The Immortal Crown (Age of X #2) by Richelle Mead

16156357eARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Gameboard of the Gods introduced religious investigator Justin March and Mae Koskinen, the beautiful supersoldier assigned to protect him. Together they have been charged with investigating reports of the supernatural and the return of the gods, both inside the Republic of United North America and out. With this highly classified knowledge comes a shocking revelation: Not only are the gods vying for human control, but the elect—special humans marked by the divine—are turning against one another in bloody fashion.

Their mission takes a new twist when they are assigned to a diplomatic delegation headed by Lucian Darling, Justin’s old friend and rival, going into Arcadia, the RUNA’s dangerous neighboring country. Here, in a society where women are commodities and religion is intertwined with government, Justin discovers powerful forces at work, even as he struggles to come to terms with his own reluctantly acquired deity.

Meanwhile, Mae—grudgingly posing as Justin’s concubine—has a secret mission of her own: finding the illegitimate niece her family smuggled away years ago. But with Justin and Mae resisting the resurgence of the gods in Arcadia, a reporter’s connection with someone close to Justin back home threatens to expose their mission—and with it the divine forces the government is determined to keep secret.

Review:

Frustration – noun – the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.

I honestly cannot think of a better term to describe my relationship with this book. I remember having a bit of this sensation when reading Gameboard of the Gods and likewise, I was happy that the slight-creepy-Eugenics-vibe that that book gave off was sidelined here.

Sadly, Mead gave me plenty more to be frustrated about.

First off there is Nehitimar and the religion that has sprung up around him. It’s not a good sign when a series that, in its first book only used established deities that the second book felt the need to create an entirely new one. And then you realize that the religion of the Arcadians who serve this god have attributes of all the negative attributes of Islam  (women as clear second class citizens, with no rights and forced extreme modesty, forced separation of the genders) as well as negative stereotypes of Arabic culture in general – polygamy, separate shelter for women, child brides as young as 13. Clearly this god was invented as a means of trying to avoid controversy, but to me it should have been a freaking huge red flag that this plot needed to change. And nothing in the story that she told convinced me that she needed to go here. Aside from the child bride subplot (which drove this plot) there really wasn’t a lot in this main story that justified this kind of god. We pretty much saw nothing positive of this religion or the people who practiced it. The men were leering pigs and the Head Wife just kind of a bitch. For a book that is trying to dance about religion and its place in this society, it’s an awfully tone-deaf message to send especially in this day and age when Muslims face so much discrimination in the real world. This plot ultimately feels like it feeds off of that distrust.

Really, all of the plots here fell short. Through divine intervention (thanks to an amber knife that sends visions), Mae finds out where her daughter is being held and her story is largely centered about her rescue. Again, like the religious aspects, Mead takes no real time to send any kind of message other than “this is bad.” It was a weak plot that almost seemed to drive the main plot, because it was her insistence that Justin agreed to go to Arcadia in the first place. Tessa has another sub-plot here: a reporter wants to use her to try and get dish on Lucian and it’s okay? It’s kinda there, nothing amazing. The mystery of the first book really was superior.

Finally, in the last 10% of the book, Mead has something done to Mae that just infuriated me. Not only for the act itself, but because it became clear that it was done in the name of furthering the Justin/Priest of Odin plot. And just. No.

I can’t.

For the most part, I still love the concept behind the series. I like the mix of real gods that are in play, and I still like the character of Justin. Will I read the third book? Maybe. Can I recommend it? I don’t know. I was mixed on the first one and am even more so on this one. I have preordered a copy and I will see my order placed through, but if there aren’t some significant improvements in the third book, not even the intervention of Thought and Memory themselves could get me to become a priest of Odin.

Verdict: A faint borrow it. If you’re a fan of the author and you liked the first one without qualms, you may enjoy this. If you were mixed on the first you may just want to skip it.

Available: May 29th

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ARC Review: Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising by Sarah Cawkwell

18775286eARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Epic fantasy meets alternate history in a sweeping saga that crosses the medieval world. Matthias Eynon must escape the clutches the Witchhunters and locate the masters of the four magic arts to overthrow the tyrannical Demon King, descendant of the twisted Richard III.

