Boy is a Mage, brought up on lessons about the power of illusions, taught that reality is a sham and that people are shadows – and oh, no matter what you do, do NOT trust those lying, stinking Mechanics.
Girl is a Mechanic, a master of logic and equations who prides herself on the fact that no machine is beyond her abilities to fix, and of course, Mechanics are just so much better than those useless Mages.
Then boy meets girl. Everything changes. Alain and Mari come together after their caravan is destroyed by bandits, only managing to survive the treacherous journey back to civilization with each other’s help. They begin to discover just how much their Guild elders have kept from them, secrets and misconceptions that have been keeping the Mage-Mechanical rivalry alive for all these hundreds of years.
Then the power of Foresight unexpectedly comes to Alain. He learns something that Mari doesn’t know – that she is in fact the prophesied chosen one who will unite the two great guilds and save the world. As the two are sent to Dorcastle amidst rumors of uncontrolled dragons and sabotage, Alain can hardly begin to describe the way he feels for Mari, but he does know staying away from her as his masters had ordered is not an option.
The Dragons of Dorcastle is a sweet little story about the serendipitous partnership between two people from different divides, who end up realizing they were wrong about everything they thought they knew about the other. I’d never read anything by John G. Hemry AKA Jack Campbell before, though I do know a bit about his military sci-fi Lost Fleet series, which I can’t imagine can be any more different than this book, a Young Adult-ish fantasy and steampunk romance.
Surprisingly though, this was very good. A little standard, perhaps, and playing a bit too safe when it comes to ideas. However, seeing as this book was originally written to be an audiobook exclusive for Audible Studios, it wouldn’t surprise me if a fun and practical story like this – intended to appeal to a wider and more general audience – was a conscious decision. And it was probably the right decision; I can see it being the perfect choice for anyone in the mood for an entertaining and light read looking to pass the time, though it’s possible that diehard genre readers may be left unsatisfied.
But hey, here be dragons. Well, okay, maybe not exactly. I don’t actually hold this against the book, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyhow that I find the title a bit misleading. There’s some dragon activity for sure, though it doesn’t come until very late in the book, and relatively briefly. Relating this to my thoughts above, I can’t help but to think the name was another clever move to boost appeal. Granted, the story does present a rather intriguing mystery about the dragons at the end, so even though they aren’t the center of attention, we are left with some major dragon-related questions to ponder and there’s no doubt they will play a bigger role in the next book.
Perhaps the novel’s greatest strength is its focus the characters. Most of the book is spent developing the relationship between Alain and Mari, even when the two aren’t even in the same scene. We’re in their heads all the time, experiencing their thoughts and emotions as contemplate the other. The narrative does an especially good job with Alain, whose capacity for emotions has been all but stripped by the Mage guild. The way I looked at the situation, it’s actually a lot like reading about Spock falling in love. That is to say, it’s no easy feat. The author deserves my admiration for pulling it off.
Let’s face it, too: I’m a sucker for Forbidden Love. Despite being YA and the style of prose leaning towards younger audiences, I really enjoyed the delightful romance blooming between Alain and Mari. It’s a relationship I find more “cute” than “passionate”, but nonetheless it worked surprisingly well for me.
In the end, The Dragons of Dorcastle is not a terribly original or noteworthy book, but I really liked it. Its down-to-earth style, entertainment value, and wonderful characters made it very hard for me to resist its charms. All told, a very good book to just curl up and relax with....more
I admit The Wrath and the Dawn wasn’t initially a book I was drawn to, but as time went by, the concept started to grow on me. I still would have preferred a stronger fantasy component, but its hook – the fact that its story is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights – became more intriguing the longer I thought about it.
The book introduces us to sixteen-year-old Shahrzad, getting ready for her marriage to Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. It’s a sad affair for her family, who all believe it will be the last time any of them will see Shazi alive. Everyone says that young Khalid is a monster, for what kind of man would take a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise the next day? Shazi, however, had volunteered herself for this, and she has a plan (arguable, but more about that later). Not long ago, her own best friend was taken and killed by the Caliph. Now Shazi is determined to find out why Shiva and all those other young girls had to die, and she won’t stop until she gets her revenge.
Things are not as they seem, though. Shazi may have escaped death for a day by captivating Khalid with a story, cleverly withholding the ending by the time dawn arrives, forcing the Caliph to put off her execution in order to find out what happens. The more time she spends with the boy king, however, the more she realizes he is not the monster everyone made him out to be. Still, he did kill all those women, and the reason for that is a closely guarded secret that no seems to know or want to talk about. While seeking answers, Shazi finds herself slowly drawn to Khalid and even begins to fall for him. But when her first love Tariq learns of her marriage to the Caliph and comes riding to her rescue, Shazi will have to make a choice.
I found this book to be one part romance, and one part A Big Question. The former is relatively straight forward; Shazi marries Khalid, realizes that he’s actually not that bad, the two fall in love. It happens very quickly, almost too quickly for my tastes. Here’s another Young Adult novel, where in its eagerness to get its two lovers together, we lose out on a lot of the emotional layers that make the relationship convincing. And how was Shazi supposed to take revenge on the Caliph after marrying him anyway? She didn’t even really try. Her half-baked plan didn’t seem to go much farther beyond enticing him with stories (and I do wish she had been able to tell more of them), so all I can see is the instalove being a decision of convenience. Thing is though, I could easily look past this in favor of what I really felt was the most interesting aspect of the whole book.
Enter the big question: Why did Khalid kill Shazi’s best friend Shiva and all those other wives of his? That’s the mystery that really caught my interest and kept me reading, and it was treated in the exact opposite way as the romance, an intricate puzzle that slowly unravels. For that I was very happy, and I liked how the author took the time to make the answers worth it.
I was also most impressed with Shazi’s character above any of the others. I liked that she had such class and dignity, but also a strong personality that wouldn’t stop her from teaching a lesson to someone who shows her disrespect. She’s also truly fearless, as evidenced by the calm and quiet way she decided to volunteer to marry the Caliph knowing very well it could mean her death, and also by a scene where she strikes out at an attacker even when she very literally had a blade to her throat.
There was really one factor about the writing that made me stumble. Five words: Attack of the purple prose.
“But the thought that she might lie to him – that those eyes, with their unpredictable onslaught of colors, flashing blue one instant and green the next, only to paint his world gold with the bright sound of her laughter…”
Occasionally there will be a glaring overkill of these flowery phrases or paragraphs. I think it’s pretty common with relatively new authors who are also extremely talented writers though, who maybe just need to know when to dial it back a little.
Still, on the whole I do think Renée Ahdieh writes beautifully and has a bright writing career ahead of her. While it may not be perfect, The Wrath and the Dawn impressed me and so I’m on board to see what happens next....more
An Ember in the Ashes was a great read, and so far probably one of my favorite “mainstream” Young Adult books this year. I can definitely understand the excitement surrounding it, and the book might actually live up to all the attention. That said, the novel is not without its flaws, ultimately falling prey to the many pitfalls of its genre. For a debut, though? I thought it was fantastic.
The book takes place in the heart of the ruthless Martial Empire, following the strife filled lives of two young people. Laia is a simple Scholar girl, forced to join the Resistance after her brother Darin, the only family she has left, is arrested by the military. In order to free Darin, she agrees to go undercover to spy on the Commandant of the empire’s military academy. Then there’s Elias Veturius, one of best soldiers to ever graduate from that academy. Deep down though, he wants nothing more than to escape from the empire and leave its brutal traditions behind forever.
The empire’s Augurs, however, have a different plan in mind. It has been foreseen that without an heir, the current Martial emperor’s line will end this year. The next ruler of the greatest empire this world has ever seen is to be chosen amongst the finest crop of the academy’s latest graduates – which means Elias is to be thrown into a series of competitions that will test his resolve and push him to his limits. Meanwhile, Laia is tasked by the Resistance to find out more about the process, plunging her into the cruel and unrestrained world of the Trials, binding her fate to Elias’s forever.
The plot is quite intriguing to say the least, in spite of the fact that we start things off with what appears to be the two most foolish protagonists on the planet. Elias, who is about to attempt the riskiest decision of his life by deserting, can’t even seem to muster up the ability to at least look innocent. Then there’s Laia, who keeps berating herself over and over again for being such a useless, weak coward. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that when you say something enough times, you’ll actually start to believe it. Which is why, very quickly, Laia began to really get on my nerves.
But then the amount of character growth by the end of the book, at least for Elias, was astounding. Despite the book having two main protagonists, for me it was all about him. His chapters are more exciting, but more importantly, he has his beliefs plus the determination, strength and courage to stick by them. I’m also captivated by the relationships. A bizarre dynamic exists in Gens Veturius, with Elias’s grandfather General Quin as its patriarch, but it is his daughter, Elias’s mother, who holds the deadliest power. That’s because she’s also the military school’s Commandant. Yes, the very same one Laia was ordered to spy on.
