& Review: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, August 2016

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, August 2016

The Book Itself: Was this font designed for Kristoff’s new book? Because I’m digging it: intricate and swirly and cool-looking (I’m great at adjectives). Kristoff was one of the co-authors of Illuminae, which I christened the best book I read all of last year. I was looking forward to his new book here regardless of the cover. But the cover is pretty badass: mysterious looming figure with a dagger dripping blood, shadowy wings spread behind her. This looks like it will not be a nice book. It will be a nasty one; bloody. Here there be monsters.

My Review: In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

I get the question “So what are you reading right now?” several times a week. Either because I a.) currently have a book in hand, or b.) the questioner knows me, and knows that I read, and that I ALWAYS have a book on me at all times. When I got this question while reading Nevernight, I showed them the cover and then exclaimed “it’s like Hogwarts for assassins!”

And then that was either met with “Awesome!” or confused expressions of mixed worry and fear.

And while that sentence: “it’s like Hogwarts for assassins!” is pithy and piques the interest, what it really is is accurate yet superficial when it comes to what this story involves. Nevernight is complex, gritty, dark, suspenseful, and at the same time giddily exciting. That sounds like a weird combination, but bear with me.

The book did lag a bit in the beginning for me, as I got used to the writing style and plot pacing. But I had just come off of an incredible book high from a wonderful book that I’d just finished, and was dreading my next read paling in comparison. Mia Corvere is a sassy, tough-as-nails girl who just happens to want to be an assassin. This is because, you guessed it, she has a score to settle. A chip on her shoulder. A revenge fantasy. She is, of course, more than meets the eye. This is evidenced by the fact that a cat made of shadows follows her around and talks to her, literally feeding off of her fear.

We meet her after years of training under a tutor of sorts, seeking to enter what might be the equivalent of a Graduate School of Killing People – the Red Church. And once she gets there, holy crap, does the story take off. Not only are there classes: poison making, pickpocketing, weapons fighting, and seduction/people skills. But there are other would-be assassins as classmates. Deadly classmates who will do anything to become a Blade – one of the elite assassins of the Red Church.

The story has witty banter, murder mystery aspects, and clever characters who surprised even this reader with well-laid plans that began wayyy back in the story (our protagonist included). The writing style is not for everyone. It’s description-heavy, simile-ridden, and there are pithy footnotes that act as a world-building tool that I admit I found distracting at times. But I got sucked into the story and the setting, and I devoured chapter after chapter like I was getting paid for it (I’m not, I promise). The ending is so well-paced and tense that you’ll want to be able to sit somewhere and read straight through it.

Mia as a character becomes really well-rounded, even though at the end of the story, we really don’t fully understand what she really is or what she can do. I had an emotional response to events that happened to her in the story, and to the characters around her. She is a girl learning to be an assassin, and trying to cling to some humanity.

There is a lot of set up for furthering the series here. The book is bracketed by a prologue and epilogue of the person chronicling Mia’s story: she becomes legendary, and we’re here to witness her become so.

I could draw a lot of comparisons: Patrick Rothfuss’ epic fantasy style, a Hogwarts setting, and characters and shady dealings a la Locke Lamora. But I really do think this story stands alone, and I loved it. I will be counting down the many months until the second installment.

My Grade: B+

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& Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Arena by Holly Jennings. Publisher: Ace, April 2016

Arena by Holly Jennings. Publisher: Ace, April 2016

The Book Itself: The pixelated font for the title is a great idea, and while I don’t quite understand why we only see the back of the person I assume is supposed to be Kali, I’m glad this book isn’t relying on the whole pretty-men-and-women-sell-book-covers idea.

My Review: Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier…
 
The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.
 
And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.
 
Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.
 
The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…

I think I might be forever ruined for books having to do with virtual reality due to Ready Player One. It was just so. Damn. Good. And everything else seems to pale in comparison.

Arena is the story of a young woman who has become a celebrity in her sport – virtual reality gaming, which in this world is bigger than the NFL and NBA, etc. – getting swept up into the high octane lifestyle, only to realize that there are real consequences to real actions in the real world. Plus, she’s in a really important tournament that could win her fame and glory forever.

