The False Prince is *THAT* book! I stayed up way too late in order to finish it...and I'm seriously considering throwing all notion of a sleep schedulThe False Prince is *THAT* book! I stayed up way too late in order to finish it...and I'm seriously considering throwing all notion of a sleep schedule out the window and rereading the whole book right now.
I call dibs on Sage (seriously ladies—don't underestimate me 'cause I'm small. I'll fight dirty.)
I knew this was going to be a Special Shelf book as soon as I "heard" Sage's voice narrating. Really, the story could have been downright awful (it isn't) and I still would have Special Shelved The False Prince on the strength of his voice alone.
Sage embodies the personality of my number one most coveted male character type ever (yes, even over alpha men). The swoon is near uncontrollable. Luckily I was saved from being a total creeper lusting after a fifteen year old, because Sage's voice makes it very easy to imagine him as a completely adult 20 something.
Sage is one of those characters who has Sherlock Holmes Superpowers of Observation and Fantasticness. Which is to say, he's always about ten steps ahead of everyone, can deduce master plans from a discarded gum wrapper, and pulls it all off with the type of suave demeanor that never fails to make my knees wobble.
Plus, he's an underdog with attitude and I have a massive weakness for hot underdogs with swaggering attitude. Sage never seems to be able to resist needling those who lord over him, even if it means he'll get a bruise for his quip. He also lies like a pro, so that combined with his stealth and sneakiness make him the type of character that makes a great thief or conman.
Basically, think Han Solo plus Sherlock Holmes' brains plus extra hotness and a smidgen of vulnerability and you've pretty much got Sage.
Slow burn pacing
As much as I love fast-paced books, my favorite kinds of books actually have a slow-burn pace (NOT to be confused with a sloooow pace, which is chock full of a lot of boring filler). In a slow-burn pace, plot details come together like a puzzle, with intrigue building steadily and keeping me on my toes throughout the whole book. Like a slow-burn romance, slow-burn pacing strings me along with delicious little morsels and makes me beg for more and more.
The majority of The False Prince takes place in Conner's castle (the noble with The Plan) as he trains the boys and maliciously toys with their emotions (because, you see, only the guy that's picked to impersonate the prince gets to live).
Backstabbing (literally!) and shaky alliances abound amid secrets, lies, and a truth you may or may not see coming but is so astoundingly great that surprise level doesn't even matter (I did guess the broad strokes early on, but the details were a surprise that darn near broke my heart).
This is the first book in a series and it's very clear by the end of the book that there's a lot more to come in this story. Thankfully there isn't a dangling-by-your-fingertips cliffhanger, but it is very much like the end of The Fellowship of the Ring (the movie) where the first part of the quest is finished, the whole fellowship is broken, Frodo is poised to just walk into Mordor, and Aragorn is as hot as ever.
So, yeah, I'm satisfied with everything I got and I can wait without suffering a heart attack because I know Sage is ok, but BIG STUFF is coming and I cannot wait to be a part of it!
I can't NOT mention the romance
The plot isn't the only thing set on slow burn. Yes, that's right! Slow-burn romance! But really, it's very slow burn because not much happens in this first book outside of lots of scenes with delicious tension. There's even a touch of, well, it's not quite hate-turned-love, but there's a little combativeness there and she isn't exactly falling all over herself to be with him (and, no, she isn't insane or blind, if you can believe it!).
Really though, I'm not complaining at all. I'm firmly on the side that thinks it's much better to have the romance come together later on in the series.
I really...I can't...I just, I'm so unbelievably in love with The False Prince I don't even have the words to describe it. I'm so busy right now with packing and trying to get everything together to move in a few weeks, but I was very irresponsible because I pushed everything aside (including sleep AND food) just so I could devour this book.
And then I went through serious mourning when I finished because of course there aren't any other books in the series yet and all of my other Special Shelf books are packed away. So I went back and reread all of my favorite scenes in The False Prince. And then all the other scenes. And then I read my favorite scenes again. And then I tried to read other books on my TBR but they're just not The False Prince and I think I'm going to cry I'm so desperate for more.
Or, to put it in food terms, if I were given the choice between reading this book or attending an unlimited pastry banquet filled with every delectable treat imaginable, I would choose The False Prince—HANDS DOWN.
Why? Because I didn't really like Breadcrumbs. To say my expectations were high is an understatement. I love fairy tale retellings, the cover is beautiful, and a friend even mailed me her copy to read (after she loved it). People are even talking Newbery!
I have a lot to hide from.
I am the wrong reader for this book
Yes, Breadcrumbs is a fairy tale retelling, but it is also a contemporary and deals with issues of depression, friends growing apart, divorce, adoption, and not fitting in. Hazel is so incredibly lost and her sadness is a tangible thing. I didn't expect any of this going in, so I was very shocked when half of the book focused solely on these topics.
Breadcrumbs is broken into two mostly equal-length parts. Part one is almost completely contemporary and only contains one tiny bit of fantasy (which is more metaphorical than fantastical). This section follows Hazel as she struggles with all of those issues I mentioned.
I was totally bored with this part. I'm not really a contemporary reader, and I'm really not a contemporary issues reader. Between Jack's mother's depression, Hazel's absent (through recent divorce and remarriage) father, Jack's falling out with Hazel, and Hazel's difficulties in school, I felt completely bogged down with sadness. And boredom. I just don't like reading about these sorts of things.
I couldn't relate
Breadcrumbs uses the third-person omniscient narration style, with a sometimes focus on Hazel's perspective. I had a really hard time getting into the book because of this narration style and the randomness of its application.
Sometimes it felt like an adult voice, sort of like a "Once upon a time" type of narrator. Other times it felt like the voice of Hazel, which seemed to me like a very young MG or even elementary school voice. I never felt like I could settle into the story due to these changes in narration voice.
Usually I'm ok with MG book, even when they're written on the younger end, but Hazel felt a little too young for my tastes. I also had difficulty connecting with her personality so I never felt invested in her or her story. That isn't to say there is something wrong with the way Hazel is written. We're just very different people.
Hazel is an extremely imaginative girl and I'm...not. At least, not like Hazel. She's so focused on her imaginings that her dreamy tendencies are causing her trouble in school. This is another point I could not relate to at all because I was the most anal rule-following elementary school kid imaginable.
Part 2, or when the fairy tale finally started
I was a lot more engaged with part 2 due to the fantasy aspects. Hazel's wandering through the woods in search of Jack felt almost like Alice's experiences in Wonderland (which I never liked, and didn't love it in this version either).
Hazel encounters many different fairy tale characters, but they're not the ones you might expect. Anne Ursu incorporated a bunch of the more obscure Grimms' tales, but these tended to be the darker stories (think chopped off limbs, torture, and death).
I liked this for its freshness, but I was kind of bummed that part 2 carried over the sad, oppressive feelings that part 1 focused on.
What kind of reader IS a good match?
I couldn't help but wonder who I would give this book to in my library. Hazel's voice is so young, but the fairy tales would probably disturb my younger library kids who might otherwise relate to her (I can't speak for your kids or library kids). There isn't much resolution of Hazel's real life troubles, and there are no happy endings with the fairy tale aspects.
If it weren't for the lack of resolution (and for some kids, the darker elements) I would have recommended Breadcrumbs in a heartbeat. Any kid going through similar problems to the ones Hazel experiences in part 1 would probably find Breadcrumbs extremely easy to relate to. They would also probably find it comforting to see their situations so sensitively mirrored.
The lack of resolution gives me pause though. The Snow Queen story arc is resolved, but in real life kids who experience a break with a childhood friend aren't going to find their solution so easily. While they may related to Hazel's difficulties in school or her situation with her parents' divorce, Breadcrumbs offers very little in terms of a happy ending or way of coping (in fact, pretty much all of those plot points are left as loose ends).
So who WILL like Breadcrumbs? Adults, I think. Anne Ursu does a beautiful job using imagery and fantasy elements as a metaphor for Hazel's issues. There is much to discuss from a literary standpoint and the characters as emotional vignettes are palpably drawn.
I don't feel like the book came together in a cohesive manner (too many different directions, loose ends, inconsistencies in voice) but each individual part was well-written. The very thing I didn't like--the oppressive sadness--is in itself a testament to Anne Ursu's ability to powerfully convey the emotional state of her characters.
Not for me. I wasn't feeling Hazel or the story (or really much of anything beyond this is so depressing) and I didn't like how so much time was spent in the contemporary world (only to abandon pretty much all of those threads in part 2).
There were a few bright spots that caught my attention (Hazel's friend's uncle, the presentation of some of the fairy tales--though NOT The Snow Queen), but I disliked Breadcrumbs more than I liked it.
I'd take my review with a grain of salt though because what this all boils down to is Breadcrumbs and I were just a case of "Wrong book, wrong reader." For a review from a reader who loved Breadcrumbs, head on over to Buried in Books.
I was suckered into this book, despite the negative reviews, because the description sounded interesting and the cover caught my eye. Ugh, I should haI was suckered into this book, despite the negative reviews, because the description sounded interesting and the cover caught my eye. Ugh, I should have listened to the reviews. Or, I wish the reviews had been more detailed as to why people didn’t like the book. I’m going to try to be detailed.
First things first, don’t believe that description. It’s sort of accurate, kinda, but it gave me the complete wrong impression. I was expecting to start out with her mother dead and then follow her as she learned magic from a sexy bad boy warlock. They’d have a falling out of some sort and she would start running and he’d chase her through the centuries. Sounds good, right? Yeah, that’s so not what happens.
It takes forever for her mother to die and then we don’t watch Bess learn anything. All of her magic lessons are disappointingly glossed over. The part before her mother dies isn’t so bad, though it is a lot longer than I was expecting. You learn about Bess and her family living in the dark ages (literally) and dealing with plague and poverty. Ok historical fiction, but nothing that particularly stood out for me. I really tried to work up sympathy for Bess, but I never connected with any of the characters well enough to feel more than an objective recognition of her horrible situation.
The two other historical sections interested me less and had fewer historical details. I don’t really understand why those two parts of her life were highlighted. What was so special about them? The scenes mentioned but never shown sounded more interesting than the ones that were actually described. These flashbacks were all written in the third person. I felt very disconnected to the main character. I think this would have worked better for me if it had been written in the first person.
These historical flashbacks alternate with journal entries written by Bess in modern times. She talks about her growing relationship with Tegan. Tegan annoyed me. She didn’t feel like a genuine teenager. Instead she felt more like an adult’s forced and over the top attempt at sounding like a teenager. I also thought Bess was especially boring and pathetic in these parts. She was like a shadow of a person. All of her talk about not getting close to anyone kind of contradicted all of her flashbacks, too.
Bess was a likable enough character in the beginning. As the story went on though, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with her. She turned into the type of character I spend most of my time screaming at and wishing she’d stop being such an idiot. In the final 100 pages of the book I just wanted Gideon to kill everyone, Bess included.
There was one scene in the final flashback where I said to myself, “If she does X, I swear I’m not going to finish this book.” It was such a stupid thing that was completely unnecessary. Well, she did it, but I did finish the book. I had only about 50 pages more to go. I couldn’t stand not finishing the book after all that, so I skimmed the rest.
And the promised romance? Ugh, no. The warlock is creepy. Not creepy like a good ghost story, but creepy like a rapist. Which is what he is. Bess observes him raping a girl in a crude and unnecessary scene. This should have been a big warning for her, and while she is repulsed, a few chapters later she’s lusting after him herself. Um, yeah, I totally wasn’t getting on board with that.
Then there’s another creepy Satan/demon/eeew sex scene that leads to Bess running from Gideon. Ok, so rape didn’t scare her off but demon Satan sex did it? Whatever. Then Bess is raped in a really unnecessary and awkward scene. Did you see anything about this in the blurb? Because I sure didn’t! All of these creepy sex/rape scenes just served to remind me why I prefer reading YA fiction even though I’m no longer a YA myself. Adults look at me strangely for reading “below my age” but, uh, multiple rape scenes and creepy Satan sex? I’ll stick with my YA “eccentricities” thank you very much.
There are more reasons I didn’t like this book, but do you really need any more? I don't like to so thoroughly pan a book, but I think my negative experience here is in large part because this isn't my genre. I prefer young adult books to adult books. I don't mind reading about sex in a book, but the way it was done here isn't my thing. I also think my inaccurate expectations may have affected my enjoyment. There's also a lot of the "rah rah female sisterhood" thing going on here, and I don't tend to like that.
Billed as a loose retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Tighter at first follows the original plot closely and then spirals into Adele’s unBilled as a loose retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Tighter at first follows the original plot closely and then spirals into Adele’s unique creation. The transition is flawless, using the setup and features of the original story as a backdrop and then spinning the reader into a story that is both completely different and yet still fully compliments The Turn of the Screw. It is not necessary to have read or even liked The Turn of the Screw to enjoy Tighter. The story updates and pays homage to the original, but it is a fully developed story that stands perfectly well on its own.
I have read The Turn of the Screw, so I had a ton of fun picking out all of the little references and ways Adele wove in the original with her new story. I am curious to hear a review of this book from the perspective of someone who has not read The Turn of the Screw.
As with the original, I did not like the main character of this book. Jamie has an attitude, is addicted to prescription pills, and makes terrible choices. She isn’t someone I would want to be friends with at all. If I wasn’t familiar with the original, I think I might have been turned off to the story because of my inability to connect with Jamie. Usually, if I can’t connect with the main character (or even like them), then I stop reading the book.
Having read the original, however, I knew that you’re not supposed to necessarily like the main character, so please, please, please don’t let Jamie turn you off to this book! The beauty of James’ book is not just that it is a chilling ghost story, but that it is also a fantastic study of an unreliable narrator. Both the ghostly happenings and the unreliable narrator are retained in Tighter, leaving the reader constantly questioning whether the events of the story are a result of a supernatural haunting, Jamie’s state of mind, or a frightening mix of both.
Even though I didn’t like Jamie as a person, she was a fantastic narrator. Jamie’s voice is strong and clear. Her haziness and confusion as a result of the pills she is constantly popping amplifies the reader’s uncertainty and sense of peril, but the plot never feels convoluted or difficult to follow. The pieces of the mystery come together at a good pace, but only half of these pieces are apparent clues.
There are clues laid from the very first page, but these are the type of clues that you don’t realize are important until the climax of the story. At that point everything clicks into place and I couldn’t help but immediately flip back and read whole passages of the book again with this new knowledge. I kept gleefully exclaiming, “Ah ha! I see it now!” realizing how, even having read the original, Adele’s subtle tweaks added an entirely new feature that completely surprised me and left me delighted. These features make this book an excellent candidate for rereading. I think I would discover and notice a ton of little hints and clues I missed on my first reading.
