Well. I have to say, this was nothing like what I thought it would be. It’s unexpectedly light and simple – fluffy, even – more entertaining...more3.5 stars
Well. I have to say, this was nothing like what I thought it would be. It’s unexpectedly light and simple – fluffy, even – more entertaining historical romance than politically-driven fantasy. There’s plenty of courting, dancing, flirting and frivolity, with an underlying plot that is somewhat shadowed by the glamour of dinner parties and balls. It’s not a bad read. It lacks some depth and world-building, yes, and the story itself is not particularly memorable, but there is a lot of quick fun to be had with this book, and entertainment is entertainment.
Most surprising of all is how well the multiple perspectives work. It’s almost effortless easing into the different voices, all of which are clear and distinct. We have the heir to the Franco-British throne, Princess Marie, and her friend and the bastard daughter of the Merlin, Aelwyn. There is also Wolf, the cheeky and confident younger brother of the crown prince of Prussia, and Ronan Astor, a spunky young lady on her first experience of the London Season. The supporting cast is large and diverse, and although very few of the characters in The Ring and the Crown are truly memorable – the sort of characters you would want to treasure in your thoughts long after the final pages – the personalities created throughout are miraculously easy to track of.
The romantic ties are endless and many, with the most attention given to Marie and a young member of her personal guard, Gill, and the perfectly-matched Ronan and Wolf. The relationship between the latter pair builds quite well, is very amusing in places, and mostly enjoyable to follow. Gill and Marie have the whole childhood buddies thing going on (which I can never resist), and although the pacing falters and takes a mad dash forward at one point, it is also not too difficult to root for them initially. Admittedly, neither of the romances here succeeded in triggering the fangirl mode in me, but that’s okay. They were still fun to read.
Although I did largely enjoy this book, I do simultaneously wish that certain world-building opportunities had been fully embraced. There are far too many scatterings of snippets of information, and not enough of an attempt to pull them all together. It’s infuriating to get a taste of something – something good – only then to be denied anything that delves further and deeper. The alternate historical setting is a fascinating foundation in itself, and with the sorcery and magic intertwined into this fantasy world, there really could not have been a better basis for creating something truly mesmerising. It’s a definite shame that it never quite delivers on that front.
The plot is also not a very strong aspect of the book – in fact, nearly all of it is summarised in the book description – and that contributes slightly to the lacklustre (and kind of lame) ending.
Nevertheless, The Ring and the Crown is a good rainy-day pick. Something easy and light to pass the time with, even if not likely to be a momentous read. I certainly liked it more than Melissa de la Cruz’s previous books, and wouldn’t avoid trying something new from her again. (less)
A good portion of the mermaid books that I’ve read have been either decent or unpleasant, and Jennifer Donnelly’s latest, Deep Blue, falls so...more2.5 stars
A good portion of the mermaid books that I’ve read have been either decent or unpleasant, and Jennifer Donnelly’s latest, Deep Blue, falls somewhere in between.
It’s quite apparent from the start that Deep Blue is not as dark and epic as the book description suggests. In fact, if anything, and especially at the start, it oozes pure entertainment, a variety of which I suspect will suit middle grade readers or those who enjoy the younger end of the YA spectrum. I liked it to begin with – though perhaps for all the wrong reasons, as I did think a lot of it was ridiculous – and it was easy enough to find amusing. It follows Serafina, the principessa of the House of Merrow, a songcasting mermaid who has a giant shell for a bed and an octopus named Sylvester for a pet. Girlfriends are called ‘merlfriends’ and currency is ‘currensea’. We even have a crazy lady with too many catfish. There is a lot of unexpected silliness in this underwater world.
And yet, it is rich. The world-building is pretty substance-heavy, with glimpses into many different nooks and crannies that I imagine will be good points of exploration for the rest of the series. There is quite a bit of info-dumping here and there, and many not-so-subtle explanations accompanying descriptions. This contributes slightly to the juvenile feel of the storytelling, but, overall, the intricacy of the merworld is something that I liked. We have Atlantis-based history, magic, passageways through mirrors, songspells and politics. It’s sometimes too much and all at once, but definitely interesting, for what it’s worth.
The plot isn’t one with much breathing room, however. It is fine at the start, but once Serafina, whose dreams are full of river witches and shadowy words, sets out on a whirlwind journey to join with five other mermaids, it soon becomes almost painfully crammed. It’s strange that the half of the book with the most action and adventure is the half of the book that I found most dull. But that’s just it – what started off as bizarre entertainment descended into mind-numbing monotony, and so, I ultimately do not have a very positive opinion of this book. It perhaps didn’t help very much that I found Serafina and the other merls (!) pretty hard characters to invest in, which is a shame, as I was fully prepared to get behind this ‘unbreakable bond of sisterhood’.
All of that said, I think Deep Blue will work well enough for the right reader, and perhaps when there is no immediate need to read something mind-blowing. I have reached the point where I cannot get through an okay-but-not-brilliant book without getting slightly frustrated. There is always that constant thought of all the other titles I could be devoting my time to instead. I also wonder if it is time for me to give up on mermaid books altogether. It is very tempting, given that so very few work for me... but I am still holding out for another Monstrous Beauty, so I hope you are listening, book gods.
