[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

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Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

Unusual Planet wallpapers and images - wallpapers, pictures, photos

The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

I also really liked that Basra didn’t comment on his gender. The members of the crew he works with refer to him as a boy, (which is something that was figured out off page, pre-Shadow Run) yet in his past he’s been referred to as a girl. It was nice to have a character like that, although Nev’s introduction to him (Boy? Girl? Wha?) was a little unkind in my opinion. If it was meant to be clever it fell flat.

I really love books with a variety of characters and I’m glad that authors are becoming more aware that there needs to be better representation of different genders and races in novels. However, I feel that this book was awkward about it. It was like it was screaming See? We’re representing! every time something regarding race or culture was brought up. I was being told, rather than shown. Show me! It gave an awkward tilt to the novel. Any other reviewers feel this way? Perhaps someone else can better put words to my feelings.

One bad thing about characters is that I didn’t feel like there was anything new, other than Basra. Although I liked Nev and Qole, they fell under the stereotype of Prince and Commoner. As a result, a lot of their story line was kind of obvious, so I’m hoping that the next novel subverts that a bit more. The last bad thing about characters is that Qole’s power needs to be contained. It bothered me the longer I read.  It’s setting Qole up as an untouchable character, which strikes me a little like a deus ex machina show of power. Where is the stopping point?

Free Space/Galaxy Texture by Lyshastra

 

What was great about Firefly was how it was episodic. I imagine (since this is called Kaitan Chronicles, which typically means an expansive story) that we’ll see more of the Kaitan Heritage and Qole and crew. This wasn’t really episodic. It was more of a typical story of discovering that everything you believed in isn’t necessarily true, good, or fact.  I feel like this book promised more than it delivered, because the only similarities I saw to Firefly was that there was a curmudgeonly Captain piloting through space.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Shadow Run when I either got over or got used to the things that caused problems for me. I think it will do well with people who like science fiction and fantasy and don’t mind the fact that it recycles some of the often used tropes of the genre. Personally, although I liked it, I feel very neutral about the next novel. Usually the end of novels that I enjoy drive me straight into the pages of the second novel. For Shadow Run, I could either take or leave the next one. This is directly because of the ending: it can either function as an open-ended stand-alone or as an opening for the second novel. Readers will have to decide what it is for them. I still haven’t.

3. 5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadow Run from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Shadow Run will be published March 21st.

 

 

[When the Moon Was Ours] Anna-Marie McLemore

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I love that this looks like a screen print.

When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful book that read like a fairy tale but had a firm place in today’s world. It follows Miel and Sam, two friends who met when she fell out of the town’s decaying water tower. They have only grown closer as they grow older and navigate their lives. A boy who paints moons and a girl who has roses growing out of her wrist, the two are viewed as strange by the townspeople but are largely left alone. When the Moon Was Ours is partially a love story between friends and family, a fairy tale, and a coming of age tale.

What I particularly loved about When the Moon Was Ours was that while McLemore was very upfront about what this book was trying to do, it wasn’t forcing it down the readers’ throats. I’ve read books that go this route and it ends up giving the book a poor taste and ultimately doesn’t succeed. McLemore succeeded in my opinion. Yes, there is a character who doesn’t identify as what they were born as, but the novel was deeper than that.  It was a very caring look into who they were as people, as a whole, rather than purely focusing on one part of who they are. McLemore is teaching through sharing moments of her personal life, and I could really see that as I was reading. It was extremely intimate. The novel takes its time revealing how this has affected the characters and how they are trying to figure out who they are. It is part of the story rather than the whole of the story, which I thought was a very important and natural way of telling it.

I thought that all of the characters were very dynamic and very carefully crafted. The characters who were good had their moments of bad, and the characters opposite of them weren’t all bad. Everyone, no matter where they fell on that line, had reasons for their actions. And often the cause of their actions were because of a fear that they had: fear of discovery, fear of not being enough, fear of being ignored…that made the characters all the more real to me. I really connected with the characters, even the ones who functioned as the “villains” in this fairy tale. I may not have felt as much for them as I felt for Miel and Sam, but it was really easy to see why they acted the way they did. I had sympathy and pity for them.

