A whimsical tale of sorcery and adventure on the high seas, with good doses of whimsy and danger and enviable worldbuilding.
the basics I'll warn you: anything I say here is a comparison to The Assassin's Curse, one of my favorite fantasy books of the last decade. So I might be a little harsh on its descendant because I love Ananna's story so much. That said, Hanna's story is an exciting, whimsical adventure that starts slow but takes a turn for the spectacular. Do you like kickass heroines who don't let pretty boys distract them from the mission (even if they feel a little gushy inside)? Do you like magical storms and creepy underworld inhabitants with evil designs? Do you like complex worlds with well-developed lore and customs? Look no further! I warmed up slowly to this book, but it's spunky heroine quickly won my heart. There's a little bit too much fishing in the middle, I'll admit, and a few too many magical storms. I also wanted to punch Hanna's mentor for being vague the whole time. That said, Clarke has a flair for atmosphere I haven't seen since Diana Wynne Jones. She manages to combine wit and whimsy with darkness and real danger, creating something that's probably a little younger than most young adult (god forbid we don't write about 18-year-olds) but just as satisfying. It's the kind of book you can read in a night--and then you'll be up trying to cast your own wind magic.
plot . 4/5 I had a slow start with this one. There's a storm, Hanna's mentor Kolur mysteriously takes them on an "errand" to the fair north, a witch is acquired, a strange sea-boy warns of danger. All the makings for a strong start, but for some reason I felt impatient. Perhaps because it took so long for Hanna to find out what was going on. Kolur and Frida the witch won't answer any of her questions. Isolf the sea-boy warns danger and introduces her to the story of the evil Lord Foxfollow, a powerful sorcerer from the otherworld (the Mists), but we don't get a clear sense of the stakes for a long time. I also found Kolur's reason for going urgently on his errand a little thin. And there was a lot of fishing. The book picked up for me when Hanna became more active in her own fate, finding a place of her own and fighting her own battles. By the end, I was caught up in an intrigue of sea battles, wind magic, and horrible beasties from the Mist. It just took a beat to get there. There's also a light sprinkling of romance, but not a shred of instalove. My favorite!
concept . 5/5 Clarke has a talent for creating brilliantly complex, layered worlds without a shred of infodumping. Everything is introduced organically, from the nature-based magic system (which I find incredibly cool) to the fay-like Mists and ancient village customs. Hanna's world feels authentic from the start. Slang is woven in carefully. Some customs are just assumed, and you grow to understand them as you read on. The fear of the Mists and its dangerous inhabitants is introduced from the very start; by the time you know the game, you already know that you should be dead scared of anything with flat gray eyes. There isn't a lot of moralizing or morals. This is pure fun, protect-the-homeland, find-your-way-in-the-world fantasy.
characters . 4/5 I warmed to Hanna more slowly than I had to her namesake. She's kind of annoying. Part of it is an artifice of the plot, since no one will answer her questions and so she's forced to ask them again, and again. When she finally stopped asking and took matters into her own hands, I came to respect and care for her more. She's obviously compassionate and strong, with a ferocity that's not easily broken. Kolur was iffy for me. His character is revealed in steps, secrets unfolded, and I never got a clear concept of his motivations. He talked of them a little; I just didn't buy it. I didn't understand the need for all the mystery. I'm still unclear on Frida and exactly why she's involved. I also think that Isolfr's reason for approaching Hanna and not her friends is a bit too convenient. On the other hand, I love Isolfr for his sweetness and shyness. No bad boy love interest here. He's got his flaws and he's obviously a bit of a coward--which Hanna doesn't hesitate to call him on. I hope in book two, we'll get a better sense of the side characters, now that Hanna has come into her own.
style . 5/5 Clarke's style won me over from the first page of hers I read. More adult works (i.e. The Mad Scientist's Daughter) showcase her poetry and her versatility. Her young adult fantasy showcases her whimsy and wit. She reminds me very much of Diana, with a quiet dryness that runs through the narrative. She doesn't take herself too seriously. She's not afraid to be funny and silly. She also has a flair for drama and a great handle on dialogue. Her writing just feels magical. She also knows how to raise the stakes when she needs to, with punchy action scenes and some pretty horrific descriptions. In a good way.
mechanics . 5/5 No complaints here, except for maybe pacing. The reader is left in the dark a little too much in the beginning, which frustrated the hell out of me.
Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions....more
take home message Heir of Fire wears the series mantle gracefully, showing a maturity of scope and characterization that few writers can claim. Exciting and intricately plotted, it will suck you in and leave you gasping for more.
the basics I'm a little late for the book birthday. I'd like to say I was letting the review simmer, but really I've just been in academic hell. Thankfully, I have incomparably amazing books like this to drag me out once in a while. If you've read the first two, HoF is all the excitement and danger with none of CoM's love triangle nonsense (okay, I have strong feelings). If you haven't read the first two, what are you doing reading this!? Go read them! Hem.
Heir of Fire picks up shortly after Crown of Midnight with Celaena struggling to live through the aftermath of the terrible events of books past. Now that we know her secret, the stakes are higher and you can feel it from the first page. Celaena joins forces with a prickly Fae who can help her win the war--if she masters her power, and that means mastering herself. It's part amazing battle awesomeness, part poignant journey of self-discovery and painstaking self-forgiveness. Back at the castle, there are plots brewing, with Chaol and Dorian caught in the mix and painfully estranged from each other. Chaol battles his loyalty to the crown with a strange new partnership. I found Dorian's thread more haphazard and sparse, but I still ached with him as he learned to control his newfound abilities. Then there's Manon. Gods. She brought the knife-edge to the plot, bloody and ruthless and exhilarating from her first wicked appearance through her trials to prove her mettle among a clan of deadly witches. She's new to HoF, and if you don't love her by her second chapter, you're as heartless as she is. (Or is she?) Despite a few hitches, HoF was a breathtaking read that blows mid-series lag out of the water.
plot . 4/5 Did I mention this book was exciting? Holy crap. There are few really long books that feel short. HoF easily makes the list. For one, you're constantly jumping between plotlines, in a way that's interesting instead of confusing. It's like having a cliffhanger every chapter. Then, the plots themselves are wicked tight. Most of all, what I loved is that everyone is facing the consequences of their decisions in CoM. Remember when I complained about Celaena playing with people? Well, Maas doesn't let her (or other involved parties) off the hook. In HoF, Celaena's ready to draw battle lines, only to realize that she's at war within herself. Not to mention, her life is now fraught with Fae politics, dangerous otherworldly enemies, and the quickly-unraveling secrets of a too-near past. Talk about epic. I also deeply enjoyed Manon's plot. She's on the other side of the war: a pawn in the king's army, trading temporary servitude for the promise of renewed glory. It was exciting to see her battle the other witches and grow close to her wyvern, even knowing that she and Celaena may someday come head to head.
