Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns – Rae Carson

10429092eBook purchased by me.

Summary:

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

Review:

I suppose the easiest way to start this review is to look at one of this books most divisive elements: her weight and her weight loss.

On the one hand, it’s nice to see plus-sized protagonists. They just don’t happen in YA. It’s also nice to see what she does lose weight, it’s because she marched three weeks in the desert, and not due to any kind of magic – paranormal romance is particularly guilty of weight-loss via wishes/deals with devils.

On the other hand, while she’s heavy, she’s painted as an unhappy girl with an emotional eating problem. But when she loses the weight all those problems (and her emotional eating) just poof…disappear. Like, Carson goes out of her way to point out she’s not eating past the point when she’s full now. I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works. Increased confidence is fine, but struggles with emotional eating tend to STAY struggles. They really don’t disappear like that and it ultimately makes the book feel like it has a bit of a “just lose weight and all your problems go away” message that not only isn’t true, but also be hurtful to teen girls who are struggling with weight issues. I haven’t even mentioned how in her post-weight-loss state she’s also suddenly completely pro-exercise, at one point jogging outside her carriage and wondering how she ever preferred a carriage to just walking/jogging which is also kind of eye-roll inducing.

Finally, my biggest problem is: why does she bother in the first place? After she loses the weight, almost all of these issues are dropped, leaving it as a kind of Princess Diaries-esque transformation and begins her transition to a fairly typical and trope-y YA fantasy heroine. I don’t feel this was handled well enough to have been included, and would have rather seen it left out.

So yeah. Props for not making her super skinny, but no one should be holding up this book as an example of a pro-size-acceptance book either.

Even outside of that – and I will say that I didn’t find it a book breaker as just something generally problematic – there are other issues with the character. Elisa is another YA heroine in the long line of girls who are completely unprepared to step up and take control do so in ways that are hard to buy into. She’s had no military training outside of a single book (think of the Art of War) she is thinking of all these ways to lead an insurgency. At the beginning of the book she’s sickened by the thought of killing a man, and by the end of the book she’s literally can’t wait to do so. It’s the usual questionably believable stuff.

From a world-building perspective, I like that this is a Spanish-influenced secondary world because it’s not something seen that often in fantasy. On the flip side, the religion is VERY vague, and if she didn’t lean enough of Catholic influences we probably wouldn’t know much of anything. Like, why does this God choose a bearer and why exactly do they have such direct links to their God – the Godstone seems to react to every prayer of hers. Why can the enemy do magic with these stones and no one else can. Is everyone else so God-fearing that they never even tried? These questions make the ending pretty ludicrous, with her literally praying to save the day. I admit it, the actions leading up to that prayer actually made me laugh out loud (seriously visualize it and it tell me you took it seriously) and the amount of power she was able to produce made me wonder if she’s mean to be this God reborn.

Let’s be clear, it’s still a quick and easy read and is hardly the worst YA fantasy I’ve ever read. That said, the underdevelopment of the religious aspects are a detriment to this book and if someone is going to read a more generic YA title, I’d rather read one where things like weight issues are handled with more delicacy and not just a stopover on the way to the Pretty YA Heroine station.

Verdict: Skip It

 

ARC Review: The Last Changeling – Chelsea Pitcher

cover48549-mediumeARC provided through NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Elora, the young princess of the Dark Faeries, plans to overthrow her tyrannical mother, the Dark Queen, and bring equality to faeriekind. All she has to do is convince her mother’s loathed enemy, the Bright Queen, to join her cause. But the Bright Queen demands an offering first: a human boy who is a “young leader of men.”

A Dark Princess In Disguise . . .

To steal a mortal, Elora must become a mortal—at least, by all appearances. And infiltrating a high school is surprisingly easy. When Elora meets Taylor, the seventeen-year-old who’s plotting to overthrow a ruthless bully, she thinks she’s found her offering . . . until she starts to fall in love.

Review:

I don’t know how else to break this to you, so I shall be blunt.

The Last Changeling is not a faerie tale.

Oh, certainly Elora is a faerie (though, I would note that she is not a changeling – a glamor is not the same thing. For changelings and faery see Cargill’s Dreams and Shadows) and she does tell a tale of the faery in this story, but only in the last 20% of the book does anything related to the faery become relevant at all. As the book starts with Elora already out in the mortal world, we never spend time with the fae proper. Heck, when the fae do come to play in the last bit of the book, it’s in the mortal realm. Someone looking for a YA story about the Dark Court is going to be disappointed, because everything we learn about the courts are told in long exposition sequences, in the form of a story that Elora is telling Taylor. It’s the very definition of tell, not show and the book would have benefited tremendously from starting the book in the faery realm and then moving it to the mortal. By doing so, Elora’s fight would have picked up a much greater sense of urgency and you’d been more vested in the fight. By having it all explained as a story, the reader remains detached. All told, with not a lot of editing, you could excise the the faery elements and be left with a contemporary story.

