ARC Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Disclaimer: Thank you to NetGalley and Random House (Delacorte Press) for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

And I Darken (The Darken Trilogy, #1)And I Darken by Kiersten White

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 475 pages
Expected publication: June 28th 2016 by Delacorte Press
Summary: NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.
Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

The entire book was way too long for my liking. It spanned the birth of Lada up to her teenage years.


They watched as the head gardener slit an opening into each man and then, with practiced efficiency, inserted the long, thick wooden stakes. The men were lifted into the air, and the stakes planted into the holes in the ground. Lada saw how the men’s own weight would slowly pull them down, forcing the stakes higher and higher along their spines until they finally exited through the throat.

 

The history and culture of the Ottoman Empire is richly told and I was greatly immersed in that time period. The writing wasn’t bad but my eyes glazed over several times during the passages. For some reasons, it doesn’t flow that well but I can see that it is indeed well-thought out. Each sentence had impact and conveyed the proper mood.

“You cannot lose something you do not own. Take me with you.”
With a frustrated growl, he tore the veil from her hair and threw it to the ground. “You look ridiculous. Armor suits you far more than silk.”
Lada put a hand to his check. His skin was soft and hot, always hot, as though he burned brighter than a normal person. Her voice came out a low purr, so like Huma’s she startled herself. “Take me with you, and I will wear armor the whole time.”

There was a lot of focus on building characters’ flaws and amplifying its fallacies. Mehmed is obsessed with Constantinople and his rabid desire to conquer it does not bode well.

Lada laughed. “Then do not try, little sheep. Ted to your flock. Patrol your borders. No one ever said you had to take Constantinople. It is only a dream.”
Mehmed’s eyes burned when he looked up at her. “It is not simply my dream.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know all about your precious prophet’s dream.”

He seems like a future villain although growing up, he’s been made out to be a have a lot of potential to fulfill his duties as the future sultan. His weakness is his confidence that has no basis because he is still untried and ignorant of court politics. Radu went through the most complicated development because his dexterity with words should have favored him with friends in his childhood. Weak in strength, he relies much on his sister, Lada, for protection but he learns quickly on that she won’t cut him some slack. Lada, the protagonist, is vicious and temperamental; she is quite the foil for Radu. Whereas his long lashes and large doe eyes can charm the hell out of everyone, people tend to skirt around Lada and avoid any interaction with her. She is clumsy with words and always lashes out when she is angry, embarrassed, and/or hurt. I’m rather disappointed that she’s not the brightest but she more than makes up for it with her brawn. She does have extensive knowledge and skill with tactics and strategy but she’s often blindsided by emotion in personal relationships.

Radu and Lada are Mehmed’s rocks that have stayed throughout his childhood up to his emerging adulthood. With such steadiness for years, change is bound to rock this foundation of friendship by the end of the book. There were many things that I predicted would happen and White foreshadowed the future through the trio’s thoughts. I wished that she had left much of unsaid and kept the reader in the dark to give a better reading experience. The long years that White documented gave her a lot of freedom with dredging up momentous events that impacted each character severely. In a way, reading the first hundred pages was a laborious task that I had to force myself to go through. I felt that much of it was page-filler and made for an unnecessarily longer book.

The politics is interesting but nothing too complex. Now that we have most of the worldbuilding out of the way, I hope that the focus in the sequel will be on events that propels Lada to acquire the name Vlad the Impaler. Yes, we never did get to that part in the first book. This novel encompasses a wide span of years from 1435 in Transylvania to the 1450’s. By the time the book ends, Lada and Radu are around 16 and 15 years old, respectively. I, on the other hand, aged an approximate 5 hours finishing this book.

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Review: End of Days by Susan Ee

End of Days (Penryn and the End of Days, #3)End of Days by Susan Ee

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Ahhh, Penryn and her gang of unlikely saviors. We have her young sister Paige who is devastatingly altered that she can only consume human flesh and Raffe, her archangel who’s pretty high in demand in angel society. And her psychotic mother.

With these types of characters, it churned out a beautiful mixture of a book called Angelfall. The sequel World After was just as scrumptious but somewhere along the way, I think it was too much  to handle and that is why this book came out messily. The root of the problem lies in the lack of characters that connected to the central conflict. This did not allow easy access for Penryn to finally rally a last battle against the angel because let’s face it, it’s hard for a teenager to do that. Penryn was up close and personal with the angels due to Raffe, her beloved one, but she is distant from Obi who is the leader of the military camp.