The character growth in this novel was amazing. There’s the concept of the good and the bad in this novel, and they all grow. I feel like that doesn’t often happen. The bad characters weren’t forgotten. They also traveled to the other side with our two main protagonists and all of them were able to come to an understanding both of their own self and of that of the others. I wasn’t left wondering why the “villains” were like that and what happened to them after the story was over. Everyone had a conclusion.

Magical realism wasn’t a genre I’ve read until recently and to be quite honest there were some moments in the beginning where I wasn’t sure if this book was going to work for me. While I loved the opening pages, there was also a bit of disconnect when the language was too flowery, which muddied up what McLemore was trying to say. As I kept reading I reached an understanding with the language and was able to enjoy the story and the language. It really made the story more fairy tale-like and enjoyable.

I’m not sure what more to say about this novel because I feel that other reviewers have been able to praise it better than I ever could. I also don’t want to say anything that could potentially spoil the experience because I want every reader to enjoy this the way that I did. When the Moon Was Ours was a beautiful novel and one of my favorite reads of 2016. I wasn’t sure if I would like it at first because I had heard that the writing was hard to get through, but I read this in a short amount of time. The characterization and setting was amazing. I highly recommend it for its caring portrayal of those who don’t identify as their outside appearance. The opening lines and the closing author’s note were extremely touching. This book deserves your time and your attention.

To the boys you get called girls, 
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names, 
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges, 
and in the spaces in between. 
i wish for you every light in the sky. 

4 stars.

[All We Have Left] Wendy Mills

People were living their lives, doing everyday things, when suddenly the planes hit, and time ripped into two pages titled ‘Before 9/11’ and ‘After.’ With their clumsy stories, they are saying: ‘We all felt it. We remember where we were when the world changed.’

But what about those of us who could not remember that day? I’ve seen the footage, watched the big, clumsy planes crash into the towers like some sort of low-budget action film. Which is worse? To know that things used to be different, or to have never known that more innocent day at all?* 

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All We Have Left is a story about two girls affected by one of the most infamous moments in US history, the attacks of September 11th. Although they don’t know it, that day left its mark on them in ways that will bring them together 15 years later. Alia and Jesse’s stories are woven together through past and present, before and after. All We Have Left brings up the questions that many dealt with in the aftermath of 9/11: whether they were there, like Alia; someone who lost a loved one, like Jesse; or one of the many who just remember. What do you do when the world has changed and you can’t understand why? What do you do when your family has been fractured out of your control?

Although September 11th happened 15 years ago, the setting is very contemporary. All We Have Left is divided into the two periods, the now and then. The “then” is very vivid, even before it gets into the events of that day. I felt that it was the strongest of the two settings, even though I thought that the characters were weaker. The “now” is up to date with what’s going on in the world, especially in relation to racism, terror, and the way that they’re sometimes horrifically connected. The characters in the “now” setting were initially very bland and typical of a young adult high school setting. I was glad that it switched between the two.

Both Alia and Jesse grew on me as I continued to read. At first, I only liked Alia. There was tension in her family and changes that she was going through against the backdrop of a historical event. In contrast, Jesse came off as a whining brat. She had a hard time growing up with the shadow of the death of her brother hanging over her and her family, but I didn’t feel that it was portrayed very well at first. Part of this was due to the fact that the book began slowly. It only allowed Jesse’s storyline to be the cliched high school one. Eventually as the story continued I found myself eager to see what would happen next with her. I ended up being interested in what Jesse did because she was a character who was alive during this event, but too young to remember. I liked that the author used her as an example of the many people who were young during this time. There’s a definite disconnect from not being conscious of the event at the time. Jesse is interesting because although she was too young, she does have that anger and sadness from losing a loved one. I liked that both sides were inside of her character.

Something that I thought Wendy Mills did well was her presentation of Islam in the book. I’m not sure how correct it is because I only know as much as I’ve learned in the few religion classes I’ve taken. I really liked how Adam and Alia looked at the world around them. Adam especially, because he had to deal with people treating him differently due to prejudice after September 11th. Even though there was this prejudice against them, they both looked at the world in a clear way. I really enjoyed that he was able to teach Jesse (and hopefully the reader) about how he saw the world.

