[The Suffering Tree] Elle Cosimano

Warning: I discuss cutting and the inclusion of it in The Suffering Tree in this review.

This cover is really nice. The colors are so lovely.

When I finished The Suffering Tree and read reviews of it I asked myself if I read the same book as these other reviewers because I absolutely do not have feelings of this being a five, four, or even three star book. The initial look at the book, aka the summary, had me hooked. It seemed right up my alley: it has a curse, a mystery, and a character coming back from the dead coupled with the outsider / outcast aspect. That summary was what led me to request an ARC on NetGalley. Sadly the summary led me astray.

The things I liked about this book are slim compared to the problems I had with it. It’s exceedingly frustrating as a reader to have most of the excitement about the book explained in the summary, because I found the actual book quite slow and boring at times. Even though the writing had beautiful and sometimes poetic moments, I couldn’t shake the disconnect from the characters despite following Tori throughout the entire novel.

Normally this is where I’d go into talking about the characters to keep with the flow of my writing, but I wanted to talk about the things I had issues with in order of importance. Because all of my issues with the characters and the points of view pale in comparison to this:

Using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a HUGE problem

There was no indication going into The Suffering Tree that Tori self-harmed. Like this review here, I agree that self-harm is not something that should be completely erased from young adult books, but it does need to be done in a way that doesn’t glorify it the way that I felt The Suffering Tree did. The inclusion of self-harm was completely unexpected. I’ve read a few other books with self-harm in them, and generally there’s something in the plot summary that indicates to the reader that it will be discussed in the book.

I hated that other characters, namely her mother and brother, seemed to ignore that Tori was hurting. Tori had been caught before and was required to talk to someone (she no longer is talking to someone ) and Tori’s mother counts the knives in the drawers, but there’s just something so dismissive about how it was handled in the book. They just scurry out of her way in their attempts to not talk about it.  With the death of Tori’s father, subsequent eviction, and move to a new home and town, you’d think that Tori’s mother would be aware of the stressors in Tori’s life that would lead to more cutting. There’s absolutely no discussion about how Tori is doing and there’s no therapy, even though the discussion of therapy is halfheartedly made later on. Nothing comes of it, however.  It made me feel like the author just used it as a way to further the story rather than call attention to the real harm it can be.

Which brings me back to my main point: using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a gigantic problem. It’s huge. And honestly, I have a hard time thinking about how this made it past editors and first readers, particularly when it’s in the young adult market. There’s a difference between blood being specifically used for spells which sometimes happens in books with witches / magic and when a character harms herself with the intent to harm and something magical just happens as a result.  I cannot believe that this decision was made and reinforced as it went through first readers.

This is threaded throughout the entirety of the novel but is never truly addressed. Tori acts weird and blows people off, yet no one calls her on it. No one asks–truly asks–if she’s okay. There are other ways of showing that a protagonist has anxiety and depression. Frankly I feel like it trivializes these things by making it the catalyst to magical things.

Which leads me into my second problem: the characters are not developed at all. Secondary characters are just names on the pages. The novel centers completely around Tori and Nathaniel. She has friends but doesn’t engage with them. Nor do they really try to engage with her. Along with her mother and brother, Tori’s two friends exist as plot devices to occasionally further the story. It’s sad when I read a story and none of the characters are memorable. I hardly even know what Tori and Nathaniel look like and the other characters may as well be the creepy mannequins at department stores. There’s basically a one sentence description about them. I felt that a lot of it was just ticking boxes.

When the romance develops the lack of character development really killed it for me. Even when a novel goes the instant-love route, there’s things that I can find cute about the romance even if it’s unrealistic and / or developed too quickly. With The Suffering Tree I felt nothing. Honestly I think the romance wasn’t necessary; I was far more invested in the mystery and anytime something remotely romantic happened it didn’t seem to fit in with the novel. I think it would have worked better had Tori and Nathaniel worked together as friends who both had an interest in solving the mystery.

The points of view were also very odd in this book. There were three, which is at least one too many. The choice to write in two perspectives–first and third–also kept removing me from the story. It was weird and jarring to switch from one to another. I don’t mind multiple perspectives, but it seems unnecessary to switch from third to first and then back. I didn’t feel that the book benefited from this choice at all, so I’m rather confused about why it was included in the first place.