The premise sounds amazing. And there were aspects that I liked about it. Kali, with the help of a fellow teammate, re-grounds herself in reality with the help of Taoist philosophy and principles, as well as martial arts. I liked that juxtaposition of her virtual life and the real one, and I think the author showed off the differences between that well.

But the scope of the book felt off to me. I’m trying to count back, and I think there are only three settings in the entire book: the virtual battlefield, nightclubs, and the training compound where Kali and her team live and practice. And while I’m sure there are books with fewer settings, this one felt so closed off.

I think my main problem is this virtual reality game they excel at. Here is the game craze sweeping the nation, addicting thousands of youth playing it and watching it being played: capture the flag on a field with two castles on either side. Every scene in the virtual world was in the same scenario. There was no exploring outside of that field, no objective other than defeat the other team and capture their castle. When I think virtual reality, literally millions of possibilities are out there for me to think of, to explore. All I got to see with this story, with this team, was one war game scenario, played over and over again with slightly different strategies.

There are supposedly other tournaments for different virtual reality games in this world – virtual car racing is mentioned a couple of times. And sometimes I felt as if I would rather read a scene about literally any of the other games, because I didn’t understand the replay appeal of this one. I don’t really buy that Kali becomes so addicted to the virtual world of a single field and castle, identical to every other field and castle she plays in the same game. Why would that be better than training in her compound, going out to nightclubs, eating real food and talking to real people?

I get that gaming addictions are complex, multifaceted, very real things. But I don’t see how this game is addicting. I could definitely see an addition to a virtual reality version of an RPG or quest scenario games where there’s variety in opponent and setting. But I don’t see the appeal of plugging in again and again to a field and your castle for ten minutes at a time.

But I digress.

The romance feels a little forced because it happens mere days after the former romantic interest dies. There is a lot of focus on tanned skin and chiseled jaw lines, which tend to make me roll my eyes. But their rapport is solid, and Rooke and Kali truly help each other out in different ways, training together physically as well as mentally, helping each other move past their gaming addictions.

The plot is rather predictable: the team starts falling apart and then they come together in zero hour, fighting their way to the final match up with their Arch Rivals. The ending opens up the story for potential sequels, which might be interesting because maybe FINALLY they will explore more of this world, virtual and otherwise, but I don’t know if I will stay along for the ride.

My Grade: C-

& Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Publisher: Roc, June 2016

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Publisher: Roc, June 2016

The Book Itself: Rather plain, almost reminds me a of a movie poster. If that movie poster was just the title and a border. The title of this book was intriguing enough to get me to pull it off the shelf, but I don’t know if the cover itself would have gotten me to do the same otherwise.

My Review: One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.
 
London’s underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.
 
Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself…

The entire premise of this book is constructed to draw book lovers in. Let’s just look at that title: The Invisible Library. Um…yes please! Now if I said that there is time/alternate dimension travel, an infinite library where rare books are stored away from prying eyes, Librarians trained from birth to locate and bring back priceless books…well, I’d bet that you’re practically salivating.

At least I was. And I warily dove into it, because it seemed a little too good to be true…but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised. The world is pure reader’s wish fulfillment. We open on Irene in a precarious situation, attempting to bring back an important book to the Library. Already the story is action packed and mysterious. When she gets into The Library, you just want to live there…the place is so large, it takes days of travel to get from one section to another. Librarians act as spies, thieves, and secret agents in order to get precious tomes for the collection. We’re missing a bit of origin story here – as I believe there’s probably more reason to collect all these books than “to keep them safe” – but that might be explained a little as the series goes on.

Irene is paired with the new guy, Kai, and they’re sent into a world on the brink of “chaos.” “Chaos” is measured like air pollution in these other dimensions. And when the chaos-ometer (or whatever is used to detect and measure the vaguely defined chaos) reaches a certain point, it is understood that dragons – all-powerful beings in this book, who can look just like humans, but possess incredible ability to change the world around them – will intervene.

Well, they haven’t intervened in this world/dimension yet, and it seems like they should. As Irene and Kai bumble around this new dimension, it is very clear they are way over their heads. I’m not quite sure why two relative novices were assigned this task, but it makes for an action-packed story.