All We Have Left, although written in a dual narrative, is primarily about Jesse’s growth. Because her brother died when she was really young, she’s not really known life any differently. I liked that Wendy Mills charted how she came out under the shadow of that and the way that it had fractured her family. We as readers know that Alia and Jesse’s brother are connected, but it takes a long time for Jesse to discover that. The mystery of why her brother was in the Towers is something that has so haunted her family that it was interesting to read as Jesse went about solving it. Another thing that I appreciated was the fact that Mills didn’t let the little romance that was in the book cheapen the more important aspects of it. I would have felt very annoyed and cheated had this book changed tact.

The hardest part about reviewing this book is trying to understand how much of it was I genuinely liked it and how much of it is the emotional connection I had to the characters and my past. It’s hard to read and review a book when it makes you emotional. I’m not sure if I’m emotional because of the book or because it’s about an event that was a shocking part of my childhood. I feel like it masked issues I had with the book, which is why I’ve taken so long to get my thoughts together on it. While it was a good book and I thought that the characters, both main and supporting, were written well, I do think that I was blinded a bit by my own personal memories of that day.

What was good about this book is that the ending leaves Jesse and the reader with hope that she will find peace. Through Jesse, hopefully the reader has found a little bit of peace as well. Although the world is oftentimes full of horrible things, people will always stand up to help and support the others around them. I found the ending very emotionally touching.  I recommend this book for readers who like dual narratives and who maybe want to discover a little bit about how the world around them still needs to change for the better.

3.5 stars.

I received a copy of All We Have Left from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All We Have Left will be available on August 9th, 2016.

*Quotes come from an advance reading copy and may be different in the final release. 

[An Ember in the Ashes] Sabaa Tahir

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An Ember in the Ashes is a story about Laia and Elias, two people from very different backgrounds. Laia is a member of the Scholar class, a people who were defeated by Elias’ people, the Martials. There shouldn’t be anything that drives them together, especially when Elias is a Mask, an elite fighting force that the Martials use to terrorize and imprison Scholars like Laia’s brother. But when Laia puts herself in a dangerous situation for the Scholar Resistance in order to help secure the release of her brother, their paths cross in unlikely ways. How can a Scholar and a Martial find common ground? And will they escape with their lives?  

I can see why this book was so hyped up. It’s the reason I wanted to read it. The reason I was so eager to get my hands on a copy and was incredibly disappointed when NetGalley turned me down for an ARC. However, I feel like the hype was a smidge too much. An Ember in the Ashes is a page-turner for sure; I was disappointed when I had to put it down to pursue my adult-life obligations. The only reason I say it was too hyped up is because while it promises that it’s inspired by Ancient Rome, I was disappointed by the lack of world building. I did feel that the book relied too much on that blurb–it was like we were meant to fill in the setting ourselves with only a little detail given us. I wish that more concrete descriptions were given to us! There are points in the story, like the festival that Laia goes to, that are described really beautifully. Ultimately, I’m disappointed that the world wasn’t as expansive as I wanted it to be. The Roman-esque setting was a big attraction for me and I wanted to see more of the world. I’m hoping that it will be expanded on in the next book.

What was cool about An Ember in the Ashes was the fantasy aspect of it. Learning about the culture of the Masks (the silver mask literally attaches and merges with their skin! Freaky!) and the Empire was really interesting. The world may not have been as richly described, but the more minute aspects of daily life was something that I could get behind. I liked the differences between the Scholar and Martial cultures. One’s more peaceful, yet they have a Scholar Resistance. The other is military based, yet a lot of the Masks question the level of the Empire’s cruelty toward the Scholars. The differences in their culture are used to highlight that not everyone views everything in black and white terms. I liked that there were sympathetic characters on the Martial side and questionable characters on the Scholar side. Each also have their own legends on why the Scholars  lost and the Empire won, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other lands on the next books! I hope that happens.

