[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

Vasilisa is characterized as a wild child. As a daughter, it’s expected of her to marry. Those who love her expect that this wildling will eventually grow calmer. She never does. I was very happy that Vasya was the main protagonist in The Bear and the Nightingale. She sees the world differently than the others do, which is often why there’s a lot of conflict between Vasya and the people around her, especially when the new stepmother comes from Moscow.

With the introduction of the stepmother comes one of the main conflicts of the novel. While there are other, minor conflicts such as growing up and wanting to be your own person while also respecting the wishes of your parents, this one is the focus. And it was great. It allowed Arden to take a look at the conflict of the old versus the new, in particular the beliefs in the old Gods  and spirits against the new God. At first, it’s little things. Then as it escalates into a larger conflict, Vasya realizes that forgetting the old Gods and spirits may be more harmful than anyone realizes.

I think that there’s a lot of conflict between Vasya and her stepmother not only because of the contrasting beliefs, but also because they’re so similar to each other. They act as foils to each other, but they’re also similar in their stubbornness. It causes them to clash to the point where neither particularly cares about how it could potentially harm the other. Sometimes you dislike someone because you can see things that you don’t like about yourself in them. That was slightly the case with Vasya and her stepmother.

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An iconostasis likely similar to the one that Father Konstantin paints. An iconostasis is a wall of icons that separate the nave from the sanctuary in a church.

Eventually, the conflict between the two religions escalates to a point where Vasya is one of the only ones who believes in the importance of the old. Her efforts to save her household and that of the people under her father’s care makes her come into her own power, and that makes others feel threatened. She’s a powerful female in a world where men traditionally have the power. She’s also a part of the old world, as was her mother before her. With her mother gone, Vasya is the only one left to uphold this. While the majority of the book is in Vasya’s point of view, Arden also switches points of views to expand the story. Some of these points of view are of male ones. It really works well for this story. We’re not taken away from Vasya for too long, and the different points of view highlight other aspects of the world and informs readers more of the world and how it works, without giving unnecessary information.

I’ve only talked about two characters, but that doesn’t mean that the others aren’t equally as fascinating and developed. While some have smaller roles in the story, I felt that all characters were equally rounded. I didn’t feel that there were any that existed just to exist. I particularly loved Father Konstantin’s story arc and the temptation that he was going through. I also really liked her brothers–while the focus was on two of them, I could sense the love that the others had for Vasya and their family. I loved that they were included because they challenged Vasya. I would definitely read another story that focuses on these characters.

Kind of how I imagined Moscow.

Kind of how I imagined Moscow–people bustling about everywhere.

Ultimately, what won me over were the various well-written elements of The Bear and the Nightingale, namely the characters, the physical setting of the world, and the cultural setting of the world. Arden has such a talent at crafting something deep and immersive. Mere chapters in I realized just how much research had gone into creating this world and by the time I finished the novel I was deeply impressed with the care that she had taken. Not only is her writing beautiful and engaging, but it gave me a true sense of Russia in a time before–when being a member of the ruling class is precarious and some of the people are transitioning from the old Gods to the new God. The only knowledge I have is through self-learning and is limited, but this felt real. The information–such as how what I would characterize as pet-names–was released slowly and I learned by reading. I felt a little lost at the beginning but consistency helped me find my way.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a historical fantasy novel, and I loved it. I really think it’s going to do well. Not only does it have a heroine who does her own thing, but it has a fantastic story with a great setting. I think it’s clear how much I loved it because of the details on an unfamiliar culture and setting. It’s a great start to a new book year, even though I technically read it in 2016! The details make this story and I’m very thankful that I got to read it early and gush about it in a review. I’m looking forward to what Katherine Arden comes up with next. If it’s anything like The Bear and the Nightingale, I’m sure that I’ll love it.

5 very well-deserved stars.