The girls won my heart, but the boys were up to some excitement too. Chaol is finally forced to take a position and stop waffling in the way that so irritated me in the past. He's also forced to face painful truths about his relationships with Celaena and Dorian. Self-discovery for everyone! Chaol's dealings with the new-returned general were incredibly tense, which only made me want more. Then there's Dorian. On one hand, I loved that he was given more importance than in CoM, where he was largely mopey and sad. On the other hand, his parts still felt too few and too thrown-in. There's also a romance that occurs in the book that felt, to me, out of nowhere and not entirely believable. So I didn't feel terribly emotional over where it led. These two bits were probably the most disappointing for me. However, the rest of the book's end? I screamed inside. The ending is devastating, life-changing, fraught with questions and untied threads. It was the perfect wrap-up for a mid-series book and hard proof that Maas knows just where to twist the knife.
concept . 5/5 Throne of Glass was brilliant but very much about the contest and spectacle. Crown of Midnight raised the stakes but suffered from love-triangle-of-doom. Heir of Fire takes the best of its predecessors and raises them to epic scope. Suddenly, we're talking about nations and worlds, not just individuals and contenders. There are matters of politics, far-flung places and people drawn into the conflict, secrets that will define a generation. It's all very fairy tale and high fantasy without losing sight of the strong characters that made the series lovable in the first place. Few other books leave me with such a strong urge to write.
characters . 5/5 Maas has hit her stride with emotion and depth of character, proving that this isn't just a book about cool battles and assassin-ly antics. I mean, it is. But it's also about people struggling with unimaginable situations. Maas lets us into Celaena's shell more completely in this book. Her rage and self-hatred and ambivalence seep into every word, layering her actions with strife and meaning. Manon is a certified badass. She's also more emotionally complex than her ruthlessness would lead you (or her) to believe. But not in a sappy "I'm bad turned good" kind of way. She'll still murder you. Chaol and Dorian have both obviously matured, beyond simple angst to a more profound suffering--and hope. Their interactions are painful to watch, in the best way. There are also a slew of less prominent but just as well-drawn characters. Aedion is the perfect mix of debonair and distraught, while Rowan is a little samey as far as traumatized-guff-warriors go, but still lovable. There's a new girl. I can't remember her name, which is good indication that she was my least favorite. Her plot felt the thinnest to me, and so did her character. I couldn't care about her like I needed to.
style . 5/5 Maas is the master of epic and accessible. Her words verge on the poetic without becoming opaque or flowery. Her dialogue never sounds flat. Her descriptions are rarely too long and are mostly gorgeous and intricate. She also uses language in a way that I can only hope to. She can make the simplest words sound melodic. HoF is just the logical maturation of a skill she already possessed, now finely honed and getting better with every book.
mechanics . 5/5 Juggling five or so points of view is no easy task. A lesser writer would produce something cacophonous. Instead, Heir of Fire is a finely woven tapestry. Every scene feels carefully juxtaposed with the next. You're rarely too long away from a character before they come back into view. The scenes end at the most cliff-hangery parts (without feeling cheap). My only complaint, as I've already said, is the comparably thin treatment of Dorian and new-girl-whose-name-I-forget. Their threads could have used more pages.
A gorgeous tapestry of adventure, love, and violence on a cosmic scale. An end to one of the best fantasy series of our generation, and the beginning of a brilliant career.
the basics I had to take a moment before I could properly review this book. It's amazing how a series so lately in my life can leave such an imprint. The first book, I found good. Not great, but good. Then I read the second recently, and I was completely won. I almost feared to read the last because I feared that final page and the end it brought, but I also rushed to read it as soon as it arrived because I couldn't wait. The finale is a perfect culmination of the series, an ending and a huge beginning, a raising of the stakes. Our beloved characters grow and find their strengths in ways both believable and remarkable. Tragedies occur. Lovers are foiled and frustrated. New characters become major players, somewhat unexpectedly. And for a over 600-page book, the pacing is breakneck. Taylor carefully flings you between narrators to set up suspense and, as she does best, foster cringing amounts of dramatic irony. All the while, the atmosphere is one of wonder and also one of fear and brutal violence. Taylor no more shirks the flaws of her characters than the consequences of their actions, which at times can be devastating. Yet she gives us better than reality--she offers hope amidst turmoil, love amidst death. It's a gorgeously written epic that could lend itself to half a dozen prequels and sequels. It's also one of the books that has cemented for me more than ever why I must be a writer.
plot . 4.5/5 I can't say that all of the revelations here were set up well in the previous books. The history of Eretz becomes a crucial plot element, including the far-off Stelian angels, but they appeared so abruptly in books 1 and 2 that I would have preferred some early foreshadowing. The same can be said for other revelations, such as the role of Eliza the graduate student and the origin story of Eretz. The disconnect really separates book 1 from 2 and 3 for me and lends itself to a lot of rushed exposition. That said, I devoured this book like Cthulu devouring Earth. I lost sleep. I made ultimatums--"You will stop at the end of this chapter!" Taylor is a master of pageturning. Her alternating narrators ensure a cliffhanger at almost every chapter's end. Instead of being infuriating, it's suspenseful. It raises the stakes. It reminds you that no one else knows that's going on with the others either, and her little hints of "But it wasn't" and "She wished she'd known" heighten the dramatic irony to a knuckle-whitening burn.
