I loved this. Absolutely. Frikkin. Loved it. I tried to draw out the experience and couldn't make myselRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I loved this. Absolutely. Frikkin. Loved it. I tried to draw out the experience and couldn't make myself stop reading the second day. Without a doubt, this impressive second novel in the newer Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series is going into my "best of 2012" shelf as well as my much less used "all-time favorites." I think I may even have loved this book like I love my hallmark series of steampunk, Gail Carriger's formidably funny and inventive Parasol Protectorate series. I literally have nothing to complain about here, and that is rare. That's a lot of praise for a book to live up to, but The Janus Affair is that rare novel, the one that manages to be delightful, zany, action-packed and original from inception to execution. Please excuse and recognize my blatant and epic fangirling for what it is -- that classic kneejerk reaction of happiness that happens right after finishing an unexpected treat - not everyone in the world will be wowed with this foray into Edwardian steampunkery but boy I was. Though the first novel Phoenix Rising wasn't quiiiite as perfect, this is the steampunk series everyone should be reading now that Alexia has wrapped up her five novel arc hung up her written parasol duties. While the main events of book two of the MoPO were neatly and explosively wrapped up without my predicting the outcome (once again, thanks to the amazing Eliza Braun), I will count the minutes wait patiently until I can get my grabby little hands on whatever else next springs from the fertile minds of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.
By far and away, a third of my love for this book is due entirely to the two main characters at the heart of everything, Eliza Braun and Wellington Books. (The other 2/3rds are reserved for steampunkery, excellent/unpredictable and intelligent antagonists and sheer madcap adventure.) Their banter and genuine camaraderie are prone to bustups and petty fights, but it's the underlying respect and genuine feeling of friendship between that makes reading these two feel less like characters and more like real people. It helps that Eliza is a heoine to shame most other heroines - she's brash and coarse and willful and exactly whatever she wants to be. I love Eliza - I always liked her, from the first chapter of book one, but midway through this, I knew I loved her. (This was the exact moment: "In New Zealand, there had been such sweetness to their courtship, but back then she had been quite a different person. Still a little reckless, but in the way of a young woman not yet as familiar with black powder and explosions.") Her characterization is seemingly blunt and obvious (EXPLODE ALL THE THINGS!), but through interactions and over time and pages, with her Ministry Seven, Welly, and the women she relentlessly helps, Eliza is revealed to be much more than just a mere colonial or pistol-loving walking armoury. Wellington Books has been my absolute favorite character from the start and that is only reinforced through his evolution during the last two novels, but The Janus Affair particularly illustrated him as a man of many facets. His dry humour is still very much in tact ("Once more into the breach.." "Sorry, Welly, what was that?" "Shakespeare. I always recite it just before placing my career in harm's way.") but other, less...gentlemanly aspects of his character are brought to the fore. These are definitely not stagnant characters - they grow and change, make mistakes and adapt, and most importantly, they help one another. The working relationship between the two has evolved to be effective and natural - Books can more than count on Eliza to save him from danger as many times as he saves her.
Steampunk itself seems to be evolving to blend quite naturally with two other, less fantastical genres - mystery and romance. The Janus Affair does have more than a bit of both and handles each element quite admirably - as Books would say, with aplomb. I never felt that one was cheated at the expense of the other - never does any romantic entanglement supersede the plot, nor does the mystery overwhelm the sense of compatibility and chemistry between the Sherlockian main characters. I have to think that these two authors work together more cohesively than any other pairing I've yet come across - Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine complement each other naturally. Though a lot of steampunk novels have the secret organization paired with "agents" used to protect Old Blighty from the supernatural (Parasol Protectorate, Newbury & Hobbes Investigations) and solve paranormal crimes, co-authors Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris go to extremely awesome lengths to create a wholly enveloped and imagined alternate universe for their characters to play within. (They even have a ton of novellas - often by other authors - in the same universe with different characters! There are editions you can purchase, or as free podcasts.) Much like their imagined version of 1800's Britain, the steampunk machines and gadgets used by the cast are wholly original, fun and useful without becoming deux-ex-machinas. I especially liked that something from the first book was referenced and used as a slight part of the plot for the second (the "aethergates" anyone?) - it reinforces the feel that this version of England is an ongoing world, not just unconnected vignettes into random episodes.
