Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Book Thoughts)

My entire adventure into YA fantasy started because of Bookstagram. Strange the Dreamer was put on that reading list very early and I’m glad I finally had a chance to read it. A solid follow-up to the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series -which I apparently never blogged about – let’s take a look at what I loved (and didn’t love) about Laini Taylor’s magical book

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Strange the Dreamer
  • Series: Strange the Dreamer, #1
  • Author: Laini Taylor
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – March 2017
  • Length: 544 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐for those who like lush fantasy worlds where the romance may or may not make sense

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

From National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor comes an epic fantasy about a mythic lost city and its dark past.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared his dream chose poorly. Since he was just five years old, he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the form of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? And who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams?

In this sweeping and breathtaking novel .. the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

The answers await in Weep.

Alright I don’t want this to turn into a 5 page long essay so I will hit the mainstays –

The Worldbuilding: One thing I’ll say for Laini Taylor is that she is a master of lush world building.  The settings are so vividly described, the buildings and architecture, weather, terrain, food, mood of the citizens, everything you could want from the micro world building is present.

On a larger macro level, there is also lots of history and custom given.  Many stories and folklore and popular legends are given through Lazlo’s storytelling, which really adds another dimension to the world

One of the main mysteries – where the Gods came from and what they are doing -will likely be discussed in Muse of Nightmares. 

The Characters: speaking of the Muse of Nightmares – let’s do characters next. I really applaud Taylor for starting the book out the way she did –

How can you turn away from a book after learning that a blue girl falls out of the sky?  Sarai and the other godspawn had a complicated and interesting dynamic.  Their imprisonment and survival chipped the humanity away from some, while it seemed to flourish in others.  I liked Sarai and felt for Minya, they were all just surviving in the world of their parents. And wearing their underwear. 

Lazlo is one of my favorite YA MC’s ever, except he is around 20 or so.  While completely appropriate, I think this book falls into that NA age category.

I love this quote almost as much as I love Lazlo. He was an orphan who was swallowed by the Great library. He is funny and has a wonderfully vivid imagination, is deeply caring, and might be “just a librarian” but definitely has a sense of adventure.  He always sought out the good that he could do regardless of whether or not it would benefit him in turn.

A lot of the side characters had important rules as well. No one was there just to be a plot device. Master Hyrrokkin was one of my favorites, just because his old man banter was not what you would expect from an ancient librarian.  It was also funny when his Warrior friends were giving Lazlo mistranslations and having him say silly things 

The magic:  tying into the world building, Taylor also created a lush magic system. Each of the god’s children had an ability, some of which were kind of cool. All the abilities were useful for survival. Sarai’s involved moths and Nightmares, and if that doesn’t make you interested in the book I don’t know what will.

What I didn’t love: I enjoyed the book immensely up until the point where the action was ready to boil over, and Laini grinds it to a full halt. A *screeeech*ing halt.  Then takes something like 10 chapters to expand on a true insta love – OMG HE *SAW* ME – gag. I hate insta-love. It was a cute sequence but I don’t think jumping at the first (second)? boy she’s ever interacted with constitutes a romance that I care about.  It just seemed like an excuse for Laini to add more magic into an already magical world, where that page time could have been spent trying to help keep the peace, keeping the action going, or literally anything else.  Seeing each other and being fascinated doesn’t constitute a romance, even if Lazlo did have a wonderful mind to spend time in. One other thing is that I actually spotted ‘The Twist’ this time, as soon as it was said. No spoilers but it’s pretty rare that I actually get the hint so I thought it was worth mentioning

Random:  I also liked that there were some harder themes tackled, such as survival

That’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can – Sarai

And hard truths like justice

You think good people can’t hate? .. You think good people don’t kill? […} Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice – Sarai 

Don’t forget found family!

“You two idiots,” said Azareen, and Lazlo felt a curious twinge of pride to be called an idiot by her, with what might have been the tiniest edge of fondness

One final parting quote, even though half of the book is quotable-

“Dream up something wild and improbable. Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.”

Overall – stupid “romance” in an otherwise  wonderful world.  The plot unravelled mysteries as it went and created (minus the block of “romance chapters”) a fantastic reading experience.  The banter had me laughing out loud, the writing is beautiful, and the magic felt real within the world. Check it out!

Categories
Fantasy Romance Young Adult

A Far Wilder Magic (ARC Review) by Allison Saft

Thank you so much Wednesday Books for the free early digital read of A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft!  All opinions are my own!