Regardless, I’m going to be lenient because the last book is the most important in the series and angel books also tend to be a difficult sub-genre to break into. It limits the imagination and creative license due to the theology/mythology behind it so that it has to be firmly rooted in reality. The angel politics that drives the whole plot ends up becoming the gist of the storyline in this book and I think it’s part of the reason why readers were turned off. Spoiler: The whole point of the apocalypse was a master plan devised by Uriel for him to become the Messenger. This ultimately leads to a whole lot of drivel on questioning where Raffe’s loyalties lie in the aftermath; will he stay with Penryn or nah? There was too much time spent dwelling on that when the other more important problems were unsolved. It came up multiple times that Penryn needed to treat Raffe coldly “because he was going to leave anyways and their relationship was impossible”. It’s corny, stressful and just irrelevant in the grand scheme of things because angels are planning to annihilate the human race! In fact, I never felt their connection and the romance was Angelfall’s weakest point. There was a lot of discordance in what they wanted and their actions that continued to contradict their voices.
I want to suspend my belief for some of the conveniences that easily come into play. Especially for the somewhat happy ending. But in all honesty, it was still clever to usher in some interesting characters; I only wished more pages were spent on fully forming them. End of Days overall comes across as underwhelming because parts of it require more explanation or writing. It just means that the end came sooner than I expected.


There’s already many reviews on End of Days so mine really makes no difference. The response so far has been on polar ends of the spectrum as far as I can see. If you’re a Penryn fanatic who hasn’t read this last book yet, I’d say venture forth if you need closure. If you haven’t even remotely read Angelfall, PLEASE DO. The sequels may or may not generate favorable reactions but ANGELFALL IS A MUST.

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Review: The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
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3.5 Stars because the ending saved the whole story from the flopping 2 stars. It takes a lot of risk and guts for an author to pull off 300 pages of boring talk about military drilling, injury recovery, and basically no action but the results forgave (mostly) everything. For a hulking book of 480 pages, the first several hundred were prepared as a setup for character development and mapping out the intricacies of the training/journey. Although I quit twice before I finally picked this book up again, the final 15% of action sequences were well worth it. The plot pacing formula is very similar to Angelfall by Susan Ee which is a brilliant, wonderful book that starts out with a bang and ends with a bang. The middle teeters for so long with minor exciting scenes to keep the reader mildly interested and then the cliffhanger ending reels the reader into shock. At least, that was how I felt when I was (on-and-off-again) reading The 5th Wave.

I have always been curious about Yancey when I came across his book The Monstrumologist but I was 30 pages in before I quit out of sheer discomfort. It turns out that horror was not my forte and at the tender age of 16, I was not into watching or reading gore and nightmarish creatures. I was way into the zone and I did not like it despite how compelling the writing was.
It just happens that The 5th Wave had the excellent writing but disposed of the horrific element so I’m super glad that I finally can experience the author’s ingenuity.

Strengths:

The two shifting narrators were easily distinguishable simply by their ‘voices’. They talked differently but not too deviant enough to think the author was trying hard to make it so. The unique blend of determination, bleakness, and feelings of despair between Cassie Sullivan and the other character Ben Parish was compelling and contrasting in their situations.
Cassie, who’s on the search for her missing young brother, is frightened but has a core of steel reinforced by her previous karate experience.
Ben Parish, who never had any combat skills, begins a rigorous process to gain sharpshooting skills and becomes molded into an intimidating soldier.
It’s really interesting juxtaposing these dual purposes and showing two different sides of humanity and their ways of coping with grief and loss. Ben is brittle despite his former ease and sociability as the popular football jock in high school and the death of his family was a huge blow that has forced him to reevaluate his reason to keep living. Cassie has lost nearly everyone incrementally due to the 4 waves. But instead of breaking her, the hardships whittled her down to the quintessential persistence and dogmatism to forge on with her lucky M16 rifle. As I said, the 300 pages weren’t boring but they failed to keep my eyes glued to them when I had other better reading options like Cress available. The huge plot twist that heralded the book title of the 5th Wave is not really a twist because a huge hint was dropped early in the beginning. I assumed so but I hope others did not guess it or would at least enjoy the unraveling of the process and the direction it gave the characters.

When both point of views finally converged, I was beyond excited because that’s when it was smack-dab in the middle of the climax, to use a lack of a better term. BOOM. That’s when the true badassery of Ben/Zombie reveals itself and the fierceness of Cassie induced me to cheer on and read like there’s no tomorrow. KABAM! Don’t forget Evan who is a killing machine! Pew Pew Pew!!…Anyways…

The romance was not too shabby and thank goodness it did not take center stage because there was not enough chemistry or positive attributes in the love interest to qualify as romance material. However, I did enjoy learning more about the aliens, how they resolved to destruction and obliteration of humanity, and their superior intelligence. It was nicely glossed over but I’m still curious about them because there’re questions (Exactly where do they come from? Why did it take them so long to invade? Why did they have to observe the Earth for thousands of years? What happened to their home planet? Why did they choose Earth?) that still go unaddressed. There are no gaping plot-holes which is always a bonus when it comes to the landmine of mind-boggling science fiction.

