& Review: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Publisher: Razorbill August 2016

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Publisher: Razorbill August 2016

The Book Itself: Simple, with the title dominating the cover. Two people (Elias and Laia, presumably) fleeing through a tunnel. Not a standout cover, but no slouch either.

My Review: Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.

Note: If you haven’t yet read An Ember in the Ashes, the first book in this series, I reveal a few plot points from that first installment that you might not want spoiled in this review. Proceed at your own risk 🙂

I really like and admire Tahir for writing a sequel that is very different in plot and motivation than the first book. Some series tend to use a plot event or device again and again in later books. In The Hunger Games, the games themselves happened again in Catching Fire, and in a way, yet again in Mockingjay. Plotting and heists feature prominently in both (terrific) installments of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. In A Torch Against the Night, the stakes are higher and the adventure more encompassing of the book’s world: characters physically travel and accomplish more.

Case and point: the story is now told from three perspectives, from three difference characters sometimes going in three different directions. The book is divided into short chapters from Laia’s point of view, Elias’, and Helene’s. This might have to do with the incredible amount of love that Helene’s character drew from readers after the first book. But it does become a lot of voices and storylines in one book. I remember struggling with the two point of views in the first book: I found Elias’ storyline to much more compelling that Laia’s.

Luckily, all three storylines have high stakes and are written very well in this book. It still feels like a lot is happening, and Tahir is very good (or very bad) at leaving each short chapter on a cliffhanger so that you have to read through the other two characters’ chapters before you find a resolution to the one you’re freaking out about. The chapters were often very short – sometimes only a couple of pages long. This could get frustrating, as you got in deep to one storyline only to be yanked away too soon. But it also kept the pace and tension racing high. I could say that I would have preferred just two points of view, but I’m not sure which point of view I would have cut.

Helene’s POV storyline is heartbreaking, as she is sent after Elias, a man she loves, upon threat of violence against her family and appeasing the Emperor she now works for. The book title is actually in reference to her this time around, and at times her story is emotionally hard to read.

Elias took a turn for me in this book. In the first book, he had been turned into a killing machine for the Empire. He was haunted, complex. Here, he seems almost too good. He is almost too generous and misunderstood and wounded. Tahir tugs at the heartstrings, introducing us to his adopted family, showing how good he is with kids, and how he clearly loves Laia to a fault. On the one hand, who doesn’t want their hero/love interest to have a tough exterior but a heart of gold, but it felt a little too good to be true.

Laia is a very interesting character to me. She’s not your typical badass female heroine. She’s not brave and physically strong or crafty like a lot of authors are trying to make their female protagonists. She’s deeply flawed, and she makes a lot of mistakes. Sometimes this is to the point of annoyance, and she messes up a lot of stuff for a lot of characters. But I identify with her. I feel like she would be me, were I in these situations. I would break down emotionally, lash out, and make rash decisions in the face of such stress. I think she reacts more realistically than most fantasy characters do.

In addition to the added POV, there are also more adversaries this time around. In book one, the Commandant was the Big Bad, harming Laia, her slave, and revealing the kind of apathy and cruelty for her son that only the deepest psychopath would display. Marcus was a close second, being the one contestant you didn’t want to win the bloody contest to become the new Emperor.

And then, of course, he won. So he’s Big Bad #2 in this book. He and the Commandant show almost equal amounts of twisted, evil intent. But those two aren’t enough, apparently. Now we have the Nightbringer, the mythical being merely whispered about in the first book (and whose true identity and promise of a new storyline I didn’t particularly care for). And we have the Warden, a demented torturer of children at the prison where Laia’s brother is kept. It’s a lot of bad against our three good guys. It’s one of those insurmountable odds tales that I am always flipping pages manically to see how it ends. With so many corners backed into, how can they possibly get out again and again?!

It’s a busy book, but a quick and intense read if you were invested in the characters from the first book. I will say that I was just as frustrated with the “love rhombus” (like a love triangle, but with four characters) in this book as I was with the first. I haven’t read a whole lot of love triangles where I could see an equal chance for both pairings. They are so obviously biased towards one couple getting together, with the third person just in there for spice. Add two people for the sole purpose of trying to complicate things, and it just feels forced. I have never felt that Laia and Keenan have real chemistry. While I sympathize and like Helene, I can’t see her character’s personality in a romantic situation with Elias. The secondary relationships aren’t interesting or complex, and therein lies my annoyance with trying to maintain plausibility in a love triangle/rhombus.

