Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone, GO READ ANYTHING BY VICTORIA SCHWAB.

A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in the ‘Shades of Magic’ series and I’m beyond ecstatic to know that there’s a third book coming out. Back when A Darker Shade of Magic first came out, I was disappointed to discover that it was a standalone just like her other book Vicious. There was just something about her book that had that extra omph which made me crave more of the writing. Especially the way she ends the story leaves many loose ends and so much to speculation.

Victoria’s writing has always been excellent but her writing just flies off the pages in this novel. Especially with the premise of the Element Games Tournament, the excitement is palpable and I felt entrenched in each match from the beginning to the aftermath.

Lila didn’t try to be a wave, or a door. She simply pushed, not with force, but with will, and the wall of fire shot forward, barreling toward Sar. To Lila, whole thing seemed to take forever. She didn’t understand why Sar was standing still, not until time snapped back into focus, and she realized that the wall’s appearance, its transformation, had been the work of an instant.

A shout out to one of the cutest characters in the book! In the words of Schwab, “T.O.P. inspired a tournament magician named Jinnar, a sexy and adorable wind mage.
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Also a heads up, A Gathering of Shadows continues Schwab’s trademark cliffhanger that is simply unfair to all readers. Basically, everything is left unresolved and now I can’t wait for the third book in 2017!


 

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

The truth was, Lila understood why Alucard did it. Why he traded safety and boredom for adventure. She didn’t know what it felt like to be safe, and she’d never had the luxury of being bored, but it was like she’d once told Kell. People either stole to stay alive or to feel alive. She had to imagine that they ran away for the same reasons.

 

 

Capture

*SCREAMS INTERNALLY*

Alucard has got to be one of my favorite new characters. Aside from his name spelling Dracula backwards, he’s another enigma with a disreputable past tangled up with Rhy and he’s a hard one to figure out. He’s not very forthcoming but neither was Lila. The author always does a skillful job of writing out intricate characters with dynamic personalities that change over the course of the plot. Although Alucard changes slowly and surely, he retains the same charm and nonchalance throughout. HE SHIP HIM SO HARD WITH RHY. He has a lot of hidden strengths and edges so I look forward to seeing more of him in the next book.

Now, Lila, that girl is just fierce. She continues to surprise me and manages to overcome each new obstacles with her cleverness and quick thinking. Her rise from a street thief to the empowering magician is simply astounding. I relished the journey she went through to get where she is and I loved that she still cared about what Kell thinks. Despite her hardheartedness, she really does like Rhy and Kell. Shes’ a softie underneath that tough exterior. She’s the true MVP in this story. Honestly, she’s grabbed everyone’s attention and is THE main character. (At least for me but I don’t know how Kell would feel about that.)

What are you? Kell had asked her once.
What am I? She wondered now, as the fire rolled across her knuckles like a coin.

I think by now, everyone has a hint of what’s going to happen with Lila, Kell, and Alucard. There are still a few plot twists thrown in so the story is never boring despite the Element Games not taking place until 200 pages in. However, I still think the Tournament was the most exciting part of the book because there’s so much flourishes and it easily goes from mildly amusing to frenetic within a few sentences.

Rensa tav,” answered Kell automatically as his chest hummed with nervous energy. What was he thinking? What was he doing here? This was all a mistake…and yet, his muscles and bones still ached for a fight, and beyond the tunnel, he could hear them calling the name–Kamerov! Kamerov! Kamerov!–and even though it wasn’t his, it still sent a fresh burst of fire through his veins.

Nonetheless, it’s not just all fun and play because a lot of crap really went down in ADSOM and there’s so much trauma in the aftermath of the wreckage. Rhy still suffers a huge amount of guilt and Kell is no longer the way he used to be. Even the king and queen are skirting around and holding grudges.

His voice fell a measure. “I think the king and queen are mad for blaming one son above the other.”
Kell swallowed. “Will they never forgive me?”
“Which would you rather have? Their forgiveness, or Rhy’s life?”
“I shouldn’t have to choose,” he snapped.