After the startling climax the story winds down and I felt content with the way Adele chose to end the book. But then…just when I thought the events were resolved one way a final bit of information on the very last page turns events around again and all of my suspicions and questions I thought were resolved came flooding back again. This was excellent! I didn’t realize the ending could get better, but then it did! I loved the way the author chose to end this book and I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better resolution.
The only reason I rated this four instead of five stars is because I would have liked a little more. This may be a bit unfair, but because the author’s writing was so enthralling and because her plot twists were so exciting I found myself wanting more. I wish the ghostly parts had been expanded just a little bit more. They were scary (and some really were downright chilling), but I wanted them to be just a little bit scarier, or more of them. I wish the secrets Jamie uncovered about the deaths were just a little…juicier and developed just a little bit more.
Adele is a National Book Award finalist and it is easy to see why. Tightly plotted, well paced, and beautifully written, Tighter pulled me in from the very beginning and, days after having finished, it still hasn’t let me go. I read this one for my Gothic Reading Challenge, and I highly recommend it to readers looking for a good ghost story, a contemporary read, a classic retelling, or a creepy Gothic tale. This is the first book I have read by Adele Griffin, but it won’t be the last.
Book received through Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.
I wanna marry this book. This whole series. It's like Lisa took everything I want out of a book and put it all together to make the best series EVER! I wanna marry this book. This whole series. It's like Lisa took everything I want out of a book and put it all together to make the best series EVER! Even if you don't like historical fiction or time travel, this series is so much more than that. The River of Time defies simple categorization and gives readers something they so rarely get.
But this is a second book in a series, so you probably have some questions. Second books always sort of scare me, especially when I loved the first book like I did with this series. Will the sequel measure up? Will it spoil the happy feelings the first book left me with? Reading shouldn't be so dangerous, but when you're as emotionally invested in a series as I am with The River of Time, then the idea of opening up the sequel can be scary!
I'm going to try to answer the questions I had when I started reading. I'm going to try to avoid any spoilers for both Cascade and Waterfall, but some things can't be avoided (like if I mention a character appearing in Cascade, then you kinda know they didn't die in Waterfall...) So if you haven't read Waterfall yet (WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!?!), then you might not want to read this review.
Do the characters I love show up?
Oh yeah! Of course Gabi, Marcello, and Luca have plenty of page time, but Lia is also elevated to MC status (and she is totally awesome!). Romana and Fortino make a small appearance, but they're not really present much. I know, I was bummed about the lack of Fortino, too. You know who does show up and totally surprised me? Paratore. I thought we had seen the last of him, but that jerk is back for more...and I love it!
We're also introduced to two more characters who were totally awesome additions: Momma She-Wolf and Lord Greco. Momma She-Wolf is Gabi and Lia's mother who travels back in time with them. She is kick butt! I love that Lisa included their mother. Parents are so often ignored in YA, but when you're torn between living in the 14th century or going back home without the love of your life, well, that's kind of a decision you'd want to talk over with your mom, right?
Lord Greco is such a great character. I love hating him and I can't help admiring him (and finding him attractive. Yeah, there's another hot guy). Is he bad? I'm not sure. I can't tell if he's good or if I'm just trying really hard to make him good because I like him so much. I'm not even sure if I want him to be good or bad. He's such a great villain, but he is totally swoon-worthy so, you know, having him be a villain might complicate things.
Will I be happy with the romance?
Ugh, middle books usually suck when it comes to romance. You have all the happy "Yay the couple got together!!" coming off the end of the first book, but usually authors try to complicate things in the sequel. Love triangles, misunderstandings, anything to make the honeymoon end.
BUT NOT LISA! I just want to give her a huge hug for not putting me through that agony. Gabi and Marcello are just as awesome together in Cascade as they were in Waterfall. Not only that, but Lisa also totally avoids the annoying "Gazing into each others eyes for pages" thing that also usually happens when couples have been together for too long in books. You know how it can get boring seeing a couple just be together? Not here. Their relationship is growing and it's tender and sweet, but also realistic and still totally clean. Marcello is a 14th century guy, and while that provides a lot of perks, he also has a very different approach to relationships than we have today (like marriage age, divorce, etc).
I loved the scenes where Gabi and Marcello hashed out these differences. The fact that Gabi is actually considering these differences and how profoundly her life will change is so refreshing. YA girls are so quick to throw away everything in their life for their paranormal insta-love guy. This gets old and I can't help but lose a little respect for those girls. Gabi acknowledges how much she loves Marcello, but she also carefully considers all of the ramifications to both herself and her family if she chooses to stay with him in the 14th century.
And Lia and Luca? *Squeeee* SO adorable!
How's the action? Is it as good as it was in Waterfall?
It's better! Waterfall was a battle. Cascade begins a WAR. The stakes are super high and, honestly, I never knew what was going to happen next. There's secret passageways, espionage, heart-pounding escapes, double crossing, and plague! The political intrigue is so intense I had my eyes glued to the pages and was left gasping in surprise. I couldn't believe some of the things the characters did! Let me tell you, the 14th century is filled with JERKS. Conniving, horrible, ruthless jerks.
My poor, wonderful characters go through so much in this book. I was so worried about all of them, and with good reason! We're lulled into a false sense of security with some cute but benign scenes in the beginning, but before long bad things start happening and we don't have a moment's rest. The action kicks into high gear and stays that way throughout the rest of the book. Once you hit that spot you won't be able to put the book down. I'm talking taking a sick day at work because you don't want to stop reading kind of feeling.
How are the Christian fiction aspects?
If you like Christian fiction, then I think you'll be happy with the progression of Gabi's dawning faith. If Christian fiction isn't your thing, then I don't think you'll be bothered at all. The presence of Christian elements is very subtle in both Waterfall and Cascade. While Gabi slowly comes around to embracing the idea of God and God's plan, the story stands just fine on its own without these elements.
What I mean is, you know how sometimes in Christian fiction the entire premise is based on religion. It's a major plot point and the book doesn't work if it were removed. That's not the case here. Gabi is a strong character and able to do what she does because she's a strong, capable girl.
Will I be able to survive until September?
This is where I'm at right now:
But with longer arms. And like times infinity. The idea of waiting--waiting at the edge of WAR where everything hangs in the balance and I don't know if **** and how **** and whether or not **** and how **** will pan out...well, this is also where I'm at:
So, if in your travels you happen upon a mad woman raving about a castello and Italian hotties and the She-Wolves of Siena, please don't worry. That's just me trying to carry on the best I can until September.
And if you want to get a piece of this beautiful agony, make sure you enter the giveaway for a copy of Cascade!
I initially picked up this series because I thought the guy on the cover looked hot. Yes, that ISOriginally posted on Small Review
Let's be honest here
I initially picked up this series because I thought the guy on the cover looked hot. Yes, that IS how I select my books. Mostly.
His smaller companion on the right wasn't too bad either, but, really, it was that rugged man on the left with, count them, three swords that caught my eye.
Oh, and it was also billed as an epic fantasy series that promised battles, thieves, court intrigue, mercenaries, assassinations, questing, conspiracy and all that good stuff. So that caught my attention, too.
Did it live up?
Did it ever! My gosh, this is one of those Leave Me Babbling books where it's just too good to not insert squees between mostly-incoherent gushing.
This is definitely the type of series that gets better as it goes along. I finished the first book (which ends pretty well as a standalone) and a tiny part of me considered moving on to something else because, while I totally loved it, the characters felt a tiny bit...distant? Not entirely alive?
They were great, but, you know me, I'm a character girl and these characters were maybe 90% of the way there.
But I didn't wait and I don't recommend doing anything silly like waiting. Pick up the next book in the series as soon as you finish the first (added convenience, they're sold as omnibus editions! So the next book is already in your hands!). I did that, and I'm so glad I did that because the characters totally grew on me.
Also, all those things about the plot that I thought were plain old surface level fantasy fare turned out to be twisty turny stuff that took on a whole new level of meaning once I started connecting all the dots later on.
And that guy on the cover? He totally lived up! Talk about swoon fest. It wasn't the type of swooning where he had sizzling romantic scenes ('cause, honestly, his ultimate love declaration scene was kinda embarrassing—totally cute, but also totally embarrassing. BUT, yay for slow burn romance!). No, I swooned because of the type of man he is, which is a MANLY man. Not alpha man, but more like knight paragon kinda man.
There's even this scene in, oh, book five? Four? Six? Something like that, where he's pretending to be a knight and the real knights sneer at him because he's all common and stuff but it's Hadrian who actually embodies all the qualities of nobleness, steadfastness, honor, virtue, kindness, humility, etc. and the "real" knights are just big meanies.
It's all very heavy handed, but it's also SO TRUE that I didn't mind because by that point I was already donning my Hadrian cheerleading outfit and breaking out the pom poms every chance I got.
Ok fine, do you prefer the rogue wounded bad boy with a hidden tenderness?
Well lucky you, that's the little guy on the cover. Don't worry, he's not little in, erm, real life? Book life? Whatever, the cover is totally miscast, because Royce is a badass assassin who does BAD things to even badder people and doesn't bat an eye.
BUT, he has a not-so-secret relationship that makes him melt into a puddle of total besotted mush. Also, he's allowed himself to stop being so closed off and let Hadrian in as his best pal.
So you know what that means, right? LOTS of brothers-in-arms bonding! I LOVE brothers-in-arms bonding. It's fantastic. They do all sorts of cool things like pulling off amazing thefts that no one else could do or fighting in battles or engaging in secret missions and quests and bantering all the while because they have a kind of platonic man version of the hate-turned-love relationship going on that adds about a bizillion points to everything.
Did I say quests and battles?
YES! Also, court conflict and intrigue, assassinations (and not just by Royce's hand), mysteries, deposing kings, sieges, explosions, magic, duels, scary creatures, ship voyages, jungle battles, charming street urchins, villainous political factions, pretender queens, romances, kick butt women (TOTAL kick butt women!), double crosses, misdirection, and ALL sorts of other fabulous stuff.
It's pretty much an explosion of everything I want, all packaged in three, ok, BIG books (but all with swoony covers).
And a note on that size? I WANT MORE. Seriously. These books aren't long enough. Sure, they're LONG. I consider anything over 300 pages a LONG book, and there are six books here, each well over 300 pages. And yet, I'm not satisfied.
Oh sure, everything wraps up fine, in the end. But I'm not ready to let go of these characters or this world. I think I read everything in a little over a month and a half, and it only took that long because halfway through I realized I loved it so much I needed to start "making it last."
Otherwise, this was the kind of series where my main motivation for waking up in the morning was so I could start reading and it was only my super strict fear of lying that kept me from using a coveted sick day to call out of work so I wouldn't have to stop reading.
I've only really mentioned Hadrian and Royce, but this is an epic fantasy, so you know there's a requisite character guide because there are so many side characters (there are also maps, obviously). And, being a more traditional epic fantasy, a lot of those side characters get narrative time so I was able to fall in love with them even more.
I'd start listing my favorites (other than the obvious) but I'd end up with basically the character guide, and that thing is PAGES long. So I'm not even going to try. I'll just say that by the end of the series, all the characters felt like real people and, months later, I'm STILL not ready to let them go.
The near-non-stop action interspersed with character growth and tense peril helped make the pages fly by, too.
I guess EVERYTHING these days
I feel so jaded lately. I used to be super dense and never guess endings and I loved that because who needs to be a smarty pants if it ruins the surprise? But lately I've been guessing all the endings and that's just no fun.
But not with this series! I think I've now firmly cemented my status as loony book lady in my new job's library because I read this series during my lunch breaks there and I swear I tried, but I couldn't stop myself from exclaiming out loud and otherwise talking to my books.
I mean, it's just, all this STUFF happened! And I didn't see ANY of it coming! It was amazing! There were all these twists and turns and I wasn't expecting any of it! Oh my, oh my gosh, NO NO NO, YES YES YES!! and similar phrases made up my more regular outbursts.
Also, I would just periodically exclaim, "My gosh I LOVE this series!" for no reason in particular other than just the general accumulation of awesomeness that I couldn't contain in non-verbal ways anymore.
At one point a student even asked me if I was ok. Thankfully she must have been a reader herself because after I sputtered out a, "yeah, I'm fine, it's just, my book" she just nodded kind of knowingly and smiled. So she's probably totally a kindred spirit reader.
Or she thinks I'm nuts.
Do you love fantasy series? Brothers in arms? Romance? Action? Peril? Mystery? Court intrigue? Quests? Intriguing characters? Double crosses? Unexpected twists? Well, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!?
Look, I know, I'm totally supposed to be over the plot of "ordinary kid finds out they're THE ONE and will vanquish all evil and bring about paradise on Earth" yada yada. And I know I'm probably supposed to roll my eyes at yet another book centering around that tired plot...but guess what?
I'm still so completely ON that bandwagon. I don't care how many times it's been done. Finding out Alina may be THE ONE was pretty much a Score! moment for me.
Alina is also a character I just straight up liked. Sure she may get down on herself sometimes because she's plain and not a stunning beauty (even though I picture her as very pretty, just like I do for all my main characters. I'm shallow like that), but I liked that she isn't perfect.
Up until the events of the book, Alina lived life as an orphan soldier (badass + orphan bonus points!). And, given that the setting is loosely based on Tsarist Russia, yeah, Alina's used to HARD living (the Russian Army wasn't known for its creature comforts). She's reluctant, cautious, and reserved. But, I also get the sense that she would be a blast at a sleepover party if she felt comfortable. And that's a good thing, because I'm totally extending an invitation to her (and her best friend. That girl totally needs to use her magic on me).
I'm caught in the middle of a love triangle
I think Alina's pretty much made up her mind at this point, but I certainly haven't! There are two guys but this isn't one of those dreaded love triangles with an indecisive main character who strings both guys along. Alina is never untrue and she never plays the part of the indecisive floozy.
You can leave that role to me though, because my gosh, I want BOTH of those guys! The Darkling is all Tall, Dark, and Handsome mixed with a heavy dose of Mysterious and a gigantic helping of Dangerous thrown in for good measure. He is seriously scary and I'm pretty sure he's evil in the Real Deal actual evil kind of way.
But oh boy is he hot. There's this one scene where Alina's feeling the whole "This is so wrong but it feels so good that I don't really care if I die just so long as I can continue this kiss for a minute more" kind of thing and I was equally swept up in the moment.
The Darkling is The Fourth Pastry: that fourth pastry calling out to me all seductively sweet and I just know I shouldn't eat it and I already ate three and I really shouldn't eat more...buuuut, oooh I so want to devour it. He's like that. Bad for me, but soooo good.
The other guy Mal is the best-friend-maybe-more love interest who reminded me a little of Gale from The Hunger Games with his steadfast friendship and outdoorsy masculinity. He's the kind of guy I picture having "capable hands." There's also a little protectiveness ala Jay from The Body Finder thrown in for good measure, too. Mal and Alina grew up together as orphans and then served together in the army, so they're particularly tight.
