[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!

[The Dream Protocol: Descent] Adara Quick

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What would a world be like if dreams were controlled by the government and your place in life determined at age 15? What would a world be like if nightmares were weaponized and you could be punished for anything they determined were wrong? In The Dream Protocol, your life is lived in a grey world and your only escape is the dreams that you can afford. Then at age 35, you’re no longer wanted and you take your Descent. Deirdre is no longer content with living this way. As her mother’s Descent creeps steadily closer, she begins to rebel against the norm. When who she loves is threatened, she discovers that she will do anything to protect them–even if it means putting herself in danger.

So I will begin by saying that I’ve never had a novel length story published. But I have written and read a lot of stories, particularly young adult ones, in the last year and a half or so, so I know what I like to see in novels such as these. The Dream Protocol has everything that I like to see in a dystopian novel, but sadly, they all never go beyond the idea. I felt that this novel was built around the bare-bones of a plot, but was never fully fleshed out. As it’s the first novel in a series, perhaps this is explored in the next novels. However,  because it’s a first novel, the fact that it’s full of big ideas that aren’t fleshed out kind of damns it.

There are so many interesting things that are introduced in The Dream Protocol but never pan out into something more. There’s a prophecy, but we’re never shown how it’s connected to Deirdre and her family. We’re teased with hints of what the Dream Protocol truly is as we’re given accounts and reactions periodically throughout the novel, but this never expands into something more. One of my big disappointments was that I wish it had been described more. Instead, we’re given small details that don’t really flesh out the world. Everyone wore grey, the walls were grey, there was no sky…grey overwhelmingly describes the blandness of the book.

I also didn’t understand why the action was only in the last 25% of the book, especially when the bulk of the book didn’t do a good job at creating setting. It ended up making the book seem poorly plotted and unfinished, almost as if Quick only sent in half of her manuscript or someone made the decision to divide a longer manuscript into two in order to make a series. I would have been more interested in the book if the climax had happened in the middle and I then was able to see the consequences of that. The cliffhanger of the novel is roughly cut off in the middle and is really jarring.

Considering that the book is supposed to be about dreams I found it strangely lacking in details on them. A special dream is introduced in the text, but the elements of it are not further explored. They weren’t focused on them too much other than to show that dreams could easily be turned into nightmares for the dreaded ‘Mare weapon. I wanted to see more of people’s dependence on the dreams–after all, they can only dream what the government wants them to see and with a dependence on the government for dreams, they can easily control the populace. But it wasn’t explored. It was one of the loose threads that I was surprised about, considering the heavy focus on dreams in the summary.

Ultimately, this book gave me a really weird way to reflect on it. You know that feeling when you’re not really hungry, but you do the motions of eating because you rationally realize that you should eat, even if you don’t enjoy it at all and it’s purely for fuel, not pleasure? That’s exactly how I felt while reading this book. I read it just to read, just to pass a couple of hours to wile away the boring hours at my desk. There wasn’t really anything that got me really excited about it, which was a disappointment considering the idea behind the novel. I wanted to like it.

With the way the novel ends, it’s obvious that this is a projected series, although I’m unsure of the number of books planned. I did some research while writing this review, and while I’m given a short preview of The Dream Protocol: Selection at the end of my ebook, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of information online about this book (i.e., not on Amazon, goodreads, or other such sites), even though there’s a cover on Quick’s website and a “date” of projected publication set as Winter 2016 (according to my ARC). I was further confused when the news portion of her site said that a book three cover reveal will be coming soon (although this may be a typo, to be honest). I feel that there should be more information on the next book in the series, even just a basic page on them because when readers are interested in a series and there isn’t that information, they may turn away from your series out of frustration.

While The Dream Protocol: Descent was chock full of interesting ideas, the lack of expansion on them made me disappointed and affected my enjoyment of the novel. I will likely not continue the series because of that and the lack of information on the next novel. It makes me worried that I’ve invested time in a series that will not continue. Many others have enjoyed this book but it’s just not for me.

2 stars.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher. The Dream Protocol: Descent was published on April 20th, 2016.

[A Darkly Beating Heart] Lindsay Smith

This is a book I wrote off as one I’d have to read after it was published. I was pleasantly surprised when I was given an ARC by the publisher and NetGalley, so this became an unexpected October read. Perfect for Halloween, because the book deals with a lot of darkness. A Darkly Beating Heart is going to be published next week, so now is the perfect time for a review.

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I love this cover.

Reiko didn’t go to Japan to enjoy herself. Packing herself away to a country where she doesn’t speak the language, Reiko allows the rage she has inside about the events preceding her senior year to fester. Consumed by thoughts of revenge, she manages day by day only because she is planning how to best get back at everyone. Comfortable with her routine, when her summer job requires her to go to an Edo-period town in Gifu prefecture, Reiko initially believes that leaving Tokyo is the worst thing that could have happened. It throws all of her revenge plans out the window.

Finding herself in a town with a curfew and deeply-rooted traditions, Reiko struggles with maintaining her revenge plot and coping with the anger that fills her head. Then she discovers a long-forgotten makeshift temple. It pulls Reiko back into the past into a time period rife with dangers. The connection that she feels with Miyu is immediate, her anger even more explosive than Reiko’s. But Miyu is keeping things from Reiko. And if Reiko doesn’t discover them in time, it’s not just Miyu’s time that will be affected.

