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....more
I make it no secret that I’ve been in a bit of a YA slump lately. This year saw a few of my favorite YA series finishing their runs and I’ve been flitting around checking out more books to fill the void, and it’s been difficult finding anything that clicked with me. This has led to discouragement and no small amount of burnout, so I’m really glad for books like Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King and now Chuck Wendig’s Blighborn to come along and snap me out of my funk.
If you’ve read the first book of The Heartland Trilogy, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Under the Empyrean Sky was a real shaker-upper for me, making itself stand out from a lot of Young Adult dystopians novels by being surprisingly candid and authentic. The Heartland is a rough place that breeds rough folk, a place where killer corn, deadly Blights and piss-blizzards are an everyday reality. After several YA sequels have disappointed me earlier in the year for having plots that are unimaginative and contrived, Wendig’s refusal to sugarcoat or hold anything back is exactly what I needed. Blightborn was interesting and unpredictable, much like life in the Heartland.
The book picks up where the first one left off, with Cael, Rigo and Lane on the run, looking to find a way skyward to the Empyrean flotilla. Right on their heels are Boyland Barnes Jr., Rigo’s father, and Wanda, who all have their reasons to pursue the three friends. Boyland wants revenge, after believing Cael killed his father. Rigo’s father just wants his son back. And Wanda hopes to be reunited with Cael, her “Obligated”. However, Cael’s heart already belongs to Gwennie, who is living the life of a Lottery winner on the floating city of Ormond Stirling Saranyu and is realizing it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
As you can see, interwoven between the various plot threads are these intricate relationships between the characters which add a lot to the story, so I highly recommend grabbing the Under the Empyrean Sky before reading Blightborn to fully experience all the underlying nuances. Wendig continues to explore and develop these relationships, especially when it comes to the dynamics between Cael, Lane and Rigo. As their fight for survival intensifies, the three friends learn to trust each other. Over a number of intense and sometimes touching scenes, they discover new things and gain a deeper understanding of each other and themselves in the process.
Romance also isn’t a central focus of this series, but love and devotion certainly plays a part. It’s the motivation behind so much of what the characters do, after all, with Cael and Boyland both going after Gwennie, Wanda after Cael, etc. Usually, I have very little patience with stuff like love triangles – or God forbid, love squares – but I’ve come to appreciate the complicated emotions flying between all these characters and the fact that they never remain static. Cael and his friends do a lot of growing up, and with growth also comes a more mature way of looking at the world and others. Cael, for example, is much less self-absorbed in this book, learning to put himself in his friends’ shoes, and sometimes even in his enemy’s. While he and Boyland have always been at odds, Cael can still admit to himself that what the other boy feels for Gwennie could be genuine and respect that, which is a huge step for him as a character in my eyes.
Another thing I loved about this book is the expansion of the readers’ world into the skies. We’d heard over and over about the corruption and decadence of the Empyrean in the first book, and now we finally get to catch a glimpse of how the elite live. It was important to see the huge disparity between life on the flotilla and life down in the Heartland as it builds the story up quite a bit, setting up the stage for new players like the Sleeping Dogs rebels, who do their share of stirring things up both in the skies and on the ground. No dystopian novel is complete without an uprising, and the pressure that has been around since the first book finally boils over in Blightborn, culminating in a stunning climax, but not before Wendig takes us on a crazy wild ride to get to that point.
I highly recommend this series, especially if you’re a fan of Chuck Wendig. I’ve always loved his writing style and characters, and that hasn’t changed even with his venture into YA dystopian. Books like this one keep me excited about the genre!...more
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!...more
I admit it, I read this book for FORBIDDEN LOVE! Turns out though, it was not exactly the kind I had in mind. I expected a little more chemistry, perhaps? A little bit more of that "it's you and me against the world"? The Winner's Curse ended up giving me two lovers who actually spent more than half the book locked in conflict with each other, and so their romance lacked some of that je ne sais quoi which makes forbidden love so scandalous and delicious.
Meet the two star-crossed lovers in question: Kestrel, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a Valorian general, who one day visits a slave auction and spontaneously decides to buy Arin, a native of the Harrani lands her people conquered. Their meeting, however, was no accident. Unbeknownst to Kestrel, Arin is actually a high ranked member of a group of Harrani rebels, planted purposely at the auction to draw her in. As a slave in the Valorian general's home, Arin would be in a position to gather intelligence and plan his people's uprising.
What neither of them counted on was that their master and slave relationship would eventually evolve into friendship, deepening into love. But that journey was far from passionate for me; instead, it felt tepid and sometimes even bordered on awkward. It's tricky creating chemistry when both your characters are torn between their loyalties to each other or their own people, and the story never managed to convince me that there was ever really any trust between Kestrel and Arin. Seeing as The Winner's Curse is essentially a romance, that's a pretty vital ingredient to be missing for me.
Okay, so their relationship was not as swoon-worthy as I would have liked, but no matter. The world, the characters and the story soon won me over, and I enjoyed this book a lot. While it is what I would classify as "standard" YA, it still contained plenty of surprises within its pages. I did love the setting, with the flavor of a historical fantasy. A martial civilization like the Valorians which also encourages women in their army fascinates me. If anything, I wish the scope of the story was bigger to encompass more of the events in the wider world. There's a lot of potential for world building here; because of the narrow focus on Kestrel and Arin, we only get to see a tiny slice of what's happening.
Forbidden Love just happens to be a trope I can't resist, but the comments I made above notwithstanding, if you are a fan romance I would still highly recommend The Winner's Curse. But if it's excitement or a thrilling adventure you're looking for, you might want to reconsider. The pacing is a lot more quiet, with a decent chunk of this book dedicated to getting Kestrel and Arin together, and it's a gradual process not achieved through any wild or fierce means. There's perhaps a slight pick up in pace in the final handful of chapters, but keep in mind the story itself isn't about providing a lot of action, it's about character development and building a relationship. The careful way in which Marie Rutkoski does it is undeniably this book's crowning glory, and even though the romance itself fell a bit flat for me, I'm sure for many others it will be the most engrossing aspect.
Despite the shaky love story, I really liked this novel, and I'll no doubt pick up the next book when it comes out. I'm still holding out for an exception forbidden romance to emerge triumphant from this series, and I think it still has a chance, not to mention things end just as the story gets even more interesting....more
There are a number of sequels coming out this year with big shoes to fill, and not the least of them is Tower Lord which is the follow up to the sensation that was Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song. While this second installment might not pack the kind of punch its predecessor did, I nonetheless enjoyed the book immensely. It’s a very different novel than the first book, with a shift in style, focus, and character perspectives, and yet it still has all the elements that we epic fantasy fans live for.
In book one, we met Vaelin Al Sorna, a brother of the Sixth Order and one of the greatest warriors the world has ever known. Coming home from a bloody war, he has sworn to fight no more, instead focusing his efforts on seeking any of his relatives that still might live. Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by the new monarch, Vaelin has the noble yet perhaps naïve dream of living out his life in peace and quiet, for news of his exploits (and his crimes) have spread far and wide and those who know of his mysterious gift that guides him will not let him rest.
Anthony Ryan also adds several more point-of-view characters to the mix in Tower Lord, which I was glad to have been prepared for, as Vaelin no longer takes center stage. Instead, he shares the book with mainly three others: Reva, a young woman who begins this journey with hate for Vaelin in her heart and an unquenchable thirst for revenge; Princess Lyrna, sister to the new king and who possesses more strength and resolve than her brother ever would; and finally, Frentis, a familiar face from Blood Song, though he has been changed from his years of being held captive by the Untesh and being forced to fight in the slave pits.
Having been aware of this new format, with the chapters cycling through the character viewpoints, I had expected and prepared myself for the slower start. Indeed, with more characters to follow this time around, the author takes much more time to set the stage for the events in this book. And I have to confess it didn’t quite grab my attention right away. It was a pleasant journey through the first half of the novel to meet new faces or to catch up with old friends, but on the whole Tower Lord lacked a certain quality that made Blood Song the dangerously addictive and immersive read it was right off the bat.
However, I don’t think this makes Tower Lord a weak sequel. On the contrary, in fact. This second book is stronger than book one in many ways, not only because it expands the scope of the series by giving us multiple character perspectives and opening up the wider world, but it also showcases Ryan’s talents as a storyteller. He’s proven himself as an author who can write a very diverse and convincing cast of characters while maintaining a steady level of suspense and interest in all spheres of action, building intensity as he moves all the pieces into place for when things really start rolling.
Quite simply, Tower Lord is a totally different beast. And it’s just hard not to compare a sequel to what came before. It comes down to personal taste, and admittedly, Blood Song and I hit it off much faster. I had myself this experience with a couple other sequels this year; they were all excellent novels, but thematically they just worked slightly less for me. In this case, it’s hardly a surprise. Blood Song began with Vaelin Al Sorna as a young boy, entering the Sixth Order and a huge chunk of the book was dedicated to his training, the relationships he forged with his brothers, and his eventual rise to greatness. It was my favorite part of the novel. And come on, we all know how tough it is beat a good coming-of-age story.
The first book was absolutely a tough act to follow, I know. But all things considered, Tower Lord is a wonderful follow-up that might even appeal more to other readers, especially those who preferred the parts with “grown-up” Vaelin from the first book. I mentioned one of the things I liked about the “young” Vaelin’s chapters was his relationship with his fellow Sixth Order brothers, and it’s incredibly fascinating to see how those dynamics have changed over time. Brother Frentis was a huge surprise for me in this one. Thinking about all the terrible things that has been through and how they’ve affected him, it almost makes his story more interesting to me than Vaelin’s. I’m also impressed by Ryan’s female characters, and the energy and conviction he was able to put behind Reva and Lyrna, two women who are not afraid of setbacks and will fight for what they believe in.