The Janus Affair, simply put, is a book that has a lot to offer across a wide variety of areas. Original plotting, genuinely twisty and murky mysteries with a high body count, several strong female characters, amusing banter, original and highly creative use of steampunk and gadgets, veeery smart and fully capable antagonists, the slight but oh-so effective romance, double agents, explosions and more. As I said, the main events and plot of this book have been neatly and effectively wrapped up, but there are some few exceptions to the rule. I don't want to spoil anything from the novel because this really is a fun mystery to try and solve independently, but there are juicy, unresolved plot tendrils enough to ensure that readers from books one and two will want to read the planned third to figure out the Maestro's plans.
I bought the first book, Phoenix Rising, on sale for Nook for a $1.99 late last year and waited several months to dig in. (I guess I like to wait on my books before I read them? Sit on them like a dragon with its hoard, jealously guarding any potential enjoyment I might have when/if I start...? I have 100+ bought and waiting to be read...I'm crazy.) The publishers were generous enough to send me an ARC copy of The Janus Affair just in time for me to realize how much I was going to love this book, series, characters and how much I needed the sequel the second I finished book one. After the last 800 pages with Wellington Books (whom I always call "Boots" in my head before I realize) and Eliza, I can say that I will be buying my own physical copies of both these books because I love them that much. Hey now that I've finished book two, any chances of a draft of book three? Philippa? Tee? Anyone? Please? In the meantime, I'll have to go read the short stories and wait patiently for whatever these creative authors are cooking up for round number three....more
Hype is a strange beast, and one that is certainly no stranger to this long-anticipated fantasy novel gRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Hype is a strange beast, and one that is certainly no stranger to this long-anticipated fantasy novel geared towards young-adults. It can prime the pump for a well-deserved novel, or it can drag down an otherwise entertaining but not very well executed novel with unfulfilled expectations, as is the case here for my read of Maas's Throne of Glass. Advertised as a "Game of Thrones" for teens meets an assassin version of The Hunger Games, the similarities and comparisons to other young-adult fantasy novels (particularly Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder -be sure to check out Amanda's great comparison review!) are unavoidable and lamentable. In addition to the misplaced hype and the whole "been-there-done-that feel", Throne of Glass suffers from a wide array of issues that kept me from wholly loving this. I've had several days to digest and work out my-not-so-happy feelings towards this (and vacillate on my rating!), and while I will inevitably pick up the sequel, I do think Maas has a lot to learn about the fantasy genre, writing a credible romance, and crafting a better method of authorial sleight-of-hand.
Celaena Sardothien is a complex character, that is without a doubt, but one that is a little too enamored of her own looks, instead of worrying about, oh I don't know, LIVING. Even Katniss, for all her faults and flaws, doesn't worry about her good-looks when confronted by the people who ruined her life, and oppressed her people. I think Celaena will be divisive among readers: some will respond to her hard-edged confidence and others will be much less enthused with her inability to look at the bigger picture. There are many sides to her personality, and I will admit that she is admirably flawed and realistic for a YA protagonist. She's a strong, smart, capable, and decisive young woman, while only slightly suffering from Special Snowflake Syndrome. She's also arrogant beyond belief (though I didn't start to dislike that aspect until her arrogance about her skills was never backed up by her actions! One sparring match does not a Master Assassin make! And, after all, how many times, exactly, can Dorian sneak up on Celaena before she loses all credibility as The Greatest Assassin Ever?), cunning, deadly, and way, way, too invested in the superficial facets of Court life. The sheer amount of time clothing, especially Celaena's and Dorian's wardrobes, are described, lusted after, and compared is simply exhausting and dry.
