Book Review: The Living God

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The Blurb

Saran and Keiler are elemental mages bound by love and sorcery: one destined to rule a kingdom, the other to destroy it. Five years ago, Saran reached into Keleir Ahriman’s heart and imprisoned the demon within him, tying her soul to his. Together, they’ve conspired against Saran’s father—a fanatical king who worships that world-ending demon inside Keleir, a being known as the Vel d’Ekaru. When Saran risks everything to save a village of innocent people, the king rips her magic away, splintering the wall she built around Keleir’s heart. Powerless and desperate, Saran struggles to see her rebellion finished and stop Keleir from becoming the Vel d’Ekaru – the Living God.

In a world that is equal parts magic and political intrigue, heroine and hero must now battle their way back to each other if they are to overcome their doomed destinies.

Review

Read: April 2019

Rating: 1 star out of 5

*Thank you to NetGalley for the free digital ARC!*

I probably should have known this book would be awful just by the first sentence of the blurb. Instead, I tried to be optimistic. Sometimes, hoping for the best pays off, but this time I was just disappointed. The Living God is just another book to add to my “Did Not Finish” shelf on Goodreads.

Chief amongst this book’s problems are its sucky characters. Saran is a gorgeous Time Mage who is engaged in a supposedly consequential rebellion against her father, the despotic yet sickly King Yarin D’Mor of Adrid. While Saran is strong-willed, just being involved in a rebellion against her dad isn’t enough to convince me she’s a badass. Her lover, Keleir Ahriman, is a Fire Mage who is esteemed by King Yarin. Since birth, Keleir hosted a demon called the Oruke, which is apparently also called the Vel d’Ekaru. Prior to the demon’s containtment – courtesy of the lovely Saran – Keleir committed terrible things with the demon. As a result, he bears the heavy yoke of guilt, and that makes him broody to an obnoxious extent. Between the fire affinity, the tenebrific disposition, and the stupid overprotective shit he does, he’s basically the bastard child of Edward Cullen and a garbage version of Prince Zuko. Rowe Blackwell is Keleir’s less interesting brother who somehow escaped the curse of the Oruke, despite the fact that Keleir was born with the curse. How this happened is unclear to me – either because the author never explains it or because I gave up before she did. And finally there’s Odan Marki. A commander or some shit in the Adridian army, he serves as the sexual predator antagonist who makes completely inappropriate advances on Saran, such as skulking around on her balcony to peep at her through the windows or attempting to extort her into sex. In contrast to Saran’s Fire Mage lover, Marki is an Ice Mage. Because that’s not at all cliché.

The beginning of the book is decent: It opens with an action-packed scene playing out in reverse as Time Mage Saran – who also happens to be the princess of Adrid – uses her powers to save a village of innocent people from slaughter at the hands of her father’s army. But an adequate start does little for a book if it’s the high point. By page forty-five, I thought of sloughing through all three hundred sixty-eight ass-damned pages with the consternation I usually reserve for large homework projects. The excitement of the opening scene fizzles out by Chapter Two, and it doesn’t return. Despite the rebellion’s status as a purportedly high-stakes conspiracy, nothing interesting really happens with it. In the portion I read, the most intriguing thing that happens involving it is Odan Marki discovering a rebellion-related letter in Saran’s room and then using it in an attempt to coerce Saran into fucking him. Yuck. I find it problematic that the attempted sexual assault is one of the more riveting (albeit one of the most horrific) points of the book. That’s just a low bar to set on so many levels. And all the fascinating potential of time/dimensional travel is wasted when Platt spends an entire fucking chapter on Saran and Keleir just… riding carnival rides. Yeah.

Platt’s writing is long-winded, but not in the charming way that J.R.R. Tolkien’s is. While Tolkien actually establishes his characters and universe in his monologues, Platt does not. Instead all I get out of her ramblings are tidbits about what color the curtains are. The details you do get are the details you do not care about or want to know at all. Consider, for instance, this sentence: “The full dining hall had long tables with men and women seated at them, eating the morning meal.” This detail is not presented in a manner that fleshes out the scene of a story; it’s just thrown in and sits awkwardly in the paragraph. If there is anything I want to know about the story, it’s nothing to do with the dining hall. I’d much rather know the name of this demon inhabiting Keleir – something that isn’t mentioned until well past where I called it quits. Then there’s this bit:

The wrestling ended with Saran mounted atop him, riding along a wave of ecstasy, while Keleir withered beneath her. He sought handfuls of flesh, and his mouth traced wet lines across her chest.”

Um, ew. Do I want to break this down? Of course I do. First off, if a lover ever told me that he wanted to grab “handfuls of flesh”, I’d immediately dump him and promptly alert the FBI of a potential serial killer. Also, don’t just say stuff like “his mouth traced wet lines across her chest” and then say pretty much nothing else before the simultaneous orgasms. That information floating on its own is plain gross. And is Keleir’s “withering” a recurring problem? Are you telling me that these people can contain parasitic world-eating horrors and travel between dimensions but can’t treat erectile dysfunction?

