowing, but because I place so much importance on storytelling and character development, the inconsistent pacing and my ambivalence towards Hana and Barrens ultimately made me less excited about the final outcome. I think other readers may find lots to like about this book, but in the end it just wasn’t for me. (less)
I didn't think I was going to enjoy this book at first. Thank goodness I was wrong! Still, can you really blame me for having my doubts? After being inundated in recent years with the dozens upon dozens of movies, TV shows, video games etc. all featuring the same mindless gory battles against the shambling, moaning hordes of the undead, my initial thought was: been there, done that, now what more can this zombie book offer?
Well, this is the review where I happily eat my words! I should have known better anyway, because Ragnarok Publications has never let me down. As it turned out, Those Poor, Poor Bastards had a lot more to offer than I'd anticipated, in addition to that charming little title. The book did contain some of the usual trappings you'll find in a lot of zombie stories, but there were some twists as well, and I loved how the authors took the familiar and created something new. Also, while I haven't read enough of the Weird West sub-genre to consider myself a fan, a description like "Zombie Western" wasn't really something I could resist.
It is 1868, in the Sierra Nevada. The book begins with Nina Weaver and her father Lincoln riding into Coburn Station only to find that everything has gone to hell in a chuckwagon. The "Deaduns" have arisen and are sowing bloody carnage all over town, forcing the living to band together in order to survive. In typical fashion, you end up with a large, diverse ensemble cast. And like watching The Walking Dead, you just know before you even begin that many of them are going to end up zombie food before this whole thing is over.
Put a big group of people with disparate personalities into a stressful situation and you'll also inevitably get your clashes and alliances within the ranks. There are the good folks like Nina and her pa, the priest Father Mathias as well as the charming James Manning. On the other side of the fence you have the less savory types and troublemakers like the Daggett brothers or the scummy Mister Strobridge. Then there are those caught in the middle who just aren't sure. With tensions this high and a swarm of Deaduns at the door, it's the perfect set up for explosive conflict. Emphasis on explosive.
So far, with the exception of the western setting, things might be sounding rather familiar. But then, the authors work their magic and you suddenly realize there is way more to this story. Bucking tradition, we're actually given an explanation into the Deaduns and how they came to be. Their origins and motives, not to mention the actual reveal itself, were so unique that it completely threw me for a loop -- in a good way! I have to say this ended up being a delightfully fun read, in all its blood-splattered glory.
Those Poor, Poor Bastards also taught me something important about myself -- that I will never be too old or too jaded for a good ol' zombie story! What a fast-paced, crazy wild book. I think I'll just end this review with a suggestion to the potential reader: there are a lot of characters, so definitely try to tackle this novel all in one go if you can, ensuring that the dozen or so identities will always remain fresh in your mind. Besides, it shouldn't be too difficult -- because once you start reading, you just might find it hard to stop!(less)
I’m glad I gave this book a shot. I have to admit, I've not had the best experience when it comes to Anne Bishop (I really wanted to like Daughter of the Blood in her Black Jewels series, but just couldn’t seem to get into it) so I initially shied away from Written in Red. However, after multiple recommendations and even an assurance or two that it is very different from Bishop’s epic fantasy, I was finally convinced to pick it up.
I was also told that this series should be right up my alley, based on the type of urban fantasy I enjoy. I daresay that was a good call. I love the genre for its focus on interesting characters and unique worlds, and Written in Red certainly delivers on those fronts. Not only that, Anne Bishop also introduces UF elements in this book that are at once brand new and yet all too familiar. Given my mixed feelings in the past with her other work, it felt reassuring to find this book settled nicely in my comfort zone.
Despite my tepid feelings towards Daughter of the Blood, even I can't deny that Bishop has a knack for creating worlds. Her talent and creativity is evident everywhere in her work, and that is true of The Others series as well, where the mundane and the supernatural coexist in a fragile balance…so to speak. Namely, it’s the unearthly creatures who are in charge, and so long as we puny humans keep in line, they will tolerate sharing the living space with us. It’s different, but makes a lot of sense. Why should “The Others” hide and live in secret when they are so powerful and there are so many of them? And thus people are prey, and they are put in their place.
Written in Red also features a world with more than just vampires and werewolves. Granted, there are shapeshifters aplenty, but they come in many other forms, such as crows, owls, etc. Here you will encounter all kinds of creatures and races of powerful humans, never seen or heard of before. Take the protagonist Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who has the ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Kind of a morbid power, if you ask me, but it's intriguing. It's simply Bishop working up her gift for creating and describing magic. For me, that dark and vaguely-disturbing but enchanting quality is what I remember of her style. I really like how she's applied it here, to a world so very different from what I’ve previously read from her.