Content-wise, it's a brilliant mix of war, intrigue, and social justice. We begin with the seraphim and chimaera in a tentative, volatile truce against evil emperor Jael. Then there's Eliza, representative of Earth, hopelessly watching the seraphim invade. The plot is intricately woven to leave you guessing until the last moments. And always something is happening. The allies create a plot. The plot is foiled. The Earthlings are rioting. The chimaera are in danger of extinction. The Stelians are out to kill someone very important. People are betrayed and slaughtered. By the end, your head is reeling from everything that's gone wrong, but there's a last, desperate cheer for what's gone right. It's also one of the few books in which I appreciated an epilogue, because it provides just enough hope to offset the shocking ending.
concept . 4/5 Again, I take off points here because I felt that the whole plotline with the Stelians, which is intricately connected to Eretz' origin story, arrives from very tenuous foundations. In book 2, we know the Stelians exist and refuse Joram's war. That a Stelian was Akiva's mother. And...well. That's it. So much devastating and plot-changing information comes out of their inclusion that I was disappointed with the lack of earlier set-up. Taylor could have integrated them much more. However, I also loved the way she stretched the concept of her seraphim and chimaera world to something grander and more devastating. I won't much away, only that the elements are somewhat Lovecraftian and it brings Eretz and Earth together in ways that make their twinedness more sensical. Within the more proximal plot of the war and the races, Taylor also does a great job of dealing with prejudice, persecution, violence, and change. Her characters aren't good or evil. They're changed immutably by what they've suffered. Their sacrifices are tangible and lasting. It's a profound view of war and its cost. (However, must we really perpetrate the ugly-evil-villain trope? Honestly.)
characters . 5/5 These characters will live with me forever. Karou is at her most powerful in this book. She's accepted her duty and sacrifice. She's also grown deeply, learned that duty doesn't mean unhappiness, that forgiveness is possible, that she is strong and capable on her own but that it's okay to rely on friends. She's also much more aware of where she belongs. Akiva becomes less mopey, which is a plus, and also gains back much of the wit and verve lost in book 2. I would have liked to see more Ziri, but we did get much more characterization of Liraz, who's a new favorite for me. The best was the continuing growth of Mik and Zuzanna. Now embroiled in the struggle, they're deeply affected by their role, with good and bad scars. They also play an integral part in Karou's plans and show their own strengths beyond their chimaera-approved duties. None of the characters in this series are flat; but moreover, they're dynamic and changing. They're people I'll miss and think about. People I can't but wish were out there somewhere beyond the tears in the sky.
style . 5/5 Can I gush more about Taylor's style? It possesses the kind of easy beauty of a Dali painting, magical and surreal and clever and funny. There are words you'll never see elsewhere that so perfectly capture Taylor's meaning, and descriptions more gorgeous than a photograph. There's dark humor and dry wit, a hint of sappiness made not too saccharine by context. There's a hint of Victorian ornateness, loads of Tolkein-esque precision, and a breathtaking atmosphere that is Taylor's through and through. I could read her quotes over and over, and will again. And moreover, it feels magical. There's the feel of cool Halloween air and firefly-lit meadows and foreboding winds. It's an atmosphere that lingers.
mechanics . 5/5 I've complained of foreshadowing, but that's my main problem. The book is fantastically polished. Nothing seems excessive or slow. There are no obvious places for trimming. Every word feels carefully and distinctly chosen. It's a masterpiece.
Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions. ...more
Asunder is a worthy sequel with its own charms, perhaps even better than its predecessor. We return to a Heart riddled with signs of civil unrest, full of new mysteries and challenges. I read Asunder so close to Infinite that I must remind myself where the division was, because so much happened in this book. Rather than being overwhelmed, I was excited. The stakes were higher on every count. There's the mystery of Templedark to deal with; the prejudice against new newsouls; the outcry against Ana's and Sam's romance; the secrets of Ana's past. Here, Ana really becomes her own person--not just a trainee, but a young woman strong and capable enough to fight her own battles. I also found answers to many of the questions raised in Incarnate, and am still reeling from Meadows' cleverness and originality. This sequel is breakneck to the shocking end, a perfect middle that doesn't suffer from the "filler" feelings of some 2nd books. It's stands on its own.
plot . 5/5 I wanted answers after Incarnate, and I got them--only they weren't what I expected, in the best way. Meadows shows just how masterfully she crafted the first book with its forehadowing and secrets by pulling it all together in this book. Discovery is a huge theme here, with much of the plot revolving around Ana working out the mysteries she discovered during Templedark. I won't spoil, but the answers reveal a depth of worldbuilding rarely seen in young adult fantasy. And that wasn't all. Each page is a careful thread in the tapestry of this plot, all building to a startling conclusion. When Ana isn't mining for the secrets of Templedark, she's protecting young newsouls, confronting sylph, testing Sam's inhibitions, campaigning for the rights of her people, or being threatened and attacked by oldsouls resentful of their New brethren. There's also a nice twist on a love triangle that seems realistic rather than infuriating. By the time I caught my breath, I was using it to beg for the final installment.
concept . 5/5 The issues presented in Incarnate gain depth and prominence here. Meadows deals with a huge number of issues without it seeming chaotic or overwhelming. Death, prejudice, religion, love, loss, growing up. The tragedy of Templedark has sparked feelings of loss and grief in those who lost loved ones, and fear in those who envision it happening to them. Before, Ana was one newsoul, feared because of her uniqueness but gaining acceptance. Now, there are those who see her as a harbinger of doom, who see the possibility of more newsouls as a death sentence for themselves and their whole culture. The effects of fear and uncertainty, and what desperate people will do, become central to this book in a way that carries through beyond the last page.
characters . 5/5 Ana and Sam were the main players in book one, but some of the lovely side characters find their own voices here. Stef, the clever engineer, becomes vastly important. We're shown her sweet side and her dark side, which comes to a head in the final chapters. Then we meet Cris, grower of purple roses, a quietly complex character I adored from his first page. I would have liked Sarit to be more prominent in book 1 before being called Ana's best friend here, but Meadows does a decent job of making up for Sarit's limited introduction. In this book, she's more present and also shows a playful side to Ana. We also get way more of Meuric and other baddies; again, I would have liked more introduction to them earlier, but I was excited to see them here, though some of them could have been more complex. So hard to describe without spoiling! Suffice to say, clashes between characters are so crucial to this plot.
