[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.

 

[Monstress 1: Awakening] Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

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Monstress was a beautiful and deadly introduction to the world that Marjorie M. Liu created and Sana Takeda illustrated. After an apocalyptic event, lines were drawn between the Humans and the Arcanics. We follow Maika Halfwolf and her companions as they try to find what exactly happened on that day and how Maika is connected to it. Maika has secrets of her own and sometimes it’s best that they remain hidden.

For the most part, I couldn’t get enough of Monstress. There were moments when the story was a bit slow because the author needed to introduce concepts or characters to the reader, but as a whole, it started immediately in the action and didn’t stop. We learn that there are the Arcanics, who look different from the humans (often appearing half animal) and who are not considered human ever since the events of the war. Treating them badly is commonplace, although not every human is like that. The Cumaea, a sort of witch-nun, are after Arcanics for their Lilium, a substance that they can harvest from Arcanics they’ve captured. They’re powerful enough that they can do what they want, and no one can stop them. This is a world that had steam-punk influences, but also maintained that it was a fantasy world where gods exist.

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One of my absolute favorite parts of Monstress was the fact that nearly all of the characters–the protagonist, one of the companions, the villains–were female. There were men, but the story was not driven by them. I love that the protagonist, Maika, was harsh and didn’t want to step into the shoes of a heroine when others pressured her toward that direction. She remained firmly rooted in her own motivations. She wasn’t unwilling to change, however. One of my favorite things to read were her actions with Kippa and Ren, because it really showed how traveling with them was changing her from this tough, prickly person to someone who was still tough and prickly, but she was willing to extend her drive to survive to protecting them. Maika is an unlikely caretaker, but nothing is more natural than her slipping into that role for Kippa. The characters in this are also extremely diverse. Because there was an apocalyptic event in this world, it seems like everyone who survived came together and built what they could. There’s not any room for prejudices, unless you’re an Arcanic.

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unnamedLiu has a knack for pacing her story out for her readers. We start in the action, so there’s a lot of things that we’re unaware of at first. The backstory of this world and of Maika’s place in it is given to us in bits and pieces. It allows for slow world-building that ultimately really pays off, particularly in the motivations of the potential villains of the series. I say potential because although we’re given their motivations, Liu has already proven in each part of Monstress that what you expect is not always what is true. By the time I finished Monstress, I was more aware of what was going on in the world but there’s still so much more going on that we haven’t been told yet. We know that some people are keeping secrets from other people. As readers, we’re lucky to be in the know. I’m really looking forward to what will happen when those secrets become common knowledge to the people it’s being kept from, because it will make for some intense moments and illustrations.

The illustrations. Oh my gosh. I would love to have prints of some of the city and wilderness scenes. It is absolutely stunning. I love that there are moments where it looks brushed on the page.  I won’t lie, when the story dragged a bit the art is what drew me through the story. Takeda was able to illustrate facial expressions perfectly that even when there wasn’t text I was immediately able to understand what the characters were feeling. There were so many lovely wide-shots of the world that really let me take in what it was like. It was a way to introduce readers to the world without words, and it worked perfectly when there were large, detailed panels. I’m so glad that it’s in full color, because Takeda is incredibly talented. I would definitely buy an artbook for this series.

I love how it's cluttered but also open. Really shows the setting.

I love how it’s cluttered but also open. Really shows the setting.

The one thing that may deter readers is the violence. I didn’t find that it was excessive or anything like that, but it was there. I felt that it was necessary to the story. This isn’t a kind, post-war setting. Things that happened during the war have decided what the world will be like, such as who will be in power and who will not. I wasn’t too grossed out by any of it, as it was mostly blood or stylized in a way that didn’t make it gruesome.

I’m definitely a fan of the art and intrigued by the story that Liu presented in the first volume, so I want to check out the rest when I can. I’d definitely recommend it for readers who like fantasy with a bit of a dystopian feel.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Monstress from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I mean, the artist made me hungry for chocolate rats. That has to mean something for her illustration skills. (Note: I won’t actually ever eat any rats.)