Exciting plot, great writing, and two BRILLIANT main characters. I seriously cannot get enough of that romance. Thomas does funny and...moreVery, very good.
Exciting plot, great writing, and two BRILLIANT main characters. I seriously cannot get enough of that romance. Thomas does funny and swoon-worthy incredibly well, even when everything else is all high-stakes doom and gloom.
This book is magical and bizarre and messy and wonderful. It’s like trying to piece fragments of a dream together; a story interspersed with moments o...moreThis book is magical and bizarre and messy and wonderful. It’s like trying to piece fragments of a dream together; a story interspersed with moments of harsh clarity and unsettling confusion. Granted, it won’t work for all – you’ll need to have patience and a draw to the unusual to get through this one – but as my first taste of Kate Karyus Quinn’s writing, I could not be more impressed.
There is SO much creativity in this book. The small town setting is beautifully depicted, a disturbing sort of isolated paradise where there is quiet, longevity and a wondrous lack of illness. Gardnerville is terrifying and enchanting, home to main character Skylar Gardner, and a place where teenagers are overcome with fatal, unnatural compulsions every four years. In Gardnerville, you can live easily into your second century, but first, you have to get through adolescence.
“…this was a fourth year in Gardnerville, and there were no happy endings.”
Skylar Gardner, who has the ability to read secrets, begins as an unreliable protagonist, thoughts murky and muddled as a result of the forget-me-not pills that she heavily relies on. The book is split into alternating chapters of past and present, and those set in the past are addressed to Piper Gardner, Skylar’s older sister, the girl who led sixteen teenagers to their deaths. The plot is slow and unhurried, more atmospheric than eventful, and it works perfectly with Skylar’s narration. There is a lingering sense of mystery that comes from wondering about Piper, the town, and what is really fuelling the impossible magic that is Gardnerville.
“What I really dread are the memories that might bubble up to the surface. It’s funny – I don’t even remember what I am hiding from; all I know is I don’t want to know.”
Normally, flashback-type chapters are not something I feel particularly enthusiastic about, but it works miraculously well here, even with everything in a non-chronological order, and it’s never cluttered to the point of exasperation. In fact, if anything, the early sense of not knowing will only get you to turn the pages faster. It’s with a desperate curiosity that I ploughed through the second half of this book. There are a few surprising twists and mind-bending revelations that make the whole hazy journey fill utterly worth it.
Besides Skylar and Piper – the second of which is better met without knowing too much about – the other characters prove to be just as intriguing. Two stand-outs for me are Foote and GG. I want to call the first the love interest, but really, that term feels too ordinary and familiar for a book like this, and too restricted for a character like Foote’s. There is romance, but it is slight and well-paced, and captivating in a quiet way that suits the story. GG is brilliant. Her bluntness and no-nonsense attitude is refreshing and hilarious. The best thing about the people in this book? You can’t put them into boxes. They are all interesting, they all have their secrets, and they all make you wonder if they can be trusted.
I am, now, tempted to demand that you forget everything about this book and its premise and enter it blindly. The confusion is part of the experience, the wonder even more so. (Don’t You) Forget About Me is mesmerising and original. It is one for those who like stories that mess with your mind, and one for those who like the line between reality and the imaginary to be blurred. To put it simply, I am a fan.
“Wicked witches aren’t supposed to work together. But that was before Dorothy.”
I love the deliciously dark and peculiar twist on Oz here. It’s less T...more“Wicked witches aren’t supposed to work together. But that was before Dorothy.”
I love the deliciously dark and peculiar twist on Oz here. It’s less Technicolor wonder, and more absurd magical hell, where the Crime of Sass is a thing, and the trees are forced into vows of silence, and time is controlled by a cruel princess in a gingham dress. We have the commander of Tin Soldiers, the Tin Woodman of Oz, and the oddity that is the Scarecrow, and all the bizarre horrors that he cooks up in his lab. Throw in the Lion, a creature that feasts on the fear of others, a few Wicked witches and their Revolutionary Order, and Oz is now a thrillingly warped and sinister place. It is, essentially, setting heaven.
“Down is up, up is down. Good is Wicked, Wicked is Good. The times are changing. This is what Oz has come to.”
The plot, however, is a little less gripping. In Paige’s Oz, Dorothy is a bit of a scary brat. Her laws are wild and ridiculous, her demands are piercing and childish. She is also draining Oz of its natural magic. She has to die – duh – but getting there is a drawn-out and slightly redundant process. Parts of this book are exciting and enchanting, the way a story set in a fresh version of Oz should be, but a significant portion of it also feels unnecessary and clunky. The middle, where our swept-into-Oz main character Amy Gumm trains with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked in preparation of assassinating Dorothy, is particularly untidy and slow and doesn’t feel all that convincing either.
That said, learning how to kill Dorothy Gale isn’t all dull. There is Nox, a member of the High Council for the Order and their strongest fighter assigned to teach Amy a thing or two. Admittedly, the pacing of the romance here descends into awkward territory fast, but it begins quite well and is fairly likeable overall, even if not completely believable. As a character, Nox stands out, but largely because very few other secondary characters here do. The exceptions are Dorothy and mystery boy Pete (even the Wizard isn’t all that interesting) – and, I guess, Star, Dorothy’s pet rat, who is pretty cool (for a rat).
