Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3)A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, the greatest character in this series has got to be Holland. I have always liked his character since book 1 despite all those nefarious deeds he committed. He’s just got something deeply flawed but endearing about him, and truly, I’m so happy that Schwab finally gave him the screentime and story that he deserved. What happened to him still leaves a somewhat bittersweet taste in my mouth, but I know it’s necessary to show how he became who he is. For some reason, I’m drawn to broken, fragile people and I really appreciate that Schwab obviously took great care in crafting him. He’s truly the MVP in this book and he was the most memorable character for me.

Now, about the story, I think there were places when the plot obviously lagged. There was a lot of rising action and it took much longer than I expected for it to finally culminate. However, the pacing picked up, and it was very quick and heart-pounding. The author really made those frenetic action scenes worth savoring because when fights happened, they were very good. There was a lot of foreshadowing and I think it worked nicely as subplots. Most readers may foresee these certain events but it’s really more about the unfolding of events rather than the surprise element of plot twists. The plot got very dark, of course, but the love lines in the book really elevated the book’s sweet side and bring a respite from the macabre. Some things worked out better and easier than I would have thought and most of the time, I didn’t feel as connected with secondary characters. I felt much more angst when something minor happens to the main characters compared to something major to these secondary characters. While understandable, I think that will be something Schwab will improve in ample time as she hones her writing craft. Already, I see a great improvement in her writing style from her first adult novel Vicious. In the end, I am satisfied with the ending of this wonderful trilogy. I wish there was more but the way it ended is fitting and does justice to all the characters. I would love to hear more about Holland and White London but I think that those stories are closed for now. However, there’s definitely a set-up for more adventures if Schwab truly wishes to revisit these beloved characters, so we’ll see!

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ARC Review: Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

Blood Rose Rebellion (Blood Rose Rebellion, #1)Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Expected Release Date: March 28, 2017

Oh my goodness I can’t believe I got sucked in by the cover. Like would you just look at that gorgeous cover?? Blood Rose Rebellions was not profoundly bad but it also was not as good as I wanted it to be because I kept expecting something exceptional to happen. The blurb raised my hopes up (maybe too high) with talks of Hungarian history, spell breaking, and a fat lot of rebellions. Of course it misled me. To be honest, the title was not even remotely mentioned within the book and I have NO IDEA what the analogy of the blood rose has to do with the whole story. That should have been a red flag for me from the start.

Indeed, the book title irritated me but as the trooper that I am, that did not lower my rating. So why only 2.5 stars? The plot and characters. I can’t say that I connected with Anna and although it is a first-person narration, the feelings are rather shallow. It’s not that I can’t stand her, but instead, I was apathetic. Moreover, the writing is not the best especially since there are barely any action scenes. Which would not mattered if things happened. It took me much longer than expected to complete this book although I finished it in one sitting (I had a snow day today by the way). The plot has a whole lot of nothing happening; the entire length of this book could’ve been shortened so much. I felt that many scenes were useless and there were some supposedly “iconic” scenes that could’ve been better executed if crafted with more care. There were a few moments where Anna has creepy encounters but they’re all written with lackluster. I did not feel invested in the story until 80% into the book and by that time, everything else that came before made it anticlimactic.

The historical element of the story is its strongest suit and I really enjoyed learning about Hungary. I confess that I am quite ignorant of European history so I was really excited to learn more about Budapest during 1848. One of my favorite movies is The Grand Budapest Hotel so a couple stills from the movie cropped up while I was reading. Sad to say, I would still prefer watching the movie over reading Blood Rose Rebellion. I do have to say though, the book had more depth and fantasy than I initially assumed; the rich blend of Hungarian folklore could’ve been explained more to the readers. Instead of throwing out these random names of Hungarian legends, I would like more background about them. There was a twist that I did not see coming near the climax but the ending seemed to slump afterwards. I am almost certain there is no sequel since there was such a finality to the end but I did not feel resolved to it. Overall, the book was underwhelming, and the only character I liked was Mátyás and which was only due to a deed he committed. By all means, readers interested in historical fantasy genre should add this to their starter pack, but those looking for intricate plotting and complex writing may be disappointed. I’m going to shelve this under “could have been better” because I really do enjoy the premise but the execution fell flat.

I’d like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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ARC Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts, #1)Gilded Cage by Vic James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t know where to begin as I feel bewildered and conflicted about the ending.
The only genres tagged for this book right now is ‘fantasy’ and ‘young adult’ but it is more complex than that. The story takes places in an alternate world where there are people who are Skilled (aka they have magic powers) and those that are unskilled who are all forced to do slavedays for 10 years of their lives. The premise is quite flimsy but it does raise a lot of interest because it is a difficult one to execute.
The plot meandered and took a while to pick up and I had to stop reading after events at the end of Chapter 3. Although I am used to reading gritty, dark themes, the scene in Chapter 3 was seared in my mind and I was slightly traumatized by what I read. Personally, this book toes the lines of the young adult genre and I would not recommend it to adolescent readers. I wouldn’t necessary place a trigger warning on it but there are mature themes dealt with throughout the book.

What I Liked:
-The descriptive writing and subtle humor
-Different point of views
-They talked about C-pop
-There were different settings
-Many plot twists
-Unique characterizations
-Multiple subplots

The first half of the book was boring for me and it spent a lot of time on developing the world and introducing characters. But if you can get past all of the trimmings and enter the latter half of the book, it picks up the pace and starts fleshing out the plot. The book’s biggest strength is the complexity of each character and their motives that drive their actions. The book’s biggest weaknesses is also the reader’s lack of connection with the characters. I don’t particularly care for the romance subplot, and I was somewhat apathetic to any character plights. Nevertheless, the wide cast of characters were fascinating, and I would still like to read about them even though I do not particularly like them. I still cannot pinpoint Silyen’s motives so he was the most interesting for me to read about. The villains are not clear-cut and neither are the heroes even though there is a central conflict to fight for. As the book ends on a disastrous note for many characters, I will be looking forward to the sequel. I was ultimately captivated by this dark, twisted story, and I really like it when the ending is left open-ended with many things gone wrong.