This is a solid and enjoyable follow up to Down Comes the Night, Saft’s debut, although I had pretty similar issues with the two books as far as repetitive inner monologue and content for teens. I mostly enjoyed this read and would say yes for … Heck, 16+ with parental guidance probably

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Far Wilder Magic
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Allison Saft
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 03/08/22
  • Pages: 384
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ yes for fans of slow burning, romantic books with low fantasy elements

Here is the synopsis:

A romantic YA fantasy perfect for fans of Erin A. Craig and Margaret Rogerson, about two people who find themselves competing for glory – and each other’s hearts – in a magical fox hunt.

When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.

Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist―yet. He’s been fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, and his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret. She begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.

Although they make an unlikely team, they soon find themselves drawn to each other. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt―if they survive that long.

In A Far Wilder Magic, Allison Saft has written an achingly tender love story set against a deadly hunt in an atmospheric, rich fantasy world that will sweep you away.

A Far Wilder Magic is a solid, atmospheric story, set in a world with an interesting mix of modern and old fashioned elements. There is mystery, alchemy and magic, sexual tension out the wazoo, and a deadly fox hunt.

The time period confused me a bit, it wasn’t steampunk but the rich had cars.  There was alchemy but also electricity.  Guns were the weapon of choice while there were tenements and factories in the cities.  An age of immigration and innovation maybe, where old and new tended to mix was what I pictured, in a place like Dublin.  It was clear that the racial and religious lines drawn were Catholic, vs Irish and Jewish (I’m 99% sure), although they had other names and different religious objectives

There was not a ton of actual magic, although the Hala causing destruction and mayhem was interesting.  I liked that the Hala didn’t shy away from people.  The other magic involved the alchemy, but more as a natural talent that could be honed through study.  An alchemist and sharpshooter had to enter the hunt together – and I again think she could have done more with the magic, but I liked what was there.

The characters are sweet and I liked them.  Wes was my favorite because he stood up to the bullies and found it within himself to become a great alchemists, despite his multiple failures and implied dyslexia.  He hid all his vulnerability behind a wall of good looks, and I liked his character arc.

Margaret took a bit longer to crack, and I questioned quite a few of her choices like to let a strange teenage boy live in the manor, despite how much she needed help.  Margaret also crumbled or stood down in the face of religious and racial bullying, where Wes stood up and was more fed up with taking it.  Both are fierce characters in their own way, and I guess when you put the opposite sides of a coin together … You get a coin.

The book had good themes like overcoming prejudice, standing up to bullies, as well as believing in yourself, trusting others, not giving up, found family, and living your own life vs. staying in a parent’s expectations or shadow.

**I really liked the book, I just wish that the author wouldn’t interrupt action scenes for two pages of inner monologue that we know already. Let the action end first or it’s a very jarring shift in momentum**.

She did it at one crucial point where an animal was injured – you’re telling me the characters paused assisting the animal to sit and share monologue for so long? Then at the end of the fox hunt she broke a critical scene for … more monologue.  I will be honest that it took some skimming to get through those more repetitive parts.  I would have liked to see more from the fox hunt itself too.

There was quite a bit of action though, from sabotage to run ins with the Hala and training for the hunt.  There was also a snarky horse, which I can always appreciate!

Content wise: again this is young adult, and I will die on the hill that characters don’t need to go from first kiss to no clothes in one scene, ever. I mean hello the mom was right, I would have skinned them both alive had I walked in on that.  Please stop this trend of characters shacking up before the big end scene, it’s neither necessary nor something that all teens want to read in every single fantasy.  There is some other content regarding touching oneself, a teen girl reading smut, condoms.  I already touched on the religious and racial bullying, which is a good theme to confront and seems well handled, and a bit of gore. Amazon says age 14-18 but I would STRONGLY say 16+ for parents, regarding sexual content.

All in all, again, I truly mostly enjoyed this one. It’s a good book for fans of atmospheric, slow burn romances with low fantasy elements.  I would recommend for 16+ and new adult readers 

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

This Vicious Grace (ARC Review) by Emily Thiede

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for the super early digital ARC of This Vicious Grace! My first selling point was that Tamora Pierce plugged it, and then I thought the synopsis was grabbing so I *ahem* definitely didn’t put down my TBR to read it.  A YA fantasy with a battle between the gods, a snarky bodyguard romance, and banter for days? Heck yes

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: This Vicious Grace
  • Series: The Last Finestra, #1
  • Author: Emily Thiede
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 6/28/22
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes with a caution to my religious readers,  for religious interpretation and premarital relations

Here is the synopsis:

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?

Considering how disenchanted I have become with YA fantasy recently, I did enjoy this one.

The population of the country has settled onto islands where the Goddess uses a pair of warriors to keep swarms of demons at bay.  This happens maybe once every 20 or so years, which gives the islands plenty of time to identify the next Finestra and Fonte, train them, and have them battle ready.