The ending is packed with the promise for better and more in the sequel, but it is also highlights just how much Dorothy Must Die reads more like an introductory novel for book two, rather than a solid first story. This is another one of those cases where nearly everything important can be found in the book description – reading the book itself doesn’t reveal a great deal of anything new. Nevertheless, this is a world that I can’t help but want to return to, and an author whose writing that I can’t help but want to try again. Despite everything, and especially despite the wobbly middle, this was very decent overall. Perhaps not quite the epic, mind-blowing retelling that I had initially pictured, but a decent and imaginative read, nonetheless. (less)
Poison Dance is Livia Blackburne’s prequel novella to Midnight Thief, a Disney-Hyperion title that’s due out in 2014. It takes place a handf...more2.5 stars
Poison Dance is Livia Blackburne’s prequel novella to Midnight Thief, a Disney-Hyperion title that’s due out in 2014. It takes place a handful of years before the events of the novel, and focuses on James, an assassin, and the eventual leader of the Assassin’s Guild. It’s essentially a glimpse into a fresh fantasy world and an introduction to a potentially key secondary character.
Unfortunately, and quite disappointingly, this novella failed to do what I really wanted it to – which was to whet my appetite for a new author’s imagination. Instead, it made for a few too many days of rather monotonous reading, and actually took me longer to get through than a normal-length book usually might. On the surface, there is little that is obviously wrong with it. Besides a few stiff attempts to make word choices fantasy-appropriate, the world-building (although not fully explored here) is noticeably thought-out, the characters are consistent, and the writing is solid. What this novella lacks (for me, at least) is emotion - a certain level of heart that might make it more than just a few short pages that are easily forgotten within the hour. I felt no connection to James, to his story, or to any of the other characters around him.
Technically, Poison Dance isn’t an outrageously bad piece of work, but this ultimate indifference does make me feel like I wasted my time a little with this one. I don’t think it’s an essential read, however, I am still looking forward to Midnight Thief – I know, I don’t make sense to even me – but with altered, more reasonable expectations. (less)
This series has all of my favourite things – gloriously entertaining romance, heart-stopping action, c...moreSpoilers ahead for the first two books!
This series has all of my favourite things – gloriously entertaining romance, heart-stopping action, clever and interesting plot – all skilfully tied together with barrels of tension and emotion. It’s angels without the accompanying drone of been-there-done-that paranormal fiction.
Shimmer is the third and penultimate book and sets off immediately after the (very cruel) ending of Haze, taking us to the Sanctuary, where Nathaniel’s Rephaim and the Outcasts are forced together to save Rafa and Taya from the demons. Not surprisingly, Rafa is absent for a good portion of the book (which is mildly agonising, to say the least) and in the meantime, we get to dig deeper into the history of the Rephaim and Gaby’s old personality pre-memory loss. A lot of answers are still withheld, but the little glimpses we do get are incredibly fascinating and only make me desperate – madly, hair-pullingly desperate – to get the rest. It’s a tense, torturous, on-the-edge-of-your-seat journey, but there are some very satisfying developments, too.
One of the most interesting things about this instalment is Jude and Gaby’s relationship, their differences and similarities, and how the two fit in around the other Rephaim. We get a small taste of that towards the end of Haze and Weston builds on it further here. The secondary characters play as much of a part in holding this series together as the main characters do and Shimmer is probably the book where I appreciated them the most. Mya, Ez, Zak, Maggie, Micah – all of them held my attention in one way or another, and the dialogue and interactions in this book is sharp and brilliant. I even loved the Butler boys with their foul mouths and rocket launchers.
The best of the relationships is, of course, seen in Gaby and Rafa’s, which is nothing short of charged and deliciously complicated, and even more electrifying here than in both Haze and Shadows. You get so much of a sense of what Rafa means to Gaby – not past Gaby, but this Gaby – and it is equal parts heart-breaking and stirring.
The ending is cliffhanger-ish, though far more running-round-in-circles exciting than rock-back-and-forth-in-a-corner evil. It’s the sort that promises pure epicness to come and I know I’ll be impatient (again!) for the next book. I’m still completely impressed with Weston’s writing and think this series deserves every bit of praise and attention it gets. It’s engaging, smart, perfectly paced, and firmly and most definitely one of my favourites in YA.
P.S.Shimmer is complete with a Who’s Who guide and a summary prologue. In other words, most helpful book ever.
P.P.S. Rafa has a motorbike. I cannot get that wildly splendid image out of my head.(less)
“We need the powerful ones... Because it’s coming. It’s coming and they can stop it.”
Creativity abounds in Laure Eve’s Fearsome Dreamer. It’...more3.5 stars
“We need the powerful ones... Because it’s coming. It’s coming and they can stop it.”