I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Retellings of Beauty and the Beast

IT’S FINALLY OUT. I’ve been waiting for the trailer ever since the first movie teaser was released! Beauty and the Beast is by far my all-time favorite fairy tale and I am ecstatic that it is finally getting a live action film. I also want to gush about all the recent book retellings of BatB so I will be listing several of my favorites below the trailer.


They are listed from my least to most favorite retellings:

7. Stolen Songbird by Danielle L Jensen (Review here)

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6. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

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5. Beauty by Robin McKinley

4. East by Edith Pattou

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3. Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

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2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Check out my review here)

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Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched QueenThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Star-Touched Queen is heavily infused with Indian mythology and purple prose. The lyrical metaphors and lush descriptions really makes this book stand out from the plethora of books that are released this year. It is definitely a book to savor and it is not made to rush through as many would with the  typical straightforward writing in YA.

I admit the premise intrigued me and I’ve always been interested in the Persephone and Hades mythology. There’s some sort of allure that defines that myth and it’s interesting how it plays out although it does technically center around Stockholm Syndrome. Of course, there are ways to play around that particular sore spot and that is exactly what the book does. However, nothing is what it seems and Amar is never portrayed as a villain. The circumstances of Maya’s position in society makes her an expendable pawn in the game of kings. Thus, when Amar and Maya meet, it’s not the ideal situation but Amar does not commit any nefarious deeds. There’s a lot of mystery shrouded around his character so there is a shaky ground of trust that forms their relationship. I think the dynamic between the two is a weak part in the story because they barely know each other. A strong relationship, as Maya has mentioned, requires trust and no secrets. Although secrets are interwoven as a necessity in the plot, it is the root of conflict and it could have been better portrayed without making it seem like a redundant obstacle. I did not feel like the chemistry and Amar’s character was not as fleshed-out as it can be. In short, his background felt lacking and could have been expanded on to make him a viable love interest.

The strongest point of the plot is the ethnic culture and the wealth of vocabulary that enriched the story. The worldbuilding was well-written which makes sense because a lot of it was taken out of the history books. I can definitely see that the author did her research and the fashion, specific vocabulary, and labels for certain items all fit to create a rich realistic storyline. I don’t have extensive knowledge of Indian culture and history but I felt immersed into the world and the glossary in the back of the story definitely helped me get more acquainted. The mythology is interesting and I loved the passages when Maya told a myth. They were relevant to the plot and added more depth into understanding how her life can be fitted around these myths. Chokshi weaves a simple but elegant story that mixes eloquent prose to create a tremendously powerful book. It is a retelling and thus people who know the tale may not be impressed. And this is where the writer’s strength shines the most because she takes this type of retelling and maximizes the charm of each part through her descriptive writing. If it was any other author, I am not sure she/he would be able to pull off the same effect that Chokshi’s writing did. I anticipate the next book she writes.

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Waiting on Wednesday: Ruined

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Ruined (Ruined, #1)Ruined by Amy Tintera

Publication Date: May 3rd, 2015

Publisher: HarperTeen

Goodreads: Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war. She lacks the powers of her fellow Ruined. Worst of all, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murders and watched helplessly as her sister, Olivia, was kidnapped.

But because Em has nothing, she has nothing to lose. Driven by a blind desire for revenge, Em sets off on a dangerous journey to the enemy kingdom of Lera. Somewhere within Lera’s borders, Em hopes to find Olivia. But in order to find her, Em must infiltrate the royal family.

In a brilliant, elaborate plan of deception and murder, Em marries Prince Casimir, next in line to take Lera’s throne. If anyone in Lera discovers Em is not Casimir’s true betrothed, Em will be executed on the spot. But it’s the only way to salvage Em’s kingdom and what is left of her family.

Em is determined to succeed, but the closer she gets to the prince, the more she questions her mission. Em’s rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life—and her family—on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake.


That sounds like a lot of revenge and I kind of like it.

 

Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy, #3)The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Fantasy books rarely close on such a sweet note. I’m unused to a happy, hopeful ending. (Oh, you authors have broken my heart time over time with all your shenanigans.)

The Winner’s Crime ended on such a grim note that I wondered how the situation could resolve itself. Realistically speaking, war can only hold off imperialism for so long and the odds are not in Arin’s quaint colony’s favor. So even if he wins this spat, Valoria will return one day to conquer this nation again. However, brute force and guerilla warfare may leave scars that will desist Valoria from stepping on their land for a while. That doesn’t leave many choices. However, Arin and Kestrel are a force to be reckoned with and they are the perfect couple and tag team to tackled this dilemma. Arin is smart. Kestrel is smarter. With these limited resources at hand, the author really made them work hard for a happy ending.

“What formation would the general use,” Roshar had asked her, “for a march along a road of that width?”
Kestrel had paused, fingers on the worn map.
“She can’t know for certain,” Arin said.
“Here’s what I would do if I were him,” she said…

At the start of the book, Arin is return to his home heartbroken but not without a measure of hope to move on and deal with the looming war at hand. He struck me as a resilient character and this is such an apt description because he talked a lot about learning from his mistakes. He began to harden his heart to war’s brutality and although he bounced back from all these mishaps, he changed cynically. He’s determined and resourceful, but the author shows that he is merciful towards Valorian female warriors. In one scene, he hesitates in a moment of weakness which causes him to sustain an injury from a random Valorian female soldier. I liked that he still retains that core of decency and I don’t question his actions because this is wartime.

“But this was your true self,” he said. “Intelligent, brave, manipulative. Kind. You made no effort to hide who you were. Then I found that I wanted you to hide it. This was the luxury of your position, wasn’t it, that you didn’t have to hide? It was the doomed nature of mine, that I did. And that’s true. Sometimes a truth squeezes you so tightly you can’t breathe. It was like that. But it also wasn’t, because there was another reason it hurt to look at you. You were too likable. To me.”