Maybe a bit too action-packed. In every chapter, our heroes are beset by weird stuff. There are clockwork alligators, for crying out loud. Add to the weird things stalking their every move is each character’s crazy backstory, the Language they as Librarians can use to influence the physical world around them, and the central mystery of what the hell is going on here, and it gets to be a little too much action and too little development, both character and plot wise. The mystery unspools like most formulaic ones do – enter the setting, meet a helpful ally, find clue, meet enemy, follow clues to result, etc.

Irene as a character also suffers a bit from being Attractive to Everyone. There’s a bit of a forced love triangle between her, Kai, and the detective they meet while in this dimension. And whenever another character felt attraction to her, it felt rather forced. One evening, in the room they’re sharing together, Kai out of the blue propositions Irene, and I felt so uncomfortable because until that moment, I was not under the impression that they were attracted to one another. I also got the impression that Irene might have had a past relationship or attraction to another female character, but that was so hazy that maybe I am just reading into it.

Overall, it was a light fantasy read that crams a lot of action and a bit of absurdity into its 300-odd pages. I’ll continue onto the next one, but for such a great premise, I wish I had gotten a little bit more depth out of the story.

My Grade: C

& Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's August 2012

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s August 2012

The Book Itself: It’s an improvement from the book’s first cover release: a pretty blonde woman in full makeup with just a hint of a knife strapped to her arm. This one looks decidedly more badass, but the attention given to the long flowing hair is a little misplaced (if you were an assassin, anticipating close combat, wouldn’t you want your hair short, or at least up?)

My Review: After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her … but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead … quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Mark Twain had this idea that everything is plagiarized. He said “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” And it seems these days that a lot of complaints about movies and TV and books is that it isn’t original enough. Here are the same tropes and themes and characters, again and again, people cry. Give us something new!

Now, for me, I don’t mind the same old tropes and themes and characters. If they are well-written, if the story is paced well, if I feel like there are kernels of something in the story that I feel spice up the action and those same old themes. And unfortunately, Throne of Glass didn’t do it for me.

We’ve got a love triangle. We’ve got a dreamy prince and a bad boy captain of the guard. We’ve got a competition of wit and brawn. We’ve got a sassy female protagonist who ends up being super, unbelievably annoying, but who of course is the best in the land and can totally kick a bunch of guys butts in a deadly competition. Cool, okay. Badass female assassin sounds great. But we don’t really get that out of the bargain.

First of all, Celaena gets sprung out of the strictest prison in the land in order to be part of this competition, and she immediately becomes incredibly needy and spoiled. She refuses to get out of bed because she spent all night reading (and if the in love with reading thing is a bid to get us fellow readers to like her, I didn’t fall for it) even though hey, this competition is kind of important and can change your life so stop acting like a spoiled brat days after you’ve been sprung from a slave camp. And she doesn’t get any better. For the majority of the book, it felt like I was reading the adventures of an ugly stepsister (although she’s not ugly! Heaven forbid we go a chapter without being reminded that she’s pretty), and not the strong female role model protagonist I thought I was going to get.

The competition is almost pushed aside until the very last, fight-to-the-almost-death. In fact, there are whole paragraphs that say things like “the three Tests she’d had, the most exciting of which being an obstacle course, which she passed with only a few minor scratches and bruises.” Soooo…this is not the exciting, no holds-barred, winner takes all battle royale I was expecting. This sounds…boring. The competitors are tested in specific skills: archery, riddle-solving, apparently obstacle course completion…and the book hardly dwells on it. The tasks only serve to whittle down the almost faceless pool of competitors so that it’s just Celaena and an opponent (and even who that opponent is going to be is mindnumbingly obvious from the get-go).

And then let’s get to the central mystery…competitors for this competition keep dying, quite gruesomely in fact. And no one seems to really care. At most Celaena scratches her head a little, and then moves on with her life. In fact, here’s a sentence that boggles my mind: “But he’d been lucky: three other competitors had died. All found in forgotten hallways; all mutilated beyond recognition.” And then the scene moves on. What? So…three people died, and everyone’s just like “Meh, thin the herd.” Where is the agency or sense of urgency here? It’s like we wait around for spoiled Celaena to step up for once and do something productive.

Sorry. I just really dislike Celaena.

Maas tries to inject a little magic and mythology in there, but by that time it’s too late. I finished the book, but I will not be continuing on in the series. There are too many other good ones out there that do these themes better.

My Grade: D+

& Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux March 2016

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux March 2016

Re-release of the third installment's cover.