Creativity abounds in Laure Eve’s Fearsome Dreamer. It’s an unquestionably ambitious and imaginative debut novel, full of interesting ideas and comfortably touching on a blend of different genres. The series potential is clear from the start, and the cinematic potential clear soon after. It’s the sort of read that I imagine escapists will cherish, and the sort of book that I imagine could be perfect with just a little more work. I certainly had a lot of fun reading it, in immersing myself in such an original world, but I do think there is definite room for improvement.
The high points lie in interweaving of the diverse range of concepts. We have a little of everything – magic, politics, dreamwalking, domed cities, virtual reality realms, romance, and more! The story unravels in a world where an alternate history has led to England becoming Angle Tar, a fiercely independent and isolated island. This is where main character and apprentice hedgewitch Vela Rue lives with her dreams and daydreams of sprites and freshwater mermaids. The rest is World, an alliance of countries and the once war-enemy of Angle Tar. In World, where travel and transport is unheard of, the only place for fantasy is in Life, a virtual reality realm reached via implant. This is where we meet White, a Jumper and one of the Talented, while he is arrested for allegedly conspiring with the Technophobes. Connecting them together is a man named Frith, a recruiter of Talented, and an Angle Tarain agent for the mysterious Castle.
It’s a complicated creation that Laure Eve has churned together here, but definitely an exciting and absorbing one. Much of our time is spent in Angle Tar, in a Capital university with a department for the training and development of Talent. It’s here that Rue and White meet, both being one of the rare Talented who can Jump and transport themselves in the blink of an eye. We follow the story from both points of view – and also from Frith’s perspective, too – and get a glimpse into their tense relationship from all sides. With Rue being quite petulant at times (or ignorant and wistful as others have called it), and White being a mostly hard-bitten and careful character, their personalities are almost opposites and create one of my favourite setups for a romance. Although the characters here are not outstandingly easy to connect with at first, I do like them all, and think that Eve has put the third person narrative to use rather well.
The story does get off to a slow start. Not a great deal takes place plot-wise until the very end of the journey, but even then the progression feels disappointingly slight (particularly for such a grand idea of a book). The climactic point isn’t as pronounced as might be expected, and instead, we’re left with what essentially feels more like an introductory novel to the next book – rather than a strong first instalment. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the stakes have been laid and are on the verge of playing a more important role in the sequel. (Hopefully we’ll see a little more forward momentum with the last-minute fuel added on the final page.) Something else that I think could do with some polishing here is the handling and indication of the passage of time. There is a slight lack of fluidity and structure to the tale on occasion, which perhaps goes hand in hand with the poor plot movement. I also noticed some issues with tense – for example, during recounts, and the transitions in and out of these.
Another thing that takes some getting used to is the prose and dialogue, particularly when we’re with Rue. Eve’s play on language comes across somewhat stiff and awkward at first – with the ‘hit and miss grammar’ as White helpfully calls it – but it does fit the characters and the tone of the story quite nicely after a while. There are still brief moments when the overuse of ‘well’ and ‘so’ make little sense at all, and moments when a misplaced comma results in an awkward sentence construction, but I imagine that the more flexible of readers will be able to ignore this easily enough. The only one other area that I think could be slightly better is the world-building. The overarching concepts and ideas are fantastic, but the actual execution, and the nitty-gritty details that make it count, could be just a little more enhanced. The descriptions are lacking a precision or detail necessary for painting a vivid mental picture. I still don’t feel like I quite know what the different parts of Angle Tar look like.
Those things aside – and they are quite a few things, admittedly! – I do think Fearsome Dreamer is a perfectly solid and decent read. It might not have been perfect (and I hope that the next book will be stronger), but for a first attempt, it’s not bad at all. What was lacking here was just about made up for with Laure Eve’s exciting and fresh imagination. I’m sure that I’ll be following the rest of the series.
She foretold that when a prince of night bonded a daughter of the sun, the curse would be broken...
It turns out that I quite like the idea of troll...more
She foretold that when a prince of night bonded a daughter of the sun, the curse would be broken...
It turns out that I quite like the idea of trolls and magic and romance. Stolen Songbird is a pretty mesmerising story, complete with beautiful, calculating creatures, an underground cavernous city, and a gutsy human heroine. There is fantasy, witty dialogue, magical oaths and rebellions, love and loyalty, and everything in between. It’s a brewing pot of potential, one that spells exciting things for this new trilogy, and – despite some slight issues with it here and there – a definite enjoyable read.
The highlight, for me, is Tristan and Cecile, the troll and the human and our two main characters. To say these two have an amusing relationship would be somewhat of an understatement. Upon meeting, it is sarcasm and sass galore, fuelled by their mutual distrust and dislike of each other, and common bold personalities. Tristan is the prince of Trollus, a hidden troll city trapped underneath a ruined mountain, and Cecile de Troyes is the human girl snatched from the outside world to be his bride. Despite their practical, reluctant union, it’s not difficult to see the blossoming romance on the horizon, and the journey there is a most entertaining one.
“She isn’t mute, is she? That would be dreadful.” He leaned back against the chair, his strange eyes fixed on me. “On second thought, perhaps it wouldn’t be dreadful at all. I hardly need another woman in my life telling me what to do, and it would mean I could do all the talking and she the listening.”