But this is a terrific sequel, when all is said and done. I will read future installments and wait for them with bated breath!

My Grade: B


& Review: City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Broadway Books January 2016

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Broadway Books January 2016

The Book Itself: I’m liking the covers for this series. There’s a larger symbol having to do with the Divine characters in the novel (in this case Voortya’s sword), and then below that, there is a surprisingly detailed image of the city the book is set in. This one really helped me visualize Voortyashtan and the harbor construction. Plus the whole thing just looks really cool.

My Review: A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions.
Now, the city’s god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.
So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh— foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister—has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.  
At least, it makes the perfect cover story.
The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world–or destroy it.
The trouble is that this old soldier isn’t sure she’s still got what it takes to be the hero

I fell in absolute, unexpected book-love with Bennett’s City of Stairs (although I cringe when I re-read my review – what was I drinking when I wrote that thing? It’s so scatterbrained!) It was recommended by a friend and even though I didn’t love the description, I started in on it. And it’s a book that hooks you, drops you in this world and this mystery, and doesn’t let you out of its grip. I may have shed a tear when I saw that the sequel wasn’t out for another year or so.

But here we are, with City of Blades. And yes, I had to re-read City of Stairs. I remembered the bare bones of the story (Sigrud battles a giant water monster! Some gods come back to life!), but re-reading it just cemented the memory of how much I loved it. And it was nice to slide right into the sequel.

This one follows Mulaghesh – the stern battle general who stood by Shara’s side in the Battle of Bulikov. She (spoiler alert!) lost an arm and is “retired” in the seaside village she always wanted…and she’s pretty miserable. Enter Pitry (anyone else think about Land Before Time? Anyone?), with a note from good old Shara, pulling Mulaghesh back into service. And where does she send the embattled war veteran? The city that used to be focused solely on war and violence, of course (a little cruel, Shara…).

Enter another mysterious disappearance…enter clues that the Divine isn’t dead…enter our best pal Sigrud. And you’ve got another amazing story.

It’s a decidedly darker tone than the first book, which wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in to begin with. Mulaghesh is a former soldier with physical and emotional wounds that run very deep. The moments where she would come to a realization about her military past, where she would become so broken up about the concept of war and the acts she committed in the name of it, were incredibly emotional. I think they would affect any reader, and I honed in on them because I happen to love someone in the military – those feelings and memories are highly personal and incredibly loaded with emotions of every kind. I think it was handled very well in the book.

I love the way both books have dealt with the central mystery: the beginning of the book puts you knee-deep in the mystery, but the book soon boomerangs you into a storyline so much wildly bigger than that mystery, that you don’t really mind that it took a backseat for a while. This time, it’s a researcher sent into Voortyashtan who has disappeared. And she went absolutely bonkers before she did so. There’s another mystery about a power conductive substance that they are mining for in the city, hints at the Divine (which is a much bigger deal in this one, as Voortya was one chick you didn’t want to mess with as a god), and of course, twists abound.

Sigrud is back, but he also takes that backseat, allowing Mulaghesh to really shine. When I read that this book wouldn’t feature Shara or even Sigrud as heavily as the first book did, I was wary. But I came away loving Mulaghesh on an equal level.

The description alone for the next book, City of Miracles is a doozy (AND SIGRUD IS THE MAIN CHARACTER! HUZZAH!). I will be tapping my toes impatiently for January 5th, 2017 to come along, because I cannot wait to read it!

My Grade: A

& Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Tor Teen January 2016

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Tor Teen January 2016

The Book Itself: Dramatic witch is dramatic. I don’t know how practical that outfit would be when on the run, but it gives you a good idea on what the author is thinking for the character at lease.

My Review: On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble–as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her–but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Look! A book from an Uppercase Box (take a look at when I opened this one here)! This has all the trappings of a good fantasy series: strong leads, a complex magic system, a hint of romance, etc. And for the most part, it’s solid. The action keeps you reading at a good pace and the author’s focus on female friendship rather than ooey-gooey romance is nice. I struggled a bit with the world-building and logistics of the magic these girls so potently wield.