Just save yourselves some time and boredom, folks. Don’t read it. Just don’t.

Cover image and blurb are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: Blackbird, Volume 1

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The Blurb

Nina Rodriguez knows there’s a hidden magical world run by ruthless cabals hiding in Los Angeles. And when a giant magic beast kidnaps her sister, Nina must confront her past (and her demons) to get her sister back and reclaim her life. Perfect for fans of SYFY’s The Magicians, CW’s Riverdale, and THE
WICKED + THE DIVINE
, don’t miss the first collection of the smash-hit neo-noir fantasy series from fan-favorite writer SAM HUMPHRIES (Harley
Quinn, Nightwing) and red-hot artist JEN BARTEL (Black Panther, Mighty
Thor)!

Review

Read: April 2019

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!*

*Spoiler warning!*

It’s worth noting that this is an ARC in the sense that it’s not yet been released in this bind-up format. (The content of Blackbird, Volume 1 has already been released.) Still, this is my first time reviewing a graphic novel ARC, so it’s nevertheless a cool experience. Blackbird isn’t the best graphic novel I’ve read (I’m trash, the ATLA graphic novels hold a special place in my heart), but it’s certainly enjoyable.

Art style heavily influences my opinions of graphic novels. Earlier this year I read a graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and although I understood the purpose of the story, the art style prevented me from truly appreciating it. Blackbird circumvents that problem with its skillfully rendered art. Its art isn’t just not so terrible or weird that it detracts from the storyline; it’s actually good. If I’d known who the artist was before I read this, my expectations would have been higher and I’d have been moderately less surprised by the quality of the illustrations. Best of all, the illustrations are in color – something that, after reading black-and-white manga for so long, I didn’t realize I missed until I started reading Blackbird.

Blackbird chronicles the adventures of some interesting characters. I’m a sucker for cats, so I of course adore Sharpie and care about him more than any of the human or Paragon characters. Clint is pretty much the stereotypical flirt with a golden heart and a scheming father. I’m curious to see how he’ll decide to play his cards in the next installment. Despite her tendency to be a little petulant, Nina is nonetheless portrayed as a complex character with a pregnant development arc. As she grapples with poverty, addiction to painkillers, and a broken family, Nina sets off on a journey to seize back control of her life as much as to rescue her sister, Marisa, with whom she has a complicated relationship. If I’m being honest, Nina’s character arc intrigues me more than any aspect of the Paragon world – excepting Sharpie, obviously.

The world the authors have constructed is fluorescently dazzling, but on some level it feels shallow. Occasionally it felt like they skimped on important events, causing those events to feel anticlimactic. Even when details are plentiful, the solutions to problems are often too simple given the storyline and what is known about the universe. In particular, Nina’s initiation as a Paragon is way too… comfortable, considering the horrific deaths that most of the other Paragons had to undergo. I mean, yeah, she was already sort of initiated partially after she died in the earthquake, but still, her full initiation is, perhaps fortunately dull.

All in all, Blackbird is an amusing read, even if it sometimes errs on the side of superficial. If you’re into urban fantasy like Shadowhunters, this might be a good graphic novel to try.

Cover image and blurb are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: Shadow Frost

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The Blurb

In the kingdom of Axaria, a darkness rises.

Some call it a monster, laying waste to the villagers and their homes. Some say it is an invulnerable demon summoned from the deepest abysses of the Immortal Realm. Many soldiers from the royal guard are sent out to hunt it down. Not one has ever returned.

When Asterin Faelenhart, princess of Axaria and heir to the throne, discovers that she may hold the key to defeating the mysterious demon terrorizing her kingdom, she vows not to rest until the beast is slain. With the help of her friends and the powers she wields-though has yet to fully understand-Asterin sets out to complete a single task. The task that countless trained soldiers have failed. To kill it.

But as they hunt for the demon, they unearth a plot to assassinate the princess herself instead. Asterin and her friends begin to wonder how much of their lives has been lies, especially when they realize that the center of the web of deceit might very well be themselves. With no one else to turn to, they are forced to decide just how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect the only world they have ever known.

That is, of course, if the demon doesn’t get to them first.

Review

Read: April 2019

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC! 

*Mild spoiler warning.*

I really had high expectations for Shadow Frost. The synopsis held so much promise. And the cover – oh, it’s just gorgeous!

Sadly, this book wasn’t the vaulting champion I anticipated. I actually didn’t even finish it. You know how some books are so atrocious that you forge on because the whole thing is so laughably dreadful? Not the case with this book. It was just so mediocre that I couldn’t even chuckle over its absurdity.

