[Now I Rise: The Conqueror’s Saga II] Kiersten White

This review contains some minor spoilers for the first novel in The Conqueror’s Saga. This review is also long because I loved this book so much.

One of my minor complaints about And I Darken (the first in the series) was that it got a little long purely because there’s a lot of unfamiliar names, places, and events that I had to first get through in order to get to the story. That was not the case with the second novel. Now I Rise benefits from the world building that was done in the first novel and further expands on locations that had smaller parts in the first novel. It balances character growth with action, creating a thrilling story that had me questioning characters’ motives. It is a a great continuation of a series that is set in a historical context that is real, yet also genderbends a historical figure. It made me more excited about a series that I already loved.

Lada and Radu burst back onto the scene shortly after where And I Darken left them. Radu remains in the Ottoman Empire, and Lada is trying to regain what she believes is rightfully hers: Wallachia. They’ve taken different paths that are still connected to each other, but Radu uses gilded words and Lada uses cold steel. Mehmed remains, but Now I Rise quickly becomes about Lada and Radu. Mehmed takes on a role in the background but occasionally comes back to interact with our main characters. And even when he’s not physically there, both Radu and Lada often think about him. Sometimes he still affects how they act, but gradually that changes.

Shortly into the novel Radu is sent to Constantinople to act as a spy for Mehmed. Although he has quite a bit of worries about going there, he follows Mehmed’s orders because he loves him. In the first novel, Radu learns how to use his skills to further Mehmed and through close proximity, himself. He is very charismatic, and it was interesting to read how he grew into it in And I Darken. This novel finds Radu questioning much of what he believes and who he believes in. Radu is semi-stranded in Constantinople for months. At first, he eagerly awaits a war that he knows is coming, playing his role as defector to the Christians as he secretly plots to bring Constantinople down. The longer he stays in Constantinople, however,  the more he questions the motives of Mehmed and what he’s doing.

He had imagined Constantinople, had wanted it for Mehmed. It had been simple and straightforward. But now he knew the true cost of things, the murky horrors of the distance between wanting something and getting it.*

Radu is becoming a part of Constantinople and being accepted by people there, but he knows that he ultimately will betray them. It begins to wear on him. Reading this expanded his character in a new direction that was so raw I was heartbroken for him. While this series does tend to focus more on Lada as the female Vlad, I feel that Radu has the greater emotional response in Now I Rise.

Radu had seen what it took to be great, and he never again wanted to be part of something bigger than himself.*

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[Goodbye Days] Jeff Zentner

Goodbye Days immerses us in tragedy. There’s no warning, much like how the tragedy unfolded.  Carter is at the final funeral of his three best friends after a horrific car crash claimed them all, contemplating carpet patterns in an effort to put-off the impending wave of grief. He’s numb and worried about how many people blame him, because he certainly does. When Mar’s phone was found, he was replying to Carter’s message. So yes, Carver believes that he “wrote his friends out of existence.”

In The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner introduced how tragedy can come at any moment and how coming to terms with it–if you even can–is something that you can only do yourself. Of course, the people around you suffering from the same tragedy can help you, but ultimately, we all internalize tragedy and how we deal with it differently. This is constant in Goodbye Days. It’s in the moments of forgetting right when Carver gets up, in the moments when he’s doing something mundane–just living–and it comes crashing down on him that his three friends will never be able to complete that comic they were drawing, never participate in another joke, never write another song. Grief and forgetting comes in waves, and the guilt for forgetting is crippling.

Gradually, the grief becomes manageable, but it never leaves. I felt that Zentner was able to convey that perfectly with his writing as he illustrated the different forms that grief takes after a tragedy. Like The Serpent King, it felt real. Contemporary novels tend to deal with real problems that teens go through (the ones that aren’t only about romance, at least), but sometimes there’s an element of it being contrived that keeps me from truly enjoying it. Zentner’s work is not that way. His characters would have no trouble walking off of the pages and onto the streets. They’re that realistic. They breathe. You ache and cheer with them. It’s absolutely incredible and a treat to meet his new characters.

This book is unique in the sense that it has both living and deceased characters. Through Carter’s own words and memories we’re introduced to Sauce Crew: Eli, Blake, and Mars. As he remembers them we’re shown just how amazing they were to the people around them and what their loved ones lost when they died. And that’s where the name of the novel comes in.

“Goodbye days” are a way to say goodbye to the one you’ve lost. For an entire day, you do the things that remind you of them or what they liked doing. Whenever we lose someone, we wish that we could have just one more moment with them. These goodbye days are a way to remember them as you try to let them go. Everyone holds a different part of their loved one–you may know that your friend loved dancing, but didn’t know that they were a secret enka fan. In a goodbye day, everyone comes together and shares those things so you have a complete picture of the one you lost. And then you say goodbye.

Goodbye Days is a beautiful novel that has many heart wrenching moments of the reality of death and how suddenly it can come. It’s even more tragic when people the lives of young people are cut short. It’s a novel with a message, but not one that takes over the narrative. Texting while driving is something that occurs every day, though it shouldn’t happen at all. When it’s a habit to have a phone in our hand, we don’t always think of the consequences of our actions. Carver constantly goes back to that text. Where are you guys? Text me back. It follows him throughout the novel. It’s there in therapy, where he tries to reinforce his guilt instead of forgiving himself for a mistake and it’s there in the threat of a criminal investigation. Zentner shows just how tragic the consequences can be. And there’s no taking it back.