Tristan is a bit of a cocky little fool, arrogant and rude – but it’s not long before we get to see a different side to him. Cecile is a fighter, feisty and resolute, with a kind, open heart, and a wonderful determination to defend what she holds dear. She is brave, but not without authentic flaws, and the two together make a strong team. The story is told from both perspectives, giving us a total view of their relationship as it changes and develops. The only weakness here, for me, is in Tristan’s point of view, which never feels quite as convincing as Cecile’s. I also think the pacing of the romance loses itself slightly in the second half, while it is so wonderfully slow and careful in the first. There’s a lot of progression in the end, perhaps a little too much for my liking, but, that aside, the connection between these two is largely well-written and easy to invest in.
What I liked most after all of that was the setting. Buried within the heart of Forsaken Mountain, Trollus is an enchanting, dark place, an atmospheric city that serves as a great backdrop for the story. There is an inner hierarchy system, and we get to meet a large number of characters from across the castes. Although few of the secondary characters really stand out, most are well-incorporated into the story, including Marc and Anais, two highborn trolls.
My main nit-pick would be with the length of the book. It’s not unpleasantly long, but there are many moments that could have been better organised, plot-wise, and a few scenes that could have been crisper and shorter, and then ultimately 50 or so pages cut. I also think the opening of the book is rather weak, and it’s not until we get into the mountain – when we finally meet the trolls – that things begin to look promising.
Overall, though, consider me more than satisfied. Stolen Songbird has many wonderful qualities, and for a first novel, it’s an encouraging start. Danielle L. Jensen clearly has both imagination and talent, and (after that very, very mean ending) I look forward to getting my hands on the sequel.
Some interesting parts, but most of Sea of Shadows is really rather dull.
Strangely, I don't feel like very much has happened in this first book. The...moreSome interesting parts, but most of Sea of Shadows is really rather dull.
Strangely, I don't feel like very much has happened in this first book. The whole thing could have been condensed to a few short chapters... and even then, I don't think I would have enjoyed it much more. The characters are pretty hard to hold on to, and there is little present to truly result in emotional investment.
There is certainly potential for a stronger sequel - there is much left to be explored in terms of world-building - but I am currently beyond caring at this point, unfortunately.
As far as debut novels go, Half Bad is one of the more wonderfully distinct and captivating ones that I’ve read in some time. It uses a classic concep...moreAs far as debut novels go, Half Bad is one of the more wonderfully distinct and captivating ones that I’ve read in some time. It uses a classic concept – magic and good versus evil – and moulds into something more, building the paranormal elements into the raw and heartfelt tale of growth and acceptance.
For me, Half Bad is less a book about witches, and more a book about a boy. This is Nathan’s story, his story of being hunted, caged, and suffocated by a society that functions in only one way. He is an irregularity, an outsider, someone who is neither good nor bad, neither White nor Black. In Sally Green’s England, there are two types of people; fains, or ordinary humans, and Witches, both of the evil and good variety. It’s a fairly simple setup, one that is not completely innovative either, but Sally Green makes it her own, and it works for the book, and it works in bringing Nathan’s situation alive. He is the son of the only Black Witch left in England, a Half Code, with a White Witch mother and White Witch siblings.
A large part of this book’s mesmerising quality is Nathan’s narration itself. He is a truly fascinating character, one with a very clear and unique voice. The story opens in second person (and it’s impossible not to be instantly hooked), but shifts to a first person narrative at Part Two and largely sticks to it for the rest of the book. It’s dark and gritty on the whole – the suffering on Nathan’s part is almost endless – but there are heart-warming and endearing moments of tenderness, love and perfectly-timed humour scattered throughout. He is the sort of character that you can’t help but root for, who you can’t help but feel protective of within a heartbeat.
The plot is not particularly fast-paced, but it doesn’t truly need to be. We follow Nathan’s journey to his seventeenth birthday, and his desire to receive three gifts at a Giving ceremony to become a true adult witch. The build-up is slow and unhurried, but there are several important events that occur along the way and several important secondary characters that are introduced into the story. The most striking of these characters is Celia, an ex-Hunter, and the woman who makes sure that Nathan stays in his cage. Like many things in the book, Celia is not easy to define. There are layers to her personality that demand unravelling. There are others – Gabriel and Arran and Ellen – who all play significant parts and leave significant impressions.
The only one role that I didn’t quite manage to appreciate was Annalise’s. Although the romance in Half Bad is by no means a large focus, it is present enough, and Nathan’s attraction to Annalise is difficult to grasp and lacks any real emotional impact. My main other quibble would be with the ending. The last few chapters are somewhat lacklustre in comparison to the rest of the book, but that said, I still massively look forward to the sequel.
I’m insanely pleased that Half Bad has a different sort of British flavour to it, and although I don’t think Green’s rather particular style will suit all tastes, I do definitely believe this is a book that is worth giving a try. In fact, if you’re reading this and you’re even remotely curious, you should do exactly that right now. And if the sample works for you, go and hit a buy button immediately.
This review may contain spoilers for Sanctum, the first book in the series.
Unlike Sanctum, which takes place in an entirely original world, Fractured...moreThis review may contain spoilers for Sanctum, the first book in the series.