So we’ve got a Truthwitch, a Threadwitch, a Windwitch, and a Bloodwitch. The least clear of all of these, even from name alone, is the Threadwitch. One of our main characters, Iseult, sees the threads that bind the people around her – essentially their relationships and apparently, their emotions. She also cannot see her own threads. I have so many questions already. I imagine being in crowds would be extremely uncomfortable: so many threads and emotions, and wouldn’t it be hard to see? Are the threads rather transparent? How powerful does this gift make you, really? So you know a man and woman are romantically involved. So you can tell when a friend is secretly angry with you. People react to Iseult because of her race, but is being a Threadwitch seen as an overly powerful gift? And once we meet Iseult’s family, we find out they can make Threadstones – stones that can relieve pain, link two people together over great distances, etc. Why does seeing the ties that bind also give them an affinity with stones? How do they make Threadstones?

You see, the mind spins with questions. I don’t notice that I’m thinking of these questions until Safi, our Truthwitch, mentions that her power (sorry, witchery), can also detect when she herself is telling a lie. So only Threadwitches are blocked from their own power? Wait, does everyone have a witchery? Does it develop? Is it hereditary? Are those with witchery considered superior than those without? Are they universally feared? Loved?

My questions mount, and I don’t really get any answers. The world-building and society structure are wobbily at best in this story. There’s a war going on that no one seems to want, but is considered an inevitability. There’s an Emperor, but I’m not sure who or what he rules over. And tell me about the witchery! It’s the central theme of the book, so I want more detail. A lot more detail.

But I’ll digress from that. Safi and her love interest dance at a ball and fall in love. It’s literally a Cinderella moment. I would hate this, would roll my eyes at the insta-love that plagues YA fiction, but it’s not all smooth sailing from there. Safi leaves the ball in a chase scene (okay, also very Cinderella). And a few dozen misunderstandings means our star-crossed lovers aren’t just ride off into the sunset types. They’re both stubborn as hell, for one thing. So it’s a little more complex than their first meeting would have you believe. I’m glad for that.

I love the female friendship in this. Safi and Iseult play off of each other and have a great bond, even when they’re physically in different locations in the story. And the Bloodwitch seems very compelling and interesting, even though I don’t quite understand why he’s hunting down these girls. Does their blood just smell really good?

Ultimately, I’m left with a bucket load of questions and a plot that seemed to move in a linear way, but was tough to flesh out. I’m not sure if I’d pick up the sequel. We’ll see when the release date gets closer (here’s looking at you, January 2017…)

P.S. it also bugged me that we had to hear the colors Iseult saw as people’s emotions. There were so many that I couldn’t keep track of consistency (was loneliness always orange? Was anger consistently  burgundy?). It really took me out of the story to read something like “Iseult saw his/her threads flash ochre with compassion, then azure for relief, and finally mauve for resentment.” I am over-embellishing here, but it did feel both over the top and dragging.

My Grade: C-

& Review: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey July 2014

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey July 2014

The Book Itself: So are these the Bondsmagi? Or are they supposed to be costumed actors? The young Gentleman Bastards perform in a play in their childhood in this book, so it could be that. Either way, very dramatic

My Review: With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.
Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body—though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring—and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.
Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha—or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

It seemed appropriate to review an installment in a series I’m reading amidst my Friday posts about reading series’…luckily I started reading the Gentlemen Bastard series after the first three books were already out. The Thorn of Emberlain will be out in July, so I really don’t have too long to wait before that one – insuring that I won’t forget 90% of the plot relatively soon after reading it, as I usually do.

But another day, another Gentleman Bastard book. This time we FINALLY GET TO MEET SABETHA. Sabetha, for those who haven’t picked up this marvelous fantasy series yet, is Locke Lamora’s legendary former lover. For the first two books, we have seen him dodge all mention of her, flinch at redheads who remind him of her, and be pulled out of a deep stupor simply because Jean mentions her name. She is a Big Deal.

But here’s the thing with Big Deals: with such a big windup, it becomes awfully hard for the Big Deal to live up to expectations. At this point, readers are expecting Sabetha to be the most gorgeous creature on the planet, a match in wit for both Locke and Jean (a Herculean task in itself), and yet she still has to be believable. If Sabetha were too good to be true (a Mary Sue, if you will), readers would have detested her. If she strayed too far on the other side of things – was too flawed, too boring, not witty enough, etc. – readers would have hated her as well. It’s an almost no-win situation.