Don’t get me wrong. There were things that I liked. The world-building was pretty solid, and I enjoyed Orion and Asterin’s and Asterin’s and Luna’s friendships (okay, I enjoyed the latter until the end of the book), as well as Luna and Eadric’s relationship. Unfortunately, the characters themselves were quite bland – and Ma had plenty of opportunity to develop them, given that just about everyone was a viewpoint character at one time or another. Without that crucial characterization, the characters seemed more like the vaguely described players in old fairytales: They were there and they were somewhat entertaining, but I never really felt connected to them. Instead of existing in their own rights as distinct individuals, the characters merely functioned as plot devices. Some of these characters were just jackasses – particularly Quinlan, who apparently thought it perfectly acceptable and safe to crash through Asterin’s window just to show off a baby bird that he’d found. Like, what a shithead. And he’s the love interest?? And like The Crown’s Game, the protagonists were way too powerful. One being omnifinitied would’ve sufficed, but two or three pushed the line from cool to cheesy.

The plot itself was inane and formulaic, and even the “twist” was way too easy to predict. (Yes, I read the end. Guilty.) By the time the fight at the Rainbow Salmon Inn concluded, I was getting the distinct impression that much of the action would just be Quinlan Showing Off™. Also, some of the grand plans didn’t make a ton of sense, like evacuating all the occupants of the inn except the princess heir, who was then imprisoned in her room as a wyvern monster tore gaping holes in the walls of the inn.

Perhaps worst of all was the uneven pacing. Take, for instance, the first sixty-seven pages in the book. Much of it focused on introductions, Asterin and Priscilla engaging in tense interactions, and sparring. While I understand that a good story demands a good exposition, so much of this content was just vapid filler. Ma could have eliminated at least fifteen pages and still been able to include the important events and grant her readers adequate background information. Then, once page sixty-eight hit – bam! – three dozen guards were dead and the heroes had to take action to eliminate their killer. The ensuing debate over who else to send on the mission proceeded to consume way more page space than it should have. Quinlan got to show off, and he secured his spot on Team Hero.

What started out with so much potential quickly stultified me. With final exams and project deadlines approaching, I deemed continuing on to just not be worth it. I have neither the time nor the tractor to deal with this overabundance of corn.

Cover image is from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

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The Blurb

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

*Spoiler alert!*

Fun fact: I considered purchasing this book to read it, but I was deterred by the texture of the dust jacket because it felt like a nasty-ass gritty chalkboard. Instead I saved myself some money and a lot of goosebumps by renting it from the library, complete with a nice, smooth library cover.

I’ve been trying to expand my horizons by reading more books with diverse casts of characters. In the current climate, that’s not so difficult to do, as the issues of diversity and discrimination have been brought into the spotlight by the rise of far-right ideologies and the resulting backlashes against them.

The setting of We Set the Dark on Fire isn’t as immersive as that of, say, The Hunger Games, but it doesn’t need to be. It functions as a commentary on current issues including sexism, homophobia, classism, and xenophobia. You might have heard comparisons of We Set the Dark on Fire to The Handmaid’s Tale because of its feminist elements and criticism of sexism, and those claims are accurate. But even more poignant than the discussion of gender equality is Mejia’s commentary on the struggles of undocumented immigrants. Dani herself is the equivalent of a real-world DREAMer, having immigrated from the outer island with her parents at the tender age of four. Her experiences as a poor, undocumented immigrant drive much of the story: Her fear of discovery and subsequent arrest and her desire to honor her parents’ sacrifices compel her to work with rebel group La Voz. Through both current events and Dani’s flashbacks, readers bear witness to the various obstacles manifested by Dani’s immigration status and class. The poverty she and her parents were subjected to in the outer island motivated her parents to cross the border illegally; the poverty and fear in which they lived in the inner island pushed them to sacrifice much to elevate Dani’s standard of living. Because of her immigration status, Dani balks from forming friendships with her fellow students, hindering the development of a healthy social life (or as healthy a social life as possible in this fucked-up society). And in perhaps the most alarming example, La Voz utilizes Dani’s immigration status to extort her into spying for them, an endeavor that – while perhaps might be considered beneficial – thrust Dani into a very precarious position that could have cost her her life. The use of flashbacks to explain Dani’s background might cause some readers to feel disconnected from the plights of the undocumented immigrants and the impoverished of Medio. I argue that this delivery tactic is aptly applied. Not only does the use of flashbacks highlight the distance that Dani has tried to place between her past and her present; it also emphasizes the theme of injustice existing even if it’s not directly in front of you. Dani eventually reaches this epiphany and becomes a willing agent of La Voz.

