Fantasy

Not All Battles Are Won On a Battlefield

Penguin Random House had a booth at New York Comic Con in 2017 and they did a give away for Ash Princess. Laura Sebastian was standing off to the side and naturally people were lining up for an impromptu signing. As she signed my book I told her I write book reviews and Ash Princess would be going into the “to be reviewed” pile, and here it finally is. 

There are several points I want to touch on and what better place to start than with the main character. Theodosia aka Theo aka Thora may be a princess but is a prisoner in the castle she grew up in. The Kalovaxians invaded Astrea, taking over the land, enslaving the people, and keeping Theo close by to ensure her people remain complacent. She’s whipped any time her people are not complacent or an invasion by the Kalovaxians goes badly. She’s a means to the Kaiser’s control and manipulation. The Kaiser requires Thora to attend all formal occasions, sending a new dress with an open back to show her scars, ensuring no one at court forgets who she is. As well as providing an ash crown Thora must wear. Naturally it crumbles, covering her in ash and often falling into her food. I was pleased Sebastian was bold with her descriptions and didn’t shy away from brutal imagery. Sebastian doesn’t sugar coat how gruesome a whipping can be.

We watch as Thora grows as a character, claiming her name back and taking on the responsibility of being the princess who will free her people. The statement “not all battles are won on a battlefield” is an appropriate description for this story. Theodosia doesn’t pretend she’ll have the strength for a physical battle but uses what she’s learned in a Kalovaxian court while she was required to attend all court events. She was mostly shunned, leaving her plenty of time to watch and listen. Using what she’s learned of those around her, she’s able to manipulate them to turn on each other, giving her people a chance to rise up and escape. At least that’s the plan. Theodosia’s transformation is an exciting one to watch and I imagine she’ll only gain more confidence as the story continues.

Sebastian’s debut shows promising things to come in her writing career. While some of this worldbuilding wasn’t the strongest and the ideas weren’t necessarily unique, it’s a solid start. I was pleased with Theodosia’s character development, using her wit to find a way to free her people. I expect this to only get stronger as Theodosia gets stronger. Ash Princess is solid and I’m excited to see where the next two books take Theodosia.

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Mapping and Intrigue

Makiia Lucier is known for her historical fiction writing and she’s proved her strengths with her newest book. Isle of Blood and Stone revolves around an 18-year-old mystery of two missing princes and new clues have come to light. There are a couple of gripes people have shared in their own reviews, and I would like to address them and why those things didn’t bother me.

There were some complaints of there not being enough adventure. On the contrary, there is adventure, albeit not the type we might have expected. The protagonist, Elias, is a map maker. This world is largely untraveled and in the city of St. John del Mar, boys are trained to become geographers, preparing them to travel for months, if not years, at a time to chart not only unknown territory but areas recently affected by natural disaster. These maps are copied and sold to traders, showing them the best sailing routes, the best dock stations, and even what coves to expect pirates laying in wait. When we meet Elias, he’s just returned from a trip to Hellespont, charting their changed landscape after a recent earthquake. This might have been the story some people believed they would be reading. I think it does sound like an exciting adventure to follow. The dangers of sailing, visiting new lands even the protagonist doesn’t know. While the story Lucier tells us is a slow burner, it still has its adventures. The mystery is political in nature with two missing princes, but it certainly doesn’t all unfold in a stuffy chamber room. Lucier has a lot of world building to get through first. Which brings me to the next complaint.

There seems to be a bit of contradiction with how people feel about the world. Most agreed the world building was great and imaginative, but they were confused at times where characters were, where they were traveling to, and who characters were. None of this bothered me much. This is probably a personal thing, but I don’t pay too close attention to where characters are traveling or how long it takes them to get there. I’m more interested in what’s happening during the journey and what will happen when they reach their destination. When books include a map in the beginning (this ARC doesn’t include one but I fully expect something beautifully detailed, being a story about map makers after all) I don’t bother studying it until I’ve finished the book. Before I know the names of cities and towns or have a preliminary image in my head, the map means nothing to me. It becomes more interesting after the fact. As for the characters not being explained enough, that didn’t bother me expect for some names being similar. I had a writing teacher in college that always cautioned when you have several characters, keep their names distant, even to the point of not starting them with the same letter. When authors name their characters too similarly, that’s when I get confused. But this only happens here with two characters’ names starting with A. They were different enough in their personalities that if I didn’t skim over the name too quickly, it wasn’t a problem.

