Borrow it x 2 – Black Moon (Zodiac #3) & Frostblood (Frostblood Saga #1)

I’m back!

Work has settled down a ton which means the urge to read has started coming back. On top of that, I have several books on my Kindle that I’m genuinely looking forward to reading. I’m not going to commit how often I’m going to post, but when I do, I will be posting on Mondays just for sake of some kind of consistency.

That said, I’m going to start with two solid YA sci-fi/fantasy titles:

 

Black Moon is the third book of the Zodiac series, and Frost Blood is the first book in an upcoming new series. If you know how much I’ve loved the Zodiac series in the past, then you’d be shocked to find out that I actually kind of liked Frost Blood more.

I know right? Seriously?

Here’s the thing. I love the Zodiac series because in addition to some very deep world building, an intriguing plot, and a very strong heroine, Russell managed to (mostly) avoid the cliches of the genre. In Black Moon however, it’s like she’s making up for lost time. It feels like Rho spends the first half of the book mooning over the two legs of the love triangle and attending a freaking royal ball, complete with “what to wear” montage. It’s just like WHY damn it? It just felt so unnecessary! The book did finish strong, and I’ll certainly read the final book, but this was totally a stumble for me.

On the other hand, Frost Blood doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is: a piece of YA fantasy that doesn’t push any boundaries. Our heroine is as fiery as her magic. The love interest has a tragic backstory and a twist regarding his true identity. There is a prophecy. There is an evil king. It’s all tied up in in a fairly neat bow of some solid world building. It’s not fresh, but it’s fun and someone who loves the genre will find this a fun book to cozy up to.

Now, I’d still go ahead and recommend both books to someone browsing the YA section, but both also feel a little bit forgettable. Not a great way to start my year, but not a bad one either!

Verdict: Borrow Both

Available: Black Moon is out now, Frostblood bows January 10th.

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Traitor Angels – Anne Blankman

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Summary:

Six years have passed since England’s King Charles II returned from exile to reclaim the throne, ushering in a new era of stability for his subjects.

Except for Elizabeth Milton. The daughter of notorious poet John Milton, Elizabeth has never known her place in this shifting world—except by her father’s side. By day she helps transcribe his latest masterpiece, the epic poem Paradise Lost, and by night she learns languages and sword fighting. Although she does not dare object, she suspects that he’s training her for a mission whose purpose she cannot fathom.

Until one night the reason becomes clear: the king’s men arrive at her family’s country home to arrest her father. Determined to save him, Elizabeth follows his one cryptic clue and journeys to Oxford, accompanied by her father’s mysterious young houseguest, Antonio Vivani, a darkly handsome Italian scientist who surprises her at every turn. Funny, brilliant, and passionate, Antonio seems just as determined to protect her father as she is—but can she trust him with her heart?

When the two discover that Milton has planted an explosive secret in the half-finished Paradise Lost—a secret the king and his aristocratic supporters are desperate to conceal—Elizabeth is faced with a devastating choice: cling to the shelter of her old life or risk cracking the code, unleashing a secret that could save her father…and tear apart the very fabric of society.

Review:

Historical fiction is still very much a niche within YA – the closest you usually get are faux-medieval worlds and fantasies set within the Regency era – so to find something set in the 17th century and to incorporate Milton within it got me all excited.

Sadly, my excitement ended rather quickly.

First and foremost, this is yet another historical novel where the protagonist is 100% modern. She’s fluent in five languages and a competent swordsman, making her more educated than pretty much the vast majority of Europe, even the male nobility. And it hurts her to to think that her father believes that a woman’s place is subservient to her husband (you know, like every single last man – and a good majority of the women at the time believed). What makes it worse is that it all feels so arbitrary because none of her other three sisters are as educated. To be fair, one is clearly simple, but the other two? They didn’t get the same education…because? It seems like it was done out of a nod to historical accuracy, but it makes his focus on her seem all the more jarring. It stands out to only educate the one, and since it was to ensure that she would have the tools to go on this scavenger hunt later, talk about putting your eggs in one basket. What if she wasn’t the best choice of the three? And what’s worse, is that at the end of the book, she essentially gets disowned for having developed a love of learning when he encouraged it. And it’s the more ridiculous because he cites a fear of scandal, when he was convicted of plotting to kill the king. You don’t get more scandalous than that.

Speaking of ridiculous, the hunt to solve the mystery borders on that as well, with leaps of logic along the lines of Elizabeth deciding that she and Antonio are characters in this poem because the names of Adam and Eve start with A and E respectively. Seriously. And it’s all over a vial of liquid mercury? Or some kind of space elixir that can supposedly resurrect people that will result in the downfall of Europe and create a world war because it’ll destroy the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and belief in Chris. It’s just…silly.

I just couldn’t take this book seriously when the author clearly does. I suppose if you like books like The Da Vinci Code you could very well enjoy it – it’s that kind of absurdist fun – but if leaps of logic like the ones articulated above make you roll your eyes, keep looking, because once they start rolling, they’ll likely won’t stop.

