[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.

[Wintersong] S. Jae-Jones

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Wintersong is the story of what happens when you make wishes and promises to a mysterious stranger and they come to collect. Liesl is nineteen and dreams of composing, but she’s put her desires on hold in order to help out at her family inn, train her brother for a position as a violinist, and indulge her younger sister in her vanities. Liesl has to content herself with snatched moments and hidden scraps of her compositions as she acts as the strong, older sister. But when her younger sister is stolen by the Goblin King, Liesl has to remember the songs and stories of her childhood in order to save her from a Goblin King who deals in riddles and trades. Suddenly, Liesl finds herself in a precarious position deep underground in the world of the Goblin King. It is there that she discovers more about herself than she ever allowed herself to learn. As she passes the threshold from innkeeper girl to adult composer, Liesl has to make a choice about just how much she is willing to sacrifice.

Wintersong had an extremely strong start. Jae-Jones introduced us to her world slowly using beautiful language reminiscent of music. The story promised touches of the fantastic that is often found in fairy tales. I truly enjoyed reading how Jae-Jones used words to construct a familiar yet fairy tale-esque world. The inclusion of Christina Rossetti’s poetry at the beginning of each part of the book also set the stage for what was to happen perfectly without giving too much away. Threaded throughout the story was the language of classical music. Sadly I didn’t understand this as well as I understood the poetry due to the fact that I never studied music in the way that Jae-Jones seems to have. I thought it was a really unique way of writing. It wasn’t something that I had seen before. I was glad that Jae-Jones used it to enhance her writing rather than overwhelm her story with it.

I really thought that using music as a way to create more stunning imagery was wonderful. It’s one of the reasons why the writing style was so engaging for me; even though I struggled to get through the second half of the book at times, the writing kept me reading. The one downside to using music so much is that any time something sexy or sexual came up, music was used as a metaphor. There was a fair bunch of cringey lines that were repetitive or just plain corny. I much preferred when it wasn’t used that way, because I just could not see anyone ever using these lines on their romantic interest.

The thing that is really odd about Wintersong is the way that the book is split in two. Other reviewers have mentioned it and I feel compelled to as well. There is a clear divide between part one and part two, and for me, there wasn’t much of a bridge between the two of them. I understand the connection, but character-wise, it was like I was reading another book or a book where the characters, namely Liesl, weren’t fully realized.

Honestly, I was far more interested in the first half. It focused on family and Liesl’s love of them. Even though she had given up her dreams in favor of her brother and sister’s, even though her mother and father didn’t really believe in her the way they believed in her brother, you could see the love that she felt for all of them. I liked that part one was a love story to her family. Liesl was desperate to protect both her brother and her sister, but she couldn’t divide her time equally. Focusing on her brother’s future nearly lost her sister’s future; when Liesl realizes this, the love she feels for her sister demands that she engage in the impossible task of saving her.

Her journey into the Underground was a wonderful blend of familiar and unfamiliar myth. I have a very surface level understanding of Goblins and their Underground, so I’m not sure how much was of Jae-Jones own design and how much was the usual spiel. I loved that there was an element of sacrifice, which further showed just how desperate Liesl was to get her sister back and how much she loved her sister. Everything Liesl did in the first half marked her as an incredible and incredibly interesting heroine who was spunky and wouldn’t take any garbage from anyone around her, particularly when she’s Underground. She was so interesting and she easily made the first half of the book a  4 or 5 star read.

That’s why the departure from this is the second half of the novel was so disconcerting. She was, technically, still spunky and outspoken. But too many times it became her throwing a tantrum or refusing to act like an adult, while at the same time complaining about not being treated as an adult. I was confused, because Liesl didn’t seem like the Liesl that had been present in the first half of the book. She became less of a heroine and more of a whiner who near-constantly thought that there was something wrong with her or complained about the Goblin King not liking her enough. It became a mope fest.

Something that part two also introduced was the idea of this novel as less of a young adult novel and more of a new adult novel. I read both, so it didn’t bother me that there was sex scenes in the book. What did bother me was that I felt kind of blindsided by this. It just seemed out of place. Honestly, I felt that the sex scenes weren’t really necessary. They furthered my annoyance with Liesl because I didn’t feel that she was the same character that she was in the first half. She became obsessed with her love interest, and that wasn’t cool.