Overall, I think she holds up. This book is structured as its predecessors were: present day action interspersed with interludes from Locke and Jean’s childhood. And this time it irked me more than it did in the first two books. It delayed our meeting of modern-day Sabetha because the interludes were setting up their childhood relationship, and Chains’ task for his young charges during the summer (and we get to see Galdo and Calo again! Yay!).  I found the interlude storyline to be far less compelling than the present day storyline. I found myself not wanting to hear about how they first connected, but how they connect now.

And I will admit – when I heard that this book would revolve around Locke and Jean and Sabetha having to fix an election, I deflated a little. They’re going to have to make Locke extra witty and the characters really well-rounded to get me to like reading about a fictional political election, I thought. It’s no complex liquor ruse or plan to defraud a legendary gambling tower or pirate ship race, that’s for sure (tricks and schemes Locke and Jean have pulled off in previous installments). But the two sides liven it up: Locke and Sabetha attempt to sabotage each other in increasingly ridiculous ways, all while trying to reconnect on the side (can someone take me on an elaborate dinner hoisted atop a skyscraper? Please?!).

And then there’s the fact that this is all for the Bondsmagi. You know, like that one bad guy from the first book who was pretty terrifying and powerful? Yeah, this is the rest of the family. They’re still all-powerful. They’re still scary as hell. And Locke and Jean become indebted to them. Grrrrreatttt…

And by the end, a big reveal about Locke’s supposed heritage (you know, before he went by Locke Lamora) had me reeling. I mean…that’s not really who he is…right? And way to ruin things when they finally seemed to go well for everyone!

I won’t spoil that bit. This time around I wasn’t as onboard with the childhood interludes. They kind of soured my impression of the present day scenes, which I wanted more of (despite the fact they were really about a political election). Sabetha is a strong character, but I haven’t had as much time to get to know her as I have for Locke and Jean, so I’m still wary. Looking forward to the fourth installment in July!

My Grade: B

& Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Razorbill February 2016

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Razorbill February 2016

The Book Itself: I’m a little unclear what the background image is supposed to be, but the title is certainly dramatic and cool-looking. I don’t know if this cover would make me leap for this book on the shelf, but the font works well.

My Review: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I shied away from this book at first because it sounded like a lot of books already out there – controlling society, high born vs. low born, society based on Greek/Roman traditions, family member endangered, young woman thrust into a situation she isn’t ready for, but triumphs regardless, etc. It’s the Hunger Games/Divergent/Countless other dystopian and fantasy series come before. I know the plot pattern. I even like the plot pattern. But some books do it better than others, and sometimes you just need to read something different.

And then the praise for this book started gathering speed. And the fans started to profess their lurve for it all over the place. So I caved and started reading.

And I’m pretty glad I did. It’s not that it’s without pitfalls – there’s a love rhombus/square for crying out loud – but overall the book has solid primary as well as secondary characters and very well-written conflict and action scenes.

Let’s get the romance thing out of the way: Laia and Elias have secondary love interests besides each other. For Laia, it’s a fellow spy named Keenan – a jerk who is “just trying to protect her” (yes, I rolled my eyes too). For Elias, it’s his best friend/battlemate Helene. This relationship is far more compelling. They’re friends, they’re pitted against each other, and their relationship is put to the hardest test of all in some of the final chapters in the book – a battle that truly affected me as a reader.

But not only do we have to set up the relationship between Laia and Elias (which ends up being that boring and ridiculous “insta-love” so overused in YA books), now we have to see the set-up of relationships between Laia and Keenan. And Elias and Helene. And even how Laia and Helene and Elias and Kennan interact. Ugh. I think the love rhombus (which is so much more interesting than a love square, don’t you think?) detracts from the main story. Although I’m torn about that, because Helene is pretty kickass and I like the conflict between her and Elias. Maybe I’m just a Keenan-hater. Sorry I’m not sorry.

And now for the world: this is a brutal book. There is no holding back. If you’ve read other reviews of this story, you know it features rape…rather prominently. Laia is constantly described as beautiful/attractive/a special snowflake in terms of looks. As a pretty slave she attracts attention. Of the bad intentions kind. I agree with both sides of the coin here: it is very in-your-face. It’s mentioned quite often for the amount of screen time Laia has. And it doesn’t help make Laia a strong feminist character, always associated with rape, physical beauty, and helplessness. But it makes sense in terms of the society: a caste system where slaves, both male and female, are property, to do with what soldiers will. Rape happened in ancient Rome and Greece. So it’s happening here.