Of course I can't forget Ana and Sam. I loved Ana in book 1, but in Asunder is where she began to shine as her own person. Some of the fear and timidness has worn off, allowing her to make a place for herself as her own person. I enjoyed watching her struggle between her love for the oldsouls and her empathy for the newsouls, leading her to become champion and protector of those like herself. Some people complained about this, but I enjoyed her musings on love and whether she was capable of it. She experienced such torture with her mother that I would think it unrealistic for her not to struggle with her worth as loved and lover. Sam became deeper too, more lively and more complex with his battle between being proper and following his heart. In learning more of his origins and past relationships, I found some of the vulnerability in him that was more shadowed in book 1. The only thing that annoyed me? Ana got kind of preachy. I understand her motivations, but I still wanted to punch her in the face.
style . 5/5 I think Meadows really comes into her own in this book. Some people suffer from sophomore slump; she just shows her growing maturity as a writer here. The lyrical quality of Incarnate is still intact, but everything is even tighter and more polished than before. She also has a much stronger grasp of the voices of every character, not only Ana. Asunder proves that she is far from a one-hit-wonder.
mechanics . 4/5 The pacing was phenomenal for a book with so many threads. Everything happens at the right time. It lulls at the right time, races at the right time. What I couldn't stand was the excessive use of "asunder." A title word or key word should be sprinkled carefully. It's power comes from being unexpected, rare. It felt like Meadows was just throwing it in sometimes to hammer home the main message--and she hammered the nail until it fell through the wood. It's not enough that I didn't love the book, but by the end, I was getting angry claw hands.
take home message A stunning sequel that takes fantasy and romance to new heights, leaving the reader breathless and dying for more. ...more
the basics This is the kind of fantasy I really needed during a bad, horrible week. It brings me back to my childhood, of devouring Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, and Tamora Pierce. It has a childlike streak but it's not really childish. It won't satisfy devotees of the dark, gritty kind of young adult that's smattered the scene these days. You won't find tortured heroines or brooding bad boys falling in deep, tormented love. No doom and gloom and dystopian flair. No deep psychological issues. This is a high fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously, and I love it for that. It's The Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings of the darker young adults. The light romance is adorable, there's plenty of adventure and mystery, Kyra is capable and admirable, and there are all sorts of silly elements (like the piglet) that I found humorous and endearing. To be fair, it can get episodic and the writing lacks some of the sophistication of a Sarah J. Maas or Victoria Schwab. Was it deep and lasting? No. Would I demand everyone read it? Not really. Did I enjoy it? Quite a lot. This book was pure fun, and I think that's something that young adult forgets about sometimes. I only regret that Bridget will never get to see the smiles on many readers faces.
plot . 4/5 Like I said, it's a little episodic. You're thrown between accidental run-ins with cute boys named Fred, evil witch ensnarements, scrapes with the castle guard and the King of Criminals. Some of the escapes are a little far-fetched, and the reveals at the end are a bit fairy tale. But that's not all a bad thing. Because it did feel like a fairy tale. Like an Ella Enchanted, although not quite as brilliant as that particular high fantasy. On the plus side, there was always plenty of excitement. I constantly craved to know what was going to happen next. There were also some pretty clever twists. Again, a little far-fetched, but if you suspend disbelief and accept the silliness, it was really a fun read.
concept . 5/5 It's very much a fairy tale sort of high fantasy--and, as I said, devoid of the gloomy seriousness of most modern young adult books. Which is perhaps why so many have said it reads like a middle grade, which I can see. It doesn't go as deep as other books, but it got a lot of traction with me for its pure whimsy. In the vein of a traditional high fantasy, it takes murder, treason, poisoning, and other dastardly deeds and intrigue and casts them as a grand adventure. A little bit Disneyfied, but no less entertaining. It certainly could be enjoyed by middle grade readers, but as an adult and a firm fan of young adult, I still found much to enjoy from it. And so I didn't expect to see extensive world building or deeply psychological characters. I expected kings and queens and witches and spunky heroines and that's what I got. It delves a bit into the more psychological side of things, but in the end, it's all about the thrill. And you get all the fun silly bits, like potions that turn you to wood, hunting pigs, and frilly underwear.
characters . 4/5 Like I said, we aren't getting incisive psychological portrayals here. They feel real, but like everything else, they're on the silly side. Which meant I enjoyed them immensely, but they didn't necessarily stick with me as deeply as another approach would. Kyra had her superficial moments, but I liked her. She was spunky but not annoyingly so and she was very capable. Fred was adorable, that sort of silly sarcastic kind of adorable. Like a real boy you might want to date, not a brooding antihero whom you want equally to save and love. The princess Ariana was a bit cliche on the defiant princess end, but she wasn't a huge part of the story and I still enjoyed her.
style . 4/5 It does read a bit young, but there's also that irresistible whimsy that kept me going page after page. There were elements that could have been tightened or that made me grit my teeth a bit. Must every book have the heroine go on for lines about how she's absolutely positively not at all bothered by the apparent disinterest of the boy she absolutely positively has no romantic interest in whatsoever, not at all? Seriously. Are all heroines that transparently dense? Now that I've got that out of my system, I thought the style was very simple but had a good atmosphere to it. I felt sort of giddy and pleasant reading it. Like I knew that everything would turn out fine in the end and I was being gently pulled along on this grand adventure. Nothing I'd gush over writing-wise, but solid anyway.
mechanics . 5/5 Nicely polished, not much to say here. I think the dialogue got a little crossed between whether it wanted to be old-fashioned or modern sounding which made for some awkward moments.