Sadly Mal doesn't have as much pagetime as I would have liked (but the Darkling helped fill the void). He's there in the beginning and then he comes back toward the end, but he's gone for pretty much the whole middle. BUT, what he's doing during that time is, oh my, well, I can't spoil anything for you!
What about the rest of the story?
I know I'm focusing on the characters a lot, but that's completely because I'm a character girl and not at all because there isn't much plot to talk about. Because there is a TON of plot to talk about! It's my favorite kind, too.
Let's see, the book starts with some basic Setting the Stage and quickly takes a trip into the Shadow Fold. What is this Fold? It is terrifying! The ARC cover for Shadow and Bone was perfect for this scene: Pitch dark and splattered with blood. It was so awesome! I appreciated a lot of things Leigh Bardugo did as an author, but this scene, aaahh this scene! Perfection. It was like I was standing right there.
Then the plot moves into my beloved court setting! You know what that means, right? Big house oogling, balls, fancy extravagant things, and INTRIGUE! And Alina goes to this court to learn, so it's really like a cross between a court setting and a boarding school. More points! AND, she doesn't just go to learn bookish stuff, but she also learns how to fight magically with lessons from both the hot Darkling and a creepy old lady who sometimes veers into sweet old lady territory but is totally hiding some Big Secrets. Even more points!!
THEN, (yes, there's more!) then we move into the questing part of the story. There isn't a whole lot of time spent on this, but the time that is spent there was glorious and everything I want out of a good quest. Which is to say it was both exciting and romantically charged. But then bad things happen and my heart was in my throat because I couldn't imagine how my beloved characters were going to get away ok. It was all so fantastically tense.
All of the elements came together perfectly for me and there is not even the slightest bit of hesitation as I add Shadow and Bone firmly to my Special Shelf.
The ending isn't a cliffhanger, but it isn't tied up neatly either. Stuff is brewing on the horizon, especially as fallout after everything that just happened, but for now Alina and I can take a deep breath and prepare. Or, you know, impatiently count down the days until the release of Siege and Storm (book 2).
Oh gosh, I can't believe the time. Is it, yes, it's 12:36 AM and I really should have gone to sleep already but I've spent the past hour sobbing and trying to read through tears is a little slower than normal reading. But it was so worth it. This book is perfection. Full review to come.
You ARE the wind beneath my wings!
Ten Tissues on the Beaches Scale of Friendship
At first I really wasn't interested in this book. I mean, the bonds of friendship between two women? Where's the swoon in that? But not everything in life has to revolve around romance, and Code Name Verity is a perfect example of a book that does just fine without a swoony lead (though there is a smidge of romance with one of the women and a secondary guy...and it's very nice).
Now we're going to take a detour down my personal memory lane because this is the only way I know how to describe the friendship in Code Name Verity. Bear with me (or skip ahead).
When I was young I had a best friend and we were tight. At one point my mother remarked that we were like Barbara Hershey and Bette Middler in Beaches. I was the quiet Barbara Hershey character, my friend was a loud attention-grabbing singer. And, of course, just like happens in Beaches, I imagined our friendship spanning all of life's essential events like divorce, failed careers, and terminal heart disease (yes, this corresponded perfectly with my Lurlene McDaniel "Dying of cancer is the epitome of romantic" phase).
Little did my mother realize, but with that simple statement she sparked off my obsessive love with Beaches and the accompanying theme song Wind Beneath My Wings. Seriously, obsessed. I still tear up if I hear that song.
So now I judge the strength of all fictional friendships on the Beaches Scale of Friendship (1-10 Tissues with Ten Tissues being a perfect score of heart-breakingly amazing friendship. For another frame of reference, Anne Shirely and Diana Barry score a perfect 10, too).
Code Name Verity is easily a perfect Ten Tissues, which is saying something because I don't give out a perfect 10 lightly (even Harry, Ron, and Hermione, while very high, don't get a perfect 10). Code Name Verity begs the question, "What would YOU do for someone you loved?" and I wonder if I could do what they did.
Remember that sad ending?
I'm issuing the Do Not Read in Public warning
Ok, I admit it, I'm a tad emotional when it comes to reading. I tend to really get into things. And I cry, easily. But I don't think I've cried this much in a long time. Think Plain Kate kind of crying, but more. Think first pet dying kind of crying.
I cried here and there throughout most of the book, but mostly it was the kind of crying where I get a lump in my throat and kind of choke up a little but can pass it off as allergies just acting up a little and honestly I'm totally fine.
But then I pretty much sobbed straight through the final 50 or so pages. And at that point it was WAY past when I should have gone to sleep so I tried to force myself to fall asleep but instead I ended up crying for about another hour. And then I cried the next day. And then the day after that. Whenever I thought about everything that had happened, particularly THAT SCENE, I just lost it.
So there you go. You've been warned.
It's NOT a kissing book?!
Wait, I don't know if I like this genre
I'm a big historical fiction fan, but usually I don't like reading books set during WWII because they usually focus on one of two things: Hiding Jewish people in attics or women doing really anachronistic stuff (more on THAT later). The first subject is ok, but I think I pretty much got my fill of that in grade school.
Plus there was also the whole lack of romance factor and I was afraid I wouldn't like Verity because the blurb made it sound like she was a rotten traitor. So I wasn't really sure if Code Name Verity was for me.
But forget all that. Code Name Verity is genre transcending. It's like Lolita where, even though the subject matter is a guy who lusts after a little girl, you don't actually have to be into that to appreciate the book. Not that there's pedophilia in Code Name Verity (there isn't), it's just that, this isn't the kind of book where you can look at the blurb and decide whether or not the genre is for you.
Instead, you need to ask yourself if you like books that are powerful, heart-wrenching, and memorable. Books that creep up on you and before you know it they're a part of you. Books that make you feel and books that make you want to drop everything and make sure all your loved ones know how much you care for them. Books with impact. Books that go beyond.
I'm also issuing the Nabokovian Puzzle Prize
The whole first half of the book is written in code! And it's not a super obvious code either (but you can figure out most of it, and no, it's not quite Nabokov, but who is?).
There are red herrings galore and a ton of things are said but they actually mean something different. It was so much fun puzzling through all these bits and trying to discern Verity's true messages amid all of her storytelling and false leads.
There was also one bit that was major foreshadowing and as soon as I remembered it (right before THAT scene), my stomach dropped to the floor because I suddenly knew what was about to happen. That made it about a million times worse and heart breaking (and by worse, I mean awesome storytelling).
After Bilbo has his five hour long birthday, they go on a quest!
Give it time for the slow burn
This is a slow burn book, but the burn is a little hard to see at first. I can see how the beginning might turn readers off because it is slower and the point of it all isn't really clear for a while.
BUT, don't give up. Stick with it and I PROMISE it will all make sense. And once you get to THAT scene, well, you'll see.
Looks will only get you so far, Russell
But is it historically accurate?
I mentioned earlier that I really dislike it when authors put women in historically inaccurate roles, and with a female pilot as one of the main leads and a female spy as the other, I was really worried Elizabeth Wein was going to disappoint me.
But she didn't! She did her research (down to ball point pens!) and thankfully my eye never had to twitch.
Not only are the characters grounded in realistic roles, but I also appreciated that she focused on slightly different things than every other WWII book under the sun. Now, I'll issue another warning here, but really, if you're reading WWII books and if you saw my previous warning about not reading this book in public, well, you should pretty much expect disturbing stuff.
Because WWII? VERY disturbing. Elizabeth Wein doesn't even focus on the more usual WWII disturbing fare like starvation and battle that, as horrifying as they are, have lost a bit of sting due to the fact that we've been so exposed to them. Oh no, she brings the spotlight onto atrocities like torture, Nacht und Nebel and hints at the "scientific experimentation" crimes committed by Mengele and others.
I am absolutely in love with this book! It is firmly on my Special Shelf and as soon as I finished I added more of Elizabeth Wein's books to my TBR, because I need more. I'm such a character girl, and Elizabeth Wein totally delivers when it comes to crafting so-vivid-they-could-be-real characters.
Code Name Verity is also one of those YA books that can easily be read by adults (they may not even realize it's YA). I've already ordered a copy for my library with a particular adult patron in mind, and there's a waiting list of both YA and adult patrons after her (I gush even more about the books I love at work than I do on here, if you can believe it).
Because this is the kind of book I can't help but gush about. I want to buy a million copies and give them to everyone I know. I also made sure my mother and sister both added Code Name Verity to their lists and you'd better believe I'll be book pushering this one on all of you, too.
And why was my review so vague? Because you need to experience this book as it unfolds.
I was expecting a high seas adventure with pirates, epic love, reincarnation, a uOriginally posted at Small Review
This is not the book I signed up for
I was expecting a high seas adventure with pirates, epic love, reincarnation, a unique curse, and exciting treasure hunts. Instead I got a fractured story that never went anywhere and had gratuitous rape, sex, animal abuse, and violence. Based on the description, I really wanted to read this book. I still do. Unfortunately, that isn’t the book A. S. King wrote.
The plot that went nowhere
I felt like an abused donkey with a carrot hung in front of my face and, like the donkey, I never got that carrot. I slogged through boring and hugely depressing scenes as first Emer and then Saffron (who is Emer reincarnated, sort of) recount their tortured existences. Emer starved in Ireland during the 1600s and Saffron lived through the 1970s-‘90s with her alcoholic, trashy, do-nothing parents and drug addicted brother. I read through chapters and chapters of this and, looking back, they served very little purpose. Saffron’s scenes were especially superfluous, providing neither character growth nor plot advancement. To say the conclusion of her storyline (and the book) was anticlimactic is an understatement.
Emer’s story was at least somewhat satisfying. Like the blurb, I thought it was a great idea. There was epic love, unrequited love, pirating, battles, and treasure. Except, this was more told than shown, and the telling was far too brief. More time is spent in dreary, depressing Ireland with a young and starving Emer than on the high seas treasure seeking. I didn’t care so much for Emer as I did for the idea of a woman in her position. She was more like a legend than an actual character. Her romance was equally hollow with her barely there and almost entirely unknown love interest (like a Disney prince back in the day, Seanie spoke about five lines).
The curse was something I was very much looking forward to exploring, but it too failed to deliver. I wanted to know more about the curse, but at the very least I wanted to see how her time spent as 100 dogs affected her character. The answer, apparently, is that it didn’t affect her. Saffron shows absolutely no growth or, really, any effects of having once been a dog. How do you go 300 years and over 100 lifetimes without ever growing as a character? The point of these lifetimes seemed to serve only to allow Saffron to be reincarnated 300 years later, which could have been accomplished without the unexplored curse. I was disappointed.
All of the characters fell flat for me and felt like caricatures. The bad characters lacked any depth or nuance and are instead simply straight up vile people (really, if you want to make me hate your character, by all means make him a perverted, rapist, animal abuser. I’ll hate him for sure, but I also might hate you a little for introducing me to him).
The “good” characters were almost as annoying, with few redeeming qualities themselves. None of the characters grew or changed throughout the book at all. This made their experiences seem pointless to read about.
Except, Emer and Saffron were not the same person at all. I’m unclear as to how the reincarnation worked exactly. Saffron was Emer, but she also wasn’t. She shared Emer’s memories and knowledge, but she did and thought things Emer wouldn’t have, to her detriment. Is this poor and inconsistent characterization? Is this a convoluted plot point? I don’t know, but that alone isn’t a good sign.
Shock and awe
As stated above, there are copious amounts of gratuitous violence, abuse, rape, and sex (both hetero and homosexual). This is a YA book, but in name only. Abuse against dogs is written about repeatedly, and with little to no relevance to the plot. I have never read animal abuse that even comes close to this in both frequency and detail.
Emer is raped, and the act is described in detail. Again, this has only the barest relevance to the plot, and the graphic nature of the act is unnecessary to get the point across. She also crudely refers to sex in an off-hand manner that also serves no purpose. None of these acts help build character development, with the sex mentions coming across as especially irrelevant and “shocking” for the sake of being edgy.
There are a few attempts at making a point, but each time the message comes across more like an afterthought or a throwaway concession to try to half-heartedly justify the violent scenes. It is one thing to show scenes like this if there is a purpose, but there wasn’t any here. It was just rambling violence that continually digressed from the barebones story.
I wish I had never read this book and it was only the hope of Emer’s story improving that kept me reading until the end. I feel deceived by the false advertising and disappointed that I never got to read the book I was hoping this would be. In my library I do still recommend books I didn’t like to my patrons because their tastes may be different, but I can’t comfortably recommend this book to a YA patron. Their parents would kill me.
How I would have told myself to adjust my expectations
Don't expect a fluffy romance that will sweep you off your feet. It's harsh, cruel, and heartbreaking. It's not swoony and dreamy. It's raw, confusing, emotional, bittersweet, and tender. There are also many kinds of love explored, and each one of them broke my heart.
Don't expect characters who are easy to relate to or understand. These are not the type of people you invite to sleepovers.
Don't expect a quick moving plot. It's slow. But, it's like molasses: perfect when it's thick and slow, slow, slow. Some stories shouldn't be rushed.
Don't expect a light read. Do expect your heart to get ripped out and stomped into a million pieces. This is a dark book with unsettling characters and unhappy endings.
I'm having a hard time reviewing this
Tiger Lily is one of those books that's really hard to review because it is a book that I appreciate, but it isn't necessarily one I enjoy. Every bit of this book is sad, and while that almost makes it beautiful in a way, it's also, well, SAD. And I don't like feeling so dreary.
There were also somethings that happened and I'm still not sure how I feel about them.
One is a (view spoiler)[suicide, and it made me angry because it felt so needless. Maybe that's the point. I felt angry with the character for taking their own life when it felt so unnecessary. I wanted to go back and scream at them that things will get better and not to do something so drastic. I was also angry with them for how their actions affected their loved ones. How could they do that to them??
But, I guess I need to grudgingly admit that this is the way people often feel when someone they care about commits suicide, so points to Jodi Lynn Anderson for writing something that evoked such a visceral reaction from me, even if I would have rather not felt it. (hide spoiler)]
Also, there is the presence of (view spoiler)[Christianity versus paganism/homosexuality (hide spoiler)], and I'm really tired of this plot point in books. It just feels so worn out, like that Christmas song that was annoying the first time but has been played fifty million times in the span of one festive month and I pretty much want to puncture my eardrums by the time new year's rolls around. It didn't help that this whole part felt forced and not really necessary, but maybe that's because I don't like this plot point ever.
These people are weird
Tinkerbell narrates and talks about how desperately she loved both Tiger Lily and Peter Pan, and how neither of them showed her much affection in return. Tiger Lily is an odd duck, almost feral and treated as an outcast but also loved deeply by a select few. Peter Pan is twisted, torn between the uncertainty of adolescence the responsibility of adulthood and the impulses of childhood.