A lot of this review focuses on the negative things, but there was enough positives that I didn’t hate the book. I use the two star rating for “okay” and that’s really how I felt about it. I enjoyed reading the mystery and of both Nathaniel and Tori’s involvement in it, although I feel that the lack of a villain made it weaker. I wanted to feel more uneasy about the mystery and the events surrounding it, but there wasn’t a sense of urgency to them. They felt very surface level which is frustrating when I want to read a mystery. I kept reading because I wanted to see how things would turn out in the end. I was curious but ultimately I feel that the author led too much into what was going to be revealed because it was easy to guess where it was going to go.

I have no doubt that The Suffering Tree will be popular when it’s published despite the issues I had with it. The premise was amazing and it made me have high hopes for the novel. I have a hard time reviewing when I’m one of the first reviewers of an upcoming release that doesn’t have many reviews, but I also know the importance of reading reviews before purchasing a book. I’ve tried to address all of the positives and negatives so people wondering about this book will have another perspective to look at.

I sincerely hope that the publisher addresses the issue that happens when cutting is glorified (particularly when this book is in the young adult market) before publication.

2 stars.

I received a copy of The Suffering Tree from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Suffering Tree will be published on June 13th.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Space/Galaxy Texture by Lyshastra

 

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

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

3. 5 stars.

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

 

 

[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.

[Three Dark Crowns] Kendare Blake

There is a minor spoiler regarding the “romance” in the text below.

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On an island mysteriously shrouded in mists, three triplets are born every generation. And every generation when they come of age, they have to kill their sisters or be killed themselves. Such is the world of Three Dark Crowns. Three Queens, each possessing a valuable magic, will soon turn 16. They are each sequestered in their towns and homes, training with their magic in order to present themselves as the strongest Queen and win the support of their people. As the days tick down, each begin to question their place on the island and what they’ve been told they must do for their entire life. Will they be able to confront the reality of killing their sisters when they still feel the lingering connections of their sisterly bond?

So much of Three Dark Crowns was spent building up to the main part of the story–which took place in the last third of the book–that not much happened in the way of conflict. As the story progresses, we learn more about the three sisters and the people around them–whether they are their adopted family, their advisers, or others vying for their attention and favor–but we don’t really learn much beyond that.  Blake really built a world where you can feel the pressures that are on each girl and her companions, but the effect is that it creates three separate bubbles that don’t really interact with each other for the majority of the book. And that makes it dull. There are “rules” in place that says you can’t harm the other sisters until a certain time, but I have a hard time believing that they wouldn’t be more curious about each other. That they wouldn’t sneak out more.

Instead, we get a focus on them building their powers–which could be interesting, but I felt like there weren’t many times when we actually saw the powers happen. We’re told about them, of course, but when there’s an Elemental, a Naturalist, and a Poisoner, I expected more. Even with two of the sisters being weaker than the other, I didn’t feel like I got to see a lot of Mirabella’s Elemental nature.

The names alone conjure up power, but because two of the sisters are struggling to master their talents, every time I read their chapter I was kind of bored. There’s only so many times I can read about Katherine getting sick or Arsinoe being unable to call her familiar. Even though a lot of time was spent with them, I still kind of feel like I don’t really know much about them because the narrative kept going around in a circle.

That said, I really enjoyed how each of the groups were distinct. I liked reading about all of the different lifestyles they had and how they approached the upcoming struggle for the crown. I wish we were given more on that, because I think that was where the novel was the strongest. Even though each group was powerful with magic, there are alliances and betrayals forming behind the scenes. They’re partially shown to the reader but there’s still an element of unreliability because you don’t know how much of it is talk and how much of it is real.

For having an interesting premise and with the majority of the book spent building up to the climax of the novel, the world was surprisingly bare. Nothing really stood out from the world-building. It relied pretty heavily on the fact that it was a fantasy novel. I felt like I was expected to fill in the blanks with generic fantasy world building blocks. I hope that there are more details on the world and how the powers fit into it in the next novel.

Something that I loved about Three Dark Crowns is the amount of female characters who had important roles. While the bulk of the book did focus on the sisters, there were other female characters who also had political power. I enjoyed reading those parts where side characters were shown to be orchestrating much more than just the upcoming announcement of the Queens. Unfortunately for the book, because all of the side female characters were also strong, it really put light on the weakness of the protagonists. I found I was more interested in Jules, Arsinoe’s best friend, than I was in Arsinoe. It would have been a different book if it had been Jule’s point of view. I would have liked to see how “normal” people dealt with the upcoming Crown games.

The split between the three points of view caused a little bit of a problem for me. It didn’t help that it was also third person present tense, which I don’t think I had ever seen until this book. I don’t feel that I truly had a read on any of the characters until late in the novel, at which point I had already decided that I cared more about Jules than about any of the main three.

