Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardguo

I’m finally back (for now lol)!!! And this time, with a review!! I finally found time to read and this was one of my most anticipated sequels for this year and let me tell, IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT. **No spoilers**


Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Crooked Kingdom was everything that I did not know that I wanted. Those subtle hints in the first book where readers shipped some people together…they have sailed. Bardugo knows how to pack a tense, action-filled adventure and I loved how the plot was almost like a mystery where small hints are dropped throughout the story and then a full-blown reveal occurs near the end. Typical, I know, but it is quite alluring and ingenious when it is done right. I’m so enamored by the writing because it has the right amount of detail, wit, and complexity. Half of the battle I have with reading is whether I enjoy the writing style.

And the characters. The book is told from different perspectives and it was easy to distinguish each voice as each character is so unique. We get a lot more background information and there were a few flashbacks that helped me understand the context of the current situation. They felt seamlessly written into the plot and I really enjoyed getting to know each character. I was frequently reminded that the cast were predominantly teenagers and it sort of changed my view on them. They were cynical but not to the point that it was unrealistic. They didn’t act like adults even if they sometimes planned like one. This made them much more tangible to me as genuine people. The antihero theme is now cropping up everywhere in literature and I really liked how the book portrayed its cast. There were delineations of exactly who the bad guys were but the good guys weren’t exactly cookie-cutter perfect. Kaz makes a lot of difficult choices and tries to change for the better, but his scars run deep and he lets no one close. I would love to have a spin-off about Kaz’s future because he has so much potential impact that’s tied with Ketterdam’s fate.

The story line was flawlessly intertwined with subplots and small snippets of anecdotes scattered throughout. The world-building has been impeccable from the start so there was an obvious shift in focus onto character development and Ketterdam. I would categorize the book into scenes of confrontations, conning, and scheming. Even on the downtime when plans were coming into play, I was heavily invested and engrossed by the interactions. The plans were very meticulous that I felt muddled sometimes because I would lose track of which roles each character would take. However, that is something an author must sacrifice in order to accommodate a wide range of characters. Honestly, this book would be so fun to read again just to watch how events unfold.

Shout out to Henry Holt for the pre-order gift! Slice and dicee

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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: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

That was a spectacular story packed with so much action, ferocity, and amazing twists.
I’ve noticed over the years how my pet peeves and certain tropes have tended to make me biased. This is a biased review. This book is not perfect and it’s bound to contain a lot of flaws since it’s a whopping 650 pages long. And let me tell you, it will take a while to get through but the time it takes to read will fly by.

Spoilers for previous books ahead:

I’ve always placed the utmost importance on plotting and there was so much going on that I’m awed by how the author still manages to squeeze a lot of character development in. There’s new characters introduced and things have definitely changed while Aelin was away in Wendlyn. One of the first things that stood out to me was how Chaol became so embittered. Right from the beginning of Aelin and Chaol’s interaction, I noticed how he acted as if he had a chip on his shoulder; well, that was new. Of course, he went through many losses, heartbreak, and exile but while it only made Aelin stronger, he did not seem to recover to it. This peeved me because the author wrote such a dynamic character who had a lot to figure out but he was not consistent in Queen of Shadows. He felt like a completely different person molded to fit the author’s purpose. He was no longer a staunch supporter of Aelin as he had been in Crown of Midnight. Is this because Rowan replaced his role? I think so. Basically, he was not needed anymore. He’s still important, of course, but he’s pushed to the sideline since he has no magic whatsoever to boast of so he’s practically useless.

Now on to the juicy, good stuff:
There’s a lot of action, devious planning, and underhanded tactics going on. Whereas I had thought the struggle to be two-way, it turns out there were hidden enemies (King of the Assassins, anyone) that emerged to trouble/help Aelin. Adarlan is plagued with debauched characters and I liked how Aelin showed her dogged determination and cunning when she dealt with them. From what Chaol and the title hinted at, it seems that Aelin is more of an anti-hero than the standard YA heroine. She kills but her methods are orthodox to her upbringing which means it’s super gory, unladylike, and very polarizing. Readers like me drank it up like crazy because we finally have a ‘fire-breathing bitch queen’. The author pulls all the punches and there line between good and evil becomes blurred. In order for Aelin to keep up with her enemies, she has to be more ruthless than them and always one step ahead. Despite the facade she carried, it’s very obvious that she’s tired and heavily burdened. That’s why I’m ecstatic that the supporting characters who join her court are strong and able to take care of her.