An Ember in the Ashes is told in the alternating first person point of views of Laia and Elias. Laia is a Scholar, someone who has been downtrodden her entire life. She and her family make do, eking out a life under the Martial rule. When things change drastically, she tries to become stronger but remains naïve. So unbelievably naïve. She lives in a world where Martials sometimes harm Scholars just for the fun of it. So while I can believe that she is somewhat blinded by her desire to rescue her brother, when she was consistently doing rash things that put her in dangerous spots, I could hardly stand it. If she wants to rescue her brother, she needs to be a little sneakier. Eventually she starts acting braver. I was happy about that because I got a little tired of her whining about how she was a coward, yet did nothing to change it. Ultimately, we’re meant to sympathize with Laia but I didn’t particularly like her. When she finally started taking the initiative I was able to like her. I hope she doesn’t revert back in the next novel. I did really like Elias, other than something that I outline later in my review. Elias is a Mask, but he’s so torn up by his role that he’s looking for ways out. I really liked that he was on the inside and so against the Empire. Almost immediately in the novel we’re shown the brutal culture of the Masks–they whip children to death, they treat Scholars as subhuman–and how horrible living at the training center is, yet then we’re given a very sympathetic character. There’s hints that he’s not the only one who thinks that way, but he’s the only one willing to act against it. He felt very real.

The supporting characters in An Ember in the Ashes are great. Between Scholar slaves and rebels and Martial Masks and rulers, there’s quite a variety. That’s why I wish that the novel had been written in a third person point of view. I think it would have added more descriptions and opened up the world more. I wish that more time had been spent with Helene and the other Masks. They were my favorite supporting characters. I got the sense that they’re trapped like Elias. It’s clear that not everyone believes in the Commandant and the Empire’s treatment of Scholars, yet they’re too scared to do anything. Helene especially seemed conflicted, with her feelings and jealousies causing her to act rashly. I’m hoping the next novel in the series will have some Helene point of view chapters. She is my favorite character and always tried to protect the people she loved. It was heartbreaking when she couldn’t protect them.

Something that is done well in An Ember in the Ashes is the tension. Sabaa Tahir knows how to write scenes that make me really worried for the characters. This world is not kind, even if you’re in the upper class. There’s a danger to it that is expressed really well in the writing. Although the book is in the point of view of two characters, there were moments when I thought they were done for. This is helped along by the fact that some of the chapters end in cliff-hangers. Laia and Elias deal with different tensions in their lives and Tahir illustrated that clearly. I felt that the tension between Elias and Helene was done particularly well. Not only do they have to worry about dying in the trials, but they also have to navigate confusing emotions.

A frustrating part of the novel for me was actually the romance. I felt that it existed just to exist; rather than having any meat to why the characters were attracted to each other, it was just told to us in a “this is how it is” sort of way. It felt so flat and fake. I know that a lot of people probably like the pairings, but I personally didn’t feel that the romance was real. I understand that oftentimes there’s a sort of “love at first sight” element to romance in books (and even real life), but there were pages where Elias described how beautiful Laia and Helene are, rather than what they were doing. Or what they were doing was somehow combined with Elias describing how their bodies looked doing the action. They’re diminished to their beauty and not their talents. Helene especially suffered from this. She’s a warrior, like Elias–and possibly better than Elias because she’s the only female fighter at a school full of male fighters–but he often describes how her armor accents her body. It’s ironic because as her best friend, he knows that people underestimate her because she’s a girl, yet he does the same thing. I hope that this changes significantly–or at least doesn’t become the focus of Elias’ narration it sometimes became–in the next novel.

As mentioned before, Tahir knows how to write tension. The sexual tension between Elias and Helene was some of the only romance that felt real. They’ve been together for so long that it seems natural that some feelings would have developed. In contrast, there’s Laia and Elias’ budding relationship. I’d be very surprised if this didn’t end up becoming a thing because it’s so heavily pushed in An Ember in the Ashes. If it had been allowed to progress naturally, I would have loved it. It has the element of forbidden love that I normally enjoy. Instead, I felt that it was just there because it felt “required” of YA books. It’s even more odd when Tahir seems to set up other relationships in this book, yet they’re clearly not the focus. Those were the ones that made sense to me, but instead we’re subjected to one that doesn’t seem as real.

And now I get to the truly negative part of my review. The threat of rape in this book. I’ll preface it by saying that yes, I do realize this world is modeled after Ancient Rome and as such this was a part of it. That said, my issue wasn’t the inclusion of rape and the threat of it; my issue was the fact that it was used for advancing the plot and for the character development of Elias. It existed solely, in my opinion, to show how nice Elias was and to compare him against more brutal Masks. Here’s the thing, though: we already know that Elias is a nice guy because the other point of view is his. He very clearly isn’t a horrible person. He really struggles with his role as a Mask and longs to escape it. Elias is counting down the days until he can escape.  Therefore, we don’t need to see Laia nearly raped in order for him to swoop in and protect her to prove a point of his character. This event happens in his point of view (although it was started in hers), and I felt it only existed to, again, show how he is more human than monster compared to the others. This just didn’t need to be. If it had been taken out, there would have been other ways to advance the plot. Rape is a sensitive subject. If it’s going to be included, it needs to be done in a sensitive and well-thought out way. I felt that An Ember in the Ashes failed on this count.