Romance was a problem in this book. I didn’t understand the main pairing, which didn’t really initially have anything to do with the three Queens. I usually don’t explicitly talk about spoilers in my reviews, but I feel I have to in this case. This is your last warning, if you care.

Spoilers in the next paragraphs:


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I get that love triangles are a thing. It’s an extremely popular way to get your readers to continue reading your series as they hope that their preferred pairing is the end game. That is not what happened in this book. What happened is that a character who did nothing but be kind to everyone around her, including her boyfriend, was treated like garbage by the author. And then when the character had a chance to forge on alone, the author dragged her back into this toxic, damaging, and abusive relationship.

Jules and Joseph have known each other since they were children. When they finally reunite, they can’t spend a moment apart any longer. And that’s the way it works, for awhile. Aaannd then Joseph has to go off on business. And he nearly drowns when his boat capsizes. And he’s rescued by Mirabella, who just happens to be traveling at the same time. And naturally, the only way to “save” him, is to get naked and share body heat. And then, despite the fact that we’ve been told over and over just how much Jules and Joseph belong together, just how much they love each other, he up and has sex with this complete stranger because he thinks that it’s a dream. I cannot explain how much this just does not make any sort of sense at all. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

I was furious. I still am when I think about how the aftermath was handled. He doesn’t tell her right away, instead opting to lie. Then he tells her and breaks her heart, yet they’re still sort of together. Then when she finally decides that he’s not worth her time anymore she…changes her mind. Because even though he went off and unapologetically had sex with Mirabella multiple times in less than a 24 hour period (I can maybe maybe write off the first “I had sex with you because I thought it was a dream / thought I was dead,” but not the subsequent times), she still wants him to be her first. What. He’s an asshole. Just ugh. I could write so much more on how angry this “triangle” makes me, but then it would become even more of a rant. To Joseph: You knew her for like a day! Jeez! To Jules: Not worth it. He doesn’t care about you.

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Spoilers over.

It’s not often that I read a twist and legitimately like it. I actually didn’t see it coming (or at least, not quite the entire thing), and I thought it was a brilliant way of using the last pages of the novel to really pull in the readers for the sequel. It makes complete sense in the world of the narration, although I also am struggling with the fact that it was missed in the first place. I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief. However, I will be finishing the series because I do want to know what will happen to all of our characters. So good job on pulling me in, Kendare Blake.  I’m so glad this is a duology and not a trilogy or more.

3 stars.

 

[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.

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!

[Empire of Storms: Throne of Glass V] Sarah J. Maas

Slight spoilers for the previous four books are below.

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Empire of Storms finally brings together everything that began in Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows. This penultimate novel in the Throne of Glass series showcases Aelin’s power–political, physical, and magical–in a way that really presents her as a Queen for the people. However, not everyone is as in love with Aelin and her fire as her Court is. Many fear what her power could mean for them, should she decide that she doesn’t like what they’re doing. As always, people who have power fear to lose it. Aelin has to prove that she won’t use her power to force people’s hands like she did in Wendlyn. She has to prove that she’s a Queen.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Some of the events were a little more boring than others, but ultimately every moment, no matter how seemingly insignificant, matter. There’s a lot of perspectives in this novel and they’re all intertwined in a cohesive, entertaining, and emotional way. The book focuses on dealing with the aftermath of what happened in Rifthold when Dorian and Aelin end the King of Adarlan’s reign and the seal on magic.

In the previous novels, characters had been introduced but we didn’t get a lot of time with them because of the focus on Aelin’s quest. This time, more of the pages were given to those side characters, and I think it worked really well. I enjoyed reading how characters functioned and acted when the group separated and Aelin was off doing something else. Rowan and Dorian, Lysandra, Elide, Manon, Aedion…and even characters that we’d previously been told were not necessarily allies got pages. While I liked them in the previous novels, Empire of Storms made me fall in love with them completely.

Manon’s storyline escalated in a way that had me cheering for her. It was absolutely wonderful. Character arc-wise, hers is so in depth and filled with emotion. There’s been few characters I’ve read who go through as much change and internal conflict as she does and comes to terms with it. I loved that she went from a character who believed in emotionless discipline to someone who realized that caring for another creature, witch, or human was not a weakness. She’s part of the group of strong females that Maas has written, and I appreciate it so much. It’s never about the men saving them. Manon takes control of her own life and doesn’t allow anyone to tell her otherwise.