In the end, it’s definitely the characters who made this such a great read. I absolutely adore the new additions. The characters make things happen, set things in motion, and while the first half of this book might have lagged a little, the same cannot be said about the second half, and the final quarter was pure action bliss. Does it take a bit of investment to get to this point? Yes. But totally worth it. Love the intricate magical elements and political entanglements that made the finale such an edge-of-your-seat ride. Anthony Ryan really tied things together and delivered.
I hope when we next meet Vaelin and whoever Ryan decides to let us be acquainted with next time (assuming he once again chooses this multiple POV character format) in the third book Queen of Fire, we’ll be able to jump right into the action. The slower build-up at the beginning held this book back a little, in my opinion, so I can’t say I enjoyed this book more or even as much as Blood Song, but the difference is very close. And I’m not disappointed at all. If you enjoyed the first book, there’s absolutely no reason at all not to pick this up and continue the epic journey....more
Needless to say, putting this review together was quite difficult for me, on account of how very different it is from the one I thought I would be writing. I made it no secret I had high hopes for this one, not only because of the buzz the book has gotten since the ramp up to its release or all the glowing reviews it has garnered, but also I was personally very excited to finally read my first Kameron Hurley novel. Truly, I wanted to love this book and was set and prepared to add my praise to the chorus, but as a reviewer I also have to be honest with others and with myself when a book does not meet expectations.
In the end, I think The Mirror Empire is one of those cases in which I can recognize its literary merits and applaud the author’s designs to challenge the conventions of epic fantasy fiction, but the story itself failed to connect with me on any deeper level and I found myself strangely dissatisfied when I completed it.
First, a bit about the book: The world is about to be shaken up by a cataclysm, and as the dark star rises to herald this event, you have an orphan girl named Lilia who would anything to fulfill a promise to her mother, even if it means putting herself in danger and having to face down unspeakable threats. In another place, a new Kai ascends to power after the suspicious death of his sister and fights to keep his place and his land together even as legitimacy of his rule is called into question. Meanwhile, a young boy said to be destined for great things undertakes a journey to discover himself and his loyalties, for one day he ultimately must choose between sides. And on the battlefield, an able but brutal general faces a similar predicament, caught between her heritage and her oaths to the Empress.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of perspectives involved, and many more characters besides. That should have been my first warning sign. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind a big cast of characters (when you’re into epic fantasy, I think that sort of comes with the territory). However, that also means a greater onus on the author to strike a balance when it comes to giving every one of her players enough time to resonate with the reader, and to pace their sections accordingly. Hurley falters in this area by trying to introduce too many characters, both main and supporting, without sufficiently developing them – especially in the beginning. Not only do the odd-sounding names make it harder to remember who’s who, but ironically they also make it all the more obvious when new major to semi-major characters are still being introduced even past the halfway point of the novel. It makes it that much hard to sit back and just enjoy the story when so much effort is going towards trying to keep all the characters straight.
However, to be fair, you should know that I am a “Characters First” kind of reader. Arguably, I place an inordinate amount of emphasis on characters and how effectively I can engage with them. They absolutely don’t have to be admirable or even likeable, but I have to care. Characters are like the foundation of a story – everything else tumbles like a house of cards if I can’t care about them. Naturally, anything they do or anything that happens to them isn’t going to impact me in any meaningful way. The biggest issue I had with this book is the lack of any strong characters, in the sense that none of them were very memorable. Hurley doesn’t develop any of them nearly enough, and her pacing is haphazard and disorganized, so that many long chapters could go by before returning to a perspective character, and then I find myself asking, “Who are you again?” That shouldn’t be happening.
The only one – ONE out of a half dozen or so main characters and at least four times as many supporting characters – that I found myself interested in was Lilia, and that’s likely just because she was the first to be introduced in the prologue. Zezili, Captain General of the Empress, was a close second, and probably because Hurley went to great lengths to make her memorable but did so by taking the easy way, presenting the general as archetypically evil, the cruel mass murderer and an unfeeling lover. Everyone else faded into the background, which unfortunately made me feel very indifferent towards any events of significance, including plot twists or unexpected character deaths.
But look, I’ve gone on for long enough about the negatives, and I don’t want to make it sound like I downright disliked this book, because I didn’t; so I think it’s time to talk about the positives. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book, not least of all was the world building. So much praise has been heaped onto this facet of the novel and I have to agree 100% with everything that has been said about originality, spirit and vividness of the universe and cultures of The Mirror Empire.
My favorite thing about this book is that it is bold, it is epic, and it is refreshingly different. I love the idea of two realms clashing together in a catastrophic world-shattering event, and also the more minute details like the sentient flora and giant carnivorous plants. Hurley is a great writer with an incredible imagination, and she’s at her best and in her element when she’s actually not trying so hard to turn things on their head or to be over-the-top. I can’t stress how important it is for both authors and readers to examine and confront the status quo and current state of fantasy, but doing something for the sake of doing it is also rarely interesting. Admittedly, Hurley is not at all subtle when it comes to her attempt at subversion in this novel, but at the same time I still respect her immensely for her steadfast interrogation of the genre.
These days, one can probably find some degree of social commentary in many works of speculative fiction; however, my favorite ones tend to be those that arrive at their messages organically, part and parcel with compelling storytelling, starting with well-developed characters. Since it’s the characters that fell flat for me in this case, I just couldn’t immerse myself in the story. It certainly wasn’t for the lack of trying, but as I’ve explained, I’m also aware I have some rather nitpicky and particular tastes. Despite my tepid feelings for this novel, I believe the accolades are well-deserved. Sure, I didn’t love it, but then I’m glad so many others did....more
You might have noticed that I featured the third book of The Grisha earlier in the month in one of my Waiting on Wednesdays. It goes without saying, I continue to enjoy this series very much! Still, it's only natural for readers to compare sequels with their predecessors, and the truth is I did not think Siege and Storm was as strong as Shadow and Bone.
There are several reasons for this. I don't want to single this book out because this is certainly not the only time I've felt this way, but it does serve to illustrate a pattern I've been noticing with me and a lot of young adult novels lately: Book One manages to make me fall in love with the characters and impresses me with a sweet, endearing little romance, and then invariably Book Two will show up with teenage melodrama and start stirring the pot.
Thing is, I haven't stopped rooting for Alina and Mal. I still love the fact they started out as childhood friends first, and that their trials and tribulations in the first book brought them together and made them see that their relationship might be something more. But of course, YA conventions dictate that NO ONE can ever be allowed to remain in a loving, happy relationship, dammit! Seems to be the case especially when it comes to middle books of a trilogy.
Now, don't get me wrong; I appreciate a bit of dramatics here and there to help spice things up. But why do they always have to stem from some form of silly misunderstanding or a simple case of miscommunication? You two are best friends, maybe you should try talking to each other. And a love triangle? I thought we'd dodged a bullet with that one when the Darkling turned out to be a nasty in the first book.
Thankfully, Sturmhond, the third wheel in question, doesn't seem like a bad sort, especially given his secret and intriguing background. Dashing, confident, and just tolerably vain, I actually thought he was a great addition to this series. That I preferred his character over Mal is a testament to just how far the latter had fallen. Oh, Mal, Mal, Mal. What happened? I have very little patience for characters who drown their sorrows by getting so severely smashed that they can hardly even remember their own names. Or those who kiss other girls when they are supposed to be in love with someone else, for that matter.
Alina doesn't get away scot-free either. This book sees her going through some big changes, after she and Mal are intercepted from their escape and taken back to the heart of Ravka to gear up for their fight against the Darkling. A darker side of her emerges, and though this is a result of certain events in the story, frankly her personality change disturbed me. Her arrival and new-found status also meant instigating a lot of social posturing within the egomaniacal ranks of the Grisha, giving the court an unpleasant dynamic, one reminiscent of a hormone-fueled high school cafeteria. Slipping deeper into her role of the Sun Summoner and the savior of her country, she begins to lose sight of what's really important. This mostly means Mal, really.
While this review may sound critical, know that I really did enjoy this book. In embracing a lot of the YA conventions, it also fit my mood like a comfortable glove, much like the first book did. The story may have been a tad too focused on the drama between Alina and Mal, but it also did a couple things really well, mainly in 1) expanding the world of The Grisha and 2) ending things with a bang. If the pattern continues with this series, as the third and final book of the trilogy, Ruin and Rising should be amazing....more
I thought Lumière was fantastic, so much so that I read the whole book in a day. Some parts even made me want to give this one a 4.5 or 5 stars, simply because for an independently published Young Adult novel I thought this was really impressive.
As you know, I'm a pretty picky reader when it comes to the YA category, plus I don't always jump on board with self-pubs or indies. Still, this book's description drew me in when it was brought to my attention; something about the story just struck the right tune with me. Right away, I knew I had something good when the prologue opened with an introduction to the heroine Eyelet (what a charming name!) at age eight at the time, looking upon a brass mechanical steam-powered elephant at a carnival. What else will I find in this world?
Fast forward to the first chapter and we see Eyelet as a seventeen-year-old, nine years after that fateful day at the carnival where a mysterious flash lit the skies and changed the world. Troubled by occasional seizures and desperate to hide her illness from the authorities, Eyelet is determined to hunt down the Illuminator, a fantastical machine that was invented years ago by her brilliant scientist father. The machine may be her only chance to cure herself, but first she has to find it before her father's old nemesis gets to it first.
