#BeatTheBacklist Book Review: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

#BeatTheBacklist Book Review:  A Storm of Swords by George R.R. MartinA Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3) by George R.R. Martin
four-half-stars
Series: A Song of Fire and Ice #3
Published by Bantam on March 4th 2003
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 1177
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. And as opposing forces manoeuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords…

MY REVIEW

A giant review for a giant book!  Wow, where to even start with this 1,100+ page beast of a book?  First of all, I’m ecstatic that I finally finished it because A Storm of Swords has been sitting on my bookshelf begging me to read it for nearly two years.  I kept looking at all of those pages and putting it back thinking of how many other books I could read in the time I knew it would take me to tackle that many pages.  I’m so glad I finally gave in and decided to tackle it in 2017 because HOLY COW, what a book this is! Definitely my favorite of the series thus far!

It’s so hard to write reviews of books midway through a series because there’s just so much to gush, rant and rave about, but I don’t want to spoil anything for someone who is just starting the series.  Here’s my attempt to lay out what I loved about A Storm of Swords as close to spoiler free as I can make it. If you’re truly worried about spoilers, just stop here knowing that the book is phenomenal and incredibly important in terms of character growth.  Otherwise, keep reading…

As always, the level of intensity of this story is off the charts as each of our major players continue their quest for the Iron Throne.  This installment of the series is filled with betrayals, epic action scenes, and more deaths than I can even begin to count, including one death that is sure to leave readers jumping for joy!  There are also ill-fated weddings, a trial by combat, and much, much more.  And don’t even get me started on the world building!  Martin’s description of the Seven Kingdoms is, without a doubt, some of the best world building I’ve ever read. He is right up there with J. R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series.

 In spite of all of that, however, what makes A Storm of Swords such a stand out for me are the characters and how Martin shapes them in this book.  I keep telling myself not to get attached to any of these characters because George R.R. Martin has no qualms about killing any of them off.  Even knowing no characters are off limits in this deadly ‘game of thrones’, Martin just creates such realistic, complex, and utterly flawed characters that you can’t help but become invested in them anyway.  With this third book, I found myself growing even more attached than ever to Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth, and Jaime Lannister (Yeah, I know. I can’t believe Jaime is on my list either, haha!)

LIKES

Arya.  Even though she’s still basically just a little girl, Arya is tough as nails, able to hold her own against pretty much anyone out there, and has learned to handle a sword with the best of them.  She has a long to-do list of names of people she plans to kill in revenge for what has been done to her family. I love that she periodically recites the list, just to make sure she doesn’t forget anyone, and my money’s on Arya to actually kill everyone she wants to kills and to somehow beat the odds and make it through to the end of the series alive.  My favorite moment of this book is the unexpected moment when she actually teams up with her nemesis, the Hound, and they fight together and then end up traveling together.

Sansa.  Sansa shows growth as well in the sense that she has become worldlier and less naïve, especially when it comes to King Joffrey and the Lannisters.  Even though at one time she thought she would be married to him, she knows all of that is over now and that she is nothing to the Lannisters but a pawn in this game they’re all playing.  In this book, she finds herself wed to another man, one who is probably the last person she would have chosen for herself and then ultimately on the run, accused of a crime she did not commit.  As much as I like Sansa, I feel differently about her than I do Arya.  Where I think Arya is a kick ass warrior in the making, with Sansa, I just always end up feeling pity for her because she seems to go from one bad situation to the next, with little or no reprieve.  I fear that she may end up a casualty unless she continues to grow stronger and stand up for herself more.

Jon Snow.  In a lot of ways, Jon Snow really comes into his own in this book.  After spending much of the first two books lamenting about how he isn’t worthy of anything because he’s just the bastard son of Ned Stark, Jon rises to the occasion and does big things here. My favorite moments for him were when he took the lead in defending the Wall by first infiltrating the barbaric Wildlings to spy on them for the Night’s Watch and then later returning to the Wall and leading the Night’s Watch in their defense of it .