As the Commandant, Keris Veturius is one of the best YA villains I’ve ever encountered. It’s rare that a bad guy actually becomes one of my favorite characters, but there’s a cold, well-crafted complexity to her that we don’t see a lot in this genre, and that immediately made her fascinating. Not only does she have total authority over all the Masks, she also possesses a disturbing tendency to just KNOW things. Her relationship with Elias is also a curious subject. There’s certainly no love lost between mother and son, and in fact the Commandant seems repulsed by Elias. The relationship between Elias and his grandfather Quin on the other hand appears warmer and more genial, and you really have to wonder just what on earth happened to make this family so screwed up like this. We get some hints at the end, but there’s definitely a much bigger story there, and I have a feeling that it might have something to do with the identity of Elias’s father.
I also really like the character of Helene, Elias’s oldest and closest friend at the academy. I really wish she had been a point-of-view character; somehow I think I would have had enjoyed seeing through her eyes more than Laia’s. I think the dynamics between Elias and Helene are also more interesting, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how their story played out, taking us along on an unpredictable ride full of twists and turns, wondering all the while how things are going to end for these two best friends. There are so much more I want to know about Helene, but unfortunately we don’t get a lot of information. No reason has been given yet as to why they only choose one woman per generation for the military school, for instance. But still, her relationship with Elias interests me, and I’m looking forward to see how that plot thread will resolve.
Now on to the novel’s weaknesses. For me, the big one was Laia. While Elias grew as a character, Laia continued to be infuriating as hell. She agrees to be a spy, jumping into this nigh impossible situation without any serious consideration, fueled only by her obnoxious bullheadedness. She makes a terrible spy too, by the way, and everyone knows this including herself. Yet she never actually makes the effort to find out how to be a better one, and if it weren’t for advice given to her by others she would have kept making the same mistakes again and again. The worst part is, she laments incessantly about how weak she thinks she is, and instead of making me sympathize with her, it just makes me angry. Through all this she never grows her own backbone, until literally the very last chapter when it’s too late for me to care. The rest of the book, it’s always her brother Darin’s voice in her head giving her encouragement instead of her own, Darin giving her a reason to take action instead of her own will. She shows very little growth in that sense, despite the brave face she tries to put on. Her chapters aren’t as interesting either, and mostly I just couldn’t wait until they were over so I could get back to Elias’s point of view.
Also, if I had to pick a few nits, firstly I wished the author had gone with different names for the world’s people rather than “Scholar” or “Martial”. It reminded me too much of Divergent, not exactly one of my favorite YA novels and certainly not a book I’d want to associate with this one. Secondly, there are some logical inconsistencies in the story (like if Blackcliff Academy was such a hotbed for Resistance spies, you’d think the military would have a better system in place to vet their slaves and servants. Of course, if they did, Laia’s incompetence would have never have gotten her through and there would be no story).
And thirdly, there is this bizarre love triangle. Actually, make that two love triangles. When the book started off with Elias and Helene, Laia and Keenan (another Resistance member), I was really hoping Sabaa Tahir would stay on this path with these two pairs and avoid having to resort to overused love geometrics. Alas, ultimately she decided to adhere to convention, and to my further dismay, instead of just having a single love triangle we end up with this two-girls-for-one-boy and two-boys-for-one-girl situation. A bit unnecessary, if you ask me.
So yes, there definitely are some punches you just have to roll with. But fortunately, they are small punches. The last few that I mentioned are insignificant to minor flaws, none of which are nearly as big as the issue I had with Laia’s character, which is probably the main reason I’m not embracing this book as wholeheartedly as I could be.
I really did enjoy this book though, and the fact that I’ve already written so much in this review is probably a good testament to how much I liked it. I found it quite addicting, especially Elias’s chapters and the terrible things he had to go through in the Trials. I admit, when I started the book I truly thought the results of the completion would be a foregone conclusion, but I was wrong – there are a lot of surprises and unexpected twists and turns in the search for the Martial’s new Emperor and Blood Shrike. With the way it ended, I can’t imagine there not being a sequel. Who knows what it’ll be and who knows when it’ll come out, but what I do know is that I’ll be checking it out for sure.
I’m always on the lookout for good Lovecraft-inspired horror, and so when I stumbled upon the description of Daryl Gregory’s new novel Harrison Squared I just knew I had to check it out.
When Harrison Harrison (nicknamed Harrison Squared by his scientist mother, because geek humor is the best kind of humor) was a toddler, his family’s boat was capsized by a giant tentacled sea monster. Officially, the authorities said that it was a sharp piece of metal that claimed Harrison’s leg, and that the storm was what drowned his father, but Harrison knew he did not imagine or hallucinate what he saw that terrible day.
Now sixteen years old, he travels cross-country with his mother to Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, a quiet seaside town where everything seems creepy as hell. His school is like a labyrinth out of myth, the teachers don’t seem to care whether he shows up to his classes or not, and the other students are like the Children of the Corn. The first night in town, his favorite comic book gets stolen by some weird fish-boy. Then tragedy hits when Harrison’s marine biologist mom goes missing at sea. Refusing to believe she’s dead, Harrison goes investigating. Pretty soon he’s gathered about him a group of unlikely allies to battle the nightmarish Scrimshander, an ancient Dunnsmouth legend come to life.
Why do I love the Lovecraftian subgenre so? For the atmosphere, of course. As a setting, Dunnsmouth perfectly embodies the rural, insular feel of Lovecraft country, belying the terrible secrets kept under wraps by its townsfolk. The horror featured in these stories tend to involve cosmicism and the occult, which is psychologically so much more effective. Daryl Gregory delivers all these aspects, combining both fantasy and horror elements in a neat little package. There’s no small amount of weirdness in the plot, which is usually something I can’t tolerate, but Gregory somehow renders it into a conceivable, real-world everyday kind of weird that his protagonist Harrison takes in stride…so I did as well.
The book will also do well with both adults and teens, striking the perfect balance for crossover appeal. On the surface, Harrison seems to be like a lot of other kids his age, struggling with a volatile temper and his desire to fit in at a new school. But gradually, the reader will learn that he’s also not your typical teenager. Harrison is very well written and convincing; his quiet resourcefulness both charmed and intrigued me, and I sympathized with his fear of the ocean and felt for him when his mom was reported lost at sea. So much of his life has been shaped by the boating accident when he was three years old, and unraveling the mysteries behind his character ended up being as much fun as keeping up with the story itself.
Gregory also rounds out the cast with several fantastic secondary characters, including Lydia, a fellow classmate from school; Lub, the half-human-half-fish boy; and last but not least, the most memorable of all for me was Harrison’s Aunt Selena who arrives in Dunnsmouth from New York City to take care of Harrison after his mom goes missing. Breezing into town in a flurry of silks and designer clothes, Sel was not at all what I expected, but it sure made me wish I had more relatives like her.
I had a great time with this book. It’s not a heart-pounding tale of horror, but rather a well-paced delectable mystery that’s also a fun adventure filled with lots of unexpected twists and turns, while exuding an eerie vibe. I enjoyed uncovering the secrets of Dunnsmouth with Harrison and his strange but really cool group of friends, and hopefully there will be some sort of follow-up to this book and that we won’t have long to wait for it....more
When I requested this book from NetGalley, this was in the description: “For readers of A Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games comes an epic new series.” I realize similar claims get thrown around a lot. Still, even in cases where I don’t agree, most of the time I can at least understand why a comparison to ______ might be made.
When it comes to this book though, I’m mystified. This is nothing like Game of Thrones OR The Hunger Games. Not even a little bit. I knew an ambitious declaration like that should have immediately put me on my guard, and I guess I really should have trusted my instincts. “Epic” is also debatable. While we have a story spanning the globe, from the highlands of rural Scotland to the bustling streets of Hong Kong, the scope of the narrative is actually quite limited. Most of what we get is personal drama revolving around just a handful of characters.
Needless to say, Seeker wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It always pains me to write a negative review, so rather than expound on all the things that didn’t work for me, I’ll just list and briefly talk about them.
- First, I’m not in the habit of DNFing. I read this whole book from beginning to end, but even now I would be hard-pressed to tell you what a Seeker is exactly, or even what they do, beyond the very generic fact that they should be “fighting evil”. That it’s never explained in detail just seems like a gross oversight to me. When most of the characters are Seekers and the ACTUAL TITLE of the book is Seeker, you’d think something like that would be at the forefront. Instead, there is very little to no “Seeking” going on in the book…or whatever it is that Seekers do.
- What exactly are the Dreads? I know they’re supposed to be witnesses, mediators or judges (Judge Dreads?) but how do they fit into this picture? Where do they come from and what is their history? How did they get involved with the Seekers? I. Have. Absolutely. No. Idea.
- Unsurprisingly, I found world-building to be sorely lacking, practically non-existent. You have to understand, I’m not asking for info-dumps or to have my hand being held through the whole book, but I do need a starting point, SOMETHING to anchor me. I felt like I was thrown into this world and the author just expects me to know everything and doesn’t see the need to provide any background information.