I thought the Italian inspired lore and names were cool.  Each chapter holds a proverb in the old language, and I made a game out of guessing the English translation before reading it.

The plot is fairly straightforward and fast paced.   We get some lore and history of Dea vs Crollo, the two deities engaged in this battle, and I honestly thought the religious lore and customs that developed as a result were extremely well done.  The populace lives the way they do as a result of the world they live in, namely extremely devout, hierarchal, and ready to save the wealthy when the demons come.

The worldbuilding is there on a micro level as well! We know the mood of the fortress, the city, the figures in power.  The weather and the hidden beaches.  What they eat and drink, the local customs, and how social structure is accomplished.

The magic? Pretty standard, it works on an energy type of system but becomes magnified and more powerful when combined with other people’s.

The characters were awesome.  Alessa is the Finestra, sheltered into solitude and waiting to find a Fonts, a battle partner, that she won’t kill by accident.  Dante is the bodyguard that she hires and he is just … ha ha way too much.  A bad boy with a bookish side.  The other fontes were funny and also good characters.  The banter for days is real.

Now let’s get into the stronger stuff: I think it’s awesome and important to explore the theme of interpreting your religion and making it work for you, and I think it’s something that many Catholic teenagers struggle with.  I think the author brought this into the book and also stressed the importance of friendship, community, working together, and not going life alone, all of which are A+++ themes.  THAT SAID, this is a YA book and I would have stopped the theme before throwing celibacy out the window, especially since it was with someone other than her intended (even though it was an arranged marriage).  I know that self realization through sex is like the cool topic in YA right now but I just hate the trope, and if I’m analyzing this from a Catholic standpoint the author definitely took a FANTASTIC theme … too far.

Also I would have liked to see one or two major character deaths since the ending is a huge and hugely devastating battle.  I never find it realistic when everyone ends up living.  The author copped out of one huge plot twist with a good save, a very good save, but I think I wanted more death.

Lastly: this is small details but the cover does not scream “fantasy”. I would not cover buy it as is, although I hope that doesn’t deter people

All in all: great plot, great pace, great world building on both a micro and macro level, and good themes even if one went beyond propriety. I would totally recommend it and definitely plan on owning a copy of both This Vicious Grace and it’s sequels

Thanks again to Wednesday Books 🖤 all opinions are my own

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Three Dark Crowns (book review) by Kendare Blake

I finally participated in another Openly Booked Book Club read this summer! Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake was the pick for July, and I had off-handedly said that it would make a good book club series … So not sure but I might have sparked this suggestion, and I was super thrilled when it won the vote😂

Bookish Quick Facts: 

  • Title: Three Dark Crowns
  • Series: Three Dark Crowns, #1
  • Author: Kendare Blake
  • Publisher & Release: Quill Tree Books, September 2016
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for YA fantasy fans

Here is the Book Blurb:

Fans of acclaimed author Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood will devour Three Dark Crowns, the first book in a dark and inventive fantasy series about three sisters who must fight to the death to become queen.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

This is definitely a YA fantasy, I know it’s only book one but no one has fought to the death yet!  With my biggest disappointment out of the way first, let’s chat about the rest of the book!

Strengths

1) History and lore as part of the world building.  Fennbirn is steeped in Queenly traditions and lore, some bloody and some … Well, bloodier.  I liked learning about all the cultural facets such as the Gave Noir (poisoner’s feast), traditional hunts, and clashing belief systems. Each of the three regions has their own foods, styles of living, ways of life, and magic, so there were a lot of pages spent building the island. I’m on board.

The lore also ties into the magic system, and if you know me you know that I LOVE LOVE LOVE land and Kingdom based magic.  When magic is part of the world itself and rulers can draw on it, that’s a good magic system.  The magic is all over the place here but it’s kind of cool

2) Political plotting.  I love a good political plot, and the poisoners in power plot just as much as the priestesses trying to put the Elemental Queen in power.  If you love assassinations, power plays, and duplicity., this is a great book for you.

3) The plot itself: I love the sibling rivalry trope.  Each sister’s strengths and weaknesses were tied into the storyline, and I think a queendom steeped in bloody history is a great idea at heart.