Jacqueline Garlick made it easy for me to root for her characters by giving them such endearing and energetic personalities. Not far into the story we get to meet Urlick Babbit, the young man who unwittingly rescues our heroine as she escapes capture from her enemies. The poor guy had no idea what he was in for! Even with Eyelet and her total disregard for other people's privacy or some of the churlish questions that spills out of her mouth, I couldn't help but find myself amused by the dynamics between these two, as something deeper begins to develop between them. I also like that they're not a conventional couple. Eyelet has her nettlesome qualities and Urlick isn't your usual drop-dead gorgeous Prince Charming, having experienced injuries during his birth that marred his appearance. I found their relationship very unique and refreshing.
Again, I just can't get over how rich the setting is. It's an original world packed with amazing qualities, flavored with a healthy dose of magic and steampunk. Here and there you will find all sorts of quirky mechanical creations and bizarre creatures -- some that are helpful like Eyelet's ravens, others that aren't so friendly like the zombie/ghoul-like Turned. There's also a good chunk of the book where Eyelet is holed up at Urlick's place, trapped there because of the dangerous Vapours storms, where she discovers all sorts of gadgets and other wonky inventions designed and constructed by the strange boy. Even though this section was a slower break from the action, I was kept interested, never knowing what Eyelet would find next in Urlick's hideout.
I very much appreciated the nice blend of fantasy with the action-adventure elements of this one. And I was honestly surprised with the quality of the writing and storytelling; whatever polish it requires is very minimal, and as a whole the story was presented exceptionally well and flowed naturally. I wouldn't have devoured this book so quickly if it hadn't, and certainly the fun factor of the plot didn't hurt. I knew I was hooked when as soon as I finished the book, I went online and checked if there was an estimated release date for the next book. Alas, it won't be for a while yet, but definitely something to look forward to....more
The world knows our main protagonist as Eon, a twelve-year-old boy training hard to be the next Dragoneye apprentice. To be chosen by one of the twelve revered energy dragons of good fortune is a great honor; each year many boys vie for the position to serve as the conduit between the dragons and the mortal world. But there is more to Eon than meets the eye. In truth, Eon is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl masquerading as a boy because females are prohibited from using dragon magic. If anyone discovered her secret, she would be killed on the spot.
Stories involving girls disguised as boys are certainly nothing new, so what made this one special? Well, I suppose I’ve always enjoyed fantasy inspired by Asian cultures. In the world of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, the influence of Chinese and Japanese mythological traditions makes itself apparent from the start. There are twelve energy dragons, for example, each associated with an animal of the Chinese zodiac – rat, ox, tiger, etc.
In Chinese philosophy too, the concept of yin and yang is an important one. Used to describe complementary forces rather than opposing ones, it has also been applied to the many natural dualities found in our everyday life -- light and dark, fire and water, the sun and the moon, life and death, and so on and so forth. Another one to remember is male and female. What struck me with regards to Eon/Eona’s story is the author’s approach to the concept of masculine and feminine energies, and what that ultimately meant for the character and the dragon that chose her. I was surprised that for a young adult novel, especially one which supposedly is just about a girl pretending to be a boy, the themes in it are surprisingly layered.
But okay, enough waxing philosophical from me. You probably want to know about the juicier bits, like with the magic and the dragons, the action and the epic sword fights. The setting Alison Goodman has created is absolutely gorgeous, with a heavy Far Eastern flavor but also bolstered with her own creative touches, the world’s magical history and dragon lore being one of the many highlights. Many YA novel plots also boast political intrigue, but this is probably one of the few I’ve come across that had delivered on that promise, and better yet, the consequences actually mattered and had a profound impact.
Also, the fact there wasn’t an overt romantic side plot was to me a feature, not a bug. Granted, there is some setup for a possible love interest and romance in the sequel, but this first book is mostly concerned with the main character’s personal journey to find herself and connect with her energy dragon, as well as to come to terms with her own disability (her hip is malformed due to a childhood injury). To be honest, I couldn’t be happier with this. I like romance, but I wouldn’t want to see it come at the expense of character development – or worse, in the form of insta-love or some other form of an awkward, stilted relationship. This way, I thought we got a much better idea of who Eon/Eona is as a person.
I wouldn’t say this book was perfect; the storytelling could have used some tightening up, especially in the middle where the plot wandered and did some meandering. But overall this was probably one of the more entertaining and unique YA novels I’ve read so far this year, featuring characters that have a surprising amount of depth, and that includes the villains too. Plot-wise, the structure and some of the concepts aren’t entirely original, but I don’t know if you should let that stop you. If the Asian inspired world appeals to you, or if you’re looking for a book that portrays dragons in interesting ways, then I would recommend this....more
Stolen Songbird was my top anticipated young adult novel coming out from Strange Chemistry this year, and I have to say all the lusting and the pining has been worth it. Author Danielle L. Jensen opens up a whole new world for readers who love magic, romance, and enchanted lands.
Buried deep within the Forsaken Mountain lies Trollus, a city forgotten by time. It is said that monstrous trolls live there, bound by a witch's curse. However, on the night before Cécile de Troyes is about to embark on her journey to become a famous singer, she is kidnapped and taken to Trollus, where she discovers there is far more to what she thinks she knows about the trolls and their city. For one thing, they're not all hideous monsters. The troll prince she is supposed to marry is actually pretty good looking! But one thing the legends got right is that trolls are talented magic users -- the more pure their blood is, the stronger their ability. Even all the magic in Trollus cannot break the curse and set the trolls free, however. Cécile and Prince Tristan's union was supposed to be the key, but the plan ends up failing, leaving Cécile a prisoner in Trollus, biding her time and waiting for the perfect moment to escape.
But over the weeks, Cécile inevitably falls for Tristan. How I just loved the way their relationship developed! Instead of the usual formula of treating each other horribly but then falling head over heels in love anyway (a trope which is a big pet peeve of mine), Cécile finds out that the prince really isn't such a bad troll after all. In fact, he's secretly championing the rights of the half-bloods, who are part troll and part human, treated as nothing more than slaves and property by the arrogant pure-bloods. So while Cécile and Tristan may at each other's throats in public, it's actually all a part of a brilliant plan they've hatched up to throw off suspicion. What a delightful little twist to the usual YA romance.
The story also has just enough of that "Forbidden Love" vibe to it so that I just can't help myself. I like romances a lot more when they are hindered by outside forces rather than internal ones like misunderstandings between the lovers (Tristan and Cécile aren't completely innocent of this, but at least it was kept to a minimum) and the relationships usually emerge stronger and more compelling to me. Of course, the author also leaves their relationship mercilessly hanging in the first book, making you wonder what will become of the hero and heroine, but this meant she succeeded in building a lot of interest in these two characters.
There are also plenty of little surprises all over this book. One thing that is sort of a "twist", but not really -- and I'm sorry if I'm being vague but I think it would be best if it comes as a surprise to others the same way it did for me -- is the nature of the trolls.
It did occur to me as I was making my way through the story to wonder the creatures are called trolls in the first place. They are smart, quick, have super strength and magic powers, but apart from a few exceptions in the royal family, they appear mostly human. And that's when the author began to drop certain clues and I had one of those "AHA!" moments where I realized where she's going with all this. Well played, Ms. Jensen, well played! Like I said, I don't think it's meant to be some big twist because once you start catching the hints it becomes pretty obvious what she has in mind, but in that moment of clarity I started to get really excited about the future of this series.
In fact, Stolen Songbird is an excellent start all around, the first of a trilogy that builds a good framework and promises even bigger things to come. I would like to know what happens to Tristan and Cécile, but I'm especially pumped for more about the troll origins story. It goes without saying, I'm all in for book two!...more
Behold, the Young Adult sequel. This is where the real test is for me. First books of a series have the advantage of being new and shiny, and I can usually be won over by the prospect of exploring a brand new world full of fresh and interesting ideas. Second books admittedly have to work a little harder, not only because my expectations are higher now, but also because so many sequel plots invariably end up falling into a very predictable pattern.
So how does Crown of Midnight stack up? Well, in a nutshell, I can’t say it wowed me, and I probably liked it less than the first book. That being said though, I think it’s better than a lot of YA sequels, and despite the shameless rehashing of some of the same tired old tropes, there were still a couple of big surprises that kept the story entertaining.
The bottom line is, I am so done with YA romances. Girl meets boy, and if by book two they haven’t fallen in love already, this is where they will do so. Then invariably, boy will go and do something incredibly dumb – the result of a momentary lapse of judgment or just a gross failure of miscommunication – which causes girl to go ballistic on boy, throwing the entire future of their relationship in question, thereby also keeping the tension of a possible love triangle alive for just teensy bit longer. I can effortlessly name a handful of YA series that follow this pattern just off the top of my head, so I wasn’t surprised to see Crown of Midnight follow suit. Overused formulas suck. They have turned the romantic aspect into the weakest part the book. Nothing kills my enthusiasm and interest in the characters faster. And unfortunately, the book spends way too much time trying to shove the drama of Celaena and Chaol’s relationship down my throat. Maybe I’m just a bitter, jaded curmudgeon, but I just can’t find it in myself to care about such an artificial pairing.
But that’s my rant and the last of the negativity you’ll hear from me. Apart from my issues with the romance, Crown of Midnight was actually a pretty good book. Celaena has won the contest and become the king’s Champion and assassin, but instead of carrying out the king’s orders, she finds increasingly more ways to secretly fight back against his evil will, letting her intended victims go instead (ever notice how YA assassin characters actually do very little killing?) It was a relatively slow plod through the first half of the book, but once you get past this stage with its many clichés and run-of-the-mill romance, things will start to pick up.