Speaking of which, Bishop’s also not the first epic/high fantasy author I’ve read who has taken the leap into urban fantasy in recent years. In several cases, I felt the pacing was a mild issue with storytelling, and I couldn’t help but feel it here as well. Check out the page count, for one thing. Written in Red is relatively lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially a series starter, and I don’t know if it really needed to be so long. Looking back, I can think of quite a few scenes that probably weren’t required. World building is important, sure, but at times I felt it came at the expense of the story's momentum.
Still, I liked the cohesiveness of the plot. So many urban fantasy novels seem to be crammed to the brim with action and a whole lot of ideas and things going on these days, all in about 300 pages. Written in Red may be longer than most, but at least it gives Meg’s plight and her relationships with The Others the full attention it deserves. As a main protagonist, she’s a bit too timid for my tastes, but the writing is very effective at making the reader feel protective of her and invested in her success. As a result, the tension was palpable throughout the novel even without a billion things happening all at once.
As a parting thought, cheers and thank you to those who recommended this to me and told me to read it. This was a fun one! If I’d continued staying away, I would have missed out on a refreshing new urban fantasy series. No need to remind me to put the next book Murder of Crows on my reading list – it’s already there, I promise.(less)
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.(less)
This is the first time I’ve ever read anything by Jeff VanderMeer, and I’ll admit at first I had my misgivings. I’d picked up this book because of the great things I’ve heard about it, and also because the premise sounded fascinating. However, VanderMeer is also best known for his contributions to “New Weird”, a literary genre that’s been hit or miss with me – but mostly miss. Still, I looked at the modest page count of Annihilation and figured, what the hey. Even if it didn’t tickle my fancy, at least it would be a quick read.
Man, and am I glad I gave this one a shot.
Yes, the story is weird and a bit surreal – two descriptive terms for a book that would normally make me take off for the hills – but what I didn’t expect was how thoroughly atmospheric and intense it was. If Annihilation were to be made into a movie (actually, I believe that’s already in the plans), my dream director for it would be Ridley Scott because I think his particular approach would be perfect for the overall tone and visual requirements of this novel. It’s got those Alien or Prometheus vibes.
And really, I say Annihilation is "weird" but it’s really not that weird. I mean, I was able to follow along, so there’s hope for me yet. Still, how to explain this utterly unique and uncanny novel to the uninitiated (geez, that’s way too many “U” words in a sentence)? You don’t even get names for any of the characters. The story is narrated by a woman simply known as “The Biologist”. She goes on an expedition to a place called Area X with the other members of her team, the Psychologist, the Anthropologist, and the Surveyor, to see what they can find in this chunk of land that has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. I think this idea of a scientific mission was a big part of the appeal for me; Anthropology and Biology are fields that fascinate me, and I’m all about stories about treks into the wilderness for the sake of science.
The team also has the task to find out what happened to the expeditions that came before, and here’s where thing get a little eerie. All those involved in the previous eleven attempts to investigate Area X have ended up dead in some way. With the second expedition, all the members committed suicide. Everyone in the third died because they turned on each other with their guns. Members of the eleventh expedition, the one that came before the Biologist’s, came home from Area X as ghosts of their former selves before all dying of cancer several months later. What we find out later on is that the Biologist’s husband was one of them.
This book is strange and unsettling, which satisfied my appetite for horror. But while I’d been prepared to be a little creeped out, given what I knew of the plot from the description, what I didn’t expect was the feeling of heart-wrenching melancholy that came over me as I was reading about the Biologist’s memories of her husband. There’s a tragic, haunted quality to her narration during these parts, and the lonely and isolated environment that is Area X merely served to emphasize this. Knowing that the character is a rather quiet, antisocial and withdrawn woman, the sincerity and forthrightness of her confessions touched me, but at the same time it was also a source of anxiety. Why would she be telling us all this unless she believed something awful and unthinkable was about to happen? An ominous air of mystery surrounds this story like a shroud and its secrets are revealed only bit by bit, compounding the reader’s feeling of dread as the plot line advances towards the conclusion.
Truly, I am surprised by this book. And seriously impressed. I took to VanderMeer’s writing faster and more comfortably than I expected, but then he also makes it easy with his elegant prose. I was right that this was a quick read, and it was even quicker because I enjoyed it so much. Now I’m really looking forward to picking up Authority, the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy.(less)