Penguin Random House

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.


Team Player

Marie Lu has some exciting things brewing. Legend will be seen on the big screen soon, and her Batman YA novel will be released in January 2018. Now Warcross’ publication was met with fanfare from fans and YA authors alike. I will confess, Warcross was the first book I’ve read by Lu. It didn’t surprise me that it was well written and well structured. What surprised me is how completely I fell in love with it.

Warcross is set in a future where virtual reality is not only the norm, but beyond anything we can imagine today. Hideo Tanaka created a game called Warcross and it’s so widely played, people have made careers from playing the game. The future generation of professional athletes. Emika is a teenage hacker turned bounty hunter, doing anything she can pay off her deceased father’s debt. Emika is invited to play in the championship tournament as a wild card, but she has to keep her real reason for playing from her teammates and the millions of fans watching: find the hacker trying to destroy Warcross from the inside.

Emika is easily likable and relatable. With her father’s death and her mother walking out on them years ago, Emika is trying to keep her head above the mountain of debt her father accumulated and the never ending rent bill. Girl, I feel ‘ya there. She uses her hacking skills to become a bounty hunter, chasing down people who gamble on Warcross. It doesn’t pay much though. Even finding a waitressing job is becoming obsolete with restaurants turning to automated servers. Everything about Emika character, from her mannerisms to her backstory, felt fully developed.
Lu did a great job with the futuristic world building and describing a technology in a plausible way. It sounded crazy, but plausible. The game levels were intense and imaginative. Gaming isn’t a world I understand, nor a world I’ve been a part of ever, but I understand sports. And watching these teams battle it out in a simulated landscape had my heart racing.

As you would expect with YA, there is a love story tangled in the plot. Unlike some other love stories, this one felt earned. Hideo is famous and while Emika has a crush on him, upon meeting him for the first time, she has a start struck reaction, but is rubbed the wrong way by his stand offish manners. It isn’t until halfway through the book that Hideo fully shows his feelings for Emika. Even then, nothing is easy about their relationship. Not only with keeping it a secret in a public situation, but both Hideo and Emik are private, closed off people, both with baggage they need to work through. Each of their relationship milestones are earned slowly as they both learn to open up to one another. But then….

I thought I had figured out the twist at the end but Marie Lu still took me by surprise. There was a lot of magic at work with her world building and plot, even non gamers will be hard pressed not to be on the edge of their seat. It will be exciting to see what the second novel has to bring. Emika has quite the journey ahead of herself.




By Emily Coleman

Survivors Guilt

City of Blades is the second book to City of Stairs and the only work I’ve read by Robert Jackson Bennett. So far, he has me thoroughly engaged. IMG_0154City of Stairs had a slow start because I wasn’t expecting it to be as political heavy as it was but my interest quickly picked up. I was all too happy to jump into City of Blades.

The second book follows General Turyin Mulaghesh as she sets out on a secret mission from Prime Minister Shara Thivani. She’s following up on the disappearance of Sumitra Choudhry and what she might have discovered about the Divine miracles that are no longer supposed to work since the deaths of the Gods decades ago. It was great seeing the point of view from Mulaghesh. She rounded out as a character even further than what we see in the first novel. Mulaghesh is a guilt ridden general who has a lot to make up for from her early days in the military.

Robert Jackson Bennett has created a murder mystery series in an intricately built fantasy world. It never felt like I was reading a murder mystery as I was simply enjoying the characters and this new world. I can’t wait to see what Bennett brings with the third novel and whose point of view it will be in. I have my fingers crossed for Sigrud’s point of view next.


By Emily Coleman

Universal Nightmares

With so much happening in the world it’s easy to forget how alike we really are. Every family has their fair share of drama that they handle in their own way but when a child goes missing, every family’s reactions are universal. Ajie is the youngest of the Utu family and the narrator. The eldest sibling, Paul, leaves to visit a friend and never comes home. Ajie then delves into the family’s past and what school was like and what they did overIMG_0134 the summers. It’s not until Ajie and his sister, Bibi, have moved away from home the family finds their closure.

The major portion of the book is Ajie showing us the past. They were a comfortable family who stayed out of the school riots and visited the village their parents grew up in every summer. I understood the reason to show this close knit family’s past but so little time was spent on the disappearance itself, I felt disconnected from the endings climax. The end is so many years later we miss the full collapse of the family and only witness its after affects.

Jowhar Ile’s writing style is a force to be reckoned with. His prose is beautifully crafted and is descriptions are tangible. But nothing felt finished. His chapters were cut off during the scenes and the ending left me feeling unsatisfied. But maybe it was a statement. No matter what happens in life, we keep moving forward, doing mundane, daily activities. It never really ends.


By Emily Coleman