[Heir of Fire: Throne of Glass III] Sarah J. Maas

Spoilers for Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight are below.

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Celaena is broken. Broken for the second time by a death she couldn’t prevent, she flees Adarlan and lands in Wendlyn, where Fae still live. There she languishes, unable to pull herself out of the pit she has found herself in. When a Fae male finds her in an alleyway, Celaena can no longer hide. Although she’s barely able to hold herself together, Celaena must address the many things she’s been running from–and figure out who she really is and who she wants to be when she comes out on the other side. If she comes out on the other side.

Something that Heir of Fire does extremely well is addressing the anger and sadness that you feel after the death of someone you love. Celaena is a fictional character, but art often reflects life. And life has loss. I thought that the way Maas wrote what Celaena was going through was incredible. The feeling of being lost, of being dead inside and having no will to move on…it was completely empathetic and resonated with me emotionally. There are times when you have to close yourself off completely and feel nothing or else you will shatter.

When she first meets Rowan, the Fae male who has been sent to find her for training, he is this hard character who has little sympathy for Celaena, who he views as a spoiled brat. She is unable to tell him exactly why she is so angry and sad all the time because she hasn’t come to terms with it herself. It is only when she is able to express this loss that he is shown as softer. Out of all the Fae and demi-Fae around them, he is someone who can truly understand what she is going through.

The rough start to their friendship is the reason that I loved Rowan as a character so much. He is so multi-faceted that it reflects back to Celaena and allows her to grow in ways that hadn’t been addressed in the first two novels. His rough yet kind attitude allows her to come to terms with the things she has been running from for nearly half of her life. She in turn helps him.

They’ve both had loss in their lives. It’s very easy to blame yourself for things you can’t control and they’ve both had this shadow over them. I loved reading how they related to each other and worked through their guilt, forgiveness, and understanding together. He is definitely my favorite character (sorry Chaol!). I’m intrigued to see how their friendship progresses in the next novels, especially with the little moments where I felt like there was something more there.

While I loved that a huge chunk of this novel was not occurring in Adarlan because it was nice to see another part of this world that had only been mentioned before, Dorian and Chaol are still in Rifthold. While there was the emotional tension in the scenes with Celaena, Chaol, and the Fae Queen, the tension I felt while reading about the events in Rifthold were of a different sort. The build-up to the climax of the novel was amazing. I felt lingering worry and the feeling that something bad was going to happen for the entirety of those scenes. Coupled with the beautifully written moments of Celaena learning how to forgive herself and coming into her heritage, this makes Heir of Fire my favorite book of the series, even after reading the next two books in the series.

Maas has a real talent in plotting out series and individual books. I was really able to see how things that were mentioned in the first two books came into the third one. The writing continues to be engaging and Heir of Fire definitely made me appreciate the series. There are connections that make sense now that the story has advanced to this point. I think that it’s helpful to read them successively because they do end on fairly intense cliff-hangers. I think that all of the talent that Maas demonstrated in the first two books (more the second than the first) finally culminated into an explosive middle book.

I’d like to end again with how much I loved Celaena in this book. She didn’t seem like herself because she wasn’t herself. Celaena lost who she was. She really struggled with the horrible things that had happened to her, her friends, and her family, and I thought that Maas did a great job of conveying this. I liked that Celaena was angry. She had a right to be angry. But she slowly found a way to keep that anger from controlling her. Celaena’s character progression in this book was my favorite thing about it and a  big reason why I liked it so much.

This book cemented the series as a favorite for me. I really love the inner and outer conflict and how it all is coming together.  I recommend this series for those who like fantasy and heroines and characters who are flawed but relateable.

5 stars.

[Crown of Midnight: Throne of Glass II] Sarah J. Maas

Just in case there are people who haven’t read Throne of Glass reading this review (I was one of you not long ago), this review has potential spoilers for Throne of Glass. There’s also a very, very light (and not specific) spoiler for Crown of Midnight, but since it’s already been mentioned in the official summary of the book, I think it’s okay to mention it in my review. Just a warning!