I have to say, the plot elements in the later parts saved this book for me. The structure of the story remains somewhat predictable, but it always impresses me to see all the amazing things a writer can do while staying within a certain framework. The second half of the Crown of Midnight becomes a lot more bold and daring, which are certainly qualities I admire in a YA novel. There were a couple of unexpected developments, darker places I didn’t think the book would go. Once the pesky romance was out of the way, you started to get a lot less fluff and a lot more substance. Sarah J. Maas seriously ups her game, building up her world by weaving history and lore and magic into the story, dialing up the intrigue and mystery.
So all right then, sign me up for the third book. Despite a shaky start to this sequel, Maas has built something worthy of continuing with here, and has done some incredible things with her main character. I probably won’t hold my breath for the romantic aspect to improve, but thank goodness there’s so much more to like about this story. It’s definitely going places (literally!) and I look forward to visiting a new setting in the next installment as well as seeing the outcomes of several massive revelations....more
“Spellbinding” is the only word to describe Dreamer’s Pool. Reading it was like walking into a gorgeous, living fairy tale. I just loved this book, it’s probably one of the best I’ve read all year…and I’ve read A LOT of books this year.
This is the first in an adult series by Juliet Marillier, called Blackthorn and Grim. Blackthorn is a woman we meet at the beginning of the novel, imprisoned for speaking out against a wicked and corrupt chieftain. Hours before she is to be executed, she is visited by the fey, who offers her a chance to escape in exchange for her promise to set aside her desire for vengeance. Reluctantly, Blackthorn agrees and makes her way north to Dalriada to start her new life. She is trailed by her fellow prisoner and escapee Grim, a hulking man of few words. Unable to turn away anyone who asks her for help, Blackthorn also recognizes Grim’s potential as an ally, and the two of them strike up a tentative partnership.
Meanwhile in Dalriada, Prince Oran prepares to wed. He has never met his future bride the Lady Flidais, though he has seen her portrait and they have written extensively to each other. However, the crown prince is convinced that the sweet, compassionate and intelligent woman he has come to know through her letters is his perfect match, which is why he is dismayed when the Flidais who arrives at his castle is nothing like the Flidais he thought he knew. Had he been taken for a fool, merely blinded by youthful naiveté? Or is there something stranger, more mystical afoot? Perhaps the newly arrived wise woman and her big strong helper could be of some assistance in this mystery.
This is a tale of magic, set in a world where one imagines myths and legends can come to life, but it also feels surprisingly grounded at the same time, almost like a fairy tale infused with a bit of realism. These elements gave the world more depth and kept it from feeling too simplistic, but they were also muted enough not to be overbearing or risk completely obliterating the magical nuances. Marillier tackles the craft of world-building meticulously and flawlessly, striking the perfect tone. I’m beyond impressed.
Dreamer’s Pool is told through the perspectives of Blackthorn, Grim and Oran. These three characters made this book a joy to read, and there’s no hemming and hawing about it – I loved them all equally. They’re very different people, and the way they’re written by Marillier, you would never mistake any one of them for another. Each person’s voice feels unique and extraordinarily real and powerful. The reader perceives the world and various events through a character’s eyes, at the same time watching him or her develop along with the story. We’re with Oran as he grows from a young, carefree man into a thoughtful and worldly leader. We’re in Blackthorn’s head even as she is blinded by her own personal biases and unaware of her flaws. And Grim is just Grim. He’s simply an amazing and special man and there can be no other like him.
This book made me wonder why I waited so long to pick up something by Juliet Marillier. She writes so beautifully, with every word like an enchantment or spell drawing the reader deeper into the story. There’s a mystery here I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of, and then as we drew closer to the conclusion I didn’t want this story to end!
Alas, it did. But I’m also glad this is going to be a series because I can’t wait until we can return to the world of Blackthorn and Grim. Until then, I’ve bought other books by Marillier because I just can’t get enough of her writing. Dreamer’s Pool gave me a taste, and now I’m hooked....more
Moth and Spark was one of my top anticipated novels of 2014. My gut instinct told me it was going to be a good one, and while my gut might not be the best guide for a lot of things, it has hardly ever steered me wrong when it comes to books. And I was pleased to see to that it was right once again. If anything, Moth and Spark gave me even more than I bargained for.
To understand why I liked it so much, you also have to understand that I've been looking for a book like this for a long time. While I was reading Moth and Spark, a Goodreads friend of mine commented on one of my status updates with: "Fantasy with a romance sub-plot is rare." Indeed it is! Everyone who knows me knows I enjoy a good love story. And I would be reading a lot more romance, except I prefer it combined with other elements, especially from speculative fiction.
What I've always wanted to read was a meaningful and actively engaging romance in a high fantasy, but typically, most of the adult fantasy novels I enjoy merely scratch at the surface of romantic relationships. It's pretty much made me resign myself to the fact that I can only have one without the other. That is until this book came along and filled that void.
Moth and Spark is also different from a lot of romances. Yes, the love between the two main characters features heavily in this book, but at the same time it never lets you forget that both Corin and Tam are organically part of a much bigger story unfolding around them. Their relationship, as suddenly and swiftly as it occurred, is not merely the central focus with just the fantasy setting tacked on; it is part and parcel of the overall plot which involves a rich tapestry of courtly intrigue, back alley conspiracies and impending war, all culminating into a nation hanging in the balance. Together, the crown prince of Caithen and the commoner daughter of a renowned doctor must work together to save their homeland, combining their powers to free the dragons from their bondage to a mad emperor.
That's right, there are dragons. Just when you think things can't get any better, eh?
I think most of all, I loved this book for the wonderful characters that Anne Leonard has created. Call me a softie, but I like it when I see strong and inherently good, decent people find each other and fall in love. I like it when I see lovers like Tam and Corin sacrifice for each other, care for each other, and respect one another. I like that their romance is a partnership, where the chemistry is natural and mutual.
The author is also very adept at world building. She has a way of inserting very detailed information about the environment without encumbering the prose. For instance, I only noticed afterwards that there is actually a good amount of description in the text, but I hardly felt overwhelmed by them at all as I was reading. Anne Leonard accomplishes this by not laying out the background of the world all at once; instead, we gradually get to learn about things like the Empire's history or magical lore as the story progresses.
I could go on and on about a lot of the other aspects that I enjoyed, such as the magic, the dragons and their riders, the king's wizard-assassins (I really liked Joce, who was probably my favorite character after Tam and Corin), the court politics, the formal dances and elegant fashions, the sword fighting scenes and so on, but I should leave some of the more enchanting parts for people to discover for themselves. I will reveal though, that the ending involves quite a gripping scene of a duel on dragonback. Oh yes, this book gets my heart pounding in more ways than one!
Suffice to say I was very impressed with Moth and Spark, which is a debut for Anne Leonard. The novel's story of love and adventure struck the right chord with me, and it's going straight onto my shelf of favorites. I'll definitely be watching this author in the future for more....more
After reading this book, I just had to look inside myself and wonder if I’m suffering from YA burnout. But now I’ve gone and painted a negative mood over this review, and that wasn’t really my intention at all! Death Sworn was in fact a pretty good book. I just don’t doubt for a second that I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t already gone through so many young adult novels that displayed similar themes since the beginning of this year.
I actually really enjoyed the premise behind this one. A young sorceress whose powers are waning. A secret society of assassins. When Ileni is tasked by the Elders to tutor a group of killers in the ways of magic, what else could she do? She must do her duty and travel to the caves where the assassins make their home base, and while she’s there she might as well try and figure out what had caused the mysterious deaths of her last two predecessors.
But I suppose once you start getting a lot of the same, even the most minor of flaws become more apparent. Right away I noticed a distinct paucity of world-building. In the author’s defense though, this entire story pretty much takes place in a system of caves. While I found the lives and the culture of the assassins fascinating, there was very little context for their place in the world; for all intents and purposes their society and Ileni existed in this bubble far removed from everything else. There’s talk of outside conflict with the empire and their tyranny, but those struggles may as well have been in another universe. Leah Cypess succeeded in getting my attention – but I wanted to know more! This book was relatively short, so I can’t imagine length restrictions had anything to do with it.
I also liked the main protagonist well enough, but I wasn’t fully convinced she was someone I could root for. Ileni is the latest to join the swelling ranks of YA heroines that I think really should know better. Taking unnecessary risks and falling in love with strange, standoffish boys seem to be a popular trend these days. The romance in particular didn’t sit well with me at all. My frustration with it didn’t originate so much from the insta-love between Ileni and the assassin Sorin, but more with the way it was written.
The thing is, insta-love by itself doesn’t always have to be a negative. Sometimes an author can inject so much passion and chemistry into a relationship, it doesn’t matter if the spark ignites and flares over ten years or ten seconds – it just works. However, with Ileni and Sorin I didn’t feel any of that. Their personalities and values were at complete odds to begin with, and in a way I think Cypess did her job a little too well in making this apparent. You could immediately tell (yet understand) why Ileni and Sorin's interactions with each other would be awkward and strained, as they come from two different worlds. Then all of a sudden, they were together. It was like one moment, Ileni was still struggling with her inability to make Sorin understand her moral objections to his work and lifestyle, the next she was reminiscing about the night of passion they spent together. Wait, what? I had to go back and make sure this really happened. Not only did the timing feel way off, I also couldn’t believe I was robbed of the sweet, delicious build up to the moment.