take home message A whimsical high fantasy that brings some cheer and lightheartedness to the young adult genre. ...more
Remember when I said that Throne of Glass is the fantasy I've been waiting for? Well, here's its best friend. Clarke has brought my childhood of Tolkien and Tamora and Diana crashing back with her classic (with a twist) high fantasy. The book starts with some staples: girl on the run from a marriage, mysterious assassin, clever and conniving pirate, untrustworthy magic. The way Clarke lays them out is anything but predicable. Her heroine is lifelike, clever, and more than a match for her assassin counterpart. The hints of romance are believable and satisfying; they feel real, not thrown in just for effect. The world? It feels like it was always there, waiting to be written about, deeply imagined with a fully-realized magical system and flavors of Middle Eastern and Polynesian culture--a far cry from your typical medieval Europe overhaul. The plot and world played off of each other to lure the reader along. I had a hard time putting this one down. If I had the time, I'd read it again right now. It makes the kid in me laugh and better yet, it makes me want to write.
plot . 5/5 You don't get much of an introduction before you're thrown into the pirate world. Just like I like it. Ananna becomes instantly endearing. She's not your typical tomboy. She just wants to go her own way. And she's a little lost as how to go about it. Enter Naji, cursed assassin, bound to protect the life of the one who saves his. Even if they save it very accidentally. It's clear there's something bigger than just their journey, some deep magic bubbling under the surface. Half of me wanted to speed up and find out all the secrets, the other half wanted to slow down and learn more about this incredibly detailed world. Which for me, means I was obsessed. It all crashes into a cliffhanger that still has me reeling.
concept . 5/5 I don't know why it took me so long to read this. I love all the elements; I think I was afraid it wouldn't live up to my hopes. Fat chance. Clarke is like Tamora Pierce reimagined. Her world is every inch as powerful and legendary as Tortall, but nowhere near the same. Magic has its own strange ways--relationships with the sea, herb concoctions, people moving in shadows. The history and the people is completely new, but with just enough familiar hints to seem like you've known it forever. There are hints of good vs. evil, but for the common man, those are dark, old things not to be trifled with. Everyone else is just worried about getting ahead and making a quick buck. The perfect backdrop for two of fantasy's most storied professions.
characters . 5/5 Ananna reminds me so much of my old Pierce favorites. (Seriously, if you read this and love it, go read Tamora.) She's fiery and a little foolhardy but not in an annoying way. She's just young. She's desperate to make her own way without being some man's trophy wife. And she has some skills of her own that make her more than a match for her surroundings. Scrappy and smart, you'll love her instantly. Naji is you basic bad-boy, without the basic part. He's disfigured, but we don't know why. He's an assassin, but we don't know how. He's suave and clever but also a bit of a baby. And he's definitely got a selfish streak that plays off Ananna's own self interest. They make the perfect team, sometimes united but often fighting to eke out their own interests. And their relationship feels organic, not forced. The side characters...some a little too thinly described for now, but I hope to meet them more.
style . 5/5 Magical. Clarke writes like she's writing an old tale, but with fresh, snarky teenage eyes. Ananna feels like a presence, not a cardboard cut-out with a name. No typos, no strange wording, just very clean writing that knows when to stop for a pretty description and when to rush forward. It makes the world come alive. It's also got a bite and it'll make you laugh as much as it'll make you gasp.
mechanics . 5/5 Beautifully polished. Nothing to complain about. ...more
If you haven't read The Assassin's Curse yet, you're missing out! If you have, then you know how spectacular this series is. If Throne of Glass is the champion of medieval European young adult fantasy (which I argue, it is), then this series is the champion of the Middle East. Clarke's Arabic-inspired world is richly described and full of whimsical elements: floating islands, spoiled manticores, blood-magic-using assassins, and the formidable Pirate Confederation. I can't love the magic system more; it's element-based but very different from the spell-chucking style of many high fantasies. You have sea witches who commune with the water, wizards who cast unbreakable curses in riddles, and blood bonds.
Then there are the characters. I fell in love with Ananna immediately for her fierceness and badassery. She's like a cruder Celaena with a dirty mouth. Naji, the assassin, is gorgeously refined and also overprotective in a non-creepy way. The side characters are way more than props--but we'll get to that. Overall, this book is a worthy sequel to the first. It has all the same adventure and a breakneck plot, but builds on the romance and the raises the stakes. I couldn't put it down to save my life. It's the kind of young adult fantasy that reminds me why I love reading, and leaves me feeling happy and eager for more.
plot . 4/5 I know I just glowed about this book for two paragraphs, but it does have its weak points. I think the plot isn't as tight as The Assassin's Curse. That book followed pretty well from one crisis to another, with a strong central thread that kept you grounded. This one had a few more bizarre sidesteps, so I felt jerked around sometime. I also wondered a bit at how much development there was for one of the central plots. However, suspend a little disbelief and my complaints end. Pirate's Wish was fascinating start to end. Ananna and Naji were ripped between a creepy island, a manticore's kingdom, a vengeful pirate battle, an underwater city--I won't spoil it, but there's a lot going on and Clarke really shows her creativity in every new plot turn. I think I might have said "Wow!" at one point. And it gave me a lot of ideas about places my own book's world could use fleshing. A book that makes me want to write is the best kind!
concept . 5/5 This is high stakes fantasy, but with a bit more whimsy. A little more lighthearted. There's plenty of battles and blood, but you don't get the same dark, beleaguered feeling you get from Throne of Glass or, iconically, Game of Thrones. It's a little more fun. There are talking manticores who obsess over their manes. Bubbly undersea critters with powerful magic. Pirates! It's a little sillier than some of your typical fantasies, and I love it for that. Sometimes, you just want a read that isn't going to make you throw your book at the wall. It also made me laugh, a lot. Ananna is just clumsily funny and you get a lot of her flavor in the narrative. It's a little more classic and fun-loving, a little more Narnia than The Lord of the Rings. Not to mention, it takes fantasy to a Middle Eastern-style world, with a culture heavily drawn from Arabic culture (maybe Saracen-esque?). Uncommon in young adult fantasy, and super refreshing. Way more spices and flowing clothes than steel and fur coats.
characters . 5/5 The characters are a huge strength for me. First off, they're mostly nonwhite, which is tragically rare in a fantasy genre (and a young adult genre!) pretty dominated by pasty faces. (Says the reviewer with the most vampiric of complexions.) AND there's even a healthy lesbian relationship represented! Yay diversity! Also, the characters are just well-written. I fell in love with Ananna on page one. She's fierce, determined, clever, and has a mouth on her. She's also endearingly insecure at times, and stubborn at others. Her choices change the flow of the story; this isn't just something happening to her.