I’ve been wondering when Aelin would receive the tight-knit group of rebels that she sorely needed. She lost Sam and then she lost Nehemia. Dorian had bigger things to worry about than her, and Chaol wasn’t able to monitor her well, so thank goodness for her new court! The plot flowed very well because it was driven heavily by the characters and anyone who’s read these books will know how active the characters are. Especially Aelin who is always scheming; she’s still overly protective of her friends so that means there’s so many plans going on right under their nose.

There’s also Manon Blackbeak who had worried me initially due to the moral direction she seemed to take. For those who had anticipated a convergence of these two’s perspective, rest assured because they do meet. Albeit it was a bit delayed than expected since they didn’t meet at all in HoF, the culmination of the wait is well worth it. I enjoyed how diverse these two’s personalities are and yet how similar their upbringings were. I loved the quote “You were made, made into monsters.” It’s like two sides of the same coin because Manon is a witch and Aelin is a fae and yet they are both very fierce and loving in their own right. Manon becomes more fleshed out and readers learn more about her Second and Third-in-Command. It’s a moving story, actually and I enjoyed her point of view much more than I did in Heir of Fire.

Also, bless Kaltain, one of the most underrated characters in the first book! She’s a sort of anomaly because she is one of the people who was truly discarded and forgotten about. I’m glad the author included her in QoS because she wasn’t necessarily a bad character in ToG and I wondered what was happening to her. Let’s just say she’s stronger than anyone anticipated and she knows more than she lets on. There’s a lot of female empowerment especially with Lysandra who is a blast from the past for Aelin. I really liked her because she defied all stereotypes and female norms sanctioned in place for a woman of her ranking. She’s a prostitute and yet she has a free will along with her own motives. When Aelin lost Nehemia, Lysandra was the perfect person to heal the scars in her heart.

I think a lot of people have been holding out hopes for a Rowan cameo. He’s there, alright. I like him more because he’s become more expressive. However, I think it’s a bit unrealistic because he was formally so cold towards Aelin. Now he is like a cinnamon roll but he’s still deadly.

Conclusion:

Magic is very powerful. The plot contained a lot of twists and turns that I myself didn’t even see coming. A lot of mysteries were uncovered and we find out why affairs are the way they were. So there actually was more to the king than I thought. Seriously, I just assumed he was an ambitious young man who simply turned greedy and evil from power.

Spoiler (highlight to see but DON’T LOOK IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK YET):So the talking skull knocker didn’t mention the duke following the king down to explore the tombs! I’m wondering what’s going on because that’s super fishy since that means Elena also withheld that bit of crucial information. ~

Anyways, please comment your thoughts on the book and let me know what you think.
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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!

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: Review

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bitterblue is the third book in the Graceling Realm and focuses on the eponymous heroine who had to rule a kingdom that was crippled by her sadistic father. I read this book last year and I want to talk more about it because it has made a lasting impact on how I perceived the fantasy genre.

Where to start…this is a book that deals with the heavy ramifications of mind rape and the resulting extended manipulation that continuously traumatizes the victims. Although this is a fantasy book about wild creatures, a kingdom, queen, and politics, it is much more than an fairy tale. The people handle serious issues and suffer from mental instability after the culprit of these disorders is long dead. The people’s state of minds and lives are the inner conflicts of the story. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made me click with the characters. I connected with the starkness, pain, mind-boggling mystery, and torture centralized in each character. At the root of the whole book are the unanswered questions that can be uncovered in the people’s minds and past. The answers are steeped in the suffering people themselves, the ones remember and know it all but are trying to forget and frantically bury.