Another main issue I had while reading this was the clear and present focus on romance, a love triangle and angst instead of THE ASSASSIN-TASTIC DEATH MATCH. It's supremely frustrating to be told that Celaena is an amazing assassin and then see no proof of it, outside very few isolated events. What is the point of a Hunger Games death match between assassins if it's all offsides and offscreen? For almost the entirety of reading about the tournament, I was thinking "KILL SOMEONE, DAMNIT. Prove you're what you've been so enthusiastically saying about yourself." It's too much telling about Celaena's prowess, and far too little actual "showing" on Maas's part. The Tests and trials are glossed over, or focus on the least-actiontastic events (a poison ranking? Really? Harry Potterish much?) to the overall detriment of what was actually the most compelling aspect of the whole novel. Instead, the author ignores the good stuff in favor of awkward flirting, and endless descriptions of what every character is reading. It's a shame and a glaring misstep for any novel that seeks to be compared for the bloody and dark Game of Thrones.
Maas is a capable author, but sadly not one readers will be able to call subtle after reading first-in-a-series Throne of Glass. Celaena's mysterious past and real identity are both easy to suss out, and it's remarkable that none of the other characters manage to do so in the 400+ pages of the final edition. The super-obvious plotting and writing, the easy-to-spot red herrings, and not to mention the heavy-handed approach to the love-triangle that takes up 75% of the novel, make for a very predictable novel. The "mystery" of who is behind the competitors death...isn't. It's both obvious from the start and then subsequently, hilariously frustrating how long it takes Celaena to cotton on to the real culprit. (view spoiler)[ Celaena's whole "Nehemia has a secret! Therefore, she must be the killer or maybe just politically savvy. Never mind that I've been lying the entire time we've known one another!!1!" subplot is particularly dumb. Be smarter than that, Celaena. Respect your readers more than that, Maas! (hide spoiler)]
Third-person omniscient makes it easy for the POV to rotate around Celaena, Dorian, the Crown Prince of Ardalan, and Chaol Westfall, the earnest and awesome Captain of the Guard, and show a wider view of the world. It also caused me to feel a bit distant from the characters and kept me from fully investing. (Exception: Chaol. MOAR PLEASE.) Were the other two perspectives really needed? No, but nor do they detract from the narration. The love triangle manage to do that allll on its own. You can see it forming from the first chapter, and Maas never makes it worth reading about. It's all overwrought glances and touching, with little real emotion to back up the overused trope. It's not used to illustrate that Celaena is torn between two men who genuinely appeal to vastly different sides of her character, but rather to show how beautiful and alluring she is. No, thank you. The writing itself can be bloated with over-description (the clothes! the glass castle! WE GET IT!), but Maas does reign it in occasionally to let a plot emerge.
Fun, but very flawed is my final verdict. Great ideas need great execution and that is not at all what happened here with Throne of Glass. Though Throne of Glass has been grossly overhyped and is quite often amateurish in its presentation, I can't deny that there are moments of great entertainment... but, sadly, they are not enough to earn this novel more than 3/5 stars. ...more
This is one hell of a twisted, emotional ride. Slightly subpar from the first (I blame all the focus on romantic subplots), but still an engaging, intThis is one hell of a twisted, emotional ride. Slightly subpar from the first (I blame all the focus on romantic subplots), but still an engaging, interesting vision of a particularly dark apocalypse.
Wow. A strong yet still likable character in a well-realized and exciting world? A romance that isn't cloying or saccharine sweet? Angelfall is a winnWow. A strong yet still likable character in a well-realized and exciting world? A romance that isn't cloying or saccharine sweet? Angelfall is a winner and I need the sequel ASAP.