Mathias Eynon“s dreams were small. A dabbler in magic, and son of a magician, he expected to live in obscurity in his home in the Welsh hills, quietly conducting his experiments and hoping not to draw too much attention to himself.

But fate has other plans for him. It is the Year of Our Lord Fifteen-Ninety, and a revolution is quietly brewing, here and further abroad. Richard V has overstayed his rule, some say; others whisper that the whole line of Demon Kings must be burned out. Mathias son of a man executed for the practice of magic, forbidden by the paranoid king is set to become a symbol, and a leader.

And to do that, he needs champions. A wise woman sends him to the corners of the known world to the frozen lands of the Danes, to the pirate-haunted ports of Spain, to the mountains of the German Empire, to the burning sands of the Holy Land to bring back masters of the four magic arts. With the best and brightest of Richard’s Witch Hunters on his heels, he sets out to gather his allies.

Review:

Historical fantasy is an under-used sub-genre of fantasy. Most recently I’ve seen it appearing in Young Adult, where the use of particular places in time are used as a backdrop of a story that, while it generally makes good use of the time period, has little to do with the actual time period itself. Heirs of the Demon King though, is a bit more unique in that it presents us with an alternate history, something more commonly found in other forms of historical fiction. The premise of this is fantastic: Richard I (the Lionhearted) comes back from the Crusades bearing the gift of magic. Magic spreads throughout Europe and everything is flourishing. But back in England, nobles worried about losing their power over the people demand that an end be put to magic, and so his successors do just that. When Henry Tudor challenges Richard III for the throne, Richard III makes a final desperate bid: a compact with the Demon Melusine to defeat Henry Tudor, and in exchange a future descendent will become Melusine’s vessel to walk the earth.

Fast forward a few generations and we now have Richard V. The Plantagenet kings continue to scorn magic in preference of science (the cause of the rift between England and Rome, which in this book has fully embraced magic) and his Inquisitors (the Witch Hunters of the summary) scour the lands to destroy any remaining practitioners. Our protagonist Mathias loses all the family he’s ever had to these Inquisitors, and it is his adoptive father’s magic that sends him on the quest of the book.

It’s an enjoyable read. But it a book that I think could have used a little more depth.

First off, we have the magic. It feels like a mish-mash. We see villages in France where the plows plow and bread pans depan loafs of bread, but there are no humans around to aid in the process (kind of like The Sorcerer’s apprentice). All the mages we meet, however, have elemental powers. There are Druidic influences on this book, and then of course there are demons. Some ground rules would have been nice because it has that feel of “a little of this” and a “little of that” which doesn’t really for this kind of thing.

More importantly though, characters all feel sketched, and so feel flat.

Charles Weaver, the Inquisitor who spends the book chasing our protagonist feels robotic in the way that he chases after Mathias. You can almost hear him saying Must. Kill. Magi. as he rides. He has zero qualms about burning down a church filled to the brim with the population of Troyes, France and never shows any sign of remorse about what he is doing. And yet he has no words, nor thought, nor deeds to suggest that he is religious and he never wonders if maybe this isn’t right. While we do ultimately get a (good) explanation for the behavior, it literally comes in the last pages of the book, so we’re basically left with a one note Evil villain. His parts are easily the weakest of the story.

The protagonists doesn’t seem much better here. Mathias is a Good Kid with a Kind Heart. Tagan is Loyal and Loves Her Betrothed. The Shapeshifter is taciturn. The Pirate King is flamboyant almost to the point of ridicule and so on. While you like the protagonists, there is no real depth beyond their trope. Even though there is a weariness with Mathias at the books end, it almost comes off more as petulance (because he’s accepted that he’ll never get to just marry Tagan and live a quiet life) than true weariness born of what he has seen and what lies ahead. The closest we get to growth is actually Richard V who decides he really doesn’t like this deal that Richard III made, but the ending almost feels like too much of a 180 in the other direction to be fully believable.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked this book, and the parts with the magic users were easily the best (actually, I’d love a book centered around the Pirate King. I’d totally read a book based around his adventures) even if the characters themselves felt a bit tropey. It’s just true alternate history fantasy is kind of rare these days so I wanted to really be able to praise it fully and I just couldn’t.

