[A Torch Against the Night] Sabaa Tahir

25558608

Right then. This is the continuation of the An Ember in the Ashes series that nearly everyone seems to gush over but me. I’m not sure if it’s just the over-hype or the fact that it takes a long time for me to get into the story, but I feel like this series is kind of…boring. Which bums me out. It has all of the hallmarks of what I should like in a series, but for some reason I just can’t lose myself in it. I thought that this one would be better than the first because Ember was a debut novel, but A Torch Against the Night was only marginally better for me. I keep reading them because I want to see what it is about them, but once I finish the book I’m not really enthusiastic about it.

A Torch Against the Night begins where Ember left off, with the results of the Trials and the flight of Laia and Elias. They’re desperate to get out of a city where their descriptions are known, desperate to try to rescue Laia’s brother from the dreaded Kauf prison. Though they’re unlikely allies, Laia and Elias work together because they both don’t believe in the Martial Empire. When the burden of the journey falls heavily on Laia’s shoulders, she has to decide if she will allow it to break her or if she will rise above the hardships and be reforged anew.

Torch is a book that deals in the reforging of characters. Whether you’re a slave Scholar, a ruling Martial, or a free Tribeswoman, the choices that you make thrust you toward a new self. Often the characters would fight against the inevitability of their breaking point, other times they would run toward it because they knew they needed to change. Actions have a lot of consequences in this book, even more so than what I remember from Ember. It ups the ante a little bit by pitting former friends against each other. I liked how the characters all related to each other because of this reforging of self. Additionally, the different paths that the reforging could take was explored with each individual character. Not all of them made it to the other side whole.

Parts of their reforging are really well done in concept, but not really expanded on in a way that makes me feel like it’s true character growth. For example, I think it was extremely important that the idea of choices and being able to make your own regardless of the danger or potential consequences was realized in Elias’ point of view. He’s constantly a protector, but you can’t always protect everyone. And you certainly can’t hold people back from making their own choices or block them from making their own choices. When he realizes this, I thought that it was going to be a pivotal moment of growth. Instead, I feel like he realized it, and then we’re sped along to another moment. And later he seems to have forgotten this entirely.

The strongest character in regard to this reforging concept was clearly Helene. I am so glad that her point of view was included. She is by far the strongest character in general. I loved reading how she really struggled with her duty to the Empire and her love for Elias and her family. Again, though, there were moments when the tragic aspect of her character–being stuck in the worst of rocks and hard places–wasn’t really expanded upon. She ended up being the only character I really cared about.

Both Laia and Elias have changes to their characters as well. While Helene’s point of view deals a lot with the mundane world of the Empire, the other two delve into the territory of myth. I know that Ember had jinn and ghuls, but there was just something so odd about it. I complained about the lack of world-building in Ember; that problem continues in Torch and becomes even more problematic when I consider the attempt at creating a mythology. I just couldn’t see it. I felt that the expansion upon the world of myth as connected to the real world was purely to explain why Laia and Elias are special and Meant For Great Things. Again, like character building, if I’m not given enough about the world, I don’t really care about it.

I feel like Elias and Laia are archetypes and not characters. They just do what their archetype drives them to do. Laia is the one who will somehow (eventually) overthrow the Martials, but we don’t know just how special she is yet. Elias continues to be a blank-slate who wants to protect all of the helpless people in order to atone for his sins as a Mask.

Another character who suffers from a lack of character development is the Commandant. In Ember, we were told that she did in fact care for Elias briefly rather than leaving him the desert alone as we were initially told. That glimpse of her as a multi-faceted villain was completely dropped in Torch. She is 100% evil in this book and there is absolutely nothing redeeming about her character. I can’t even see her as a great villain because I haven’t seen enough of the motivations behind her actions in Torch. The only thing she doesn’t do is laugh manically. Villains and heroes are more than just their role. Write that.

Again, the romance that was in the novel served merely to check the box that all young adult novels need to have a “love triangle.” Completely a case of instant-love because they all think the person of their affection is pretty. There isn’t much more to say about it. It’s there, it happened–and I still  don’t see why they like each other.