Full review to come in a few days, but this is going to a hard novel to follow!...more
"An unexpected delight" were the immediate words to pop into my head upon my all-too-soon completion ofRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
"An unexpected delight" were the immediate words to pop into my head upon my all-too-soon completion of this historical remake of America in the Dust Bowl - with fairies! Teaching me once again that assumptions are flawed from the outset, both early and often Dust Girl exceeded my expectations. I got a thoroughly developed and humanly flawed heroine, a likeable rogue for a possible love interest, a fresh envisioning of the oft-used Seelie/Unseelie Courts of fae and a very unique background in which all these elements operate: Oklahoma, 1935 right in the grips of the Dust Bowl. From the first page I was taken completely by the story Sarah Zettel has crafted so skillfully and truthfully? I didn't want to end - the potential for awesome shown just in the creativity behind the ideas extends itself as well to the contents of the book.
Calliope referred to as "Callie" and her mom are barely making do in their dying town of Slow Run, Kansas. With a long-gone dad and a struggling mom, Callie is older than her age, mature and self-aware. Her personal evolution progresses right along with her travels to both find her mother and figure out her future - the more Callie sees and understands the more she matures and figures things out independently. She's a smart protagonist and it's easy to root for her with such a sympathetic voice. Callie is also one of the few non-white main characters in YA I've come across lately (Shadows on the Moon's Suzume and The Immortal Rules's Allison are the only others I can recall), but thankfully that is not the forefront of her characterization. Callie's mixed race does play a part in the plot of the novel but it by no means defines who she is as a person or character. (I also wish cover more accurately portrayed how Callie is described... )I also appreciate the subtlety in which Callie's race was used as a reminder of the horrendous state of American prejudices without Zettel overdoing it. But what else doesn't define Callie? Her offbeat and thoroughly charming-in-a-rogueish-way love interest, Jack.
Jack is a great addition to the story. He balances out Callie's personality traits with flair, history and wit of his own. I have to admit one of the things I liked best about Jack was that he's not immediately introduced as some swoon-worthy love-interest, nor is his and Callie's connection all about teenage fluctuating hormones. In this very action-packed novel, Jack and Callie make for an unusual but oddly complementary pair. They work well together, despite the occasional bickering (who hasn't been "ready to kill him stone dead" referring to someone they care about?), and I liked them for one another... not that anything progresses to that kind of crux. (view spoiler)[They are two people used to hiding who they are: Jacob for his religion, Callie because of her multiple hidden heritages. They make sense for one another: they don't have to hide but can freely be themselves. (hide spoiler)] Those looking for a romance-charged YA novel, this is not that book. And I love Dust Girl even more for not going that predictable and inevitably boring route. If anything, what happens between the two main characters is more of an age-appropriate "puppy love" than anything else and it is adorable, and doesn't rely on cheap tricks love triangles to create affecting problems for the two..
The atmosphere/background of the novel is complete and stretches to every aspect of the book. I thoroughly believed I was in the 1930's, and the dialogue reads like how I would expect for an impoverished girl/boy at those times ("I got nothing." "A crazy Eye-Talian", etc.) It feels authentic without patronizing. Zettel also has a unique and charming way with words to paint a vivid but not overdone tapestry of locations throughout Dust Girl. As Callie and Jack move across the dust-covered lands, each different locale springs to life with very tactile but not overly descriptive prose. It's obvious that research has gone into crafting as authentic a representation as possible and Zettel succeeds with flying colors. I also liked the sprinkles of other mythlogies and lore within this tale of fae and fairies: Baya the Coyote familiar to many Native religions, and even Callie's own real name "Calliope" was a player in ancient Greek mythology. These inclusions don't feel odd in the middle of such an America-centric novel, but rather more mesh seamlessly within the larger scope of Zettel's novel of magic. The 'magic' aspect of this could've been expounded upon more (and one of the reasons I rated this a 4 instead of 5 stars is because it wasn't detailed to my satisfaction) but what was there, was serviceable. And creepy. (view spoiler)[Particularly the Hopper family. I have a fear of grasshoppers (don't judge me! My brother used to hide them in my bed under my covers.) so as soon as Callie figures out what's so odd about the hungry family I got majorly squicked out. (hide spoiler)]