Still, if you like historical fantasy or the premise, it’s definitely worth a look.

Verdict: a strong Borrow It

Available: May 27th

Review: A Breath of Frost (The Lovegrove Legacy #1) by Alyxandra Harvey

breath of frost

Summary:

In 1814, three cousins—Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope—discover their family lineage of witchcraft when a binding spell is broken, allowing their individual magical powers to manifest. Now, beyond the manicured gardens and ballrooms of Regency London, an alluring underworld available only to those with power is revealed to the cousins. By claiming their power, the three cousins have accidentally opened the gates to the underworld.

Now ghouls, hellhounds—and most terrifying of all, the spirits of dark witches known as the Greymalkin Sisters—are hunting and killing young debutante witches for their powers. And, somehow, Emma is connected to the murders…because she keeps finding the bodies.

Can the cousins seal the gates before another witch is killed…or even worse, before their new gifts are stripped away?

Review:

If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I went through a period of “no more young adult” at the beginning of the year – I’d hit a rough spell where I couldn’t find anything that I liked. Despite that, I pre-ordered this anyways, because I love time period and I’d seen some bloggers praising the book. I definitely do not regret my decision.

I will say right now that this is one of the best YA fantasy titles I’ve read so far this year. While The Winner’s Curse was definitely a good book, I still consider that more a romance than fantasy. This, however, is historical urban fantasy for lack of a better descriptor. Set amongst the aristocracy of London, our protagonists are debutantes who unwittingly discover they are witches. The cousins here are all genuinely likable girls. There is a love interest in Cormac who strikes me like a charming Percy Weasley- when he starts the book he’s insistent on doing The Right Thing even though he knows that it isn’t really the right thing to. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself yelling at the book at his actions. By the same token, his character undoubtedly grows which is great to see. While we never get to see too much of the bones of the magic system at work (other than there is a lot of iron and salt used for protective purposes), the bits we see are fun, and I love how one of the protagonists ends up with antlers as a result of her magic. It’s just fun and the book so enjoyable that if you’re like me and you do prefer more detailed settings, that you’ll forgive the author for not showing us more.  At the very least, there is an obvious consistency to the world so that while I can’t necessarily explain to you how Emma does magic (other than she’s a weather-witch and prone to making it rain when she gets emotional) it doesn’t feel like hand-waving or cheating to make the magic fit the situation, which I will always appreciate it.

On top of the enjoyable characters we have a couple of enjoyable mysteries – who are behind the deaths, what happened with Emma’s mom, what is the truth of Emma’s heritage – that help keep you vested in the story.

If there is a weakness, I will say that I feel like Moira and her world didn’t really feel properly integrated with the story of Emma and the more upper class witches. It’s probably because we meet her early on, then she disappears for a large swath of the book before suddenly popping up and helping the girls out at opportune times. If there are any times where it feels like Harvey is cheating, it’s there. Still, the complaint is minor and I don’t find it enough of a distraction to consider it a true negative. I just hope that in the sequel, if she does come back, that it’s a bit smoother.

The sequel, Whisper the Dead is set to bow on October 9th. From the descriptor, it appears that that book will be focused on Gretchen, not Emma. I’m looking forward to that. Robin LaFevers has been doing something similar in her His Fair Assassin series to what I think is good effect: I rather see different characters in the same world, then trying to stretch a plot with the same character to cover multiple books. Even if I’m wrong though, I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel. This book is a bit of fresh air in a somewhat stagnant fantasy YA genre with good characters, good plot, and deftly handled romance that fits in with the plot and doesn’t overwhelm it.

Verdict: Buy it

Available: Now.

Meme: Book Blogger Confession!