Weaknesses:

  • Minor Spoiler: Cassie’s brother is the sole remaining family member and thus her reason to survive and act as protectorate.
    This is a plot device regurgitated so often in books such as Angelfall, The Hunger Games, and Blood Red Road.
  • Despite being apocalyptic times, Evan Walker, the walking hottie with precise shooting, good hygiene and cuticles, and soft hands just did not appeal to me. The fact that he was romantic is mostly likely due to taking care of Cassie and feeding her during her brief confinement to the bed for her injury. It makes me derisive to think that that itself warrants a crush but I’ll have to dismiss that since Evan is her only companion and he does have a nice personality.
  •  I wished the author didn’t drop those huge hints and implement dramatic irony. When the characters finally discovered what was really going on, I just did not feel it because I was not shocked enough. The characters would stand rooted to the ground in disbelief and I would only sigh for them because it took them long enough to figure it out. They’re by no means dumb and in fact, they’re exceedingly clever because it’s hard to match up the clues but when the big reveal was all done without any flair 200 pages ago…well then.

I am, however, in the right mindset to read the sequel The Infinite Sea because Rick Yancey sure is a good writer. The cliffhanger ending may also have something to do with that. I’m too curious for my own good and I’m up for the challenge of reading the second book.

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising by Pierce Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 STARS Oh GOODNESS me. My goodman, this book is equal parts fierce battle school and strategy. It’s so hard to describe what this is technically; yes, it takes place on a futuristic planet Mars with an established half-millennium long hierarchy distinguished by colors. Each person is determined and confined to their ranks by their birth and the proverbial glass ceiling is heavily applied here. Pinks are born as prostitutes and trained in the arts of these services, Silvers only work in the currency field, and the Reds are the manual laborers. These are only a few of the many others that exist. (ROYGBIV should cover it, really.)
We have the typical main character, oppressed but still brilliant and ambitious. The stage is set: we give Darrow a cause to fight for, injustices presented to him and BAM infiltration. The process is predictable but the way the story unfolds is compelling and hard to peel my eyes away from. I wanted to know how something happened even if I knew what would happen. However, the book really wasn’t what I expected. The sales pitch for the book targets the right audience but this was not a science-fiction (well, it sorta is) but rather 75% of the book was spent inside the Institute with all these students battling and pitted against each other. Basically, it was a fat load of war, strategy, and conquer. Darrow’s rebellion for the Reds is nowhere near started. By the end of the book, it’s safe to say that he has accomplished many things and cemented his presence as a leader but the Red Rising Rebellion is not even close to fruition. He hasn’t given off sparks, initiated anarchy, or caused ripples in the lower hierarchy like what Katniss did at the end of The Hunger Games.
The book wasn’t what I expected because the brief book description is semi-misleading. But it’s okay since I ended up enjoying it no matter how much I had to slough through in order to get to the juicy tidbits. It’s not always action-packed as there is lots of planning to be done but it was never boring. The premise of the Institute’s rite of passages bears significant resemblance to Battle Royale. All these gladiator-type death matches and survival of the fittest among youngsters have been reused and recycled so often throughout literature. Of course, it’s hard to be original due to the huge accumulation of ideas and concepts over the centuries in literature. However, it’s good to see that science-fiction still has ample room to grow with new weaponry and armor. (This book can also be classified as the popular sci-fi subgenre Dystopia. However, I still hesitate to use that term because the new crop of dystopian novels have been particularly bad and the good ones are far and few.)
Oh, I really do love a good old vengeance novel fueled with hatred and penance. I just wished there was actual revenge that occurred or collapse of the high class dictators. Nope. Didn’t happen yet. But hopefully it will soon and most likely in the sequel? That’s all I really ask for. I don’t care much about romance and I probably won’t be persuaded to. Besides, in a book filled with so much misdeeds and war-filled themes, it does not fit or leave space for the halfhearted love story subplot. In the end, the author does take care to remind us again that the reason and driving force for Darrow’s dedication and obsession with rebellion is due to his undying love for his wife Eo. And I don’t mind that. It’s sort of sappy but okay, love triumphs all. Whee!

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