Unlike Sanctum, which takes place in an entirely original world, Fractured brings Lela Santos’ story to a modern day, human-ridden Rhode Island. Instead of the bleak and atmospheric Shadowlands, we have high school, soup kitchens, teenage angst, cars, cell phones and prom. It’s definitely a dramatic shift in tone and ideas – and, admittedly, isn’t likely to sit exceedingly well with all readers – but, despite that, Fractured remains an addictive and thoroughly entertaining read. While it may be more in line with typical paranormal romances than with Sanctum, there is something quite distinctly gripping about Sarah Fine’s fairly simple writing style, and something quite distinctly appealing about her well-built characters. Regardless of where Lela and Malachi end up, you need to keep turning the pages.
The start serves as a pretty good adjustment period, with just enough recapping present to make re-reading Sanctum non-essential. This time, with high school and her peers to think about, Lela is forced to balance her new role as Captain of the Guard with the routine and ordinary aspects of being a teenager. More amusingly, this involves teaching Malachi how to fit in in her modern world.
“I’d seen Malachi kill Mazikin with deadly accuracy and powerful grace... I’d rarely seen him do anything as mundane as setting forks on a table.”
It isn’t all fun and games, though. The plot here focuses on the Mazikin – the hellish creatures that can possess human bodies to access their memories and skills. When there are unexplainable sightings of people running around on all fours, and further chilling reports of attacks on the homeless and vulnerable, Lela is provided with two new Guards from the Shadowlands to form a unit with her Lieutenant to track down and destroy the Mazikin nest before it’s too late. The stakes don’t feel quite as heart-pounding or high this time, but there is definitely still a good bit of action and suspense. We find out a little more about the different parts of the Shadowlands – including the Blinding City, a place for the addicts, thieves and insatiably greedy – through Jim and Henry, the two new Guards, as well as a few gut-punching revelations about what may or may not happen to human souls in the afterlife. Essentially, though, this book is about preventing the Mazikin from infesting the land of the living.
“The only thing stopping them from stealing the bodies of a million living humans... is us.”
The change in setting does allow for a few irritating second-book clichés to bloom in the romance department. There is some miscommunication and angst, predictable and unnecessary instances when other characters are brought into the picture. It’s generic stuff - the sort that can be somewhat frustrating when you’ve seen it used a million times before (and always know how it’s going to end). Nevertheless, Sarah Fine does (miraculously) manage to ensure that Malachi and Lela have a core relationship that is completely affecting and easy to invest in. In fact, once all the forced professionalism and let’s-avoid-eye-contact is ignored, the romance here is one of the most stirring parts. There are plenty of heart-wrenching and emotional scenes – and plenty others that put the swoon in swoon-worthy.
The ending is kind of a little bit cruel. (And by a little bit, I mean SO VERY MUCH). It’s the sort of ending that makes me wonder if reading is actually the most painful hobby in existence (I’m thinking YES). Ignoring that part, Fractured was a brilliant read for me – engaging and enjoyable, and a strong sequel to Sanctum. I’m convinced that whatever happens next will result in either hair loss or heartbreak, but I seriously cannot wait to find out.
This is the sort of fantasy I repeatedly crave; a clever and richly-crafted tale, with a plot that builds quietly but surely. It has it all – intrigui...moreThis is the sort of fantasy I repeatedly crave; a clever and richly-crafted tale, with a plot that builds quietly but surely. It has it all – intriguing politics, a forbidden romance, a quick-witted and strong-willed protagonist, writing that flows seamlessly across the page. I’m still somewhat surprised that it worked for me – that it worked for me in every single way – but it did, and there’s nothing quite like that wonderfully familiar descent into series-obsession territory.
For me, the strongest aspect of this book is Kestrel, the main character, a Valorian and the daughter of General Trajan. She is impossible not to like, a passionate and relatable character whose heart jumps at the sound of music, rather than the feel of a blade. She is perceptive, a strategist, better with her mind than her body. The book opens quite modestly, with nothing particularly outstanding happening as Kestrel and her friend Jess are out shopping together, but the quiet thrum of anticipation begins to build once they are forced into a crowd surrounding a Herrani slave auction. Here we meet Arin, bitter, cool-eyed, resolute Arin, and here we see Kestrel make her first bold move of many. She is an intriguing character, brave when she needs to be, and not overly so, but my absolute favourite thing about her is her almost defiant appreciation for music.
“The beauty of the flute was in its simplicity, in its resemblance to the human voice. It always sounded clear. It sounded alone. The piano, on the other hand, was a network of parts – a ship, with its strings like rigging, its case a hull, its lifted lid a sail.”
Marie Rutkoski does all the things that I like – painting images beautifully and slowly, leaving delicate hints and subtle emphases in words – and creates a story that moves at a flawless, unhurried pace. This suits the romance impeccably well. It is the best kind of romance, love-triangle free, measured and full of soft anticipation and thrill. It helps that Arin’s character is as wonderfully built as Kestrel’s. He is just as complex, just as strong-willed, almost entirely as sharp. They make an obvious, balanced match, even when one is the slave and the other the slave owner. There are moments – simple moments – such as a common Bite and Sting game or the (heart-meltingly tender) braiding of hair that feel like so much more when written with Rutkoski’s perfect choice of words.