Then there's Naji, the sweet and stuffy assassin bound to her. Hate stalker-boys with hot tempers and sketchy "romantic" moves? Look no further! Naji is sweetly overprotective, more like a brother than a batterer, but also acknowledges Annana's own strengths and independence. He's also mysterious, which is pretty hot. Then there's Marjani, the badass pirate woman who takes on their cause and becomes a respected woman in a man's world. The voice of reason and a great role model. Did I mention a hilariously cleanliness-obsessed manticore who thinks humans are servants? How can you not love this already!?
style . 5/5 Clarke's style in this book isn't as lyrical as some fantasy readers may be used to. That doesn't mean it's bad, by any means. She's just more concise. Pithier. Instead of long, pretty descriptions (which she still has some of), she relies on clever turns of phrase and really innovative ways to look at things. I got a great sense of my surroundings on every page. The lack of flowery writing also helped keep the pace up, especially during the most exciting parts. But there were also plenty of really pretty and clever lines for me to ogle over.
mechanics . 5/5 Not much to complain about. The arrangement of plot elements could have been less choppy, but the book itself was polished nicely. Not a lot of unnecessary scenes or phrasing. Which I hate.
take home message A whimsical, exciting fantasy that looks at the Eastern side of high fantasy and comes packed with adventure, romance, and pirates! ...more
In case you don't know, Lichgates is amazing and basically embodies everything I love about high fantasy. So if you haven't, you should read the review. If you have, then you already know how original and clever it is. Guess what? Treason may even be better. Everything I loved about the first book is here: the strong characters, the super original creatures, the uber-cute and slow-building romance, the adventure, the magic, the pacing. But Treason ups the ante. The action starts instantly and the stakes are ever higher. The twist...well, all I'll say is that it blew my mind. In a good way. Mostly. I thought it needed a wee bit more foreshadowing, but I also thought it was a brilliant wrench to throw into the works. Did I mention that I love Braeden? We also get to know the side characters a lot more in this one, which makes the whole world feel way more fleshed out. I'm dying for book three.
plot . 5/5 Holy chipotle (yes, people say that...), I cannot believe how much happens in this book. Most authors would risk clunking you over the head with too much information, but Boyce pulls it off. The pacing is slow enough to let you catch your breath but fast enough that the book doesn't end up at 800 pages. Everything builds logically on everything else. There's a bit of confusion around the Grimoire and just when it can save her and when not, but I think in general, Boyce does a good job of avoiding deus ex machina. And like I said...the twists leaves you reeling. It ends on kind of a soft, flimsy note, but that's pretty much my only complaint.
concept . 5/5 It's hard to make a new high fantasy world. People also just don't care to do it. Which is fine, sometimes. If you have great characters and write like a pro, I'll gobble up your standard Euro-medieval look-a-like in a heartbeat and love it. However. Give me something new and exciting and you'll really stand out. Boyce keeps some of the medieval tropes, but that's where the stereotypes end. The bloodline system is insanely clever. The creatures are all new and sparkly and shiny. The linguistic aspects could be a little tighter but I tend to be way pickier about that then...well, pretty much everyone else. In a nutshell? Boyce took the time to create something new and deep and it shows.
characters . 5/5 Braedenbraedenbraeden. Okay I'm done. Braeden and Kara, the POV characters, are extremely well done. They have some cliche elements (can you say Spiderman complex?) but they feel like real people, which is not always the case in fantasy novels. They have real, logical motivations and relatable personalities. I'm not a huge fan of Twin because she's a bit overly bubbly and flat. She's the exception. Most of the secondary characters really come to life in this novel. I thought Aislynn needed some more foreshadowing, but Gavin was fantastically multifaceted and the first Vagabond is delightfully willful. For the most part, everyone feels vibrant and real.
style . 5/5 I'll admit that Boyce occasionally has some superfluous phrases or some messy language. Now that I've gotten my nitpickiness out of the way...I really love Boyce's writing. It's clean, polished, and hits the perfect balance between pretty description and succinct action phrasing. It doesn't get in the way of the plot but it doesn't fall flat and dull either. She has a knack for painting a picture.
mechanics . 5/5 Boyce puts in the extra editing work, and you can tell. It's cleanly formatted and very pretty.
take home message A tour-de-force (I've always wanted to use that word) that brings YA fantasy back into the light.
This is the book I’ve been waiting for. Maas breaks into the market with a thrilling, fast-paced novel that breathes life back into young adult high fantasy. Her main character is snarky and fun, supported by a cast of people as interesting as she is. Don’t worry, tweens—there’s romance. Very sweet, cute, slow-developing romance that, for once!, doesn’t overshadow the plot. And Maas’ world feels real from the first page. It may not be the most unique or never-before-seen fantasy world, but it’s classic. I love it for being something happy and familiar, allowing me to focus on all the elements that really are unique—including the very cool ritual magic system. A great read for anyone who misses books full of magic, adventure, and snarky heroines. ...more
The fantasy elements were strong, but the main plot centered much more about the romance than I had expected. I’m not a romance reader. I love romantic subplots, but emphasis on the sub. I didn’t like Trylle or Twilight, if that gives you any hints. Also, I don’t really like present tense novels. So anyway, if you like any of these things, you’ll probably really enjoy this book. In the interest of a fair review, let’s (watch me) break it down. Yes. I just parenthetically quoted Lady Gaga.