The Bear and the Nightingale will be published on January 10th, 2017. I received a copy from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

[A Darkly Beating Heart] Lindsay Smith

This is a book I wrote off as one I’d have to read after it was published. I was pleasantly surprised when I was given an ARC by the publisher and NetGalley, so this became an unexpected October read. Perfect for Halloween, because the book deals with a lot of darkness. A Darkly Beating Heart is going to be published next week, so now is the perfect time for a review.

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I love this cover.

Reiko didn’t go to Japan to enjoy herself. Packing herself away to a country where she doesn’t speak the language, Reiko allows the rage she has inside about the events preceding her senior year to fester. Consumed by thoughts of revenge, she manages day by day only because she is planning how to best get back at everyone. Comfortable with her routine, when her summer job requires her to go to an Edo-period town in Gifu prefecture, Reiko initially believes that leaving Tokyo is the worst thing that could have happened. It throws all of her revenge plans out the window.

Finding herself in a town with a curfew and deeply-rooted traditions, Reiko struggles with maintaining her revenge plot and coping with the anger that fills her head. Then she discovers a long-forgotten makeshift temple. It pulls Reiko back into the past into a time period rife with dangers. The connection that she feels with Miyu is immediate, her anger even more explosive than Reiko’s. But Miyu is keeping things from Reiko. And if Reiko doesn’t discover them in time, it’s not just Miyu’s time that will be affected.

This is a book that is odd to review. Lindsay Smith writes beautifully; the scenes she creates are so vivid that it’s very easy to see them in my mind’s eye. The setting just jumps off the page. Of course, it helps that I live in Japan. This book isn’t one that is “set in Japan,” where the setting isn’t realized. This setting is, and I loved it. This would have made me really nostalgic for Japan had I already moved back.

The world of modern day Tokyo and that of the Edo period were so clearly written that I had a very easy time picturing them. I’m such a fan of the Edo period of Japan that I was thrilled to read a story set in it. Or half set in it. Reiko is connected to both, and the differences and similarities in the town she finds herself in–and the times–is done really well. I liked how they both kept getting closer together and the connections that were being discovered. Despite the speed of the plot, the setting was built slowly and when it made sense for the readers to be given the information.

The writing itself is stunning. Each page seemed to have a beautiful description of a place or a spot on look at Japan or the characters that Reiko was spending time with. I was incredibly impressed with Smith’s writing style. It wasn’t too flowery or unnecessarily bogged down with details that didn’t matter. It was an absolute pleasure to read. When I first started reading this I was sure that I would love the book. However, beautiful writing is not the only thing I look for in a book.

That isn’t to say the story or premise wasn’t interesting. I just found that I was more interested in the Edo period parts rather than the modern day parts. While both are incredibly detailed, I’ve found that historical fiction novels are increasingly becoming some of my favorite books to read. I understand why the plot was divided between the two times, but I ended up wishing that the novel was completely set in the Edo period and was about Miyu. That was the story I was really interesting in. Whenever it switched back to Reiko’s point of view in the modern day, I was tempted to skim a little in order to get back to her.

The connection of the past to the present in this little Gifu town was done really well. There are a lot of places in Japan that place importance on the past, but Kuramagi takes it to the extreme. Something isn’t quite right about this town. They bury power lines (which actually does happen in some of these Edo-period towns), have a curfew, and place an emphasis on keeping the town as period correct as they are able. I liked that the town was the center of why the two different time periods were converging. I just felt like a great story was rushed.

A Darkly Beating Heart is a relatively short story, and that is where it fell a little flat for me. Because it’s short, a plot that I personally think should have been drawn out more feels rushed and half realized. In a book where the setting, writing, and emotions of the protagonist are written so well, a rushed plot (especially one that is actually really interesting) was disappointing. I did appreciate the element of Reiko missing half of Miyu’s story–I enjoyed that she only knew what she learned when she was in Miyu’s body and had to figure out what she had missed when the story had progressed without her–but ultimately I thought that it jumped back and forth too much without giving readers enough information about the two time periods and the conflicts in them.