This whole compromise is bound to have many costs. Kell is chaffing at his leash and Rhy is resentful towards everything. In a way, they survived but they’re still broken. I love the way Schwab writes these flawed characters beautifully; they elicit such empathy and support from the readers. They’re still resilient and strong despite all the tribulations and Lila is a perfect example of it. Everyone, just be like Lila.

 

 

Major Spoiler:

And that ending!! ((Lila is an Antari. I CALL IT. She’s got one fake eye, that’s a sign that she’s probably had a black eye in the past. Anyways, I ship her so hard with Kell. UGH THE OTPS ARE STRONG IN THIS NOVEL. Rhy and Alucard. YES PLEASE.))

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Review: Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Blurb: Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within. Finally, the time has come. But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied – and too glorious to surrender.


 

After: I want to cry but I can’t. This was a gritty, bittersweet ending to a wonderful sci-fi series.

Spoiler-free Review:

I have to give props to Pierce Brown for completing this amazing trilogy within 3 years. What an incredible gift it is to churn out this tomes each year for your readers!
Morning Star starts off nine months after the crazy cliffhanger in Golden Son and whereas the previous books started with a bang, this one was rather miserable. Darrow is disillusioned and suffering mentally from replaying all his mistakes in his mind. Even though he reminisced for over a dozen pages, the writing was engrossing and made up for the lack of action. One of the biggest strengths of this book is the eloquence of the writing and mastery of vocabulary with which each word is chosen.

I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war. My name is Darrow of Lykos. You know my story. It is but an echo of your own. They came to my home and killed my wife, not for singing a song but for daring to question their reign. For daring to have a voice. For centuries millions beneath the soil of Mars have been fed lies from cradle to grave…They expect your obedience, ignore your sacrifice, and hoard the prosperity that your hands create. To hold tight to their reign, they forbid our dreams. Saying a person is only as good as the Colors of their eyes, of their Sigils.

In all honesty, it took me much longer to read these 518 pages because I stopped to absorb the complexity of the sentences. Part of this might also have to do with the wide cast of characters and the long list of scientific terminology for the world. Brown graciously provided us readers with a Dramatis Personae and a helpful map that delineated the political boundaries between the Sovereign, Rim, and other planets.

The story line was fast-paced and had me flipping pages like there was no tomorrow. Darrow goes through a tremendous amount of character development from being reckless, arrogant, and insouciant to valuing rationality, seeking mediation, and humility. I liked this new side of him very much because if fans remembered, his downfall in Golden Son was his extreme sense of righteousness. I liked the epic sprawl of battles in which glory beget glory but this book opened with Darrow steeped in defeat. By tracing back to his roots, it was nostalgic of Red Rising (and Golden Son: “Rise so high, in mud you lie.”) but Darrow is no longer confident that he is the right person to lead this revolution. Oftentimes, people forget that leaders have as much insecurity as a normal person and their abilities to bring change lies not only in themselves but with the help of others. Behind Darrow, stands an amazing crew of loyal friends that took care of the logistics and all minor kinks in the plan. Mustang proved herself to be exceedingly intelligent and supportive of Darrow. Without her, the tides would not shift as strongly as they did. Ahh, true love prevails.

“An outlandish promise,” Roque says. “Darrow is only who he is because of who is around him.”
“Agreed,” Mustang says cheerily.
“And I still have everyone around me, Roque. Who do you have?”
“No one,” Mustang answers. “Just dear old Antonia, who has become my brother’s quisling.”

Of course, we can’t forget our precious Victra who suffers from her own disappointments, fears, and the realization of those very fears. It still harbors a vendetta against Antonia which is well-justified so she was sort of a loose cannon. She’s not quite tamed but her wit made for a lot of entertainment.

“My name is Felicia au…” I feint a whip at her face. She brings her blade up, and Victra goes diagonal and impales her at the belly button. I finish her off with a neat decapitation.
“Bye Felicia.” Victra spits, turning to the last Praetorian. “No substance these days. Are you of the same fiber?”

But I have to say  Sevro’s ultimate blunders takes the cake and makes him one of the best characters so far. One of my favorite scenes that officially made me a fan of Sevro was when he tried to hang himself to prove a point. The mob is set to hang Cassius for being a Gold and murderer, but Darrow’s words do not placate the seething crowd. And then Sevro intercepts.

