& 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

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& Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers October 2016

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers October 2016

The Book Itself: Well, they’ve done it again: another incredible cover, full of intricate detail and hints at the story within. I cannot imagine NOT having physical copies of these beautiful books. The question now is: what color will the third installment be? I’m thinking purple…or maybe green.

My Review: Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

I don’t know if you remember, but I read a little book called Illuminae last year and then I gushed profusely in my review and never stopped talking about it. It was also one of the best books I read last year.

So I had Gemina’s release date in my calendar for A WHILE. And come October I was getting stoked. A few days before its release, I retrieved my copy of Illuminae from a friend I had lent it to and I re-read it and loved it exactly as I had the first time. It was just as impressive, just as beautiful and complex even when I knew the characters, the plot, and the twists. Please, please please, let Gemina be just as amazing, I thought.

Good news. It too is amazing. The hardcover has the same detailed panels of the plot, censored as if the government is shielding you from the truth. The translucent dust jacket is a gorgeous blue. I just want to keep it on a shelf and stare at it all day long. But the temptation to re-read it would be too strong.

Gemina takes place minutes after the events in Illuminae, from the perspective of jump station Heimdall, the goal our ragged fleet of ships was striving toward in the first book. There is already a dark cloud surrounding Heimdall, as they never answered our survivor’s distress calls, and rumors flew that BeiTech had already destroyed or taken over the place.

Our couple this time is Hanna, the captain’s daughter, and Nik, a bad boy drug dealer who belongs to a Russian-mob-type family (ooh, edgy). They will, of course, be love interests. But our girl isn’t a snarky hacker with pink hair this time. No, she’s a rather spoiled party girl who just happens to be well-versed in several types of martial arts. Our boy isn’t the quarterback of a space-football team. He’s a prison-tattooed, capital M Misunderstood tough guy. But to be honest, the rest of the book’s premise is similar.

In Illuminae, we had three major adversaries: a fleet coming to destroy any witness to BeiTech’s attack on Kerenza, an artificial intelligence system that seemed to be going haywire, and a zombie-like virus that drove its hosts into a murderous frenzy (never will I hear or read the phrase “Don’t look at me” again and not shudder). Here are Gemina’s Big Three: a fleet coming to take over jump station Heimdall to use it for their own nefarious purposes, a large group of highly trained thugs-for-hire onboard who are there to subdue the populace so BeiTech’s fleet can succeed, and alien parasites resembling those face huggers from Alien.

See any similarities? Three crazy obstacles: check.

Two crazy teenagers who, against all odds and with the help of threat of imminent death manage to come together and fall in lurve: check.

Countdowns to imminent doom every dozen pages or so: check.

Twists abound: check.

I don’t mind the similarities, really, I don’t. I loved Illuminae and its structure and the way it made the concepts fresh and exciting. But it kind of seemed like they were trying to make the same concepts fresh and exciting here. The Phobos virus in Illuminae scared the crap out of me. The alien parasites in Gemina had one creepy scene in the dark and then they were kind of pushed aside. People under the influence of Phobos haunted my dreams. The face huggers here seemed a bit like an afterthought.

I will put my biggest problem with the plotting of Gemina in a spoiler zone below. Overall, it did a lot of the same things Illuminae did, with a slightly different twist. I still ate it up with a freaking spoon, and I will countdown just as hard for the third installment, but I’m a little surprised it stuck with the same formula.

What Gemina did really well is made me care for a third main character: Nik’s cousin, Ella. Ella might be stuck in a chair, but boy is she an active character (and also everyone would be totally screwed without her). It also set up the main structure for the showdown to come in book three: namely, the ultimate takedown of BeiTech. This book is set up as evidence in a judicial trial against BeiTech, and the bigwigs at the company play a bigger role in this book. The cliffhanger ending makes me need the third book like, yesterday.

Overall, this book is again a work of art. It is still wonderfully complex and unpredictable. And again it blows my mind the amount of work that went into crafting this amazing story. I’m hoping the third book strays a bit from the formula the other two have set up, but I am still so, so, SO excited for it!!

Spoiler-gripe below (PLEASE DON’T STRAY IF YOU DO NOT WANT GEMINA SPOILED!)

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They tried to make me believe the male love interest died, and it turned out he didn’t. In fact, they did this twice in Gemina. This is a case of fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Except this time I wasn’t really fooled. Wait a minute…I’ve seen this before, I thought, as the light faded from our bad boy’s eyes. Twice. It didn’t emotionally impact me the way it should have because I knew it wasn’t real. This time it wasn’t an AI lying to our female protagonist to get her to do its bidding, but I knew in some way Nik was going to end up being alive the whole time. If the third installment tries to do this again, I might be forced to roll my eyes.