But make no mistake, there was plenty to like as well. Death Sworn is in part a mystery, following Ileni on her journey to find out what happened to the two tutors who came to the assassins’ caves before her, and the reasons for their demise. You’ll also be led to wonder what her flagging powers have to do with all this, and in the end the answers might shock you as they genuinely shocked me. I was impressed and totally blindsided by the twist in the story. It was impactful, and very well done.
I’m still undecided as to whether or not I will continue the series. I probably sounded harsher than I meant to be, as this was a good book and a promising start. But I made it a goal and a reading challenge to read more YA this year, but the more I read, the higher the bar is set, and my tastes have no doubt gotten a lot more finicky as compared to the start of 2014....more
Some books start off with a shaky opening but then end up getting better as the story gains momentum, but other times there are books like Unwept that go the opposite way. These books manage to capture my attention right off the bat and get me invested with an interesting premise, but then they stumble and lose me about halfway through. The magic fizzles out and I can’t get it back.
I have my inklings as to why this might have been the case with Unwept. Thing is, I love being teased with a bit of mystery. And this book did that very well, starting off by painting a baffling yet very intriguing picture. A girl named Ellis Harkington comes to herself in the middle of a train ride accompanied by a nurse and baby, but has no memory of how she got there or any of her life before this moment. She arrives at a remote seaside town named Gamin where everyone seems to know her better than she knows herself, but she can’t even recognize any of their faces. A group of young men and women called the Nightbirds — who claims to be a literary society – welcome her back into the fold with open arms, and yet for a literary society they don’t seem all that interested in books…
Then there are the nightmares. Ellis dreams of clouds of moths and visitations from a strange soldier with a paisley-shaped mark on his face. There’s also talk of terrible things happening all over town, like a devastating fire, missing people, and the discovery of mutilated bodies pointing to a ruthless killer on the loose. And why are there no children in town? There this real sense of unease and foreboding. The atmosphere is practically humming with anticipation. The stage is set for something great, and you know deep down in your gut that this book has got to be building up to something huge.
Well. It didn’t really happen. At least, not for me. You must understand, this book had me wrapped around its finger and I was completely under its control and prepared to fall head over heels in love with it. I cannot give enough praise to the first half of this novel; it was fantastically well written and constructed to give the reader a perfect foundation. I simply adored the first 150 pages or so. But not long after that, the plot started fraying at the edges.
Unfortunately, being plied with all that escalation with ultimately not much payoff has a way of making me feel a bit grumpy. I’m also disheartened by the lost potential of this story. The book could only maintain the suspense for so long before I started questioning where it was trying to go and what it was trying to say. I had the sneaking suspicion that I was being led on a wild goose chase. Not long after that, I finally had to admit to myself that I really had no idea what was going on. By the time some answers were forthcoming, I don’t know if I felt as invested or engaged in the outcome anymore. The revelations were certainly eye-opening, but it’s a classic case of “too little too late.” I just can’t decide if the disappointment hurt more or less because the story had such a strong and promising start.
Unwept is also the first book of a series, and – unsurprisingly, perhaps – it has the stamp of a “Book One” all over it. Don’t expect any satisfying or clear-cut answers. Instead of growing and expanding, the story seemed to shrink back in on itself. There is mystery at the beginning, and there will still be mystery at the end, and probably more blanks and question marks than you started out with. It’s hard to tell now, but I think I might have had a more positive reaction to the book if I had known to rein in my expectations a little.
In the end, I don’t think Unwept is a bad book. The sheer enjoyment I got out of the first part of it is a testament to that. It’s also such a quick read that if you’re even remotely interested in the description, I would say it is well worth your time, as the average reader can probably knock it out in one or two sittings. It has a fascinating premise, and I have no doubt it’ll work for a lot of readers. I just personally wish I been better prepared for its peculiar pacing....more
This is my first book by Carol Berg so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But as the start of a new series taking place in the world of her Lighthouse novels, I figured Dust and Light was a pretty good place for me to start. I ended up being very impressed with her world building, especially when it came to the conceptual framework for her magic, which I found wonderfully enticing and beautiful. However, I also thought the story’s pacing was rather shaky throughout, with things coming a bit undone towards the end, otherwise I would have given this book a higher rating.
Dust and Light introduces us to Lucien de Remeni-Masson, a young Pureblood from a noble house. A Pureblood’s magical talent is called a “bent”, and Lucien, being somewhat of an oddity, has two of them. After landing in hot water over a dalliance with an Ordinary woman, Lucian’s grandfather attempted to have one of his bents burned out, and Lucian ends up working as an artist painting portraits under the supervision of the Pureblood Registry. But then Harrowers set the Remeni-Masson estate afire, killing the whole family save for Lucien and his younger sister Juli.
Not having reached the age to inherit the title as head of his house, Lucian’s life is now in the hands of the Registry. When his contract is sold to a common coroner, he is forced to apply his artistic gifts towards painting portraits of the dead for the purposes of identification. But his magic leads to revelations in his art, and one day, while sketching the corpse of a young murdered girl, the resulting portrait points to the victim as being more than just an Ordinary common child. In trying to uncover the truth with his contract holder Bastien, Lucian quickly becomes embroiled in a storm of conspiracy and politics.
As an artist myself, how could I not find Lucian immediately intriguing? Even his new job of sketching faces of the dead is delightfully morbid and fascinating in its own way. The magic behind his talent and how it manifests itself is a strange but wondrous power, leading to a premise that was filled to the brim with potential. And in fact, I did very much enjoy the first part of the book. Bastien the coroner and investigator is a prickly master, but together he and Lucian make for a good team. It was the perfect set up for an excellent fantasy-mystery.
But for all that the plot remained swift and full of thrills, I thought the overall story was hindered by too many ideas and multiple side threads jostling for attention, which ends up doing a number on the book’s pacing. These elements may work well individually, but I feel the Berg falters here and there when attempting to incorporate everything together while maintain a balance; I felt pulled this way and that, which was quite distracting. It’s important to note that the novel is also divided into several parts, and we lose some time between the first and second when Lucian ends up landing in a bit of trouble with the Registry. As transitions go, it had the effect of a speed bump, and I think that was when I hit my first stumbling block.
Like I mentioned before, I also wasn’t too fond of the ending, which I thought was rushed and so in the process we lose a lot of the mystery and intrigue. I would have preferred a greater emphasis on the investigation side of the story, but of course Lucian’s personal plight and finding out the answers behind his murdered family played a large part too. If you prefer books that are more character-focused (as I do) then you’re sure to enjoy this one. Lucian is brought low, but gradually climbs his way back up to take charge of his life in this extraordinary tale of a young man on a journey of self-discovery.
Even though the execution of this wasn’t as clean as I would have liked, I can’t deny this book had its moments – more positive ones than negative. I think Dust and Light was a good introduction for me to the author’s work. Something tells me this series is just warming up, and the best is still to come in the second half of this duet....more
I think Masks slipped under a lot of radars last year, and even as someone who read the book, I really had no idea what a strong impression it made on me until the sequel Shadows showed up and I found myself wanting to dive right in. I do remember being struck by the richness of the world and magic, and realized that I was very much looking forward to continuing the story of protagonist Mara Holdfast.
One thing I should mention is that while nothing about these books ostensibly scream Young Adult (at least not on the surface – it’s not really obvious from the cover, not published under a YA imprint, and not mentioned in the description), this really does read like a YA series. It’s more than just the age of the protagonist, who is fifteen years old in Shadows and for most of Masks; thematically and stylistically, the way it was written also made me want to categorize the first book as a YA, and book two only furthered my belief. This is neither good nor bad. However, I just think readers going in should be aware of it since it may affect expectations. I personally chose to view and rate this one as YA.
Last we saw her in Masks, Mara had escaped from the mining camps where the tyrannical Autarch sends all those who are labeled traitors and not fit to be part of society. She ends up back at the system of secret coastal caves where a group of underground rebels calling themselves the unMasked Army have made their home. The rebels’ leader has asked Mara to use her gifts to craft special masks for them, which would hide the user’s intent from the Autarch and his Watchers, but untrained and inexperienced with her magic, Mara is frustrated when her attempts to do so fail.
At the same time, a mysterious young man washes up on shore, claiming to be a scout from Korellia, a city long thought to have been lost, sunk beneath the seas. But Chell is even more than he appears, and though the unmasked Army remain wary of him, they allow him to accompany Mara on a dangerous mission back into the city in the hopes of reaching Mara’s father, the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, in order to glean information about the secrets of his trade.
Like most second books in a dystopian series, this is the point where the danger and desperation starts to really come to the forefront and can be keenly felt by the reader. The Autarch’s forces continue to close in, pushing Mara and her allies to make riskier decisions, and sometimes those decisions lead to disaster. Mara is already an unstable vessel of magic, trying to learn how to handle her one-of-a-kind powers, and just when the slightest spark can set her abilities off, something akin to a mega-ton explosion happens in her life. It was a twist that was wholly unexpected to me, one that I didn’t think the author would carry through, but in retrospect I shouldn’t really have been that surprised. In both Masks and now in Shadows, the story has taken some pretty dark turns, and the emotional trauma transforms Mara into an uncontrollable element, adding unpredictability to her powers which are already little understood.
Mara also grows as a character, in ways that are more than just about her magic. The fact that she is played up to be the most powerful person in Aygrima is still a bit vexing, but it’s also clear from the events in this book that she is far from perfect. To put it simply, some of the decisions she makes are impulsive, inconsiderate, embarrassing, and in several cases, downright dumb. This, however, is not always a negative. Her bad choices indicate vulnerability in her character, showing that despite her staggering power, she’s still just a teenage girl who is prone to mistakes, not to mention she can barely control her gifts. I think it humanizes her and makes her less exasperating than she was in the first book where it almost felt like she could do no wrong.