Weaknesses:

1) too many characters and places at first.  Trying to establish three sisters, in three different households, with all different characters surrounding them, including place names was way too much for me to remember.  Eventually it worked out in my mind but I found this name overload distracting at first

2) Death – I know it’s only book one, but no major characters have died yet.  I would expect one major death to set the tone for the series, but alas, this *is* YA.  I had a similar complaint about The Night Circus

Important themes: battling misconceptions seems to be a huge theme here. So does the valuing of family, both blood and found, and the power of friendships.  Additionally that all actions have consequences.  I do like the themes presented and find them suitable for a YA audience

Random notes, thoughts, and points:

  • The women had cool names like Arsinoe, Mirabella, Julienne, while the men’s names were Matt, Joseph, etc
  • I now know how to pronounce Kendare
  • The animal familiars were really cool, i love animal familiars
  • The book presents a ton of potential routes forward and theories, which makes it a great book club read
  • The audiobook failed for me because the narrator can absolutely not do male voices
  • I docked a star for presenting two characters hooking up randomly, and it was out of character for both of them.  I get it as a plot point going forward but this doesn’t need to be presented to a YA audience

This is a more scatterbrained review format than I normally take with fantasy books, but my brain hurts!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

A Dragonbird in the Fern (ARC Review) by Laura Rueckert

Thank you so much to North Star Editions via NetGalley for the digital early copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

A Dragonbird in the Fern  is a debut YA fantasy, fast paced and full of magic. I think we can all agree that the cover is absolutely stunning as well.  Check out the book and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Dragonbird in the Fern
  • Series: N/A
  • AuthorL Laura Rueckert
  • Publisher & Release: North Star Editions, 08/03[2021
  • Length: 392 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of the genre!

Here is the book blurb:

When an assassin kills Princess Jiara’s older sister Scilla, her vengeful ghost is doomed to walk their city of glittering canals, tormenting loved ones until the murderer is brought to justice.
While the entire kingdom mourns, Scilla’s betrothed arrives and requests that seventeen-year-old Jiara take her sister’s place as his bride to confirm the alliance between their countries.Marrying the young king intended for her sister and traveling to his distant home is distressing enough, but with dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, Jiara abandoned any hope of learning other languages long ago. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land where she’ll be unable to communicate.

Then Jiara discovers evidence that her sister’s assassin comes from the king’s own country. If she marries the king, Jiara can hunt the murderer and release her family from Scilla’s ghost, whose thirst for blood mounts every day. To save her family, Jiara must find her sister’s killer . . . before he murders her too.

The Plot&Story: the book blurb does a great job of summarizing the book.  Jiara is betrothed in her older sister’s place, and must overcome her dyslexia in a strange land while learning the language, winning over the people as a good queen, and solving a murder mystery.  I loved the who-dunnit aspect and it was a true race against the clock as Scilla’s ghost got more and more violent, going as far as killing someone.  The book is very fast paced as well, not repetitive, and there is blessedly little inner monologue so I was able to read it quickly and rate it 5 stars with no issues.

Themes: The book was a little heavier than some YA plots, as Jiara is married at the start of the book and juggling issues that many older characters generally face.  She is overcoming a disability while investigating and avenging her sister’s death.  There is betrayal on a massive level, lots of plotting, and she must adjust to married life as a 17 turning 18 year old.  I liked the themes of family ties, found family, double dealing, international relations, and learning about new cultures and religions while still hanging on to what made Jiara who she is.

Bravo too for Rueckert showing the male in the marriage being the one hanging onto honor and personal beliefs in the marital relations department.  In King Raffar’s country, adults are considered age 18 and he was absolutely not going to touch Jiara before then, and I just loved that.  There was also a lovely found family aspect but let’s do that when we talk about the …

Characters: Jiara is a strong young lady, absolutely determined to succeed in establishing international relations, peace, as well as finding her sister’s murderer.  On top of that heavy load she is severely dyslexic, so learning a new language is nearly impossible but she perseveres.  I feel like she should have just explained to people that she had a real issue, instead of letting them all assume that she just didn’t like to read, but it was Rueckert’s way of showing how people treat those with learning disabilities I guess

King Raffar didn’t have a huge role but I loved his boyish charm and awe for magic despite his originally gruff appearance.  He is a truly kind and honorable person, and I liked that he was there to support Jiara.  He seemed to be the only one NOT getting in her way.  The guards seemed to adopt Jiara after a while too, like Freyad and the other soldiers, and it was really nice to watch them come around to her.  Most of the side characters did something or another that was special and they are a great lot

The Magic and Worldbuilding: For a standalone novel there was an immensely satisfying amount of world building and magic.  The magic was in the form of vengeful ghosts, as well as Watchers and deities that had a small but critical role in the book.  The giant ferns, playful mounts, and magically lit up lake were small touches in a well described world including scenery descriptions, wildlife, food, weather, architecture to some degree, and cultural things.  I loved that everyone had tattoos too.