All three are almost inhuman in their oddities and the detached way Tinkerbell describes them from her own non-human perspective makes them even more difficult to connect with. Even the traits I could have in common with Tiger Lily were made foreign by her entire aura of otherness.
I was fascinated by these characters, but it was almost the type of horrified fascination reserved for things like gruesome car accidents. These characters are all clearly broken and floundering, grappling blindly to put their pieces together. I so wanted them to be ok, but, of course, anyone at all familiar with the story of Peter Pan knows there are few happy endings in this tale.
Readers who like character studies, especially when the characters are complex, difficult, and despite it all, sympathetic, will appreciate the sensitive hand Jodi Lynn Anderson used to sketch these characters. They are not people who are easy to like, but they are easy to love.
This is not the kind of book for everyone, but I do think it will really hit its mark with some readers. If you want another light and fun fairy tale/paranormal-type book, then look elsewhere. This retelling is more like the darker fairy tales and I would probably give it to my more mature YA readers and not so much my MG tweens. Also, YA readers who enjoy serious contemporary books might like the focus on characters with "issues" and watching them navigate complex interpersonal scenarios.
Overall, I think the best way to describe my feelings is that I appreciate it. Reading Tiger Lily may not have been the most enjoyable experience (I'd give it about 3 stars because I struggle with sad books), but it was without a doubt a captivating and cruelly beautiful experience (I'd give it 4 stars for that). I am curious to see what Jodi Lynn Anderson writes next.
This is a standalone.
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I’m trying to hold back the OMG squeeeeeees here, but it’s kinda hard. You see in the description where it mentions Italian hottieCan you say *SWOON*?
I’m trying to hold back the OMG squeeeeeees here, but it’s kinda hard. You see in the description where it mentions Italian hotties? Notice how it’s plural? Oh wow is it plural! There are three guys in this book that I would risk plague and travel back in time for. Yet, delightfully, there isn’t any annoying love triangle. The main character loves her guy and sees the other two as good friends (which means I can have them then, right?)
Ah, they’re physically attractive, but they also have super attractive personalities. The main character travels back to the 14th century, so these guys aren’t the modern guy who will share his feelings with you over a latte (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Oh no, these are the kind of guys that make you let out a primal groan and call them MEN. They’re all commanding and manly and make me want to say really dorky things like “Oh take me you big man you” (I’m ready for my romance cover shot, please). They also have swords—one of the most popular accessories of hot men everywhere—and they’re totally willing to get all sweaty and sexy using them.
But, come on, am I superficial enough to give a book a five star Special Shelf rating on the basis of hot guys alone? Um, yeah, ok, I actually so am. But this book has other redeeming features, I promise.
Girls rock too
How about that main character? As awesome as the men are, she’s pretty kick butt herself. So fine, maybe I’m not buying that being a fencing champ makes her able to wield a 30 pound sword, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? And the thought is really great. The guys are all like, “Lady, you need to stay in the castle and let us do man work” and she’s all, “Yeah, whatever. You think I’m going to miss out on this? Pfft!”
But you know what’s great? The men aren’t peeved by this. They’re impressed! Again, maybe not so historically accurate (they probably would have burned her as a witch or sent her to a nunnery or something), but I don’t care because I was having so much fun.
Oh, I probably should mention that the main character isn’t a Mary Sue at all though. I realize I might have made her sound like that a little, but she’s not. She makes a ton of mistakes and has a lot of “Oops!” moments. There was one scene where she was all, “Hold my lance and watch this!” but the guys and me are face-palming like we’ve never face-palmed before. She recognizes her mistakes and learns from them. She reminded me a lot of Meliara from Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel (please tell me you’ve read this book. No? Ok, go get that book ASAP. Seriously).
Can I be so lucky?
Great characters are wonderful and all, but you really do need a solid plot to back them up in order to be a 5 star book, right? Well, the plot here was so, so good. How’s your knowledge of 14th century Italy? Yeah, mine sucks too. So I don’t have a clue what is based on truth (if anything) and what’s the author’s creation. Either way, it doesn’t matter.
The plot starts out fun enough with the main character trying to fudge her way through 14th century life, a plot device I always find amusing. Add in a missing sister she needs to find and a romance with a super unattainable guy and the plot would have been solid. But there’s more! War, battle, political intrigue! Ah, I just had this silly grin on my face that kept getting wider and wider the more I read.
But wait, isn’t this Christian fic?
This sounds all good and everything, but…maybe you heard this book is considered Christian fiction. Maybe that’s not your thing (it’s not my thing either). No problem! There are a few lines here and there where the main character wonders if she was sent back in time by God. The guys pray sometimes, but I don’t think that would be out of place in any historical fiction book because that’s what they would likely do anyway in the 1300s. That’s pretty much the extent of it. If Christian fiction isn’t your genre, please don’t feel turned off from reading this book. I really don’t think you’ll be bothered.
What are you still doing here?
This book ended up taking me a really long time to finish (5 days!), but that wasn’t because I wasn’t into it. I was completely into it. I never wanted it to end. I kept carrying the book around with me and not reading it because I didn’t want the story to be over. Thankfully, there are two more books and they’re both coming out this year, which I immediately added to my Goodreads list as soon as I finished Waterfall (Cascade in June and Torrent in September). All of the main events of the story wrap up pretty well so I don’t feel like I’m hanging on a major cliffhanger, but the stage is set for the sequel. If you like those courtly intrigue books with manly men and a strong heroine, then I highly recommend Waterfall.
I had perfectly moderate hopes for Grave Mercy after having enjoyed Robin LaFever's MG book Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos but not really having any idea what to expect from her foray into YA.
Apparently what I should have expected was the answer to all of my bookish prayers, because that's exactly what I got! It was like Robin LaFevers looked directly into my heart and then wrote out the story of my dreams.
I have a fascination with assassins, probably because they both do what I will never experience (um, killing people) and they are experts at stealth and physical prowess (I'm about as stealthy as a puppy, which is, yeah, not very).
Ismae is totally badass when it comes to her assassin skills. She is a master at poisons and pretty handy with physical combat. Need someone killed? Ismae is your girl!
But when Ismae is assigned to play the part of a mistress in order to ferret out deadly court secrets, she's a total fish out of water.
I adored her! She's one of those MCs who is imperfect--she makes mistakes, she isn't always right, she puts her foot in her mouth when talking to the guy she likes, and I love her for her imperfections (probably because I share them). Her first person narration was especially wonderful in showing her embarrassment over her social flubs.
Ismae is also torn between following her heart and following the directives of her convent, and her conflicted feelings here really resonated with me. I felt for her, and even though I've never actually been in the position of to-kill-or-not-to-kill, I could still totally understand her struggle between pleasing others or pleasing herself. I loved seeing her grow into her own woman!
I'm super picky about romance, but Grave Mercy dished up my absolute favorite kind. The guy, Duval, isn't a weenie (auto-points for that!). To prove this, he totally held his own when he and Ismae were attacked (Hot guy with sword alert!!). And this is just one example among many other wonderfully manly actions.
Of course he's physically attractive, but I fell in love with him because he's also smart, strong, unwaveringly loyal, and the type of person who inspires that same loyalty in return.
He didn't exactly like or trust Ismae when they first met (hate turned love--more points!!), but he still treated her with respect because he's classy like that. Their romance evolved slowly across the book and never overwhelmed the plot. But did I get *that* kiss at the end?
OH YEAH, and a lot more than that! My favorite parts were actually the non-kissing parts when Duval visits Ismae's bedroom at night (no, not how you're thinking). Those scenes crackled with romantic tension.
This book is probably more like Poison Study where it is an adult/YA crossover instead of straight YA. Some of the themes and events may be a little mature for younger YA audiences.
The political intrigue is ramped up to 11 and with all the twists and turns, I rarely knew who to trust. So many people had motives, and many of them were engaged in smaller side schemes.
As the story came together I was able to deduce the ultimate bad guy before Ismae, which might have been a little frustrating but really didn't bug me in the face of all the other awesomeness.
I also wasn't overly bothered by discovering the who because the effects of their scheming were still engaging. Poor Anne (the duchess, Duval's half sister and the woman to whom Ismae's convent has sworn their loyalty) is put in truly awful situations and as the book progresses, Anne's position becomes increasingly perilous.
I adored Anne, so I had my book clutched in a white knuckled grip wondering how in the world Ismae and Duval were going to outsmart all of Anne's enemies and worrying that something truly awful was going to happen as the machinations of the court vipers slowly closed in around them.
The setting of Grave Mercy is medieval France from the perspective of Brittany (who, at this point has been taken over by France but is still trying to maneuver for independence).
I knew NOTHING about this time period. Literally, embarrassingly, nothing. Prior to reading this book I even thought Brittany was in a completely different part of Europe. See? Embarrassing, but true.
So given that, I have absolutely no clue about the level of historical accuracy or inaccuracy in Grave Mercy. I do now know (thanks to Wikipedia) that Anne was a real person and the broad stroke events surrounding her marriage situation and the plight of Brittany at the time are true. (Although I've since learned a lot more from this slightly spoilery author's note).
But did my lack of knowledge matter? Nope, not at all. Robin LaFevers constructed her story in such a way that I didn't need to have any prior historical understanding. To me, it felt like I was reading a well-developed fantasy world with a detailed cultural backdrop and loads of political intrigue.
The pacing isn't super fast, but it isn't slow either. It's what I'd call "slow-burn pacing." There was always something that held my interest and the secrets behind the political intrigue were unraveled at a pace somewhere between tantalizingly slow and satisfyingly fast.
Though, honestly, these characters could sit around watching grass grow and I would still be interested in reading about them.
Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, but it reads like a standalone. The next book will take place in the same setting, but will focus on a different girl and the final book on a third girl.
I can't recommend Grave Mercy highly enough! I am so, so happy there will be more books in this fantastically wonderful new series.
I read this book quickly for two reasons. The first is Aimee Carter’s easy writing style. I like the way she writes and I felt transported in2.5 stars
I read this book quickly for two reasons. The first is Aimee Carter’s easy writing style. I like the way she writes and I felt transported into the world she created. The whole book had a dreamy, fairy-tale feel to it that was especially reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast.
The second reason is because I kept hoping something exciting would happen on the next page, but it didn’t really. Everything moved along at a very even keel for me. I never felt tension, excitement, or anything like that. Even the climax didn’t deviate from this steady level.
You will be tested
The point of the book is that the main character will experience a series of tests and I was looking forward to seeing how these tests would play out. As in all good tests of this nature, the main character never knows when she is being tested and what she is being tested on. The only problem in this case is neither does the reader (or at least this reader!).
I kept waiting for the tests to come but then…nothing. There were a few instances where I suspected something might have been a test, but they lacked impact for me. I don’t want to be beaten over the head with the obvious stick, so I do appreciate the author taking a more subtle approach. Still, I think things were taken beyond “subtle” and into “barely there.” Or maybe I’m just dense. It’s been known to happen.
The nature of the tests, once finally revealed, also didn’t seem to fit very well with the Greek myth aspects. I don’t really see why those tests in particular would be valued by the Greek gods (who weren’t exactly known for their principles) or how they relate to Kate’s eventual job as Hades’ bride.
This is Greek mythology?
One of the reasons I wanted to read this book so badly was because I’m a huge sucker for retellings. I love seeing how an author will twist a classic story while still retaining elements of the original. Part of the fun for me is catching all of the references to the original.
I am not an expert in Greek mythology, but I do have a passing familiarity with most of the major myths. Even with that, I had a very difficult time identifying many references. There were a few, but there weren’t nearly as many as I would have liked.
A bunch of the major gods and goddesses go “undercover” for the majority of the story. I liked this idea, but it is again done so subtly that there is very little connection between the characters and their mythological counterparts. I even peeked at the back to see which characters were supposed to represent each god, and I still had a hard time seeing the connections. I also don’t really think the characters’ personalities matched the personalities of the Greek gods and goddesses very well. Some did, sort of, but very loosely.
Cry me a river
Aside from the tests and the myth references, I wanted to read this book because of Hades. I love the bad boy, and for that can you get any better than Hades, god of the underworld? I think not. And yet, this Hades didn’t even have a shred of bad boy in him.
Instead of Bad Boy we get Sensitive Boy. Readers who like a male lead who is sad, sensitive, and meek and needs to be taken care of by the female lead will probably like Henry (Hades). If you like Sam from Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver then you’ll probably like Henry. I don’t like that kind of character, much preferring the strong Alpha male, so Henry just bored and frustrated me.
Both Henry and Kate struck me as bland. They were both so wrapped up in their own melancholy and for me that dragged down the story. I didn’t like either of them because they were both so depressing. The reasons for their melancholy do play an important part in the story, but it served more to distance me from the characters. Their apathy dragged on for far too long, especially Henry’s.
Kate was better and definitely did develop more drive as the book progressed, but I still had a hard time connecting with her. Her motivation primarily stems from her love of Henry, but because I didn’t love him I had a hard time figuring out why Kate cared so much. It just seemed like she was shifting her dependence from her mother to Henry. Her total absorption into their plights allowed her to put her own life completely on hold to the point that she seemed like a shell of a person to me. She felt like a doormat, always living for everyone but herself. I’m sure this is supposed to make her seem kind and generous, but to me it just made it difficult to respect her.
Where do we go from here?
Extremely mild spoiler:
The ending bothered me. I don’t like how things were resolved between Kate and her mother. I also don’t like the possible love triangle the very last chapter seems to be setting up. To me, that undermines the already unbelievable romance the entire book revolved around.
This is the first book in a projected trilogy, but it ends pretty well on its own. I think this would have been much better as a standalone book than trying to stretch it into a trilogy. The story feels complete here, though I don’t think it’s fair of me to make any final judgments on this until I’ve read the other books.
At this point I may read the rest of the trilogy, or I may not. This wasn’t a bad book, but I don’t really feel a burning desire to read more. I feel disappointed because of my expectations, but otherwise I just feel neutral. There is a good foundation here though, and I did like her writing style. While I’m not sure about continuing on with this series, I would probably read another non-Goddess Test book by Aimee Carter.
FYI note: Various characters have sex, though it is never graphic.
There was a blurb on Supernaturally that said something along the lines of “Comes closer than most toOriginally posted at Small Review
"The Buffy mark"
There was a blurb on Supernaturally that said something along the lines of “Comes closer than most to hitting the Buffy mark.” Well, Buffy fanatic that I am, any sort of comparison to Buffy usually sets me off…and not in a good way. Because can anything really come close to the awesomeness of Buffy? I didn’t think so.
Now Kiersten White is no Joss Whedon. Her humor is completely different and it isn’t really fair to either of them to try to compare Evie to Buffy. They’re just different. Yet, that blurb is totally spot on.
What Joss Whedon managed to do so perfectly that makes Buffy epic was create a show that had incredible humor, but also incredible depth and seriousness. These aspects are then balanced in a way where both complement and enhance one another. THIS is where Kiersten White nails it. This is how she "hits the Buffy mark."