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so why not? Seems like as good a Monday post as any 🙂

1. Which book, most recently, did you not finish?

If I remember correctly, I actually didn’t finish two books back to back: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory and Featherbound by Sarah Raughley. The former I didn’t finish because it simply Not My Book, the latter because the premise of human swans ticked me off because they only seemed to exist so the author could have a plot point of selling them into sexual slavery to use as a means to drive the plot forward. I genuinely do try to finish books, not finishing is generally a kind of last resort when I just can’t get through a title.

2. What book is your guilty pleasure?

The Selection books by Kiera Cass. For me, guilty pleasures are books that may not be the best quality, but they’re quick and enjoyable reads that you can use to escape at the beach or after a hard day. The Selection series is The Bachelor, set in a dystopian future, where the prize is getting to marry the Prince and become Queen. Doesn’t get much more guilty pleasure than that for me.

3. Which book do you love to hate?

Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James. If you throw out all the complaints that I (and people who have any knowledge about actual kinky sex practices done right) have about the sex scenes, after you take away those you’re left with an incredibly creepy book about a stalker where you have a girl with no self-esteem, a mother who is encouraging this incredibly unhealthy relationship instead of helping her daughter get a restraining order and a man who uses his past abuse as an excuse to be abusive himself. And yet people love it. I’m willing to be money that people who love this book found the song Blurred Lines to be creepy and that just depresses the hell out of me.

4. Which book would you throw into the sea?

Kiss the Dead by Laurell K. Hamilton. It was the last Anita Blake book I managed to force myself to read. I loved these books SO much in their early days – I started reading them back in like 1996. I kept sticking with the series, despite the decline in quality because I kept hoping for a resurgence of the author that got me hooked – and every so often we’d actually get a quality book (usually when Anita went out of town away from her beaus). And then this book happened. When she took a character I loved and for Reasons had him try and rape Anita, even though there was nothing in her character that would suggest he’d do such a thing, just so Anita could increase her Mary Sue status.  That is when I became DONE with these books once and for all. A friend loaned me a copy of Affliction and I literally couldn’t even make it past the first chapter before I put it down in disgust.

5. Which book have you read the most?

I don’t re-read books nowadays. I’ve never been one to do that very often, and these days I have so many other things to read that I don’t have the time. So I’m going to have to say I Hate, Hate, Hated This Movie and Your Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert. Both were collections of movie reviews that rated two stars or fewer. They are scathing and hysterical and if they were ever to put out a third compilation that covered everything after Your Movie Sucks I’d buy it in a heart beat.

6. Which book would you hate to receive as a present?

Twilight or Fifty Shades of Gray. Don’t want them (gave my copy of Fifty Shades of Gray away), don’t want to have to pretend to be thankful to have received them.

7. Which book could you not live without?

I don’t know that I have one of these, to be honest, because of the aforementioned “I don’t re-read books’ answer above.

8. Which book made you the angriest?

Allegiant, on so many levels. I pray I don’t see such an epic fail from another author any time soon. I count myself amongst those who pretend that it doesn’t exist.

9. Which book made you cry the most?

Books…don’t really make me cry, to be honest. I remember not being that moved by Cedric’s death in Goblet of Fire by holy hell that movie scene? Absolutely gutted me.

10.  Which book cover do you hate the most?

I’m not a huge fan of covers with photo-realistic people on them in general (non-fiction exempt), so picking Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers is a pretty easy choice. The His Fair Assassins series is excellent; but covers have always been their weak points. None are great, but these newest book, the protagonist looks like a Lord of the Rings cosplayer up against a badly photo-shopped background. They just look cheap and poorly done. For a series that was one of my favorite finds of 2013, I feel like the books just deserve better and I worry that some who might enjoy the books will give them a pass because the covers are blah.

Review: Dreams & Shadows

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Summary:

Something is missing from Ewan and Colby’s lives. Residing in the corners of their memories is their time in Limestone Kingdom, a realm filled with magic and mystery, a world where only some may travel amongst the menagerie of mystical souls and sinister demons.