The other main reason why this a 4 star review and not a 5 like I'd love it to, is that the ending leaves a little to be desired. While there are two more novels left to conclude this series, everything seemed a bit too easy and simple at the resolution. It was satisfying in the most part, but I expected more about the fae/magic/the Midnight People. I guess I will just have to be patient and wait for book #2....more
Robin Bridges brings a whole new life to 1880's Russia with her novel about a young, aristocratic, female necromancer. This is a novel that was anotheRobin Bridges brings a whole new life to 1880's Russia with her novel about a young, aristocratic, female necromancer. This is a novel that was another slow-starter for me. I was mildly interested and intrigued by Bridges' magically fantastical and dangerous world set in St. Petersburg, but I wasn't well and truly hooked until late in the game - when I was about 300 pages into the novel and less than a hundred from the end. With a disquieting introduction featuring and honing in on the young Katerina Alexandra Maria von Holstein-Gottorp, Duchess of Oldenburg, The Gathering Storm sets its dark, magical tone right from the very first paragraph. With revenants, ghosts, vampires and creatures of the night stalking through the cold nights of Mother Russia, only Katerina has the dark curse able to control them, and try to figure out where all the zombiefied soldiers are coming from - and why they are being created.
Actually beginning eight years after the introduction with Katiya learning her dark powers of reanimating the dead, The Gathering Storm is set during the reign of Tsar Alexander III, known to his people as "The Bear." In this version of historical Russia, both the Light and Dark Courts of Faerie are at play within the Imperial Court of Alexander Romanov. The Imperial Tsar's own wife Dagmar of Denmark (though renamed as Marie Feodorovna) is actually a Light Faerie and controls that aspect of power in Russia. Alexander's own brother Vladimir married, shockingly, into the Dark Court fae: his wife, the Grand Duchess Miechen, has a obvious rivalry with the Empress. Not at all surprisingly, caught between these two women, these two factions, the Russian Court seethes with intrigue, betrayal and. . . magic. I loved the new integration of the faerie within the folds of the historical Russian aristocracy; I just wished it had been more detailed and fleshed out what the roles of the faerie were for, besides fomenting drama. Added to the tensions of the distant/enemy fae courts constantly around her and her family, Katerina has to contend with a witchy classmate at her boarding school named Elena, a princess of the country of Montenegro. And as the reader learns and Elena demonstrates, the fae aren't the only supernatural creatures populating 19th century Russia or its nobility. The author created numerous species/sub-species of vampire to contend with the human population as well. From the moth-like veshtizas, to the upyri, wampyr and even the supreme form of them all: the Vladiki - blood-drinkers descended from Vlad Dracul of Wallachia himself - Bridges has her own, fresh interpretation of vampirism. It's a very dense and complicated mythology that the author has created for her world, but it works.
That was bad. And way overwrought. And draining. And just a total misuse of some good ideas. But I didn't actually hate it. And it's not that Mafi1.5
That was bad. And way overwrought. And draining. And just a total misuse of some good ideas. But I didn't actually hate it. And it's not that Mafi can't write --- she can. It's just overwhelmed by floweriness and strikethroughs and bad love triangles.
I can't even right now. My ability to can has been broken.
I was just bored by this, to put it in the barest and baldest terms. I found nothing original or interesting within the first 75 pages - not the rehasI was just bored by this, to put it in the barest and baldest terms. I found nothing original or interesting within the first 75 pages - not the rehashed plot, the irritatingly perfect female character, the overdone 'tortured' love interest. I gave up after page 100 when I realized it was going to be standard, very cliched angel/demon/Heaven/Hell forbidden romance that changes someone for the better!read - not worth the time to read and eviscerate later. I have too many novels I'd like to actually read to waste time on a novel that has so little to recommend it....more