What I Didn’t Like: Start with the sour, then leave ‘em with something sweet. I didn’t buy Kate as a teenager. The way she talks is too pretty. Like she could be a fair romance maiden. Brit had a ton of personality in her dialogue. Kate just seemed kind of flat self-inserty to me. I didn’t really connect with her. The plot was kind of rocky. Started great and exciting, got lost in a mush of training and such, and suddenly what I thought was the main conflict (evil daemons feasting on the populous) took backseat to the me-and-Arland-have-some-issues-with-our-romance-and-something-is-wrong-with-Brad bit. It just felt like they were worrying way too much about their lovey-dovey stuff when people were being killed all around them. The magic was mostly fine, but I thought Kate had it a little too easy towards the end. Maybe it was just a bit mushy for me. I don’t do mushy.
What I Liked: Great world. You’ve got a pantheon, daemons of all varieties, a war with the Darkness, and hidden old magic. Some parts are a wee bit of a stretch (Ground Dwellers, aka I’m pretty sure they’re sort of dwarves and the humans are sort of elves; everything is inexplicably Irish) but those didn’t stop me from enjoying it. I loved the idea of this decimated world with people hiding out in underground bunkers, thirsting for a long-missing sun. Very neat.
As for characters, Kate wasn’t my favorite, but I loved Brit and Flanna. They were snarky, fun, and brought some pizazz to the pages. The romance was not all bad. I loved that she didn’t actually have a thing for her best friend (the part where they share a kiss at the very beginning was very well done!). I also thought Wade was clever in avoiding insta-romance with Kate-to-Arland. Kate had dreamed for years of loving Arland, so no wonder she was instantly in love with him. (It was a little less clear why he would so quickly fall for her, though.)
As for the writing, it didn’t sound like a teen, but it was clear, largely error-free, and set a very nice mystical tone. And the plot? I kind of saw the ending coming, but I thought it was a great move on Wade’s part. It showed a great error in judgment on Kate’s part and shook up her fairy tale ending, which is exactly what you need to do setting up a sequel. It also made the previous plot with Brad (I’ll spare you the spoilers) make sense, whereas before it had seemed much too neat. So kudos on the ending. ...more
Newsflash: YA high fantasy is alive and well, and it’s all right here in Lichgates. From the first chapter, I knew this was a keeper. Boyce throws you right into the action without any slow buildup, letting you figure out background details as you go along. Kara, her main character, is a realistic, bright girl with a kind heart and a good brain--but she’s far from perfect, so don’t go worrying about Mary Sue’s. Braeden is the perfect romantic foil. He has a good heart and good intentions, but he can’t quite let go of his own agenda. And guess what!? NO insta-romance! That’s right, folks. These characters meet each other and do not immediately fall in love. I almost did a jig of joy at my computer.
But you want an original high fantasy world, you say? Look no further! Boyce has created one of the most original fantasy worlds I’ve ever read. I’d be so bold as to say that the originality of her world could be put up there with my hero, Diana Wynne Jones. As soon as you dive into Ourea, you know this isn’t any medieval European knock-off. With Bloods who can psychically control their whole kingdom’s bloodline, soul stealers, shape-shifting muses, charcoal-skinned smoky Stelians, cobblestones that make faces, and dog-horses that walk through walls--it's not your average Tolkien knockoff. I admit a surge of jealousy as I got deeper into Ourea and realized how well-crafted it was!
And the plot? Don’t worry. Boyce keeps you on your toes. Sure, I could nitpick about a few slow bits or a few strange names here and there, but what’s the point? When it comes down to it, Boyce knows how to keep a reader enthralled. Right from the start she pulls you in, and never lets go. Something is always going on, and every time Kara’s life gets too quiet, something else happens to complicate it. Murder, court intrigue, magic, soul stealing, war--take your pick. Kara is such a sympathetic character that you must keep reading, just to know that she’s okay in the end.
So my advice? Pick up a copy of Lichgates and clear your calendar, because you won’t want to put it down. Lovely author, great plot, realistic characters, unique world--YA high fantasy is back, my friends, with a book and a bang. ...more
I've read many good books this past few years, but it's still rare for a book to draw me so deeply into its world that I never want to let go. Incarnate was a reawakening. It reminded me of everything I love about fantasy, of everything it can aspire to. I felt like I did when I first discovered Tamora Pierce--excited, thrilled, surprised, giddy. Meadows' world manages to be both familiar and mind-breakingly original, with a twist on reincarnation that adds philosophical depth to the breakneck adventure. I don't throw around "original", but this is truly original. Not to mention, I was in love with every single character, even the despicable ones, because they were all portrayed as people. Endearing, flawed, impulsive, annoying, and ultimately real people. Add a slow-burning romance (no instalove here!), dragons, and a unique outlook on prejudice and you have a highly conceptual fantasy with a kick-ass heroine and an atmosphere that lingers. Needless to say, I ordered the sequel as soon as I turned the last page. The only question I still have is, what bloody took me so long to read it anyway?
plot . 5/5 Take a deep breath, because there's no easing into this one. On the first page, Ana is already off to seek her fortune and to escape the clutches of her wicked stepmother. Ana quickly finds herself attacked by various beasties in a world she has little experience with, only to be saved by the sweet and enigmatic Sam. Don't worry--no instalove on the horizon. Instead, you get a sweet getting-to-know-you followed by an upsetting arrival in the city of Heart. Which has a rule against newsouls, aka, the "No Ana" rule. To earn citizenship, Ana must prove that her youth and lack of skill won't endanger them all, with the help of Sam and friends. Her task quickly proves dangerous, as there are many silent and deadly people who see her as a threat and wish her harm.
Meadows does a great job of balancing Ana's discoveries and revelations (which are hysterical, since she's at a normal learning curve for our world but thousands of years behind in hers) with danger and intrigue. The best part: You're never settled because Meadow never provides you (or Ana) safe footing. Is something following Ana? Why are dragons attacking? What's behind the sinister temple and living walls? Why won't Sam get over himself and give into his feelings already? Just when everything is going well, a surprise visitor shakes it up again--and then it all goes "boom". It's the kind of book where I had to force myself to slow down, because I constantly wanted to know what would happen next. The ending was explosively satisfying, but left me wanting more more more.
concept . 5/5 This novel is all about Ana seeking her fortune. And by fortune, I mean her origins--because she's the only new soul in a land where people have been reincarnating--and remembering each of their past lives--for five thousand years. WHOA. That hooked me immediately. Reincarnation has been used a ton, but this is the first novel I've ever read where people are essentially the same person in each past life. Once they die, they're reborn to whichever parents are approved and are basically eerie adult-children until they're old enough to live on their own and get back to their own life.