Also, there’s a page where the names of a few dozen people are artfully arranged, representing a group of people who have died due to something horrible. Except that Kaufman and Kristoff used names of fellow authors for the victims. So instead of an emotional sucker punch, instead of feeling like innocent people, innocent characters, died, I just thought, Oh look, the author of the Grisha trilogy. The author of Beautiful Creatures. And that woman wrote Red Queen. It took a serious moment and almost poked fun at it.

My Grade: A

& Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Publisher: Henry Holt and Company September 2016

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Publisher: Henry Holt and Company September 2016

The Book Itself: The covers of this series have been so clever! The tattered wings of the crow form the spires of a city this time. And the edges of all the pages are dipped in a bright, vivid red. Atmospheric and just plain awesome.

My Review: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

I adore books and characters that are cleverer than me. I am drawn to crafty thief-types who have orchestrated something so complex, so diabolical, than just when they’re backed into a corner, and I’m frantically reading pages to find out how they get out of it, they pull something off that I never saw coming. It takes truly talented authors to do that. It makes me both envious as a writer and a very happy reader.

Six of Crows was one of the best examples of that that I read last year. The characters were haunting and witty and so, so clever. Kaz Brekker, the leader of the charming band of misfits, was the epitome of that (although he left most of the snark to Jesper, the sharpshooter).

But the first book let Kaz do the planning, and focused on bringing the disparate characters into a cohesive team. This book backs that team into corner after corner. But this time, they’re unified, closer to one another emotionally, and they hatch plans together instead of relying on Kaz alone.

And it’s not just one heist, either. The team is trying to get back at Van Eck for double-crossing them and stealing Inej in the first book. Kaz has his revenge fantasy against Pekka Rollins. Eventually the ENTIRE city seems against them (as in, there are wanted posters). This isn’t just breaking into the Ice Court. This is getting back at multiple people, simultaneously, all while trying to stay sane, friendly, and oh yeah, alive. The story dragged a bit for me when they started plotting their next moves. In the first book, Kaz did all of that, and he did all of that offstage. Not one person knew everything up his sleeve (which created some understandable tension). So we didn’t see the discarded ideas, the obstacles he had to puzzle through. We see more of that here in Crooked Kingdom. I think it was definitely necessary, and earned, but it took me a bit to adjust.

Leigh Bardugo is also just excellent at banter and dialogue. I wish I were half as verbosely clever as these characters in real life.

Crooked Kingdom was much more emotional, overall. I was rather surprised that all of them emerged relatively unscathed in Six of Crows. Uh-oh, I thought. That means someone’s going to bite the dust in the next one. There’s no way all of them are making it out alive. I would never go so far as to tell you if that’s true. But I will say that the character development throughout the novel, and the resolutions for each of them had me tearing up several times. Wylan, who I didn’t feel particularly attached to in the first book, gets a backstory in Crooked Kingdom. And it’s pretty heartbreaking. And you knew Inej had a terrible past, but now you get to hear more about it and cry the requisite tears. Bardugo had the unenviable task of making you care for, developing, and providing resolution for not one, not two, but three major relationships amidst this cast of characters. I was pulling for every one of them. And while maybe not all of them got the ending I was hoping for, I admire the way I was made to care for them (Jesper and Wylan FOR LIFE, by the way…).

I will say that I wish the ending had…more. There are major moves to wrap up each character’s story. But in the end I felt a little empty. I don’t know whether I truly felt that there were loose ends, or if I just really, really want more books featuring these characters. But you leave with everyone setting off to do some amazing things (MUST…NOT…SPOIL…), and in a way it felt too nicey-nice to me. I need the grit of this world and these characters back! Bring them all back together for one last heist! For FIVE MORE HEISTS! ALL THE HEISTS!!

At the reader’s panel I went to, where Leigh Bardugo was one of the authors, someone asked if her next book would include any these characters, or be in the same world. She, of course, couldn’t say yay or nay, probably because her publisher made her swear a blood oath not to. But she did say, “It’s a big map,” which basically means hold onto your hats, we’re heading back to Grisha land. But can we get everyone here back too? Pretty please?!

It’s a terrific sequel, and an amazing duology. Please, go read it.

My Grade: A

& Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 2016

The Book Itself: Another illustrated woman, this time in an outfit akin to armor: this book’s getting more serious. No barbed wire this time, but a silhouetted city in the background under a stone archway that foreshadows this book’s new setting…

My Review: Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

Oh boy. This one’s really good, you guys. And I’m saying that coming off of this series’ first installment, which I found to be a little lackluster (review here).