Mejia’s characterization of “good” characters is generally strong. Dani’s character in particular undergoes drastic changes, from the discovery of her sexuality to her growing urge to act on her animus against the regime, rather than simply accepting things the way they are. Carmen’s character develops too, but she is not as fleshed out as Dani due to her enigmatic nature. Likewise, Mejia grants readers satisfying yet tantalizing glimpses into Sota’s complex character without completely tearing down the mystery surrounding him. On the other hand, the antagonists are villains worthy of contempt, but for the most part they are not fully formed. For example, Mama Garcia resides in Dani’s mind as a threat for most of the book but has few interactions with Dani, and in the end it’s revealed that she is not wise to Dani’s illicit activities but is to Mateo’s before she dies in a car crash. She might have just been Mateo’s lackey, but I think that Mejia could have crafted her to be more sinister. Mateo himself is a little flat, although he’s still repulsively cruel and unhinged. As I mentioned before, though, Mejia’s glossing over of his methods might be a part of the “distant injustice” theme that plays such a huge role in this book. Interestingly, despite Mateo Garcia and Median government being at odds with each other, they are both separate antagonists and different iterations of the same antagonist: Mateo is both an embodiment of the regime and an embodiment of a worse version of it.

Although the romance sometimes seems rushed, it’s ultimately a sweet story about two young women discovering themselves and finding love even when it’s difficult or dangerous. Median high society isn’t exactly amiable toward the idea of same-sex relationships, so Dani and Carmen face adversity that stems not only from the possibility of the discovery of their affair (does it count as an affair when you’re sort of forced into a marriage?) but also from the resulting outing they would face. And at the end of the novel, Dani and Carmen are separated suddenly after Carmen is forced to reveal her allegiance to La Voz to protect Dani, who is heartbroken and bewildered by this turn of events. Readers will be anxious to find out whether Carmen will be able to make her way back to Dani!

Overall, I very much enjoyed reading We Set the Dark on Fire, even if it sometimes felt like there was something missing that I just couldn’t put my finger on and the world wasn’t as complex as I usually prefer it to be. When the sequel pops up on my library network’s catalog, you can bet I’ll place my hold on it ASAP.

I borrowed this book from my library. Remember to support your local library!

Book Review: Lost and Found

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The Blurb

Are you really a thief?”

That’s the question that has haunted fourteen-year-old Ezekiel Blast all his life. But he’s not a thief, he just has a talent for finding things. Not a superpower-a micropower. Because what good is finding lost bicycles and hair scrunchies, especially when you return them to their owners and everyone thinks you must have stolen them in the first place? If only there were some way to use Ezekiel’s micropower for good, to turn a curse into a blessing. His friend Beth thinks there must be, and so does a police detective investigating the disappearance of a little girl. When tragedy strikes, it’s up to Ezekiel to use his talent to find what matters most.

Master storyteller Orson Scott Card delivers a touching and funny, compelling and smart novel about growing up, harnessing your potential, and finding your place in the world, no matter how old you are.

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.*

Although I remember Orson Scott Card’s name from his praise of Fablehaven, I’ve never actually read any of his work before. But I did know that he was an author of some renown, so I couldn’t believe my luck when Edelweiss offered a review copy of his new novel free to download, no request and approval necessary.  Between the name recognition and the interesting premise, I figured I might as well give Card a try. 

Let me be clear: This is not exactly my preferred type of fantasy; it errs too much on the side of simplistic for my taste. That said, simplicity isn’t always a negative thing, and it’s quite apt in the case of Lost and Found. By eschewing an intensely complicated world, Card allows the magical abilities to take a backseat to the central internal conflicts and the accompanying character development. Through these micropowers, Card conveys the message that uniqueness has value, even if that quirk seems negligible and pointless.

More than solving abduction cases, Lost and Found focuses on the complicated inner struggles of Ezekiel Blast, a fourteen-year-old boy who has a knack for identifying lost items and returning them to their owners. Utilizing this power has caused him a great deal of grief and built an enmity between himself and the police. Because of this, he no longer acts on his power, causing him anxiety over the items that he cannot return. In addition to all of that, Ezekiel is weighed down by the death of his mother ten years prior.  As a branded thief, the kids at school ostracize him, so Ezekiel starts out the novel friendless. Enter Beth Sorenson, a self-described proportional dwarf who’s tough as nails. Due to her unusually small stature, Beth is a frequent target of school bullies, so she seeks protection in Ezekiel, whether he likes it or not. Sure enough, they become best friends. With her help – and that of a scientific/support group unflatteringly dubbed “GRUT” as well as a cop named R.P. Shank – Ezekiel learns to embrace his power as a gift and a useful tool. By doing so, he rediscovers his own self-worth and liberates himself from his “thief” label. 

Card provides positive representation through his male characters. Ezekiel Blast is sensitive, reacts to his emotions in a human way, and is not chronically thinking about sex, but Card does not portray him as not masculine because of these things. Likewise, Card does not neglect Father’s struggles as a single dad; nor is Father dehumanized for his occupation in “unskilled” labor. Detective Shank too is a refreshing depiction of a police officer: stalwart, yet judicious, supportive, and understanding.