- The writing is simplistic and contrived. There are a couple chapters where things aren’t so bad, but most of the prose feels clumsy. The dialogue feels forced. There’s a lot of telling, and not enough showing. Many strange quirks in the writing, like poorly executed time jumps (I actually thought I missed a few pages) which probably relates back to the lack of world-building.
- Speaking of time jumps, just when exactly are we supposed to be? One moment it seems like we’re in medieval Scotland and the next, BOOM, we’re in present day (or futuristic?) Hong Kong. If you’re going to have your characters jump back and forth through portals, you should establish both time and place!
- The characters are pretty bland and unengaging. Quin is a far cry from the kickass heroine she’s meant to be; instead, it feels like her whole purpose is to be a trophy for the two boys who are in love with her. It was so frustrating to watch John and Shinobu fight over her like she’s a piece of meat. The plot thread that involves her losing her memory also makes me understand now why some readers hate amnesia storylines. So she spent more than a year essentially suppressing her own memories? And she’s suddenly a healer? All that “brutal training” she supposedly received didn’t seem to amount to much.
- The romantic side plot is unimaginative and I wasn’t convinced of any of the relationships. I think this is partly due to the awkward writing style, and unnatural dialogue (especially when the characters were discussing their feelings for each other, I couldn’t help but cringe).
- This probably comes as no surprise, but for most of the book, I felt like I had NO IDEA what was going on. More than a few times, I wondered to myself if my ARC was missing huge chunks of the story, as so much of it made no sense. I’m sure there’s a good overall premise in here somewhere, but it was not well executed. Instead, we are left with a whole lot of confusion.
In general I don’t like to DNF, and not only because I’m a completionist. Sometimes a book can be weak in the beginning, but then redeem itself with a strong conclusion. There have been times where I almost put down a book, only to end up absolutely loving it when I finish. I admit it doesn’t happen often, but now I’ve developed a habit where when book that don’t blow me away at first, I always hold out in the hopes that it will get better. But unfortunately, this just didn’t happen with Seeker.
I did hear that there is talk of a movie adaptation for the book. Thing is, I actually think the book would work better as a live action film with its exotic settings, bombastic action sequences, and young attract protagonists. It would make a great cinematic experience, but to achieve a similar awe-inspiring feeling, I’m afraid large swaths of the book would have to be more rigorously edited and perhaps rewritten. There are lots of interesting ideas in here, with an intriguing mix of science fiction and fantasy, and it’s really just a shame that the book falls short of its full potential. I will not be continuing this series, sadly....more
Atlanta Burns is the kind of book that takes time to percolate; after finishing the last page it had me feeling all discombobulated and I needed time to think on it for a bit. If you’re familiar with Chuck Wendig’s work then you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. Never let it be said that the guy ever holds his punches when he tells his stories, and you can be sure this is not your run-of-the-mill Young Adult fare.
The book’s protagonist Atlanta Burns is a high school student who no one wants to mess with. But she’s been through some traumatic stuff, and her reputation came at a high cost. However, Atlanta’s not going to let what happened to her stop her from doing the right thing, and she’s definitely not one to stand by while bullies prey on the weak and the defenseless. There are some terrible people in this world, and armed with her shotgun and the moxie to match, Atlanta is going to do whatever it takes to stop them.
Two stories make up this book, “Shotgun Gravy” and “Bait Dog”. Both are powerful, yet not easy to read. In the first, Atlanta and her new friends go up against Neo-Nazis, crooked cops and bigoted bullies. The second story sees her attempting to break up a dog fighting ring and deals with the themes of animal cruelty and abuse. Atlanta’s world is a bleak and brutal place to be, and reading about things like lynching, sexual assault, tortured puppies, kids being burned with cigarettes and such, it’s hard not to get through this book without thinking, wow, people SUCK. It made me sick sometimes, it really did.
But works like these also have a place in YA fiction. Like this quote in the book says: “Life is equal parts strange and beautiful and horrible, and we’re tossed into it without a map or an instruction guide. Poems and stories have a way of helping us make sense of things.” And that’s how I see these stories in Atlanta Burns. It might not be pleasant and it might not be comfortable, but it’s important to face some of these issues head-on and not soften the blow because it’s true – one can argue that Wendig is painting things too dark but the sad reality is the things in this book do happen, and it would be a mistake to pretend they don’t. Atlanta Burns is a book that explores difficult subject matters, and exposes them in all its ugliness so that we as readers can process it, make sense of it for ourselves.
Wendig has a message here. It’s not so surprising that he went with the Neo-Nazis as his main baddies, though this book is peppered with a lot of despicable scum-baggy types as a whole. Thing is, in any slice of society you look at there’s bound to be good folks and bad folks, but in Atlanta Burns there seems to be an overrepresentation of the bad, and if I’m to be honest, even Atlanta herself is not entirely likeable. To Wendig’s credit though, he does attempt to shine a light in the dark of this whole “things don’t get better” bleakness. In this world of bigots, bullies and corrupt cops are characters like Mrs. Lewis, Steve AKA “Chomp-Chomp” or Detective Holger who show Atlanta that things can be different.
This was a wonderful read. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you against some of the shocking, horrible things that are in this book. It’s categorized as Young Adult, but definitely not typical of the genre. Calling Atlanta Burns a dark book is an understatement; it deals with some very mature themes, and even some adults may find parts of it difficult to read especially if they are sensitive to those particular subjects. I really enjoyed this book, but as always with Chuck Wendig, reader discretion is advised....more
This is the rating I usually give to Young Adult novels that are pretty much your run-of-the-mill fare, but for all their conventionality and clichés, I still had a decent to good time reading. A lot of YA seems to be falling into this category for me lately. Being typical of its kind isn’t always a bad thing, though. At the very least, I know what I’m expecting. And while it’s true that The Young Elites probably didn’t exceed those expectations, it did meet them, and for that it gets my kudos.
The book is filled with familiar tropes, though to Marie Lu’s credit, she attempts to put a unique spin on some of them. A decade ago, an illness swept through the kingdom of Kennetra, killing many it infected. A lot of those children who survived were marked forever by distinctive scars and other features. Protagonist Adelina Amouteru, for example, had her once black hair turn silver, and physicians also had to remove her left eye in order to save her life. These youngsters who also came away with magical powers were labeled the “Malfetto”, and today they are persecuted and looked upon with contempt by much of the main population.
As one of the marked, Adelina’s status makes her undesirable for marriage, leading her cruel and unfeeling father to try and sell her off to become some nobleman’s mistress. After finding out about the plot, Adelina attempts to run away, only to wind up manifesting her powers and accidentally killing her father in a horrific accident. And so, we begin the book with our protagonist locked up in prison, awaiting her execution. Before she makes it up to the block, however, Adelina is snatched out of the Inquisitors’ grasp by a group of vigilantes known as the Young Elites, so called because their members are all like her – marked Malfettos who are empowered with special magical abilities.
It feels like we’ve seen this story many times before. A young woman is a part of an oppressed group because the rest of the world does not understand and are frightened of their powers. She gets taken in by others like her and is forced to prove herself to them. The main leader – a guy, naturally – is ultimately impressed by her force of will and decides to mentor her, becoming a love interest along the way too, of course. In this case, it is the mysterious and broody Enzo Valenciano, whose stone-cold heart starts thawing the moment Adelina comes along. Then throw in the beautiful Raffaele to drum up some of those tense emotional moments, though it is interesting to note that his relationship with Adelina never truly ventures into the romantic sphere.
Still, while much of the premise is well-traveled territory, there are actually a few major surprises. I for one was a bit caught off guard by the darkness of this story, but in the best way possible. It’s quite something to encounter a heroine who is not your average goody-two-shoes, and in fact, Adelina has a mean streak to her which makes her more frightening than anyone in this novel, even the villain. It came out occasionally and I was delighted whenever it happened, because these parts were always written so well.
Lu perfectly balances Adelina’s struggle to do the right thing with the cruel, dark and ugly blackness that lurks within her character, and also manages to convey the resulting guilt and doubt. There was always this suspense hanging over me, of wondering just when Adelina will snap because her roiling emotions are like a tightly drawn bowstring and there’s only so much abuse and pushing around a personality like hers can take. I love how we have a heroine that’s so complex, and likewise the story presents a lot of grey areas for readers to consider.
The ending is perhaps the strongest part of the book. It puts all the focus on Adelina, and she’s the only one who matters now, which is the way things should be. The moment of truth is at hand, and it’s anyone’s guess what she will do next. It’s tempting to wish for the obvious path, which is that she will do the noble thing, but I also confess that I’d be thrilled if she just up and decided to go completely dark side on everyone – and I wouldn’t even blame her for it. The fact that it could realistically go either way is a testament to Lu’s writing talents and her ability to develop her main character. The epilogue is also intriguing, and sets up a likely scenario for book two. Even though I can predict where the story might be going, I’m looking forward to it.