There is something enduring about Isle of Blood and Stone. It’s been a while since I’ve truly liked the strong female character and didn’t hate the romance. I criticize the romance in stories harshly, but I was rooting for this one to work out. It’s a romance based on years of friendship and it feels earned when Lucier finally give it to us. Mercedes is the strong female I’ve felt to be missing from my reading lately. She’s true in her loyalties and relationships while being fully capable of taking care of herself. The best part, she doesn’t spend every conversation reminding people of that. Of course, it happens a couple of times, but those times were legit reasons for her safety. And the one time you would expect her to have to fight about being capable, she is given trust and understanding. There were many moments throughout the story that were real and pure and it made me like the book that much more.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

City of Conclusions

The conclusion of a series is always bitter sweet. Even if the last book isn’t as perfect as the first one, knowing there won’t be another story in this world or with these characters is always sad. City of Miracles wraps up The Divine Cities trilogy and based on the ending, we won’t be visiting the city of Bulikov with Shara and Sigrud again.

Sigrud is always Shara’s side kick but he takes the main stage when he learns of her death. Ever loyal, he returns from exile to avenge her death (I was trying to stay away from that description, but it’s exactly what he does). Shara has never done anything simply so naturally Sigrud runs into a tangle of mysteries that envelope Shara and her daughter, Tatyana, and later Sigrud himself. We meet a plethora of new characters but some old faces join Sigrud’s mission of protecting Tatyana. (He completed his revenge on Shara’s killer within the first few chapters as efficiently as we expected.)

As much as I liked Sigrud’s character in the first two books, it wasn’t the best idea to make him the leading character. Putting Sigrud at the forefront drastically changed the dynamic of everything Bennett had previously set up. Shara’s story was steeped in politics and the war that breaks out was a centralized action scene. With Sigrud leading the way, the story became an action packed thriller. Shara was the brains and Sigrud is the brawn. Sigrud could help Shara piece together the clues and events but she was vastly more educated than him. Nothing against Sigrud, as he’s always been a great character, but it was more fun watching Shara’s brain piece together the puzzle than follow Sigrud fumble through the mysteries of Shara’s work alone.

While Sigrud made for a less than desirable main character, it was still an enjoyable book, with the right ending. This last book action at the front but it never lost its mysteries or investigation work that we all originally fell in love with. It’s nice to see the series wrapped up nicely. I haven’t read Bennett’s older stuff but it’s been added to my TBR pile.

 

 

By: Emily Coleman
I received an ARC of City of Miracles from Blogging for Books for an honest review.

Enchanting Sisters

The universe is sending me messages about sisters. I didn’t mean to read back to back books containing a strong sister bond but now that I have, my tear ducts are shriveled and dry. The tag line on the front of the ARC of Caraval is “Remember, it’s only a game…” but when it comes to your sister, it’s never just a game. The main characters Scarlett will protect her sister, Tella, from anyone and anything.img_2391

Scarlett has to be mother and best friend and older sister while protecting Tella from their manipulative, abusive father. Of course Tella has a wild streak that makes it difficult to protect her but Scarlett does her best making sure their father stays unaware of Tella’s actions. Scarlett doesn’t always succeed and it was startling to find out how their father, the governor of a small isle, punishes his daughters. Caraval is essentially an elaborate circus, with less animals, and a scavenger hunt twist. Legend is the ringmaster with plenty of performers to make the five night event feel like a daring adventure. The players are warned at the start “it’s only a game” but the performers encourage them to indulge during the game.