There are definitely more high points than low points in this novel, though there are still a couple weaknesses I should mention. Despite viewing Masks as YA, I did note that a wider audience can probably appreciate it too, since the nature of the fantasy setting and the characters that E.C. Blake has created sets the book apart. Shadows, however, feels distinctly more YA, if that is a comparison I can make. One example is a not-so-subtle hint of a love triangle which manifests itself into a full-blown LOVE SQUARE within the first 40 pages. It eventually resolves itself, and I won’t spoil how, since that in itself is a pretty interesting side-plot. However, it did bug me a little to see romantic drama worm its way into the picture so soon in the story, when there’s so much else that’s more important in Mara’s life. There are also some very dramatic, very exciting developments in this book, but also large chunks of it that felt drawn out, most of it boiling down to Mara being on the run.
But as you can see, I really enjoyed this for the most part, especially if I’m looking at it as a YA novel. I probably still liked Masks a little more, if I had to compare the two books in the series so far, but Shadows was a worthy sequel and promises to bring even more thrills and delights in the next installment. A 3.5 to 4 star read for me....more
I’m a pretty fast reader, but Shattering the Ley still took me about a couple months to read, due to the fact I started it earlier this summer right around the time when things got really busy. I was only able to read it in small chunks over the weeks, though it’s actually a very interesting book with well-developed characters and a good foundation in place when it comes to world building. That said, apparently it wasn’t a “must drop everything to read this now” kind of novel for me either, seeing how long it took for me to complete.
The story takes place in Erenthrall, one of many large cities powered by the Nexus and a system of magical ley lines. This also links Erenthrall to the world beyond. Specialists called Prime Wielders control the Nexus and the ley lines, maintaining and protecting the infrastructure, but it is the all-powerful Baron who controls the Wielders. Seeking to overthrow the Baron and destroy the ley system, rebels who call themselves the Kormanley are carrying out attacks across the city, shaping the future of Erenthrall and forever changing the lives of many.
The story is told in multiple parts, following several characters through different stages of their lives. Kara is first introduced to us as a young child, but later on in the book we see her as a young woman coming into her power as a Wielder, then finally as a Prime. Likewise, we follow another character named Allen, a “Dog” in the Baron’s guard who goes from being a green recruit to a fugitive on the run with his infant daughter. The timeline skips ahead at least twice during the course of this novel; the first time it jumps ahead by about two years, but the second time it jumps ahead by about twelve.
Time jumps like these are necessary sometimes to tell a story, but they can also be quite dicey. There’s the risk of the reader becoming detached from the characters, and to some extent I think that’s what happened for me. I never really felt connected to Kara, despite practically watching her grow into adulthood. The same goes for Allen because I felt we missed out on too much of his life, especially in the twelve years since he was exiled and had to raise his child by himself. People change after all that time, and I couldn’t help but wonder about those untold years.
To the book’s credit, very little of the story is given to filler. There’s a lot happening, constantly driving the plot forward, and the political intrigue and ideological conflicts between the clashing factions keep things fresh and engaging. There are many intense scenes, often followed by effects that are significant in the long run. But another obstacle that kept me from being completely immersed was the complexity of the ley line system and the fact it wasn’t explained very well. I wasn’t exactly sure how the Nexus and the ley lines were powering the city, or how the Wielders’ abilities worked specifically in controlling this system. Like I said, we were given a pretty good starting point for the idea, but I still had many questions. No doubt more can be built upon this premise. And the great thing is, I think it has a lot of potential....more
Sanderson's work is always top notch, even his shorts. I loved Steelheart, so picking this one up was a no brainer. Mitosis is basically a mini storySanderson's work is always top notch, even his shorts. I loved Steelheart, so picking this one up was a no brainer. Mitosis is basically a mini story that takes place after the Reckoners reclaim Newcago, welcoming new citizens to the city while guarding it from any opportunistic Epics who might seek to fill the void left by Steelheart.
Not much more to say other than it was a quick and fun read. You won't be missing any important information for Firefight even if you don't read it, though it might get you excited for the next book if you aren't already, and even more pumped if you are. A very fast-paced story which does a good job presenting the atmosphere of Newcago post-Steelheart, and features a very cool villain and many suspenseful action scenes....more
Having wanted to read a book by this author for a while, I initially debated either tackling 7 Wonders or the Empire State series, but then I found out about his upcoming title Hang Wire. After reading the description, I decided right then and there that I wanted it to be my first Adam Christopher novel.
Immortal gods, pagan rites, a serial killer on the loose...is there anything this book doesn't have? And what's this, a circus too? If anything, it was this last one that sold me. Hang Wire looked to me like an unconventional urban fantasy that is also a fusion of paranormal, horror and mystery. There's even some mythology thrown in to stir things up even more, in what is arguably already a quirky mix.
In present day San Francisco, a blogger named Ted goes out to dinner with his group of journalist friends to celebrate his birthday, only to have a fortune cookie blow up in his face. Physically unharmed, Ted nonetheless starts experiencing odd things ever since the incident. Recently, the city has also been held in fear by a killer known as Hang Wire, who brutally strangles his victims before stringing them up in public places.
Meanwhile, the circus is in town with a new high wire act plus a Celtic dance group whose performances have been garnering lots of praise. But tension is mounting behind the scenes, especially with rumors that the carnival is cursed, and the frequent fights breaking out between the creepy circus manager and the workers are putting everyone on edge. There's an ancient evil lurking, and as it turns out, everything has to do with a handful of gods who walk among us. And one of them is a scruffy but devastatingly handsome beach bum named Bob, who gives free ballroom dancing lessons at the aqua park by the sea...
Right, I don't think I need to go further to let you know just how bizarre this book is. But then, I liked it. I didn't think I would at first, simply because of the sheer amount of information the story throws at you right off the bat. As you can see from my brief summary, there's a lot happening in this book, and while trying to figure out what's going on, things can feel a tad overwhelming. Not to mention, the numerous time jumps near the beginning can add to the sense of disjointedness.
I was loaded up with so many questions at first. Most of them involve the circus manager Joel. Who is he and why are we seeing him in all these places across the country, and at these very different times? He's obviously hunting something, but what is this strange power allowing him to know exactly where to be? Where is it coming from? A lot of these questions were answered to my satisfaction at the end, but there were still many points that I felt could have been expanded. I bring this up because for a book with so many threads and topics, the world building is surprisingly on the light side. I enjoyed what I saw, but also felt like there should have been more.
However, I am amazed at Adam Christopher's creativity and the vision for this novel. I especially loved the mysticism and the darkness. Take the Hang Wire killer, for example. This was one of many developments in the overarching story line, but admittedly it was also the horror and mystery of it that eventually grabbed my attention and drew me in. And in fantasy, you usually see circuses depicted as magical places filled with whimsy and wonder, but here the circus is a cursed, creepy place suffused with pure evil where the carnival attractions themselves hunger for blood. I found it all deeply enticing.
So then, my first Adam Christopher novel turned out to be quite the offbeat experience, but I wasn't disappointed. All in all, this was a highly original read packed with all kinds of strange and fantastical elements, and that's how I like it. There may be a lot to take in at first, but everything comes together eventually, once the story gets going and builds momentum. ...more
When I look back at Blades of the Old Empire all I can think of is, here is an example of a novel which would've been better served with some major polishing. And did you know this isn't even technically the first book? I didn't. I only found out after I did some digging around, because I couldn't help getting this feeling I was missing something...
Turns out, my instincts were correct. Most of the main characters in here were first introduced in one of Kashina's earlier novels, The First Sword. Information like that should have been made clearer, if only because I may have been more lenient when I was reading this book. This isn't the first time I've jumped in into the middle of a series, or even a spin-off or later novel set in an existing universe without reading the previous books first. The only difference is, all those times I was prepared. Quite honestly, I don't even know how well this book works as the beginning of a new series. Sure, you can read it and still understand the story, but I spent most of the time feeling like I've only scratched the surface, and wondered if so much feels lacking because the author expects you to know these things already.
Hence, polish. I'm afraid the character development needs quite a bit of work, especially if you're going to have multiple romantic subplots. If I can't connect to the characters, I'm not going to feel any chemistry, and then it's not going to matter one whit to me who's crushing on whom. It helps also, if I can get a good bead on your main protagonists' approximate ages right away. Not exactly sure why, but the way this was written, I spent the whole intro of the book thinking Prince Kyth was a young child. Even after I realized my mistake, it was difficult to view Kara as his romantic interest, and not a nanny-type figure.
Needless to say, that was a mood-killer.
For a fantasy novel of this type, there was also nowhere near enough context. By all rights, the story itself should have been quite epic, encompassing a long history and involving several kingdoms hanging in the balance, with conspiracy and corruption threatening to rot the system from the inside out. I knew this, but only because the book told me. I didn't actually feel it. An overall sense of vastness and importance seems to be missing. Despite the characters traveling for days to get from one place to another, the scope of their journey feels small, possibly stemming from a lack of world building.
My opinions notwithstanding, the reason why I'm not giving this a lower rating is because I feel this book has plenty of potential. I enjoyed the premise and it had a lot of good ideas, especially when it comes to the magic. If only it had been explained a little better. Rigorous editing and several more drafts could have perhaps improved things, knocking out some of the redundant phrases (there seems to be an inordinate amount of blood streaking out of the corner of people's mouths, for instance -- the author likes to use this description everywhere, and even three times in one short scene), or toning down some of the more absurd battle sequences.