Re-release of the third installment’s cover.

The Book Itself: The final installment in the Winner’s Trilogy, and the last two covers. Again, I think that the cover art on the left best represents the series. The cover on the right tries too hard, I think, to make this book seem like it’s about a Strong Female Warrior Character. The one with the dress and sword shows a better juxtaposition of who Kestrel is written as. She wears the dresses but wields the dagger. It might be another cover with a pretty dress, but I think it’s better than the ubiquitous warrior princess cover.

**If you haven’t read the first two installments in this trilogy, even reading the book synopsis for this one will give you a couple spoilers. So go out and read these books, because they’re good! Then come back and read this. Thanks!

My Review: War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win? 

Despite it’s rather blech-y title, The Winner’s Kiss is a fantastic conclusion to a wonderful series. I’m a little bit in book love here.

The majority of the reviews on this one are rather gush-y, so I will try not to use too many exclamation points, even though this one deserves all of them. This series ramps up with each installment in an amazing story arc. With The Winner’s Curse we had a tense world on the brink of change, with two rather naïve characters falling in lurve. It was light on the action, heavy on the meaningful glances and first kisses. In The Winner’s Crime, both parties were miserable, dealing with what they thought were the consequences of their actions, only to have the crap truly hit the fan by the end, tearing apart all sense of happiness for the reader. Finally, here in The Winner’s Kiss, we get to see everyone kicking ass and taking names.

This book has more action that the other two combined. Arin is battling, Kestrel is battling, our new friend Roshar is battling (all while letting out quippy remarks, of course). There is real carnage and real, raw emotion that actually had be blinking rapidly a couple of times (No, I don’t cry about books. SHUTUP). The events in this story change the world of Kestrel and Arin irrevocably. And it doesn’t take that lightly.

Things that I wished were just a tad bit more developed: Arin reveals a little more about his people’s belief system in this story. The last book. Of the entire series. In fact, we learn that Arin was born under the protection/sign of the God of Death. And in fact, Death likes to talk in Arin’s head sometimes.

Wait, what? Here, in the last installment, we’re getting what seems like really important information about Arin and his beliefs? Where was Death’s voice this whole time?! Biding its time, perhaps? Not only was I a little confused that it took so long to get to this aspect of his character, but then I wanted to know more about it than was provided! We get snippets of information – there are 100 gods, and each year rotates which god influences things. Only a few gods get mentioned, but it opens up more doors and questions: Do the gods have names, or just representations? What’s the world’s origin story under these gods? Why 100, and not more or less? Etc. etc. etc. It feels like a halfhearted attempt at more worldbuilding. I’m a sucker for fictional stories about polytheistic societies and worlds, so I felt a little left in the lurch.

And our good friend Roshar…Roshar is introduced in The Winner’s Curse, but doesn’t really get to do anything until this last book. Which is a shame, because he’s good dark comic relief, and a much-needed friend for Arin. While the sarcastic, witty sidekick is another trope that pops up in a lot of modern fantasy literature, I ain’t mad about it. Give me good one-liners and crappy jokes all day long. Roshar is introduced too late, and he’s still the most convincing and developed side character. Or perhaps I’m still bitter about Jess and Ronan’s fadeout in the second book. I wish there were more of him, both in terms of backstory and witty retorts – I wish he had been in the story all along.

While the epilogue is a little too and-they-lived-happily-ever-after, there is a good dose of bittersweet by novel’s end. Kestrel’s relationship with her father (who, surprise! Turns out to be terrible!) is complex and heartbreaking, and it isn’t summed up with a neat little bow at the end. But I left this story, and this series, with wonderful, complex emotions. I laughed, I cried, and I wished it didn’t end. Just read it.

My Grade: A

& Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Bloomsbury March 2016

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Bloomsbury March 2016

Re-release of the second installment's cover

Re-release of the second installment’s cover

The Book Itself: Both paperback releases, and again, I like the pretty dress one more! It may be overdramatic. It may be one of those pretty-girls-sell-books kind of pictures which I actually tend to dislike, but I think it does a good job of representing two facets to Kestrel’s personality: the fierce fighter and the girl who has to wear fine fashion for life in the court. The cover on the right…just looks like a mysterious woman who likes to wear cloaks.