This was my first book by Marie Lu, and while I might not have been swept off my feet, it was still a very good experience. At the time I wasn’t really looking for a YA novel to blow me away, just something quick and fun to read in between some heavier adult fantasy novels, and The Young Elites delivered, and managed to throw in a couple surprises too. I’ll most likely pick up the sequel....more
Another excellent Young Adult novel from Pyr, the first of what I hope will be Hexed series featuring more of heroine Luci Jenifer Ignacio das Neves – Lucifer for short. Based on the author’s comic of the same name which I’ve actually not read before tackling this book (but you can be sure it’s on my to-read list now), Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown has made me a new fan of Michael Alan Nelson.
The story begins with a Bloody Mary game gone wrong. What should have been a harmless prank ends up getting a high school girl snatched away by monstrous haggish creature. Her father, a police officer, goes to Lucifer for help after hearing that the young thief possesses supernatural talents that would help him get his daughter Gina back. Unable to bear the cop’s grief, Lucifer decides to help. After her initial investigations at the missing girl’s school, Lucifer ends up with some promising leads as well as a new sidekick – Gina’s handsome and popular boyfriend, David.
A great mix of action and humor with just a dash of horror, Hexed is an entertaining paranormal YA novel featuring a story that feels new and fresh. With a plot that’s fast-paced and addictive, this book is truly something special. I took to our kickass protagonist right away, charmed by her resourcefulness and laugh-out-loud wit. Lucifer is simply hilarious! I really enjoyed following her as a main character, even if I do find her name and the reason behind it (she was named for her two grandmothers, and she “honors” them by combining their first names like that) a little dubious, but I guess when it comes to her brand of dry dark humor, that’s probably as good an example as any. I like Lucifer too because she manages to pull off that take-no-crap attitude without coming off as a belligerent little brat. She may have a strong personality, but her kind heart and good intentions come through on every page.
I also love the secret mystical underworld of Hexed. As Lucifer is so fond of reminding us, she possesses no inherent magical power, but the tools she uses often do. She carries around a trick bag full of magical – and sometimes dangerous – gadgets and thingamabobs which she whips out whenever she needs a problem solved, and finding out what each object does is half the fun. Through some very intense scenes, we’re also introduced to what appears to be a very intricate spell system involving runes and symbols, used for anything from activating mirrors to other dimensions to exorcising demons from their hapless victims (bet you’re dying to know why Lucifer’s holding a stuffed bunny on the cover!) The supernatural baddies here can be pretty terrifying, like the filcher demons, witch-hounds, and the witches themselves, but they’re also fascinating. Lucifer’s harrowing journey to find and rescue Gina from the dead realm of Witchdown is not without its disturbing moments, but I couldn’t help it – I found myself utterly captivated by the whole story.
There are just a couple of issues I have to bring up; one is minor, while the other can be a deal breaker depending on your personal preferences. The first is something that struck me as unnecessary, which is the constant reminder that Lucifer is something “separate” and apart from the normal real world. Every few chapters is another wistful comment from her regarding high school life in general, how all that is out of reach for her but she still wants it badly. The other issue is the romance, and not just any romance. As Lucifer and David work closely together to get Gina back, feelings start to develop between them, despite David already being unmistakably, indisputably, irrefutably spoken for. This particular story arc did make for a pretty startling twist at the end, but just a heads up if you find the idea of dallying with a taken guy unappealing.
Lucifer is not your typical teenage girl, nor is Hexed your typical YA. It was a very enjoyable, quick and fun read, and best of all it is not necessary to have read the graphic novel before diving in this one. You do get a feeling that there’s an incredibly rich back story there though, one that I’ll definitely have to go back and check out one of these days now!...more
I don’t know what it is, but something about this book totally appealed to me. One would think I’d have had enough of elves and dwarves and orcs by now, but then I tried to remember the last time I read a Young Adult novel set in a world like this, and it actually made me realized just how refreshingly different it is from the sort of YA I’ve been reading lately. It’s free of a lot of the usual tropes, anyway. Plus, something about the storytelling just gives off this down-to-earth and easygoing vibe. It feels like the author wrote this book from his heart, to have fun, not to hit up all the items on some imaginary checklist of what makes a YA novel successful. In fact, I read somewhere that The Novice began life as a personal NaNoWriMo project, and that doesn’t surprise me at all.
The story follows Fletcher, an orphan raised by a village blacksmith after he was found as a baby abandoned in the snow. One day, on the cusp of Fletcher’s sixteenth birthday, a chance encounter with a veteran soldier at the market left him in possession of an old scroll. And like all curious teenage boys, Fletcher just couldn’t resist reading it, and in doing so he unleashes a demon from the Ether. But it’s not as ominous as it sounds! The demon – a cute little imp-like creature that shoots fire – is a Salamander that quickly bonds to Fletcher and becomes his loyal companion.
However, Fletcher’s summoning of the demon does reveal him to be a mage. And with the war going on with the orcs, the army needs all the summoners they can get their hands on, noble-born or commoner; elf, dwarf or human. On the run for a crime he didn’t commit, that’s how Fletcher ends up at the Adept Military Academy, a school that teaches young summoners and prepares them to become full-fledged battlemages before sending them to the frontlines. Fletcher learns to control his demon familiar – whom he names Ignatius – alongside the new friends he meets, but also has to contend with the snotty noble children who try to undermine him at every turn. As the war effort becomes increasingly more desperate, the Academy holds a competition to weed out the brightest and the best for leadership positions, and even first-years like Fletcher are included. Fletcher wants to win, and not just because he wants to teach the nobles a lesson. There are shady dealings afoot; political plots and conspiracies abound, and Fletcher knows he can make a difference for the better, if only he can overcome the challenges of the trials and best his opponents to win a position of command.
A quick look at Taran Matharu’s author page tells us that his passion for reading began at a very young age, and it probably wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out he was a fan of Harry Potter as a child. If that’s the case, the influence is pretty strong. I also see shades of influence from other literary sources, like Lord of the Rings, and the use of mana to summon demon companions of varying species and power levels also reminds me of role-playing video games and even Pokemon. Taken by themselves, the ideas are familiar and derived from what we’ve seen before, but taken as a whole, they actually come together here to form something quite new and interesting, not to mention also a whole lot of fun.
Like I said, Taran Matharu’s approach is very straightforward and uncomplicated; it doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing his vision to adhere to a fixed set of conventions, nor does it feel like he’s out to subvert any norms. At the heart of it, I just see an author telling a story about characters that he obviously cares a lot about. For that, I can overlook some of the novel’s weaknesses, such as the simplistic writing style and on several occasions where it felt somewhat skewed towards younger audiences like Middle Grade. The writing is perhaps my only big issue I had with this novel, which I felt could use a fair bit more polishing, but this is not an area I’m overly concerned with when I read YA.
Plus, there’s a lot to like too. I found the different kinds of demons and their little quirks charming, plus the Demonology treatise found at the end of the book was a nice touch. I liked reading about the magic school environment and the interactions Fletcher has with his fellow students, especially his relationship with the dwarf Othello and the elf Sylva. The tournament at the end definitely made for an entertaining closer as well, though I also can’t wait to finally step out of the academy setting into big wide world. Thus far we’ve not seen much of the ongoing war with the orcs, and I hope we’ll get a chance to get out to the front. Well, after the cliffhanger at the end of this book gets resolved, of course. Just in case you can’t tell, yes, I’m looking forward to the next book....more
I was a bit taken aback by the tepid to cool reviews I’ve been seeing for this one. Not that my own review is all that glowing, I realize, but while Talon probably won’t rank among my favorite Young Adult novels read this year, I had a lot of fun with it. By all means not a bad book. Surprisingly, most of the disappointment appears to be from fans of Julie Kagawa’s other series. I’ve never read anything else by her though, so there’s really nothing for me to compare this to.
But let’s move on to what the book is about. Talon is about dragons…but also not really. If you’re looking for a novel featuring these magnificent creatures in all their winged and scaly fire-breathing glory, you’re not going to find much of that here. What you have instead is a small group of dragonkind who spend most of their time in human form, hoping to infiltrate our society and one day take over the world again. A secret faction of dragon slayers called the Order of St. George is determined not to let that happen, and their members continue to hunt dragons like they have for time immemorial.
The book begins as two young dragon siblings, Ember and Dante Hill travel to California in their human forms to begin training for their future positions to serve their home base of Talon. Ember is fascinated with humankind, and wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer living out the full teenager experience – beaches, arcades, ice cream parlors, the whole shebang. Her brother Dante on the other hand is a lot more disciplined, and does not like it one bit when a rogue dragon shows up in their territory, distracting Ember from her training. Meanwhile, St. George has received the rumors of new dragon recruits in the area, and the young soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian and his partner are tasked to hunt these Talon agents down and kill them.
Encouraged to mingle and blend in with other teenagers, Ember and Dante spend most of this book as humans. But unlike other books with shape-shifting dragons (like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for example, which I thought did a really good job developing the culture and world of the draconic characters), it’s difficult to think of the dragons here as anything but human. This is what I meant when I cautioned not to think of Talon too much as a “dragon” book. Despite a few scenes of Ember thinking as a dragon and being a dragon – and they are quite few and far between – the author often seems to put her human persona before her draconic one. Plus, the setting is modern and urban. Ember’s life revolves around surfing, parties, friends and boys. Very little is known about the dragon home of Talon and Kagawa doesn’t really get into it. For those craving a bit more fantasy and world building, I can see how that could cause some frustration.