Overall: I can definitely recommend this one for young adults, and it easily crosses over into that new adult phase too I think since she is out on her own and missing home, and adjusting to married life.  My favorite parts were the magical touches, Raffar’s personality, the fact that Jiara just NEVER gave up, and trying to figure out who committed the murder.  This is an extremely fast-paced standalone and I loved it enough to preorder a signed copy!
Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme

Thank you so much to Tor Teen for the digital ARC of The Stolen Kingdom via NetGalley!  This is a great standalone YA fantasy, with everything from a king killer plot to just a twist of romance!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Stolen Kingdom
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jillian Boehme
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Teen, March 2nd 2021
  • Length: 332
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 sure for fans of YA fantasy!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

For a hundred years, the once-prosperous kingdom of Perin Faye has suffered under the rule of the greedy and power-hungry Thungrave kings. Maralyth Graylaern, a vintner’s daughter, has no idea her hidden magical power is proof of a secret bloodline and claim to the throne. Alac Thungrave, the king’s second son, has always been uncomfortable with his position as the spare heir—and the dark, stolen magic that comes with ruling.

When Maralyth becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the royal family and seize the throne, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues in an adventure of dark magic, court intrigue, and forbidden love

This book to me is exceptionally well done as a stand alone fantasy.

The Magic: My favorite magic systems are the ones tied to the land, tied to a Kingdom, because they not only make sense to me but add so much to the richness of the world building.

A pure, healing magic, was given to the original King of Perin Faye by the land’s deity. Corrupted into dark and destructive magic when it was stolen, it twisted a king killer into something terrifying.  This is the legacy passed down through generations to the current king.

The plot/story: the plot ran at breakneck pace, again making it a great standalone.  A rebel lord has decided to replace a true descendent of the first king on the throne to seize power.  He finds a magic wielder and a plot to murder the ruling family is put into action.  Will the corrupted magic even allow this?  The current king is away while his sons entertain the heir’s wedding party.  The first son/heir is incredibly important as the stolen magic requires a vessel at all times.

Maybe a better question is, will Maralyth play along with this scheme of murder or will she fall for the prince?

The Characters: I liked the characters! A vintner’s daughter, Maralyth, has hidden her magic but doesn’t really know why it is considered illicit. The second prince, Alac,  who doesn’t want the throne OR the dark magic of his father, is the other point of view.  They are both drawn unwillingly into this insane queen maker plot.  There is instant attraction between them, but then it buds slowly over months.  I liked this tiny bit of romance.  Both characters had full arcs as they realized how tied to the kingdom they are, and the side characters were great too.  Why not throw in an insane and terrifying king, and funny guard? There is banter for days between them all.

The World: so much magic and lore. I wish she had discussed the religion more, although it only played a side role it would have added to the lore. There was more than enough world building for a standalone for sure. Food, wealth distribution, bit of history, economy, political structure, plus two sides of the same magic. Betrayal and a tiny bit of intrigue too.

Very low content as well, just a FEW kisses and a bit of poison and swordfighting.

I just can’t get over how the magic was tied to everything in the plot, I kind of feel like this is how fantasy magic should be! Plus strong, brave, funny characters, and plenty of action, this book was a huge win for me!

Check it out, again it publishes March 2nd!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess

Wow, thank you so much to Random House  for the free advanced copy of House of Dragons in exchange for an honest review! This book was published in 2020 so it’s out there for anyone interested! I see the sequel is coming soon so maybe they still had a few arcs lying around to send out, but I’m happy to help generate buzz!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: House of Dragons
  • Series: House of Dragons, #1
  • Author: Jessica Cluess
  • Publisher & Release: Random House Books for Young Readers, May 2020
  • Length: 438 pg (arc was longer, not sure where the changes occurred)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for all YA, fantasy fans

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win? Three Dark Crowns meets The Breakfast Club with DRAGONS.

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the call…

THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free–he must take what he wants.

THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.

I finally found something to fill that Green Rider sized hole in my heart. This book is everything I wanted Crown of Feathers to be, except those books were terrible. Sentient dragon mounts!!

Lets start with…

The Characters: I was in love from the start with these characters. I thought it would be hard to keep track of five different points of view, but each competitor has such an extremely distinct voice and personality that it was quite easy.

From murderous, bloody Hyperia to dorky Ajax, smart and bookish but also incidentally deadly Emilia, conflicted Lucian, and brave Vespir, I just can’t get over what a random but amazing group they made.  They each excelled in certain challenges and it was interesting to watch them form tentative alliances, or not.  I felt like this was a pretty legit feeling group of teens put together.