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I really hate when the summary of the book gives away too much the way it does for Crown of Midnight. There are some things I wish had been kept from the reader because I wouldn’t have been aware of it coming up and the impact would have been greater. Anyway. Review time.

Crown of Midnight is the second novel in the Throne of Glass series. Now the King’s Champion and assassin, Celaena is counting down the days to her true freedom–when she can leave Adarlan and disappear into the forests and mountains far away. So for now she bides her time, killing at the King’s whim and trying not to lose herself in the process. Celaena, however, has a secret–one that she hides from the King and hides from her friends. And when there are secrets, it’s only a matter of time before they come out. And she’s not the only one keeping them.

I was actually really impressed with how there was a sharp increase in talent in the writing of this one compared to Throne of Glass. Had that not happened, I would not have continued the series. So really good job, Sarah J. Maas, at getting someone who didn’t like your first book into liking and wanting to continue the rest of your series due to the second. The style became less telling and I was more invested in the characters as things were revealed about them slowly. It helped too, that the focus wasn’t on a competition (but the true focus was actually on the shoddy love triangle and obsessive vanity of Celaena) the way it was in Throne of Glass. The writing style was so much better, which translated to the plot, pacing, characterization, and setting being well-thought out and engaging. I almost couldn’t believe that this was the same series, it was such a change. A good change.

I loved how the friendship between Nehemia and Celaena grew and changed in this book. Sometimes they didn’t get along, which only made me enjoy their friendship more because it was something that was realistic. Everything wasn’t rosy and sometimes they couldn’t take back the things they said, only heal over them. The relationships between Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol changed as well. At times there were tensions between the three of them, which made for some interesting interactions. As is the point of love triangles, I favored one pairing over the other. I also feel like the writing was pointedly directing us toward this pairing, which made me feel like the other pairing was kind of a waste of time and pages. Fortunately, it wasn’t that big of a problem for me. Even though there was romance and a light love triangle, I felt that the focus still remained on Celaena and her story rather than the romantic relationship between the characters. I was glad the focus was not on that. Romantic or not, I really appreciated the way that the relationships where written in this book.

As I mentioned before, the book kind of shot itself in the foot when the summary basically destroyed any chance it had at a shocking moment. There was tension, yes, but once I realized who was safe it was obvious who was not. Any impact it had was kind of lost because I felt very bored while reading about Celaena’s flight to stop it. Getting away from that, there are other secrets in this book that are not ruined beforehand. Granted, they had been heavily hinted at earlier, both in this book and in Throne of Glass, so I already had my expectations. I did like how it was revealed and how it sets up the rest of the series, especially when Celaena’s personal life was left hanging at the end of Crown of Midnight.

It’s not often that I continue onto a second book after not liking the first one, but I am glad that I listened to the advice of other readers about this being a series worth continuing. Of course, I still have an issue with the fact that I have to finish two books in order to see what the series is really about, because this should be given to readers in the first book. This is probably the last time I’ll bring that up, but I think it is a true issue and deterrent to this series that other readers have. If you are willing to make it through that first book, however, the series becomes something that I’m really excited to continue reading.

4 stars.

I received this book from Tessa for a Book of the Month club.

[Throne of Glass] Sarah J. Maas

 

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Throne of Glass is the first novel in a series about Celaena Sardothien, an assassin who has been toiling in the slave mines of Endovier for a year when she is suddenly released under one condition: she must fight in a competition to be the King’s Champion. Only then will she win her freedom. As Adarlan’s Assassin, she strikes fear into the hearts of people who know her name; as Celaena, she’s only a girl to the men in the competition and easily brushed aside. As the competition continues, Celaena proves that she’s not easily ignored, but soon that’s the least of their worries. Something is killing the competitors–and it’s only a matter of time before it comes for her.