So how does the contemporary story hold up?

Not that well.

Everyone at this school comes off as one dimensional. The bully is Evil. The outcast girl is a vegan goth. There’s heavy handedness surrounding discrimination towards the LGBT community – the bully gets his parents and the parents of the rich kids to call and convince the principal that the prom should be for “traditional” couples only because Taylor joined the Gay-Straight alliance. This is after the bully more or less forced Taylor to resign by having him and the other kids insinuate that he was touching them – and the obviously homophobic coach buying into it. It already feels dated and lacks any subtlety, especially for a book coming out in a time when gay marriage bans are falling left and right. Things are far from perfect for LGBT kids in high school, it’d been nice if a more delicate hand had been taken and some nuance let into the story.

As for Taylor and Elora? Eh. They’re there. There are hints of an interesting backstory with Taylor – but they’re never fully developed. Elora’s backstory, as I mentioned, is all told in flashback, and she never comes off as strange enough to believe that she never lived amongst humans. She just comes off as a little strange, but not alien, which is what she should have.

All told, while the book is technically proficient, there’s just not much there to recommend it. It’s clear that this book wanted to be a YA romance with some fantastic elements. But with the fantasy elements lacking and the romance not feeling that romantic, the whole book just feels disappointing. I’m sure there’s some good faery-centric stories for the YA crowd, but unfortunately, this isn’t it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: November 8th

Review: The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy #1) – Charlie N. Holmberg

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copy provided through Net Galley in exchange for review

Summary:

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.

Review:

Amazon is pushing the heck out of this book. I’ve seen it on Amazon. On Book Gorilla. Heck, it’s even been featured as an ad on my Kindle. It’s everywhere.  So when another blogger alerted me to the fact that this, and it’s sequel The Glass Magician were available on Net Galley, I decided to give it a go.

And the verdict?

I’m….kind of confused, actually.

On the hand, Ceony is definitely are narrator. We see the world through her eyes and interpret events through her reactions. And yet, this really doesn’t feel like Ceony’s story; for when she goes into Thane’s heart, we spend the bulk of the book learning about Thane. By the end we have learned so much more about Thane than we have Ceony, so much so that the most glimpses of her full self are only revealed towards the end. It’s a shame too, because her backstory suggests that there could be some real interest there, if only the author had taken the time to develop it.

Speaking of development, the magic system, while intriguing on it’s face – a magician binds to one Material and that’s all they can work with it- is critically lacking. Basically what I just told you is about all we’re ever of the system. Supposedly Folding is weak, and yet Thane has a working life-size glider in his attic. He can turn paper into dogs and skeletons and bombs. How did the other Folders not be able to something like this? Were they lacking? Was the knowledge lost? Was Thane that much a genius? Could an Excisioner really trap someone in a heart? Are they necromancers if they can heal? There are so many questions that ultimately the magic feels convenient, that the author left it so broad that she could do whatever the story needs (that glider, for example, was very plot convenient) without issue. It’s frustrating too, because it’s such a great concept that I hate seeing it not brought fully to life.

I enjoyed reading this book, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least a little lacking. Some rounding out of Ceony and the magic system would have done wonders to push this to the next step, because there are definitely some good bones here.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

Review: A Taste of Blood Wine (Blood Wine #1) – Freda Warrington

17262686eBook purchased by me

Summary:

1918. A First World War battlefield becomes the cosmic battleground for two vampires, as Karl von Wultendorf struggles to free himself from his domineering maker, Kristian.

1923. Charlotte Neville watches as her father, a Cambridge professor, fills Parkland Hall with guests for her sister Madeleine’s 18th birthday party. Among them is his handsome new research assistant Karl – the man Madeleine has instantly decided will be her husband. Charlotte, shy and retiring, is happy to devote her life to her father and her dull fiance Henry – until she sees Karl …

For Charlotte, it is the beginning of a deadly obsession that sunders her from her sisters, her father and even her dearest friend.  As their feverish passion grows, Karl faces the dilemma he fears the most.  Only by deserting Charlotte can his passion for her blood be conquered. Only by betraying her can he protect her from the terrifying attentions of Kristian – for Kristian has decided to teach Karl a lesson in power, by devouring Charlotte.

Review:

It’s interesting to read A Taste of Blood Wine. Originally published in 1992, this series may have fallen out of print, but it gained such a loyal following that in 2013 the books began to be reissued and a new fourth book is set to be released in 2015 – nearly 20 years after the The Dark Blood of Poppies. This book is interesting because you can both see the past and the future of vampire novels contained within one text.