It’s hard to know where to begin. And it’s hard to know how to keep this review spoiler-free. Although if you’ve read any other reviews at all, the rough plot line here will have already been ruined for you.

This is what I will do. The first part of this review will be for those of you who read my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses, maybe even read it as well, and are looking for a reason to continue. I will keep it as spoiler-free as I can. The second half will have all sorts of name dropping and fangirl squealing and itty bitty spoilers that will in no way diminish your enjoyment, I think, but proceed at your own risk, nevertheless.

This book illustrates the emotional aftermath of a traumatic event very well. Tamlin isn’t doing well with what he had to go through Under the Mountain. Feyre is definitely not doing well with what she had to do and who she had to do it to while Under the Mountain. Both of them are beset by nightmares and left directionless in the Spring Court. It feels weird for them to continue on with life as usual when it is so not usual anymore. The way Maas depicted that change, and these complex feelings alone had me knowing that this book was going to be better: better plot and character development, a darker tone, and hints at real action to come.

Also hanging over them is Rhysand’s bargain. Feyre has to honor this bargain while still struggling to maintain the façade that everything is hunky dory, both with Spring Court politics and in her relationship with Tamlin. Add to that her aversion to living life as a pampered princess, coddled in a life full of court happenings and pretty jewelry, and you have yourself some story conflict.

My favorite thing about this book is probably it’s pacing. Yes, it’s over 600 pages long, but I never felt as if it were dragging or wished it would go faster or slower. 600 pages is a lot. It’s enough to change everything in a story’s world, and this book does. I felt like I did when I was a kid and I had a new Harry Potter book in my grasp. I devoured this book in a matter of a couple days – it was so well paced and developed.

The character growth is very well done, too. We definitely get more out of Feyre as a character, and how time and events change her as a person. This book introduces several new, kickass characters as well, and all of them get the perfect amount of development: enough to care about them and flesh out their backstories, but not overdoing it, and making me want to come back for more in future books.

…Is that enough for those of you who haven’t read the second book, and don’t want it spoiled? Yes? Okay, I’ll put some space here between this non-spoilery part and the next part, which might spoil you a bit if you haven’t read A Court of Mist and Fury.

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I accidentally found out only a few chapters into this book that Feyre’s affections would turn towards Rhysand. And when I first heard that, I was genuinely upset. Why spend an entire book putting her and Tamlin together, why have her go through all of that crap, have her be on the brink of death several times, only to remove her from that relationship and have her get into another one? Sure, I liked Rhysand in the first book, and I looked forward to hearing more about him, but she was in love with TAMLIN! How could Feyre be so fickle? How could Rhysand steal her away?

And now that I’ve turned the final page of A Court of Mist and Fury? I don’t know why I even liked Tamlin and Feyre together at all.

But a lot of people took issue with this change. And I can see where they’re coming from.

The issue, I think, is that this book makes Tamlin seem SO controlling and awful, and Rhysand SO inherently good and generous, that it negates everything Maas spent the entire previous book setting up. Why make us fall in love with Tamlin, when he’s going to turn out to be kind of a bad guy? It did seem a little extreme to me, this shift from Tamlin being Mr. Misunderstood, and our leading romantic lead, to someone suffering so badly from PTSD that he physically lashes out to control those around them.

On the flipside of the coin, Rhysand is The Perfect Guy in this story. The façade he had to put on in the first book’s events is shattered during Feyre’s first stay at the Night Court. He’s not manipulative and sneaky and evil anymore. No, that’s all an act: he’s loyal, generous, and conflicted to the bone about the things he has to do and who he does them to. He’s a great foil to Tamlin, and even to Feyre. But his goodness seems a little overdone, like Maas wanted to soothe the rage she knew would come after Tamlin’s fall from grace, saying “No, wait, but look how great I’ve made Rhysand?! He’s perfect.

So it feels abrupt. But them Maas spends 500 pages or so convincing you – and Feyre – that it’s okay to change as a person, and to want and need different things than you wanted or needed before. There’s a maturity in this choice, even though the choice seems abrupt and jarring when you compare it to the first book’s lengthy setup.