 

 

[The Tower Must Fall] S.E. Bennett

 

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The Tower Must Fall is the story of what happens when fairy tales end. When humans are the majority and those who are Cryptid–the witches, faeries, the creatures of myth–live in fear. Marek Tobar dreams of the day when humans and Cryptid can live in harmony and no longer fear death at the hands of the Animus, a group of people who believe that Cryptids are the scourge of the earth. Tension has been growing for centuries, and Marek finds that he may be more important to the war than he originally thought. Along with Enyo, a reformed Animus, Marek must try to create a place in the world where coexistence is possible–but it may come at a cost too great to bear.

I wanted to like this book. The premise pulled me in and initial reviews praised it highly. And I did enjoy the first part of it. The writing and dialogue was intelligent and interesting, and I wanted to continue reading about this world. It seemed really unique. But at some point, that all dropped off. I needed to push myself through sections of text more and more. It dragged. Many times I questioned if I wanted to continue this book. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed the ending. At the same time, however, I’m not sure it was worth struggling through the huge middle section when I only truly enjoyed the first part and the end of the novel. I think the cause of this was the plotting. It was very odd. It was  almost like reading a book that had half of its pages torn out, because it jumps from moment to moment and doesn’t give us all the information for something that has just happened. In one chapter, we’re in one place and in the next it seems like months have passed.

Of course, there were things that really worked for this novel. As mentioned before, the writing style was really clever. I enjoyed S.E. Bennett’s descriptions of places and characters. The author took traditional fairy tales and twisted them. In this world, fairy tales as we know them are stories that are not remembered correctly. I liked that the author took the idea that history is told by the victors and made it work for fairy tales. Those that have been cast as the villains in the story are not happy about their roles. While humans view them as monsters, they view themselves as people. Sure, there have always been quarrels between different Cryptid tribes, but they only want the things that humans want: freedom and the ability to live in peace. Instead, they’ve been cast as second-class citizens, sometimes even being hunted down. They’re not recognized as anything but monsters, and some have decided to make that true. Others still hope for a future, and thus the rebellion was born. The opening of each chapter deals with how the sparks of this rebellion have resonated and continued to the present day of the novel. The stories were steadily shown to be all connected.

Unfortunately, I think that the writing style is also what caused the novel to drag in the middle. I marked at around 45% in my ebook that it was dragging, and I know that it had been happening for a while before I decided to mark it. This continued until around the 80% mark, which in my opinion is too much. I got the sense while reading it that the action was slowed in order to make the book longer. By doing that, there wasn’t enough action to keep me engaged with the story. Another thing that didn’t work was the characters. Individually, I was really interested in them. I liked them. But because of the way the plot jumped around, when growing friendships and relationships were revealed they fell flat.

I’m disappointed that this book didn’t really turn out to be what was promised. I expected so much more. Going into this novel, I would have given it high marks. But now at the end, I find that it was only okay. I kept reading when the story dragged because I kept expecting something major to happen. I can’t really say I recommend it, but if you enjoy twisted fairy tales and the idea that the creatures in them want peace just as much as the humans, you may like it.

2 stars.

I received a copy of The Tower Must Fall from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This book was released on April 25th, 2016.

[The Queen of the Tearling: The Queen of the Tearling 1] Erika Johansen

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The Queen of the Tearling was one of my favorite novels that I read in 2015. This series is set in a feudal fantasy world with a main protagonist who makes mistakes as she comes into her own power. Kelsea Raleigh has been in hiding for most of her life. When she comes of age, Kelsea has to return to a kingdom that she has been so removed from that she doesn’t know if its people will even love her. She has to pick up the fractured pieces of the kingdom and its people all while dealing with the repercussions of actions she hardly understands. It is a tale of adventure and political intrigue, which can sometimes fall under the boring spectrum for me. Although it had a bit of a slow start, The Queen of the Tearling became a book that I couldn’t put down.

What works for Queen of the Tearling was surprising. Political intrigue isn’t always something that works for me as a reader; it sometimes can go too in depth without actually expressing the direness of the situation or becomes too dry with names and places à la Game of Thrones (at times). So although there were a lot of situations that dealt with politics her mother or uncle had set up, it was interesting to read how Kelsea dealt with them. She also made a lot of mistakes politically that had consequences that she had to deal with. They weren’t glossed over because they were used to show how she grew and reacted as a ruler.