So, this review has been chock full of negativity, but  finished the book and enjoyed it once it finally got into the action.  I had hoped that the issues that had been present in Ember would have resolved themselves by Torch but was disappointed. I know that this will continue to be a favorite series for many, but I don’t think that I will ever devour this series with the intensity that others feel. The problems outlined above will likely continue into the third novel. While it’s not as bad as the last one, I have problems with books that take so long to get into the action like this one does. There are two more books planned for the series and as I don’t really understand how there’s going to be enough plot and conflict for two more books, I’m dropping this one.

3 stars.

I received this book as a book club book, so thank you!

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

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

17167166

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 stars.

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

[Throne of Glass] Sarah J. Maas

 

16034235

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 stars.

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

[Ghost House] Alexandra Adornetto

19486754Chloe thought that the ghosts that used to haunt her were gone. She thought that she was strong enough to push them away, but in the days following her mother’s death, they come back in force. They’re harder to push away. Dealing with her mother’s death, the ghosts, and her father’s grief, Chloe doesn’t know how much longer she can keep it together. Whisked away to England by a worried grandmother, Chloe’s abilities draw her into a 157 year old mystery and the ghosts that have the answers.

I was super intrigued by the premise of Ghost House. It promised that there would be “hungry dead  [eager for] a chance to claim her for their own, ” and that there was a mystery at its heart. Chloe can see ghosts and is able to ignore them most of the time, but then she suddenly can’t push them away. She’s drawn into this world that exists alongside her own. Chloe struggles to figure out her place in both of the worlds because she’s torn between them. Due to the poor execution, I didn’t feel that this was the result of the book at all. This was very much a novel where the summary and publication team works really hard to make this seem readable. For most of my time reading it, I kept looking for that zest that made it as exciting as the summary sounded. It wasn’t there.

This novel was plotted very simply. While it was described as a mystery, I felt that everything was explained to us. There were no moments where I was guessing what would come next because it was obvious what was going to happen. We’re constantly told the facts of the mystery instead of being shown it. As a result, the novel comes off as poorly written. The simplicity of the plot was nothing compared to the poor writing. At least, poor for the level of a “best selling author.” There were so many odd ways to describe the setting and the characters, that I lost track of them (“butter smooth shoulders,” anyone? So odd). It really made me feel like a high schooler wrote this. That isn’t to say that young people can’t write, and write well (because I’ve read some), but Adornetto seemed to have missed the memo that you can go into the territory of too much. And oftentimes, the very same description was repeated incessantly:

It was cool in a comforting way, like when you scalded your hand and ran it under water.

He really cooled her down with a touch. A lot. Ultimately, I expect more from someone who is a best seller, but I should learn to be disappointed.

I think the mark of a good writer is the ability for them to show their readers things that are real. I really hate being told, because it reeks of an agenda. From the moment Alexander was introduced, we were told an innumerable amount of times how stunningly gorgeous he was. As a result, it didn’t feel real at all. I wasn’t given a choice to decide which of her two love interests I liked better. The author decided that Alex was the one that Chloe would want. It wasn’t subtle at all. It wasn’t gradual. It was instant. Because of that, I really was rooting for Joe the entire time. I felt that he was a little more rounded (although he also had the instant-love sickness). He was really sweet to Chloe, even when she treated him like garbage–to the point where I didn’t understand why he was still interested in her. I think that the romance between Alex and Chloe was meant to be a little bit of a star-crossed lovers thing–because Alex is a ghost, after all–but that was not successful for me at all.

My biggest disappointment with Ghost House is the ending. This easily could have been a standalone novel and it would have been a good way at looking how grief doesn’t stop existing. You just learn how to cope with it and keep moving because the one who left would want you to. Instead, we were given a cliffhanger. One that makes no sense at all, although I’m sure there will be some way to explain it in the next novel. The ending was solely to force a series, and that made me mad. Especially when the writing should have been better. I don’t feel that the story and writing is enough to make this a series.

The problem with finishing books on a cliffhanger is that it leaves things unresolved for your readers, characters, and story. They’re very effective, but cruel, particularly when news of a second book has only recently surfaced. My personal opinion is that if you want to write a series–and leave end them with cliff-hangers–know where you’re taking it next. Have it ready. If you can’t handle the pressure of that, then write a standalone and make it the best thing you’ve written at that moment in time.