“I am Ares! I am a murderer too!” He puts his hands on his hip. “And what do we do to murderers?”
This time no one answers.
He never expected them to. He grabs the cable from the neck of one of the kneeling Golds, wraps it around his own neck…winks and backflips off the railing.
…Sevro’s rope snaps taut. He kicks, choking beside Cassius. Feet scrambling. Silent and horrible. Face turning red, on its way to purple like Cassius’s.

It’s powerful and effective because what do you think happened next?
I admit, I still haven’t warmed up to Cassius and I think his twisted sense of honor came around to bite him. Roque carried that pride and honor which is the complete opposite of Darrow’s underhanded methods. However, what’s honor worth when you’re under the reins of the Sovereign? Although these were characters that fought on the wrong side, I still retained a remnant of empathy for their misguided notions. Ultimately, I felt sympathy for the Jackal, Aja, and Octavia because I understand why they did the things they did but in no way did it excuse the tragedies they wrought.

Aside from several major character deaths, the book was still relatively gruesome and the casualties were high for the war. I wouldn’t recommend this book to kids under 14 and this borders onto the adult genre. Although there’s a grim outlook on whatever future the solar system will encounter, the last two books gave me immense faith in Darrow’s abilities. He may have been broken many times but he still emerged as the undisputed leader of the Rising. The powerful ending tied up many loose ends but it also spawned a new trilogy (Iron Gold) for 2017. There are ramifications for all that Darrow has committed and he continues to do whatever he must to achieve his means.

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Look at how pretty and color-coded these books are side by side!

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Review: Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

Stars AboveStars Above by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So the remarkable Marissa Meyer has graciously bestowed upon her legion of fans a beautiful anthology with a bonus story that told of the aftermath of Winter.

For those who couldn’t get enough of the Lunar cast, these stories shed light on these characters’ pasts.

The following chapters below are in order of how they appeared in Stars Above but they are not necessarily chronologically accurate in correspondence to the order of the novels.

THE KEEPER
This gives a deeper look into the impact of Scarlet and Cinder on Michelle Benoit’s life. Although she rarely showed up in Scarlet, she was a crucial person that safeguarded Cinder’s comatose body and sacrificed a normal, secure life in order to preserve Luna’s only hope. Scarlet is the centerpiece in this story because Michelle in a way was also the keeper of her granddaughter. Readers also get to understand Scarlet’s personality much better due to her unstable upbringing.

GLITCHES
This picks up nearly right after The Keeper ends. I’m terrible dealing with sad stories so I went in reading this with dread because Cinder has had it pretty tough. I can tell you, her childhood was no picturesque rainbows and sunshine.

 

THE QUEEN’S ARMY
I actually read this right before I dived into Scarlet which is the perfect order to read in. This is a background story on Wolf and his transition from scraping out an impoverished living with his family to rising up the ranks of the mutated soldiers. I mourn the caring and kind boy that he used to be –not that he still isn’t kind or caring — but his internal battle for compassion, love, and survival was dreary and hard to look away from.

 

CARSWELL’S GUIDE TO BEING LUCKY
While the childhoods of the characters I’ve read so far have been mildly dismal, it seems like Carswell offers a fresh breath of air. He’s mischievous, carefree, and troublesome. This story is briefly mentioned near the end of Cress so it’s better to read the novel first as not to spoil the scene in there. Carswell is such a swoon-worthy character even as a kid who is partially misunderstood. But really, he did bring it on himself most of the time.

AFTER SUNSHINE PASSES BY
So what did I learn from this story? I learned that Cress is brilliant, resourceful, and very lonely. As a shell, she was already isolated from her family and the denizens of Luna. Aside from other shells who are resigned to their imprisonment, she wants more. But her ultimate confinement to a satellite makes me empathize with her more. Despite all these hardships, she is still a resilient character that eventually grows stronger from this experience.

THE PRINCESS AND THE GUARD
This is my personal favorite story because I shipped Jacin and Winter so hard. Their childhood memories are so sweet and their relationship is so intimate that it’s obvious they were meant to be together. As the story takes a darker turn, their times together is tainted by Queen Levana’s manipulations. But Jacin is loyal as ever and it’s heartening to see his determination and love for Winter throughout her tribulations and ultimate descent into madness.