As such, this ends up being your rather typical contemporary young adult novel with a light fantasy twist, complete with love triangle and just a dash of forbidden love. Despite being exactly what I expected, it was undeniably entertaining.
After reading this, however, I admit to being skeptical of Kagawa’s writing. It’s obvious that she can spin a good yarn, but there were some plot elements that were so illogical and downright silly, it can be difficult to take these characters seriously. First of all, if you can take any form and you’re trying to covertly infiltrate and gain influence in human society, I would not do it as a teenager. Good luck gathering any useful information to bring back to your overlords, unless they’re interested in how your airheaded friend thinks so-and-so is so totally gorgeous and has nice abs. Talon is also so bad at this undercover secret agent stuff, I’m not surprised St. George managed to narrow their search down to Ember and Dante and their group of beach bum friends in like all of two seconds. You’re a dragon spy, and you’re seriously going to stick with Ember for your name? You might as well paint a target on your back and wear a big sign that says “I’M THE DRAGON!” and hang it around your neck. The Order of St. George doesn’t seem that much more competent either. At one point, Garret admits to his partner that he is getting too close to Ember and recommends stepping back from the mission. Instead of allowing Garret to do so, what does his partner do but tell him to take advantage of this new development to go even deeper into the case. Um, no! As soon as one of your soldiers gets emotionally involved and becomes compromised like that, you pull them the hell out. A lot of the problems that St. George experience near the end, they brought most of them on themselves.
These little moments aside, not much else detracted from the experience. Yes, the story is pretty standard but ended up being more interesting than the description made it sound, and it held my attention to the end, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of YA. The next book, predictably called Rogue, looks like it will delve deeper into the both the secret Order of St. George and the dragon organization Talon, so hopefully readers get the world building we want there....more
I’m disappointed to say the least. Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls was a trilogy I read a few years ago, and while it might not rank up there as one of my favorite Young Adult series of all time, it had its moments. One of the highlights was the supporting character of Isabel Culpeper who was a bit of a queen bee, plus she’s angry and bitter to boot. And yet, I found her to be a lot more interesting than the very blah protagonist of Grace Brisbane, and I was rather fond of Isabel. I was also intrigued when I found out she would be starring in her own book Sinner along with Cole St. Clair, the rock star/werewolf with whom she started a budding romance towards the end of the Mercy Falls trilogy.
Sinner begins in California, where Isabel has started her new life, going to school preparing to be a doctor while working part time at a clothing designer’s store. Cole on the other hand is trying to make a comeback to the music scene after being rehabilitated from a life of booze and drugs, by — ugh! — agreeing to be the focus of a godforsaken reality TV show, of all things. When he arrives in LA, the first thing he does is look up Isabel, hoping to rekindle what they had from their days back in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
There’s really not much else to say about the plot. The story zips along at the speed of molasses, and for the longest time I tried to figure out what the conflict was, only to resign myself to the fact that there really isn’t one. Cole does his reality TV show thing while acting like a prima donna, and Isabel goes about her daily life putting up with his crap.
To be fair, Sinner ended up being a completely different book than I expected it to be. First of all, it probably falls more into the New Adult category instead of YA, following the characters like Isabel in their post-high school life, and werewolves or not, the themes are more contemporary rather than related to speculative fiction. It has very few paranormal elements compared to the Mercy Falls trilogy, so few that I was just barely able to label this one a fantasy.
My main issue, however, wasn’t the lack of fantasy elements or the fact that there was hardly any story. My problem was the vacuous, insufferable prat that was Cole St. Clair.
For the love of God, I don’t remember him being so annoying in the original trilogy. A big pet peeve of mine is bad boys who try oh so very hard to be a bad boy. Let’s face it, if Cole hadn’t gotten lucky and become a rock star, he would have ended up living in a cardboard box in some alley, offering to take your verbal abuse for chance at a bit of change. And who knows, he still might end up that way. He’s already washed up at this young age, reduced to dancing-bear status on an insipid reality TV show.
The sad part is, I still really like Isabel’s character, which made it doubly hard to watch her fall for this joker when all I wanted to do was scream at her to run, run away! Get as far away as you can from this idiot because God forbid if you end up marrying him he’ll end up a worthless thirty-five-year-old has-been, having pissed away his royalties on cars and parties, with no aspirations other than to be a professional layabout because working for an honest living is just sooooo lame. He’d probably let his looks and physique go too, because exercise and taking good care of one’s health is something, like, everybody does! And we all know Cole’s just too cool to go along with everyone else!
I feel kind of bad for being snarky, but it just makes me so ANGRY. I think this was my problem with the Wolves of Mercy Falls series as well. The trilogy started well enough, but things went downhill in the last book Forever when the characters suddenly developed these horribly bratty and angsty attitudes. To a certain extent you have to expect a fair dose of youthful naiveté in YA, but this whole “OMG I hate everyone and everything!” and “Adults are stupid morons and I totally know better than all of them!” kind of thinking gets a bit old, especially in Sinner when we’ve supposedly left high school far behind. Frankly, Cole’s behavior towards his parents made me sick, especially considering how by all accounts they are perfectly good, sensible people. The worst thing Cole can think of to happen to him is if he became his dad, because apparently, Cole thinks being a responsible contributor to society is boring. Go figure.
As a novel, it saddens me to say this, especially since according to her foreword it sounds like a pretty important book for the author, but Sinner felt kind of pointless. For me, it was also 300-ish pages of teeth-grinding aggravation, thanks to the big, cuddly ball of phony that was Cole. Read this if you’re fan of the Mercy Falls books because you’ll probably want to see what happened to two of the more important side characters from the trilogy. That’s what I told myself I wanted to do, and I don’t regret reading this because at least I got to follow up with Isabel, but unfortunately not even her chapters could make up for her co-star....more
When I finished Storm Siren, I was speechless. If I am correct about what the ending implies, I just could not believe the story had the audacity and boldness to say, “Oh YES indeedy, I am going to go there!” And honestly, it’s refreshing whenever a Young Adult novel surprises me. I like unpredictability especially when it comes to my YA, and weird as this may sound, I admit I do get a little thrill in my heart whenever I get completely blindsided.
It was, however, a journey to get to that point. One of the reasons why I think Storm Siren will be a very successful book is because it mixes the familiar with the new. Yes, we have some unexpected plot twists and bombshells, an incredible world with a rich magic system, and a heroine with a unique superpower. But balanced with this is also a novel that feels distinctly like it belongs in this genre, with archetypal characters and the usual tropes of YA. Despite this, I believe YA readers will feel comfortable with it and love it for what it is.
The book opens with our protagonist, a seventeen-year-old Elemental girl named Nym, facing her fifteenth sell as a slave. An unfortunate incident triggers her storm-summoning powers while she is on the auction block, resulting in chaos and panic. After passing out, Nym wakes up inexplicably in a luxurious bedroom in a mansion, and is informed that she has been purchased by Adora, the rich and influential noblewoman and court advisor to the king of Faelen.
Throughout this entire novel, we are told that Nym is special. This is practically thrust into our faces the entire time, from the fact that she shouldn’t even exist, since Elementals are all supposed to be only born male, to her role as the only person who can save Faelen in the war against the neighboring kingdom of Bron. But Nym isn’t the perfect savior either. She’s reluctant to use her powers even in defense of her friends due to her inability to control the storm. She has also already caused no small number of deaths in her life, albeit accidentally, and hates the idea of killing more people even if they are the enemy.
Storm Siren features a great story, encompassing a lot of political intrigue and epic battles. The story itself is definitely a winner. But that isn’t to say it couldn’t have been stronger, and perhaps it is a credit to the book and author that my only issue was that I always felt like wanting more.
I mentioned the world and the magic earlier in this review, for example. When Nym is sent to train with a tutor to hone her Elemental abilities, her classmate as it were is a boy named Colin who is a Terrene, someone from his land who can manipulate the earth and stone. Terrenes are also always born as twins, with one twin having abilities and the other not. Apparently, there are even more “brands” of magic users in this world, each with their own specific types of powers and presumably interesting facts about their backgrounds. I mean, this stuff is great! It’s world-building gold. Unfortunately, we just don’t get to learn much about them at all. This is possibly due to limitations like book length or the fact the author couldn’t work those details into the plot, but I sometimes also felt like she may have been trying to put too much into her story.
I also think more emphasis could have been placed on supporting characters. We only have a total of about five characters we really get to know, and I found Breck and Eogan interesting but a few others were quite superficial, like Adora the classic cold villain or Colin with the heart of gold and a personality of a golden retriever puppy. I thought some of the other characters of the court, like the king and a couple of visiting nobles and a princess could have been developed more as well, since relatively they weren’t given much attention but they all had pivotal roles to play by the end of the novel. It would have given the politics and the brewing war between the different kingdoms that extra oomph, and perhaps made things less confusing.