I thought that the way that Reiko was pulled back into the past was really well done. There’s always an element of leeriness that I have when I go into a book that involves some form of time traveling, but I thought that the two story lines and the different time periods were perfectly intertwined. The time travel remained consistent throughout the story and it wasn’t made overly complicated just for the sake of making it complicated. More is revealed as Reiko shares a body with Miyu and becomes more comfortable with the past and I appreciated the effort that Smith made to show that there are consequences for every action.

Reiko as a character is…interesting. The entire time she is plotting revenge: on her family, the people around her, her former girlfriend. Things have happened to her that are given to readers IV drip like, and that was part of my eagerness to read. I really wanted to know where all this anger came from, because I have never read a book where the protagonist is this angry. It was really uncomfortable at times because Reiko is constantly thinking about harming herself and others. Yet, I found myself continuing the book, despite this darkness. Her anger wasn’t swept under the rug when it became inconvenient or when the novel ended. She is able to work through some things but also realizes that her life is far from perfect. But she learns how to manage her anger even as she still has it.

It makes sense that she connected so quickly with Miyu because of her anger. Miyu also functions as a way for Reiko to understand that holding in all of that rage will consume her to the point of no return. Although Miyu is also a different character, because they had shared experiences I felt like they were the same. That’s a reason why I wish the book had been longer. I think it would have benefited the plot to explore more of what Miyu was going through.

Smith also had a handle on the sometimes dual nature of those who are bilingual. Reiko overemphasized the negative nature of bilingual characters because she is so blinded by her rage. Moments where Reiko is treated kindly (in English) but later is treated cruely or like a child (in Japanese) is unfortunately familiar, though rare. This is an element of passive-aggressiveness that foreigners sometimes experience. However, I do think that Reiko is being overly judgemental and Akiyo and Mariko are viewed harshly through this lens of anger she has. Reiko reconciles with this issue by the end of the novel, suggesting that much of her interactions with these characters had been so tainted by anger that she wasn’t getting a proper read on them. There was closure with the promise to try harder to resist these moments in the future.

A Darkly Beating Heart had amazing words that had it sitting at a 5 star rating. Due to the rushed nature of the plot and what I believe could have been a longer story, I’m rating it a bit lower than that. I really recommend this for readers because it does have a very vivid setting and an interesting story that is plotted well. The only caveat I give is to be prepared for Reiko. Maybe I don’t read many stories with dark protagonists, but her nature was hard to read at times. She had a lot of issues that were very serious and may turn off some readers.

3 stars.

I received a copy of A Darkly Beating Heart from NetGalley and the publisher. A Darkly Beating Heart will be published on October 25th, 2016.

Break time! A review for [A Murder in Time] by Julie McElwain

While I primarily read and review young adult novels, I do occasionally take a break and read adult fiction novels. I’ve decided that I’ll sometimes post about them here, especially if they’re recently released like this one. A Murder in Time was released this past April.

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I absolutely adore this cover. So simplistic yet beautiful.

Kendra Donovan is a woman who has focused on her career at the FBI–rising through the ranks as one of the best profilers, she’s on track to being one of the most successful agents. When a mission goes all kinds of wrong, Kendra switches that focus to justice and goes after the man who orchestrated the events of that botched mission. Her private mission is cut short when she is threatened by an assassin herself. Her flight leads her into the secret passageways of the castle, and when she comes out, she finds herself in the same place–but not the same time.

The strengths of this novel lie in the chapters where Kendra is in the past. They’re more vivid and interesting as she navigates living–and keeping the fact that she’s a time-traveler a secret–in a world where women were considered the softer sex. For the gentry of the Regency era, a woman like Kendra is something they’re not used to. She’s brash, speaks her opinion, and doesn’t stick to the conventions of the time. At first it causes a little bit of tension in the house, but as she continues to prove herself, they gradually accept–to them–her eccentricities.

Eventually Kendra believes that her slip into the past was not random; when a young girl is found murdered on the estate, she suddenly finds that she has a reason to be in 1815. Kendra has to go back to the basics of solving a crime because she’s far ahead of the time when DNA and fingerprinting has become the norm. She realizes that she needs to depend on the people around her to help her solve the crime–and that even though they may not have the technology, they certainly have the skills.