Dragons are a huge part of the empire as well and each mount is a character in itself.  One of my favorite fantasy themes is sentient, bound mounts! The dragons are like big dogs and so friendly and funny, but also cunning when they need to be, and they hold some of the coolest moments of the book.

Imagery, setting, world building: Ever wonder what a huge golden hydra looks like, flying with the sun rising behind it and fire rumbling in it’s gullet? Let Cluess show you!  She has a knack for vivid imagery, including sights, smells, noise even.

There was a LOT of world building to cover but Cluess gives us what we need.  The reader learns why the Emperor Trial exists, the reason for it’s structure, the main characteristics of each kingdom, politics and the main alliances, and where the Priests and magic orders fit in.  The magic itself had a great backstory too, but in current practice it came out under developed.

Besides vivid images and background, we see architecture, food, a few little tribal customs and lore, history and more, enough to give the world those little personal touches that shows me the author cares.

The Plot/Story: The selection of the competitors seemed like a huge fluke, or was it? I liked the plot from the get-go, watching each character be summoned and then the book just never slowed down.  I liked the Trials too, each test had thoughtful elements and catered to the strength of one competitor or another. Each was interesting and showcased the various strengths and weaknesses of the individuals.  The characters weren’t perfect either, I loved seeing the flaws and cracks come out.

The story had a subplot of betrayal and scheming which is always a bonus.  I would love to share some quotes from the characters and images but I have no idea what made it into the final copy.

My literal only qualm:  Some of the language – mostly spoken by Ajax – brought in modern slang and expressions with threw off immersion, but only slightly. Not enough to dock a star because it was funny and made Ajax relatable where he wouldn’t be otherwise.  Speaking of Ajax, I liked that the book nodded to boy problems (sticky balls anyone?) too, to give the guys something to read.  I love when I can recommend YA books to everyone!

Gosh what a fast paced and great story though, plenty of scheming, brutality, friendships, laughs, and stabbings to keep me rapt for the entire 500+ pages.

That cover too, omg that cover.

Absolutely can NOT wait for the sequel, I requested it and have my fingers crossed!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Thank you so much to the publisher for my ARC of The Gilded Ones in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Gilded Ones
  • Series: Deathless, #1
  • Author: Namina Forna
  • Publisher & Release: Delacorte Press, 2/9,/21
  • Length: 422 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ probably for YA readers who don’t get too hung up on details

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

So… This is a nicely brutal tale about girls with demon heritage being tortured and bled for their Golden blood, then eventually murdered via the religious Death Mandate for their kind.  I was really excited to see religious purity in a book until I quickly realized it was an oppressive, not pious set of laws.

The women are relegated to male servants per the Infinite Wisdoms, until Deka is brought to the Capitol city to train in the emperor’s army of demons, alaki, which will defeat these Deathshrieks.  There is a huge reverse info dump at the end of the book but we don’t learn much about them, or the history of the empire until that time.

Quickly about the writing: anyone wanting to write first person present tense needs to read this book, she is one of the rare authors ( or has a beast editor) that doesn’t cross tenses!

Here is an itemized list of the issues I had with the world building, in no particular order:

1) The book started in a cold weather climate, but everyone is wearing delicate ceremonial dresses. Finally on the journey to the capitol the author remembers that it’s cold and they need furs

2)once the girls are brought to the Warthu Beta (training house) – things happen SUPER fast in the weapons and martial arts training. I’m supposed to believe that in two weeks they go from clueless to clever swordsmasters? Come on, show us some of that training. It’s like a ridiculous fast forward and magically they are all warriors.

3) so the Jatu recruits and female Alaki are supposed to pair up and be battle/life buddies. The whole book focuses on male to female/demon animosity – but- there is really no bonding at all shown between the pair, they just kind of become trusting fireside bffs one night after those mysterious training weeks pass

4) instalove – oh my gosh the kid back home called her pretty, ONE TIME, and later looking back she said she loved him 😂😂 I can almost ship Keita and Deka but we needed that bonding time that wasn’t shown

5) the plot and twists read VERY closely to Skyhunter which came out earlier this year – oh yes very monstrous monster bad guys, very inhuman indeed

6) dumb animal names – Ex: leopardan – it’s a fantasy world, either come up with fantasy names or call it a stupid blue leopard. I did like Ixa the shapeshifting not-cat though

7) if the One Nation is literally an entire hemisphere (I’m guessing Russia, Asia, irish&etc, and Africa), why so much land grabbing? The scale of land required to produce four separate races like that is essentially an entire hemisphere, now within one nation, and that should be shown on the map.