Like I said, I wanted more – but I’m also the kind of person who constantly asks questions when I’m reading, especially when it comes to a book’s world and lore. Did I need all this information to enjoy the story? No, the story itself is solid, even though I felt more world building could have enhanced it. Just when I thought for sure I had everything nailed down, just when I figured it was all going to end the same neat and tidy way that all YA books do, the last few chapters with the final showdown threw me for a loop. I learned that Mary Weber is someone who is not afraid to do things with her characters, even if it means shock and heartbreak to the reader. And I just have to admire and raise my glass to that.
The issues I mentioned notwithstanding, I did have a good time with this book. It started out like the YA novel it’s meant to be – feels like YA, reads like YA – but then went and gave me a surprise at the end. So ultimately I got exactly what I expected, plus a bit more as a bonus! 3.5 to 4 stars from me....more
Horror in Young Adult fiction is tricky territory, so whenever I see a novel getting some buzz, I can’t help but take notice. Shutter ended up surprising me. While it probably wasn’t the book I was expecting, there’s absolutely no denying that Courtney Alameda has delivered a high-octane read that’s at once superbly written and full of interesting new ideas. This is the first YA novel in months to stand out for me. That’s not to say there weren’t a few areas that I thought could have used improvement, but I’m impressed especially given how this is the author’s debut.
Shutter introduces us to Micheline Helsing – yes, she is indeed a descendent of that Helsing – a tetrachromat girl whose ability allows her to identify different types of undead by the color of their auras they give off. Her family along with other such illustrious lineages like the Stokers and Drakes have always sworn to hunt and destroy monsters, and in time their organization has grown to occupy an entire island off the coast of San Francisco, complete with itsown medical and research buildings, training yards, and other such facilities. This means that besides her powers, Micheline and her pals are also armed with state-of-the-art monster hunting tech and equipment, all the better to do their jobs. Mundane firearms are usually enough to bring down the corporeal baddies, but dealing with the spiritual undead sometimes requires a bit more finesse.
As such, Micheline never goes anywhere without her camera, her weapon of choice when it comes to fighting ghosts. By capturing their “ghostlight” on film, she can steal their energy bit by bit until they are gone for good. Until now, her trusty SLR has never failed her. But then a run-in with a particularly nasty entity leaves her and her team cursed and marked by soulchains, and Micheline has seven days to figure out how to exorcise the entity or else they will all die. With her relationship with her father already on the rocks since the deaths of her mother and brothers, Micheline is forced to go on the run in order to save herself and her friends.
One of the favorite aspects about this book is how seamlessly Alameda has managed to incorporate the Reapers into the modern world. With the Helsings being in the open and publicly known as the go-to guys for all your ghost and monster problems, we avoid the kinds of pesky problems that arise when authors try to construct a believable scenario around a secret society. But while I am sold on the Reapers and their place in the world, I also thought the book stumbled on providing some of the finer details. Take the mechanics behind the use of mirrors and camera lenses to exorcise ghosts, for example. It scores major points with me for being a new and innovative idea, but at the same time the explanation behind the process is rather touch-and-go. To be fair, I do tend to feel this way about a lot of concepts in YA novels, and I can be excessively critical when it comes to world-building elements. I wish the camera-as-a-weapon idea had been more robust and better developed (no pun intended), especially since it so central to the book, but I was also fine for the most part just going along with it.
However, when it comes to the writing, I have nothing but good things to say. It’s hard to believe this is Courtney Alameda’s first novel. Her writing style is wonderful and easy on the eyes, and she keeps such a fine consistency on her character’s voice as well as pacing behind her storytelling, it honestly led me to believe she’s been doing this for ages. Another observation is that despite its categorization, I wouldn’t exactly describe Shutter as horror. Generous amounts of blood, gore and guts aside, there’s simply none of that atmosphere behind it, though I don’t doubt Alameda could have managed it if she wanted to. There are definitely traces of Horror elements in the plot, but quite simply, I got the feeling she was more interested in telling an action-thriller, and she certainly succeeded in that. Sure, there are parts that are predictable (mainly who the big bad entity was, as well as the identity of the mastermind pulling the strings behind the scenes), but I could not spot any lulls or breaks that hindered the flow of the story.
There are things I wish could have been different – Micheline’s character, for example, is the typical YA heroine ruled by emotional impulses, who leaps into dangerous situations without thinking about the consequences and insists on taking matters into her own hands even though she makes a bigger mess of things in the end. Not long ago, I also read an insightful guest post by another author about friendships between strong female characters, and ever since then I have become more aware of how many YA female protagonists are kickass, smart-talking girls who are inevitably surrounded by only male companions, with other girls in the story only serving as rivals or someone getting in the way and/or someone for the heroine to protect. I really think this trend has to change. To its credit, at least this book had a romantic side plot that was not convoluted or poisoned by a love triangle or any such nonsense, and the relationships between the characters, particularly the one between Micheline and her father, reached me on a deeper level.
The strengths, most notably the strong writing and the fast-paced, action-oriented plot, overcame all the minor weaknesses and made reading this novel worth it, though. Sure to appeal to fans of supernatural/horror themed TV shows and books, you won’t regret picking this one up....more
Few subsequent installments in a Young Adult series have lived up to the bar set by their first books, so color me impressed by the way Heir of Fire has managed to do this while at the same time helping me get over the bad taste that Crown of Midnight left in my mouth.
This is going to be a difficult review to write without stomping all over spoiler territory for the previous books, but I’ll do my best not to divulge anything beyond what’s already in the book’s description. So much has happened in the series since the beginning. We last left Celaena on a ship bound for Wendlyn, sent there by her former lover and captain of the King’s Guard Chaol Westfall. Significant events as of late have also marked Wendlyn as her destination for answers to her past, and a way to thwart the King of Adarlan’s nefarious plans.
Not only has Heir of Fire sparked my enthusiasm to follow Celaena on her adventures again, it’s also now my favorite book of this series. I noted as well that this third book was remarkably light on relationship drama and all that bullshit. Coincidence? Probably not. The incessant shoving of an unimaginative, hackneyed romantic side-plot down my throat in Crown of Midnight was what almost made me lose my patience with that last book. It’s a welcome change to be somewhat free of that stuff this time around, and I’m glad Heir of Fire switched gears to focus on more action and rigorous story-development.
Of course, there were a few close calls with Rowan Whitethorn, introduced here as the warrior tasked by the Fae-Queen Maeve to train and guide Celaena to control her magic, but Celaena thankfully manages to remember that the remains of her poor and battered broken heart still technically belongs to someone else. I honestly thought Rowan would be yet another blip in the long line of male-mentors-to-YA-female-protagonists, but rescued from being labeled as yet another possible love interest (boring!), he actually ends up becoming a formidable mentor, ally, and friend to Celaena (much more interesting!) Getting to that point was also quite the journey, their interactions punctuated by ups and downs, but then some of the strongest and most loyal partnerships are forged in this manner.
Back in Adarlan we also have a couple storylines threaded with mystery and intrigue, as Chaol does some sleuthing and uncovers several important revelations about Aedion, the newly arrived general at the royal court. Meanwhile, Prince Dorian struggles with his own secret, one that could cost him his life if his father the king ever found out about it. He strikes up a friendship and later a romance with a palace healer who tries to help him. It would cheapen the experience to give way any more detail than that, but suffice to say, both Chaol and Dorian’s storylines ended up converging in a shocking, gut wrenching climax that seriously knocked me for a loop. Looks like things in this series has started moving away from the predictable throwaway elements, and is instead focusing on working in bolder and weightier developments that might actually cause major ripples further down the road.
It also wouldn’t be right to talk about this book without mentioning the Manon Blackbeak, another character who makes her first appearance in Heir of Fire. The King of Adarlan’s latest plans for domination involve Manon and her people, the wyvern-riding witches. Vicious, bloodthirsty and completely determined to prove herself as the most capable Wing Leader, Manon became an instant favorite, despite her role thus far as an accessory to a tyrant. I loved the side story in here of how she ended up with her wyvern – kind of like How to Train Your Dragon, except considerably less heartwarming and with 500% more brutality. But the bond between rider and mount is well-written and convincing, and the circumstances behind how Manon actually ended up with her wyvern made for an amazing sequence, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the book.
This one’s much longer book than its two predecessors, but almost everything in the story was important, with hardly any dithering around. It’s a step up from both Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, dealing with heavier and more developed themes. We also go deeper into each character, with the new players like Rowan, Aedion and Manon getting the introductions they deserve, and even familiar characters like Celaena, Chaol and Dorian getting much love and attention from the author when it comes to building up their stories and personalities. So whaddya know, looks like a series can indeed mature with time and subsequent novels, and Heir of Fire is exemplary....more
You gotta hand it to Joe Abercrombie. Knocking it out of the park on his first venture into Young Adult territory could be seen as a fluke, but when he nails it again for a second time, it’s clearly a testament to his writing skills and versatility. This author is a master when it comes to storytelling, whether he’s writing for teens or adults.