Bitterblue has gaps in her memory but her advisers, soldiers, clerks, castle people all on the other hand, seem to retain the most grisly of theirs. Everyone is filled with secrets and unwilling to tell because they’re afraid to bring up the pain of the past. The chaos all stems from Leck and ends with Leck. The author did not have to fill the pages with gore or gritty details in order to convey to readers the extent of damage Leck wreaked. Over the course of 35 years, one man has single-handedly managed to destroy the fragile psychological minds of his citizens. Even the young ones like Hava, Teddy, and Bitterblue especially do not escape. Bitterblue must sever his legacy but at the least same time reveal the truths during his reign in order to lay to rest the ghosts of her childhood and people.

The book differs from the typical fantasy novel because it’s not an action-driven plot filled with assassinations, political intrigue, and war. Although all these fantastical elements are present in the novel, the foremost priority is the mystery and exploring the full extent of Leck’s reach and damage which still causes people to do crazy things years after his death. There are so many questions that Bitterblue brings up, countless others that people are unwillingly to ask. What is the purpose of Leck’s experiments. Where are his experiments? Who are his experiments? Why? How? The whole concept of his torture and fascination with animals and people alike is sickening, yet engrossing as I dive further into the book and learn more about it. The truth, when it is finally unveiled, is simply horrifying and just traumatizing; however, it galvanizes the road to healing. Ever since she became queen, Bitterblue discover most of her people only eager to forget and burn the history. Not everything is well in the end and in life, nothing is. But there’s so much hope and happiness that might appear in the future. I want a fourth book! A few things are still unsolved and I wish I could see Bitterblue fully mature into a greater confident woman.


Side Note/Commentary:

The fantasy genre is such a hard category to break into specifically because it’s already brimming with so much talent and also landmines. The obvious danger of writing fantasy is that the world-building needs to be built on a solid foundation that can support the story. A half-baked world makes for a half-assed story so I felt splendid returning to Cashore’s rich, vibrant kingdoms. There’s also bonus pictures in the back of the book that illustrates the multiple bridges the king forced the architect to build during his reign. And, of course, we have a map imprinted to give us the idea of where Bitterblue’s kingdom is situated and its relations with the neighbors.

Winged Bridge

There’s something so daring and empowering about having a strong female character that does not need a lover by her side or feel any need to marry anytime soon. Women were not commodity and no one questioned Bitterblue’s authority due to her gender. Her age (16) was brought into discussion and since she’s so young, a lot of characters tried to protect her by keeping her in ignorance. A lot of turmoil she feels is her struggle to come to terms with the fact that her mother was tortured extensively along with her servants. She reads Leck’s diary to find out where all the dead people were buried. The end is really bittersweet but the whole plot was driven by Bitterblue’s actions so kudos to female ACTION and PoWeR!

I was somewhat disappointed to know that Bitterblue was not really a sequel for Graceling (the first book) because the main characters were no longer Katsa and Po although they do appear sporadically throughout this book. But then, I’ve come to realize that Kat doesn’t need a continuation and maybe it’s better off to leave it as it is instead of dabbling in her affairs and missions. The author knows when to quit or specifically, knows to not stretch out content thinly just to cover more pages. *cough cough* Mockingjay parts 1 and 2 movie?! Twilight SAGA*cough choke* Less can be better and that’s why I’m satisfied. The story may be open-ended and it’s been a couple years since Cashore’s last book and sure, I don’t mind a sequel but the Graceling Realm functions just fine.

This trilogy introduced me to an intriguing side of fantasy, one that wasn’t a rip-off of Harry Potter and it taught me that there was more to offer. The imagination was not exhausted and fantasy was not all the same with battles of steel and blood. I found out that I liked books with medieval touches, monarchy, and castles…a lot. Although Paolini’s The Inheritance Saga (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, read them all except for that damn final book I got rotting away at home) was good, the countless battle scenes started blending together and the plot whittled farther from me. I became so enchanted that nowadays, I think about buying a ticket to go to Medieval Times LOL. Anyways, most of the books I read nowadays is fantasy and I happened to neglect my science fiction TBR pile because I just can’t seem to move away from fantasy!!

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