If you only read the synopsis of the novel, it sounds pretty good. It’s only when you open the pages and read the first few chapters that you realize it’s not that great. This novel came out a few years ago when I was still working at a bookstore, and I remember picking it up and dismissing it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy. That opinion held true to some extent. I still read through this book because I’d heard from several reviewers that I follow that this is one of their favorite series and that subsequent books are far better. This meant that as much as this book was overwhelmingly meh to me, I had to read it to see if the series is as good as everyone says.

That said, there were things that I did really like about this book. The idea of a female assassin was great, if poorly executed. I just didn’t believe that Celaena was that horrifying assassin. She focused entirely too much on sweets and outfits. There were more descriptions of the intricacies of Celaena’s outfits rather than her actions in this competition. That is what I was interested in. It made Celaena’s vanity–and frankly, stupidity–the focus of her character rather than her supposed talents of assassination. I do like that she is vain because it is a strange flaw for an assassin to have, but it became too much when I was looking for other aspects of her personality to shine through. I just didn’t buy that she was this feared assassin, even if she couldn’t come out and say it. However, I do think that it showed her age. She was vain and childish because she is a young character. It’s just too bad that I didn’t feel that I saw much of her mature side.

I loved that Nehemia existed as a friend that she could trust and that it wasn’t one of those fake, catty friendships that I really dislike. Nehemia was a character who was intelligent and interesting. She was trapped in the Glass Palace just as much as Celaena was, but in a different capacity. I loved reading how their relationship blossomed throughout the events of the story. It took the focus off of Celaena and opened the story up into something bigger than just this competition. Their friendship is something that I looked forward to reading.

Unfortunately, the big things that annoyed me were also the big things that make a book work–or not work. I felt that while the book was very readable and made for a quick read, the plot didn’t really stand out and was kind of standard. It felt rushed and very basic. I struggled to figure out what was going on in action scenes because they weren’t always written very clearly. Another thing that made it hard to figure out what was going on was the lack of action tags around dialogue. That works during an intense scene because it makes you read faster, but when I found myself reading huge walls of dialogue-text I was frustrated by the lack of feeling behind it. How were the characters standing? What did they look like when they delievered their lines? Were they acting a certain way in addition to their tense words? I wanted more.

I did make my way through the book very quickly because there were elements I was curious about and wanted to see through to the end, but I found it overwhelmingly mediocre, to be honest. There just wasn’t that oomph that really drags me into a story and the world presented within in Throne of Glass. So this book becomes an exception to my rule of not finishing series if the first book doesn’t keep me interested. Had I not known that many reviewers find this to be one of their favorite series and that it gets better after the first novel, I would never have continued this novel. There is a benefit to waiting years to start a series, and I’m glad that I’m starting at a point when there’s five books published. I’m able to see what this series is all about in a short amount of time.

2 stars.

I received this book from Tessa for a Book of the Month club.

[Dreamwielder] Garrett Calcaterra

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I'm pretty interested in getting into this one. We'll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

Dreamwielder started in the middle of the action, set in a world that had already been conquered and one where magic is outlawed. I love that that it started in the middle, because we’re thrown into a world that is dealing with the aftermath of this–dealing with the aftermath of wars, usurpations, and failed rebellions–but that is not the entire focus of the novel. We meet Makarria, a girl who has strange power in her dreams, as one of the people trying to eke out a life with her family. Far from the Emperor’s realm, Makarria believes that life is only about the small farmstead by the sea. Forbidden to dream by her parents, Makarria does her best to obey. When her dreams create something that put her on the Emperor’s map, she flees and begins to understand that her life is not as simple as she had thought. With a well-written cast of characters, Dreamwielder surpassed my expectations of what sort of fantasy novel this was.

