This book was exactly what I was hoping it would be: Sweet, fun, engaging, and light. It's an easy, quick read with l...moreOriginally posted on Small Review
This book was exactly what I was hoping it would be: Sweet, fun, engaging, and light. It's an easy, quick read with likable characters.
The narrative switches every other (short) chapter between Zayele and Najwa and I thought this worked really well to both advance the plot and show the story. Their personalities are distinct enough that I rarely needed the chapter headings or even context clues to tell me who was speaking.
There isn't a whole lot of pulse pounding action, but there isn't ever a dull moment either. The storyline was engaging and I kept reading because I wanted to find out what would happen, but also just because I liked spending time in these worlds (the jinni caves! the library!) and with these people. The romances and side characters are predictable, but I found that to be a comforting plus. Zayele and Najwa are very different, but both equally likable.
Goodreads shows this is book one of a series, and while I would definitely read a sequel, I also think the story wraps up well as a standalone.
I love these kinds of solid stories. They're my go-to type of book when I'm looking for something that will make me happy and isn't too taxing. I can see this appealing to a wide audience as it's perfect for Goddess Girls readers looking for something a little older but still engaging enough for adult readers who enjoy middle grade books.
This is author Amber Lough's debut, and I am eagerly anticipating her next book.
You know how sometimes you can read a historical fiction book and not really feel l...moreOriginally posted on Small Review blog
This book is gross.
You know how sometimes you can read a historical fiction book and not really feel like you're IN the time period? Yeah, not this book.
Hats off to Kristiana Gregory because this lady nails the historical time period despite the thoroughly modern middle grade voice used for Eleanor (complete with groan-inducing "diary I must hide you in a clever place!" thoughts scattered throughout the book. I swear these diary book heroines spend 1/4 of the pages talking about hiding their diary).
Mostly Kristiana Gregory accomplishes this sense of "place" by throwing in every random bit of disgusting 12th century detail from parasitic worms to bathroom accommodations. You can also play a rousing game of 1000 Ways to Die in Medieval Europe! because, holy cow, red shirts abounded in this book.
On the plus side, all these bits of barf-inducing gore totally made me spend at least three hours on Wikipedia looking up all the historical bits Kristiana Gregory threw in (Wikipedia confirms them, btw, though I still haven't found that eye worm thing described in quite that way. Oh, and that reminds me, Ms. Gregory, mind explaining to my students why I was gagging in the library?).
But, hey, what do I expect from a book set in the 1100s? Those were gross times and life was definitely cheap. So points to Kristiana Gregory for keeping it real and packing in a ton of historical details between covert diary stashings (and even managing to combine the two! Flea ridden diaries, yay!).
And, ya know, I know it was a total diary gimmick, but I SO wanted Eleanor to snoop in her sister's diary. Which is to say, I was getting pretty into these characters and I'll be the first to say I'm shocked because they weren't written with that much depth, but I was still totally invested.
Of course, like all these Royal Diaries books, this one ended right before the good stuff really started. But that's necessary because all the good stuff is hardly fodder for middle grade books. Still, these books serve their purpose better than I would have ever expected.
Packed with historical detail, the Royal Diaries series is an excellent way to read about the early years of great historical figures (years often skipped over in adult books).
Don't expect great depth of characterization or to know the real Eleanor (or any of the historical protagonists in this series) because she's written with the voice of a modern middle grade girl (albeit one expected to do needlepoint and marry for political gain).
But that's ok, because as an introduction to Eleanor's childhood and her world, this book definitely serves its purpose.
Mistwoodwas one of those middle of the road books for me that didn't quite cut it in a lot of ways, but still managed to linger in my mind years later.
So, I was curious to see what Leah Cypess would do next, and when I discovered that what she was doing next involved assassins and magic, well, I was pretty much convinced I needed to read this.
Fair or not, I couldn't help but compare Death Sworn to Mistwood, but lucky for Death Sworn, the comparisons were definitely weighted in its favor. Mistwood was very much a debut book with its exciting premise but shaky execution. Death Sworn feels a lot more polished, with the richness and depth I sensed Leah Cypess could deliver, but didn't quite manage in Mistwood.
I don't know if we could be friends, but I'm sending the invite
Like Mistwood, Death Sworn features a main character who is hard to like. Ileni is cold, distant, and keeps herself to herself. Luckily, this is a first person book, so I got to spend a ton of time in Ileni's head getting to know all her thoughts and feelings.
Ileni was handed a bag of total suckage she right before the book started. Her magic, the thing she had defined herself by her entire life, was fading and, oh yeah, she was going to be exiled as a result. Friends, family, teachers, boyfriend, they were all, "Here's your bag. See ya." Nice, right?
Ileni is justifiably ticked off, confused, frustrated, and despairing. But she does it with steel and grit and a pissed off determination. I liked that she chose to embrace a simmering anger (though her feelings of loss were also so heart-rendering), because I was fuming on her behalf. Some characters take a little while for me to warm up to, but not Ileni. I was ready to fiercely back her up from page one.