THE LITTLE ANDROID
Only Cinder shows up in this story and it’s a minor part that doesn’t have anything to do with the main series. Based on The Little Mermaid, this story is another retelling that stays true to the original tale.

THE MECHANIC
Kai meets Cinder and this is his point of view on it. *gasps* Automatically fangirls because they are the OTP of this whole series! Readers have got to admit that he is the least developed character in Cinder. We do not really get to know him that well which is why this story is a gem.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
So what happens after Winter? Well, Cinder has done what she has promised to do and now Earth and Luna are in a somewhat precarious alliance. It’s not that bad though because that’s where the ambassadors set in. The world is finally off on a better foot and a certain couple gets married. It was sappy but I admit I enjoyed reading it quite a lot.


Comments:
So I’ve been noticing how well Marissa Meyer writes angst. Most of the stories in this anthology is filled with angst. For some reason, I’m a sucker for angst that ultimately is redeemed through a HEA. Yes, the power of love! Yet, I’m having mixed feelings for her standalone, Heartless, which is the origin of the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland. I’m afraid because you know how the life of the Queen of Hearts ends…

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Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah Maas

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

That whole stereotype about second book syndrome? CROWN OF MIDNIGHT COMPLETELY PROVED IT WRONG. Throne of Glass set up multiple plot threads that were picked up in this book and it was juggled so well. With the same four main protagonists, the story continues to expand and explore what Throne of Glass hinted at. A lot happened and Celaena was put through more hardships and pain but I loved every moment of it. That makes me sound like a sadist but all I mean is that the author wrote an engrossing story that continued to push the stakes higher and force characters out of their comfort zone. There are new revelations and subtle clues for readers to pick up on in order to learn how the past connects with the present.


While the first book leaves readers slightly intrigued, this one is a monster that sucks the reader in with juicy details a whole new world~~ The map displayed in the beginning of the book actually is of use and is somewhat relevant to the story. Celaena has more or less stayed the same in this book so it was super fun seeing how her wit and smarts allowed her to discover the ominous plans of the king. The first book has the ease of distraction through a survival competition but now that her position as Champion is secure, the real worries and identity crisis is back in her life. Celaena has some serious history to deal with and her childhood was so sorrowful and blunt. We as readers begin to empathize with her despite her flaw and determination to run away from her problems.

Nehemia clicked her tongue. “I didn’t realize that you’re just a coward.”
Celaena looked over her shoulder. “Say that again.”
Nehemia didn’t flinch. “You’re a coward. You are nothing more than a coward.”
Celaena’s fingers clenched into fists. “When your people are lying dead around you,” she hissed, “don’t come crying to me.”

Although she has proved her courage multiple times, she is still a coward at heart and it hurt her very much when Nehemia called her out for it. The author showed a great job of Celaena’s emotional instability and mental scarring by the way she seemed to loathe herself. That whole parade of arrogance, superiority, and nonchalance you saw in the first book? It was all a facade. Her mask has been neatly sewn on for ten years. Nevertheless, Celaena is still a protagonist that is fierce, vicious, and highly cunning. She’s reluctant to go against the evil king because she believes herself to be insignificant and powerless even though she has proven otherwise. In Crown of Midnight, Celaena literally leaps off the pages with her liveliness and there was never a dull moment with her around.

I have good things to say about Choal and Dorian since more light was shed onto their personalities and background. Dorian becomes more responsible and ‘kingly’ as a catalytic result of Celaena. How so? Dorian was portrayed as a devil-may-care womanizer whose meager involvement in court politics was by merely showing up at meetings. This new side where Dorian begins to stand up to his father is a complete reversal from his initial apathy and mere tolerance of his father’s atrocities. Whereas he offered his condolences upon hearing of the massacre in Eyllwe, his acts of defiance are more pronounced in the second book. I’d say Celaena imposes a positive influence that forces him to step up to the mantle and seek clarification of his kingdom’s situation. This, however, was only a possibility due to Celaena pushing him away. Instead of shunning his responsibilities by wooing the Champion and doing whatever idle things he did, he has to face court affairs because he still cares what happens to her in her assassin missions.