And the brutality doesn’t end there. There is a lot of blood and guts in this story. A lot of betrayal, a lot of evil in the well-constructed villain that is the Commandant (and also Elias’ mother – MAMA ISSUES!) It’s a lot of brutality for YA, but the writing style and character development place this book pretty squarely in that genre.

I thought the action scenes were really well done, but unbalanced in terms of narration. We would go from a tense scene mid-battle for Elias amidst the Trials…and then cut away to Laia, talking to the cook in the kitchen. I would at times find Elias’ story and arc so much more compelling than Laia’s, that I wished the book were more about him. I think he’s a better constructed character overall, and he really got the bulk of the story.

Overall, I liked the story, I liked the characters. I wasn’t sold on the romance, and Laia still kind of annoys me. But I’ll pick up the next installment to see where it goes from here.

My Review: B

& Reviews: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Henry Holt and Company September 2015

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Henry Holt and Company September 2015

The Book Itself: You can’t see it from the cover photo alone, but the pages are trimmed in black, making for a very cool effect, and an awesome addition to a bookshelf. The crow on the cover is really ingenious, too, with the wingtip forming the spires of a city.

My Review: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

My best friend raved about this book and pushed it into my hands. I was reading the first two books in the Gentleman Bastards series (read reviews on The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies here and here) at the time, and the synopsis of Crows sounded like a too-similar story arc in young adult form. So I put it off.

I am glad I finally picked it up after a couple of palate-cleansing books. It is incredibly well-written and structured, and despite it having a boggling number of protagonists, I felt like I got to know each one.

Leigh Bardugo also wrote the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising). I read the first of that series in 2014, but for some reason didn’t continue. I liked the book, and it built a really complex villain and love triangle, but perhaps I just got wrapped up in other books or it wasn’t quite what I was looking for at the time.

Well, Six of Crows is set in the same world. Upon seeing a list of Grisha on one of the first pages, I called my friend in a panic “Do I need to go read that whole series before I get to this one?!”

“No,” she reassured me. “It stands on its own.”

And it certainly does. Not only did I immediately understand what the Grisha were and how they fit into the world (this book is set after the events of the other series, so you might get a couple spoilers about the aftermath of the series’ events), but I fell into it and just kept reading. You get steeped in the action right away, from multiple characters and multiple sides of the story. And at first, having these six+ people as your guides for the rest of the novel seems overwhelming: each chapter cycles narration between them, and you have to get them straight, as well as feel like you know them and their motivations.

And I don’t know quite how Bardugo managed it, but the pacing and structuring is so well done! We get flashbacks and backstory for each and every thief/thug/sorcerer (or sorceress). And it is done in such a way that I didn’t feel that it detracted from the main plot. Which, speaking of plot, is fantastic. We have the formation of our dream team: teenage thieves and weapons specialists (I automatically age them in my mind because it just seems weirdly implausible that they are in their teens), we have the formation of The Mission, we slowly set up the stakes for The Mission for each character, and we carry out The Mission. I didn’t feel taken out of the story at any point, I didn’t detest or even dislike any one character – the ones you feel have bad intentions to start with turn into complex people with beliefs that differ from others in key ways.

I am finding that I am drawn towards crafty main characters. The kind that always seem in a bind, but they are only in a bind because they planned it that way. And just when you think all hope is lost, they reveal the secret to the magic trick, and they wiggle their way out of trouble. It makes the plot interesting, and a bit unpredictable. Even though I know this character and know that this is probably a ruse that they have orchestrated to get something that they want, I want to learn how they did it, and how exactly they are going to get away. Kaz Brekker, the leader of our motley crew, is one such character. He always has something up his sleeve. But he’s complex, and his backstory is pretty heartbreaking.

So, it is safe to say that I liked it. A lot. Crooked Kingdom, the sequel, comes out this September, and it is already on my calendar. The worldbuilding is strong, any romance is a nice background, and not the cloying focus, and you will love this ragtag bunch of misfits.

My Grade: A