I love these people
Evie is one of the funniest characters I’ve ever met. Just like in Paranormalcy, the first page--heck, the first line--had me laughing. I knew this book would be awesome by that first sentence alone. Evie's the kind of girl who looks at the world, says exactly what I would be thinking, but does it in a way that’s a million times funnier than I could ever dream of being. The best humor is the kind that resonates, and Evie is so utterly relatable. Whenever I read Evie, all I want to do is make her real and have a million sleepover parties together and buy BFF charm necklaces.
She also so gets my high school gym experience.
And yet…beneath all the cute glitter and pink is a deceptively sad story. It might be easy to get wrapped up in the light tone of the book and believe there is no more here than superficial fun, but that would be a mistake. There’s a darkness here that is breathtakingly tragic.
The characters Kiersten White creates are so real and possess such depth. My heart aches for them. Even the Big Bads are complex people with logical reasons for why they act the way they do. If you’re the type of reader who wants villains that transcend the black and white confines of Good vs Evil, then look no further.
Supernaturally gives greater insight into Paranormalcy’s Big Bad while also introducing a new BB to the mix. While they’re both bad, the funny thing is that I feel protective over them. I like them. Yeah, ok, they’re not good people, but I get them. I see where they’re coming from, even if they’re wrong. I want to cry over their completely heartbreaking stories. The best part is that Evie sees it too, and watching her grapple with the confusion this leads to adds the depth of both character and plot that elevates Kiersten White from “good writer” to “superb writer.”
Middle books are different
I was blown away by Paranormalcy, and while Supernaturally is made of awesome it doesn’t quite hit the same mark Paranormalcy did. The plot of Paranormalcy really grabbed me and took me on a roller coaster of a ride. The impending threat of the Big Bad going around murdering paranormals and the mysterious nature of that BB kept my eyes glued to the pages.
Supernaturally’s Big Bad is a lot more subtle, and, for me, that subtlety lessened my “OHMYBLEEPINGGOSHWE’REALLGOING TODIEEEEE” excitement that I had going with the first book. Don’t get me wrong, the story is still fun and there’s still a mysterious aspect to unravel (which I sadly managed to figure out too soon), but it didn’t have the same edge-of-your-seat feeling that I loved so much.
In some ways Supernaturally is very much a “middle of a trilogy” book, but in this case that isn’t a bad thing. Evie’s life changed completely in Paranormalcy, and Supernaturally shows Evie dealing with all of that fallout. It’s a very character-driven story. Too often major things happen to characters and the impact of those events is glossed over for the sake of advancing the plot. Now, you know me, I have a very short attention span. I want ACTION! So when I say I truly appreciated the time Kiersten White takes here in letting Evie figure everything out, you can be confident that this isn’t a boring filler book.
(To put it in terms Buffy fans will understand, Supernaturally is Buffy’s season six. There isn't really a gigantic Big Bad like in the other seasons. The focus is instead more inward and focuses on the characters themselves. Supernaturally obviously has totally different events, but think the soul searching and character development end of things.)
There are so many clichés in YA paranormal books right now that complaining about the clichés is practically a cliché in itself. But Kiersten White? I need to create an altar to bow down in front of and give massive thanks for turning paranormal clichés on their heads (but there will be no animal sacrifices at this altar! Will offerings of sparkly things suffice?)
I may need to offer a few sparkly pink taser holsters in penance for ever doubting her, too. Hear me out though, ok? I mean, Paranormalcy was chock full of a whole bunch of paranormals, and they were all totally different from how we’re used to reading about them (noooo pretty vampires here!), but not in ways that are lame (sparkles are for jewelry, not vampires). This was awesome, but I really wasn’t expecting Kiersten to have the imaginative reserves left after all that to create even more unique paranormals and add even more depth to the already established ones. Now having read Supernaturally? Me=IDIOT.
Diana Peterfreund was the sole occupant of my “Authors who make COMPLETELY AWESOME AND ORIGINAL Unicorns” pedestal, but I now need to put in an order for a wider pedestal. Kiersten White is soo getting a spot on it now. I’m not even going to mention the other paranormals so you don’t get spoiled, but I will say this: Reading Kiersten’s books is like taking a stroll through a paranormal amusement park. (That's a good thing).
Crazy for you
I’m so torn on all of the scenes of peril. I want to go running around screaming in fright, giggle like a seven year old listening to a fart joke (um, still do that), and clap my hands in delight over the new spin on the paranormals. So, uh, Kiersten? Thanks for making me look like a COMPLETE LUNATIC when I read your books in public. Ugh, Readers, take it from me and don’t even try to explain to (non-cool) people why the cloud scene in Supernaturally is made of win. (But, seriously Kiersten, thanks. The reading experience is so worth those weird looks).
Final proof that Kiersten White is a genius?
The chapter titled "Sparkles Make Everything Better" Yes they do, Kiersten. YES THEY DO!
If you loved Paranormalcy, then I’m certain you’ll love Supernaturally. Luckily I’m tiny so I can hide from you pretty easily if I’m wrong and you try to hunt me down for misleading you. But I don’t think that’ll happen. You definitely have to read Paranormalcy for Supernaturally to make any kind of sense, but Supernaturally ends nicely without any pull-your-hair-out cliffhangers (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!). I can’t wait for the third (and final *sniff*) book, but that’s because I just want more.
My only complaint is that there isn’t nearly enough Reth and I really wanted to learn more about him. His scenes are wonderful, but too infrequent and riddled with cryptic clues. *Sigh* That is just so like him.
Ok, so I'm barfing my emotions all over this review, and, like all barf, it ain't pretty.
It breaks my heart to DNF this book. I adored The False Prince. Sage was that perfect combination of cheeky and stealthy. The plot was brisk and always kept me on my toes wondering what Sage was really up to. Everything came together perfectly.
That is so NOT the case in The Shadow Throne. Where is the magic, wit, and cleverness? Why must I turn to words like "contrived," "silly," "predictable," and "illogical"??
Sage may have been awesome, but when he turned himself into a prince and got himself another name (Jaron?! I'm still not adjusting) he became a Mary Sue of epic proportions.
EVERYONE just loooooves Jaron. Everyone, that is, except me. See, Sage made me love him. Jaron just milks the memory of Sage without doing anything to make me like him, let alone love him. I actually found myself getting irritated with his stupid choices.
His antics are boring and juvenile. Jaron is an unreliable narrator, so of course he's going to pull some big twist out when we all least expect it! And knowing that really sucks any tension or peril right out of the story. I couldn't help my yawns and total lack of care whenever the "high stakes" were mentioned..again, and again, and again (how about a little more "show" and a little less "tell," hmmmkay?).
Plus, I mean, yeah, I get it, this is The War Book. I don't need to be reminded every other page. It's supposed to be epic and filled with awesomeness and danger, yada, yada. The war has only been dangled in front of me for the past two books, so I'm fully aware that it's Finally Here (and, yep, still ticked off by the detour that was The Runaway King).
Except it's all finally here and I could not care less. Characters I used to care about elicited not even the smallest of emotional responses. Mostly because it didn't feel like I was reading about the characters I loved but rather cardboard imposters.
It's like eating Domino's pizza when you've had proper NY pizza. It's so far from what it should be that the disappointing experience doesn't even warrant an emotional investment beyond mild disgust. It's so inherently lacking.
Plus, look, I get it, war is not pretty. Personally, I don't want to be in a war. But I DO like reading about wars. Reading about wars can be all action and battle and swords and fun stuff like that. So I really don't want to read a book about a war—a war for which, mind you, I have been wiggling in my seat in anticipation for the past two years—just to have Jaron yap on and on about how war is bad and stuff.
Sure he blew stuff up, and that was nice and all. I guess. But between all of Jaron's heel dragging combined with the totally incongruous and improbable Home Alone kiddie escapades, I just...I could not get into this.
The False Prince was fantastic. I could give that book to adults and make them YA converts. The Shadow Throne isn't going to win any converts.
The bar was set high with The False Prince. The Shadow Throne doesn't even come close.
I am writing this review from a secret underground bunker. Why? Because I , um, didn’t love this book. I’m sorry! Really, I’m just as disappointed asI am writing this review from a secret underground bunker. Why? Because I , um, didn’t love this book. I’m sorry! Really, I’m just as disappointed as you are. I read this book back in early September before I had ever heard anything about it. I didn’t know it was part of a trilogy and I certainly didn’t know it was “The Next Big Book” that would sweep the YA world. But it was an ARC! One of my first and I really, really wanted to love it.
But I didn’t love it. I liked it. Most reviewers have mentioned Lauren Oliver’s beautiful writing, and it really is beautiful. She writes like seasoned pro. I read her sentences and thought that here is a woman who was truly born to write.
But, as beautifully constructed the sentences may have been, they added up to a story that just didn’t do it for me. I personally gravitate more toward the faster-paced books. I like to be grabbed by a story immediately. Delirium is definitely not a fast-paced book. At over four hundred pages and only the introductory part of a projected trilogy, the pacing of this story is, perhaps expectedly, sloooow. I felt every one of those 400+ pages.
The entire story follows Lena as she very gradually comes to terms with the realities of her dystopian world. This is to be expected. It is the first book in a dystopian trilogy, so naturally the first book is the “awakening” part of the story. It may just be me, but I often find these books boring. I want to get to the action! I want to see the main character fight against the dystopian society. I don’t want to spend an entire book watching them hesitate back and forth between the-world-is-good/the-world-is-bad when I the reader already know the world is definitely bad (hey, it’s a dystopian!).
Especially when they do this over the course of 400+ pages. Despite the fact that the writing is beautiful to read, I felt like screaming at Lena to figure it out already. There wasn’t any question that Lena would eventually turn against her society (she has to; there would be nothing to write in the rest of the trilogy if she just went along with things), so it was especially frustrating to spend so much time reading about her indecision. I also had a hard time liking and connecting with Lena as a result of this.
While there were a few truly shocking and notable scenes (particularly the spectacular ending!), by the end of the book, we know very little that we didn’t already know from the jacket description. I just don’t think that should be the case in such a lengthy book. To me, that indicates that the book could have been shortened considerably, and I think I would have enjoyed this book more if that had been the case.
My other quibble is that as a dystopian, this one didn’t hold up for me. I’ve been around the block when it comes to dystopians, and unfortunately Delirium just didn’t have what it takes to meet my criteria for an impressive dystopian. What makes the great dystopians (1984, The Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, Utopia, etc) so poignant is that they don’t just imagine a horrible society that is possible, but they connect it to what is happening right now. The propaganda, government surveillance, and silencing of dissent found in 1984 weren’t just terrifying because they could happen. They were terrifying because they were already happening and they were well within human nature to happen as he wrote.
1984 simply took what already was and expanded it by giving it new technological outlets and imagining how what is currently happening could evolve if given just a slight nudge and just a tiny bit more time. Those connections were drawn with startling clarity. The reader could see the progression exactly and that progression was not only clear, but also completely believable. You’re left with warnings of not only what to keep an eye out for in the future, but what you should be looking for going on around you right now. This is what makes a dystopian so scary and effective.
I found this feature lacking in Delirium. I didn’t feel like I really understood how the society went from where we are now to where things were in Lena’s world. No connections were really drawn to what is happening now, so I felt very disconnected from the world Oliver created. I also can’t imagine an entire society of people willingly undergoing brain surgery to become, effectively, lobotomized just so they no longer feel love. Why would someone do that? I wouldn’t do that. Would you do that?
I could understand something like the premise of the movie The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where people would willingly give up select painful memories, but to deny oneself the entire possibility and experience of love? Forever? It sounds like this was a government-speared progression, but I don’t understand why the government would want this. What are they gaining? Why did they go about gaining whatever it is they wanted in this manner?
I just have a very difficult time understanding why and how a society would choose to develop in that direction and Oliver’s explanations were not adequate enough for me in this regard. Giving the benefit of the doubt, this may be explained further in the second and third books as Lena discovers more about her world. This would be helpful, but for me it would be a little too late. It makes sense that she would discover more truths as time went on, but I would have benefited from more of a foundation earlier on so I could better envision the world.
Finally, I did not connect with the characters or the romance between Lena and Alex. I understood it, and it was, thankfully, not the immediate love-at-first-sight type of romance. But I was never captivated by it. I didn’t care if they kissed, I wasn’t pulling for their relationship to succeed, and I just never felt that squee-inducing something. I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it was because I was frustrated with Lena. Maybe it was because, while he was nice, Alex wasn’t someone who captured my interest. He didn’t make me swoon.
Overall, I liked this book well enough, but it didn’t capture me and I may not read the sequels. I’ve seen so many positively glowing reviews for this book, so it seems I am definitely in the minority. In fact, I think I’ve only read one or two four star reviews and nothing lower than that. I’d say if you think the premise sounds appealing to you and you don’t mind a slower-paced book then give this one a try.Otherwise, if you're like me, you may find this book a little tedious with too much investment of time and not enough payout.
The writing is pretty much exactly the same as the first book. Lots of useless information and sentences that say in twenty words what could easily have been said in ten. This frustrates me and I sigh about it an awful lot, but it's clearly not a dealbreaker for me since I keep reading these books. If you managed the writing in the first book, then you'll manage the writing in Allegiance.
Will I get to see a lot of Steldor?
YES! Sorry ladies, but if you're Team Narian, be prepared for a distinct LACK of Narian. He doesn't even appear in any significant role until the final showdown. (view spoiler)[But don't lose hope, your boy wins in the end. *grumble* (hide spoiler)] (Read that spoiler if you want to know which guy wins the love triangle).
I loved it! (You may remember my hatred with the power of 1000 suns for Narian? Yeah, I didn't miss him very much). I am 100% Team Steldor and my appreciation for him only grew after Allegiance with everything he went through. He showed real maturity, putting his duty ahead of his personal wants and emotions. And oh my lord does that man have patience. I can't even count how many times I wanted to reach into the book and hug him and offer to be his queen instead of Alera.
Does London pull a disappearing act again?
London is always off doing something covert (and, really, don't his stealthy secret missions account for at least a quarter of his hotness?), but don't worry, he still gets a ton of page time.
When reading Legacy, I was really curious about London's mysterious past. Thankfully Cayla Kluver finally dished in Allegiance and I got all the dirty details. Rarely do Big Reveals like that meet my expectations, but I have to say this one satisfied me.
Do I have to suffer through long stretches of boredom?
Allegiance can be roughly divided into two parts. The first part is very similar in tone, style, and pacing to that of Legacy. The pacing was pretty slow and not much happened in terms of action. Mostly Alera pined for Narian, cursed Steldor, and tried to exercise her new role as queen with petulant attempts at independence. Blah, blah, blah, basically.
The funny thing is that I actually wasn't bored and I never considered DNF-ing. I would even go so far as saying I zipped through it. While it's true that not much actually happens and Alera continues to annoy me, the side characters are all wonderful.