But this distance between them, this horrible gap that spread every day…it was for the best.
Dorian took a step closer, exposing his palms to her. “Do you want me to fight for you? Is that it?”
“No,” she said quietly. “I just want you to leave me alone.”

The relationship is not necessarily falling apart at the seams but both the prince and the champion are better off as friends when they don’t even have their own identities figured out. Dorian is weak-willed, and Celaena is still coming to terms with her past and learning to do what is right. Chaol is indecisive and his inability to align himself with a specific allegiance is a flaw that runs deep. (I haven’t said much about Chaol, right? He is an interesting character because he cares deeply for Celaena and is like a rock. Ever-present and steady even though he is very guarded in his feelings. Of course, he falls for her and in his own way, he tries to protect her and keep her safe. He has well-meaning intentions that truly comes back to bite him in the ass because he knows it’s not right towards the parties involved. He still does it though. In the end, I can only applaud him for his large heart even though I want to smack him around for acting so chivalrous when it hurts him to do so.)

Whatever shred of hope he’d had for a future with her was gone. She still felt something for him, she’d admitted, but she would never trust him. She would always hate him for what he’d done.
But he could do this for her. Even if he never saw her again, even if she abandoned her duties as King’s Champion…as long as he knew that she was safe, that no one could hurt her…He’d sell his soul again and again for that.

These are all characters that have a lot to sort through and this book dealt a lot with laying their problems bare. There is a lot of character development to speak of but it is more of “developing the characters to make them 3-D to the readers rather than actually making the characters change or become different”. Therefore, I’m expecting Heir of Fire to take the next step by resolving these problems and having characters confront/battle their inner turmoil.

Crown of Midnight brought new revelations to the table because honestly, I did not realize seriously how badly screwed up the kingdom was until Celaena, Chaol, Nehemia, and Dorian began researching. This book really stepped up its game and took it up a notch by highlighting exactly what’s going on with the villainous king. I loved that the author used the same castle setting to uncover new secrets when the conflict is usually laid bare in most books. The genre is now no longer fantasy-lite but high fantasy with a mystery base. The romance is still there but no longer the centerpiece which I’m so thankful for because it downplayed the complex plot.

Before the magic cleansing and tyranny of King of Adarlan, matter were quite different. War is now a constant and the current state of affairs is possible stirrings of rebellion. This is like most dystopian books that incite revolution and place their protagonists at the head of it *cough* Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior *cough cough*. However, I can feel the hopelessness that’s deeply rooted in Celaena’s mind which stops her from rebelling. Her only aspiration was freedom far away from the iron hand of Adarlan; her desperate wish to be normal is what makes her different from other protagonists. The ‘special snowflake syndrome’ may apply to her since she’s a deadly assassin good at her job, but the extent of the king’s power is hard to challenge. It’s actually ridiculously hard and extremely unlikely for revolutions led by teenagers to overthrow the government/monarchy. So I liked this fresh breath of cold, hard reality where Celaena feels insignificant and wants no part in going against the king. This is a subplot that runs throughout the whole story as she continues to discover more atrocities and the source of the king’s power. I want to write more about the plot but it’s hard to do so when I’m navigating over major spoilers. To sum it up, Crown of Midnight was addicting, quick-paced, and exceedingly suave. If you were less than bedazzled by Throne of Glass, be prepared to be awed by the sequel.

ARC Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is chock-full of fantastic fun and lots of magic! I love love loved the world building and the ideology behind The Wood. While I was reading it, I felt particularly haunted and especially thrilled. To be cliche, I was on the edge of the seat and I couldn’t stop reading until 4am.


There is a wizard called Sarkan who is better known as the Dragon who protects the villages from the malicious power of the Wood and its creatures. He chooses a girl to take every ten years only as a servant/companion but she always comes back more worldly and restless for better things in the city.

From the blurb, you can already tell that Agnieszka is the one who’s going to be taken this time around. Sure, it’s sad that he takes a servant but the thing is, there’s a good motive to it. Her irrational fear of the Dragon all stems from the folk songs and rumors which is reasonable since that’s all she’s been taught to know.