Verdict: Skip it

Available Now

 

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) – Victoria Schwab

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Summary:

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from acclaimed author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books, This Savage Song is a must-have for fans of Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater, and Laini Taylor.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. In This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab creates a gritty, seething metropolis, one worthy of being compared to Gotham and to the four versions of London in her critically acclaimed fantasy for adults, A Darker Shade of Magic. Her heroes will face monsters intent on destroying them from every side—including the monsters within.

Review:

I remember requesting a DRC on a whim, not actually expecting to get approval. I got approval the same day as The Crown’s Game. And while I was excited for both, and more or less read the former the day I got the green light, I just sat on this for a while until I picked it up again today. Skipping over what I thought was a problematic prologue and going for the first chapter resulted me getting absolutely hooked. I read 65% of it on my flight home and finished the rest in the same evening because I will be honest: this book is compulsively readable. It’s a great book for when you’re looking for something truly fun to sink your teeth into.

If it I enjoyed it so much why was the prologue a problem for me?

It all comes down to Kate. Kate is the human who would be a monster to impress her father. Her father rules his half of the city mostly by fear, and she wants to be wanted by him, to be allowed to go home again and the lengths of what she’s willing to do to get there turn her pretty dark, pretty quick. It’s sympathetic in that sense of you can tell it’s a girl who just wants her only remaining parent to love her, but it’s also cold enough and hard enough that it takes a long time to reach that sympathetic point. I’m not entirely convinced that that was the POV to start out with.

Luckily, the book has an intriguing premise set in an interesting world that blissfully isn’t telling another story of teenagers improbably banding together to overthrow the tyrant/save the day or what have you. Although the book does walk some familiar paths, the story doesn’t go exactly where you expect it to, and that’s also a refreshing bonus.

If anything, my only real complaint is I would have loved to see what Schwab could have done this under her V.E. Schwab pen-name. This book is pretty dark for YA, but the premise could have gone darker still without much trouble and I would have loved really exploring it. Scwhab never really fully explores the morality at play here and she proved in Vicious especially that it’s something that she’s fantastic at.

All told, this is a return to form for me (I’m not a fan of A Darker Shade of Magic) as it shows all the hallmark originality and questionable morality that makes her stand out as an author. If you haven’t preordered this yet,  why don’t you get on that, mmkay?

Verdict: Buy It

Available: July 5

Buy It (Now!) The Crown’s Game – Evelyn Skye

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Summary:

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:

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I loved this book. Loved. This is one of the rare books that was even better than the some of the hype implied.

First off, I loved all the characters major and minor. Everyone felt distinct and fleshed out, aside from one side character none of them felt cartoonish or over the top. I especially like the balance that Skye manages to achieve with Vika and Nikolai. Both of them want to want, both of them understand that success means the chance to live and that killing their competition is the best way to do that and so they really do try. At the same point in time, they have their humanity. They’re relieved when they fail. I think a lot of authors (especially YA authors) would have fallen into the trap of having one of them be like “I’m not going to play the Game! I’m not going to kill!” and she avoided that. I also liked how she acknowledged the political tensions of the time without turning it into a story where Vika joined the rebellion. She promised to serve the Tsar, and she will. It’s refreshing.

The magic was well done – evocative and enough of a framework to know the rules they are playing by, but not over-expained. It just comes off as exquisite and exquisitely done. I found myself looking forward to each Turn to see what they’d do next.

Finally, the pacing was spot on and the three main point of views all worked well making the book come together in a real elegant way.

My quibbles were few: there was a side-story with a character introduced late in the book that I don’t think ultimately added that much to the tale and I think she could have found another way to achieve the same end result. There was also a revelation at the end of the book straight out of the Book of YA Tropes that felt pointless. Really though, these were small and neither detracted anywhere near enough to consider not recommending this book.

This is a wonderful bit of fantasy that you should check out without second thought. Evelyn Skye is running a pre-order campaign that you can check out here if that’s your game. When I wrote this review, Amazon had it for $11.09, an absolute bargain, so go forth and pre-order!

Verdict: Buy It

Available: May 17th

 

Buy It: The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) – Alison Goodman

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Summary:

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

Review:

The Dark Days Club immediately got off to a good start by me for one very simple reason: Lady Helen liked being in Society. This is the first time in ages that I’ve picked up a YA historical fantasy and not have a girl bemoan her good luck at being born into the upper classes of Regency England. Rarely this desire is genuinely plot driven, but generally it seems to be more symptomatic of a modern writer imposing our modern views on a decidedly not modern time. Aside from the fact that marriage realistically was it for women back then, the truth was a lot of women look forward to getting married because the apron strings loosened and pressures eased. Once you were married, you had freedoms that you never had before (freedoms that even spinsters didn’t really get) and so it wasn’t so much a thing to look down on as a think to look forward to (albeit with trepidation in the event that you don’t like your intended, but that’s another story). But yeah, long story short: a heroine who likes who she is and where she is so much that down the road she considers giving up her family’s legacy to go back to it is genuinely refreshing. So well done there.