Lost and Found also deals with some deep and heavy themes. As implied by the title, one of the main themes is loss – not just physical loss of an object or person, but also loss of sense of self and self-love. Mental health is also discussed via Ezekiel’s anxiety. At this point, I should mention that this book does take a screeching turn into child trafficking. The involvement of child predators always hung in my mind, given that the book chronicles Ezekiel’s attempted recovery of an abducted six-year-old, but I did not expect Card to be as forward as he was about it. Even though there is no explicit sex, it was still gut-roiling. One minute I was reading along, like, “Oh I wonder what will happen next,” and then – bam! – holy fuck, there are child predators. Card, in my opinion, handles this appropriately for the demographic he writes for, but it is up to you to decide whether you should read this book. 

Despite its sluggish start, Lost and Found is a worthwhile read. Although it’s not my preferred type of fantasy, it was objective well-written, and I’d recommend it to those who love suspense and strong character development with just a touch of magic.

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: Bloodwitch

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The Blurb

High in a snowy mountain range, a monastery that holds more than just faith clings to the side of a cliff. Below, thwarted by a lake, a bloodthirsty horde of raiders await the coming of winter and the frozen path to destroy the sanctuary and its secrets.

The Bloodwitch Aeduan has teamed up with the Threadwitch Iseult and the magical girl Owl to stop the destruction. But to do so, he must confront his own father, and his past.

Review

*Spoiler warning!*

Read: February 2019

Rating: 5 stars out of 5!

As I mentioned in a previous review, I’ve discovered some amazingly good books (and their attached series) through the “Books Under $2.99” section of the NOOK Store. That’s how I tumbled into the Witchlands series: My poor spending habits and I spotted Truthwitch, looked at each other, and said, “Eh, why the fuck not?” I will admit that I had my trepidations about Truthwitch as I was reading it, but I saw a lot of potential in it and forged on. By the end of the first book, I was completely hooked on the Witchlands series and read the next book, Windwitch, about a month later. It turned out to be even better. And OH MY GOODNESS, BLOODWITCH WAS GOING TO FOCUS ON AEDUAN?!?!? Try as I might to convince myself that I shouldn’t, I preordered it around the holiday season. The day it released, I was glued to my NOOK.

Susan Dennard’s debut series features an intricate system of magic, and with complicated magic systems, there exist greater opportunities for bungling both details and delivery. Witchlands avoids these mistakes: Dennard eschews info-dumping, instead opting to provide information as things crop up. Bloodwitch builds well upon the material of the first two books. In this installment of the series, readers get an even closer look at the mechanics of both regular magic and (*shudder*) Cleaving, and – in what I pictured as a super-intense Monsters, Inc. sequence – our heroes utilize a set of magic doorways between numerous locations (many of which are apparently very near to the Origin Wells). Those of you who are history/geography buffs won’t be disappointed either, since Bloodwitch‘s setting explores even more of the Witchlands. Although Safi and Vaness have actually made it to Azmir, Aeduan and Iseult – along with their headstrong charge, Owl, and her monstrous mountain bat, Blueberry – are still en route to the Carawen Monastery in the Sirmayan Mountains, and Merik has been whisked away to Ponzin. The variation in setting throughout the story will satisfy your inner adventurer and fend off setting fatigue. And the complex plot will make you anything but bored: There’s plenty of action and big reveals to keep you entertained.

The character development in Bloodwitch is top-notch. I’m gonna be honest: I didn’t like Safi’s character all that much at the beginning of the series. But she really has grown on me as she herself has grown, and now I love her. While she may not be clever in the way that Iseult is, she has proven to be smart in her own right. When Vaness’s birthday celebration devolves into a complete and dangerous fiasco, Safi’s leadership skills step to the fore as she reasserts her autonomy and helps Vaness escape. In Lovats, Vivia is stepping into a new leadership role as Queen-in-Waiting, but her opponents – including her own manipulative father, King Serafin  – have no qualms about stomping on her toes to curb her ascent. Vivia eventually realizes that she doesn’t need her father and that she needs to make her own decisions rather than constantly submitting to him. Meanwhile, Iseult continues to take initiative and have confidence in her snap judgments. Owl too evolves from being an overpowered mega-brat (get it? It’s a pun on “mega-bat”… Never mind) with a contrarian attitude problem. Slowly but surely, she emerges from her shell to befriend Iseult and proves herself unfalteringly loyal to her friends, even if she is still obstinate.

Obviously, though, this book focuses most on Aeduan’s internal journey, and his redemption arc is a powerful one. For more than a decade, Aeduan has been plagued with guilt and self-loathing. In Bloodwitch, readers gain an in-depth comprehension of why. The long and short of it is that Aeduan’s childhood traumas caused him to brand himself as a monster, and this view of himself allowed him to justify his unquestioning loyalty to his father, even when Ragnor’s orders were patently immoral. By the end of Bloodwitch, Aeduan has learned to forgive himself and that there is a path towards salvation for him.

And finally, the romance. God, the romance. Throughout Bloodwitch, Dennard continues to build upon the romantic tension between Aeduan and Iseult, culminating in the implication that they are Heart-Threads. At the end of the book, Aeduan has been separated from Iseult but vows to find her, and all I can say is that I am so ready for that journey back to each other. Just let my OTP be together. (Side note: Does anyone else spy a blossoming romance between Vaness and Vivia?)