I feel like Ghost House was more childish than her other series. At least what I remember of them.  I remember them being enjoyable, even if they did have their own agendas. This one felt very much like it was the debut novel of a teenager, which is partially the case, but since it’s the fourth young adult book that she wrote, I was expecting more. I expected the writing to advance. Instead I got writing that was littered with clichés, odd similes and metaphors, and repetitive descriptions. Yet I feel that I know very little about the characters and the world. It was very fill-in-the-blank-y for me as a reader. I really felt like the author didn’t love what she was writing and so that translated into my experience as a reader. There was no passion.

2 stars.

[An Ember in the Ashes] Sabaa Tahir

27774758

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!

[Shadow and Bone: The Grisha Trilogy] Leigh Bardugo

10194157

Alina Starkov is an orphan who has never been remarkable. She and her childhood friend, Mal, have survived in the war-torn lands of Ravka by sticking together from the moment they met at the home for orphans. When a power suddenly manifests from her during a moment of desperation, Alina is thrust into a world of intrigue and hidden agendas, where everyone wants to use her for their own gain. Alina has to navigate this world as she learns about her new power and finds within herself the strength to make her own decisions in a world where lies are as much of part of it as the truth.

I started reading this because I was actually interested in reading Six of Crows but wanted to read the published works in order. I’ve heard good things about Shadow and Bone, so picking it up wasn’t that difficult. Overall, I enjoyed the story. I really liked the concept of the Grisha and the Otkazat’sya–those with power and those without–and how their pieces fit into the puzzle of the politics of Ravka. The plot was the standard young adult downtrodden-but-suddenly-special-protagonist-with-powers fare: with a love triangle, shadowy threat of the other lands attacking, and mysterious figures who don’t reveal their plans until the climax of the story. I absolutely can see why it’s an extremely popular novel. Leigh Bardugo’s writing is easy to follow and entertaining to read.

However, I didn’t feel like it really stood out from other young adult novels when you strip down the book to its bare bones. The things I mentioned above are very much the tropes of the genre. It obviously works, because I keep reading and enjoying them. Shadow and Bone could have stood above the rest if it had gone deeper into the Russian part of the world. Having the occasional italicized word does not make a setting Russian. Ravka is fictional, but I didn’t feel that the setting moved beyond the generic forested fantasy setting that make up so many other books. Granted, I don’t know much about Russia either, but if I decide to set my novel in a country (even fictionalized), I’m going to do some research. Some extensive research. The amount of research where I have to step back and remind myself to actually work on the novel. I didn’t get that feeling from Shadow and Bone. The “Russian inspired setting” was just a shiny bauble that was meant to get readers to check it out, only to find that the bauble was a normal stone polished until it shined.

Character-wise, it was okay. I didn’t really feel a connection to Alina but I didn’t hate her either. She just was kind of there to function as the lens for the reader to view the world. She wasn’t very exciting even when she was doing exciting things. I felt that she whined in a trope-y “I’m not pretty” way too much. The Darkling, who is the antagonist of the story, had a cool name. That’s about it. I’m a fan of antagonists / villains, but I couldn’t get a feel for him either. I think that he was sort of meant to be a love interest, but I didn’t really feel like it was developed in a way that was real. The attraction there only really functioned as a “hey, there’s a love triangle…maybe” thing. A lot of the character development relied too much on the stereotypes that litter the young adult fantasy genre, which was disappointing.

So why did I continue reading? The Grisha. I did truly enjoy the idea of light and dark powers, where there’s the typical “good” and then the contrasting “bad” one. I thought that Leigh Bardugo did a good job of showing that there are grey places in them. Even a Heartrender, someone who has the power to damage organs, has a reasoning behind why they decided to cultivate that instead of a healing one. It reminded me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a series that I love.  I would recommend this for people who enjoy young adult fantasy, but it absolutely does not go deeper into the culture, even if it was only “inspired” by it.

3 stars.