Of course I also liked all the focus on Steldor. Not only that, but Cannan (Steldor's father) becomes a much more involved character and yet another contender for my heart.
The second part is where the action really picks up. I'm talking WAR. Yes!! I was positively giddy with this turn of events (even though it was all stupid Alera's stupid fault). Cayla Kluver did a fantastic job really driving home the bleakness and utter devastation of the war. She made me cry and rage and wail in despair that NO THAT CANNOT HAPPEN PLEASE NO!
She also took things in a direction I never expected and don't think I've ever seen an author take. That scored her major originality points. Seriously, I loved it.
The only thing that brought down all of this awesome was the fact that Alera was narrating. Now, this isn't ALL because I dislike Alera. The fact is, in her world women don't really do anything. At all.
So while all of the male characters (and my gosh, there was practically a harem of hot male characters getting all sexy and gorgeous with this whole war-torn-brothers-in-arms thing), I was stuck in Alera's useless head ineptly heating up porridge and feeling empowered because she hacked off her hair. She also sleeps a lot.
Whoop-de-do. I could have been in a battle! *STOMPS FOOT* I was SERIOUSLY gypped.
So what's up with the lower star rating?
Everything else I could give a pass, but Alera makes my stars shrivel up and die. I want to offer her a sleepover party invitation just so I can then snatch it back and dance around like a tiny little meanie gleefully crowing "SIKE! None for you! Hehe! None for you!"
She's just...she's dumber than a box of rocks, to put it mildly. And so totally childish. If she were the queen of my kingdom, I think I'd puke with fear. Every single bad thing that happens to her kingdom is the direct result of some utter piece of stupidity brought to them courtesy of Alera. And, of course, she doesn't see it AT ALL. She gets haughty and blames everyone else.
And did I mention she's selfish? Oh my word. While Steldor shoves aside almost every personal desire he harbors that may in some way conflict with his ability to properly run his kingdom, Alera does the complete opposite. All she ever thinks about is what SHE wants and how everyone should worship and obey HER and how she'd better get HER way or she'll do something even dumber than before.
Plus, the girl's priorities are all kinds of messed up. We're in the middle of WAR, tons of her countrymen dead, more dying, lots of very bad things happening, and what does she focus on? Whether or not Narian still loves her. Dude, REALLY??
If it weren't for Alera, I would Special Shelf this book. Cayla Kluver may take a while to tell her story, but what a story it is! That surprise twist in the latter half was fantastic. And the men. Oh my oh my, I can't even count how many attractive men there are in this book. That alone makes me want to read the final book.
About that third book. When I finished Allegiance I wasn't sure I wanted to continue on with the series. It ended really well and I couldn't imagine what would happen in the third book except (view spoiler)[a super annoying romance between Alera and Narian. *barf* (hide spoiler)]
But then Cindy told me there was a prologue for book 3 included at the end of Allegiance and, after reading that prologue, I can't wait for book three! I'm even holding out a teeny tiny bit of hope that some of the guys will get a shot at narrating! (*please please please*)
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Wow, I was not expecting to love this book as much as I do. This is a Special Shelf book for sure. At first it was good, but I wasn’t in love with it.Wow, I was not expecting to love this book as much as I do. This is a Special Shelf book for sure. At first it was good, but I wasn’t in love with it. I was figuring this was going to be a solid four star book. Then about halfway through, pieces of the puzzle started coming together and I realized this book was completely blow-my-mind amazing!
Digger, while likable at first was someone I could take or leave. I didn’t dislike her, but she didn’t really make a mark or leave any lasting impressions. There is a reason for this though. She’s a thief and a spy so she is used to wearing disguises and never showing her true self. She was very guarded and I had a hard time attaching myself to her because I didn’t feel like I knew her. As the story progressed, however, Digger’s personality shines through.
She struggles with balancing morality and loyalty—two aspects she was unused to considering, with the much more familiar drive to survive. Her precarious situation with the blackmailing Lord Dual is tense and angering. I was so worried she was going to get caught or hurt, but at the same time I really wanted her to stick it to him. Lucky for me, Digger is resilient and not about to take crap from anyone. I loved the subtle (and not so subtle) ways she found to needle Daul. He was truly awful and Digger gave me so many great opportunities to stick my tongue out at him and taunt “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nayh!”
While Digger is the one used to wearing masks, it turns out everyone at the castle is wearing even more dangerous disguises. Some were apparent early on (as they are meant to be), but others were delightfully surprising. Like Leah Cypess’s Mistwood, I didn’t know who to trust and who had a trick up their sleeve. Even with their secrets, so many of these characters became good friends and people I genuinely cared for. I was gasping, cheering, horrified, and delighted as their secrets were slowly revealed.
The plot is fantastic, but one I think I will definitely need to reread (and I am so not complaining about that!). There were so many twists and surprises that I’d really enjoy reading the book again with the knowledge of how things turn out. Plus, I will need to do a reread before the sequel comes out. This one ends well as a standalone (though it also perfectly sets up for the sequel—a sequel that sounds so amazingly exciting!), but there’s just so much that happens. I’ll need a refresher. Usually I’m a little frustrated at the idea of having to reread a book to prepare for a sequel, but in this case I can’t wait to reread it. I may not even last all the way until the sequel’s release!
Another notable point about this book is the setting. Settings aren’t usually something that stand out to me, but this one was so great. Usually I say if a character is great I’ll be happy even if they’re just sitting there twiddling their thumbs. In this case, the setting is so amazing I don’t care what’s happening as long as I can spend more time there. The majority of the story takes place at the Nemair’s isolated winter castle and it was described so well that I really felt like I was there. They’re cut off from any form of outside contact due to an avalanche blocking the only road. The castle is gorgeously described and the icy landscape makes for a scene that is both cozy and treacherous.
My only teeny, tiny complaint is that I wish there was just a little romance for Digger. There were hints and possibilities, but that’s about it. People who want a story without in-your-face romance will be pleased. Me, I’m hoping there’s some romance in the sequel. Not a ton where it monopolizes the plot, especially with a plot as strong as this one, but just enough to give me *that* kiss.
I think fans of historical fantasy/magic blends (like Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith) or fantasy dystopians (like Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder) will probably enjoy StarCrossed. I highly recommend this book!
I really, really, really didn't like this book. I feel like there have been a million reviews for The Kiss of Deception lately and I'm so bleurgh about the book overall so I'm going for the bullet points.
Here we go, seven reasons I did not like The Kiss of Deception:
1. LOVE TRIANGLE. This one was especially insufferable. Lia gets to choose between an aimlessly moody prince with a bland personality and a wishy washy assassin who isn't assassiny enough to be cool but is way too assissiny for Lia to actually consider as a romantic partner (unless she's lost her mind, which, well, more on that later). Both choices are awful and shouldn't even be on the table for consideration, yet Lia somehow manages to fall for both of them. Can you hear me face-palming?
2. Lia is not very bright. You know how sometimes authors make their characters do unrealistically stupid things in order to advance the plot? Yeah, The Kiss of Deception is kind of the opposite of that. The plot is incredibly unrealistic in order to accommodate Lia's blinding stupidity. So, Lia's decision to run away from home (that would be, her ROYAL home), shirk her duties (which would be entering into a political alliance through marriage) and play barmaid in a tavern a few towns over? Yeah, no one will look for her, or find her!
(view spoiler)[ (except her brother, who finds her pretty fast...and lets her stay there because, um, royal responsibility is for suckers so enjoy shlepping drinks and crushing on the locals?) (hide spoiler)]
3. Three quarters of the (very long) book is spent doing absolutely nothing. Also, incredibly uneven plotting. Where was the editor?
4. Total cliffhanger ending. Don't think I can be manipulated into reading book 2 by dangling all those loose ends in my face. I don't care enough about anything in this book to bother reading the next one, cliffhanger or no cliffhanger.
5. Lia destroyed a priceless historical heirloom. As a lover of history, antiques, and all such things I literally gasped when Lia casually discarded this object in a scene that I think was supposed to make her seem "free spirited" but just made her seem childish.
6. The world building was seriously lacking. Sporadic allusions to political disputes (with no substance), impending war (with no legit cause), and the existence of some kind of magic stuff all set in a generic Medieval-ish village does not constitute proper world building. Inserting vague story excerpts randomly throughout the narrative also does not constitute world building. Even if it's written in italics.
7. Look, I'm totally cool with unreliable narrators, but they have to be done right. When done right, they can completely make a book. There's so much wrong with the way it was done in The Kiss of Deception. It was obvious, but less because there were clues and more because it was handled in an awkward, clunky way. Absolutely nothing changed once it was revealed so I don't really see what the point of it was to begin with.
Awful. Disappointing. Almost enough to make me swear off this author if she hadn't also written the fantastic The Adoration of Jenna Fox.
Originally posted on Small Review["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I know, I'm disappointed too. The False Prince was filled with incredible tension, twists, and this underlying feeling that Sage was always ten steps ahead of me while I knew I was only able to figure out about five of those steps.
The Runaway King didn't have that. The tension I loved so much just wasn't there the same way. The situation was dire, sure, but something was missing.
Also, the pacing was a little off. It was never slow, but it felt uneven. Jaron felt a little lost and less sure, and I think his internal unsteadiness made the book somehow feel a little unsteady as well. I felt like the story took a little time to come into its own (I was able to put it down for a few days and read other books instead), whereas The False Prince was self-assured and gripping from page one.
What did you DO to my Sage?!
But my biggest complaint is Jaron himself. What I liked so much about Sage in The False Prince was his killer combination of sass and skill. He was cocky and incorrigible and his porous brain-to-mouth filter often led to beatings. And while I always like a smart aleck, they need substance to back up their bravado in order to avoid becoming irritating.
Sage had substance. His mocking comments were satisfying because they were straight up funny, but they also meant something. His goading sarcasm and insults, his irrepressible need to sneak, steal, and lie, they were all subtle manipulations as Sage secretly maneuvered every character until he had them exactly where he wanted them.
Sage had a plan, and his plan always worked (and even when a few wrenches were thrown into his carefully laid plans, he compensated quickly). Sage was funny and irreverent, but he was also deadly serious, skilled, and intelligent. He was Han Solo, but he was also Sherlock Holmes.
Somehow the latter skills were mostly lost in Sage's transformation into Jaron. Jaron is just as cocky, brash, and surly as Sage ever was, but his awesome ability to play mental chess seems to have disappeared. Jaron's plans are all half-cocked and poorly thought out. They're spurred by unfettered emotion and rely on chance and bravado with only a smattering of skill (he's still a masterful thief and swordsman).
The whole book read like an exercise in teaching Jaron humility and the Harry Potter tenet of "friendship will save the day," which is great and all (I love both Harry's friends and Jaron's), but I loved the awe I felt for Sage's near-prescient cleverness in The False Prince and I didn't want to see him knocked down a peg or two. Not to mention the sudden loss of his Sherlockian skills doesn't make much sense.
And, well, Jaron is a little bit of a, oh gosh, dare I say it, he has a touch of the Mary Sue to him. Everyone just loves him SO much and sometimes it felt a little unbelievable. Especially when I'm being beaten over the head with the humility, you-won't-win-without-help stick.
Except, even with all this, *I* still love him just as much as everyone else, so I guess it's really not unbelievable after all.
Ok, have you reset your expectations bar now?
Because those are the only non-flailing-all-over-myself-with-joy comments I'm going to make.
Are all my favorite characters back?
YES! While most only get an itty bitty amount of page time (Connor, LOVE to hate that man! Mott, Tobias, etc) all DO show up and play an important role.
Imogen also has a ton of important parts in The Runaway King and she is fantastic. She's clever, determined, and she shows that she has what it takes to hold her own in a relationship with Jaron. She's not afraid to roll her eyes at his antics and stubbornness, but she also clearly values and respects him as well. But, more on their relationship later.
The Runaway King also introduces a handful of new characters and they command more focus than the old characters in this installment. Which is fine, because they're all pretty awesome. The love-to-hate villain was nuanced enough but also satisfyingly depraved. There's an adorable boy Jaron takes under his wing who was so charming I actually paid as much attention to him as I did Jaron. A noble and a pirate thief round out the main cast and easily wormed their way into my heart.
But, unsurprisingly, The Runaway King is Jaron's book just as The False Prince was all about Sage. His lines are compulsively quotable and never failed to punch in all the right places. He suffers, he whines, he worries, learns, and grows (that last one's the biggie). He steals the stage in every single scene, and even though the other characters do a good job tugging back the spotlight, the main point of all of them is to provide banter and counterbalance to show off Jaron.
And I love it.
And the plot?
This is not a series stretching book, so let's all breathe a sigh of relief.
The False Prince left off with impending war and hints of internal strife in Jaron's court. The Runaway King ends with impending war, but Jaron has taken significant steps toward addressing the vipers in his own court.
I know I said Jaron's ability to play chess is significantly diminished in this book, and that's true, but it isn't totally gone. By the end of The Runaway King, he's selected and arranged his pieces across the board in bold, daring, and very clever ways that should prove interesting come book three.
Though, none of this happens at court. If you were hoping for a court book, then you're going to be disappointed. Whereas The False Prince took place all in one house like a game of Clue, The Runaway King sprawls across multiple kingdoms with Jaron (as Sage!) infiltrating the enclaves of nobles, thieves, and pirates. All with healthy doses of sword fighting, sneaking, charming, and stealing. This all steadily builds to an explosively awesome final fifty pages of pure WIN.
And, yes, it is as awesome as that all sounds.
This is the best love triangle ever! But no, it's not a love triangle like you're thinking.
Sage fell in love with Imogen in The False Prince and his relationship with her only grows stronger in The Runaway King. Even though I didn't even get one kiss (not even ONE, Ms Nielsen???), every single scene between the two of them was packed to the brim with swoon.
And, of course, it's the best kind of hate-tinged love, tense, bickering, eye-rolling, tons of respect, banter-filled swoon.
Except, Imogen is not the princess to whom Jaron is betrothed. So, yeah. Complications.
Complications which are made even more complicated by the fact that I pretty much adore Amarinda. She's sneaky and smart and courageous in a quiet, steady way. She would be an excellent queen and a wonderful counterpart to Jaron.
Their interactions are not as heated and spark-filled as those between Jaron and Imogen, but they reminded me of the subtle but deep and more mature relationship between the King and Queen of Attolia. I want to see the man Jaron becomes with a woman like Amarinda at his side.
But, but Imogen!
HOW do I choose?!
An explanation about that wonky rating
Look, I pull my ratings out of my gut and my heart, not my brain, so you can't expect them to always make objective sense.
"Special Shelf" means that I adore the book to pieces and want to make it my desert island book and I'll probably have to buy multiple copies because I'll wear them out due to all the re-reading I'll do. These are the books where I'll read my favorite scenes over and over and maybe even daydream about what if scenarios about making the characters real or magically getting sucked into the story myself.