Here I am at the end of this review and there are so many things that I haven’t touched on, simply because I can’t do them justice. Bloodwitch has more than earned its place on my Favorites and Cream-of-the-Crop shelves, and I enthusiastically recommend the Witchlands series to any fantasy fanatic. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for Book Four!

Book Review: Beasts of the Frozen Sun

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The Blurb

Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.

Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.

When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homeland-one of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen Sun-Lira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.

As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun…

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.*

When I first began reading Jill Criswell’s debut novel, I really wasn’t certain that I was going to love it. Beasts of the Frozen Sun was… just fine, for maybe the first third of the book. But I was well rewarded for reading on. 

This book’s biggest flaw is that the non-main characters simply didn’t feel as animated to me as they should have. Some character introductions and the subsequent interactions with other characters seem a bit abrupt. Quinlan, for instance, is introduced as Lira’s close male friend and someone whom Lira might or might not have feelings for, even though Lira does not mention him until his first physical appearance. Criswell often consigns minor characters brimming with potential to the sidelines, but I hope she will expand their roles in the next book. Right now it feels like she’s focusing so intently on Reyker and Lira that she’s skimping slightly on the other characters. Paying them some mind would, in my opinion, render this tale more colorful.

That’s not to say that the characters are unlikable, or that the main characters are uninteresting – just that there’s room for growth (and perhaps that’s what Criswell has planned for the sequel). While Reyker, a complicated warrior from Iseneld, embarks on a poignant and heart-wrenching redemption arc, Glasnithian Lira grapples with the societal constraints foisted upon her as both a young woman and a god-gifted individual and battles against the guilt she feels over the death of her mother several years prior. Lira’s elder brother, Garreth, proves to be noble and clever – and something of a maverick with a surprise up his sleeve, and Quinlan is a treasure – both as a friend and as a human being.

Although the lore of Criswell’s world isn’t complex, it’s not overly simple either – and that moderation suits this story. Likewise, Criswell is even-handed with her imagery: she doesn’t catapult her readers into a choppy sea of detail, but she provides enough for a reader to conceptualize the surroundings to a satisfactory degree. As far as the romance goes, this is one whirlwind love story. Despite the occasional over-gooeyness, Criswell executes the enemies-to-lovers trope well. Readers will find themselves invested in Reyker and Lira’s blossoming relationship and riveted by the parallels between their love and that of Aillira and the Great Betrayer. And at the end, the villain divulges a revelation that not only sheds a new light on his character but also leaves them bursting with questions.

Beasts of the Frozen Sun might not be a masterpiece, but it’s a solid beginning to Criswell’s series. I had some difficulty tackling the first portion of the book, but that hump was not insurmountable and the story ended up being entertaining. Adrienne Young’s Sky in the Deep has found its kin in Beasts of the Frozen Sun: If you read and enjoyed the former, I enjoin you to pick up the latter (which I’d argue is better).

You can purchase Beasts of the Frozen Sun at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, Indigo, and Amazon. 

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.

 

 

Flash Book Review: The Last Namsara

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The Blurb

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm.

When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

Review

Read: August 2018
Rating: 5 stars out of 5, A++++

I’ve found some terrible books on the “Books Under $2.99” section of the NOOK store. (For an example, see my review of The Crown’s Game.) Kristen Ciccarelli’s The Last Namsara is definitely not one of them. I forked over my $1.99 and promptly started reading, and holy crap, I could not put it down. I’m going to try to stay as spoiler-free as possible because I really, really want you to read this book. (I’ll be posting a spoilers-included review soon.)

This book is blessed with wonderful characters and excellent character development. Characters experience not just external conflicts but internal conflicts as well. Racial and ethnic discrimination are underlying themes of the story: The skral are enslaved by the draksors, whom they once attempted to conquer, and tensions are high between the draksors and their distant relatives, the scrublanders. Asha and Dax’s cousin, Safire, is half-skral, and the cultural attitudes and social protocols pertaining to skral-draksor interaction hinder her relationship with Asha.

Ciccarelli presents the lore of her world in a graceful manner. She provides detail in moderation – not too little, not too much – and doles out information in manageable, unobtrusive quantities. Interspersed between Asha’s chapters are vignettes that allow the reader to glimpse mythologies and past events that not only flesh out Firgaard but also have significant bearing on the plot of the story.

The Last Namsara has a compelling plot, and its whirlwind pacing fits perfectly. Even the “downtime” is interesting. Despite the plot’s breakneck speed, Ciccarelli still gives readers the space to generate questions and formulate predictions before the big events/reveals. And oh, don’t get me started on the plot twists or the romance!

I was stunned by just how much I loved this book. As soon as I completed it, I promptly preordered its sequel, The Caged Queen. Both are completely worthy of their spots on my Favorites shelf. If dragons, wholesome relationships, and strong female characters are your thing, pick this book up now.