This is a book that is odd to review. Lindsay Smith writes beautifully; the scenes she creates are so vivid that it’s very easy to see them in my mind’s eye. The setting just jumps off the page. Of course, it helps that I live in Japan. This book isn’t one that is “set in Japan,” where the setting isn’t realized. This setting is, and I loved it. This would have made me really nostalgic for Japan had I already moved back.

The world of modern day Tokyo and that of the Edo period were so clearly written that I had a very easy time picturing them. I’m such a fan of the Edo period of Japan that I was thrilled to read a story set in it. Or half set in it. Reiko is connected to both, and the differences and similarities in the town she finds herself in–and the times–is done really well. I liked how they both kept getting closer together and the connections that were being discovered. Despite the speed of the plot, the setting was built slowly and when it made sense for the readers to be given the information.

The writing itself is stunning. Each page seemed to have a beautiful description of a place or a spot on look at Japan or the characters that Reiko was spending time with. I was incredibly impressed with Smith’s writing style. It wasn’t too flowery or unnecessarily bogged down with details that didn’t matter. It was an absolute pleasure to read. When I first started reading this I was sure that I would love the book. However, beautiful writing is not the only thing I look for in a book.

That isn’t to say the story or premise wasn’t interesting. I just found that I was more interested in the Edo period parts rather than the modern day parts. While both are incredibly detailed, I’ve found that historical fiction novels are increasingly becoming some of my favorite books to read. I understand why the plot was divided between the two times, but I ended up wishing that the novel was completely set in the Edo period and was about Miyu. That was the story I was really interesting in. Whenever it switched back to Reiko’s point of view in the modern day, I was tempted to skim a little in order to get back to her.

The connection of the past to the present in this little Gifu town was done really well. There are a lot of places in Japan that place importance on the past, but Kuramagi takes it to the extreme. Something isn’t quite right about this town. They bury power lines (which actually does happen in some of these Edo-period towns), have a curfew, and place an emphasis on keeping the town as period correct as they are able. I liked that the town was the center of why the two different time periods were converging. I just felt like a great story was rushed.

A Darkly Beating Heart is a relatively short story, and that is where it fell a little flat for me. Because it’s short, a plot that I personally think should have been drawn out more feels rushed and half realized. In a book where the setting, writing, and emotions of the protagonist are written so well, a rushed plot (especially one that is actually really interesting) was disappointing. I did appreciate the element of Reiko missing half of Miyu’s story–I enjoyed that she only knew what she learned when she was in Miyu’s body and had to figure out what she had missed when the story had progressed without her–but ultimately I thought that it jumped back and forth too much without giving readers enough information about the two time periods and the conflicts in them.

I thought that the way that Reiko was pulled back into the past was really well done. There’s always an element of leeriness that I have when I go into a book that involves some form of time traveling, but I thought that the two story lines and the different time periods were perfectly intertwined. The time travel remained consistent throughout the story and it wasn’t made overly complicated just for the sake of making it complicated. More is revealed as Reiko shares a body with Miyu and becomes more comfortable with the past and I appreciated the effort that Smith made to show that there are consequences for every action.

Reiko as a character is…interesting. The entire time she is plotting revenge: on her family, the people around her, her former girlfriend. Things have happened to her that are given to readers IV drip like, and that was part of my eagerness to read. I really wanted to know where all this anger came from, because I have never read a book where the protagonist is this angry. It was really uncomfortable at times because Reiko is constantly thinking about harming herself and others. Yet, I found myself continuing the book, despite this darkness. Her anger wasn’t swept under the rug when it became inconvenient or when the novel ended. She is able to work through some things but also realizes that her life is far from perfect. But she learns how to manage her anger even as she still has it.

It makes sense that she connected so quickly with Miyu because of her anger. Miyu also functions as a way for Reiko to understand that holding in all of that rage will consume her to the point of no return. Although Miyu is also a different character, because they had shared experiences I felt like they were the same. That’s a reason why I wish the book had been longer. I think it would have benefited the plot to explore more of what Miyu was going through.

Smith also had a handle on the sometimes dual nature of those who are bilingual. Reiko overemphasized the negative nature of bilingual characters because she is so blinded by her rage. Moments where Reiko is treated kindly (in English) but later is treated cruely or like a child (in Japanese) is unfortunately familiar, though rare. This is an element of passive-aggressiveness that foreigners sometimes experience. However, I do think that Reiko is being overly judgemental and Akiyo and Mariko are viewed harshly through this lens of anger she has. Reiko reconciles with this issue by the end of the novel, suggesting that much of her interactions with these characters had been so tainted by anger that she wasn’t getting a proper read on them. There was closure with the promise to try harder to resist these moments in the future.

A Darkly Beating Heart had amazing words that had it sitting at a 5 star rating. Due to the rushed nature of the plot and what I believe could have been a longer story, I’m rating it a bit lower than that. I really recommend this for readers because it does have a very vivid setting and an interesting story that is plotted well. The only caveat I give is to be prepared for Reiko. Maybe I don’t read many stories with dark protagonists, but her nature was hard to read at times. She had a lot of issues that were very serious and may turn off some readers.

3 stars.

I received a copy of A Darkly Beating Heart from NetGalley and the publisher. A Darkly Beating Heart will be published on October 25th, 2016.

[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.