Or they make me sob like a baby, but that's not this type of Special Shelf book. This is solidly the kind where I swoon my heart out and wish I could make Jaron real.
But it's not a perfect book, it didn't live up to my every expectation, and I didn't love it as much as The False Prince. So how can I give it the same star rating as The False Prince?
I can't. But it's still a Special Shelf book. So, there you go.
Fans of The False Prince should be very happy with The Runaway King, despite the differences. Don't expect the same book, but do expect a wonderful book.
Oh, and that cliffhanger ending? Thanks Jennifer Nielsen. Thanks a lot.
(No, really, thank you! Because you're promising war! And not just any war, but a siege war against unbeatable odds! Which is pretty much everything my fantasy-loving heart could ask for.)
(But also, I so hate you right now because, ack, that cliffhanger! How could you leave me hanging like this when I don't know what will happen to that character?!!?!)
Dragonfly held so much promise: A hate-turned-love romance, fantasy, questing, culture clash, battles. Oh gosh, the blurb sounded like a recipe for success, but unfortunately the actual story fell flat for me.
I’m a character girl
I need to love my characters, especially in a book like this. The hate-turned-love romantic device relies completely on the strength of the characters. They need to be interesting as individuals and there needs to be a spark between them. For me, neither of those factors was met with Tashi and Ramil.
Tashi was nice, but part of her personality was that she was very closed off and removed. This makes sense for her culture, and it was fascinating, but it also served to close her off to me. I felt like I was never able to get around her walls and know her on a deeper level. The glimpses I did see were likable. She began the book as a very timid girl, but she grew considerably through the book becoming a woman I would have loved if only she would let me.
Ramil pretty much killed the book for me. He irritated me so much with his bravado, impulsiveness, and stubborn inability to see beyond his own perspective. He’s supposed to be at least somewhat off-putting in the beginning, but I don’t think I was supposed to dislike him as much as I did. His growth was less apparent than Tashi’s, making him seem even more childish in comparison. Since I disliked Ramil so much, I had a hard time getting on board with their romance and I didn’t really feel that happy spark when they got together.
For fantasy lovers
The world Julia Golding described was both familiar and creative. The competing cultures were detailed and extremely interesting to learn about. Ramil’s culture is a lot more standard, but Tashi’s was unique. I loved learning all about the various customs and aspects of her culture. It was also interesting to see the clash of cultures. Julia Golding superbly highlighted the truly alien feelings that occur when two distinctly different cultures meet.
The plot itself was pretty standard fare for the high fantasy genre. The whole thing was very predictable and offered nothing new to the fantasy genre. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a complaint though. I don’t mind predictable plots like this because it’s a storyline I enjoy reading. If the characters had captured my heart, I probably would have made this a five star book regardless of the predictable plot.
One thing I didn’t like about the plot was that I found it a plodding in places. Again, if I had loved the characters I probably wouldn’t have minded, but as it was I frequently found myself bored. The action parts were good, but even they needed that little boost that is usually filled in by the charisma of the characters.
Should you read it?
That’s really up to you. If the plot sounds interesting to you, then I think you should give it a try for sure. If you click with the characters then you’ll probably love Dragonfly. I’m glad I read this book and if I find it for cheap then I would buy a copy. I’m just disappointed I didn’t love the book as much as I was expecting....more
I've been having a seriousstreak of bad luck when it comes to books this year. I haven't even reviewed all of them because I've just felt so meh and disappointed about them.
But that all ends now with the latest installment in the Memoir by Lady Trent series.
Until I found a bosom friend in Lady Trent
I was shocked last year at how much I adored the first book A Natural History of Dragons, and while it ended just fine as a standalone, I desperately hoped it would not remain so.
Thankfully, there's a sequel (and now a third book announced!), and I think Tropic of Serpents might be even better than the first.
Isabella is a significant part of why I can't get enough of this series. She's a character trope for sure, but I love this type of character, so I don't mind at all.
Think of her as a dragon-loving Amelia Peabody or a grown up Theodosia. She has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and she isn't afraid to take risks if it means satisfying her curiosity.
But she isn't just a character of action, as so many Strong Female Characters tend to be. Nor is she damaged, thank goodness, which seems to be the other prevailing feature of insufferable SFCs.
Isabella examines her own motives and feelings with the same studious eye she applies to dragon anatomy, and while she finds this thoroughly uncomfortable, she forces herself to confront them anyway. She totally earned my admiration with her fortitude and courage.
Like the Strong Female Character trope, we also have the Strong Feminist, and I guess you could put Isabella into that category too because she thoroughly bucks society's expectations of what is proper behavior for a woman. But, she doesn't do it for a Cause, again, thankfully! because I'm sorry to say but I find that so tiresome.
She does it because it is what she must do. Isabella knows what makes her happy in life, and she doesn't let anyone or any expectation stand in her way. This doesn't come easy, though, and I appreciated that Marie Brennan took the time to examine the conflict Isabella inevitably feels between following her duty and giving in to her desire.
She grew a lot over the course of this book and I was absolutely cheering her by the end!
If only she'd break her slate over his head
If you've read the first book, then you know what happens in the end. So you know, the door is open for, let's say, possibilities.
(Also, if you've been keeping track of the names, Trent is neither Isabella's maiden name nor Jacob's surname. Just saying.)
(And, yeah, I know it's also NOT the last name of a certain combative other character who appeared in the first book and plays an even larger role Tropic of Serpents, but that did not in any way stop me from wishing for something more).
But, all the parentheticals aside, this is not a kissing book. There isn't any romance (despite society's gossip and my desire to believe it) and, honestly, given the events of the previous book and all the growth Isabella needed to accomplish I (grudgingly) guess that's ok.
Still, they make for a very entertaining and mutually respectful friendship. And, as a woman and a man of low birth, I have high hopes that I will get to see them take down society's stodgy Rules for who can and who cannot conduct scientific research.
"Because if you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while"
Isabella is half the reason I love these books, but her adventures make up the other half.
While the world is a totally fictional place made up of overly-complicated yet typically fantasyish names, it is basically our world circa 1800s-ish. Scriland is England, and Eriga (the setting of this installment) is Africa.
If I didn't enjoy saying Scriland so much (it really rolls off the tongue) I'd say my one complaint is that I wish Marie Brennan had just made this a historical fantasy series and set everything in our own real countries. I mean, who are we fooling here?
(Then again, had she done that I'd probably complain about her changing history, which is something I usually take issue with.)
But, the only part where I really started to zone out and lose interest was when Isabella started talking about the politics between the various countries. Now, you know me, I LIVE for fictional politics! Especially when there's shady dealings and imminent war, which was the case here (between not just two, but THREE nations!)
So why wasn't I stoked? Because I had a hard time keeping track of the nations. Between the weird pronunciations and the This-fictional-country-is-really-That-real-country mental match ups I spent more time puzzling out the Who when I should have been indulging my penchant for political intrigue focusing on the What. I got it all sorted, but the way it was presented really pulled me out of the story.
But that was the only time that happened, because Marie Brennan NAILS it when it comes to immersion. After a fun jaunt across the (basically) African savannah where I got to indulge all my childhood Nature-watching dreams and go on a safari hunt (!!!), we trekked through a place called the Green Hell, and oh my gosh, a place was never named more appropriately.
The Green Hell was miserable, which is to say, it was AWESOME! I felt like I was right there with Isabella with the humidity and the bugs and the diseases and the wonderland of natural and cultural discoveries! There's also a Secret To Unravel relating to the dragons living there and the answer was totally unexpected yet fit very nicely.
I can't rave about the Memoir by Lady Trent series enough! I haven't read anything quite like it, and when I'm not reading this series a part of my brain is always wishing I had the next book in my hands. I can't wait to follow Isabella on her next adventure.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give is that I got so completely sucked into Tropic of Serpents that it felt like I was living and breathing the experiences right next to Isabella, who I'm half convinced is actually a real live person living off in in the world somewhere (along with Sherlock Holmes).
Received: Finished copy from publisher Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
I had been anticipating this book all the way back to when it had a different cover, so I was very happy when I was asked if I would like a copy for rI had been anticipating this book all the way back to when it had a different cover, so I was very happy when I was asked if I would like a copy for review. I did enjoy this book and I do recommend it, but I did not love it.
As a character girl, I had to subtract some stars because I just could not connect with the characters. They weren’t bad or annoying, but they never felt alive to me. When I did the WWMCD test (that’s the What Would the Main Character Do? Test) I find these characters did not score high. Unfortunately, these are not characters I will carry with me in my heart for years to come.
Outside of that, the story itself was actually a lot of fun. I love time travel books, and Dark Mirror did things a little different than what I’m used to. Instead of going back in time, Dark Mirror begins in Regency England and then travels forward in time to WWII. Watching the characters react to all of the new (and now old to us) technological advancements made for a fun twist.
The story had a light feel to it that I enjoyed, but it was also appropriately serious. The characters all faced decisions between what is easy and what satisfies duty, honor, and sacrifice. I really liked the patriotism and strong female characters that made up the backbone of the book.
The first half of the book moves along at a good pace, following Tory as she acclimates to her new school. For a while I thought I had been misinformed about the time travel aspects, thinking this was instead a boarding school book. The time travel comes about midway through the book and at that point the pace really picks up.
I like fast paced books, but I thought things moved almost a little too fast. The characters jumped around from one task to another, accomplishing each one with relative ease. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had connected with the characters. As it was, I followed the events happily enough but I never felt invested.
The romance was nicely paced and I think will be received well by both fans and detractors of insta-love. The two characters do have an instant connection, but there is a forbidden love aspect that keeps them at a distance. Their connection is never explained, but maybe an explanation will be explored in the sequel.
Though this book does have a sequel, it works well as a standalone. All of the main events are tied up cleanly, so you need not fear any cliffhangers. There also aren’t a ton of little details to worry about having to remember.
Kyra can come to my sleepover, IF she brings her potions kit
Kyra is the kind of main character I like, but don't LOVE. She's determined, loyal (to some), and prepared to do whatever it takes to do the right thing—even if it's heartbreakingly hard. So, MAJOR respect points.
She's also an awesome potions master, which is just flat out cool (just try to imagine how much more amazing a sleepover party would be with an actual potions master in attendance!). All the potions talk added about a million points to the book for the sheer "I wish that were real" factor.
But, Kyra's also prickly, and much as I do like prickly characters, her style of prickly made her a little hard to get close to. She's always pushing people away, which is a trait I don't tend to like, especially when the reasons are as thin and unexplained as Kyra's were. I don't like it when I start to roll my eyes and yell at the main character because I think they're behaving in unnecessary ways.
Kyra's first-person narrative voice did help me like her a lot more than I would have had this been written in third person. Her internal feelings and explanations prevented me from actually disliking her when she did things I didn't think she should. So those actions turned into a slightly annoying quirk of someone you know and love rather than something that full on annoyed me.
Kyra also loses a few points because she isn't a big animal lover. She's more of a grudging tolerator eventually evolving toward unadmitted liker. So, good, eventually, but not great. I just can't fully get on board with a character who hardens her heart to the charms of adorable animals.
It's sweet and it's sort of a slow burn hate-turned-love type of romance, but not quite. It's also totally the lite version of those types of romance. There were undeniably a handful of swoony moments and the banter was great (their initial meeting is darn near perfect), but the overarching vibe of the romance was more Jessica Day George style middle grade cute than swoooooony.
Which can be totally fine, just so long as you go into it expecting Jessica Day George style romance and not fainting-couch, be-still-my-heart, hand-fanningly hot swoon (and while I knew I wasn't going to be getting the latter—this IS a Disney book!—I was hoping for something a little more YA than MG, so cue my very mild disappointment).
With the exception of his name (Fred?? Sorry Harry Potter fans, I just can't swoon over that name!), he's a pretty great guy. He's funny, sweet, adventurous, and clever.
But...maybe he's a little *too* great. He's always so happy-go-lucky (gosh, I might even call him chipper) and while that's nice and all, I like my male leads to be a little sarcastic. I'd even go so far as to say I like them to be a little surly.
And manlier, definitely manlier. Fred is very boyish.
I also can't help but be disappointed by his niceness because that robbed me of the "hate" part of the hate-turned-love romance. Kyra definitely doesn't not fall for him right away and they DO have some fun banter, but this was a very one-sided hate. The whole thing lacked the combative spark I hope for.
Fred seemed mildly amused with Kyra's attitude and gamely tagged along with whatever she was doing. I also never truly understood why he loved her. He was charming and sweet to her from the beginning and his attitude toward her never really changed.
Was it love at first sight for him? If so, why? (and, if so, bummer. I am so NOT a fan of love at first sight, which is pretty much the antithesis of hate turned love).
While the friendship between Kyra and Princess Ari doesn't come close to a Ten Tissues on the Beaches Scale of Friendship, it IS a super sweet friendship and gets points for making me want to break into spontaneous hugging.
Their friendship added depth to Kyra and I found myself liking Kyra the best when she was with Ari. Kyra softened and loosened up a little whenever Ari was around. Putting Ari in Kyra's presence was like handing a puppy to a grumpy person and defying them to look into the puppy's little puppy face and try not to smile.
Not only that, but I truly felt for Kyra and her predicament as a result of this friendship. Kyra was trying to protect her kingdom, but her heart was breaking as a result. If I didn't see her friendship with Ari, I never would have been as emotionally invested in Kyra's plight as I was and I don't know that I would have liked her as much as I did.
Also, on the topic of friendships, who knew a pig could be so cute? I practically broke out into out-loud-awwws every time Rosie was mentioned.
Plot and all that
Everything moves pretty quickly with a little bit travel/questing, a little bit of mystery, and a little bit of back story. So, basically, most of my favorite plot elements. Everything reads very, very easy.
As in, take the time you would normally need to read a 288 page book and cut that time in half. Really. The chapters are short, the font is big, and it's super light reading.
The plot isn't entirely linear, taking a few trips down flashback lane. It was a little jarring and definitely hindered the momentum of the story, but it did help avoid info-dumps. Added bonus was how it fleshed out Kyra and the princess's friendship by showing instead of telling. This was VERY effective.
Most scenes ended up holding more significance than they at first appeared to and looped back around to tie in together at the end. Most of this was fantastic, though one connection seemed to come out of nowhere and I don't think it was really necessary.
Still, it was kind of neat, so I think I'd rather Bridget Zinn had spent more time fleshing this part out so it was less random and could have contributed even more to Kyra's character development (though I do recognize why this probably didn't happen).
It was all fun and kept me guessing throughout, but everything was almost a little *too* fast for me. I know, I know, I love fast-paced plots, but in this case the briskness felt rushed and under-developed. I wanted everything to be expanded just a little bit more. As it was, everything had a very sketched, outliney feel (though it's an outline for a fantastic book).