Kestrel is worse off than she was in the previous books. I really felt for her pain and misery, and I understood why it was better to forget rather than torment herself with memories of her past. In all honesty, she is the better for her experience because her fundamental self is unchanged. She has been strong, tactical, and persistently independent with what she has to work with. As a general’s daughter, she lives up to her name and continues to play wargames despite her mental hardships. Arin coddles her with his protectiveness so it’s interesting seeing the dynamics between the two. True, Kestrel deeply cares about Arin but she is not as easily swayed by emotions. She does not let emotion color her decisions. However, she is by no means an ice queen. She is deeply traumatized by her recent experiences and suffers through a huge identity crisis. Much of it is internal and she does not express much of it physically.

She remembered how she’d wanted to explain to him that it had rattled her to try to slip into her father’s mind, to know that the general’s mind and her own felt upsettingly similar. She’d wanted to put her fear inside a white box and give it to Arin.
You, too, she would tell him. I fear for you. I fear for me if I lost you.
War is no place for fear, said the memory of her father’s voice.
“Take care,” she’d told Arin.
He’d smiled.

Arin, on the other hand, is irrational when it comes to Kestrel. I kept waiting throughout the book for it to come back to bite him in the rear but it seems that there were no severe consequences. Sure, there are some grave risks taken and several heartrending moment in which they suffered grievous wounds. However, they survived relatively unscathed. I think I should feel happy, right? I guess I’m so used to being tricked and handed bittersweet endings that The Winner’s Kiss almost seems like a miracle. But a gift is a gift and I’LL TAKE IT.

Thanks, Marie Rutkoski for writing a wonderful book filled with sweet moments, tender declarations of love, and gory descriptions of appendages lopped off.

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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ARC Review: Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip

Dreams of Distant ShoresDreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anticipated release date: June 14, 2016

The series of stories were each unique and contained within different settings. The continuous transition from one story to the next was extremely jarring and I felt like a fish flailing on land. There was so much detail and the characters were all so diverse that I felt overwhelmed…in a good way. The tales were simply bewitching and bewildering. I’m a new reader to Patricia McKillip but I loved the prose and the way the writing immediately sucked me in. I liked some stories better than most and each has something that snags my attention, but I favored The Gorgon in the Cupboard. There’s just something about it that fits and connects with me since I’ve always had a fascination for the Victorian era. I left that story (and many others) wishing to know more.

Weird (4 stars)

This was the shortest of the stories and thus does away with the formalities of introducing the characters’ names, the settings, and the conflict. It utilizes a common TV trope -in media res- with a man asking a woman what’s the weirdest thing that’s happened in her life. There are no contexts and in short, we are given no explanations. It’s a clever hook and I loved how things were left open-ended.

Mer (3.5 stars)

Witches and goddesses are given a new meaning in this story.
Note: By the time I started in on this story, I think I got the hang of ‘magic’ in McKillip’s mind. It’s a difficult concept to write about because it’s elusive and overridden with so many cliches. In a book, magic oftentimes must be explained and made sense of in order for readers to understand how it’s usually used to create a power struggle. However, McKillip does not manipulate the ‘magical element’ to exert power on characters. As readers, we simply observe the effects it has on people and how they react to it.

The Gorgon in the Cupboard (5 stars)

The moral of this story was very realistic and the fantasy element is kept to a bare minimum. I liked the combination of Greek mythology that played into the inspirations of Victorian artists. It’s a story rife with beauty and had much more character development than any of the stories. The characters had despair, fear, and hunger who was captured so well that it’s not hard to see why it’s my favorite. Character development is always a +1 for me along with a lesson well-learned at the end.

Which Witch (3.5 stars)

Witches in the modern-day world have animal familiars. I can’t say much about this because they live rather mundane lives as band members playing for a club. The writing is exceptional but I didn’t derive much enjoyment out of this story.

Edith and Henry Go Motoring (5 stars)

I’m not sure if there was a typo because Harry, not Henry, went motoring with Edith. This seemingly innocuous trip led to a visit inside an ‘abandoned’ house. Edith and Henry appear to be fanciful people prone to a little bit of adventuring so I’m pleasantly surprised that the author delves into the multi-layered nature of a person’s life.

Alien (3 stars)

Rational relatives deal with their old mother who they believe is going cuckoo because she’s spouting some ridiculous nonsense about aliens abducting her at some point in her life. A story steeped in reality, I can’t say that it goes hand in hand with the fantasy/sci-fi genre. These relatives take everything with a healthy dose of skepticism but in a while, they question it. The multitude of names being thrown around irritated me because many of them were never mentioned again.

Something Rich and Strange (4 stars)

Taking place in a touristy beach town, the story starts out with a couple who are content with living by the sea and indulging in their hobbies. One of them loves discovering fossils while the other loves drawing the sea and everything underwater. A string of mysterious incidents and visitors leads to some turbulent upheavals in their lives. The longest of the stories, Something Rich and Strange places a heavy emphasis on the ecological effects of humans on the sea. It’s a very insightful writing piece and I thought the subject was handled very well along with the involvement of mermaids that played into it. The two main characters were rather lackluster but they weren’t meant to be drawn out as magnificent protagonists. It rather underlined the moral of the story through ordinary people who share an affinity for the sea.

Thank you to Tachyon Publications and to NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince: Volume Two (Captive Prince, #2)Captive Prince: Volume Two by C.S. Pacat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The alternate title for this book is called Prince’s Gambit and I prefer it much more than the ‘Volume Two’ because it sums up this middle book so well.

Gambit <noun>: (in chess) an opening in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of some compensating advantage.
A device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage.


 

Minor spoilers for Captive Prince: Book One

So who do you think is the gambit? Too bad, you won’t find out unless you read the book.
Laurent, hands down, dominates the game with the crazy tactics and strategies that he comes up with to subvert his enemies and stay three steps ahead of his uncle. The risk to his life is much more apparent as the Regent makes more indirect, daring attempts on Laurent. You thought Laurent was clever? WATCH THIS. He begins revealing just how deep his deceptions can go and readers see exactly how intelligent he is. Damen is also a warmonger and he’s very charismatic alongside Laurent. As a duo, they are a force to be reckoned with. They are very capable individuals that have commanding presences to capture the respect of an army.