Similarly, Lysandra moves from this former courtesan to an impressive force that uses her shifting power in ways that surprises everyone. She’d been treated as a commodity for nearly as long as Aelin was an assassin and now that she has freedom she uses her abilities to get as many different tastes of freedom. I wish there had been more in her point of view. Reading how she dealt with her past as she forged her future would have added a lot to her sections.

This time around, though, my favorite side character was Elide. Her entire life she’s been controlled. While she did escape in the last book, I felt like her true potential wasn’t realized. It is in Empire of Storms. She uses what she’s learned by watching the strong women in her life, namely Manon and Asterin, and manipulates situations to protect herself as well as turn them in her favor. She’s consumed by a desire to return to Aelin, yet she also is so terrified that Aelin won’t accept her. She’s similar to Aedion in that aspect; both had things done to them and did things that they’re ashamed of and so are afraid to return to Aelin. They want to return so badly but fear that she will turn from them. What they don’t know is that Aelin also has those fears, but they’re reversed. I loved reading how Elide came to terms with that as well as her journey into strength. Ultimately, I felt that Elide’s story matched Manon’s in emotion. It was hard to read the moments where she was desperate to survive and the moments where her heart hurt.

A driving force of these novels and also why I read them are characters like these. I’ve only really talked about the women so far because I feel like they have more to come up against, but the male characters were equally well-written. I can really appreciate when an author makes all of their characters, even the side-ones, important to the story and interesting to read. Back when Manon was introduced in Heir of Fire, I kind of felt like her story didn’t really have a point. To have her progress to a point where she’s vital to the story is amazing. And that’s what happens with all of the characters. They’re first introduced in small doses, planets rotating around Aelin’s star. But in this book, the focus turns to them and I was able to realize just how much they’re all meant to complement each other.

They’re all characters that have been told one thing for half or most of their life, characters who are beaten down to the point where you don’t expect that they’ll be able to change and come out of it. That’s what is so beautiful about Empire of Storms. Readers already know Aelin. By focusing on the others, readers are able to truly see how they all have come from these dark places but they don’t allow that darkness to control them. Their similar experiences allow them to heal one another.

When characters are around each other for long periods of time, I get why the romances happen. But I felt like there was a bit too much of this book dedicated to the creation or consummation of these romances. I understand that romance is a huge draw, but I also felt like I wanted to know more details about the travelling and growth of Aelin’s Court and people rather than the amount of times they thought about each other’s body parts. I get it. I just don’t need to be reminded of it constantly. Love flourishes even in the worst of conditions, but I felt that the characters lost their focus a bit on the main conflict of their world and that of the novel.

While I’m happy with the pairings that Maas set up, I also felt like it was too tidy. Everyone is paired or has the potential for a pairing. As a result, there are some that I prefer over others, and the rest exist purely so there can be some romance when the chapters switch to their point of view. Some of the characters lost a little bit of their importance because they were so focused on the object of their affection. That said, it’s only a minor squabble I have with Empire of Storms. Not everyone needs to be paired and it’s not realistic that everyone is paired in my opinion.

I found Empire of Storms to be the second most emotional book of the series for me. There were so many events happening, some of them behind the scenes, that when they played out or revealed had a big emotional punch.  All the pieces came together–all of the things that Aelin had kept from her Court and the reader fell into place. It shocked me at how well Maas had taken all of those separate storylines and knitted them together into one to the point where I wasn’t expecting things to happen. This certainly is the definition of a penultimate book: villains showed their faces, enemies turned into begrudging allies, people were protected, and romances were realized. Like all of Maas’ Throne of Glass novels, Empire of Storms had a cliff-hanger ending that promises lots of conflict in the next novel. I’m very excited to see how this series concludes, yet I’m also afraid to read it because I know that there’s no way everything will be happily ever after. But I can hope for it.

Sitting pretty comfortably at 4.5 stars exactly. I liked the plot a lot, but it did get bogged down by the focus on the romances.

 

[Queen of Shadows: Throne of Glass IV] Sarah J. Maas

As always, slight spoilers for the previous novels.

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Coming fresh from reading Heir of FireQueen of Shadows lacked a little bit of the punch that the other did. Perhaps it was because she was back in Adarlan where I was already familiar with the villain, but I felt that this book dealt with a lot of the logistics of setting up the next book in the series and dealing with the aftermath of what happened in Heir of Fire instead of really doing anything new.  For me, Celaena’s journey back to Adarlan and the duties she had to address there were a little boring after the excitement of her training and coming into her identity as Aelin, as well as the excitement and horror at the capture of Aedion, Dorian, and Chaol. In Queen of Shadows, not only does Aelin have to address her past, but she also has to address the future of her kingdom as well as the continuation of the one she’s known for half her life. And unfortunately, a lot of that was planning and plotting.