“She saw him and didn’t understand how she had ever missed his beauty. How it didn’t always strike her as it did now, like a blow.”
The world-building seals the story together, a backdrop inspired by the Greco-Roman period, and focused on the history of the Valorian empire. The Herran War and the enslavement of the Herrani people by the invading Valorians fuels the plot, and the obvious cultural and power shifts are present throughout. It’s a world of questionable customs, silks and daggers, where the Valorians make their stand with stealth, and the Herrani remember their gods and literature and art. It’s incredibly fascinating, even though there is a sense that we’re only just skimming the surface where the empire is concerned, that there will be much more to come.
The ending – that outrageously gut-punching situation of an ending – suggests as much.
It’s distressing to think about what will be an undoubtedly painful wait, but just so it’s known, I want the next book, and I want it ASAP. It essentially falls into the category of items I would sell my limbs for, because The Winner’s Curse is really just that good. It’s a stunningly-constructed book, faultlessly written, home to a rich cast of mesmerising characters, and possesses just the right amount of intrigue, romance and emotion to make the story one that leaves an impression. My mind is still reeling from those final few pages, and I know that I'll be revisiting all of my favourite quotes and scenes in the months to come.
“They said that when an elemental mage called forth flame, she stole a little from every fire in the world. That would make Iolanthe Seabourne quite...more“They said that when an elemental mage called forth flame, she stole a little from every fire in the world. That would make Iolanthe Seabourne quite the thief.”
Sherry Thomas’s first venture into the young adult field is a delightfully accomplished one. With strong world-building, a rich magical infrastructure, consistent characters, and a touch of romance, The Burning Sky is exactly the sort of book that effortlessly pushes the rest of the world to one side. As an escapist, titles like this could not be more craved or more appreciated. Throw in some old-fashioned boarding school fun – Eton! Camaraderie! Cricket! – and we have a truly wonderfully entertaining fantasy novel, and a brilliant start to a new series.
The very beginning of the book is a little less-than-perfect, I have to say. There are a lot of familiar ideas present here, a prophecy-fulfilling plot among them, and so, admittedly, the opening chapters are not as instantly absorbing or original as they could be. The Harry Potter influence undoubtedly leaves its mark, from Marble, the Prince’s winged horse, to the use of Obliviscere, an illegal forgetfulness spell, and rapid vaulting, a means of mage transportation. Nevertheless, after a short while (a couple of chapters, at least), The Burning Sky sets sail on its own two feet and it does so magnificently. The concepts and workings of Thomas’s fantasy creation all flourish and gain dimension and depth, more than making up for the weak, second-hand foundation at the start. It all commences with a burning sky, a bolt of lightning called down to fix a ruined batch of silver light elixir. It’s this event that draws our two main characters together.
The third person dual narration works brilliantly. Iolanthe Seabourne, the star of a prophecy foretelling the birth of a mage powerful enough to take on the Realm’s tyrannous Bane, is quickly forced to team up with Prince Titus, our second protagonist, and the son of the seer who made the prediction. Together, they are one hell of a pair. There is some predictable secrecy and skirting around the truth (which generally tends to drive me insane) but, surprisingly enough, the romance is nothing but enjoyable and amusing. Between the training, scheming, and evading the agents of the Bane’s Atlantis, the two develop a strange friendship and a slow-burning mutual attraction. And they bring out the best in each other, which is something I always like to see. The Master of the Domain is a bit of a cheeky lad, under all that pressure, formality and responsibility.
“...I actually possess a superior wand – the finest of its kind, no less. The sort of fireworks my wand can produce will leave any girl breathless.”
The Eton setting is quite peculiar and unexpected at first, but it adds an almost ordinary touch to the story that can be easily appreciated. In high-end She’s the Man style, Iolanthe is forced to pretend to be a boy… and to play sports and to make friends. It’s a striking contrast from the mage world, but a brilliant move and a key part in drawing Titus and Iolanthe closer together. A lot of the rest of their time is spent in the Crucible, a storybook which they can physically transport themselves into for training purposes. It’s a superbly imagined creation and probably the most memorable thing about the The Burning Sky, second to the characters.
Despite the slightly rocky start, I totally enjoyed this book and completely fell for Iolanthe and Titus. This is definitely a trilogy with some exciting future potential and I can’t wait to see where the series will go next.
It’s clear from the start that Mortal Fire will only work for a very specific audience. The first few pages are almost excruciatingly slow-paced – tho...moreIt’s clear from the start that Mortal Fire will only work for a very specific audience. The first few pages are almost excruciatingly slow-paced – though not at all poorly written – and the journey to the end feels largely like an uphill trek. It’s demanding and full of detail, and, as a consequence, requires ample amounts of concentration and thought. Despite that, despite its almost irritating intricacy, it is wonderfully mesmerising and unquestionably original. There is something quite distinctly magical about the story and something quite utterly endearing about the main character. Although I had to use some brain power – which, you know, I don’t always like to do – I really, really liked this book.