Laurent said it as though producing from the depths the answer to a painstakingly weighed question. ‘I can do this alone. I know I can. It’s only that right now I can’t seem to…think, and I can’t…trust anyone else to stand up to me when I’m…like this. If you could give me three days, I–‘ He forcibly cut himself off.

Damen has always chafed under his shackles so it was eye-opening to see what he can do if Laurent gave him the keys. With a semblance of freedom, Damen shows his prowess…on the battlefield. HAAA, did you think I was going to say something else? Anyways, there’s a lot of sexual tension throughout the book and Pacat does it so well. The characters continue to develop and show a resilience in how they deal with tricky situations. The duo hit many problems along their travels but they stick together through them all. Although Laurent is secretive and holds many of his underhanded tactics close to heart, he still confides the most in Damen. Their slow buildup of trust was a wondrous thing to witness and in tough times, they really came to rely on each other’s strengths. I loved seeing Laurent push his army to their limits with drills and combat practices. Dealt with a rather lackluster set of cards, Laurent is showing his hidden sides that can transform even a rotten soldier into something respectable.

So then comes the huge elephant in the room. How can Damen tell Laurent that he is Prince Damien, the one he loathes for killing his brother?

He thought of Laurent’s delicate, needling talk that froze into icy rebuff if Damen pushed at it, but if he didn’t–if he matched himself to its subtle pulses and undercurrents–continued, sweetly deepening, until he could only wonder if he knew, if they both knew, what they were doing.

The story becomes much more centered on Damen on Laurent’s story; it’s really sweet to see that a relationship can blossom in the face of the tribulations that they face. In the fight for a king’s seat, they are both determined to ensure success. Damen is an asset to Laurent, a collaboration that many could not see taking place. The dynamics of their relationship is explored more deeply in this book because there’s just so much going on. Their interactions are always anticipatory for me because they’re polar opposites in many ways. Laurent is the icy, lean prince and Damen is the brutish, forceful one. How can  they deal with each other when they’re so different. I guess it’s true that opposites attract because chapter 19

Laurent’s fingers had tightened around the towel. There was a self-consciousness in him now, as though he had become aware of the strangeness of what he was doing: a prince serving a slave. Damen looked again at the cup of water, which Laurent had brought–for him, he realised.
Laurent’s flush deepened. Damen shifted to regard him better. He saw the angle of Laurent’s jaw, the tension in Laurent’s shoulders.

Laurent has a lot of tricks up his sleeves and he reminds me so much of a sterner, serious version of Eugenides from The Queen’s Thief by MWT.

Following the pattern of Captive Prince: Book One, here are more words that I had to look up: verisimilitude, immanence, percipient, abstemious

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Review: Captive Prince by C. S. Pacat

I don’t know whether to be quite proud or embarrassed that I finished this trilogy within two days because I don’t think I’ve ever read an entire series that fast. The books started out as an online serial and it took me a little over three hours to complete each one. The vocabulary is complex and very colorful, a rare treat, and it really satisfied my appetite. I can’t remember the last time I consulted my online dictionary multiple times throughout a book. This was probably back in early high school but I found myself highlighting half a dozen words when I read Captive Prince. (I had to look up all these words: catamite, provenance, appurtenances, apothegm, peripatetic, aseptic)


Captive Prince: Volume One (Captive Prince, #1)Captive Prince: Volume One by C.S. Pacat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I applaud C.S. Pacat’s skill because she has long surpassed the debut novelist’s amateurity with her level of depth and characterization in Captive Prince. She is very familiar with her worldbuilding and it is obvious that she constructed the plot with the ending very much in mind. There are so many plot twists and revelations that accompanies the two main characters that it awes me completely at every turn. As an m/m romance, the first book only set the foundations of the relationship and it is a full-on hate on first sight. This is reasonably ironic as Damen is in a precarious situation where they are sworn enemies. It’s almost like Romeo and Juliet except there’s a load of history that warrants much hate between the two kingdoms. So color me surprised as I see the author blur the lines of right and wrong and uncover the intricate layers of Prince Laurent. He’s not someone that I can support as a love interest for Damen as their relationship is that of a slave/prince right now. It’s unbalanced and Damen’s identity is shrouded so he can never act as a prince. It’s degrading to stoop to the level of a slave and we suffer through a lot of humiliations with him. And believe me, Laurent is really resentful and he’s actually terrible to Damen.

‘He cares for your pleasure,’ explaiined Erasmus.
It took a moment for those words to attach to their correct meaning, and when they did a breath of helpless laughter was the only possible response. Laurent’s precise instructions and their inevitable result had not been intended as a kindness, but rather the opposite. There was no way to explain Laurent’s cool, intricate mind to the slave, and Damen didn’t try.

Laurent is manipulative, cold, and tightly-controlled. However, nothing is as it seems. We glimpse many reasons that attributed to his current personality and it’s very interesting as Damen discovers the different sides of Laurent. As a prince, he exercises some power over the kingdom but the one who is truly in control is the Regent, Laurent’s uncle. The sheer amount of influence and background dealings that the Regent has makes this novel shine with the plot twists and trickery. Damen is way out of his water (literally and figuratively) and the reader blatantly sees that he cannot handle any court dealings and has a shallow understanding of political intrigue.

‘You can’t go to Delfeur,’ Damen said. ‘It’s a death trap.’
The moment he said it, he understoof that Laurent had always known this…
The words were an unfolding realization. It was clear now why Laurent had worked to exonerate his slave and obfuscate the attack…
‘Why are you doing this? Is it a forced move? You can’t think of a way around it?’ Damen searched Laurent’s face.