In the last book, Celaena’s character growth was something that I truly enjoyed reading and that growth is not quite done. Yes, she came into her power and name, but there are moments in Queen of Shadows where Aelin can’t quite shake her identity as Celaena. She’s been Celaena for half her life to survive, so getting rid of that persona completely is likely impossible. There are skills and allies she made while she was an assassin and she finds that it is necessary to masquerade as Celaena for a few moments longer.

This time, however, I liked reading how that caused conflict within her, as well as shock for the characters around her. The characters who only knew her as Aelin sometimes struggle with her actions as Celaena, while the characters who knew her as Celaena struggle with seeing her as anything else and don’t always trust her actions as Aelin. That leads to conflict between all the characters involved, which was a source of a lot of the tension in the book.

This book really focused on the internal tension. As always, there’s the outside tension that comes from their enemies and their movements, but this one really focused on the tensions between characters and their allies. They didn’t always trust each other even if they all were working toward a greater goal. Aelin no longer can rely on the magic that she’d nurtured because she’s back in a land where it was cutoff. She can’t rely on the fear tactic of showing her power, although she does still have the fear tactics of an assassin. Instead, she has to rely on her words and her diplomatic skills. It was a nice change because she had to come into her other power: that of a Queen. As Queen, she can’t just force her potential allies to their knees. She has to address their concerns as well as her own, and come to a decision, which could often be a compromise.

This was shown through her interactions with Chaol. When she left and he discovered that she was Aelin through the hints she gave him, he really struggled with coming to terms with that information. The girl he thought he knew was someone completely different. He wanted to ignore that she was an assassin, but he couldn’t ignore that she is the lost Queen. He also has to deal with the heartbreak that he still feels about losing her and being unable to love all of the different parts of her character. Aelin, likewise, hasn’t quite dealt with how their relationship ended. They both have anger in them, and that makes it nearly impossible for them to compromise. Until they’re able to forgive the things that have happened between them–and the decisions that they both make to protect what they love but doesn’t necessarily protect what the other loves–they don’t work well together.

Chaol wants to protect his kingdom, and Aelin wants to protect hers. I thought that Maas did a wonderful job at showing the pressures of being the sole heir of a kingdom but she also wants to be a girl, a friend, and a person. But so much of Aelin’s identity now is the fact that she’s that heir, and it definitely gets to Aelin. She has to step into her role as a Queen and the leader of her Court, and sometimes she doesn’t quite fit. Her journey to fit into that mold yet still remain true to her friends, her Court, and herself was plotted out really well. It wasn’t instantaneous and she had to balance all those parts of herself.

In the last book, Manon Blackbeak was introduced as an Ironteeth witch, a type of creature that had previously been shown as a villainous one. She’s in charge of the Thirteen, who are thirteen Ironteeth witches that are basically the best at what they do, and what they do varies. In Heir of Fire, her storyline wrapped up with the Ironteeth witch storyline was interesting but I wasn’t sure why it had been included. It seemed like it was just there to divide the narrative and to show more of the world without any real function.

There’s more of a focus on that story in this novel and I ended up really liking her character. Her character arc was really well done, and reading her part was a welcome change from the kind of boring set-ups that were occurring in the Aelin, Chaol, and Adarlan storylines. She’s built up as a character who has these strict rules that she follows, but more and more she’s put into situations where she questions her upbringing as an Ironteeth witch. She questions if everything she’s known her whole life is as black and white as it seems. I honestly think that she’s my favorite character in Queen of Shadows because of that internal conflict. It’s the reason why I liked Celaena in the last novel so much; I love the internal conflict as characters come up against things they’ve avoided for a chunk of their lives. I’m really excited to see what happens with her and her Thirteen and if Manon will change.

While I did really enjoy this story, particularly the Manon/Thirteen storyline, I did feel like it lacked some of that page turning excitement that the other had. I felt that Queen of Shadows ended kind of abruptly, with several conflicts and storylines wrapping up a little too neatly for my tastes, even though there were consequences that will linger in the next book. While some parts of the book are definitely worth a 5 star rating, I didn’t have as many feelings of pure enjoyment that the previous novel gave me.

4 stars.