So imagine her dismay and misery when she gets taken to live in the tower all alone with Sarkan. The interactions between Agnieszka and Sarkan are at first that of a puppy who is constantly scolded by the grumpy master. The reader and protagonist at some point, begin to realize how harmless the wizard is despite his mighty power. I never felt bored and there were new discoveries being made that fit a good picture of the state of the world, politics, and danger the Wood posed. The story is written through a first-person narrative which means we get up close and personal about Ag’s feelings and her naivety. She’s not stupid but only unaware of the scope of human nature since she’s been limited to interactions in the village and her kind family. She is capable of suspicion but she’s not craft or cunning because she never had to be.

And oh, Sarkan. Man, is he the epitome of a cranky, irritable old man even though he appears barely aged past his twenties. He warms up to you after a while, let’s put it at that. Despite how Sarkan berates Agnieszka all the time, he still shows that he cares through his actions.

I don’t want to spoil the adventure for people who wish to read what happens so I’m unsure how to describe my love for the plot. The themes and certain topics are more mature than usually seen in young adult (and today’s YA is getting darker as it is). There’s no ickiness so no need to worry but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to middle graders. I was infinitesimally unsettled while reading the story and I was completely sucked in by the effects of the Wood and its breadth of influence and methods in corruption. I’m impressed that a simple concept of witches and wizards can be written so well that I have no cause for complaints. There were also original ideas of mythology too so that definitely helped enhance the story. This is a book where everything wholly satisfied my inner fangirl for magic, adventure, and creativity.

Thank you to the publisher Del Rey/Random House for providing this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

(This is a combined review of the Winner’s trilogy by Marie Rutkoski.)

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My heart and head is hurting so much right now and the computer screen is blurry from these tears in my eyes. How can you do this to us, Rutkoski?! HOW DARE YOU?!

There’s non-stop action from beginning to end because Kestrel does not stop plotting. Her emotions often overrule each of her actions and she makes so many tough decisions. She’s become a protagonist that every reader can cheer on. People want badasses but I wouldn’t categorize her simply as one. She’s highly intelligent and cunning which she has to be when her opponent is the emperor. I love the similarities between the Scarlet Pimpernel and Kestrel. Although she doesn’t act stupid or shallow, since her high position as princess won’t, she’s extremely formidable without acting so. I think my emotions are a hot mess right now and it’s like 3 in the morning which is not the best time to write a review.


Okay, hi guys, I came back. I swear I’m fine -deep breaths- Please do not let the cover mislead because although it’s a gorgeous color, the girl just looks plain weird and awkward holding the sword.

To tell the truth, I didn’t expect so much cunning and cleverness from the protagonist because it’s not often that we see characters figure out secrets. The eventual reveal of each conspiracy is tantalizing and the clues dropped are enough to hint at it but I tagged right along with Kestrel. I’m used to gauging situations and furrowing out secrets before the characters do (AP Lit dramatic irony) but I was surprised at every turn. It turns out I underestimated Kestrel who is by no means a figurehead because her ability to piece together negligent details is simply marvelous.

Arin is still referred to as a leader but I felt his stance throughout the book changed dramatically because he’s so blinded by his emotions for Kestrel. Their regards for each other change drastically throughout the book and it’s so frustrating because despite Kestrel’s denials of her feelings, he still trusts her. Trust is such a fragile thing and their relationship is in tatters from the start of the book. It’s so hard to mend and reconcile their differences because they have to think about keeping up appearances or else the emperor will discover how close they actually are.
I felt so heartbroken because it seemed that when they came to a level of mutual understanding on one term, something just HAS to pop up and mess it up all over again. Their scenes weren’t as frequent as it was in the first book but when they do appear, it’s crucial and deeply thought-provoking. It makes the reader crave for more.

Kestrel was honestly one of the most pitiful characters in the book not because she’s weak. It’s the fact that she has no real allies to speak of and her inability to confide in someone cuts her emotionally. Her feelings are turbulent and she’s so conflicted by her intentions because she knows what’s the right thing but is virtually forced into a corner where she can only choose to do bad. Her agony was so tangible because she had to choose which sides her allegiance truly lies on. Basically, her life is complicated. And UGH Arin, why are you so bull-headed sometimes?! Arin lashes out recklessly whenever he’s near Kestrel so a lot of the situations are derived from his irrational thinking. He’s not as smart as Kestrel and his emotions are transparent. He’s no Eugenides from The Queen’s Thief but he’s still a valiant do-gooder.