To look behind it is to see the very obvious influence of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire – there is an unmistakable air of Karl being Louis to Kristian’s Lestat. To look to the future is to see traces of The Vampire Diaries, even though technically the first of that series came out the year before in 1991. There’s a Stefan, a Niklas, a Katerina. There are Dopplegangers. They daywalk. It apparently is coincidence, but one that is hard to not marvel at regardless.

At its core though, A Taste of Blood Wine is very much vampire fiction in that classic gothic horror sense. Our introduction to Karl is built up slowly, Charlotte falls ill early on and you can’t help wonder if it is true illness or whether she was fed upon. There is a sense of constant unease throughout the early phases of the book as you get that tug of how much of these girls feelings are real, and how much have they succumb to the sway of Karl’s powers? There’s also a nice air of tragedy to the whole sense, that their romance is doomed as it must be. Even when the inevitable happens, you still wonder how much happiness they can be afforded in the long run.

As for the vampires themselves, I like them. It’s a rather modern take on the species: they can walk in the day, they can attend church, touch crosses/crucifixes, silver does not harm them and the like. What differentiates itself from most other vampire fiction is the notion of the Crystal Ring; this layer above the earth that the vampires can enter and exit to travel the world faster. It is a place they can seek solace and rest from the world below, and if they are not careful, it is a place where they can get trapped and slip into a coma that is as close to death as they can get.

If there is anything I’m not totally sold on, it’s how the Dopplegangers are created. It feels a bit of a stretch. That said, she does balance it with a rather striking weakness, so I think it winds up being a fair trade off.

All told, I can see why Warrington would develop a fanbase. This was atmospheric and lovely and felt like a lush old-school vampire novel that happens to weave in a tale of a girl, her genteel family and basically her fight to find her happiness, no matter how unconventional it may seem.

If you’re a fan of the genre, you owe yourself to check this out.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Review: Clariel (Abhorsen #4) – Garth Nix

20662728ARC received in giveaway.

Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilip. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.

With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her – and it is herself she must question most of all.

Review:

I will state here and now that I have no prior history with Garth Nix. I somehow didn’t hear about Sabriel back in its initial release in 1995 and by the time the other Abhorsen books came out, I was in college and not really reading anything at that point. Even when I started up with this blog I just never really heard about him. So how did I come to read the 4th book in a 20-year old series, especially since I just got the first book the other day?

1. This just came out two days ago.

2. This is a prequel.

You know me, I’m of the mind that prequels should be accessible to a new audience, and this definitely was. Nix does an excellent job of letting you know what you need to know in a gradual manner. Never once does it feel like an information dump, and he certainly doesn’t leave you to fend for yourself. An author’s note at the end of the book does point out the connection to the main trilogy: it’s there, but it’s loose, it’s a good compromise for what he’s trying to do.

I really like this world that Nix has built. The systems of Charter Magic and Free Magic are both interesting in their own right, and there seems to be quite a bit of depth it – it’s something I look forward to exploring in the other books. Fans of well-thought out magic systems will definitely want to give this a look.

I also have to say that I was rather impressed by Clariel. I fully admit: I didn’t like her at first, but she grew on me. And best of all, she manages to eschew all the major YA tropes, even to the point where she’s actually asexual. You almost never see it in adult fantasy, but in young adult? Damn. The character does come across as a bit unlikable at first -a bit of a brat really – but as you begin to understand why she feels the way she does, you begin to forgive her for those tendencies. It’s almost like a compulsion she just can’t escape. Her story is also ultimately rather tragic. There is no happy ending here, and I can’t even say that it’s optimistic. Talk about something else you don’t see in YA.

At the end of the day, this is one of those books that’s both an absolute breath of fresh air for genre YA, but like the best YA books, ultimately doesn’t really fit the YA label at all. If she weren’t sixteen, I don’t think people would be calling this YA. It feels rich enough and complex enough to transcend its genre and honestly, I feel like that’s the best praise I can give any YA book. In a year where I felt the genre was unabashedly weak, this was definitely a bit of fresh air and it’s going to end up on my best of list. There’s just not enough traditional fantasy done right in this genre.

Verdict: Buy it.

Available: Now (as a side note: Sabriel is currently available on Kindle for $1.99 if you do want to read chronologically!)

Review: Death Sworn – Leah Cypress

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Summary:

When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world

Review:

If there’s any trends for me in 2014 it’s that I’ve definitely lost a lot of love for genre YA – although I’m still reading roughly equal amounts of young adult to adult (albeit less so recently) when I look at my tentative list of best books of 2014, only a quarter of the titles there can be considered YA. So what’s with the disconnect?

