Still hunting for my first five-star read of 2014, I picked up Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone at the recommendation of... just about everyone I know....moreStill hunting for my first five-star read of 2014, I picked up Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone at the recommendation of... just about everyone I know. It fits into most of my "love it" categories, including fantasy, strong female protagonist, and great world-building, and yet... it didn't quite get there for me.
Here's the good stuff: The world-building is amazing, and I'd compare it to a young adult George R.R. Martin. Bardugo bases her world in a Russianesque land, where magic has created a giant dead zone filled with dangerous predators that has to be crossed in order for countries to trade. In addition, there's a Henry VIII-like king, so consumed with his vices he forgets to maintain control of the various factions in his kingdom, a race of people able to use magic called the Grisha, and the Grisha's leader, the most manipulative and dashing villainous hero since Rhett Butler. Bardugo has an amazing ability to completely immerse the reader in her world, and the clothing and the food -- and her ability to kill off any character at any time -- will thrill fantasy readers.
But the bad? Unfortunately, Shadow and Bone owes a great deal of its content to the overused tropes prevalent in YA over the past decade. You have a love triangle set up between the childhood friend (your Jacob) and the attractive, ruthless supernatural creature (the Darkling, leader of the Grisha). You have a plain, ordinary girl who suddenly discovers she has an amazing ability undiscovered until now that can Save The World Unless It's Misused By The Wrong People. (and yes, if I ever write a YA book, that's what I'm going to call it) And naturally, since this is a trilogy, you have a cliffhanger ending that demands you buy and read the next book in the series.
Had it not been for its over-reliance on tropes, this would have been a stellar book. Unfortunately, it uses them so predictably that it pales in comparison to its YA fantasy cousins SERAPHINA and GRACELING.(less)
I have watched fans of Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series rave about it for years now, but myfirst experience is jumping in late, with the new spinoff ser...moreI have watched fans of Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series rave about it for years now, but myfirst experience is jumping in late, with the new spinoff series starting with The Lost Prince.
Ethan Chase is not a happy teen. His half-sister disappeared years ago into the world of fairy, ruling the Iron Court. He still sees the fae, and they cause problems for him, leading to problems at school, a lack of friends, and everything that make him an outcast. Enter school reporter Kenzie: gorgeous, popular, rich, and very interested in Ethan. When a half-fae classmate who'd asked Ethan for help goes missing, however, Ethan and Kenzie get dragged into the last place Ethan wants to be: back in the world of fairy.
Fairies seem to be the new vampires, but like vampires, I generally don't seem to get tired of them, providing the story is done right. I know there are a lot of people who will tell me I should have read the other books first, but if this is a new series, it should stand on its own.
Unfortunately, it relies more on standard young adult tropes than it does the previous novels. Ethan is a brooding hero (check) who's an outcast (check). He drives a beat-up truck (ooh! check, but switching sides from heroine to hero), meets a clumsy brunette (check) who has a sweet, fruity smell (check).
No, I'm not making this up. By the time I got to the now-near-obligatory Whedon references (really? Are that many 17-year-olds spending that much time with Buffy reruns on Netflix?), I was frustrated. Why are characters being built on such stereotypical constructs? Why do all YA couples need to sound like they came off an assembly line?
The fairy world is compelling, almost a blend of steampunk, Alice in Wonderland crazytown, and traditional fairy lore. And the plot that drags Ethan back into the Nevernever is great. What becomes problematic is the relationship with Kenzie, which is hobbled by Ethan's incessant inner monologue about how he can't drag anyone into his horrible life overrun with fairy issues, and the over-the-top backstory with Kenzie that's so foreshadowed you know it's coming and don't really care.
Maybe I was a victim of the hype, but I expected more of this book, and was disappointed.(less)
Trying to review Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys is a ridiculous undertaking, because he's quite simply a genius.
For those trying to jump over from Gaiman...moreTrying to review Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys is a ridiculous undertaking, because he's quite simply a genius.
For those trying to jump over from Gaiman's graphic novels, this is a good place to start. Fat Charlie Nancy finds himself in a world he didn't know existed. His father, and by extension his brother, are gods, and Fat Charlie inherited none of the magic. After their father's death, though, he wants to get to know this brother he never knew existed, only to find that Spider takes over everything, and ruins his life. Fat Charlie goes in search of a way to remove spider from his life and enters a world far more dangerous than he could have ever imagined, but along the way he finds himself.