Being over-the-top can sometimes work in your favor, but this is not that kind of novel. At best, this crazy, overly bombastic martial arts stuff comes off as comical. The Diamonds are too powerful, one fighter taking on dozens of enemies at once, and also somehow surviving the most grievous of wounds. I draw the line when a character can miraculously come back from the dead, and the way it happens makes very little sense. There is no perception of danger or tension, not if every close call can be fixed with a quaff from a magical potion or a touch from a healer.
Giving a middling rating for this, because I neither liked it nor particularly disliked it. To summarize, the book has a raw and unfinished feel, and based on that I can't really recommend it. A shame too, because with some fleshing out and more honing-plus-fine-tuning, this book could have been so much more....more
Open up The Scarlet Tides and the first things you’ll see are several gorgeously illustrated maps depicting the world of the Moontide Quartet. Needless to say, the maps became indispensable to me while I was reading. I’ve never come across a fantasy series with such a comprehensive and detailed approach to world-building. David Hair goes well beyond simply describing the different peoples and places — what he’s created here actually feels like a living, breathing system. These books take place across two huge continents following about half a dozen characters of different creeds and cultures, with the alliances and conflicts that arise between nations forming the basis for multiple threads of the story and driving the plot forward.
Middle books of a series can also be mighty tricky; I’ve had enough disappointing experiences with sequels myself, which makes me understand why some readers would be nervous when approaching them. However, I jumped into The Scarlet Tides with no reservations whatsoever. This series has grown on me, as I stated in my review of the preceding volume, Mage’s Blood. The first book may have been slightly encumbered by a lengthy introduction and a slow build-up as Hair established the players and set the stage, but it all culminated into one explosive climax and conclusion. And I knew we were going to be heading right into the action with book two.
In this sequel, the Moontide is at hand and the mighty Leviathan Bridge now stands open, creating a corridor between the two continents Yuros and Antiopia, which are normally separated by a vast ocean. The last two Moontides have involved lofty ambitions and crusades of conquest, and this one is no different. Rondion legions and the Inquisition’s windships waste no time storming their way across Antiopia, but very few know of a troubling secret eating at the heart of their empire. A very powerful and valuable artifact called the Scytale of Corineus has slipped through Emperor Constant’s fingers, and he has tasked his inquisitors to scour the world searching for the ones who have absconded with it.
Enter Alaron Mercer, a failed mage who had the Scytale in his hands, then lost it to the girl of his dreams who stole the artifact along with his heart. Cymbellea, who believes she knows the best use for the Scytale, has taken it with the intention of delivering it to Antonin Meiros, the most powerful mage in the world. Little does she know, Meiros is dead, leaving his pregnant widow Ramita on the run from his killers. Several more story arcs run in tandem, including the one which follows Ramita’s former lover Kazim, who ends up with the mercenary Elena Anborn after a botched attack on Emperor Constant’s pureblood mages. Polar opposites in political sides and backgrounds, both nevertheless come to realize they may have a common enemy in Gurvon Gyle, the empire’s spymaster. Some comic relief is also provided by Alaron’s former classmate Ramon, whose storyline involves him running a pyramid scheme, all while his legion marches towards battle. Amusing as this is, Ramon’s point of view also gives readers a boots-on-the-ground view of looming war.
Everything and everyone is connected, the vast distances between the some of the characters and the spheres of conflict notwithstanding. And yet, despite of the sheer scale of it, David Hair manages to make his characters and their stories feel deeply intimate and personal. It’s another reason why this world feels so alive, with all its elements working in tune with one another. Nations and their diverse populations are woven into an intricate web of magic and religion, which are two sides of the same coin. Both play a huge part in nearly all the societies, and as more factions emerge from the shadows we see how much more complex the situation can get.
As things heat up, the net tightens and gradually we are starting to see events converge, bringing the various players closer together. We have betrayals, shifting loyalties, unlikely friendships, and even love. With a dramatis personae so large, it’s inevitable some characters will emerge as my favorites. In Mage’s Blood, the top spot went to Ramita, whose touching yet complicated relationship with Antonin Meiros made me enjoy reading her perspective the most. In this book, however, I came to relish the chapters that follow Kazim and Elena. It’s probably not a coincidence that my favorite storyline yet again involves two people from disparate backgrounds who begin at odds with each other, with the hostility turning to understanding, understanding turning to respect, and the respect eventually turning into love. David Hair has an incredible talent for writing these types of dynamic relationships, making them engaging to read without resorting to clichés and cloying platitudes.
He also does a good job giving each perspective character the attention they deserve. Every one of them has an important role to play, and nobody feels left behind or “parked” while something more exciting happens elsewhere. I learned more about the world from each person, whether it be through meeting Ramon’s new friends from faraway lands, or from Alaron’s encounter with a new race of sentient beings with an astounding origin. And before I could fret myself over how everything will come together, the climax converges most of these storylines, serving up a conclusion and epilogue that tie things up quite nicely.
Overall, an excellent follow up to the first novel, continuing the tradition of vivid, dynamic characters and terrific world building. The intriguing storylines kept me glued to the pages. I honestly found it hard to put down, which was how I ended up reading all 700 pages of this in a little more than three days. Readers of epic fantasy should definitely check out this series....more
Oh my, this one was SO MUCH FUN. Unexpectedly so. Even when the earliest descriptions came trickling in calling this book a bold, dashing adventure and pure, swashbuckling entertainment, I had no idea! I figured those were just buzzwords, right? Ah, no. In this case, Traitor's Blade really does deliver the great time that all those descriptions promise.
There are so many things I love about this book, but most of all I love how it doesn't take itself too seriously. It was lighter in tone than I expected, which was a huge plus because I always appreciate a bit of humor with my fantasy! The only thing sharper than main protagonist Falcio val Mond's rapier is his own clever wit, and if you don't believe me, all you have to do is read the prologue. (Edit: Actually, TOR has an excerpt here! http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/02/tr...) It had me hooked, not to mention earning a few chuckles from me by page 3.
What strikes me about this book is how well it presents itself. To me, it reads like a medieval fantasy told in the tone of an urban fantasy, mainly due to the narrative style and the of the snappy pace of storytelling. Falcio and his companions Kest and Brasti are the last remnants of late King Paelis' mighty force of Greatcoats, quite possibly the only ones still dedicated to upholding the laws of the land despite their order being labeled as traitors. Before the Dukes took the kingdom and killed the king, however, Falcio was given one last mission. And trying to fulfill it is probably going to get him killed, if his silver tongue doesn't manage to do it first.
A natural born smooth talker (the other characters in the novel even poke fun at this), Falcio's narrative is as delightful as they come. He will endear himself to you with his fierce loyalty and moral compass, but also keep you on your toes with his unpredictability. Here is a protagonist who would just as soon vanquish his foes using his words and cunning, despite his strength and skill with a sword. As Falcio is quick to remind everyone, above all the Greatcoats value justice, not honor, and therefore he shows no qualms about certain unsportsmanlike behaviors such as, er, kicking a lady between the legs (trust me though, that character totally deserved it -- justice, remember!) There is also a darkness within Falcio, and I thought one of the more interesting aspects about him is his goodness warring with that inner pain.
So brace yourself, this is a very fast-paced book filled with non-stop action and tons of obstacles thrown at the characters, one right after another. The humor throughout keeps things nice and light, making this the perfect choice for readers looking for a story with traditional fantasy elements -- like heroes, magic, and epic quests -- but also with the added flair of dash and panache. In other books that have a lot of fight scenes, I'm always tempted to skim, but not so with this one. First of all, as a former fight choreographer, the author knows what great action looks like! And like I said, with Falcio's devil-may-care ways and the unpredictability of his fighting style, you really don't want to miss a thing!
As we all know, very few books are perfect but some stories have a way of bringing you to a point where you're just having too much fun to care. That's the place Traitor's Blade took me. I thought the ending and the revelations therein were a bit predictable, but honestly, that was my only quibble and it is a teensy tiny one at that, considering how much overall enjoyment I got from this book and how much I adored these characters. I cannot wait for the sequel.
In short, I loved loved loved Traitor's Blade. I would recommend it to everyone, and I think fencing and sword fighting types will especially get a kick out of it. Seriously, this is one excellent and remarkably entertaining book! Read it....more
I have to say I did things a little bit backwards when it came to this series. It all started with The God Tattoo, Tom Lloyd's anthology of stories from the Twilight Reign that I read last year. Needless to say, I enjoyed it very much. Furthermore, it made me want to explore everything else this world had to offer, so when Pyr gave me the opportunity to read and review The Stormcaller, the first book of the series that began it all, I very enthusiastically accepted.
That collection of tales had given me a taste of the Twilight Reign universe, and piqued my interest with its promise of a dark and epic fantasy. Here was the world I had been introduced to, one of white-eyes, ancient deities and terrible magic. Now I was finally able to see the wider context, getting the full depth of the story filled with gods and demons, clandestine politics and violent clashes between warring peoples. I feel like what I'd gotten from the anthology was just a nibble. And here, this was the whole cake.
Born into a life of poverty, our main protagonist Isak is a white-eye, a genetic rarity known to make those with the condition bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. Feared and mistrusted by those around him, Isak had resigned to the fact that he would never be accepted, until fate intervenes and raises him to a position of power as the heir to the Lord of the Fahlan. In some ways, I feel the book comprises of several distinct parts, and this section of the story would be the first of them, focusing on Isak's transition from a simple peasant to someone with status.