I really enjoyed reading how Kendra’s perception of the people around her changed. At first, she trusts no one. It’s natural, because she fears that if she does too much, she may change the future. She’s frustrated with the lack of technology used to solve crimes and takes that out on the people around her. When she accepts that they may not have the tools but they have the intelligence, solving the mystery of who the murderer is becomes easier, but the clock is winding down for the next victim as the serial killer hunts among them. Reading as she adapted, I really grew to like Kendra. She seemed to fit in 1815 better than she fit into the present day, and the relationships she built were realistic.

While time travel can be something that is not done well, I feel that A Murder in Time was successful at showing how Kendra adapted to suddenly being in a time that was not hers. I liked the whole present day person in the past thing, although I do feel like the parts of the novel that were set in the present day were weaker. They seemed to drag on and I was glad that the vast majority of the novel took place in the 1815 setting. Overall, I was really pleased with A Murder in Time. It wasn’t one hundred percent a novel that engaged me (I didn’t lose any sleep to finish it, for example), but I certainly enjoyed it. While it is set up as the first novel in a series, I believe that the way the novel ends allows it to function as a stand-alone novel. However, because the series is set up as a historical fiction mystery, I’ll likely read the next novel.

3 stars.

[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.

[Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale] David Kudler

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I love simplicity of this cover.

I was lucky enough to be a beta-reader for Risuko. As such, some of the things I mention in this review may be changed at the time of publishing. A huge thank you goes out to David Kudler for providing me with an advanced reading copy!

Risuko is a novel that’s set in Japan during the time of the samurai and ongoing civil war. Kano Murasaki, otherwise known as Risuko, suddenly finds herself in the middle of the conflict when a patron takes over her care. Journeying across Japan to get to their destination, Risuko has to contend with the threats that a country at war throws at her. Her arrival at Mochizuki, a training facility for miko, only adds to her confusion. As Risuko trains to be a priestess, she tries to discover the answers to her questions. Because things aren’t always what they seem.

Risuko is a strong character, who had an interesting backstory that I hope is expanded upon in further novels. I wanted to know more about her father, and even her mother, although there seemed to be no lost love between them. Risuko was the one I understood the most, naturally because the novel was in her point of view. I wish that characterization had gone a little deeper for the others, particularly Lady Chiyome and Toumi. Immediately they were presented as scary, I-don’t-know-what-she-wants-from-me Patron, and angry, girl-who-has-a-bone-to-pick-with-me Toumi. I didn’t feel that their characterization advanced further than that. Again, I hope that it changes in the next novel. For now, however, they (and the rest of the characters), had little emotional impact for me. I couldn’t quite connect with them, even when I was reading about Risuko’s changing relationship with them.

Something I really did like about the character of Risuko was the conflict that she had within herself. She is training to possibly be a killer and being taught that all living things die. Risuko had been taught by her father to never harm and certainly to never kill a living thing. Watching her struggle with this was touched on multiple times, although it was only the beginning. It seems that the second novel will really focus on this conflict, so I’m really looking forward to that. I love when characters have inner conflict like this because I think it’s fascinating.

Risuko promises to be a novel about a girl who, although her family is disgraced, can save Japan. I didn’t see much of that in the novel. It was mentioned several times, but didn’t go into too much detail. I do believe that overall, the series that comes out of Risuko will be about this. I just was expecting more, now, when that was a big part of the summary of the book. It also promises to be political, which was something I thought would be cool. Unfortunately, a lot of the things don’t happen in Risuko’s point of view. About the only thing we get from her is glimpses of a map that she doesn’t understand. I am hoping that changes in the next book.