Gaiman's writing makes it look easy, but the intricate weaving of folklore with Fat Charlie's story is simply stunning. Normally, I'd get bored and want to flip back to the main story, but the folk tales ARE the main story. Fat Charlie isn't a Gary Stu, but Gaiman makes it easy for the reader to empathize with him and want him to succeed when he could easily have devolved into annoying and flat.
Anansi Boys is a book I'll read again, if for no other reason than to admire the sheer craft of the story.(less)
Jackson Pearce's Sisters Red is a fairytale retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, brought into current times. The sisters of the title --...moreJackson Pearce's Sisters Red is a fairytale retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, brought into current times. The sisters of the title -- Scarlett and Rosie March -- were attacked as young children by creature called Fenris, werewolf-like shapeshifters. Scarlett was permanently scarred as a result, and the sisters -- and their friend and neighbor Silas -- have devoted their lives to hunting and killing the creatures.
When Silas returns from a year away, however, the dynamic of the group begins to change, and Scarlett's single-minded purpose of hunting and killing begins to separate her from the other two.
While I liked the premise of the book (I do love a good fairytale retelling), I found Sisters Red to be so dark it was depressing. The relationship between the sisters is sad: Scarlett sees no life other than constantly hunting and killing Fenris, and Rosie dropped out of school at some point during or after middle school to join her sister and Silas in hunting. Rosie feels guilt that her sister was so brutally wounded protecting her, and feels that sacrifice earns Scarlett her complete devotion, even if she doesn't live for the hunt the way Scarlett does.
I kept wanting social services to step in and save these girls, and the distraction over the depressing state of their lives kept me from caring much about the plot. While the world-building was excellent, I was too lost in it to care much about their success in killing Fenris, and the plot's eventual "twist" was apparent far too early. In the end, I wanted to hug Scarlett, take her weapons away, and send her back to school. The only thing that kept her from being an unsympathetic character for much of the book was her age and how she was injured.(less)
This prequel tells the story of Seraphina's audition, and how she came to work in the castle. It contains a few bits of information that may be spoile...moreThis prequel tells the story of Seraphina's audition, and how she came to work in the castle. It contains a few bits of information that may be spoilers for those who like to remain spoiler-free, but it's a delightful introduction to Seraphina's personality, that of her tutor Orma, the court composer Viridius, and the princess Seraphina instructs. (less)
If Dune met, say, Tiffany Reisz's The Siren, you might have something like Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart. I'm way late to this party, but after h...moreIf Dune met, say, Tiffany Reisz's The Siren, you might have something like Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart. I'm way late to this party, but after having everyone and their sister tell me I had to read it, I picked up a used copy and spent a couple of days with this very long -- 315,000 words -- tale of wars, erotica, and espionage.
Phedre (please excuse my lack of accent marks) is considered to be damaged goods because of a red mark in her eye, and therefore won't be raised to be one of the sexual servants at one of the houses her mother was from. Fostered at one of the houses anyway, her bond is purchased by a wealthy man who recognizes her mark as something special: Essentially, it designates her as a born masochist.
Yes, I don't know either, but bear with us.
Her patron has another student, and the two of them are trained in both the sexual arts as well as espionage, although it's never exactly clear what game he is playing. There is a somewhat barbaric country that wants to invade theirs; there are traitors who would hand them over; there is a queen who would rule, but she may be too young...
In other words, there's a lot of drama. In the meantime, Phedre's patron sends her out (essentially as her pimp) where she earns her keep, hopefully a little more for herself, which goes toward completing the tattoo on her back that will mark her as a free citizen, etc. but then it all goes to crap and she ends up -- along with her sworn priest of a guard -- as a slave to the invading nation. Can her sexual wiles save her, her guard, and her country?
HOLY HELL PEOPLE! That was a lot of exposition and I didn't spoil a thing or even get to half the plot of this 900-some-odd page book. There is a lot going on, and it involves religion (back to Dune), war (see again), and sex (oh yeah, Dune was a little short on that).
A lot of people are horrified and call out the pedobear/Chris Hansen watch team, but I'm oddly okay with the idea that it was a culture. We can somehow block out that six-year-old kids are sewing our cheap t-shirts at Walmart because that's part of their culture, but create a culture where children are taught to serve as part of their future as sexual servants and everyone starts running around flailing. (No children younger than 16 have sex here).