I was really impressed with the characters in this. Divided between several characters of different backgrounds, Garrett Calcaterra blended each of their stories and lives into a cohesive narrative that I loved. It was a little slow at first because of the world-building, but as the world and characters built, I eventually couldn’t wait to see what Calcaterra came up with next. The cast was diverse in age, so that meant that their experiences were all different. I wasn’t treated to a book with characters that were so similar they may as well have been one. One of them was a prince who was a hostage–my particular favorite because he had no magic in this world of magic. I liked reading how he coped with having a sister who had visions and dealt with being a protector who had no powers other than his own fighting talent. On the opposite side of that was Makarria, a girl who had lost her family and was slowly discovering just what her talents could do. All of the characters were strong, and I appreciated that the female characters didn’t wait around to be rescued. I liked that they surprised the male characters with their actions.

I also enjoyed that there were secrets surrounding the characters and they were often unaware of these secrets themselves. I like when the author treats the reader to a little more information than what the characters know, because it’s fun to read how they’re revealed to the characters. Reading as their paths got closer together made for some exciting reading.

Although Dreamwielder has the potential to be entirely full of clichés, it’s well-written enough that you hardly notice there are even clichés. Dreamwielder begins with an idea of a series of kingdoms under siege and in a hostage situation. A ruler has come in and conquered these kingdoms but allows them to still have agency in their own cities, provided they send an heir to be held hostage at another location. There’s a focus on the political and the tensions that come with that, but that focus is also wrapped up in magic. Originally, the kingdoms were full of sorcerers who wielded magic for the good of their kingdoms. When the conqueror came in, he killed many of those who had magic and others went into hiding. It’s kind of like a young adult Game of Thrones, but done in a way where you don’t have the potential to mix up the vast cast of characters.

My favorite aspect of this novel was how magic was pitted against the mechanical. Magic is in the past and is viewed by the Emperor and his supporters as something that stands in the way of progress. By vilifying it, the Emperor maintains his control over the world. The repercussions of having it or protecting it are so severe that people are willing to turn in their neighbors in order to protect themselves. It’s entirely a way to keep people from rebelling. The Emperor’s home city is vastly different than that of the formerly magical cities. I really liked reading the industrial parts of it, because it was so different.

The world created in Dreamwielder is similar to other fantasy stories, but because of the strong characters and clear writing, it ended up being more than just another young adult fantasy novel. I wasn’t disappointed in how the book was divided between several characters because all of their smaller stories made up the whole.  I was really interested in dreaming as a power and am interested in seeing how Makarria grows in the next novel. I recommend it for readers who like fantasy, magic, and the threat of overlords.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Dreamwielder from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Dreamwielder was published September 29th, 2015.

[The Raven King: The Raven Cycle IV] Maggie Stiefvater 

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This is it. The final book of The Raven CycleThe Raven King finishes what was started in The Raven Boys. Finally on the last legs of their quest, Gansey hurtles toward Glendower as Blue tries desperately to think of a way to free him from the future that she knows is coming sooner rather than later. Darker things have come to Henrietta and the raven boys and Blue struggle to find a way to stop them before it’s too late. Everything they’ve known–about themselves, about Glendower and Cabeswater–will be tested.

As a conclusion to the series, The Raven King satisfied most of what I wanted from it. But not all. What I appreciated about the first three novels–namely the family dynamic, the psychics of Fox Way, the enigma of Cabeswater–was overshadowed in The Raven King by the growing relationship between Gansey and Blue, Adam learning how to best be a conduit for Cabeswater, and Ronan’s growing prowess as a dreamer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of those parts. But I missed all of the other parts that made the novel whole. I thought they were brushed aside in this novel to make way for the bigger parts, and I could really sense their loss. There was something missing from The Raven King because these pieces were lighter than they were in the first three novels. Some of these things were completely dropped from the narration, as if they had served their purpose and didn’t need to be mentioned ever again. What happened to the psychics? What happened to Noah? What happened to Gwenllian? These are just a few things that felt forgotten. There were so many loose ends.