Where the star went
That would be because of the writing. Wait, don't panic. The writing is fine. There aren't any grammatical errors or annoying similes or anything like that.
It's more that Poison felt like a draft that hadn't been fully fleshed out and finished yet. It made me think of Buffy's cookie dough analogy where she explains that she hasn't finished baking yet.
Let's forget for a minute that not-entirely-cooked-cookies are actually superior to the fully-cooked alternative and just go with it.
Poison is like Buffy's analogy. It's something really wonderful with the potential to be fantastic like warm, delicious cookies...when it's finally done baking. All the right elements are there: intricate plot, unique developments, crazy cool potions, intriguing mystery, and likable characters. It could have SO been a Special Shelf book.
But it's not done baking.
I had pined over Poison ever since I read the blurb and got those "This could be *THAT* book!" vibes. My hopes were SKY HIGH and I ended up having a lot of trouble reading Poison because of all my mixed emotions (I never want this to end! This is amazing! This is everything I've been looking for! No, no, I don't want to admit that this ISN'T *quite* everything I'd hoped it would be).
I was so torn that I actually put the book down at the halfway point and read a few books in between. Poison ended up being a book like To Catch a Pirate where I love it and will for sure own a copy and re-read it in that Special Shelf way, but it falls short of actually being a Special Shelf book.
When I re-read, I'll always have that little nagging feeling where my brain is trying to push the book into being what I feel it almost is, but isn't quite.
Still, I WILL re-read it and I wish the author were still alive to write more books because I would immediately add her to my Authors to Watch list.
I adored Plain Kate, mostly because Erin Bow created a rich world with depth, culture, history, and texture, filledOriginally posted at Small Review
I adored Plain Kate, mostly because Erin Bow created a rich world with depth, culture, history, and texture, filled it with people (and one very important animal) who completely claimed my love, and then she spent the entire book ripping my heart out with the beautiful heart-smashing loveliness of her harsh, cruel world.
Plain Kate was the best kind of fairy tale. It was gorgeously written, but those pretty words breathed life into her characters, vitality into her world, and substance into her plot.
So, of course I set my bar for Sorrow's Knot pretty high, and, in some ways, it almost rose to the challenge. In others...well, Sorrow's Knot is no Plain Kate.
Sorrow's Knot has really, really pretty writing. I was totally drawn into the book in that life-sucking way that makes you neglect the things around you because "MY BOOK" *hand flap everything away*
The evocative, storytelling writing smothered me in that book fuzz that blocks out the world, but what kept me there was the mystery that I felt supernaturally compelled to unravel (sorry, I had to get at least one pun out of my system).
I love books with story mythology, and Sorrow's Knot is definitely a book that relies heavily on story mythology. The White Hand creatures were both creepy and tragic, and the final reveal surrounding them was devastating. I only wish this aspect had been delivered with fewer holes and loose strings.
And, the sobbing disappointment
I'm a concrete kind of person. I like artwork that painstakingly recreates reality. I'm not a fan of poetry unless it's the epic kind of poems where they're basically novels with weird line spacing. If a blurb says something like "profound metaphorical journey," I run the other way. I actually like long and clunky info-dumps.
Sorrow's Knot makes sense in that dreamy profoundly half-logical way episodes like Buffy's dreamscape Restless or Frank Herbert's Dune series make sense. Everyone walks around sagely spouting off nonsense and half-sentences. Most things don't have a fully reasoned explanation and we're just supposed to accept them, because. But the characters say it all with a miasma of authoritative wisdom! So, it's all deep and stuff!
And, oh lord, Sorrow's Knot is pretty much one giant convoluted mess of double speak, vague metaphors, and fuzzy half-explanations. It's also set in a fictional Native American tribe of She-Ra Men Haters Club inductees, so with that double dose of cliche you know it's super extra profound.
And, I don't know, maybe I'm extra bleh about the whole thing because the Magical Indian and the Wise Woman tropes are particular Do Not Want points for me (I'd rather have female and Native American characters who are wise because they're actually wise and not because it's somehow an implicit character trait brought on by their race and sex), but after Plain Kate, I expected something more original from Erin Bow.
And, yes, I know a significant point of the story is actually going against the established and promoting growth to a less insular, rigid society, but that falls flat when the rigid world is the better developed, more memorable part of the story and the push for change is wrapped in convoluted, thin explanations.
The fact that the whole "We do what we do, because." traditional approach is challenged by "We shouldn't do what we do anymore. Just because it's bad and stuff. Yeah!" kinda undermines the whole story. It comes across more like teenage rebellion, ignorant of the whys behind the way things have developed (explanations never given, but unlikely not to exist), instead of a story of logical growth and development.
Also, (view spoiler)[if the problem was that they were binding too tightly, then why did they stop binding completely? Was there something inherently wrong with binding in general? If so, then why does the tightness matter? If not, then, again, why stop binding at all? Was there ever then a purpose to binding? And, if so, then why is that reason suddenly gone? (hide spoiler)]
Plain Kate had me crying from the opening chapter (and don't even get me started on the double whammy scenes with Taggle), but Sorrow's Knot never once made me feel. The difference is that Plain Kate made me care about the characters because they had depth and personality. They were nuanced and alive.
Sorrow's Knot's characters were stereotypes. Really worn out stereotypes. Even worse, their characterizations relied almost completely on the stereotypes and never developed beyond them. One character is even switched out for another partway through the story, and it makes no difference because they're almost exactly the same.
They're also constantly dropping dead. Sorrow's Knot has a near-Shakespearean tragedy body count, and yet I couldn't muster up a single care.
Add in a dash of "inexplicable" and a heaping of "bleary sagacity" and not only were the characters thinly developed, but their actions and motivations didn't make a whole lot of sense.
Which brings me to the plot, which also didn't make a whole lot of sense. Now, when I was in the story, this didn't bother me as much. I was wrapped up in the mystery of the White Hand creatures and the lore and mythology of the world and trying to figure out how they all connected.
All with a nagging feeling that, "NO, THAT MAKES NO SENSE" mixed with "oh please don't let that actually be the explanation." Except it was. The big reveal was that awkward, obvious, and filled-with-holes explanation I was desperately hoping (from very early on in the story) it would not turn out to be.
Add in the rushed ending with its sloppy resolution, loose ends, and 11th hour (and totally unnecessary) romance, and I felt cast adrift without a paddle by the time I turned the final page.
My initial feeling is that I liked this story a whole lot. There really is a lot of talent and potential in here, even if it never coalesces. And, I wonder, would I have liked it more if I hadn't read Plain Kate first? I'd say maybe yes, but then I remember all the logical inconsistencies and plot holes, so, maybe not.
But, Plain Kate was so much more, whereas Sorrow's Knot is so worn, and my crushing disappointment is near overwhelming. Both contain underlying messages of growing up, grief, and letting go, but one does it with subtle finesse and tenderness, expertly balancing the comfortingly familiar fairy tale frame with stunning originality. The other relies on stereotypes, cliches, and muddy allusions, none of which resonated with me.
This is a standalone, though there are possibilities for more.
Originally posted at Small Review ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I thought it was pretty good, but nothing special. It's a neat, thougOriginally posted on Small Review
I was told there would be amazing world building
I thought it was pretty good, but nothing special. It's a neat, though not really unique, world where dragons transform into human form and live in a tense alliance with humans. There's all sorts of heavy handed shades of prejudice, fear, and related racial issues. There was a prior war. There is an impending war.
See? None of that is very unique or amazing, so I definitely am not in the camp that hails the world building as something uniquely special.
That said, I liked the world. I could have done with a lighter touch on the "racism is bad" front (this made some characters ring less true—the princess in particular), but overall I liked reading about the less preachy parts of dragon-human interactions. I'm a sucker for the medieval-ish fantasy world with warring kingdoms and pretty princesses, so Seraphina's world was a good fit for me.
My biggest gripe about the world building though is that there are a lot of holes. I understand this is part I of II, but I don't think there should be this many holes. I have a ton of questions, and they're not of the "Just wait, that will be revealed" variety. This is the kind of world that looks really nice at first glance, but does not hold up under scrutiny.
I was told the writing is beautiful
It is very nice. Even though the book is massive, and even though the plot is slow (very!), and even though I hate both of those things, I still loved reading Seraphina.
The writing totally drew me in and I barely noticed that I had read a lot and not much had actually happened or that I had barely made a dent in the pasta-bowl page count. I was just really enjoying reading.
But, there's also a whole lot of telling going on. I felt like I had a very unclear picture of who Seraphina was as a character until Kiggs was introduced and started telling me. Seraphina felt like one of those wallflower characters: likable and nothing to complain about, but also nothing to remember once the story is over.
Enter Kiggs, and suddenly Seraphina is bold and daring and other This Is A Memorable Character descriptors. And, yeah, he had a point I guess, and I understand he was telling Seraphina as much as he was telling me, but it still felt very forced. The same thing happened with other characters, too (I was reminded frequently of how regally the princess was acting).
I was told the politics were twisty
Yes-ish? A little? I like political fantasy stories, and Seraphina can definitely fall into that category. I'd fit it somewhere in the middle to low end though as far as twisty-ness is concerned. It's no Megan Whalen Turner, that's for sure.
The politics are more straight forward and while there is a dastardly plot, this is not the kind of political book with lots of subtle maneuvering. There's nothing wrong with that, and I enjoyed the story for what it was, but my expectations bar had been set for the latter and so I was a little disappointed.
I was told the romance was swoony
It's slow burn and built on friendship first, which I like. Her romantic interest is a good guy with solid morals and good character development. He's not a charmer or a bad boy. Their romance was very nice and I was happy to see it included in the book. Their conversations were engaging and reminded me of those rare special friendships where you just click with a person.
I loved reading the romance, but I did not swoon.
I was told the characters were great
This is the shining part of the book for me. I'm a character girl, and I totally connected with these characters. Or, less the actual characters (because I don't feel compelled to start handing out sleepover party invites, even though they were nice) but more the relationships.
Seraphina's relationships with the various characters truly touched me. I almost cried at various points, both in sadness and in pure joy. I looked forward to seeing her in scenes with the different characters, less for plot progression and more just because I liked seeing them together. I think this is what really hooked me, kept me reading, and will keep me coming back for the sequel.
But, this wasn't entirely solid, either. Characterizations were shifted in order to fit the narrative. People would change or make decisions that just didn't make sense. Why now? Why this way? I guess they could happen that way, but I wasn't convinced and that doubt interfered with my enjoyment and immersion in the story.
Rachel Hartman is an author I'm going to follow. Seraphina is her debut, and in a lot of ways it reads like a debut. There are things that can be improved, and that is to be expected with a debut. But there is also a lot of promise and a strong foundation, and I'm excited to see how she builds on that.
I wish I hadn't been exposed to so much hype for this book. I'm not sure if it would have changed my enjoyment level, but it may have had an effect. Expectations are a powerful factor.
The ending actually wraps up a lot better than I was expecting it would, but of course there's all that impending doom stuff that will happen in the sequel. I'm pretty sure this is a duology and not a trilogy, and I am extremely happy to hear that. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, and while I don't feel like I need it RIGHT NOW, I am glad I won't have to wait long to find out what happens next.
So, here’s the deal: I wasn’t expecting to like this book all that much. I totally had it pegged insta-love with angels and noAssumptions, assumptions
So, here’s the deal: I wasn’t expecting to like this book all that much. I totally had it pegged insta-love with angels and not much else. I was prepared for a moping and mooning weak main character. Plus, with the massive amount of pages, I was bracing for some major Twilight Pacing Syndrome.
You know what they say about assuming…
I was so wrong! The book is told in the first person and narrated by Clara. Her voice is so easy to like and flows really well. I have the attention span of a goldfish, so big books don’t usually work well for me, but I didn’t feel the length of this book at all. I was sucked in completely, mostly because I felt like I was hanging out with a girl I would totally be friends with.
There were a few points where I surfaced for air and realized that not much was actually happening. Despite the fact that’s she’s part angel and the whole book revolves around her fulfilling her purpose, she’s a completely normal girl and does completely normal things. Which, you know, can be sort of boring to read about. Like following her for a few chapters as she works on an English project or learns how to ski. The thing is, Clara was such an appealing narrator that I was too busy enjoying myself to realize I should be bored.
Slowly uncovering information about the angel lore helped balance out the more mundane events. Though an angel-blood, Clara is pretty much in the dark about many things (particularly surrounding fallen angels) and so we get to piggy-back along with her as she discovers new bits of information and begins to piece them together. Cynthia Hand has done a wonderful job creating an intriguing and well-crafted mythology.
More than meets the eye
For a while I thought this book was hit with a huge dose of Twilight Pacing Syndrome because the first ¾ were more ho-hum and then the final ¼ picked up in action a lot. But by the end of the book I realized that a ton of those little events I thought were just filler and overwriting (even if they were fun) were actually significant clues. This first book was all about the maneuvering of the pieces, and the movements are subtly enacted across the whole book. Still, I wish this had been more apparent and that the first 3/4 didn't feel so meandering.
My head is spinning trying to put all of the clues together and make sense of what I read. Not because it was confusing or poorly written though. Oh no, Cynthia Hand did an excellent job of giving just enough hints to give me something to play with, but leaving enough things open that I’m impatiently counting down the days for the release of the sequel, Hallowed (with the infuriatingly vague date of “Sometime in 2012” maybe January).
Let’s be BFF 4 EVA
One final note about the characters because, you know, I have to talk about the characters. I loved them! Clara is the perfect type of teenager to read about: imperfect and unsure but never angsty or whiny. She felt real and genuinely nice.
Then there’s her love interests. Ah, can I please make Tucker real and keep him? There’s a love triangle but it isn’t annoying at all. It’s very different from the usual triangle, so if you normally hate love triangles, don’t feel like you’ll automatically hate this book. There is a twist to it that makes it a lot more palatable than the typical indecisive and borderline cheating main character.
Teeny, tiny spoiler:
But she’d better do what I want her to do and I don't care what happens! He called her Carrots for crying out loud! Can he possibly be any better than that? That’s a rhetorical question because the answer is obviously no, it’s impossible to do better than channeling Gilbert Blythe and one of the best scenes in literary history ever. Yes, I’m stomping my little foot on this point.
End of spoilers.
This is also one of those books where all of the characters commanded my attention, not just the main characters. They all felt real to me with fully developed personalities. Though I’m not sure yet on where they all stand with the Big Bad brewing in the background (woah alliteration!). There’s one cookie in particular I don’t trust at all.
When happily ever after ends
Because of all of these hidden clues and maneuverings, a part of me does wish I had waited until all of the books in the series had been published. This book does end on a cliffhanger, though it is an appropriate point to end book one. I have a terrible memory, and I have a feeling that as difficult as it will be to remember all of the clues I recognized, it will be near impossible for me to remember all of the clues I missed that will play a major role later on. I think I will have to re-read Unearthly before I read Hallowed.