What this book did need, however, was not Pedobear, but an editor. There is so much going on and the wars and the locations and 800 million people coming in and out and Oh My Hell this could have been like five books maybe. I felt like twenty years had passed by the time I got to the end of the book and was amazed that Phedre wasn't 40 or so. I was tempted to skim parts of the war stuff, because it felt like there were two books going on, and maybe one of them I didn't need to be reading. I'm still not clear on how or why some of the power brokers came into play or what all they were doing, or how the sex got involved, or why some people had to die other than to clear the way for more people to enter the plot.
So after all that stream of consciousness ranting, you might be asking why on earth I gave the thing four stars. The first bit, with the world set up and the culture set up, was stellar, and easily was five-star worthy. And the parts that set up Phedre's eventual love interest were swoony enough to beat out the most adorkable young adult romance. With a tighter (or ANY) edit, this probably would have made my all-time favorites, but as it is, there was just too much of everything.(less)
I'll admit that when I first saw the advanced reader copy for Rachel Hartman's Seraphina available for review on NetGalley, I skipped over requesting...moreI'll admit that when I first saw the advanced reader copy for Rachel Hartman's Seraphina available for review on NetGalley, I skipped over requesting it. While I do love high fantasy, and love dragons, I suppose my own fascination as a teen with the works of Anne McCaffrey had me predisposed to assuming nothing would measure up, especially if it was designed for the today's young adult market. After several glowing reviews, however, I decided to see what the buzz was about, and requested a galley, which NetGalley and the publisher provided.
Boy, was I wrong.
Seraphina is a timeless story of prejudice, of fearing what's different, of pretending "separate but equal" is a policy that works just fine. Seraphina is an assistant to the court composer, and she has a secret: Her father unwittingly married a dragon passing for a human, and Seraphina is the product of that union. Her mother died in childbirth, and Seraphina would not only be an outcast in a world where dragons and humans have lived in a tenuous forty-year peace, but her existence is actually illegal. She hides what she is with the help of her scholar-dragon teacher, Orma, but she has been left with a legacy from her mother: strange visions that sometimes overtake her, and scales on her arm and torso. Her entire life, she has stayed out of the spotlight, but when she's forced to play at the funeral for a prince who has allegedly been killed by a dragon in violation of the treaty that's shortly to be commemorated with a huge celebration in honor of its forty years, Seraphina finds her secret beginning to unravel, and also finds the treaty may not be the best way for dragons and humans to live together.
With this book, Hartman manages to do something many young adult writers seem to struggle with: excel at world building as well as develop rich, charismatic characters that the reader will keep turning pages to follow. There's no insta-love here, no romance that's forced, no flat emotion in reaction to the events that take place. Even better, there's no pat ending; Hartman keeps everything believable and realistic in a world that's as fantastic and magical as you can get.
I'll admit that I was one of those children who tried Tolkien and hated it, and was put off high fantasy for years as a result. Seraphina is the kind of book I wish I'd had when I was younger, to introduce me to books with an incredibly fantastic world with plenty of action that was exciting and readable and had female characters who were strong and not pretty princesses or fairies along for the long, boring walk.(less)
The concept of B. Justin Shier's Zero Sight has it all: vampires, a Harry Potter-like magic school, and a near-future dystopian universe, as well as...moreThe concept of B. Justin Shier's Zero Sight has it all: vampires, a Harry Potter-like magic school, and a near-future dystopian universe, as well as enough violence to keep even boys reading.
When we meet Zero Sight's hero, Dieter, he's living in a collapsing Las Vegas and in a fight for his life, with the ridiculously named school gang, the Splotches (we'll give it a pass, since they aren't around long). After the fight ends with a dead bully, an exploded chem lab, and an injured Dieter, he meets a doctor who says she'd recommend him for her mysterious college: Elliot. After the other schools he applies to either turn him down or fail to give him the financial aid he'll need to attend, Elliot offers him a full ride. On the bus trip there, he meets the (also) mysterious Rei, and learns Elliot is not all it seems.