Half the World is the follow-up-but-not-really-a-direct-sequel to Half a King, which introduced readers to the land of Gettland and a young prince with a crippled hand named Yarvi. A man grown now, Prince Yarvi has become Father Yarvi, a trusted minister to Gettland’s king, and is no longer the main focus; instead, that torch and its responsibilities have been passed on to sixteen-year-old Thorn Bathu, a girl with a fierce heart and a fighter’s spirit.
Determined to one day avenge her father, Thorn has been training for years to become a warrior of Gettland, only to fail on the day of her testing and be condemned to death for the accidental killing of a fellow student. When a young warrior named Brand speaks up on her behalf, Thorn is spared from execution only to be swept up along with Brand into an ambitious political plot devised by the cunning Father Yarvi, which sees the three of them and a ragtag crew embarking on an exciting but dangerous diplomatic mission across half the world.
For a society that worships a goddess referred to as Mother War, you would think they’d be more open and accepting of female warriors, but apparently not. It’s an uphill battle all the way for Thorn Bathu to prove herself to her teacher, her peers and even to her own mother, whom Thorn suspects had always wished for a daughter more into sewing and pretty dresses. But Thorn is who she is, and I can’t say I would have preferred it any other way. Not that kickass heroines are in short supply when it comes to the YA genre, but take any of the female protagonists in any of the more popular books in the genre these days, and I guarantee you Thorn will make every single one of them look like fluffy kittens. When I say Thorn is a tough girl, you definitely get a tough girl. That’s mainly because Abercrombie simply does not hold back when it comes to his characters; if he feels that a fight scene calls for his protagonist getting a knife through the cheek…well, she’s getting a knife through the cheek (“Ouch, sorry about that, Thorn, but it builds character!)
Not that Abercrombie is infallible. One thing to note is that there was not a full-blown romantic subplot in Half a King like there is in Half the World, and when it comes to writing a YA romance and a teenage girl’s perspective, he manages admirably though not without unintentional awkwardness. Scenes where Thorn is kicking ass and taking names seem to come naturally, but where her softer feelings for Brand are concerned (playing mental games of he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not, feeling jealous of other girls, appreciating the virtues of his well-toned backside, etc.) that’s when you sense that Abercrombie may be feeling a bit out of his comfort zone. It’s not too distracting; the moments where Thorn almost acts like a completely different person are more amusing than they are truly problematic. However, this does make Brand the more consistent character, and I sometimes found myself enjoying and looking forward to his chapters more than Thorn’s.
Story-wise, I also found the twists and turns in Half the World to be somewhat tamer and more predictable than in Half a King, though this might have something to do with the fact that we now know the character of Father Yarvi well enough to “expect the unexpected”. Nevertheless, I sailed through this novel loving every page of it, but the highlight was without a doubt the last few chapters that led up to and culminated in the stunning climax. For you see, fight scenes are a bit of a Joe Abercrombie specialty. Once the action starts, it’s impossible to tear your eyes away. The final showdown was one such sequence, with the suspense keeping you on the edge of seat until the moment of reckoning. As climaxes go, that was close to perfection. Before the ending, I was already pretty set on rating Half the World a solid 4 stars, but that one amazing scene alone made me bump it up to 4.5.
One thing is clear, though – the scene is now set for the next and final book of the trilogy. Seeing as how things have progressed so far, Half a War promises to be even more intense and exciting. I can’t wait. ...more
A little bit like Lord of the Flies meets The Breakfast Club meets The Mist, Monument 14 is about a group of children holed up in a superstore after a freak hailstorm causes a chemical leak from the nearby weapons manufacturing site, leading to contamination of the whole town.
On the surface, this book seemed like it had a lot of potential. Books featuring kids in stressful, survival situations always seem more chilling and disturbing to me than books starring their adult counterparts. Children, after all, are the picture of ultimate innocence; in an ideal world we wish to protect them from all the troubles and anxieties of adulthood. Even most adults would be ill-prepared to handle a sudden disaster, so I can’t even imagine how much worse the burden of responsibility would be to a teenager. Without strong guidance and a lack of organization, it’s not surprising how quickly a group situation can devolve.
The kids in this book range from ages 5 to 17, all stranded passengers from a couple of school buses that were wrecked by the severe storm. Naturally, a hierarchy of leadership develops, with the older teens taking care of the young’uns. The dynamics are made more interesting by the differences not only in the characters’ ages, but also in their personalities, backgrounds and upbringing. Unfortunately, this does mean that almost everyone is pigeonholed into rather predictable and clichéd stereotypes. Main protagonist and narrator Dean is the “booker”, a quiet and somewhat awkward late-bloomer who has long harbored a secret love for Astrid, the popular and perfect hot girl. Astrid however is the girlfriend of Jake, the football jock. Among the high-schoolers, there’s also the bully/bad boy Brayden, the solemn and live-by-the-book Boy Scout Niko, who happens to have a thing for the kind and motherly Josie. The roles are cast, and the stage is set for some serious teenage drama.
The younger kids actually proved more intriguing and to have more well-rounded personalities. A couple of them genuinely surprised me, displaying a level of maturity and problem solving skills that even surpassed some of the teenagers’. In fact, I think one of the book’s main weaknesses is its gradual divergence from the “we’re all in this together” theme towards a greater emphasis on the relationships and soap-opera aspects of the older kids. The story was a lot more engaging at the beginning when the whole group dealt with the challenges of surviving together, addressing issues like mob mentality, who should be in charge, and how to explain the situation to the elementary children who are frightened and don’t understand why they can’t go home. Once the focus shifted to become more about “who’s crushing on whom”, the book became more typical and less special in my eyes.
While I loved the premise, another strike against this book is the whole reason why Dean and the other kids are trapped in the superstore. The explanation given – that the chemical leak is a gas causing different reactions based on the exposed victim’s blood type – is a bit weak and unconvincing. Victims with O-type blood will become mindless violent savages, while another type would break out in boils and blisters, while yet another type would experience no outward signs but may suffer infertility and reproductive difficulties, etc. Leaving aside how such an absurd model of symptoms made me want to bash my head against the wall, the theory of the chemical disaster did not feel that well thought out. It felt like the author needed a reason to put the kids in this particular jam, and seized upon the first idea to come to mind without fleshing it out, giving it more logic or detail. Perhaps that’s why the book also threw in the extreme weather and a massive disaster on the east coast, just to make the situation bigger and severe than it is.
As expected, Monument 14 also left off on a cliffhanger (these days, I’d be shocked if a YA novel didn’t). Still, it’s a strong start, with a great idea to work with, and just a tad wobbly on the execution. I haven’t decided if I want to continue with the series yet. Looks like it’ll be another short, quick read, so if the opportunity arises, I may take it. ...more
When I think about Young Adult books from Pyr, words that spring immediately to mind are “distinct”, “unconventional” and “unique”. I guess that’s why I’ve been counting on this book to lift me out of my YA slump. I’ve been feeling rather burned out by the love triangles, broody heroes, and paranormal/fantasy settings in this category lately, and Earth Girl looked like the perfect cure to this particular malaise.
My instincts proved correct.
The story of Earth Girl takes place in the far-flung future, narrated by eighteen-year-old Jarra. There are many names for people like her. Handicapped. Throwback. Nean. Ape. All of them mean one thing: that she is among the one in a thousand born with an immune disorder that confines her to earth. Humans have developed portal technology at this point, using it to colonize a multitude of worlds, but Jarra can’t visit any of them. If she traveled anywhere she would go into anaphylactic shock in seconds, and die if not returned immediately to earth’s atmosphere.
But even in the year 2788, humanity has its bigoted attitudes. So when the time comes to enroll in university, Jarra chooses her preferred subject History, but decides to invent a fake military background for herself to apply at a school on another planet whose class of norms who would be on earth for the first year of practical studies. Jarra is sick and tired of being looked down on for being handicapped, and she’s determined to show a bunch of stupid Exos just what an ape girl is capable of.
There is therefore nothing subtle about the social message in Earth Girl. This is a book infused with emotion and meaning. But even beyond this, there is so much more to love. While the plot may be a bit predictable at times, very little else about this novel falls prey to clichés, especially when it comes to the characters. You meet Lecturer Playdon, for example, and might immediately label him a hardball professor, bent on giving our protagonist a hard time – because adults obviously are in YA novels just to get in the way! Or take Dalmora Rostha, daughter of a rich, famous vid director. She’s totally going to be the snooty, spoiled and annoyingly fake arch nemesis in this story, am I right? Now the lascivious pair of Betas though, surely they are there just to provide comic relief, cause trouble and flunk out?
Nope, nope, and nope, wrong on all counts. This book will surprise you at every turn, and I can’t tell you how refreshing that is.