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.

 

Book Review: The Crown’s Game

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The Blurb

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know.  The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love, or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Review

Spoilers ahead!

Rating: 1 star out of 5

I’d been contemplating reading Circle of Shadows, the newest Evelyn Skye novel, but I wanted to test the waters by reading another of her books first. I found The Crown’s Game on sale in the NOOK store for $1.99, so I snapped it up. In a way, I’m glad I did, because reading The Crown’s Game ultimately prevented me from wasting considerably more money on Circle of Shadows.

I could use the phrase “dumpster fire” to describe this book, but that’s really not fitting: Dumpster fires at least entail vaguely interesting events. The Crown’s Game is easily one of the dullest books I’ve ever read – even duller than any novel in the Twilight series. It’s no compliment to say that Stephanie Meyer did a better job world-building. Evelyn Skye exerted such negligible effort on world-building that her tale barely squeaks into the historical fantasy genre, giving more of the feel of historical fanfiction with magic tossed in for shits and giggles. The magic originates from some spring or fountain or some bullshit that apparently pays attention to arbitrary geopolitical boundaries and nationality. And excluding faith healers and a couple of magical creatures, the latter of whom are only mentioned in passing, there are only four known characters in Russia with the magic, and two of them monopolize most of it. Since both competitors possess gargantuan supplies of the magic, the result is a pair of stupidly overly-powerful heroes.

Skye is just as bad at inventing plots as she is at world-building. Expect no real action or intrigue from Crown’s Game. The game itself is nothing more than an unstructured magical pissing contest, and Skye fails to leave enough to the imagination to keep readers hooked. There’s no nefarious plot running beneath the surface, there’s no tension or suspense; it’s just a fight for who gets to be the tsar’s chief suck-up and who gets to die, and the two competitors falling in love. Sigh.

The characters are breathtakingly boring. If you played the Wii Fit obstacle course game, you probably remember what a pain in the ass it was to avoid those logs, lest your Mii be comically flattened. Clearly the Crown’s Game’s characters played this game and lost spectacularly, because damn, are they dimensionally challenged. Though it’s not Vika’s fault that Pasha worshipfully describes her in a manner that is utterly vomit-inducing, it is Vika’s fault for failing to demonstrate that she is anything more than an insipid, gorgeous magical girl anime reject. She has pretty red hair with a black streak in it and can generate an entire island with her mind. She misses her dad. She’s pretty. She’s powerful. Did I mention she’s pretty? The way Vika blathers on about how attractive Nikolai is implies that she’s never seen a boy before (even though that’s probably not true). Spare me the agony.

Scarcely surpassing the sentience of a doorknob, Nikolai might as well have been a giant Russian Ken doll. His thoughts mostly consist of dreamily imagining banging Vika, hawing over not wanting to kill her, and attempting to concoct a contest-winning plan. When a woman in a semi-zombified state shows up out of the blue – alleging to be his mother, no less – Nikolai is relatively unperturbed. His strongest reaction is his revulsion over how dreadful Aizhana smells. Come on. Even if you live in a world steeped in magic, if a shambling, malodorous corpse lady appears and claims to be your dead mommy, you should shit yourself, at least a little bit. If all you can do is complain about is the foul stench, you desperately need help. When he walks into the Enchanted Hollow, a goddam cave, his thought is, “So this is why it’s called the Enchanted Hollow.” You’re a little slow on the uptake, pal. Reading this particular line evokes thoughts of that iCarly scene where Kurt, the cute but dumb (fired) intern, rides the elevator and then breathes in awe, “This is an elevator.” And really, that captures Nikolai’s essence – the hot but moronic guy who should be fired before he ruins the world. I half-expected him to pop into a scene with a plastic bag of lemonade.

Pasha isn’t much better. Like Nikolai, he too obsesses over Vika to a degree that seriously annoyed me, as a reader stuck in his head. (What I can say is that Pasha, as nauseatingly pesky as his crush-related thoughts are, isn’t a complete creep. For instance, he refrains from kissing Vika while she is asleep because he does not want to disrespect/violate her.) Unlike Nikolai, however, he exhibits some intellectual curiosity and later undergoes a considerable personality change; unfortunately, this shift is such an about-face that its effect comes off less as character development and more as a rancorous temper tantrum.