The premise of Zero Sight really is something that would probably appeal to most teens, blending most of the recent trends into one book, but it falls short in explaining most of it. The explanation for the attacks on Elliot's incoming students and faculty is too complicated to understand, and the back story even more complicated. In addition, we never learn how Dieter got his power (like the Harry Potter story, most mages inherit their power from their parents), nor why he is so much more powerful than most of the other students. Most of the story goes unexplained, , ostensibly to be explained in later books in the series.
Even worse is the fair-to-middling copy editing job; many typographical errors -- especially apostrophes for plurals -- are present, distracting from the complicated story. Zero Sight was a book that had a lot of promise it simply didn't live up to.(less)
Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns had a huge amount of buzz when it first came out and quickly went on my list of things to read as soon as I...moreRae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns had a huge amount of buzz when it first came out and quickly went on my list of things to read as soon as I could. The story itself seems amazing: young girl in a fantasy world was chosen at birth by God to do something special, only she doesn't know what it is. At 16, she's married off to the King of a country that's facing a war, and once there she learns that the special kind of magic that comes with her gift is also a curse: there are those who would use her for evil.
My biggest problem with the book is that Elisa, the heroine, is just unlikeable for much of the book. Carson has made her overweight, which normally I would be cheering in this age of young adult heroines with stick figures and pretty gowns on the cover, but Elisa hates herself, and eats to comfort herself. Throughout the beginning of the story, she's a whining, self-deprecating lump, ad it's only after she loses weight that she begins to accept her role in the world and try to become a person of action.
Is that a lesson I want my daughter to read?
The world-building was excellent, and while it's been described as Spanish-based in some reviews, with the lushness and accompanying dessert, I took it to be Mexican-based, and some of the world-building did remind me of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate. Elisa's eventual pride in herself and acceptance of her role at all costs is terrific, but that so much of it seemed based on her weight and appearance and initial self-loathing as a result really undermined my enjoyment of the book, and willingness to put it on my daughter's Kindle.(less)
Gifts tells the story of a continent divided into two lands: in one, the people have cities and more creature comforts, while the other is more feudal in nature, protected by "brantors" which are people who have shown the most concentrated and powerful gifts. Orrec is the son of a brantor, and shares his father's gift: the power to unmake, or destroy. Only Orrect has no control over his gift, and he is voluntarily blindfolded to protect those around him from his gift. His childhood friend, Gry, also refuses to use her gift: She can call animals, but refuses to use it to call animals to a hunt.
I can see why people would recommend this series to me, knowing both how much I loved LeGuin's Earthsea series as well as the similarities to Graceling, but I was oddly disappointed with Gifts. Both the characters and the country seemed far too close to Earthsea for me, and I felt like someone had written a mash-up of Graceling and the Earthsea stories. While obviously, Gifts came before Graceling, it came after Earthsea, and the similarities were just too close for comfort. I kept waiting for Ged to appear at some point in the story, and still have two more books to read, and am not discounting a crossover.
I was hoping for a totally new series from a writer I adored, but Gifts felt far too familiar to me. In addition, I knew the story's "surprise" ending far too early, and felt the rest of the book was anticlimactic after that.
My daughter was the one who introduced me to Alison Goodman's Eon, a novel set in an imaginary feudal-era Asian world reminiscent of Cindy Pon's worl...moreMy daughter was the one who introduced me to Alison Goodman's Eon, a novel set in an imaginary feudal-era Asian world reminiscent of Cindy Pon's world. Eon is training to be a hopeful Dragoneye, a sort of wizard who can use the power of the dragon of his birth year. But Eon has a secret: She's actually a girl, and she's her master's last chance at training a potential Dragoneye.
Eon's testing doesn't go quite as expected, and she's soon dragged into the very political (and dangerous) court, where there are layers of intrigue and plots to overtake the throne, currently held by the elderly and ill Emperor. Eon has more lessons to learn than simply harnessing the magic, as she learns during the course of the book.
Eon is a duology, but this book can stan on its own. It ranks among my daughter's favorites, and was definitely one I could not put down. Eon/a is a fantasy heroine most books can only envy, and her real lesson is about being true to herself, even when that seems like it's the opposite of what she should be doing. While readers may guess the twist in advance, it's still a stunning one, and the book is well worth the read.(less)
Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue was one of the books I most anticipated for release this year. The previous two Seven Realms books -- Graceling and Fi...moreKristin Cashore's Bitterblue was one of the books I most anticipated for release this year. The previous two Seven Realms books -- Graceling and Fire -- were quickly added to my list of favorites, and I was certain that Bitterblue would be the same.