I ate this stuff with a spoon. I LOVED it. I haven’t even touched on the plot or secondary characters that we get introduced to at the Night Court (I can’t see me being okay with Amren, Cassien, Azriel, OR Mor leaving the picture. They better all survive this entire freaking series). But if I went into all that, you’d be here for a thousand more words. And I’ve already waxed poetic enough. This book makes the first book’s inanity worth it. My god, is it ten million times better. It does make me fear for the next installment. Where A Court of Thorns and Roses was Beauty & the Beast, A Court of Mist and Fury was the myth of Hades and Persephone. I’ll cringe if the third book is another retelling, or if it’s told from a different character’s perspective (I’m all about it being dual-told from Feyre and Rhysand’s perspectives though. YES PLEASE). The characters are finally in place, and they are all poised for incredible action and story. I hope the next installment (MAY 2017 WHY ARE YOU SO FAR AWAY?!) lets them run with it.

My Grade: A

& Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's, May 2015

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s, May 2016

The Book Itself: It comes dangerously close to my pet peeve: using picture of pretty men and women, usually looking like they have no business being in this book, in order to sell a cover, and thus, a book. We get half of a pretty woman, and it’s a drawn picture at that. The dress looks rough, almost feral, which fits with the book. The barbed wire and the title do draw me in.

My Review: She stole a life. Now she must pay with her heart.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

This review is difficult for me because I have already read the second book, which, spoiler alert, is leaps and bounds better. I’m not going to say you should read this book only so you can read the second, but…yes maybe I’ll actually say that.

First, I’ll list my problems with this first installment, and then explain why I stuck around.

  1. It is too much like too many other things
    My (wonderful, beautiful, humble) best friend again recommended this to me. She had just finished the second book as well, and practically threw the book at me to get me to start it. She did warn me that this book “until about halfway through, IS Beauty & the Beast. And it is. Enter Tamlin, the Beast: in this iteration, he’s a faerie, a creature feared in the mortal realm because of a terrible war in the past. He can shapeshift, and his shifted form is literally the Beast. Down to the lion-like body and horned head. Enter our Beauty, Feyre: in order to support her family, she goes out into the woods in secret and shoots food with a bow and arrow. I won’t say who that reminds me of, but it rhymes with Patmiss Nevermean. Beast takes Beauty away (from her terrible family, mostly. Her sisters are literally the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella. Like, in their current situation, who the eff would act like they do?! They were flat, unbelievable characters to me because of their absurd bitchiness). Beast holes Beauty up in a castle and tells her she can’t leave. Beast gets controlling. Beauty gets impatient, and literally does the opposite of everything Beast tells her to do (which, like, good for her, because he’s being controlling, but after the first brush with death with supernatural beings, maybe take a break from being a rebel). Beast sends Beauty away only for her to realize that she loves him. Beauty finds out there is a Curse on Beast. The Curse here is the same exact curse as Beauty & the Beast. There is no surprise here! I take issue with retellings of myth and fairy tales when they feel like they’re not trying to do something different with it: they don’t try to illustrate some new theme or they don’t deviate from the previously written plot at all in order to make it new. A Court of Thorns and Roses didn’t feel new to me. It followed the plot of Beauty and the Beast to a T, and even the addition of faeries improved that for me.
  2. Things get good too late
    After Beauty – sorry, Feyre – finally figures it out, it is her turn to rescue the Beast/Tamlin. Her journey through the place where he’s been taken and the trials she has to face FINALLY pick up the pace in the story. Her relationship with a handful of secondary characters actually has me liking her more, and fleshing them out as people too. We meet Rhysand, who plays an integral part in the second book, and his character development in this book alone is done very well. But all of this takes place in the last third of this book. That seems like a lot of build up for a payoff that only takes up a hundred pages or so.
  3. Tamlin is kind of an ass/his purpose seems purely physical
    Unpopular opinion? Am I being influenced by the second story’s events? I don’t care. There were times in this first book where I didn’t really like our leading man. Yes, he was trying to protect a mortal human from the faeries and other forces in his world that could seriously harm her. But he clearly has some Edward Cullen abusive tendencies going on (yes, I just compared him to a Twilight character. It’s apt). He controls and commands his love interest in the name of affection and his vastly superior physical strength. Even his love and affection for Feyre is displayed only in physical attention. Yes, those love scenes are NOT YA. They’re steamy and hot and I’m not about to complain about them. But a star-crossed love should be based on more than sex, and here it doesn’t feel like it’s more than that.

OKAY. After all that, I liked it enough to read the sequel. Why?