Now, while it's true that a lot of fantasy stories begin this way, I thought Isak's background was a big part of what set his tale apart. For one thing, I find the lore and history behind white-eyes fascinating. Purported to be stronger, faster and more charming than normal men because they are god-touched and divinely chosen to be leaders, white-eyes are still no less shunned and despised by many. Because of this, Isak has to prove himself twice over to satisfy his detractors.
Regrettably, I also think this part of the book was the most difficult to get through. As Isak learns the ropes, this section of the story is mostly filled with descriptions of the things he learns and the people he meets, and it's the most slow-moving part of the story. Add to that, the writing style took some time for me to get used to. I thought the prose came across rather stark and ponderous, and while I wouldn't say I disliked the writing, it still felt like it was missing something -- lightness or emotion, perhaps, though to be fair, the story is meant to be quite dark and heavy. To get through this first part of the book, I did feel I had to work at it.
The action didn't come until later, but I have to say the plot picks up considerably once we follow Isak and his people into war against the elves. This section of the story is driven by several pitched battles, and here the author also starts fleshing out his world in earnest, giving it history and depth. As the layers were filled in one by one (culture, religions, politics, etc) I finally began to feel the full weight of the Twilight Reign universe.
I ended up loving the second half of this novel. It encompassed the final section of the story, in which Isak travels to Narkang with his retinue, and they meet the celebrated King Emin. I won't deny this probably had to do with having read The God Tattoo first; Emin was a character that featured prominently in a couple of the stories in the anthology, and so in a way, I felt like I already knew him and had a good grasp of the setting of Narkang. And lastly, this part of the book also featured the climax of the final battle, which was a great way to bring everything to a close.
All told, it took me a while to read The Stormcaller, partly because it's such a long book but also because I had to settle in to the writing style. Still, I enjoyed this one. I may have come to this series in a roundabout way, but further exploring a world that fascinated and intrigued me was so worth it....more
What an offbeat, curious little novel. I wasn’t surprised to discover that it was a Victorian-inspired steampunk urban fantasy type mystery, but it’s the other little pleasures thrown in that endeared me to this book. The sprinkling of magical elements combined with other fantasy aspects make the world of Bronze Gods more special and enchanting.
Meet Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko, a detective team for the Criminal Investigation Department. He is a magical expert and brings his own uncanny Ferisher (they're like the Fae) powers to the case. She is the first female detective in her division and pushes herself to prove herself. Together, they are tasked to solve the disappearance of a young girl from a noble house, and catch the one responsible before he can strike again.
But there’s more to this story than just police work. If you enjoy a little romance or like a bit of sexual tension to spice things up, then you’re in for a treat. I got a major “Mulder and Scully” vibe from Mikani and Ritsuko, with their mutual attraction and feelings for each other smoldering beneath the surface, gradually warming up in a slow burn that’s both oh so sweet and delicious. The writing team of Ann Aguirre and her husband Andres Aguirre has succeeded in writing a very convincing romance between the two main characters.
So, here you have awesome world (check!), awesome characters (check!) and awesome chemistry between said characters (check!). But what I struggled with a little was the plot and pacing. If you’re a mystery buff, you’ll probably find yourself frustrated by the seemingly lackadaisical pace of the investigation, not to mention the police procedural aspects are a bit light. To be fair, a full-out detective story isn’t what Bronze Gods was meant to be, but just one major facet of the story. I was also a bit dissatisfied by the ending and the “twist” regarding one of the suspects, but seeing as that took place in the final scenes, it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book too much.
More importantly, Bronze Gods was an entertaining and action-filled read, with well-developed characters that actually gave me reasons to continue caring about their unresolved relationship. I like how there is no rush to get Mikani and Ritsuko together, because when it finally happens I'm sure it’ll just be all the more satisfying. I want to continue the series to see what other mysteries our duo will have to solve, but I’m also very interested in seeing where their feelings for each other will eventually take them....more
The Copper Promise came out earlier this year in its full entirety from Headline Books, but with nary a US release date in sight. Argh, doesn't that just drive you insane?! I kept my eyes and ears open for any news. And waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed this book in my life. Being on the wrong side of the ocean be damned, I just went ahead and ordered my copy from the Book Depository. From there, this oh so gorgeous book found its way into my hands at last.
Was it worth it? You betcha! I craved for this book so hard because I thought it sounded amazing. And as it happens, it contains a lot of things I like. We’re talking classic quest narrative here. And don’t forget mages, knights, and sellswords. Hey, there are even pirates! Oh, and did I mention the dragon? Not just any old dragon either, but a dragon god of destruction. Unleashed after an eternity spent imprisoned in the dark depths of the Citadel, now all she wants to do is tear the world asunder.
Enter an unlikely group of heroes who may be the world’s last hope. Unique and intriguing, the characters are what made this book so awesome. We have Lord Frith, jaded and broken, thirsting for revenge after witnessing his whole family killed by usurpers who then nearly tortured him to death for the secret location of his treasure vault. Then we have Sebastian, the exiled knight whose only crime was falling in love with another man. And last but not least, we have Wydrin, the cheeky mercenary who calls herself The Copper Cat. She’s great -- and has a scary obsession with sharp blades too, I might add.
I enjoyed how naturally the character relationships seemed to flow with the story. Each person had to overcome their own individual challenges at some point before coming back together again to resolve the final conflict, but this was done so artfully that their separations and reunions always felt so right. Somehow, characters were exactly where they needed to be, but always in a way that made a lot of sense and didn’t feel forced. Even with the complex relationships and switching between perspectives, I still felt a closeness with each character and this made their interactions easy and entertaining to follow.
The novel’s format had a lot to do with this. I was glad I knew something about it before heading into the book. The Copper Promise is actually a collection of four serialized novellas – Ghost of theCitadel, Children of the Fog, Prince of Wounds, and Upon the Ashen Blade. Together they form the overall story arc, every section being a part of the whole. In spite of this, I also noticed that each part had its own dramatic structure – a main conflict, rising action, etc. So in a way, it’s a bit like getting four exciting climaxes in a single book! But even with the almost seamless transition between the parts, if I hadn’t known about the serialized format I imagine reading all four of them together would feel like a pretty uneven ride with lots of ups and downs. It also gives the book that “pulpy” feel. I was prepared, so it probably wasn’t as distracting for me.
More importantly, the four parts come together remarkably well, showing us the bigger picture. It’s true that they work as smaller narratives by themselves, but believe me, it’s a lot more rewarding when viewed it as a whole. Grab this book to have them all together, and enjoy it all at once. I know I certainly had a good time doing so.
Great book. Simply good old-fashioned adventurous fun, with just a touch of grit. Sound yummy? Then you should definitely check it out too....more
The Burning Sky is a beautifully written novel, told in what I feel is a slightly more formal tone than most young adult fiction. The main plot itself -- about a girl who discovers she is the greatest elemental mage of her generation and who now must avoid being taken by enemies that want her power -- is actually quite straightforward, but the classical style adds on multiple layers to this fantasy story.
I have to say the description of the book doesn't do it much justice; for one, it does not mention that most of it is set in Victorian England, which for me was one of the story's main selling points. This is where Iolanthe Seabourne escapes after calling down a bolt of lightning, unwittingly exposing herself as an elemental mage in her own world. With the help of Prince Titus of The Realm, she goes into hiding at the prestigious Eton College, where she masquerades as a male student.
Iolanthe thus spends much of the novel as her alter ego Archer Fairfax. At Eton, Titus tells her of his ultimate plans to bring down an evil magician named Bane, the tyrant who holds both their lands in his grip. Iolanthe, of course, is reluctant to be a part of it. Incidentally, this leads to one of my favorite scenes, in which Iolanthe tells the Prince, "Better cowardly than dead," after throwing a minor fit and accusing him of using her to his own ends.
And you know what? Instead of thinking less of her, I actually agree with her. When you read as much fantasy as I do, after a while you can get so very used to reading about valiant characters eager to step up and be the hero. So when someone comes along with a strong sense of self-preservation and admits she's afraid to die, it's actually quite refreshing. And who could blame her? Iolanthe is a just a teenager and surely a lot of adults would have reacted even worse. I was surprised at how this one little quote of honestly led me to feel closer to her. Of all the characters, I think Iolanthe was the most well written and realistic.
I wish I could say the same about the story's pacing, but the truth is the book lost some of its momentum after a relatively strong start. It comes down to a matter of taste, really. I've read reviews from readers who absolutely adored the romantic subplot, and opinions from others who weren't so taken with it. I'm of the latter camp, but only because I feel the classic, formal quality of the writing (while very nice) just wasn't that well-suited for a Young Adult love story. Personally, I didn't sense much chemistry between Titus and Iolanthe, and so the romance fell a bit flat for me. And since so much of the book is given to fleshing out and growing their relationship, I probably wasn't as engaged as I ought to be. In spite of this, I have to say there are some great tension-building scenes spread through the novel, including a very exciting climax and ending.
The concepts behind the book are incredible though, so much so that I wish Sherry Thomas had given us even more background about the world. We know why Iolanthe has to stay one step ahead of the Alantean Inquisitor, or that Titus has had his own run-ins with the Inquisition as well, but exactly how Atlantis fits into all this is still unclear to me. Also a part of this puzzle is Titus' Crucible, and his own journey to understand the mysteries that his late mother left behind. There's so much going on here, and while the book gives you just enough information to understand, I wouldn't have minded more. I'm sure that's where the next book will come in. It's likely that I'll continue the series, since I'm all for giving the romance another chance to win me over. ...more