Bitterblue picks up eight years after the end of Graceline, and Bitterblue has been running the country with the aide of her late father's advisors. She realizes she is mostly a paper-pusher, and begins sneaking out of the castle to learn more about her kingdom. In the process, she finds places where people share stories of both her father's evil reign, as well as what happened with her friends Katsa and Po to help depose him. In her wanderings, she also meets Teddy and Saf, two men dedicated to the truth of her father's reign as well as making things right again. Bitterblue begins to sort through her memories as well as the history of the kingdom, trying to determine what the right way to rule is, as well as whether the decision to try to move on from her father's evil was the right one for the kingdom.
Bitterblue's story is moving as well as meaningful; it forces the reader to answer questions about our own history: Can we truly move on until we have understood things that were done badly and tried to rectify them? Her story is a true coming-of-age story, and I think it will still appeal to fans of the previous two books.
Where Bitterblue went awry, however, was in the romance department. Bitterblue's tale could have stood on its own, but it feels as if Cashore (or her editor) felt that a romance was necessary, as the previous two books also had one. Bitterblue's romance seems as if it was crammed in as an afterthought; it's neither crucial to the plot nor moves the story forward. The few scenes that involve the romance feel false and stilted, and I never connected with her romantic interest as a romantic interest. As a result, the book feels unfinished, like it needed that section smoothed out and blended better, or better yet, cut entirely. Bitterblue is a strong character, and she didn't need a man to get involved with her life as she was finding herself. (less)
After reading Kristin Cashore's Graceling, I was torn between wanting and not wanting to read the next book, Fire, because Fire is more a prequel....moreAfter reading Kristin Cashore's Graceling, I was torn between wanting and not wanting to read the next book, Fire, because Fire is more a prequel. Still, the writing in Graceling was so stellar it was a given I would read this, and quickly after Graceling.
::: The Plot :::
Fire takes place in a land beyond the Seven Kingdoms we learned of in Graceling, where there monster versions of every type of insect and animal exist. The monsters are so called not because of their looks -- they are actually more beautiful than the regular versions -- but because in addition to their great beauty, they are cannibalistic -- craving the meat of other monsters -- and because they possess mind-control. Most of the animals are limited to using it to lure prey to them, which is only exacerbated by their great beauty, but human monsters can control minds absolutely. Fire is the last human monster.
Fire is afraid of her power, having grown up with her father, Cansrel, as her example. Cansrel used his power ruthlessly, controlling humans in an insatiable pursuit of pleasure. Fire vows to only use her power for self-preservation, and after her father's death, she makes her way in the world as a music teacher. Still, when the royal family her father once advised calls on her to come to court to try to identify the mind of someone who may have been in her vicinity, she goes, trying to reconcile her beliefs about using her power with the wants and needs of the royal family: King Nash, who is drawn to her monster beauty; Prince Brigan, who commands the army and may hate her; the illegitimate twins Garan and Clara; and a host of others who alternately fear her monster nature or are awed by it.
::: Not Your Average Romance :::
Fire is not your average young adult romance, because it doesn't follow the usual pattern where a couple faces some adversity in getting together, finally comes together, is separated for a reason, and ends up together in the end. Ordinarily, I ignore most of the "trade" reviews of books, but the one from Kirkus for this book hit it spot on: Fire falls in love with a city (when she goes to the capital to meet with the royal family), the family itself, the life she makes there, and then beyond that, she may fall in love. This is a romance with more than just boy-meets-girl; it's about a girl finding herself and learning all about human nature -- her own as well as that of those around her -- along the way. The romance is second to Fire's development as a person, which is rare in this genre, and should be celebrated.
Fire is a very different book than Graceling, though it does contain some backstory for one of the characters in the first book, but is a standalone book in its own right, and a must-read one at that.
It took me forever and a day to get around to reading Wolfsbane, the second book in Andrea Cremer's Nightshade trilogy, mainly because my daughter re...moreIt took me forever and a day to get around to reading Wolfsbane, the second book in Andrea Cremer's Nightshade trilogy, mainly because my daughter read it almost immediately on the heels of Nightshade and was unenthusiastic about completing the series. Still, I was going to give it a chance, especially after finding another second book recently that got better than the first.