Ultimately, I wanted to like this book more than I did. The gratuitous use of the threat of rape against the female characters–even if it fit in this world inspired by Ancient Rome–as a way to further male characters really knocked this down for me. I liked the strong female characters like Helene and Laia–although Laia still has a long way to go–and the other supporting characters. They made the book more interesting. An Ember in the Ashes was a fast read that was full of tension, even if some of events were obvious in how they were set up. I’m interested in seeing what happens to the characters in the next book. An Ember in the Ashes ends with huge changes, so I imagine there will be tons of conflict in the next book that Elias and Laia need to navigate. I recommend this for readers who like  young adult fantasy with a historical tinge to it, but be warned that Tahir doesn’t sugar-coat the violence in it.

3.5 stars.

A huge thank you to Tessa for providing me with a copy of this book!

[The Killer in Me] Margot Harrison

26095500The Killer in Me is an upcoming debut young adult novel by Margot Harrison. Nina Barrows is a normal high school senior. She goes to class, suffers from occasional bad choices, and is trying to get into her college of choice. Oh, and she sees the actions of a serial killer every time she goes to sleep. For as long as she can remember, Nina has been connected to a boy who she sees when she sleeps. At first, it’s innocent; but as he ages, the events of his childhood shape who he becomes as an adult. He names himself The Thief and carefully constructs his second identity as a killer. He will never be caught, because he knows it will destroy the small family he has created. And he’s too careful.  When Nina gets a chance to confront him, she and her friend Warren travel to the deserts of New Mexico to find a man who may only be a product of her imagination.

I did enjoy the premise of a protagonist who has a connection to the killer. It’s especially interesting that she can see what he does; that she literally gets into his head. Margot Harrison does a good job of showing how that has affected Nina’s mentality, so there’s a little bit of an unreliable narrator aspect there. It was cool to read how straightforward she was about knowing how he operated as a serial killer, something that made her pretty creepy to me. By watching him, she has intimate details of how he goes about planning and committing each crime. Because she’s aware of how he sets up a crime, she’s learned to avoid sleep when he’s preparing in order to avoid seeing the murder, something that has affected her health.  The reasoning behind her connection was not explained at first, so I was curious how this was possible. I ended up being disappointed when the reason behind it was revealed because I couldn’t help but feel that it was a bit of a cop-out. I had hoped it would have gone a bit deeper than it did. I think this is a result of it being a contemporary novel. Nina’s ability couldn’t be explained in a fantastical way because it was occurring in the real world, so instead we are given a flimsy medical reason behind it.

Unfortunately, I feel like the full synopsis of the book (I’m going off of the one found here on goodreads) gave far too much away. Readers go into it knowing that The Thief may not actually exist. Because of that, I naturally assumed that any possible twists in The Killer in Me would occur later in the novel and only be vaguely related to the synopsis. That sort of happened, but I think that most of the shock impact of the novel was taken away before I had even started reading it. We were given too much of the surprise to make the book a thriller. To me, it ended up being more of a discovery-type novel à la coming of age without actually being a coming of age story. It was odd.

I think that is why The Killer in Me‘s conclusion fell pretty flat. While the prose was engaging, the plot just sputtered along until it completely fizzled out. As things were revealed in the novel, I was able to predict where the plot would go next. It made it very difficult to see this as a thriller when nothing really made me nervous the way that other thrillers have. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t really stand as a strong novel to me.

2. 5 stars.

I received an uncorrected proof copy of The Killer in Me from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Killer in Me will be released on July 12th, 2016.