Throughout the majority of the second part I wished that it would go back to what I had loved about the first half: the exploration of the Underground, the love she felt for her family, and the willingness to go to hell-and-back for her sister. That was where Jae-Jones’ storytelling really shone and where she could weave her mythology about the Goblins and the Goblin King. I really liked that humans were often tricked into positions by the Goblins. Even knowing this, Liesl is often tricked by both them and the Goblin King. Her naivety in the first half is because she doesn’t care what she has to do to rescue her sister; her naivety in the second half is because she is blinded by a relationship. Throughout the novel there are stories of both the brave and the beautiful (re: stupid) girl–Liesl manages to be both.

There is talk of a sequel that will be out at some point in 2018, so perhaps some of the loose ends of the story will be concluded in that. I can never decide if I like loose ends or not. What it usually comes down to is if the author manage to portray the loose ends in a way that I personally like and it’s often very arbitrary. So while I liked the conclusion of Wintersong,  I am also curious about what is going to happen in the sequel. I also wonder if it will end up being a sequel or a companion novel because I’ve read rumors about that too.

There are so many different nods to things in Wintersong that I think it’s welcoming to a variety of readers. Fairy tales, and not necessarily the happy ending ones; Labyrinth, which I’ve never seen (so I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing); poetry, some of which I was familiar with; and music. The music was my absolute favorite part. I thought it was lovely to pull that theme through the entirety of the novel and made the writing exceptionally beautiful. I really think this is going to be popular for people who like all or some of those things.

Despite really liking it, the partial disconnect I felt between the first half and the second half of the novel really threw me off and brought my rating lower.

3 stars.

Wintersong will be available on February 7th, 2017. I received an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

[When the Moon Was Ours] Anna-Marie McLemore

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I love that this looks like a screen print.

When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful book that read like a fairy tale but had a firm place in today’s world. It follows Miel and Sam, two friends who met when she fell out of the town’s decaying water tower. They have only grown closer as they grow older and navigate their lives. A boy who paints moons and a girl who has roses growing out of her wrist, the two are viewed as strange by the townspeople but are largely left alone. When the Moon Was Ours is partially a love story between friends and family, a fairy tale, and a coming of age tale.

What I particularly loved about When the Moon Was Ours was that while McLemore was very upfront about what this book was trying to do, it wasn’t forcing it down the readers’ throats. I’ve read books that go this route and it ends up giving the book a poor taste and ultimately doesn’t succeed. McLemore succeeded in my opinion. Yes, there is a character who doesn’t identify as what they were born as, but the novel was deeper than that.  It was a very caring look into who they were as people, as a whole, rather than purely focusing on one part of who they are. McLemore is teaching through sharing moments of her personal life, and I could really see that as I was reading. It was extremely intimate. The novel takes its time revealing how this has affected the characters and how they are trying to figure out who they are. It is part of the story rather than the whole of the story, which I thought was a very important and natural way of telling it.

I thought that all of the characters were very dynamic and very carefully crafted. The characters who were good had their moments of bad, and the characters opposite of them weren’t all bad. Everyone, no matter where they fell on that line, had reasons for their actions. And often the cause of their actions were because of a fear that they had: fear of discovery, fear of not being enough, fear of being ignored…that made the characters all the more real to me. I really connected with the characters, even the ones who functioned as the “villains” in this fairy tale. I may not have felt as much for them as I felt for Miel and Sam, but it was really easy to see why they acted the way they did. I had sympathy and pity for them.

The character growth in this novel was amazing. There’s the concept of the good and the bad in this novel, and they all grow. I feel like that doesn’t often happen. The bad characters weren’t forgotten. They also traveled to the other side with our two main protagonists and all of them were able to come to an understanding both of their own self and of that of the others. I wasn’t left wondering why the “villains” were like that and what happened to them after the story was over. Everyone had a conclusion.