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[The Bear and the Nightingale] Katherine Arden

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I absolutely loved The Bear and the Nightingale. Katherine Arden has crafted a beautiful tale of wildness, beauty, and fantasy. It’s the story of Vasilisa–called Vasya by those who love her–and her family’s trials and triumphs in a world that doesn’t always believe in the mystical. In the wilds of Russia, far from the civilized world of Moscow, Vasilisa and her siblings grow up believing in Morozko–the not-always-nice Frost–and other household and wilderness beings such as the domovoi and the rusalka. It chronicles the life of Vasilisa as she grows and discovers how to reconcile her old beliefs with new ones that make their way to her household.

The Bear and the Nightingale opens with a Russian folktale, that of Morozko and the maiden. It sets up the story quite well, as there are parallels to this folktale throughout The Bear and the Nightingale. While I would say that is the main folktale that is threaded throughout the book, Arden has included more of the mythology and stories of the region to create a rich cultural setting in addition to a rich physical setting. And it wasn’t mentioned just to have “culture.” The beliefs of the North–which is, according to those who live in the cities, obsolete and incorrect–are consistently in the narrative. As Vasilisa grows, Arden introduces more of the mythology as she learns about it through exploring her world. It was a natural way of storytelling and of growing the world contained in the book.

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Morozko and the Maiden

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[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.

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[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.

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[Iron Cast] Destiny Soria

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As one of my friends tells me that I “always write negative reviews,” (which is only sometimes, by the way) I’m very happy to inform him, and anyone looking for a review to read, that I loved this book. It’s not often that I want to replace an ebook copy with a physical one (because I don’t need two copies), but that is the case for this one.

Iron Cast is set in 1919, when the United States is just on the cusp of passing prohibition. As it is, hemopathy, the ability to create illusions through art, music, or words, is already banned. Hemopaths are being snatched from the streets and thrown in an institution for their “protection”–or worse. Naturally, underground clubs are thriving. Ada and Corinne are two such hemopaths, friends for so long that one struggles to exist without the other. They’ve trained their gifts for so long that they can react unconsciously to cues that the other gives. When their patron disappears, Ada and Corinne realize how precarious their situation in Boston is. They decide that the only thing they can do is to solve the mystery themselves in order to save the Cast Iron, the only place they’ve truly felt at home.

This is a great historical fiction novel. Every place that Destiny Soria takes the reader is vividly described, from the Cast Iron, to Corinne’s family home, to the institution. I have absolutely no complaints about it. The setting really sets the tone for the events of the novel. There are the glittering places where the rich go and the less-rich perform and they’re side-by-side with the grittier sides of the city. I was really able to visualize what was going on at all times in the novel. I liked when the characters had to go from the speakeasy-esque clubs and gangster inhabited world to that of high society for wedding preparations. I really appreciated the detail that Soria went into in order to really develop this world. Settings can sometimes make or break a book, and it one hundred percent made this novel for me. It made the tense moments of the novel even more so because I really felt like I was in Boston during this time. Iron Cast was also an alternative history novel, so it was cool to see the familiar things but also have a fantasy aspect to the world.

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[The Lunar Chronicles] A series review with a focus on [Winter] by Marissa Meyer

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Although Winter came out a little under a year ago, it’s only recently that I bit the ebook bullet (so expensive!) and started the final book of The Lunar Chronicles. I had some down time, so I decided to reread the first three books. The last time I read them I did so around the time of Cress‘ publication. Long before, I think, Winter had been announced. This will be a review for the series as a whole, but I will focus on Winter. There will be spoilers for CinderScarlet, and Cress.

So briefly then, the reviews for the first three books:

11235712Cinder is a mechanic in New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth, a conglomeration of countries in Asia and its cultures after a fourth World War. She uses her talents to provide for her step-family, who are just as needy and rude as the Cruel Stepmother and Stepsisters in the original tale, with the exception of the youngest daughter. Cinder works diligently and keeps her head down, dreaming one day of escaping the city and the plague that threatens at any moment. When Prince Kai comes to her in the hope that the best mechanic in the city can fix his royal android, Cinder is pulled into a world that she didn’t ever think she’d be a part of.

I love familiar stories with a twist. For me, making Cinder a cyborg was a brilliant decision to make Cinder stand out as a different retelling of Cinderella. Not only is she dirty (from grease this time, not ashes), she’s not even recognized as human by her society! I had a very clear picture of what she wanted for herself and enjoyed her as a character very much. Her progression throughout the novel was steady and well-done.

I really enjoyed that the setting of Cinder. I do wish, however, that it had gone into more detail about what sorts of cultures made up the Eastern Commonwealth. I could have done with less vagueness. Chinese and Japanese motifs are mentioned at times in the decoration of robes and the palace, but it came dangerously close to not being enough. I think it would have made the reader more interested to see just what Cinder would lose if she lost.

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