In short, Laurent is his foil and whereas Damen is trusting of everyone and gives them the benefit of the doubt, Laurent’s shield is always up and his every move is an act with a distinct purpose behind it. I loved their parallels and the plausible concept of them complementing each other with their different traits. I thought they were an excellent match in that sense because Damen is charismatic and automatically loved by all with his leadership and fighting abilities. His Akielon people adored him and were exceedingly loyal (except for those who betrayed him, of course) but Laurent grew up in a secretive court filled with scheming royals. Vere, on the other hand, is under the rule of the Regent meaning most of the supporters are in Regent’s favor. Laurent may certainly attract several blindly devoted followers but his actions are constantly under watch and his cards are limited. Ironically, he is also trapped like Damen.

Guion had dined on mouth-watering spiced meats wrapped in grape leaves, the noon-day heat fanned away from his reclining form by attentive slaves. He felt generously willing to admit that this barbaric country [Akielos] had its charms. The food was rustic but the slaves were impeccable: faultlessly obedient and trained to efface and anticipate, nothing like the spoiled pets at the court of Vere.

I find the world of Vere and Akielos highly fascinating with the inspiration of Greek/Roman architecture and fashion, and the Akielon slave culture that is compared to the ‘pet’ culture of Veretians. Akielos is pro-slavery and it’s so long established as the norm that Damen doesn’t really question its moralities until he arrives in Vere as a slave himself. But Vere doesn’t own slaves; royals keep ‘pets’ that are dolled up and kept as a trophy by their sides to satisfy their sexual cravings. Rather barbaric, that’s what the readers and Damen think. Unlike the heteronormative Akielos, Veretian culture frown upon heterosexuals as an aberration which causes bastardry and they tout homosexuality as the norm.

Female pets were kept by the ladies, male pets were kept by the lords.
‘You mean that men and women–never–‘
Never. Not among the nobility. Well, sometimes, if they were perverse. It was taboo. Bastards were a blight, Jord said. Even among the guards, if you screwed women, you kept quiet about it. If you got a woman pregnant and didn’t marry her your career was over.

It’s interesting seeing the set-up of this environment as what pushes this towards the M/M genre because Damen is allegedly bisexual and Laurent is homosexual like everyone else in his kingdom. However, these details are not the crux of the plot because fantasy is Pacat’s forte. In many author’s hands, this premise would not have worked but Pacat has forged a memorable story that garners the attention of hardcore fantasy-lovers while catering to romantics, the lgbt genre, and mature readers. The sophisticated vocabulary and sentences are unique and it took me much longer to read this book than when I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. (By the way, I’ll write a nice review about Simon hehehe) Now that I thought of it, these books are both about lgbt but they polar opposites in so many ways and Simon’s story is really sweet and positive whilst Captive Prince takes a much darker turn into the gritty power struggle between two kingdoms and characters.


So I ended up writing much more than I thought I would for Captive Prince…meaning I’m going to write up a separate review for Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising.

Review to come for:

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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: Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War (Shattered Sea, #3)Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was by far the easiest series to finish reading! There’s just something so compelling about Joe Abercrombie’s stories which immerses me into the characters and the world. It’s one of those rare occasions where I wish for a sequel or more books in the series. In every book, there’s a different protagonist although the previous ones all play a heavy role in the current book. From Yarvi to Thorn Bathu to Skara, these are all complex characters who change drastically throughout the plotlines; I am startled to discover how differently they act over time. It’s interesting to see what war can do to a person when push comes to shove and desperate times call for desperate measures.

The titles have all carried intelligent meanings for the story starting as Half a King for Yarvi, to Half the World for Thorn, and to Half a War for Skara. Where war was foreshadowed in the first book, it was imminent and prevented in the second, but it became inevitable in the third. I loved the gradual progression and great pacing of the whole series. Joe is one fantastic master storyteller and honestly, he deserve all the recognition he gets in the fantasy genre.

This the real fantasy filled with gritty elements of the battle field, ship invasions, and war strategies. Skara gets orphaned within the first few pages and becomes queen immediately. However, she’s queen of a conquered land so she ends up running. She’s made out to be a victim of circumstances and a weakling who has nothing to her name. I loved how much perseverance and spunk she had. She has the gift of words and years of teaching has made her cunning and practical; she’s ambitious, all right. I love that the books all contain strong female characters that can easily rival the male ones. I see a parallel between her situation and Yarvi’s when they both lost everything and had to climb their way back up. However, they are quite different even though they both seek revenge and are willing to go the extra mile to do so. Yarvi is proud and it’s been seen time and again through the series; it’s one of the steady parts of his personality. Skara, on the other hand, does not prioritize pride. I love how they act as two sides of the same coin and sometimes are foils to each other. It’s interesting because they play mind games and there’s a lot of intrigue with both of their underhanded tactics.

There is romance but it’s very realistic romance; it’s not a love story if that’s what readers are looking for. Fantasy and war is always on the forefront so I liked how the author also portrayed how love was being affected by it. People want to seek fame and glory in battle but they also want to keep love; this is the prime dilemma of Koll. I’d say Koll was not a strong character to start out with but he continued to surprise me with some hidden iron depths. Without proper guidance, he’s a lost boy trying to grow into a man. I see a lot of what youths go through in today’s society reflected in his choices and worries. He is very indecisive and he admits himself that he is a coward. In my opinion, he’s braver for admitting what he’s afraid of. Which is why I’m more satisfied when he gets the happy ending that he actually wanted.

Half a War ends on a lighter note despite several major characters dying and soldier casualties. Not everyone gets their happy ending but that’s how the real world works. It’s quite like how The Hunger Games series ended which may piss people off. But not everything is unicorns, rainbows, and cupcakes. As the author said, “Every victory is someone’s defeat.”

I’m excited to read The Blade Itself especially for more of those sarcastic quips and intense battles.