The bulk of the novel is spent with Risuko as she trains to be a kunoichi (and learns what it is) at Mochizuki. Unfortunately, this slows down the pacing quite a bit. When they were traveling, there were opportunities for danger and action, and this slows to a snail’s pace as soon as they enter the gates of Mochizuki, which was frustrating. David Kudler built and had (more) potential for character growth when they were out on the roads, and those were the parts I found most interesting. For me, there was a huge problem of too little action between these big moments full of suspense and danger. I wish that the slowness of the training had been punctuated by something else–whether that’s a domestic problem, more lovers’ quarrels, or a visit to the town that Mochizuki looks out for. There’s only so much I want to read about how they learn how to cut apart the carcass of a cow or cut radishes into a particular size. It was repetitive in a way that it didn’t need to be, considering that Risuko could have had many more classes as she trained to be a kunoichi. However, even though it was slow, I did like how the training activities were subtle ways that they were learning how to be a kunoichi. Although none of them know what a  kunoichi is, it’s clear that they’re becoming smarter and stronger through these menial activities. I only wish that we had spent more time in their training classes in order to learn more.

Living in Japan, I noticed that the author did a lot of research. It didn’t have the problem that many set in Japan books have, namely that there’s been little to no research and the author has only thrown in –san, –sama, etc in order to make it Japanese. So I was really happy about that. The only thing I disliked, and since this is an advanced reading copy it may change, were the lack of Japanese place names. At the end of the novel, David Kudler mentions that he made that decision in order to make the book his own, but with places like Serenity province and Mochizuki in the same world,  it was a confusing muddle of Japanese and English sounding or Anglicized place names. Risuko treads that blurry line of historical fiction, where there are real people and places that are fictionalized, and fantasy, where the author adds things that are their own. It’s difficult to write this way. Where does the historical stop and the fantasy begin, and where does that allow the author to take the necessary creative license?

I’d definitely recommend this more for the younger end of the young adult spectrum rather than the end that starts tipping into the new adult spectrum. Although there are very brief mentions of sex (along the lines of “She knows how to make men happy so they talk”), I would absolutely say that it’s okay for younger readers. There is violence, but it isn’t detailed in a way that is gruesome.

3.5 stars.

Again, I received an advanced reading copy of Risuko from the author, David Kudler, as well as a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I accidentally doubled up! Risuko will be available for purchase June 15th, 2016!

[Anew: Disappeared III] Bronwyn Kienapple

Slight spoilers for the first two novellas, Imperfect and Broken, follow. I would like to thank the author again for providing me with a copy of Anew! This in no way affected my review, so what follows is my honest opinion on the last novel and series overall.

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Only days seem to have passed since Ahuil showed up at Theodosia’s family manor as a footman named Anthony. If not being able to see him while she’s been trapped on the estate was bad, having him hover around her family’s elbows at every moment is far worse. Stolen glances and moments are all that Theo and Ahuil can manage under the strict and watchful gaze of her family. Loving the other is forbidden, and Theo doesn’t dare think what will happen if they are found out. With the arranged marriage that she was running from looming even larger on the horizon, Theo needs to rediscover her strength even when it seems that all is lost. It’s not just her happiness that she needs to save.

I was a little frustrated with Theodosia in this final novella of the series. In the previous one, I had praised her as a strong character who didn’t stagnate in her relationship with Ahuil. That didn’t carry through completely to this one. At the beginning, she is still someone who is watching out for her loved ones and acting in a way that was not necessarily standard for the times. Eventually, her actions catch up to her and she is trapped at the estate, unable to even walk the grounds, making it impossible for her to sneak away to visit her friends to see how they’re making out in their new lives. Granted, she didn’t stagnate in the relationship, because most of that had a secretive quality and moments didn’t happen very often in Anew. She did, however, stagnate in the way that she allowed herself to wallow in her self-misery.

I had a hard time believing that this girl who was so dang stubborn (enough that she literally ran away to a different world) became someone who meekly followed the desires of her parents. It’s framed in a way that she’s protecting her brothers and sisters who will also, in a different way, benefit from an arranged marriage. I would have believed that far more if the previous two novellas (and a lot of this one) didn’t focus on how Theo and her siblings didn’t get along. And not the normal sibling squabbling that happens, but cruel things that they would do or say to her. With the exception of Louisa, Theo seems to loathe her siblings, so I was confused as to why this seemed to suddenly become so important to her. You would think that causing a scene or refusing a betrothal would actually give some element of freedom to Theodosia.