**If you intend to read this series, even reading the synopsis of the plot, below, will give you a couple spoilers. So go out and read the first book before you continue here!

My Review: A royal wedding is what most girls dream about. It means one celebration after another: balls, fireworks, and revelry until dawn. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement: that she agreed to marry the crown prince in exchange for Arin’s freedom. But can Kestrel trust Arin? Can she even trust herself? For Kestrel is becoming very good at deception. She’s working as a spy in the court. If caught, she’ll be exposed as a traitor to her country. Yet she can’t help searching for a way to change her ruthless world . . . and she is close to uncovering a shocking secret. This dazzling follow-up to The Winner’s Curse reveals the high price of dangerous lies and untrustworthy alliances. The truth will come out, and when it does, Kestrel and Arin will learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

You know how a lot of book series’ second installments are really just bridges to the final, no-holds-barred melee that is the last book? Not The Winner’s Trilogy. The Winner’s Trilogy eats those books for breakfast. And then dices them into tiny pieces, kind of like how your heart will feel after reading the ending of this one, The Winner’s Crime.

For one thing, this second installment gets decidedly darker. You can feel Kestrel’s unhappiness on every page, her desperation to get out of the situation she is in, and the despair at having no options to do so. Add to that all the conflicted, twisted feelings about admitting her lurve for Arin or being a good general’s daughter and staying put where she is, and this book had be turning page after page to see if it would come to the conclusion I wanted it to.

It’s got its fair share of tropes overused in young adult fantasy literature: the starcrossed lovers who share steamy make-out sessions when they shouldn’t, oversweeping and anguished displays of interior dialogue or emotion (like this gem: “Arin hadn’t fallen asleep on the deck of his strangely still ship, yet, it felt as if he’d been dreaming. As if dreams and memories and lies were the same thing.” Oooookay Arin, you drama queen…), cliffhanger endings, and scenes whose literal only purpose is to stab you right in the feels.

But if it’s done well, meaning if the writing and characters and character arcs are compelling to me, I don’t mind all that. And I thought The Winner’s Crime did it all very well. We see both Kestral and Arin gain more agency: they become more powerful characters to me, more in charge of what they are doing. This is especially true in Kestrel’s case, because she’s in a position where she feels powerless, and yet she still tries to keep the parts of herself alive that she admires, she tries to – and I am literally cringing as I begin to type this – stay true to herself. And sometimes that doesn’t work, and there are always consequences when her every move is watched: any time she and Arin are in the same scene, there are vultures around them, ready to rip them apart (not literally).

And it’s those consequences that are really drove me to read further. In so many romance-y YA books, two special snowflakes find each other, fight against and beat countless “insurmountable odds,” and live happily ever after. Kestrel and Arin are a dangerous combination: they are not supposed to be together. They are not supposed to fight against the system. And they do. And this book frames what happens when they get caught. Non-spoiler alert: it ain’t good.

I will say that I’m not liking the development of some of the secondary characters. Which is to say that there is none. Remember Kestrel’s best friend and her brother, Kestrel’s maybe-other-part-of-the-love-triangle, Jess and Ronan? Basically thrown away here. Jess gets pissed and excommunicates her former friend. We see Ronan for exactly one scene, and then the rest of this story is summarized to a couple of numb paragraphs. And then that’s it. They aren’t in the rest of the book, or in the rest of this series. While Kestrel and Arin as characters are growing, it would be nice to see how other characters grow or change, or don’t grow and change around them. Maybe Jess became a hateful enemy. Maybe Ronan tried to reach out again, but having them drop off the face of the story felt abrupt and stilted.

The Winner’s Crime does set up a lot for the third book. So in a sense it is a bridge to the series’ big finale. But it’s one of those ominous bridges that is harrowing to cross, maybe with an ogre underneath (insert clumsy bridge analogy here). It kept up my attention and affection for the series leading into the end.

My Grade: A

& Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Square Fish March 2015

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Square Fish March 2015

Re-release of the first installment's cover.

Re-release of the first installment’s cover.

The Book Itself: I include two covers here, because I much prefer one over the other. I own the paperback copy on the left. Even though it’s a little bodice-ripper-y, with a swooning young woman in a foofy dress, it is well-photographed, the colors rich and the staging interesting. The cover on the right looks awkward, the model too fake and photoshopped (not that the one on the left isn’t photoshopped, but the one on the right just doesn’t seem to fit the story).