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The Shattered Sea series

Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass, #3)Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not a big fan of this book cover because I’m an artist myself and there are so many things wrong with this terrible piece of work. First, the body proportions are wrong and it just pisses me off looking at this because there is no way Celaena is seven feet tall. Her legs are ridiculously long and despite how much she ran everyday with Chaol, she has no muscular calves to speak of. Her waist is too long unless the artist is trying to tell the reader that her hips are the same width as her waist. Bloomsbury, if you’re going to hire an artist, at least hire a good one who has done proper book research and figure drawing lessons.  Second, that archery stance is wrong because if anyone placed their feet the way she did, they’d stumble and miss aim. I’m a terrible shot and I’ve only done amateurish archery at summer camp but that’s enough to tell me that your feet should never be parallel to each other. You need to adopt a wide stance and make sure your feet are angled apart. Third, the green background is the worst color especially since it does not correlate with the title “Heir of Fire”. The only hint of fire I see is yellow splotches near the bow which hardly counts because fire is typically ranges from blue, red, and orange.
I may have gotten carried away with some of the technicalities but the final verdict is, this cover sucks.

Thankfully, the writing redeems the disaster of the front because DANG, the author sure knows what she’s doing there! There’s a lot of follow-up decisions which lead to the major change where Celaena is shipped far off to a different kingdom.  So, how does Chaol and Dorian deal in terms of maturation and interest when the party animal is gone? Not that well, it seems. Chaol becomes sort of bland because let’s be honest, he wasn’t really a fun character to start out with in the first place. However, time away from Celaena allows him to think on his issues and sort out whatever mess of a life he has.

Since he’s not entertaining enough to grasp the readers’ attention, the author introduces a new character and another new setting through the eyes of (Surprise surprise) an Ironteeth witch named Manon Blackbeak. She is by no means a good witch and in fact, she’s the heir to Blackbeak Clan which has allied itself with the King of Adarlan. There’s a war brewing and the witches are leading it; the king has more than just Wyrdmark magic manipulation, and in fact has created wyverns as weapons to use in his arsenal. Multiple witch clans have gathered to learn to ride these wyverns to prepare for the war on the horizon. I felt dread but anticipation reading about Manon’s stay in the mountains because I knew she was essentially going against Celaena’s cause but I can’t help but root for her too. Because as I read on, Manon is not a bad person; her grandmother raised her up to become ruthless and do whatever it takes to deserve the title of heiress of the powerful, evil Blackbeak clan.

Celaena also comes to terms with her past history. I’m so glad this struggle is resolved because if it was stretched out any longer, readers would get bored. The majority of the book has sacrificed action for character development. That’s not to say that the attention has completely shifted because there is always action to be found right when readers are about to hit a dry patch in the readings. The author maintains a precarious balance between the character point of views which works very well because I’m curious about what all the characters are up to. Celaena is still on Dorian and Chaol’s minds but they have their own work cut out for them at the Glass Castle. Celaena thinks of the duo occasionally but she is set on a different path which occupies most of her time. That path is magic; yes, magic finally appears and in case you haven’t read Crown of Midnight, DO NOT READ ON.
Celaena seems to rehash the same hardships in assassin training as she does now with magic training. Although she has a powerful skill, she has no control to speak of and ability to even wield it. Her skill is dangerous and she has been taught as a child to suppress it. (Elsa from Frozen, anyone?) Thankfully, she finally comes to her right mind unlike Elsa who just ran away from her problems immediately. Celaena deserves a round of applause because her Fae trainer Rowan is intimidating to work with. He’s very cold and tough on her which is reasonable since he didn’t now how much she lost and that she survived 6 months in the prison mines. Their interactions are nerve-wracking because they are both stubborn and abrasive. Rowan Whitethorn is one of the better developed characters in this book which I really warmed up to when he started to care and act as a true protector for Celaena. Their friendship feels very genuine and natural after their initial hostility when Celaena musters up courage to face her fears about magic. Because of the fact that Rowan is a Fae prince warrior, he has suffered through several wars, participated in some heavy-duty warfare, and gained plenty of experiences to render Celaena’s insignificant. He really helped put her into perspective because she moped so much; in turn, she gained more skills, healing, and also the perfect friendship. Rowan is a good friend and an even better magic trainer. Yay for friendship!!

Sorscha, on the other hand, is one of the half-baked underdeveloped characters. She is the healer who helped bandage the trio’s battle wounds at the glass castle. Despite her convenience in addressing the wounds of the three, she had zero presence in the previous book. Which is why the introduction and pasting of a personality and backstory to her feels like a last-second thought. It’s poorly done and she does not have enough screentime to merit any of the reader’s feelings toward her. Which is why it’s an annoyance when she becomes the love interest of Dorian, a long-established prince. Sorry if I spoiled that but if you start reading, it’s pretty obvious from the start that they’re going to get together. I saw her more as a plot device to help Dorian mature, cement the idea that Dorian is only a friend to Celaena, and get him to develop his magic. Dorian no longer fits the mold of a carefree playboy but neither does he lose that mischievousness which attracted Celaena upon first sight. Therefore, as the other characters changed, so did he. All I can say is, he becomes more kingly as the book wore on.

Oh shoot, I almost forgot to mention Aedion Ashryver! He’s fierce, he’s got some undying loyalty, and he’s actually emotional devastated about what happened 10 years ago. Oh, by the way, he’s the cousin of princess Aelin. I really want to know more about him because he has so much potential but alas, he’s barely developed. I expect to know a lot more about him in Queen of Shadows.

So this book had a lot of substance and major crazy shit went down. And also hit the fan. I’m anxiously anticipating Queen of Shadows and of course, I’m liking the book cover of that one way better than this one. Until then.

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.

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king’s champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass–and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.

I can definitely see why this book is so well-received by the community. It identifies well with hard-core fantasy fans because there’s gore, magic, and lots of badassery from yours truly. The protagonist Celaena is an assassin which is a smart pick since deadly archetypes are popular with fantasy readers who love to cheer on more than royal characters. There’s also a strong presence of romance to market towards YA readers and give them plenty to swoon and agonize over. Upon meeting Prince Dorian, I knew right away that she and he were going to get along just fine. It’s true to form for a novel to hint at their romance at the get-go but I felt that it eventually took over the plot and detracted my attention from the magic counterparts. Somehow, the book became a romance with fantasy elements instead of fantasy with romantic subplots. I love fantasy so the parts that I enjoyed the most were the fight scenes, training, and her tenacious ferocity whenever she confronts someone. On the upside, characters, plotting, and pacing were all commendable and expertly crafted.