8) feeding off #7 – I would have liked a brief explanation of life during the rule of The Gilded Ones – is Forna omitting it because the entire history is a lie and life was terrible back then? Or are we supposed to just believe that they were fair/awesome rulers and take it at face value? The jatu did manage to unite an entire hemisphere though, the goddesses might have created a women’s world with oppressed men for all we know, and they could have been right to fight back. Either way, uniting a whole hemisphere under one nation is pretty impressive and not addressing this is a huge plot hole.

9) lack of setting – I get that describing sand dunes is stupid but most of the descriptions were of people and animals. What about the jungle, the common areas, even the food? Some scenes had scents described. Setting is what connects to the atmosphere…of which there wasn’t much of one.

I mean it’s not even a bad story, or a story you read every day. I like the idea of torturing someone to death nine times and teaching them to survive, but these YA authors aren’t thinking their worlds through very well and I don’t think that ‘character driven’ OR that it’s a Young Adult book is a good excuse not to at least cover world building basics. Everything I addressed up there could have been fixed without much extra page space.

The good things included female friendships, teachers (whose potential were mostly wasted as no lessons were really shown), shapeshifting pets, snarky horse-people, and… A not really happy ending. It’s an ending fitting for the story even though it got a little sappy for the tone leading up to it.

I did like the main group of girls too, Britta and Belcalis were about as different as two people can get and they still made a fast group of allies, friends with Deka. There’s an unconventional amount of grimdark suffering and it’s kind of terrific.

Overall? Honestly not a bad read just poorly executed at times. Could be a standalone but there’s at least one more book coming. It releases 2/9, and I am pretty neutral on recommending it as the good story and the lack of world building make it a wash. I’ll read the next one though.

Categories
Adventure Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: Fable by Adrienne Young

In my quest to read more books that I already own, I picked up Fable by Adrienne Young as my second physical book this year!  I enjoyed Young’s Sky in the Deep duology quite a bit, and wasn’t disappointed here either

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Fable
  • Series: Fable, #1
  • Author: Adrienne Young
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books,  September 2020
  • Length: 361
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for YA adventure fans

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Fable takes you on a spectacular journey filled with romance, intrigue and adventure.

Let’s start with The Plot and Story: I liked the story quite a bit. Fable is abandoned by her father after a shipwreck, and has to find her way first back to him, and then to a life of her own.  There is plenty of danger and storms on the high seas, as well as tension on the ship to keep things interesting.  The reader learns the twists and secrets along the way, as there was no info dump and we learn about the world as Fable sees and remembers it. I was never compelled to keep reading at any point but was never bored either.  Young is one of those authors who sacrifices a lot of potential action and exciting events for character time, which caused Fable to lose points from me

The Characters: Like I said, Young spends more time on her characters than anything else, so I will go there next.  Thankfully they are good characters.

Fable is a great example of showing, not telling, how bad-ass a character is.  She survives on the island of thieves through pure determination and skill, then holds her own on a crew of suspicious traders.  We are never told, she just acts, and that is what separates a true leading lady from all the Mary-Sues of the literary world.  I like her!

West is a mystery and we get the sense that he still has a lot to uncover.  His crew is a great lot once you get to know them, with limited banter but you know they’re a family.

Saint, her father and the most influential of the traders, is also a mystery but he will come back in book two, I’m sure.  They had one nice moment towards the end though and I felt almost bad for him!  Fable’s scar though- geeeez.  At least he did give her the tools to succeed.

The World:  The world is called…..oh wait, it’s not.  The area of the sea is generally referred to as “The Narrows,” but Young really did not focus on world building.  There are multiple regions mentioned with people that may be influential in book two, but the map only shows the places on West’s trade route and the country is given no name.  There is so much world building you can do with traders (ask Garth Nix) but Young follows the belief that YA readers want characters, so we don’t get that.

The area/country isn’t given leadership either, in some books featuring traders there is one person at least overseeing things, or the guilds have power.  Some powerful trader lady elsewhere is mentioned but not as leadership.  There are trading guilds in another area, which I love, but they aren’t expanded on so we don’t know how they run,  just that for example,The Merchant’s Guild can revoke trade licenses.  Saint is the most prominent trader and has a lot of political influence, and there is an antagonist, Zola, but without much background he just seems like a jaded cartoon villain.  There isn’t much on local customs and traditions at all except for the sailor who feeds the birds

Setting: The towns/cities/islands are described pretty well, as well as life on the boat at first anyway, and I think her best world-building came in the descriptions of the seas and the storms.  There is one scene where they go underwater, everything is silent and the lightning illuminates bodies and the ship breaking….  ….setting is where the book makes up a lot of brownie points, the ocean and Fable’s memories are well told.