My favorite characters in this were Ronan and Adam. Their arcs were really fascinating. Adam’s growth in particular was really well done. From being afraid of his father to being able to extend a hand to his family even after they had basically disowned him (although he should have disowned them ages ago in the first place because of how horrible they were to him), he became so much stronger. Out of all of the characters, I think he changed the most. But only marginally more than Ronan. Ronan’s growth was different than Adam’s. As he became more adept with his dreaming, I think that he also became more happy with himself. He found the things that he loved and that came out in how he interacted with the other characters. He was still surly at times, but there were more moments where I was able to see why he fit in with the other raven boys and with Blue. Blue and Ronan were able to come to an understanding and their growing Sis/Bro-mance made me laugh a lot. They’re so similar, even though I think they’d both hate being compared to one another. I loved that both Adam and Ronan were connected to Cabeswater in unique ways.

Blue and Gansey, however, seemed kind of stuck. They didn’t change as much as I expected them to. The changes they went through were less exciting and slightly predictable. Blue was (understandably) obsessed with changing or stopping the combination of her curse and what she had seen at the church back in book one. It was too bad that her character was mostly slimmed down to that. Gansey too, was slimmed down to his obsession, although I couldn’t tell you if that was Glendower or Blue; at this point one only won over the other by a margin. There needed to be more done with them in this book because my interest in them waned. I sometimes preferred the secondary characters over them.

Even so, this book is very much about Gansey. The revelation about him in the previous book was something that seemed a little deus ex machina-ish–a way for Stiefvater to give us the lesson that your powers come from inside–and they came out in full-force in The Raven King. For someone who cares so much about his family and friends, Gansey’s actions in The Raven King read as a little selfish. It seemed out of character for him.

The writing, which I loved in the first three novels, was something that caused the ending to be more ambiguous (even though there was a clear enough ending) than I would have liked. The poetic nature of Stiefvater’s writing really made Cabeswater and Henrietta seem real and surreal. At the end, however, it just seemed half-worked. I wanted a little more clarity on the final events of the novel. It was a little too open-ended, particularly on the things that were brushed aside after they’d been useful à la Noah.  As a result, while I’m happy with the ending of The Raven Cycle as a whole, there are things that faded away and were not addressed. It didn’t really seem like this was an ending ending.

Overall, I would recommend this series for readers who like that blend of fantastical in a contemporary setting. I normally don’t like novels with paranormal features in them because I’ve been burned, but what Stiefvater does with The Raven Cycle is subtle and mysterious enough that it really seems like it could be happening down the street from my house. There’s no obvious, outward indications that we’re not in reality, it’s just four boys and a girl on the trail of something more. They all want so much, but sometimes what they want isn’t always what they expect it to be.

4 stars.

 

[Blue Lily, Lily Blue: The Raven Cycle III] Maggie Stiefvater

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What I really enjoyed about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that it directly paralleled The Dream Thieves. Where Ronan was sleeping and dreaming up fantastical things to bring back into waking reality in The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue has a focus on not waking the sleepers. Blue is a little bit worried that her mother hasn’t resurfaced since she disappeared. Her disappearance has Blue distracted as she and the raven boys continue to search for Glendower. As they hurtle toward the end of their quest, they discover that there are things underground that they don’t want to wake. To do so could have dire consequences.

Things get a little bit darker in this book as it’s leading directly into the finale. Blue Lily, Lily Blue works really hard at setting up events that will continue in the next book, and it succeeded at keeping my interest. Perhaps rather obviously, there’s a slightly heavier focus on Blue and her side-quest to find her mother, who as we know disappeared at the end of The Dream Thieves. It’s been months, and Blue wrestles with her feelings of betrayal and worry over her mother’s decision to vanish over her growing feelings for Gansey as they continue to search for Glendower. (Can I just pause here for a moment to say that Stiefvater is driving me insane with how she teases her readers about an eventual–I’m assuming–Gansey/Blue relationship/kiss? It’s written so well). There’s always been consequences that are revealed after the fact in The Raven Cycle, such as the death of Ronan’s father over his dream creations or how scrying can be dangerous, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue has consequences listed upfront to avoid. Bad things did happen in The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily definitely continued that trend.