 

 

 

  1. It’s well-paced, and for the most part, well-written
    There are no clumsy metaphors and similes crowding up things. Despite the plot being rather recycled, I still turned the pages to see what would happen to the characters.
  2. Secondary characters piqued by attention
    Rhysand is obviously set up in this story to become the focus in the second. But he’s set up really well. Introduced as a greasy enemy, he slowly becomes someone the reader can see has more depth than that mean façade. He’s helpful, wily, and witty. You inherently want to hear more about him. Lucien, Tamlin’s right hand man (Lumiere to the Beast) also gains a lot of development as the plot thickens. He has a great (sad) backstory, and his family is poised to present a lot of future problems.
  3. I rooted for Feyre and Tamlin as a couple
    Yeah, the Beast was controlling and Beauty was, at times, an idiot. But Feyre goes through a LOT of stuff to get what she wants (Tamlin). All that drive and affection have to mean something.
  4. Dang if that physical romance isn’t HAWT.
    I’m just saying.

 

 

 

 

It may not seem like a lot to go on, seeing as my complaint list is lengthier that my “I Like It” list, but it was good enough for me to see what would happen next. And thank god I did. My review for the second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury will be up soon. Stay tuned!

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+

& Review: The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye. Publisher: May 2016 Balzer + Bray

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye. Publisher: May 2016 Balzer + Bray

The Book Itself: I love the imposing architecture formed into a crown! And I like that it is slightly off-center. Overall, a very solid, intriguing cover.

My Review: Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

The Crown’s Game is trying to have aspects of Leigh Bardugo’s The Grisha Trilogy and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. The key word here is trying. Two magicians in a high stakes battle for who can make the most ooh-worthy attraction = The Night Circus. Quasi-Russian setting with just a few Russian vocabulary words thrown in there for color = The Grisha Trilogy. In theory, that would make one hell of a great story. In execution…it falls pretty flat.

Both The Grisha Trilogy and The Crown’s Game are about as Russian as beginners level Rosetta Stone: here are some words in Russian. Here is a description of a scene you might find in Russia. Here is some sort of real, sort of fictionalized Russian history. It tries to lend a spicy, frostbitten mystery to the novel, when really I just get confused. The island Vika grows up on kind of sound like the rural Michigan I saw when I visited my grandparents when I was little. St. Petersburg, where the competition takes place, sounds like any number of vaguely-European city – Amsterdam, maybe. Or even Venice. You could plop the characters in any place – America, Europe, even Asia, and it doesn’t seem like it would make a difference. The setting either needs to be much stronger, or much vaguer (if that makes sense).

As for this supposedly deadly competition: our protagonist’s hormones seem to trump the life-or-death stakes they find themselves in. Once they see each other, once they feel each other’s magic (which sounds vaguely dirty…), even their attempts to foul each other’s chances, their vague attempts at killing or even tripping each other up fall by the wayside. And honestly…I expected more out of the moves of the game. Most of their magic seemed kitschy and cheesy…kind of…fanciful rather than practical. Aren’t they competing to be the tsar’s Imperial Enchanter? Shouldn’t they be proving they can level whole armies, or protect an entire city from attack? Not dye-ing rivers rainbow colors and making a giant puppet show (the book’s excuse for this is that they are competing near the tsar-to-be’s birthday…so the moves are all themed as such. But I don’t know what ruler-to-be who would prefer water shows to a stronger militia to protect his rule).

I know, I know, I’m being a fuddy-duddy. The book is a good example of fantasy-lite. It’s pretty well-written, with good secondary characters and fun-if-not-very-impressive magic. It’s just that fun-magic books are different than life-at-stake magic books. From the premise, this should be a life-at-stake kind of magic. But more often than not it just seems frivolous.

The magic system itself seems shaky. Usually only one enchanter is born and the entirety of the world’s flow of magic is fed into one body. But in this generation we have two conduits for magic: Nikolai, who specializes in material magic, and Vika, with natural magic. It’s never truly explained why they can’t both exist. I think there’s a line in there about how the power cannot be divided, that it must be present in only one person. Again: why? What are the consequences? And what happens to the magic when one half dies? Does it just kind of…transfer into the other one? So that Nikolai can suddenly manipulate the natural world, or Vika can alter man-made materials?

And the magic just kind of happens. They close their eyes and think of something and it’s there. Sometimes it makes them tired. Sometimes it doesn’t. There’s no collection of ingredients for potions, there’s no real consequence to their doing magic. Nikolai makes himself a suit and Vika sets a forest on fire, nothing to it. It should be harder than this. But it’s not. And it bugs me.

There’s also a should-be-important side plot about a main character in one of our enchanter’s lives that ends on either a cliffhanger or goes nowhere…it’s hard to tell. Paternities and maternities are revealed and they are predictable and unsurprising. Overall, the book just doesn’t take anything seriously enough, and it could have been very, very good if it had.

My Grade: C-