I also loved that this novel was straight up fantasy (and strangely labeled as dystopic, but more on that later). There are romantic inklings, but the plot didn’t suddenly become focused on that, which is one of my reading pet-peeves. It was not the point of the plot. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy books that also have romance, but only when that’s what I’m signing up for. The world building in this is wonderful. I was very interested in why and how Kelsea’s necklace was magical. Answers to that and other questions I had about the world were not spoon fed to me, but instead were answered in time and at an appropriate moment. I was eager to find the answers, which was one of the reasons why I just couldn’t stop reading. Of course, not all of them were answered so I need to get my hands on the next book in the series.

The only time that the world building was nearly brought to a screeching halt was the first time more modern things were referenced in this medieval world. For whatever reason the author decided that this needed to be a dystopic novel, which I still don’t understand. Kelsea’s ancestors fled their world to start a new one, which strangely then reverted to a medieval lifestyle. I didn’t see why it was necessary to do this. I preferred the fantasy medieval setting over the dystopic one, and found it strange that it was technically a combination of the two. Luckily, modern things were not brought up very often so I was able to ignore this problem and it didn’t bring my rating down. It is one of the strangest world building things that I’ve come across, however, and I wish it hadn’t been included.

I wasn’t sure if I would like this when I first started reading it due to a kind of shaky start, but once it really hit its stride in the adventure department, I was hooked. Super excited to check out the second novel!

5 stars.

[Alice in No-Man’s-Land] James Knapp

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Alice in No-Man’s-Land is the story of a privileged girl who only thought of the Blocs, huge areas of towns that have fallen into disarray after a food based disease ravaged them, as a cheap form of entertainment. After all, they’re only there temporarily until Cerulean Holdings goes in and fixes them. Up until she is stranded in one of them with only two of its citizens to help her. Alice’s journey through the decaying bloc is full of brushes with danger and moments of clarity. If she manages to get out of Ypsilanti Bloc, she won’t be leaving as the same person she was when she entered.

While the idea at the core of Alice in No-Man’s-Land was something that I could have gotten behind, the novel read too much like a formula. There’s a girl who has no idea that there’s something very much wrong with her world. When she is suddenly thrust into the very essence of what is wrong with her world, she begins to realize that things have to change and she is apparently in charge of doing this. I think that’s why Alice read as boring to me. She’s the typical hero of a dystopian novel, but she didn’t have anything that really made her stand out. I didn’t feel like she was a very relatable character, even though she did have some character development later on.

Although I found her boring most of the time, Alice adapted to the world inside of the bloc even though it was challenging things that she had grown up believing. She used to have an unshakable belief in her father, but as she spends more time with the people in the bloc she starts doubting the methods he uses to “save” the crumbling bloc and those who live in it. She takes what she learns from inside Ypsilanti Bloc and adjusts her worldview accordingly. It didn’t happen immediately and it didn’t happen without a little resistance, but I would have been annoyed if it had happened any other way.

I was far more interested in Maya and Basilio. They were characters I would have loved to follow. Instead of getting Alice’s impressions of Ypsilanti, I would have enjoyed seeing more of how they reacted to her and how she acted toward them. They’ve had a more difficult life than Alice and have really had to work for things. Although they are characters in a dystopian setting, I think their struggles of surviving and making a life for themselves in a world that has extreme poverty, violence, and gender gaps would have been more relatable. I do realize that sounds a bit strange.

The world was really interesting. I wish there had been more description of it. We got a lot of miniature information dumps when Alice checked the black book or they went through a section of the bloc, but it felt very general to me. I liked the presentation of these blocs as the degradation of society, so those in power had put walls around them. There was a time when people could have moved out, so why didn’t they? I wanted to know more details, but instead I felt like only very basic information was shared with the reader for most of the novel until the information was given too late for me to be hooked.

I understand why people have enjoyed this book, but it ended up not being for me. It took me a very long time to read this, and it wasn’t just because I was busy. If I really want to read a book, I make the time. So although this book is well-written, I couldn’t truly get into the story and it’s characters enough to give it a higher rating.

2.5 stars.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  It was published on May 13th, 2015.