Readers have no need to worry about the plot because I flew through this book in one sitting like there was no tomorrow. By the time I read the last words, I had to heave a huge breath in order to keep my tears at bay. The ending!! It’s so cruel and it’s mimics the same nefarious direction of Rick Riordan’s The Mark of Athena ending. The way things fall apart is tragically arranged and I just can’t wait to see what happens next. Poor Kestrel. And oh Arin, he’s just hurting so much. I see no happiness in the near future. My heart is broken and I want the third book already.

Before Reading:

But Kestrel had seen how the emperor loved to shape silence into a tool that pried open the anxieties of others. She let the silence grow until it was of her making as well as his, and only when the third course arrived did she speak.

Arin was in his father’s study, which he probably would never be able to think of as his own, no matter how old the ghosts of his dead family grew.

My heart’s withering right now.

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The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book Winner’s Curse is in the end, aptly titled. In all aspects of life, we win some but lose some; the winner’s curse is mentioned once when Kestrel buys Arin and once again put into context during a later crucial part of the book. The plot starts out peaceful and slow, fairly quaint in general’s estate. It slowly becomes relevant that Kestrel must maintain a fierce loyalty to the empire and its warring state. She may not approve of the methods with which her empire conquers territories and people but she is good particularly good at what the empire does. Her strategy skills are far superior than her fighting skills which is infinitely more useful. She is literally the epitome of a military genius…ironically her father wants her to enlist but she adamantly refuses due to her mediocre combat. Although Kestrel and her father are professionals at battle strategy, Kestrel harbors a soft spot for piano and music.
Despite the slow buildup and haphazard worldbuilding, a lot happened. Shit has gone down. The romance was the forefront of the first half of the book but we never can afford to forget the tense relations between the enslaved Herrani and their Valorian masters. No matter how well-treated and maintained they are, Herrani are still sold like animals and unpaid. They don’t have any freedom unless their masters dictate otherwise and their former identities are destroyed. Minor spoiler here: (view spoiler)
The characters are complexly drawn and struggle with each of their decisions. Each choice made ultimately affects their fate and they have to reconcile and accept the repercussions. And boy, ARE THERE MANY. Kestrel must swear fealty to either marriage or the military come spring. She ends up being forced into one which costs her dearly.

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Review: Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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HA-HA!! Joe Abercrombie has done it again!! He’s made an unlikable weak character become a star and despite all the odds and terrible traits, they dominated! OH YEAAA

Half the World is the sequel to Half a King, a new YA (more like adult) fantasy series by a seasoned author. It’s good. Really good. I literally ate this puppy up like it was sour gummy worms yum.

The Gritty, Dank World

Half the World is set in a fantasy world where magic is extremely rare and seen as a relic of the past. Elves used to inhabit the world but they have disappeared and left behind their glory of treasures and ginormous ruined cities. But that’s beside the point. The country Gettland, where the heroine Thorn resides, is on the cusp of war with the High King and most of the countries. Gettland has gotten too rich on trade and Grandmother Wexen,

That Del Rey cover just screams supremely awesome and I prefer this artwork over some of the alternative editions published by Harper Voyager. In the previous book, the focus was on Yarvi and his vengeance against those who have wronged him. He is cunning and deeply manipulative so it was satisfying at every turn how he outsmarted the best players in the game. This time, we are not so lucky have Thorn and Brand, two warriors who may not be as brilliant as the minister but are still deadly with weapons of their choice.

BEST PART: One skill that I underestimated Abercrombie in is his dark sense of humor and repulsing hilarious descriptions. The dumb antics of these characters make for some great fodder of fun and the book passed remarkably entertainingly. I loved the how everyone interacted with jibes and poked fun at inappropriate things with good nature.

The old woman scraped a spatter of fresh bird-droppings from a post, tested its texture with her thumb, smelled it closely, seemed on the point of tasting it, then decided against and wiped the mess on her ragged cloak.