But I wouldn’t recommend it just for that, however. I like the character of Helen. She’s bright and curious, but not overly done (again, women of this time period weren’t all that well educated), she’s likable, not overly headstrong and she weighs the pros and cons before she makes a decision.

In short: she’s a character that feels strong but still of the time period and I really like that.

I also really liked the pacing of this book. Information was doled out at a great pace. Not so fast as to feel rushed or like an information dump and not so slow that you’re all but flipping pages waiting for something to happen. The story itself is interesting, I like that the legacy she wields has some rather nasty consequences and there’s even a nice bit of budding romance that I find rather believable.

All told, if you like YA fantasy, give this a look. You should enjoy yourself.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Seven Black Diamonds – Melissa Marr

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Summary:

This riveting fantasy marks Melissa Marr’s return to the world of faery courts that made her Wicked Lovely series an international phenomenon.

Lilywhite Abernathy is a criminal—she’s half human, half fae, and since the time before she was born, a war has been raging between humans and faeries. The Queen of Blood and Rage, ruler of the fae courts, wants to avenge the tragic death of her heir due to the actions of reckless humans.

Lily’s father has always shielded her, but when she’s sent to the prestigious St. Columba’s school, she’s delivered straight into the arms of a fae sleeper cell—the Black Diamonds. The Diamonds are planted in the human world as the sons and daughters of the most influential families and tasked with destroying it from within. Against her will, Lilywhite’s been chosen to join them…and even the romantic attention of the fae rock singer Creed Morrison isn’t enough to keep Lily from wanting to run back to the familiar world she knows.

Melissa Marr returns to faery in a dramatic story of the precarious space between two worlds and the people who must thrive there. The combination of ethereal fae powers, tumultuous romance, and a bloodthirsty faery queen will have longtime fans and new readers at the edge of their seats.

Review:

You know. This isn’t a bad book. It’s a bland book.

The Queen of Blood and Rage is an Evil Queen because actions in the first chapter of the book tell us soon. The Black Diamonds are killers/terrorists against the humans because we are introduced to two of them in media res of a mission. Lilywhite is…well, that’s a spoiler but I imagine most people will figure out who Lilywhite is within a few chapters.

But really though? This book is all talk.

Talk. Talk. Talk. A few comments about “toxins” and how the humans have ruined the earth (for a world that is supposedly in some kind of post-Apocalypse you really can’t tell) and talk.

The Seven Black Diamonds never go on any missions together. Backstory is conveniently dumped upon us in the form of a letter and action towards the end of the book is pretty predictable for this sort of thing.

I also feel like there’s just not much character development. The biggest defining characteristic of any of them is that Lilywhite has these rules that she likes to chant that remind me of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition only they seem more like mantras than anything a criminal family would actually live by (I don’t think criminal bosses would really think that choices matter). For that matter, I’m still not sure why she had to the daughter of a crime boss. She could have been a more general socialite and it wouldn’t have had much of a change on the story.

I don’t know. It’s better than most YA faery stuff I’ve read, but I would still recommend Thorn Jack over this in a heartbeat if age-level didn’t matter to you. Ultimately, this book was good enough to keep me going to the end, and I did read it in a day, but it’s the very definition of a forgettable tale.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: March 1

Sword and Verse (Sword and Verse #1) – Kathy McMillan

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Summary:

Raisa was only a child when she was kidnapped and enslaved in Qilara. Forced to serve in the palace of the King, she’s endured hunger, abuse, and the harrowing fear of discovery. Everyone knows that Raisa is Arnath, but not that she is a Learned One, a part of an Arnath group educated in higher order symbols. In Qilara, this language is so fiercely protected that only the King, the Prince, and Tutors are allowed to know it. So when the current Tutor-in-training is executed for sharing the guarded language with slaves and Raisa is chosen to replace her, Raisa knows that, although she may have a privileged position among slaves, any slipup could mean death.

That would be challenging enough, but training alongside Prince Mati could be her real undoing. And when a romance blossoms between them, she’s suddenly filled with a dangerous hope for something she never before thought possible: more. Then she’s approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slaves—to help liberate the Arnath people. Joining the Resistance could mean freeing her people…but she’d also be aiding in the war against her beloved, an honorable man she knows wants to help the slaves.

Working against the one she loves—and a palace full of deadly political renegades—has some heady consequences. As Raisa struggles with what’s right, she unwittingly uncovers a secret that the Qilarites have long since buried…one that, unlocked, could bring the current world order to its knees.

And Raisa is the one holding the key.

Review:

So have you read the book about the slave girl in the palace convinced to use her position to help out a rebellion?

Oh. You have?

But wait! She’s having an affair with/is in love with the Prince! And the Prince really wants to abolish slavery but his father doesn’t agree!

That too?

Yeah. You’ve probably read some variation of this book before, but I will say that this is a pretty good example of the genre. I don’t really have much to say about this book other than the sudden and huge occurrence of magic towards the very end feels very out of nowhere(not to mention a wee bit messianic) and the ending is painfully corny with a hint of kumbaya going on, though not out of place for the genre.

All told, if you like this kind of book, you’ll probably enjoy this book. There’s just not much more to be said.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now