[And I Darken] Kiersten White

27153280Part of a new series called The Conqueror’s SagaAnd I Darken is the tale of a princess who will not follow the standards of her time. Lada Dragwyla has fought her entire life to be seen by her father. She has to prove that she’s more valuable at his side than married off like other girls of noble families. When she and her brother Radu are abandoned by their father in the Ottoman Courts as a means to keep him in check, Lada vows to never weaken again. Weakness could get them killed in this place where their lineage is just another piece to move around. As they grow up in the Ottoman Courts, both Lada and Radu hone their respective skills, picking up friends and enemies along the way. To survive at all costs, they have to make decisions that could come back to haunt them later. But they know to never look back.

This is a novel that asks “What if Vlad the Impaler was a girl?”, an intriguing premise that made me request a copy.  And I Darken is set in Wallachia, now a part of Romania, and the Ottoman Empire. It’s a setting that isn’t often used for young adult novels, and it is done distinctively enough that I saw it very clearly while reading. The setting was a character in its own way. It played a part during different stages of Lada and Radu’s life, and I suspect that it will become increasingly important in the later novels. Lada is Wallachia; it’s in her blood, constantly calling to her. For Radu, the Ottoman Empire is more of a match.

For the most part,  And I Darken was a successful novel for me. It had a protagonist who was intentionally not lovable. Lada wasn’t a character who waited around for other people to tell her what to do. She rebelled when people tried to order her to do things. A lot of protagonists in young adult novels are promised to be strong characters but turn out to be weak. This is not the case for Lada. Some of the things she did made me dislike her. However, I had to admire her for doing them. Her reasoning for her actions are presented to the reader and they make complete sense. I knew and understood why she was doing them. Lada was not a character who is promised to be one thing and then becomes another. She was not one of the protagonists who pretend to be strong but inwardly worry about if the male character likes her or not. Lada was brutal and quite unlike most female protagonists I’ve read.

Lada fights against who and what she is for the entire novel. Being a girl in this world means that you are a piece; you’re a means to an end or a way to control another. You are not someone. Lada rebels against this completely and from the first moment she realizes what her “role” as a woman is in this world. She does not want to become some frail thing confined to a bed after childbirth. She does not understand why she–the stronger one compared to her younger brother–is not given the same opportunities. She demands and takes what she wants, completely steamrolling over any conventions that her world has regarding girls. She will not go gently when things don’t work out for her.

Lada has to be brutal because the world around her is brutal. There’s no sugar-coating of how the world around her–and the people in it–want to use her and her brother for their own gains. They need to stay several steps ahead of everyone else in this dangerous political game. It’s dark and gritty, with no softening of the edges. It sometimes boils down to playing the game in the courts of power in order to survive–and hope that you don’t fail. If you do, you may die by the same means you’ve set up for your own political rivals. It doesn’t flinch away from the dark but meets it head on.

The contrast between her and her brother, Radu, was enjoyable. Where Lada is strong and brutal, Radu is more gentle. Lada distrusts everything about their captors, but her brother finds that certain elements of their culture speaks to him. As a gentler soul than Lada, he blossoms under the courts and finds a way to fit in that he never would have been able to find had they stayed in their homeland. I liked that the novel divided the chapters between these two distinct characters. The author did a good job showing how their relationship changed throughout the years and how their desires drifted apart and together in equal measure.

I was pretty excited to read this novel and am really glad that I got to read and review it before publication. I think that readers will love Lada, rough as she is, because she doesn’t back down from her priorities. They only change as she changes.  And I Darken is an interesting start to a new series with political intrigue and where everyone is reaching for their own goals. I’m looking forward to seeing where the characters of Kiersten White go next. Lada is a character who questions and refuses to be put into the female role in her society. She fights it constantly. I recommend And I Darken for readers who want a strong female protagonist like Lada; someone who questions her role and has a power that often dwarfs that of men’s. And I Darken will also be good for those who like reading about a world where politics are like a game of chess and one wrong move doesn’t lose a piece. You could possibly lose your life.

4 stars.

I received a copy of And I Darken from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And I Darken will be available for purchase on June 28th, 2016.

[Girl of Myth and Legend] Giselle Simlett


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For a girl who lives by routine, suddenly exploding into light on a typical walk into town puts a snag in that lifestyle. For Leonie Woodville, being told that she is Chosen–and in fact is the last of the Pulsar, the most powerful of these magical beings–kind of puts a damper on the whole being normal thing. Leonie agrees, although she has little choice, to join this world of magic that she’s only just been introduced to. Trying to cope with her newfound powers and finding a significant place in Duwyn is harder than it seems. When things start getting out of hand, only Leonie and her reluctant companion, a kytaen who is bound to her until death, can possibly begin to set things on a correct path. The only thing is, choosing what path is correct out of a tangled web of them is more difficult than they’d imagined, with far reaching consequences.