My first reaction at this sentence was appalled shock succeeded by bewildered laughter and then full-blown hysterical laughing. There are some sentences that shouldn’t be that funny but the perfect phrasing it off tickled my funny bone.

Brand licked his lips as he remembered the taste of Fridlif’s ale going down. Then he caught sight of Rulf’s disapproving face, and remembered the taste of Fridlif’s ale coming back up, and chose to stand in the light. “I’d best not.”

Just to clarify, Brand had a brief stint dabbling in excessive drinking of alcohol. He also retched up many times after drinking too much.

Now about Brand, this kid, he’s one helluva ironic warrior because he’s pretty laidback and he does not truly enjoy sparring. True, he wants to become a warrior but that’s to earn a living and protect the weak. In retrospect, he aspires to be a knight/defender but this world has no place for knights. He has a heart of gold and he’s in actuality very sweet. That’s a surprising aspect because I assumed from the get-go that all the characters are going to be different shades of masterminds. He doesn’t really have a plan and one of the greatest attributes that made him realistic to me is his insecurity. Brand is always doing the admiring and he’s consistently humble despite all his do-good actions and attitude. He’s no arrogant swine and he’s a great addition to the fantasy field where dominant alpha figures are ubiquitous.

Again, this is a story that deals with strong themes of heroism, court politics, and games of cat-and-mouse. There’s blood and you’re bound to encounter unhygienic passages that disgust you. But fear not, for there’s the levity and slapstick humor to spice the plot up!

“I did have a wife,” said Dosduvoi, lowering himself beside the fire and gingerly seeking out a comfortable position for his bruised buttocks, “but she died,”

“It’s not bad luck if she’s crushed by your bulk,” said Odda.

“That is not funny,” said the giant, though judging from the sniggering many of the crew disagreed.

I looked forward to every single conversation which always shed light on something new and brought character development to each and every one. There’s a lot of camaraderie and teamwork despite how eccentric and cutthroat the crew started out as. Those hand-picked by your truly, Rulf, did not look trustworthy and their reputations were reflected in the scars carved on their bodies. This, in fact, made me love them more because although they were menacing in appearance, their creative insults and moods added more flesh to their dispositions. Although the storyline was strongly driven by the travels and the main goal is to secure alliances for a trapped country shadowed by war, I see no room to complain about the people. (I mean, some were plain putrefying and unappealing in real life but they’re somehow endearing. I really warmed up to them, heh.) Like this one:

“Kalyiv is as a slow-filling bladder,” said Skifr, thoughtfully picking her nose, considering the results, then wiping them on the shoulder of the nearest oarsmen so gently he didn’t even notice.” In spring it swells with northerners, and folk from the empire, and Horse People from across the steppe all swarming here to trade. IN summer it splits its skin and spills filth over the plains. In winter they all move on and it shrivels back to nothing.

Aside from that funny action Skifr performed while musing her insights on the town, the writing is really eloquent. And the analogy, come on! You’ve got to give the author kudos for an apt comparison of a bladder to the movements of populations and trades through a town.

Oh, and would you look at that, woman power is proven repeatedly through every tribulation and terror! I’ve got a great sense of satisfaction every time Thorn wins or manages to impress everyone. She’s unconventional but that only emphasizes how women are forced to behave as society pleases. She knows she different because every other girl is the same. She does not simper nor does she curtsey. Thank goodness, and along the way, let’s get rid of grooming hairstyles.

What would have been a somewhat uneventful journey through the sea, more landmarks, and other countries comes alive in the hands of Abercrombie. The descriptions are rich and succinct, and something is always happening even if it doesn’t seem so. There’s a constant power play and there are sharp minds honing in on taking advantage of seemingly innocuous situations. So if you’re clever enough, you should go ahead and read this book. Here’s a tidbit to pique more of your interest.

“Looking at you, and thinking you want me, makes me feel like…like I won.”
“Won something no one else would want, she muttered.

Oops, and before I forget, you should read the first book Half a King unless you like it out of order, then suit yourself.

(Through Netgalley) Thank you, Del Rey Books, for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!