Magical realism wasn’t a genre I’ve read until recently and to be quite honest there were some moments in the beginning where I wasn’t sure if this book was going to work for me. While I loved the opening pages, there was also a bit of disconnect when the language was too flowery, which muddied up what McLemore was trying to say. As I kept reading I reached an understanding with the language and was able to enjoy the story and the language. It really made the story more fairy tale-like and enjoyable.

I’m not sure what more to say about this novel because I feel that other reviewers have been able to praise it better than I ever could. I also don’t want to say anything that could potentially spoil the experience because I want every reader to enjoy this the way that I did. When the Moon Was Ours was a beautiful novel and one of my favorite reads of 2016. I wasn’t sure if I would like it at first because I had heard that the writing was hard to get through, but I read this in a short amount of time. The characterization and setting was amazing. I highly recommend it for its caring portrayal of those who don’t identify as their outside appearance. The opening lines and the closing author’s note were extremely touching. This book deserves your time and your attention.

To the boys you get called girls, 
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names, 
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges, 
and in the spaces in between. 
i wish for you every light in the sky. 

4 stars.

[The Bone Witch] Rin Chupeco

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The Bone Witch was a novel with a nice premise but the execution was not strong enough to keep my interest. Told in two perspectives, The Bone Witch follows Tea, a Dark Asha, as she discovers her powers in the past and in the present as she tells her story to a banished storyteller. Her story begins when she accidentally brings her brother back from the dead and soon she is fully entrenched in her new life as a Dark Asha, one of the rare witches who can raise and command the dead, both human and daeva. Her training means that she gains more control and she must make decisions that will affect her future and that of those around her.

There were things I really liked about this novel. I thought that the fantasy part of it–the idea of it, at least–was something that was creative. I liked that the main character was ostracized even by other witches because of her powers and that she didn’t have control over them at first. I particularly liked the idea that you couldn’t hide the feelings in your heart–unless you literally hid it behind something–because you had a heartsglass that swirled with color. The little touches like this were really well done, but ultimately The Bone Witch fell too much to the side of information dumping.

The world, when it should have been interesting, was full of too much information at one time. Despite the amount of information given to me, I don’t feel like I know much about the world. Few things really stood out. I know a little bit about the daeva, these monster-like creatures that are reborn every so many years, terrorize the general populace, and need to be put down by the Dark Asha again. Then there are all of these places that were mentioned multiple times and are likely important, but I couldn’t keep any of them straight. I’m not sure if it was because of the information dumping, the point of view, or the storytelling itself, but I just couldn’t distinguish one from the other.

I loved the culture of the Asha, however. It reminded me of what I know about the geisha culture but with the added element of fighting. I wish that the classes that Tea had taken hadn’t been glossed over, because that would have been really cool to read more about. Especially the Dark Asha. They’re a dying type of witch that are extremely rare. If they’re needed to basically save everyone, why the heck are they so ostracized? Give me more of those details! Show me more on why Tea is where she is when we see her in the present. I need to see it, not be told it.

I do think that there was some element of failure in the choice that Rin Chupeco made regarding the points of view. Half of the story was told in Tea’s point of view and the other half was told in the Bard’s point of view as he listens to an older Tea. Both were lacking in that drive that really makes me want to read a story. I felt that it was two stories in one–that of a girl discovering her power and that of a woman trying to start a war–and neither of them really meshed well with the other. Every time I felt that I was getting into one story, we jumped back into the other. It was really frustrating. Having two first person points of view didn’t help either. I should have known who they were at the end of the novel, but I didn’t. And not knowing the characters made it really hard to get into the novel.

I do think that people may like this book. There’s a really interesting magic system and the novel ends with the promise of more action in the next novel. I just wish some of that action had been in this novel. For me personally, however, it didn’t leave me with enough that I want to check out the next book. I felt that for all of the inaction in the novel, to cram all of the action at the end solely to have a cliffhanger that leads into the next book was pretty lame. When I found so much of the book to be slow and boring, that bit at the end is not going to save it. The Bone Witch needed to start more in the middle of the story and its action rather than the very beginning. The very beginning was engaging, but as the book went on it lost that spark. Ultimately, I felt like nothing happened. So while it wasn’t the worst book (although I should have just put it down and not finished it in the end), I can’t rate it any higher than this.

2 stars.

 

[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!