Death Sworn is a great representation why attitude has shifted so much in this past year: there’s a glimmer of a great idea here, but it’s buried beneath slow (and weak) character development and it tries to push a romance upon us, even though there’s practically no chemistry between the intended couple. In other words: squandered potential.

The biggest weakness of the book is Ileni herself. On the one hand, she keeps walking around going “I can’t use my magic, lest I run out” and then two seconds later casting a spell that drains her even more. When she isn’t doing that, she’s complaining about how wrong it is for assassins to kill..never mind she’s in a camp full of them complaining to one of them. By the end of the book she does start to show some potential, but it’s a shame she spent so long in this state. Towards the end a plot of unraveled that is actually rather intriguing, especially the use of the kids in the plot. It’s the only reason to finish the duology.

Yep. Duology. Not a trilogy. Not an open ended series. Nice change! Anyway, there is a second and final book due out next March, and I do have an ARC of it – you’ll see a review of it much closer to publication.  Overall though, this book was eh. It was par for the YA course. Take that for what you will.

Verdict: Borrow it

ARC Review – The Curse Merchant – J.P. Sloan

22621765eARC received in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Dorian Lake spent years cornering the Baltimore hex-crafting market, using his skills at the hermetic arts to exact karmic justice for those whom the system has failed. He keeps his magic clean and free of soul-corrupting Netherwork, thus avoiding both the karmic blow-back of his practice and the notice of the Presidium, a powerful cabal of practitioners that polices the esoteric arts in America. However, when an unscrupulous Netherworker interferes with both his business and his personal life, Dorian’s disarming charisma and hermetic savvy may not be enough to keep his soul out of jeopardy.

His rival, a soul monger named Neil Osterhaus, wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for Carmen, Dorian’s captivating ex-lover. After two years’ absence Carmen arrives at Dorian’s doorstep with a problem: she sold her soul to Osterhaus, and has only two weeks to buy it back. Hoping to win back Carmen’s affections, Dorian must find a replacement soul without tainting his own. As Dorian descends into the shadows of Baltimore’s underworld, he must decide how low he is willing to stoop in order to save Carmen from eternal damnation… with the Presidium watching, waiting for him to cross the line.

Review:

Character counts.

If it sounds like I’ve been harping on this concept for my past few reviews, it’s because yet again, I have another book that proves just how important character development really is. When I started this book, it didn’t quite grab me, the story wasn’t quite there. I kept reading though, and then all of the sudden I was hooked. And I had Dorian to thank for it. Dorian is the heart and soul and glue that holds this book together. He’s a good guy, trying to keep his head above water. As it becomes harder and harder for him to do so, he does things he never thought he’d do before and sacrifices so much for something that he didn’t have to allow himself to get so vested in. You want to see him succeed, not because you care about who he’s acting on behalf of, but because you genuinely like him. He has his back up against a metaphorical wall by the end of the book and you finish it hoping that he can find a way out. Dorian’s voice here is key: he carries the air of a world-weary PI, without quite falling into the tropes. He can be confident and even a bit cocky, but Sloan manages to avoid making him too arrogant or smug or otherwise unlikable. It also helps that Dorian is surrounded by a cast of likable friends and enemies. The one shortfall I would say is his ex Carmen who toes the line of just being a flat out bitch and a twist regarding her story was predictable and kind of disappointing.

On the magic front, I do wish we saw a bit more. We do get some basics laid out for us, but given how important it winds up being to resolving the central resolution of the plot, it felt like a lot of done was off-page and that’s always a bit annoying to me since it does feel like a cheat and because I think he’s got something interesting going on there. I’d also like to see more of the Presidium. Thanks to his narration, we get the vibe that they’re supposed to be kind of a Big Bad – remind me of the Authority on True Blood: a group that not only rules the vampires, but gaining their attention is all but a death sentence – but they didn’t do enough to make me believe that. A bit too much tell over show.

Over all, I thought this felt like a solid introduction to a good Urban Fantasy series. There’s definitely plenty of room for a sequel based on how the story ended, and from what I can glean from his Twitter feed he is writing. That said, this was originally published in 2012, and re-released by Curiosity Quills in September 2014. The only other title I could find was a prequel short story published in 2013 by Smashwords and set to be re-released by Curiosity Quills “soon.” Goodreads doesn’t have the book listed under any kind of series (though the website does call it the “Dark Choir” series), and I find nothing that indicates the release of a sequel any time in the near future. If you’re the kind that likes to wait to have series be finished (or at least realistic expectations for when the next book will come out) you may want to keep waiting because it may be a long one. Shame too, because I’m definitely vested in Dorian’s future.

Edited to Add: Good news! The publisher has confirmed there is a sequel coming – tentative release date of Spring/Summer 2015. That’s not a bad wait after all! Read away, folks.

Verdict: Buy it

Available Now