Girl of Myth and Legend is a book that suffers from the problem of a good idea with poor execution. I hate saying this, but a good idea alone can’t carry the story. It sounded like it was going to be a story about a world just on the cusp of a civil war, where everything actually isn’t as perfect as it seems in this magical world. And…it was, it just was such a watered down version of it because the focus was on the romantic potential of two characters who hardly knew each other. The book presents a hierarchy of magical powers and a lack of them, with some characters having more power than others. There’s also a group of immortal beings, the kytaen, who have been cast as slaves of those with powers, even though they were meant to be companions and friends. This is where the story should have been. All of these things, the things that I was actually interested in, were pushed aside for a forced attraction between the two protagonists. I couldn’t even learn about it through Leonie, because any time anyone tried explaining it to her, she rudely tuned them out and then later complained about not understanding anything. You and me both, and I actually cared.

So, Leonie. Easily the worst part of this book. I was frustrated with Leonie for the entirety of the book, because there’s a fine line between being strong-willed and just being an annoying character. She dipped over the annoying line for most of the book, and had the book only been in her voice I would have stopped reading it when I hated the first chapters. The thing that saved this book was Korren, who has a far more interesting backstory than Leonie ever could have had. I really wish that the book had been written entirely in his point of view, because Leonie only knew so much. Whenever things were explained to her, we also had to get her in-depth telling of the events (which were often incorrect, because she hadn’t been listening). And it was always in an extremely dismissive way. To contrast that, there were really odd moments where she was trying to be profound. These moments always read awkwardly and struck me as things that people wouldn’t say. I’ve seen others describing the dialogue as “theatrical” and I completely see where they are coming from.

There are many characters in this book, but the author only focuses on Leonie and Korren. This is a problem, as both characters don’t give a strong impression to the reader. I was disappointed that there were so many side characters that Leonie dismissed, so the readers lose a chance to learn about the world and how it works. Side characters are a really important part of any book, and I hate when they’re written off as unimportant.

I also think that Girl of Myth and Legend had a huge problem being a first-person fantasy novel. Of course, I expect that there will be a suddenly special protagonist, a hidden world, magical powers, problems with said magical world…I do expect it, really. But I also expect that at some point the book will attempt to turn this around and make me realize that there’s something different or special about this book to make me really excited to finish it and possibly continue the series. It faltered a lot as it tried to do this. Granted, I did finish it. But I can’t really put my finger on why, because I’m not sure there’s a concrete reason. Perhaps if the novel had been in third-person (or focused instead on Korren, his past, and his drive), it would have succeeded as a fantasy novel.

Instead, because it was a first-person book, there was a ton of telling. I wanted to see more instead of getting the blow by blow from Leonie. It gave me a weird feeling while reading because even though it’s in first-person and therefore we get Leonie’s thoughts, it’s written in a way that an author would use to tell the reader things as if the book had been written in third-person. It was really odd. I can only describe this as Leonie having third-person thoughts in a first-person body. I also struggle reading books that have an obsession to describe the protagonist and the characters around them in minute detail. I find it odd when characters look into a mirror only to describe their looks; does anyone look into a mirror and say “I have brown hair and green eyes”? It’s easier to describe the protagonist and others in third person, but it’s also possible to do it in a way that isn’t forced in first-person: “I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, my brown hair wild from the wind.” I could go on, but know that this went on any time a new character or enemy came into the picture.

Girl of Myth and Legend is a book that is firmly in the okay book category, yet it reached a point where I couldn’t stop reading. As telling and lackluster as the writing was, the story that was all muddled up in that was actually quite interesting. It would have been better if Leonie’s introduction to the Duwyn world hadn’t focused so heavily on exposition and focused instead on her learning about the world through action and her own growth. Even though I did like the story, it wasn’t enough to make me want to read the next in this series, even if I was able to get it for free at my library. I can’t really honestly say I’d recommend this as a book to read for fantasy lovers because there’s much better books out there that do similar things.

2 stars.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.