Each year Legend creates a game of tricks and clues for the prize at the end. This year it’s a wish, but to win you have to find the stolen item. Scarlett and Tella have a lot of things to wish for but Scarlett quickly learns she has more at stake when the stolen item to find is her sister. Scar has never been the daring one but she will risk her father’s wrath and her engagement to find Tella first. She has help from the sailor that got the sisters to Caraval but he seems to know too much about the game and has an awful lot of secrets for Scarlett to completely trust him.

Stephanie Garber wrote a magical tale not only of a sister’s love but of self-discovery and self-worth. I loved the world of Caraval. Magical, inviting, but dangerous and a little faded around the edges. Garber added wonderful details to make the island feel tangible. Some of my issues were with the clues Scarlett was searching for. Sometimes it seemed she forgot she was looking for clues at all, and the second, third, and fourth clues happened all at once. It didn’t feel like Scarlett had to work for them and it was really rushed, but then she still didn’t find her sister for some time. The plot structure in the middle was just a little of but I loved the cliff hanger at the end. The story wrapped up but it’s far from over. Hopefully we get to follow Tella on the next adventure.

Going Down In Flames

Sarah Raughley drops us in the middle of this dystopian future, which include phantom (wraith-like beings with destructive power) and 4 teenage girls with elemental powers who are trained to protect the world from the phantoms. When a girl, an Effigie, is killed, a new girl receives those same powers and joins the famous Effigie group. At the start of the story, Maia knows she has been chosen as the new flame Effigie but hasn’t told anyone yet. The Sect (international organization in charge of the Effigies) will find her eventually and force her to reveal herself.img_2127

While the story grabs your attention, I had some trouble with the dialogue, especially in the beginning. Maia had a terrible habit of talking around what she wanted to say. I understand she’s only 16 and is more than a little uncomfortable with being an Effigie, but spit it out girl! Rhys is a Sect member and ultimately the love interest, and scenes between the two of them were difficult to get through. Rhys has a crush on Maia but won’t act on it, and also has an important secret to tell her but kept skirting around it until they were interrupted. Over and over again. We still don’t know what his secret is. Raughley did enough to keep my interested in the story as it went along but she withheld some information and I’m not sure it was necessary. Are those secrets going to play that big of a role in the coming books? I might be more inclined to continue the series if I understood more of what was happening.

I was disappointed with the characters as well. Nothing about them made them more than just stereotypes. Maia is quiet and awkward, Belle is the face of the Effigies but is cold and disinterested in anyone else, Chae Rin has been outcast by the Sect for being too destructive and now occupies her time as an acrobat in the circus, and Lake has PTSD from her last battle so she decides to try her hand at being a pop star. Belle comes the closest to breaking her cold hearted shell and having some character development, but Raughley pulls her back again and doesn’t give us the satisfaction to seeing beyond her exterior.

I’m hoping this will be a trilogy. Three books would be enough for this story. Raughley has done well with a diverse setting but there is a lot of work to be done building the plot. This could be a great story with more character development and continued plot development.

Not Your Mom’s Library

IMG_1400Its been a long time since a book has caught me this off guard. And from a debut author nonetheless! The Library at Mount Char made me shiver and cringe and laugh. I’ve been screaming at everyone I know, “You need to read this IMMEDIATELY!”

But here is my problem. They ask what it’s about. I DON’T KNOW! I can’t explain anything about it without giving too much away. There are weird things about our world we don’t even want to understand. And I’m not talking about fairies, werewolves, and vampires. Librarians of the world are more bad-ass than anyone thought. And all librarians hold a special place in my heart since my mother is one, but these librarians are unlike any I’ve ever met. And their library! It’s incredible. And terrifying.

I received an advanced readers copy of this book and they say not to do this but I’d like to share the first line with you.

Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of black top that the Americans called Highway 78

How is that not intriguing?

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins was published June 16, 2015 by Crown Publishers

By Emily Coleman