Pros:

The author definitely sold the character because Celaena Sardothien is like any other 18 year old with the personality of an overly hyperactive puppy. She likes to eat lots of food, candy, dress up in pretty clothes, and read books. Her character development is by far the best because she’s turned out spectacularly expressive despite her overwhelmingly gruesome childhood. Her trainer Arobynn has put her through some serious trauma and it’s hardened her in some ways but also made her vulnerable in relationships. Being the best in her field of work also tends to acquire enemies and envy rather than friends. This is what led to her current situation when she trusted the wrong people. However, she vows revenge not for how it put her into a death camp but rather for the human collateral damage the betrayers wrought. I personally think it’s commendable because the author does a lot of showing, not telling when it comes to reflecting her personality and actions.
In some ways, she’s an open book and I like that because it makes her more realistic. She’s hardheaded sometimes and is very eager to display her talents but that’s reasonable since she gets provoked so often by weaker competition. I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND, CELAENA. It truly hurts me when people of lower intelligence and achievements insult me like how dare they insult me when I’m better than them.

Do you know how insulting it is to pretend to be some nobody thief from a small city in Fenharrow?”
He stared her down, quiet for a moment. “Are you that arrogant?” She bristled, but he went on. “It was foolish to spar with you just now. I’ll admit that I hadn’t realized you’d be that good. Thankfully, no one noticed. And do you want to know why, Lillian?” He took a step closer, his voice lowering. “Because you’re some pretty little girl. Because you’re a nobody jewel thief from a small city in Fenharrow. Look around.” He half-turned to the other Champions. “Is anyone staring at you? Are any of them sizing you up? No. Because you’re not real competition. Because you don’t stand between them and whatever freedom or wealth they’re looking for.”
“Exactly! It’s insulting!”
“It’s smart, that’s what it is. And you’re going to keep a low profile throughout this entire competition. You’re not going to excel, and you’re not going to trounce those thieves and soldiers and unknown assassins.

Anyways… She’s not stupid though and it helps that she knows where her priorities lie. There’s a bit of feminism thrown into the mix when she makes an important decision at the end of the book. It ultimately cemented my support for whatever she does because her reasons are justifiable and well-thought out. How come so many female characters commit rash actions without properly thinking through the consequences? I hope Celaena continues to fight for her freedom and acts consistently in Crown of Midnight.

The elaborate establishment of characters took up a good chunk of the book so I’ll excuse much of the pointless games played between Celaena, Captain Chaol, and Prince Dorian. It quintessentially achieved what the author wanted: we understand the inner workings of their minds and also comprehend their feelings better than the characters themselves.
This in turn plays well into one of the major events at the end of the book. Chaol does something so out-of-character that it shocks many people but not the reader because we understand what drove him to that point. It is a great plot device that will eventually force him to evaluate his feelings and perhaps change the gears in his relationships. This is a book that explores relationships deeply and although there is a fantasy force that propels the action in the story, interactions are at the forefront.

I really like magic. And I especially like well-explained magic that puts readers at ease without baffling us. It’s not a lot to digest and I understand how it works by gleaning a few explanations here and there scattered throughout the story. It’s also pretty much in the background and introduced late into the story. There were hints of magic and its involvement a few pages in so I was expecting more once I hit the meat of the plot. The magic element is slowly enmeshed with Celaena’s life and Wyrdmarks (the magic in her world) gets mentioned more often as the book progresses. So by the time I start reading the sequel, magic should be in the foreground because it’s become crucial in light of the major events and history of the world.


Cons:

As some reviewers have said, it’s fantasy-lite. This saddens me be because this book had so much potential especially with those kickass fight scenes. There’s a bit of political intrigue but not enough to cover up the enormous backdrop of a romance. The whole story in fact, was dominated by the love triangle and I kind of got sick of it halfway through.

He wouldn’t be intimidated, even if she could grab that billiards cue and skewer him with it in a matter of seconds. “From your playing, it seems that you’re a great deal more than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said, trying not to get lost in her strange, lovely eyes, “I don’t think anyone who plays like that can be just a criminal. It seems like you have a soul,” he teased.
“Of course I have a soul. Everyone has a soul.”
She was still red. He made her that uncomfortable? He fought his grin. This was too much fun. “How’d you like the books?”
“They were very nice,” she said quietly. “They were wonderful, actually.”
“I’m glad.” Their eyes met, and she retreated behind the back of the chair. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought himself to be the assassin!

Friendships were weak and I did not have a full understanding of the plight of the nation and the extensive tyranny of the king. I expected more from what the book blurb had marketed but the novel also exceeded my expectations in other ways.
Throne of Glass was undercooked and could have been better structured without the gratuitous interactions between Celaena and her love interests.

“I’m getting a drink,” muttered Chaol, and walked away. She watched the captain for a moment. It would be a miracle if he considered her a friend. Dorian caressed her back, and she looked at him. Her heart jumped into a gallop, and Chaol dissolved from her thoughts, like dew beneath the morning sun. She felt bad for forgetting him—but . . . but . . . Oh, she wanted Dorian, she couldn’t deny it. She wanted him.
“You look beautiful,” Dorian said quietly, running an eye over her in a way that made her ears burn. “I haven’t been able to stop staring at you.”

At the same time, the novel acts as an intricate setup for the next book so I’m looking forward to more fantasy and high-amp risks.

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Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Crimson BoundCrimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I swear I’m not biased towards fairy tale retellings!! I SWEAR. This is the second book I’ve read by Rosamund and her storytelling has gotten more advanced. Her concepts were fresh and world-building was stellar in Cruel Beauty and this one is no exception. I especially love that this book is a stand-alone because a single fairy tale is not meant to be stretched out into trilogies. It’s a slight reprieve from the onslaught of trilogy releases and foretold next ‘Hunger Games’ books.