Most of the novel focuses on the family and societal drama that unfolds around Theo. It was interesting, but with Theo turning into someone unfamiliar, and less interactions with Ahuil and her friends, it was a little boring. I longed for the world they left behind and who she had been for most of the novella. Leaving the excitement of the fantasy world to focus on the world of England in the 1800s was a little like going from a fantasy movie to a soap opera. Things developed a less serious quality to them and didn’t have much of a drive. Unfortunately, this meant that the plot became predictable in its run to the end.

Ultimately, I’d recommend this series for those who like a mix of fantasy and historical genres. I loved that the focus overall wasn’t on the romantic relationship between two characters but instead focused on how the characters interacted with the world around them. There is good world building with strongly written characters. Although I did love the series, the final novella fell a little lower in its rating than the other two.

3.5 stars.

[Broken: Disappeared II] Bronwyn Kienapple

This series has been sitting in my queue for a month and I’m excited to finish. Find the first review here: Imperfect. There will likely be small spoilers for the first book below.

First of all, I have to thank the author for providing me with a copy of Broken. There are so few reviews for this lovely little book that I really hope my review will help others to choose it as something they’d like to read. What follows is my honest review for Broken.

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Staying in the Nextic world is more difficult than Theo imagined, especially when everything seems to be falling apart–literally.  The mysterious and beautiful world that Theodosia decided to stay in is no longer the safe haven that it once was; the growing presence of the half-beings threatens the well-being of the Nextic people in an increasingly inescapable way. Their options are running thin, and Theo and Ahuil are willing to do anything to save it. When anything becomes too much, Theo realizes that there is one way to save Ahuil and those she loves, consequences be damned.

Broken dealt with decisions: what it means when you have tough choices to decide between and the repercussions to follow. It details the complications of dealing with the decisions you made and being unable to go back on them. For Theo, this means she is torn between the people she loves. Naturally, she misses home and her younger sister, Louisa. But if she returned to England in the 1800s, she would lose the love and the comfort she finds in Ahuil. There’s a wonderful conversation that highlights this fact: although she does know that her family loves her and wants the best for her, they do not know her, and therefore, do not know what is best for her. Arranged marriages aside, I think this feeling of being lost and not being known is something that is highly relatable to readers. Everyone wants to be known, and we often search for this knowing in our friends and relationships. Theo feels that she as finally found love and knowing in her relationship with Ahuil. It’s an impossible choice to make because she’ll always have that longing for the other regardless of what she decides.

The romance between Ahuil and Theo that started in Imperfect continues in Broken. Everything that I mentioned liking about it in the first novella continues in the second. Broken is very much a fantasy novel with a smattering of romance, and the romance doesn’t take over. It is slow and realistic, without pushing the characters into something they wouldn’t do. Their characterization remains spot on and true to that which was established in the first novella. I liked the continued complications of coming from a strict society into one that is more accepting. Although Theo is becoming more comfortable with showing and sharing affection, the upbringing she had still causes her to be more cautious in showing her affections. Again, I liked that Theo is a character who doesn’t just throw modesty out the window. It helped the novel stay true to the time period it was set in. There is a gradual change to how she views modesty rather than suddenly having her do a 180.

The part I liked the most about Broken was the fact that Theo did not become a wet-noodle character. She remains a strong and independent person who isn’t willing to compromise what she knows is the right thing to do. When she realizes that the options they have are few, she faces and deals with them even though she is terrified. Theo comes to realize, too, that some of her options don’t include Ahuil. She loves him intensely, but she also believes that nothing is worth dying for, and Ahuil is on this list. That’s incredibly practical, which is something that I don’t often see in young adult novels where romance is involved. Sometimes heroines focus too much on staying with the one they love rather than the problems of the world they’re in. I love that this book doesn’t betray the fact that it’s fantasy in order to focus on romance.

Like ImperfectBroken ends on a cliffhanger that means you need to pick up the next novella immediately.

4 stars.