Thankfully, instead of moping she channels all those feelings into a devil-may-care approach to life and volunteers to train a bunch of assassins, because what does it matter if they kill her?
The assassins Ileni meets aren't nice fluffy assassins. They're not even allies. Ileni's teaching them is part of some tensely grudging pact made between the two groups and no amount of gritting teeth and playing nice hides the fact that they don't like or trust one another.
I loved that Leah Cypess took this approach. Sure, I'm a reader who likes the whole "let's get along" rag-tag friendship thing, but that's also pretty been-there-done-that. The tension, distrust, and prejudice Leah Cypess had her characters maintain throughout the whole book was refreshing and realistic. I totally bought into these characters because their actions and thoughts made sense, which in turn added depth and realism to the world she created.
Plus, those were some SCARY assassins! I know I was looking at them through Ileni's definitely not trusting eyes, but, yikes. It was fascinating reading about them and their skills are believably assassin-grade, but I can't say I like or trust them.
Readers who have trouble getting cozy with assassins because they kill people might appreciate Death Sworn. There's no tip-toeing around what they are, that they kill on command, and that their way of thinking is not comprehensible to someone who is not an assassin. To Ileni (and me) they seemed like the kind of people where you'd tap your head and mouth "They're not quite right" (except of course you wouldn't actually do that because they'd freaking kill you).
Of course there's romance!
Think of it more like the season six Buffy/Spike romance where she's with him for all the wrong reasons. She's broken and hurting and he's serving a purpose, but somewhere along the way numbing escape leads to healing.
It's not the rainbows and That Kiss kind of romance. In a lot of ways, it's not satisfying. It's messy and a little uncomfortable, and I'm still not convinced I can trust him.
There's a lot of back and forth and uncertainty in their relationship, but that makes sense. When are emotions ever logical and consistent? Especially when they're unexpected emotions that go against everything you've ever been taught in life. It might have been less confusing and unsettling had they just went with their feelings and declared their love cultural teachings be damned, but that's what we call insta-love.
So, the romantic in me is still holding out hope, but I'm glad they haven't eloped just yet. Both of these characters are still developing and this is only the beginning of their story. Their relationship so far was less a romance and more an important part of their growth as individuals—a growth that is not yet complete, and in that regard it was written very well.
Mystery! Politics! Intrigue!
I'm a character girl, so watching all the character nuances unfold and shift probably would have been enough to sustain my interest. But, there's also the mystery, which was more than enough to hook me.
Ileni's driving force and the only thing she really cares to live for is solving the mystery of who killed the previous two teachers...and who therefore might be trying to kill her (and as much as Ileni doesn't really care about living, she also doesn't actually want to die).
What at first seems like a simple murder unravels into something MUCH more. I can't give details, but the reveals totally satisfied my political intrigue loving heart. Each layer Ileni uncovers leads to greater peril, ups the ante, and exposes things about her world. I cannot wait until the next book comes out to see how this is all going to unfold.
Also about that world—it's beautifully written. Ileni starts her story entering the dark, claustrophobic, labyrinthine caves the assassin's call home. It's foreign and stifling and made the world seem extremely small.
But, slowly (mirroring Ileni's internal re-birth), as the story unfolds and Ileni learns more, the world opens itself up and my pin-prick focus dilated to reveal a richly developed world with political structures, cultures, and history of which I feel I have only scratched the surface but definitely want to learn more.
This wasn't the easiest book in a lot of ways because of how alien the assassins feel and how terrified and angry Ileni is throughout pretty much the whole book. But it was fascinating. I could not get enough of it. Death Sworn gripped me and would not let me do anything but read until I had finished the book, and then it left me desperate for the sequel.
The Knight and Rogue series is one of those hidden gem series that doesn't seem to get talked about a whole lot but I'm gobsmacked as to why (except maybe the covers. Gotta say, I'm not a fan of them).
I'm going to try writing this review a little differently because, let's be honest, who doesn't shy away at the sight of a review for a fourth book in a series you haven't read?
Michael and Fisk start out as reluctant allies and carry that hate mixed with love thing throughout the series. They're polar opposites, so they're always bickering over which approach to take and worrying that the other is going to get hurt because they're doing something stupid (so each believes).
The beauty is that they're both often right. Michael is the chivalric knight (in an age where knights are ancient history) driven to do the right thing, even if it burns him. Fisk is a snarky conman and thief used to looking out for himself. Michael's a glass half full kind of guy. Fisk is definitely the glass half empty type.
They both contribute a lot to their partnership and I love seeing them work together to become a team greater than its parts.What makes it even better is both characters get to narrate, so we get to see everything first hand through both of their perspectives.
Each book has its own central mystery and Hilari Bell definitely knows how to write a good mystery. The clues are subtle enough that the resolution isn't totally obvious, but they're also not so hidden that I couldn't pick up on them. They come together at a nice pace, too, so the plot is always steadily building toward the big reveal.
