[Siege and Storm: The Grisha Trilogy II] Leigh Bardugo

Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.

I came off of reading Shadow and Bone, the first novel, feeling decidedly unimpressed. It was a good novel; I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t quite something I was raving about despite the impressive amount of love there is for it. Siege and Storm is so much better. I think it helps that the novel is longer. Bardugo is able to explore her world a bit more, showing readers the corners that hadn’t yet been introduced fully.

Keith Thompson is one of my favorite illustrators. I didn’t realize that he was the one who created the maps! So talented.

After defeating the Darkling on the Fold, Alina has been running and hiding. She and Mal have been trying to make a life for themselves in a strange land, but as the days pass, it becomes more and more difficult for Alina to hide who she is. When she discovers that the Darkling survived against impossible odds and is now more powerful than ever, Alina realizes that she’s going to have to face her past and confront the Darkling and his allies.

Alina came into her power in the first book, which meant that she finally is a character I like in this second book. I found her pretty annoying in the first book, a standard heroine that whines about her powers (or lack of) while doing little to advance herself. Obviously that had changed toward the end of the novel, but I still wasn’t sure of her and the Grisha series. Now I’m pretty eager to finish the series.

 I am a soldier. I am the Sun Summoner. And I’m the only chance you have. 

One of the best things about Siege and Storm was how much Alina struggled. She had been told by the Darkling that Mal, an otkazat’sya–someone without powers–would never understand her and her power. As much as she tried to ignore his words, they stuck with her, barbs that keep pricking at her heart even as she gets closer to Mal. The resulting inner conflict that Alina goes through makes her a much better character. I felt far more invested in her this time around because I wanted to see how she would overcome–or succumb to–this inner darkness that seems to have been planted in her by the Darkling. As the book progresses, Alina realizes that she maybe can’t blame the Darkling for all of the negative thoughts, greed, and thirst for more that has grown in her. I loved that. I loved that she owned up to her feelings instead of blaming someone else for it. She has all of these pressures on her that are personal and political, and sometimes they become too much for her.

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[A Torch Against the Night] Sabaa Tahir

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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[Throne of Glass] Sarah J. Maas

 

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

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

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

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[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.

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[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.

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[Shadow and Bone: The Grisha Trilogy] Leigh Bardugo

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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.

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