It begins with a note from the author, stating that Mortal Fire is set in a world mostly like our own and where the year is 1959. Our protagonist arrives in the form of Canny Mochrie, an unusual and perceptive 16-year-old girl whose vision is sharp enough to pick up on the ‘Extra’. These are floating, calligraphic threads that are occasionally semi-transparent in appearance (and what I imagine the lettering effect on the book cover is supposed to reflect). Her brother’s interest in a mining accident takes them to Zarene Valley, where one of the survivors of the accident lives, and it’s here where Canny learns that magic is real and that she can manipulate it herself. Along the way, we are introduced to a whole plethora of strange concepts, from lie-detecting wind chimes and the intimate power of an ideogrammatic language, to a hidden house where time obeys a different set of rules and to a 17-year-old who has been imprisoned for 30 years.
It is Canny who truly makes this book. Although she reads far more like a middle grade protagonist than an older one, her personality is so beautifully distinct that it doesn’t at all matter. She is a problem solver, an adamant and calculative character whose occasional surliness is strangely charming. She does not think or act like you and I, but her eyes provide an interesting window from which to follow this odd story. One thing that feels a little superficial, however, is her reaction to Ghislain, the prisoner in the hidden house. The romance is difficult to grasp, or to even like, and in any other book it could be immediately labelled insta-love. When looking at Mortal Fire as a whole, however, it doesn’t quite appear to be much of a flaw, but just something to note. It helps that Ghislain himself is an incredibly interesting character. His dry humour and secretive habits make him very intriguing, indeed.
As enchanting as much of this book is, and as easy as it is to thoroughly invest in all of the characters, I do think I would have personally enjoyed this book entirely if the turn of events towards the end had been a fraction clearer. We touch on magical anchors and spell cages, time travel and wandering spirits. I even put my glasses on at one point, and had my nose right in the book, but, try as I might, I could not absorb every single little detail and unravel them in a logical sequence. That’s not to say that I lost interest, however. If anything, my attentiveness increased tenfold, and the clear imagination fuelled into the book did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I just merely wish a couple of things had been a little better explained or, better yet, simpler.
Despite the slow start and the (at times) overly ambitious plot threads, Mortal Fire is a book that unreservedly deserves some recognition. It’s a complex and carefully-paced read, and perhaps better suited to the most patient and flexible of readers, but worth much of the concentration and time that it undoubtedly needs. It’s different, more than anything, and sometimes that is exactly what I need.
This series has some of the best character development arcs that I’ve seen in YA recently. The paranormal edge to the plot could still feel slightly m...moreThis series has some of the best character development arcs that I’ve seen in YA recently. The paranormal edge to the plot could still feel slightly more significant, but, to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t quite matter anymore. The heart of these books is most definitely its characters, and they are the sort of characters that you read on for no matter what. And if there’s one character that I appreciate more than any other, it is the fantastic Nick Merrick.
Breathless introduced us to the basis of his story (and also to that of Quinn’s) and Secret does a fantastic job of continuing it with the perfect amount of emotion, sincerity and depth. I love the complicated relationships between all of the characters here. I especially love that Nick’s story feels slightly more affecting than his brothers’ and Hunter’s before him, and not simply because of the romance. His internal battle with his feelings and his need to keep his sexuality a secret from his family is heart-aching and perfectly presented, and every painful obstacle is as palpable to the reader as it is to him. He has always been the quieter and more level-headed of the Merrick twins, and his story, in a way, with its subtle tones and less explosive action scenes, reflects that.
One of my favourite things about Brigid Kemmerer’s writing is how seamlessly she can shift between different perspectives and still make each and every one of them work. Not only do all the voices throughout this series feel entirely distinct, Kemmerer also skilfully manages to unravel the deeper layers to her characters that you might not have suspected were even there. Secret is also Quinn’s story, and although I can’t say that I ever appreciated her as much as I appreciated Nick, her situation is a complex one, and one that doesn’t feel forced or unnecessary like similar situations sometimes do. Most surprising of all is Tyler Morgan’s role in her tale, a move on Kemmerer’s part that is almost as equally brave and different as it is unexpected. Very little in this book is simple or black and white, and Secret successfully gets you to think and see the possibilities for more.
Like its predecessors, Secret wouldn’t have quite as much of an emotional impact if it didn’t make use of its vast and diverse secondary cast. It helps considerably that we’ve had the chance to get into the heads of the likes of Chris and Becca and Gabriel and Hunter, as it makes them more than just secondary roles here. Once you form an attachment to characters like Kemmerer’s, it’s hard to simply forget it. Hunter warmed my heart, Chris made me choke up, and Michael made me come dangerously close to proposing to a fictional character. I liked the banter, the support, the arguments and realistic sibling issues. I liked that there were real problems, real reactions, and a whole lot of love when it really mattered. I think this book, more than any other in the series so far, has made me realise just how much I am going to miss the Merricks and their friends – and even their enemies – once the next and last book, Sacrifice, wraps up.
Overall, this is another brilliant addition to one incredibly addictive series. I'm so pleased to see that it's still going strong, and I can't wait to find out how it all ends!