There’s little to say for the remaining characters. Renata merely serves to upgrade the love triangle to a love web. Ludmila is Vika’s plump, middle-aged sidekick, who effectively fills the role of a lame-ass Molly Weasley: a source of tasty baked goodies and motherly love, minus the tough fierceness that makes Molly so endearing. Pasha’s sister, Yuliana, functions as the impetus behind the Crown’s Game, urging her father to commence the contest, but Tsar Alexander is such an unpleasant dickbag that no other scapegoat for starting the game is truly required, rendering Yuliana obsolete. At virtually every given opportunity, he goes out of his way to be rude, condescending, or snappish. During his spiel about the rules of the game, Vika interrupts him as respectfully as possible to inquire about why one Enchanter must die at the end of the game, and Alexander acts as if she’s expressed the desire to hit him in the testicles repeatedly with a large stick. He can’t even muster the patience or sympathy to answer a valid question posed by a competitor – a teenager, mind you – in a fatal contest to be the tsar’s magical toady. When Vika arrives at the ball in her fabulous dress, the tsar snidely remarks that she should “take care not to become too enamored of the tsarevich” because “it will require more than a showy gown to be worthy.” Damn it, dude, she just told you that she fashioned her clothes herself. Would it kill you to just toss out some platitude or another? Honestly, I pity Tsarina Elizabeth – she deserves so much better than Alexander. Sergei’s role is just being Vika’s mentor/father figure and an eventual sacrifice; Sergei’s bitchy sister, Galina, is a fucking psychopath who forces Nikolai to kill animals that she put in his bedroom and doesn’t miss a chance to remind him of his “low birth”. And if you’re holding out for a decent villain, don’t bother: Despite being one of the more interesting characters, Aizhana is just a vengeful zombie who boasts a typhus-riddled black tongue (I kid you not), long fingernails, and a festering grudge. That’s pretty much it.

And just what the fuck is this sentence structure?! The writing is clunky, awkward, and the cause of many an eye-roll. For example: “Nikolai shook his head at the beauty of Bolshebnoie Duplo.” This is an actual sentence in a published book not written for fourth-graders. This is an actual sentence in a published book that is presumably not written by a fourth-grader. I have read and enjoyed books with similar writing flaws, but the other elements of the book compensated for them. Obviously, nothing in The Crown’s Game does.

This clumsy delivery pervades the romance of the book too. In yet another nightmare sentence, Pasha gushes about this gorgeous girl (Vika), whom he spotted from a distance the other day:

“She has red hair, like the most hypnotizing part of a flickering flame, and her voice is both melodic and unflinching.”

Ew, gross, no, stop. You’re embarrassing yourself, Pasha. You heard her speak but three sentences from a distance and now you can describe her voice like that? Not only does this further paint Vika as a Mary Sue, but it also just makes Pasha look like a pompous ass. This sort of florid diction is typically reserved for Lord Byron’s poetry. And then, when Pasha hops back on the boat back to St. Petersburg, Skye writes, “He murmured, ‘Vika,’ to himself, more than once.” Oh. My. God. By this point, I can safely say that Pasha acts like Ron Weasley under the influence of Romilda Vane’s love potion. J.K. Rowling at least had the courtesy to cure Ron of his sorry state by within the chapter; Skye’s characters, on the other hand, continue this behavior throughout Crown’s Game. I can’t pick on just Pasha, not when Vika serves up internal monologues like this one:

“It was as if the attempts to kill her faded into the background, and now she saw the truth at the core of it all: Nikolai’s magic was gorgeous and powerful and… and… Her lungs faltered. Even the mere memory of his magic was so strong. And touching Nikolai, even through her gloves and his sleeve, was like being pummeled by a stampede of wild horses. No, wild unicorns. Beautiful, wild unicorns.”

He’s the other enchanter, and she’s just now figured out that he’s powerful? Also, does she want to fuck him or his magic? If you think Nikolai contributes nothing to this travesty of romance, you’re quite wrong: “He had thought, during the mazurka, that they’d had something. Their touch had both frenzied and frozen the ballroom. Their breathing had synchronized, heatedly.” I could find more examples but I really don’t want to, since I prefer not vomiting.

Skye spends so much time on saccharine pseudo-poetry that she skimps on meaningful interactions between characters, particularly those involved in the two pairings we the readers are supposed to choose between. One carriage ride and a ballroom dance with Vika, whom he’s only known for a couple of weeks, and he thinks he’s so in love with her that when he discovers Nikolai’s identity as the second enchanter and that Nikolai is “in love” with Vika too, he feels betrayed enough to pit the two of them – his best friend and the girl he supposedly loves – against each other in a battle to the death. Nikolai and Vika’s encounters consist of either one attempting to murder the other, often with a crowd of bystanders within view, or gazing longingly into each other’s eyes. Although Vika does have a sweet mother-daughter scene with Ludmila, and Sergei and Galina seem to reach some kind of reconciliation before the former dies, character-to-character interactions are generally superficial and unanimated.

In the end, whether you subject yourself to the agony of reading this book is up to you. Personally, I think it might be less time-consuming to purchase a bottle of high fructose corn syrup from the grocery store, go home, and drink the entire fucker in one sitting. You’d get the same bland, over-sweet experience from whichever one you choose. As for me, I won’t be reading another book of Evelyn Skye’s. I’ve had enough literary corn syrup to last me a lifetime.

You can also read this review on my Goodreads account: <https://http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2141863557>.

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.