Crimson Bound is a spin on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood but it doesn’t feel that way throughout the book. The only time that I felt a twinge of that parallelism is during the first couple chapters and near the end. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since seasoned readers are looking for new ideas and are not looking to read a formulaic plot.

Pros:

  • The cover is similar to Cruel Beauty but is still unique and pleasing to the eye.
  • One of the strongest assets in the book is the conflict between Rachelle’s actions and intentions. She starts out as a naive little girl who has high hopes and a keen focus on her goals. This is in fact her folly because she dreams so big about defeating the ominous forest/woodspawns and is willing to go the extra length to do so. Within the first few chapters, she is shamed and defeated by her curiosity. By talking to the wolf, of course. Fast forward a couple years and she is now cynical and pursued by her angst. However, I warmed up to Rachelle through her persistence and staunch beliefs in what she believes is right. She is confident in her combat skills, prideful, and of course initially vitriolic upon first encounter towards her love interest. Armand is an interesting case among the romantics archetypes. Typical of many fairy tales, he’s a prince but he’s a bastard prince at that; he also has no hands. Someone cut them off a few months before Rachelle met him and part of the story revolves around how it happened and who did it. This was actually one of the plot twists that I did not see coming. It significantly improved the plot and turned an otherwise docile story into something stark raving mad and rabid. I loved it, as you can see.
  • Upon Rachelle’s story, a legend is also layered on to give the readers background information about the origins of the Devourer and the gods people worship. Although it’s corny, the villain’s name works because it’s simple and the Devourer is a mindless abyss rather than a sentient being. Think of Voldemort’s reincarnations in a way.
    The legend of Zisa and Tyr who finally bound up the Devourer and restored the sun and moon back to the sky turns out to be frighteningly real in this book. Zisa and Tyr are siblings who’re are offered up one as a sacrifice to the Devourer and the other to join the Devourer’s forces. Zisa is driven by her love for her brother to find ways to free him; her determination is the original story of courage, wit, and sacrifice.

ZISA CARRIED THE BONES TO A GREAT YEW TREE. Beneath its roots there was a cave, and in the cave there was a forge, and chained to the forge was a man with a smile like dried blood and glowing embers.
This was Volund, the crippled smith. He had once loved a forestborn maiden, and so much did he delight her that for seven years she stayed beside him. But one night she heard the hunting horns of her people and rose to follow them. Before she had taken three steps, he struck her dead.
In recompense, the forestborn hamstrung him, chained him, and made him undying as themselves, an everlasting slave to craft their swords and spears and arrows.
“Old man,” said Zisa, “I must have two swords made out of these bones.”
“Little girl,” said Volund, “I must obey the forestborn, but not you.”
“And when I am one of them, I will remember you said that,” she replied.
He laughed like a rusty hinge. “And much I have left for anyone to take from me. But you, I think, have the whole world to lose.” He looked her up and down. “I will make you a bargain. Give me the delights of your proud body twice, and I will make you two swords such as the world will never see again.”
There was nothing she would not do for her brother.

It serves as a backbone to Rachelle’s story when it shows how far she is willing to go to defeat the Devourer. Why does she want to defeat it? Are her intentions noble enough? As the story gradually continues, her purpose for seeking and destroying the Devourer shifts as she goes through revelations about the evil. It is an arduous struggle and I empathized with her anger, self-hate, and impatience in search for the two legendary swords. The legends played a huge role in enriching the world-building and it drew up great comparisons between the deeds of Zisa and those of Rachelle.

Cons:

  • The writing is artfully arranged most of the time but there are moments that I got confused due to rough transitions. Within one line, the author ends the day before I even realize it. There would be anecdotes about what Rachelle goes through but they are written clumsily because they seem stringed together.
    Writing a sequence of events is difficult but I did not feel a sense of time when the story jumped whole days or skipped a week nonchalantly with a sentence or two. This threw off the pacing of the book because I knew with effort and better editing, the storyline will coalesce well. Nonetheless, this is only a minor grievance that did not detract me from wholeheartedly investing in the mystery.
  • Rachelle and Amelie’s friendship is sort of a poor excuse when it’s formed on the basis of a You-saved-my-life-now-let’s-be-friends. It slightly laughable but it reminds me of Shrek and Donkey. I’m not saying friendships can’t be formed this way because it totally can and friends have been made through less efforts. However, this is where the affinity ends because they literally have nothing else in common. Amelie does Rachelle’s makeup which is sweet but that’s about it.
    I understand that this friendship is proof that not all humans hate bloodbounds. Bloodbounds are those who used to be human but have killed a human in order to survive the curse placed upon them by a forestborn. (All you need to know about a forestborn is that they are minions of the Devourer. But it’s more complicated and you’ll understand once you read the book. Read it!) This murder is what merits the hate they get from humans. This is seriously one of the most underdeveloped relationships I’ve seen in a book; it’s literally the same thing as Primrose Everdeen and Katniss Everdeen. Rachelle and Katniss are both willing to go to strenuous lengths to preserve Amelie/Primrose’s innocence and safety. A noble feat that alas fails…what? Did I just say something? Please ignore that if you haven’t read the books lol

Rachelle looked at her. She noticed the careful way that Amélie leaned toward her, closing the distance between them but not ever touching. She noticed that Amélie was biting her lip, the way she always did when she was nervous. She noticed that this was, in fact, her only friend.

She still couldn’t tell her anything. Maybe it was foolish, but she had spent three years trying to shelter Amélie. She couldn’t bear to undo that now.

This reeks heavily of motherly authority and ideals of ignorance is bliss. Hasn’t anyone learned that confiding in your best friend is ultimately the only way to go if you wish to keep the friendship alive? Although I do think Rachelle is great as a character, she makes blunders and I forgive her so other characters should just as well forgive her.


Readers may not like Crimson Bound if they are looking for something that adheres closely to their beloved fairy tales. It is a dark tale that speaks volumes to today’s teens and the proclivities of the 21st century. If you’re ready for what’s next, I recommend this book. Otherwise, just stick to the classically sweet Beauty by Robin McKinley.

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