::: The Plot :::
When we left Calla Tor at the end of Nightshade, she was injured by Searchers, her kind's mortal enemies, having fled from her union ceremony with Ren Laroche, the other shapeshifting wolf alpha -- the wolves are called Guardians -- who was supposed to join his pack with hers. Instead, she fled to save Shay Doran, a human she changed into a wolf and is something they have discovered is called the Scion, although what exactly that means, she doesn't know.
When Calla comes to, she discovers she has been captured by the Searchers, who are now trying to convince her -- and Shay along with her -- that everything she has been raised to know is a lie. They want Calla -- and by extension, her pack -- to join with them, fight the Keepers, and bring an end to the war that has been waged for ages once and for all.
A whole bunch of new characters are introduced, including Monroe, who is more knowledgeable about Guardians than he initially lets on; Ariadne, whose ties to Monroe will tie her closer to Calla as time goes on; and another handful that are difficult for me to keep track of since I didn't learn the names of all the Guardians and Keepers the first time around (in fact, I still confuse who's a Guardian and who's a Keeper when they appear in Wolfsbane.
::: Why POV Matters :::
This book should be used as the quintessential example for MFA writing programs of why it's dangerous to begin a series in a first person point of view. This could have been a great book but for one thing: It was limited by the author's choice to keep it in first person. As a result, we have a nearly 400-page book with two action scenes and an awful lot of sitting around and talking. Why? Because all the exposition for the huge back story and mythology and world-building has to be explained, and with a first-person POV, it has to be explained TO Calla, who funnels information for the narrator.
Had Cremer used third person here (i.e. had her editor forced her into third person here), we could have seen and experienced things as flashbacks. Felt Monroe's pain at losing Corinne. Understood the horrors firsthand that the other Guardians went through at the hands of the Keepers after Calla and Shane fled. Instead, everything is filtered through a whole lot of telling and almost no showing, which dulls the impact for the reader. For a book in which characters are tortured and there are rescue missions going on, there shouldn't have been so many scenes taking place with characters sipping coffee in meeting rooms or kitchens or sitting areas. It should have been jam-packed with action, and it ... wasn't.
As a result, at the end of the book, which it has the same type of cliffhanger ending as Nightshade, my daughter didn't even ask when the next book was coming out, and since its release, hasn't even put it on her "must have" list. I'd have to say, having finally read this one, I agree with her.(less)
I approached Kristin Cashore's Graceling with a bit of skepticism; with an almost-teen in the house, I've read a lot of young adult fantasy, and most...moreI approached Kristin Cashore's Graceling with a bit of skepticism; with an almost-teen in the house, I've read a lot of young adult fantasy, and most of it falls far short of the mark -- underdeveloped characters or an underdeveloped plot -- basically, a lot of short-changing because of the audience. Luckily, Graceling breaks the mold.
::: Plot :::
Katsa is the niece of the King of Middluns, one of seven kingdoms on an island continent. She was born a Graceling: one of the population identified by heterochromatic eyes who has a specific talent. Hers is apparently killing, and she is trained and then used by her uncle as an enforcer in his kingdom. Unbeknownst to him, however, she has also created an underground network where she's more of a superhero, saving people throughout the seven kingdoms who need help.
When she and her Council save the elderly former King of Lienid, she meets Lienid Prince Po, who may be her fighting match and more, and discovers a secret that endangers all of the seven kingdoms. She learns more about herself and her Grace as she joins forces with Po to save the seven kingdoms.
::: Guh :::
I'm that speechless. The plot sounds so trite when I put it in a summary like that, but Katsa is such a complex character and Cashore manages to keep the reader guessing, with plot twists around every corner. Unlike other books in the young adult genre, she handles sexuality without being either crass or fading to black; handles romance with a character who doesn't want to lose her independence without a creampuff happily-ever-after wedding and baby; and writes a compelling plot without shortchanging any of her cast of characters.
At no point do you feel like anything that happens is a cop-out or a deus ex machina, and she's not afraid to have bad things happen to characters you absolutely adore. Even if some of it has been foreshadowed, her plot twists will still leave you gasping, and wanting more from the series, which continues with Fire and the upcoming Bitterblue.
If one book should be used as an example of how to write for this genre, it's Graceling, and I can't wait to read the next book in the series to find out what happens next in the seven kingdoms.