Michael and Fisk are the type of characters who feel real. Stick them in a random situation and I know exactly what they'll say and what they'll do. I could tell you which jokes they'd laugh at and which would fall flat for them. Put them in a tavern and I could point out the lady they'd fall for.
As far as character depth and development, Hilari Bell has written Michael and Fisk a cut above your average character. Each book sees them grow and change and come more fully into themselves.
Not your typical fantasy
These books are set in a kind of fantasy 18th/19th-ish century, but they're not at all Jane Austeny. The characters aren't improper, but they're not Proper either. It feels more...American, maybe. Whatever it is, I like it.
The world building is pretty different, too. There's a whole system of magic and I like how even the characters don't know entirely how it works. Experiments, speculation, and fear surround magic and discovering how it works is another layer of mystery threaded throughout the books.
Improves with each installment
I wasn't IN LOVE with the first book, but I did like it enough to buy the sequel when it was on sale. I'm glad I did, because I liked that book even better. The second and third are a toss up for me as to which one I like better (maybe the second, but then again, there was that scene in the third...), but the fourth really raised the stakes (and that ending!) and now I am dying to read the fifth.
Each book is a solid, stand-alone fantasy/mystery, though they should definitely be read in order. If you're just starting out with the series, I highly recommend giving both the first and second book a shot before making any decisions. I think the story really hit its stride in book two.
For those already familiar with the series but perhaps a little wary because Thief's War isn't published by Harper Teen like the previous books, don't worry at all. The fourth book is a worthy addition and well worth the purchase.
I might even go so far as to say it's the best in the series, but then I remember that scene in book two...and that scene in book three...and that other scene in book two...
The War of the Roses seems to be The Next Big Thing for historical fiction fans who are all Tudor-ed out. And with good reason! While Henry VIII might be known for his many wives and religious turmoil, the War of the Roses is a period of, well, WAR.
And I love a good war.
With all the feuding sides, crownings and dethrownings, intrigue, and romance, the War of the Roses is definitely worth checking out. But where to begin?
I've started my fictional foray with Susan Higginbotham's The Queen of Last Hopes, a book I've long pined for (mostly because of the cover, which I apparently didn't even look at all that closely because what is with that flower?!). Starting here was an excellent choice.
The Queen of Last Hopes follows Margaret of Anjou's perspective, though it dives off here and there to look through the eyes of several men when Margaret wasn't present for the action. Normally I hate this willy nilly narrative style, but I hate missing battle scenes even more, so I was more okay than not with the author's choice.
Margaret makes a good narrator, but it's also her voice that made me knock off half a star. I don't know what it was, but something kept me from truly connecting with her and becoming invested in her, despite being totally invested in the events surrounding her. While there were some aspects of her I felt I knew very well, I couldn't shake the feeling that a part of her was hidden from me and I didn't fully know her. She was more of a C. W. Gortner's Isabella for me than a Juliet Grey's Marie Antoinette. Still, that's pretty high praise.
But those events, oh my gosh those events! This is a crazy war and Margaret's story follows major battles, desperate flights to safety, bargaining with the enemy, and so many coup d'etats my head was spinning. I never felt like I was reading a dry history lesson.
Though I almost wish I did feel that a little more. The peripheral details could have been more prominent, though I'm the kind of reader who wants to be lectured on stuff like the type of material used to make flatware during the time period. This lack made me feel a little less "living and breathing" in the actual time period, so that's the other reason for a half a star off.
But I can live with that. This is more a people and events kind of book, and Susan Higginbotham excels in those areas. While Margaret felt a little reserved, she wasn't a total blank slate. I was totally invested in her relationship with her husband and the way she grappled with his madness and frailties and her feelings for him. I have to admit, I sobbed a few times.
Her relationships with other characters were also emotional, but I had a harder time getting involved with them. This was partially because they were less developed (except for one, which, yeah, I was definitely into that one), but also partly because half of them went by the same name. When one died, his heir inherited his titled and thenceforth was referred to by the title.
So, you'd have the Duke of Somerset, until he died, and then we follow his heir...the Duke of Somerset! It got a little confusing and I guess names matter, because I think this carrying on of the same name made me have a harder time connecting with the different men.
Major players on both sides make an appearance and, while it could be because this is my first fictional taste of these people, I liked Susan Higginbotham's take on them very much. Margaret was given a fair shake (unlike the she-devil interpretations that seem to abound) and though this is obviously a Team Lancaster book, I thought the author's portrayals of the Big Bads of the House of York were balanced.
The author does take artistic license in a few instances, but they do derive from historical rumor at least and she has a very nice author's note at the end clarifying fact from fiction. I'm usually a huge stickler for REAL OR GO HOME, but these changes didn't bother me much because they could have happened.
Bottom line: I went out and bought two more of her books soon after finishing The Queen of Last Hopes, so there you go. I'm a fan.
FYI, this is an adult book. Margaret has relations and there's a boatload of violence (which, obviously! This is a War of the Roses book!)