Cargill offers well-crafted characters and an absorbing, intricate plot that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman and Lev Grossman. Dreams and Shadows pulls you into an extraordinary universe of darkness that exposes the magic and monsters in our world, and in ourselves.

Review:

Okay, I know, I know, I’m supposed to be reviewing ARCS, but I got through The Falconer rather quickly and I happened to pick up the ARC this book’s sequel, Queen of the Dark Things a few days ago so I decide to skip ahead and give this one a look. And the result?

I think if there is one thing I can safely say, is that this book will not be for everybody. And when I mean that, I mean more so than normal. The author made a key stylistic choice here that hinders the enjoyment of the first half of the book. While the second half makes good strides to correct it, for many it may already be too late.

The problem is this:

The first half of the book, we have a narrative that alternates between the story of one character/set of characters and a bit of folk-lore that is relevant to the plot at hand. On the one hand, such a device makes sure we know all that we need to about the various kind of fae and their court, and the Djinn and so on. On the other hand, it absolutely prevents any kind of narrative flow from developing, no mater how hard the story tries. It is never not jarring, especially since most of the lore is told via pages of a pseudo-non-fiction text. The lore may be accurate, but it feels dry. And while the information does help, it’s hard to shake that some of it does feel like an information dump, and I’m not entirely convinced it was all entirely accurate. The best example of this would be the story of Yashir, the Djinn. Early on we the fable surrounding his past. And yet, at various points in the narrative, Yashir tells his own story to Colby. I don’t think the book would have lost anything had the fable not been there, and more importantly I think the rest of the lore might have been better served being woven into the text itself for a second reason:

This narrative device makes the first half of the book feel like a series of vignettes. We go to one place and things happen. We go to a second place and things happen. We go back to the first place a few years later and so on. It just adds to that disjointed feeling that I think ultimately harms the novel.

I haven’t mentioned the second half of the book yet, simply because it does actually become a more traditional narrative and it works better. This is a novel where no one is truly good and I like that. It’s just a matter of, by the time it gets good, will it be too late for the average reader?

You’ll have to see for yourself, but I strongly recommend the library or picking an e-book sample of this first because for many, I believe it will.

Verdict: Borrow it

Available now

 

ARC Review: The Falconer – Elizabeth May

15791085eARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery killed her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season and Aileana slaughters faeries in secret, in between the endless round of parties, tea and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic facade every night to go hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana’s father returns home, she has decisions to make. How much is she willing to lose – and just how far will Aileana go for revenge?

Review:

This is going to be one of those reviews. You know the ones. This isn’t a bad book, far from it, but it’s also a book that could have been so much more.

On the face of it, there are some things to recommend the book: lots of action, some good side characters, and good use of the fae.

But.

Aileana Kameron is a psychopath.

Seriously.

Like, she needs medication levels of crazy. Here are a selection of quotes (all subject to change in the final edition):

  • “The device shouldn’t have had that much power. Who knew faeries exploded so magnificently? “I certainly don’t want the faery who murdered my mother to die that quickly when I find her.”
  • “For a small, petty moment, I envy Catherine. She can share her life wholly with someone, completely fulfilled. She won’t need to lie to her husband, or slip out of house at night to quiet a need for violence.”
  • “If I didn’t already have the instinctual urge to murder”

And these are all things said before she even came to knew what a Falconer is let alone that she was one. That plot summary is a freaking lie. From the earliest pages of the book, we see that she isn’t quite right. She spent so much time fighting and killing that when she comes out of official mourning for her mother, she’s lost her social skills.

On the face of it, this isn’t a bad thing necessarily. I think there is SO MUCH you can do with a character like this – she reminds me of Maddie from True Grit; or what Maddie would have been had she had the skills to hunt down her father’s killer herself. The problem is, I don’t think the author intended for her to come off as quite this broken. That, or whomever wrote the cover blurb should be fired since it’s obvious from page one what her decision is.