My Review: Winning what you want may cost you everything you love
They were never meant to be together. As a general’s daughter, seventeen-year-old Kestrel enjoys an extravagant and privileged life. Arin has nothing but the clothes on his back. Then Kestrel makes an impulsive decision that binds Arin to her. Though they try to fight it, they can’t help but fall in love. In order to be together, they must betray their people . . . but to be loyal to their country, they must betray each other.

Set in a new world, The Winner’s Curse is a story of rebellion, duels, ballroom dances, wicked rumors, dirty secrets, and games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

I am told that I must thank my brilliant (beautiful, talented, humble) best friend for recommending this book and this series in the first place. I will never doubt you again.

With that out of the way…with a book that comes highly recommended, I approach it warily. Is it worth the hype? Will I like it the same way that someone I know liked it? In this case, very much so. I am writing this review and the reviews of the other two books after reading the entire series, so I might sound a little gush-y before it’s due, but this is a series that truly improves with every installment, and has characters, world-building, and a plot that I highly, HIGHLY recommend.

Kestrel (euuuggghhhhh…okay, I had to get over her name) buys Arin (“AH-ren,” not “AIR-en,” I’ve had disagreements with people about this and the author says it’s “AH-ren”!) at a slave auction and takes him to her father’s estate where he joins a multitude of slaves who serve the household. Typical love story things ensue: Arin does something wrong and receives undue punishment from a slave master, he hears her playing piano and loves listening to her play, etc. etc.

What makes this could-be-cliché story better is the well-structured world around it. Arin’s people used to own the land and even the houses that Kestrel’s people currently occupy. Kestrel’s father, a military general, was instrumental in the conquering, slaughter, and enslavement of his people. Intrigue! Conflict! Add to all that a plot to overthrow Kestrel’s people, which involves both of our protagonists (who are falling in love at the same time). And you have yourself a story.

Now, this first installment is heavier on the romance, light on the world-building and fighting. In a way it is one big set up to the books that come next: the real meat of the series. That’s not to say The Winner’s Curse here is bad. If it were, I never would have continued on. But it feels more superficial than the others. Far more time is spent dressing Kestrel in pretty dresses (although she does get to – spoiler alert – duel someone, so that’s pretty badass), and swanning around at various social engagements than actual political intrigue or grisly military battle. But it does have a buzzy undercurrent of things to come, of a pot of water just on the cusp of boiling.

And when the Big Event does arrive in this story, it is well-written, tightly wound, and has you gobbling up the pages. And then my favorite part: it doesn’t end there. It would be so easy to end the story at the end of a battle that is going to change the course of history for both sides of this world. It would be what most stories, and most writers would do. A movie franchise (please, please, please) of this might end as soon as the dust settles. But the book continues, shows the immediate aftermath, turns the tables between Kestrel and Arin and explores that different dynamic. THEN it forces Kestrel to make a huge, relationship-changing decision to round out the story. Not only hers and Arin’s relationship, but her relationship to her father and her people as well.

The romance is pretty spicy, too.

I will admit that The Winner’s Curse is my least favorite of the trilogy. But that’s not saying a whole lot, because I loved them all. Would highly recommend to those who liked the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore (a friend of the author of the Winner’s trilogy, actually), Sarah J. Maas’ fantasy series, Throne of Glass, and A Court of Thorns and Roses (my reviews of both of those to come), and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha and Six of Crows series. And anyone who likes a healthy dose of romance in their light fantasy reads.

My Grade: B+

& Forbidden Forest Fridays: Don’t Be a Snitch

Alas, Harry Potter week had to come to an end, my friends. But: I have one last thing to tell you.

Or show you really…

hptattoo

 

 

I officially have a Harry Potter tattoo!

I’ve been wanting a literary themed tattoo for a while (wrote a post about it a while back, actually…) and as you can probably tell if you didn’t know already…I’m a big fan of Harry Potter.

So here’s my brand new ink, on my right forearm, my very own Golden Snitch. I’m loving it so far, which is good, because it’s permanent.

 

hptattoo2

Anybody else out there have Harry Potter ink? Any other literary tattoos I need to see?

Hope you enjoyed the magical theme that was this week! Happy Friday!