Something I really enjoyed about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that all of the adventurers are revealed to have abilities. We already knew that Ronan could dream, Adam could connect with Cabeswater, and Blue was an amplifier, but Gansey had always seemed left out. To have an ability of a sort revealed to them made him fit in more. It also pushed a lot of the pieces together. I feel like I really have a good grasp on who Gansey is and why he is on a quest to find Glendower now. These abilities only drive the group together more and further cements their friendships with each other. As a result, I love them even more. Obviously I’ve loved (and will love) many characters that authors have created. I don’t think that there’s ever been a set of characters that I love (almost) equally. I’m glad that there are little between novellas that I can read once I’m done with the complete books.

There’s not much else I can say about Blue Lily, Lily Blue that doesn’t reveal too much or only reiterates what I’ve already said in the reviews for the first two books. I do still think that The Raven Cycle books read as one larger novel, so it’s really nice that I’m able to read all of them in a row without stopping.

5 stars.

[The Dream Thieves: The Raven Cycle II] Maggie Stiefvater

So I’ll be honest. I read the rest of the series after The Raven Boys in about a week. It’s that good and addictive.

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The Dream Thieves picks up where The Raven Boys left off, with a focus on Ronan. After revealing that he can take things out of his dreams in the last book, the others are a little in awe of Ronan’s abilities. Ronan begins to take more fantastic things out of his dreams, things that don’t exist in the real world until he wills it. When things from his nightmares start showing up, he realizes that he needs to gain control over his abilities before something worse moves from his nightmares to reality. As Gansey and the others continue to use the ley lines to search for Glendower, others are searching for dream things, leading them to Henrietta and the boys. The search for Glendower has never been more dangerous.

Like the first book, the narration is divided between the raven boys, Blue, and a few others. Even so, this book is very much about Ronan. I really enjoyed that there was a focus on his secrets and how he came to terms with them by the end of The Dream Thieves. Ronan was my least favorite of the characters after reading the first book, but by the end of this one I found that I really liked him. He’s possibly even my favorite character now. Like all of Stiefvater’s characters, he was slowly and realistically developed. She has an incredible talent at showing who her characters are, including their motivations and desires–even the ones they hide from themselves. And the ones they hide from themselves are the more interesting ones. They’ll make for some good interactions when they finally come out.

What’s interesting about the first two books of The Raven Cycle is that there’s romance, but it is absolutely not the focus. I thought there’d be more in this one since it’s a second book, but not so. It is an ultimate slow-burn romance. Stiefvater gives her characters and readers a little taste, but not enough to distract from the quest. Again, there’s more of a focus on friendship and family relationships. I really enjoy this part of Stiefvater’s character writing. These are the relationships that are around you before romance comes into the picture. I love that we can really see how the friendship between Blue and the raven boys is developing in an in-depth way.

Another character who had a little more growth in The Dream Thieves was Adam. After the events of The Raven Boys, the others don’t quite know how to interact with him. Adam himself doesn’t really know how to interact with them. Things have changed and no one knows what to do about it. Adam discovering his own talents parallel to Ronan discovering his was a nice touch and set them up to mirror each other a bit. They both have abilities that stem from their relationship to the magical side of Henrietta and their role as caretakers of a sort.

Although this is a part of the larger narration of finding Glendower, I felt like this one almost had stand-alone qualities, or at least a side-quest feel.There seemed to be so little of the Glendower quest in this one, which meant that it was basically a character building book. Of course, Ronan and the others’ lives are woven into Glendower’s and Cabeswater, so it’s never really apart from them.

Again, The Dream Thieves ends on a cliff-hanger which drives the reader toward the next book. I’m so glad that I didn’t pick these up as they were being published because I would have died a little if I’d had to wait long between the second and third books (and the third and fourth). I highly recommend this for readers who like paranormal/fantasy young adult books set in the real world. If you like a little bit of poetry with your writing, you’ll likely like this series.

5 stars.