If I thought that Aileana was meant to be anti-hero, I’d be all over singing the praises of this book. Promise is, I don’t. I honestly think that the author was going for a bit of a Buffy vibe, only she forgot that Buffy was doing her damnedest to live a normal life despite being a Slayer.

I am so torn about this book. It’s definitely a fun read, it’s definitely darker than what you might be expecting. I will also say that I’m not a fan of the cliffhanger ending, and I’m still pondering why the Falconer doesn’t have a falcon. Still, if it does hit the screen, I’ll totally see it. It’s one of those books that will probably make a better film. It’s got a lot of cinematic feel to it as it stands, and I think they’d cut down that edge of crazy Aileana has too. If Buffy slayed faery sounds good to you, you might want to give it a go.

Verdict: Borrow It, there’s a lot to like, but I think the main character got away from the author which is never a good thing.

Available: May 6.

Review: Perfect Ruin (The Internment Chronicles #1) – Lauren DeStefano

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Summary:

On the floating city of Internment, you can be anything you dream, unless you approach the edge. Morgan Stockhour knows getting too close can lead to madness, like her older brother Len, a Jumper. She takes solace in her best friend Pen, and in Basil, the boy she’s engaged to marry. When she investigates the first murder in a generation, she meets Judas. The suspect was betrothed to the victim, but Morgan believes he is innocent. Nothing can prepare Morgan for the secrets she will find – or whom she will lose.

Review:

I came to own this book in a rather circuitous fashion. I remember considering picking up Wither, but then deciding the premise was just too absurd for me to even want to give it a chance. I started following her around the end of the year, when a blogger friend got her to RT my Shadow and Bone giveaway – she’s a huge Leigh Bardugo fan (which is awesome). I stayed following her because I started to genuinely enjoy her twitter feed. She’s geeky, she’s funny and chill. So when this went on sale around the same time, I finally decided to give it a shot.

And?

Well. We’ll always have Twitter.

This is one of those books that just didn’t work for me. The whole concept of Internment didn’t work for me. I know that people seem to like to label this as a dystopia, but I honestly don’t see it. Hunger Games was clearly dystopic – the Capitol lived a ridiculously hedonistic life-style at the expense of those in the Districts (and never mind that little tourney of theres). Divergent was clearly dystopic – you had your factions and if you couldn’t form well enough, you were sentenced to a life of miserable homelessness and depended on Abnegation for scraps of food. This though? If it weren’t on a freaking floating rock, it’d feel like a small gated community in modern America. Well, if that gated community had bizarre physics that blinded you or turned you epileptic if you tried to jump for Reasons. We won’t go into the whole “there is enough freaking power to keep a giant rock a float in the air, but not enough to keep electricity on/off for 24/7” bit either.

Also, speaking of Reasons, there’s the whole “let’s make the women into semi-second class-citizens!” nonsense. There’s a line where Morgan thinks about how soon one day she’ll be responsible for pressing Basil’s shirts and buying the soap she likes. She also mentions how until she’s the property of her husband, she’s the property of the educators. No real reason for that. Or the betrothal at birth. Or the creepy exchange of blood-filled rings at marriage. Or the bizarre “your partner dies young you can never have another one. EVER” never mind there are others who have lost THEIR loves young and are now not connected to anyone.

Okay then.

Stefano took the time to create a religion about the Sky God, but it’s nothing that spectacular.

I don’t know. The whole thing just felt…off. I applaud DeStefano for not even aiming for the triangle crap that fills YA (I liked how the girls did actually love their boyfriends, that was sweet), but the conspiracy felt old hat and nothing was that surprising. People stuck in a place will try and find a way out. It’s human nature. Implying that her mom had a roll in the rebellion by drawing lightning bolts and rainbows (but Morgan not knowing what they are) felt not unlike learning what Tris’ mother did in Insurgent. There’s just no surprise there.

The book was an easy enough read, but there isn’t enough here here to make me want to check out the next one, nor her other series Wither.  Ultimately, this is just another filler entry in the overstuffed YA dystopia genre.

Verdict: Skip It. The world of Internment isn’t interesting enough to make up for the lackluster story.