[Angeldust: Dark Angel V] Hanna Peach

This is the last review of a series that I’ve been reading. The review for the fourth book can be found here.  A huge thank you to Hanna Peach for providing me with Angeldust as well as the rest of the series! What follows is an honest review for the last book and for the series overall.

22554718

After the events of Angelblood, Alyx and Israel have decided that they can’t wait until everything is right, both in the world and between themselves. They have to take advantage of the time they have together now, because they have no idea where there lives will be in the next few weeks. After uncovering Michael’s horrible plans for the angels, humans, and planet, Alyx and her followers have to stop him before they can come to fruition. As Alyx speeds off to uncover the secrets of Raphael’s charm in a lost Seraphim city, she puts her trust in her friends to continue protecting themselves against Michael and his followers, not knowing that Michael is moving against them more quickly than they’d prepared for. Angeldust has everything that is good and frustrating about the series as a whole in it, making this a final installment that concluded the main story line well but also kept some story lines unfinished for potential spin-offs.

The Dark Angel series has always had love triangles, and Angeldust is no exception. I understand that love triangles often make the young adult/new adult genre go-round, but they became something that was the norm in the series. It was no surprise when there were more that continued in Angeldust. I felt that there were too many and that characters were jumping from one person to the next like crazy, while also keeping feelings for their first love interest which annoyed their second. I didn’t feel that the spurned point of the triangle needed to find someone immediately. These events are happening so quickly that I doubted the spurnee could get over the rejection quickly enough to have a meaningful relationship with the new love interest.

That said, I still don’t feel like Angeldust went too much into the confessions of love realm. There’s always been a focus on the true issues of the world instead of the fact that Alyx loves Israel. I love that this series puts romance behind the fight to save the world. It really knows where the heart of the story is and puts romance (or at least, the desire to run away together) on hold for the greater good. Although I do love the Israel and Alyx relationship, I liked that I could rely on the plot being well-written and engaging without being bogged down by too much lovey stuff. The dialogue is intelligent and keeps us focused on what Alyx is working toward and the undercurrent of love never takes over.

Angeldust keeps the focus on Alyx’s strength and her guardianship duties. I love that she continues to grow throughout the series, even when it’s nearing the end of the final novel. For me, she never plateaued as a character; I always found that her actions were realistic, thought-out, and fast paced. Her movement drives the plot of the series overall, because without the decisions that she makes (although not always good ones), most of the books wouldn’t have much drive. Hiding from your enemies sometimes works and is necessary, but it doesn’t often read as an interesting novel.

One of my favorite parts of this series was the element of side-quests. It allowed each book to have a focus. The plot of each individual book was well-constructed to fit into the larger plot of the entire series. I was never bored while reading these books because they all fit together, yet were also really good reads on their own. Each book is unique in its own right,  but the drive of the main plot was there.  Within each individual book, most of the problems that were unique to it were concluded, with the exception of Angeldust. The things that were left open at the conclusion of Angeldust were intentional, and following the overall theme of this review, realistic. Things don’t always finish with a cut-and-dried conclusion, so that ambiguousness was a bit refreshing in light of novels that end sugar-sweet.

As always, the plot of the book was fast paced, continuing the momentum that started in the first book and didn’t stop until the final book. Simultaneous events are happening and are split between characters and areas, making it impossible to stop reading when there’s a break in the action of one to focus on another. It’s a bit relieving when they all meet up again, because the breaks made me worry that something bad was going to happen when the point of view was switched to another character.

As much as I enjoyed this book and the series overall, there was one teensy bit regarding the ending that I was disappointed about. As a series, it concluded well with the exception of that moment. It’s not the sort of hitch that destroys an entire series for me, but when I literally groan out loud (and on a crowded train, no less), it makes me a little bummed. Oh well, can’t have everything be perfect. It’s one of my little tics as a reader.

When I look back on everything, I really enjoyed this series. The characters, the world, the plot, and the romance, it all just hit me as something that was very enjoyable and mature. Hanna Peach has a gift for writing her worlds into the reader, and I heartily recommend this for people who like fantasy/paranormal and a plot that ties together in the end. I’d be interested in reading other novels set in this Seraphim world.

4 stars.

Again, a thank you to Hanna Peach for providing me with books 2-5 of the Dark Angel series.