I also confess, I have another reason for loving this book. For you see, in the context of Earth Girl, Jarra’s “practical prehistory studies” is just another word for Archaeology. And I love Archaeology. While studying it and going on digs in college, I’d always entertained thoughts of future archaeologists excavating our modern cities and wondered what they would make of our civilization from the things they find. It’s like the author was reading my mind! When Jarra and her class dig up the ruins of New York, the methods and technology they use may be very different, but still the systematic methods are there and so is the culture and spirit of a dig site. World building is fantastic in terms of creating a great atmosphere.
My only quibbles are minor. The dialogue can be stunted at times, making Jarra and her friends sound and act like they are much younger than their eighteen years. Fian, the romantic interest, is probably the worst offender. Jarra also seems to be an expert at everything. A character even makes a joke about this at one point in the novel. As well, there is a tendency to tell instead of show and moments of overt info-dumping, but as many of these instances are worked into a classroom setting, they were easily forgivable. Other than that, as you can see from my rating, this book was close to perfect.
Thank you, Janet Edwards, for breathing some new life into YA for me. Earth Girl was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to the next book. ...more
Jarra has carried out a successful rescue mission, saved lives at the risk of losing her own, and received the Earth Star and the highest honor of the Artemis medal. But still our protagonist finds herself defined by her disability.
I’d been eagerly waiting to read this book ever since I read Earth Girl. Earth Star is the sequel, picking up right where the first book left off. Things have pretty much returned to normal after the events of the unprecedented solar storm that put the New York dig site and Jarra in the spotlight. The whole world knows she’s Handicapped now, that she is among one in a thousand born with an immune system disorder that confines her to earth. But while most of her classmates have come to terms with learning her secret, not everyone has been so accepting of Jarra.
I continue to enjoy this series for its ability to engage as well as its departures from the usual YA conventions. Unsurprisingly, these books probably won’t be for everyone, though I do wish more people knew about them. Not only is there an important message, I also love the universe Janet Edwards has created, and here she expands the idea further by throwing humanity a curveball – the possibility of aliens on Earth’s doorstep. When the military discovers a strange sphere in orbit, the planet goes into high alert and Jarra is drafted to help.
You would think that the arrival of an extraterrestrial presence might bring humankind together, but that isn’t the case. The book continues the theme of showing how deep-rooted bigotry and intolerance can be, even though Jarra has proven herself to be as capable as any Norm time and time again. The prejudice against the Handicapped has been ingrained in this society for generations, and Earth has become a second-class planet, with those who have the immune disorder somehow seen as less than human.
But there is hope yet. There are plenty of those who don’t share those close-minded views. Jarra and her boyfriend Fian have gotten much closer since the first book; the two have pledged their commitment to each other and Fian continues to be Jarra’s strongest and most loyal supporter. But like I said, we aren’t going to be treated to the same old tropes here, so Jarra and Fian’s relationship also has a completely different dynamic than your typical YA novel. I wouldn’t recommend going into these books expecting a strong romance plot. It’s just not that kind of book, and I’m cool with that. Still, that doesn’t mean that it is completely devoid of romantic tension. A private person by nature, Jarra still struggles with opening up to Fian, and Fian comes across as almost insecure in his desperation to get through to her. His role feels slightly diminished here, but then I suppose the force of Jarra’s personality has a way of overshadowing those around her.
For make no mistake, these books are all about Jarra’s journey, her own exceptional fight against adversity, from without and within. But I also like the fact she is not painted as the invincible hero. Reviewers including myself have noted in the first book that her character seems to be an expert at everything and know all the answers. In spite of that, I see now that she has her fears and doubts. The message is clear: as a Handicapped, Jarra is nevertheless able to do everything that a Norm can do, but it works both ways. She’s also just as liable to fall victim to her own anxieties and lose confidence in herself, just like everyone else. After all, she’s only human. Like all of us. ...more
I’m a mythology buff, so naturally I became drawn to Kendare Blake’s Goddess War series. The first book introduced us to the concept that the Old Gods of Greek Mythology have always existed, and that well-known deities such as Athena and Hermes have lived among us since time immemorial. But all of a sudden, the gods are losing their immortality, dying slowly in the most bizarre and most horrific ways. All eyes turn to Kincade, New York, home of Cassandra of Troy…or the reincarnated version of her, anyway. As the gods take sides and prepare for war, the psychic teen may hold the key to everything.
After reading the first book, I could say I enjoyed it unequivocally. This second book, however, left me with mixed feelings.
Issue 1: Pacing. It falls on the slower side, especially at the beginning. Looking back, the biggest criticism I had with Antigoddess was that it ended with absolutely nothing resolved, closing with a cliffhanger of sorts. Happily, Mortal Gods picks up right where it left off, but then spends an excessive amount of time just trying to build back up to the level of suspense and excitement that we experienced right at the end of book one.
Issue 2: A book like Mortal Gods that has parts taking place in far flung and exotic locations across the globe should feel vast, epic, HUGE. At times, I sense this vibe struggling to come through in the narrative, but it never quite manages it. I love Kendare Blake’s writing style and she generally does a great job with her world-building, but for some reason the scenes that took place in the jungles of Malaysia or the outback of Australia felt rushed and glossed over.
On the other hand, she seems to do a much better job with fantasy settings. I adored the scenes that took place in Hades’ Underworld or at Mount Olympus, they were amazing.
Issue 3: The character of Cassandra. What happened? Granted, her life has been turned upside down and she’s experienced a lot of terrible things, including the loss of someone she loved deeply. All these events have shaped her, and while she’s a much deeper and well-rounded character now, she has also transformed into a downright bratty kid. Her anger and impulsiveness makes her say and do dumb things, and that makes it really hard to sympathize with her.
The final thing I want to talk about isn’t really an issue, but might be something to consider if you’re thinking of picking up this series. This is a Young Adult novel and it really shows. Most of the main characters are teens, including the incarnations of the Greek Gods, and there’s practically no adult presence. For some readers, this is of little to no importance. For me, it does take away some of the realism and immersion. If you can buy (or don’t care) that a teen can go jetsetting across the world, miss school and disappear for days on end without her parents even getting a tiny bit suspicious – or alternatively, they’re actually okay with it – then you shouldn’t have a problem at all.
I don’t want this review to sound too harsh though, because I did have a good time with Mortal Gods. My favorite part of it is still the unique and interesting take on the Greek Gods, and I really enjoyed how certain snippets of the story would play out like a very loose version of the Iliad, particularly when it involved the relationships between characters.
Bottom line: a pretty good book and sequel, though I still liked the first book better. I’m looking forward to the next one....more
Antigoddess is the second book I have read by Kendare Blake, after the fun times I had with Anna Dressed in Blood earlier this year. And as much as I appreciate a good ghost story, I have to say Antigoddess was more up my alley.
Funny story, though: When I first added this book to my reading list, I only saw the cover and thought it was going to be a story about angels. Damn feather threw me off. It wasn’t until I read the description that I realized I was wrong, but that it was actually about something even better! Not angels, but gods. Greek gods. The mythology buff in me was tickled pink. And that feather on the cover which originally misled me turned out to be a symbol for something much more sinister…
At the heart of this novel and series is an ancient conflict stemming from the events of the Trojan War. So before reading this, it might be a good idea to brush up on your Greek Mythology 101. Or rent Troy. It’s all good! In any case, you don’t have to be an expert on all the details to enjoy this, as Blake uses her prerogative to do some very cool and unique things to the legend and the characters involved. For one, the gods themselves are dying – and in the most bizarre ways. We learn of their plight through mainly Athena and Hermes’ perspectives, the former experiencing impending death by way of random feathers sprouting in her body like a cancer. This is making all the gods a little desperate, and some are driven to insanity.
Even from the very start, we’re presented a mystery. What do the gods have to do with a teenage girl named Cassandra from Kincade, New York? Granted, she appears to have some freaky psychic powers, but the character perspectives going back and forth between Athena and Cassandra cannot be any more different. The latter’s chapters show life in your typical small town high school, while Athena and Hermes’ chapters (at least in the beginning) have an almost abstract, dream-like quality to them which I really enjoyed. While the characters’ connections are revealed early on, the plot doesn’t explode until gods and mortals meet. And then the revelations are even more mind-blowing and unexpected.
The book’s greatest strength is its characters. I suppose if you’re a god you can choose to be whoever you want to be. I liked how Blake gave her gods all different and interesting identities – from Athena’s stern demeanor to Apollo’s loyalty or Hermes’ fun-loving personality and fondness for pop culture.
Most obvious weakness? This had the feel of “first book of a series” all over it. In other words, it read like one big long introduction. Voracious readers of YA fiction will probably know exactly what I’m talking about, and probably won’t find this all that surprising. It’s not hard to guess whether a book will have a satisfying ending or leave things wide open for the sequel; once it became clear that there was no way any of the conflicts would be settled by the end the novel, I admit my interest waned a little as that “let’s just bring on book two” attitude settled in.
That said, I am on board for book two. It’ll probably be one of my higher-priority sequels too, because let’s face it – how often does a book with a good Greek mythology angle come along?...more
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 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