It creates a lot of fascinating situations, such as: A lover from a previous life being your mother in a later one. A few children who are misidentified and called by the wrong name until they're old enough to complain. People who have been developing skills and projects over centuries. Graveyards dedicated to each of a person's past lives. Having to stock up on clothes for men and women, because you might be reborn as either. And poor Ana, the newsoul (or nosoul, as her enemies call her) is reviled by some for replacing their friend Ciana and laughed at by others for being ignorant to skills and truths that they've known for centuries. The dynamics of this become even richer as the series goes on, but already in Incarnate, you see the dangers of being new and unexpected in a world where routine has so long been the norm.
characters . 5/5 Meadows' has a knack for writing characters that could be ripped out of your everyday life. Ana is instantly lovable and pitiable because of her situation, as well as the harsh treatment she's received from her mother, Li, who resents her for being new and has instilled in her the idea that she is undeserving of life and love. It makes her fragile, but also keenly curious. I also grew to love her for herself: her bravery, her compassion, her stubbornness. You should want to slap a good main character at least once a book if they're truly well written, and she met the quota. Then there's Sam: sweet, quiet, unsure of himself. Compassionate to a fault and frustratingly indecisive. Sam's patience contrasted with Ana's impulsiveness strikes depth into their relationship and drives much of the conflict between and around them. The side characters are equally compelling despite their shorter screen time. You have the fiery Stef, sweet Armand, conflicted Sine, vindictive Li. The story is as much character-driven as plot-driven, providing a careful mix between adventure and human interest.
style . 5/5 You may be wondering when I'm going to complain about something...and it won't be here. Meadows' style was made for fantasy. She captures Ana's voice beautifully, combining the typical excesses of a teenager with lyrical metaphors and whimsical observations. I dog-eared many a page with a phrase that just perfectly captured some unusual thought or feeling. She also manages to inject the oldsouls' dialogue with a world-weariness and wisdom that reminds you how different they are, though they may look young. Most of all, Meadows captures the most important part of fantasy: atmosphere. Her language is carefully tailored to make the story feel fantastic and otherworldly.
mechanics . 5/5 For such a unique place and complicated narrative, Meadows does a great job of giving adequate attention to the details without letting the pacing suffer. You're fed backstory in bite-size chunks, doing away with the huge exposition-drops that plague many fantasy stories. My only complaint is the issue of the oldsouls being so old. Remembering so much. There are times when I feel that a five-thousand-year-old person should feel...different. More distant. Something. I can't articulate it, but sometimes the portrayal felt a bit off. Not near enough to knock down my esteem, of course.
take home message A startlingly original fantasy that pushes the limits of the genre while providing excitement, danger, and deeply compelling characters. ...more
This is a really lovely, unique book (which, I keep forgetting, has a sequel!). Set up in an alternate Earth where Paris and the Orient Express is juxtaposed against the fanciful Galazon and Aravill, it's the perfect blend of high fantasy and history...with the kind of romance I like, woven into the plot to make it better, not overshadow it. It feels a little steampunk, a little Dianna Wynne Jones, a little Paolo Coehlo. There's definitely something dreamlike about the writing. It's sprinkled with poetry and songs; it's Victorian and ornate and lovely as a painting. While still keeping you moving along, of course. And I love Tyrian, the main love interest. Looking for a more grown up Ella or Harry? Faris is a quirky, clever heroine thrust into a similar situation: half magic school, half finishing school. But Faris has to learn more than good manners to deal with the unnatural happenings and strange magics afoot. Balls, vigils, secret magics, intrigues....I really want to re-read this now because it's just so fun and unique.
plot . 5/5 It's a little bit wild and crazy and all over the place, but if you don't mind a lot of information, it's super exciting. You go through the eerie midnight vigil, the train ride, the strange happenings at Greenlaw. It's like living a whole magical year with Faris. Episodic, but not in a bad way. More like Harry Potter in that sense, or an old Victorian novel. There's always the thread of Menary's rivalry hanging in the balance, which blooms into the court intrigue that throws you into the final, very twisty ending. I won't give it away, but it's one of my favorite (bittersweet) romance endings of all time.
concept . 5/5 It feels very much like a fairy tale. I wouldn't be surprised if Stevermer was inspired by Gail Carson Levine. It also has some elements of steampunk, only with magic thrown in...a combination I can't help but adore. It's a nice change from your typical medieval fantasy or typical urban fantasy. Something in-between, glamorous, filled with ladies and gentlemen and masked balls. The Wardens concept could have been fleshed out more, but I took it as it was. If you can accept some ambiguity and uncertainty, it's great. If you want all the answers, you may feel disappointed.
characters . 5/5 Faris is fun. She's got a spunky, independent streak, but she's not stupid about it She's clever. She's refined. She knows how to manage her role as future duchess. My favorite character, however, is Tyrian. His role is pretty uncertain at first, but he quickly becomes an ally and romantic interest. He's smooth, collected, and pretty much sigh-worthy. The secondary characters are less fleshed out, but I do really love Jane. She's just sweet and clever and a good balance to Faris' fiery streak.
style . 5/5 It's definitely unusual. The narrative is strewn with snippets of song, poetry, history, even some dreamlike sequences that don't have a certain speaker or point. It's very much like old Victorian writing and I love it for that. However, if you like a more straightforward narrative, it may be a little distracting. In my opinion, the snippets aren't numerous enough to be distracting. The writing is also phenomenal. It's truly pretty, something you don't always find in YA. It feels as magical as the events it's describing.
mechanics . 5/5 As mentioned, it's formatted a bit oddly for a usual YA book, but it makes it very original.
take home message A dreamlike, fairy tale story filled with court intrigue, hidden magics, and sweet, satisfying romance. ...more