Young still hasn’t learned how to tell time either.  Sky in the Deep was notorious for passing time in an impossible manner, and this is no different.  A journey that should take a few days happens….oh….lets say they get there in the morning, including a break to drop anchor for a few hours at least.  Someone’s severe wounds are healing and apparently it either happens in three days, or more time passes and she doesn’t show it well.

Overall: This is YA, and thr teens probably don’t care if the action is a little bit anticlimactic or just glazed over at times,  because the characters kiss instead, right? It was still a good story though and I’ll be reading my ARC of book 2, Nameless, soon due to the cliffhanger at the end! Would recommend for fans of young adult adventures, and books that take place on the seas!

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

This is a book that I actually read last year in a buddy read, but since I am finishing the series now I think it makes sense to bring the old reviews onto the blog here!  The Conqueror Saga is generally an antihero retelling of Vlad the Impaler taking Wallachia (now Romania) back, Mehmed II’s (The Conqueror) reign as the Ottoman Sultan, and eventually the clashing of the two parties.  And I Darken starts Lada and Radu off as young kids, sent to live with the Ottomans as bargaining chips, aka hostages.  They grow up with the young heir to the Empire, Mehmed ….

Quick Facts:

  • Title: And I Darken
  • Series: The Conqueror Saga, #1
  • Author: Kiersten White
  • Publisher & Release: Delacorte Press, June 2016
  • Length: 486 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes!

Here is the summary from GoodReads:

No one expects a princess to be brutal, and Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

This is everything I could ever want in historical fiction.  Right from the start, Lada is a feral and passionate child and I was sucked into the book immediately.  The short chapters made it hard to put down for a very, very long time.

The Story:  The story and plot kept moving pretty quickly throughout the book.  From Wallachia to Edirne to Constantinople, there was plenty of treachery, political intrigue, assassinations, friendships, brutality, and self actualization to keep the pages turning.

I could hardly ever put the book down as the power swung back and forth and everyone’s lives hung in the balance.

Between her father’s brutal nature and being introduced to people like The Head Gardener, who planted bodies on stakes in the Sultan’s square, the stage is set for Lada’s future.

The World: I think White does a great job with setting and world building.  Architecture, weather, language, enough geography to envision the land are all present.  So is the mood – the mood of each scene was so well permeated through the pages that I think it really sealed the world building for me.  I learned a lot about Islam and those customs as well, which was presented tastefully as a peaceful religion.

Another thing I didn’t know much about was how sultans behave, the hierarchy of the wives and harems, and warfare in that era.  I think White really blends facts into fiction well and without being boring.

The Characters: Lada is probably my favorite YA character of any series ever.  She is bent on taking back her homeland, and all other loyalties pale to that towards her Wallachia.   Watching her grow from a terroristic child to.. well.. A terroristic young woman, was a really interesting character arc.  She’s not untouchable and I really felt for her as she tried to iron out her adult feelings of happiness vs homeland, being a woman in a patriarchal society, and what she knows she deserves vs. what is offered to her.  Her military strategy and political cunning are believable and I just am rooting for her and her band of soldiers.

Radu, her brother, is terrible, neither character is meant to be liked but Radu was really truly terrible.  He was a scared, whiny child, who ends up hero worshipping Mehmed, then both siblings end up being in love with him.  Radu spent so much of the middle of the book just whining about Mehmed that I got sick of it and docked a full star.   Later Radu turns into a political worm, I mean spy, wait no I mean worm.  Lada was always terrible to him and I have a feeling she’s going to end up paying for it.

Mehmed was a spoiled brat but he eventually has to become the sultan, at age 15.  I don’t have much to say about him, he has to grow up quickly and make some tough choices once he learns how savage the world truly is.  They all do.  The side characters and political plotting, including Mehmed’s mother, are another strong point.  That woman is just savage!  Lada’s band of Janissaries have great banter too, and so does much of the dialogue.  The relationships in the book are interesting and generally complicated.

Misc: I want to gush about so many things related to these books but I can continue to do so in the next review.  I never feel like I do some of these books justice, and this is one of them.  The political intrigue and cunning is just so freaking intricate that it kept me rapt.  If Radu had been slightly less insufferable it would have been a solid 5🌟, even Lada riding off into the frozen wastes with her men can’t undo that for me

“The daughter of Wallachia wants her knife back.”

The authors note states that Vlad the Impaler as a woman makes for a more interesting story… And I totally agree.  She also points out that each of these characters is historically portrayed differently by the conquerors vs the conquered… another interesting story lens that (spoiler alert (not)) will be exploited more in the coming books.

Stay tuned for my review of Now I Rise, book two, hopefully coming tomorrow!