(Speaking of the Wall, there are some absolutely epic battle scenes here as forces converge on the Wall and try to break through.  You’ve got the Others, who are basically the supernatural equivalents of the Walking Dead, and they are nearly unstoppable. Then you’ve also got Wildlings attacking, and Giants riding on mammoths barreling through.  It was never entirely clear to me just how serious the Night Watchmen’s oath to defend the Wall was until this book and these scenes.    What lies beyond the Wall is truly terrifying!)

Tyrion Lannister.  Tyrion, or the Imp as he is known, has always been somewhat of a sentimental favorite of mine.  Even though he’s a Lannister, who are probably the most hated out of all of the families in contention for the Iron Throne, Tyrion has always been somewhat of an outcast in his own family simply because he’s a dwarf.  He tries to protect Sansa when he sees Joffrey and others abusing her, and overall he just seems to have a good heart.  What really stood out for me in this book though is that Tyrion finally seems to have had enough of being shamed and name-called by his own family, by those people who should love and care for him even if everyone else is against him. And he snaps, revealing a much darker nature to his character than we have seen up until this point.

Daenerys.  There’s not much to be said here other than, like Arya Stark, Daenerys, the exiled Queen, goes full on badass in this book.  She’s coming for her throne and she has dragons(!) and an army, so everyone in her path had better watch out!  This was particularly exciting to me because I thought her story was kind of lame in the second book.  Martin more than makes up for it here though. Talk about strong female characters!

Brienne of Tarth.  God, I love this character so much! I love her strength and her fierceness and that she defies gender stereotypes. Most of all though, I admire her loyalty.  In a series that is so full of betrayal and deceit, Brienne is just so refreshing in that if she swears an oath, she is determined to keep that oath no matter the cost.  In this installment, she has sworn to Catelyn Stark that she will take their prisoner, Jaime Lannister, and journey to King’s Landing to return him to his family in exchange for Catelyn’s daughters, whom they believe the Lannisters are holding.  This journey doesn’t quite go according to plan and they face many unexpected obstacles, but Brienne never gives up.  As Jaime says on numerous occasions, she is the most stubborn woman he has ever known.  Brienne’s exchanges with Jaime are some of my favorites in the book.  They are humorous at times, but ultimately Brienne earns Jaime’s respect. And Jaime showing Brienne the respect she deserves actually serves to humanize Jaime quite a bit as well (although it did bother me how much he focused on her looks and couldn’t stop thinking about how ugly he thought she was).

Jaime.  Speaking of Jaime, how brilliant is George R.R. Martin that he actually turned one of my least favorite characters into one of my favorites this book?  If you had told me after the first book when Jaime throws a young boy out of a window and cripples him, that he would go on to become a character that I liked, I would tell you that you had bumped your head, but yet here we are.  Martin introduces Jaime’s point of view in this third book and as we see things from Jaime’s perspective, we suddenly understand that many of his actions along the way have not been as ruthless and unjustified as they initially seemed.  What he did to the boy is still unforgivable, but he has a lot more honor and integrity than we were originally led to believe.

DISLIKES?

My only complaint about this book is the length. Yes, the world building is incredible, but Martin does spend a lot of time describing details that probably could have easily been left out (i.e. bodily functions and whatnot).  I caught myself a few times along the way contemplating ways that the book could have been shortened without losing any important details.

FINAL THOUGHTS?

Just because these books are such a time investment, it will probably be a while before I move on to the fourth book in the series. That said, A Song of Fire and Ice is still one of the most brilliant fantasy series I’ve ever read and one that I would recommend to any mature reader.  I would not recommend it for younger readers because of the levels of graphic violence and sex.

 

RATING:  4.5 stars

four-half-stars

About George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin was born September 20, 1948, in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father was Raymond Collins Martin, a longshoreman, and his mother was Margaret Brady Martin. He has two sisters, Darleen Martin Lapinski and Janet Martin Patten.

Martin attended Mary Jane Donohoe School and Marist High School. He began writing very young, selling monster stories to other neighborhood children for pennies, dramatic readings included. Later he became a comic book fan and collector in high school, and began to write fiction for comic fanzines (amateur fan magazines). Martin’s first professional sale was made in 1970 at age 21: “The Hero,” sold to Galaxy, published in February, 1971 issue. Other sales followed.

In 1970 Martin received a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, graduating summa cum laude. He went on to complete a M.S. in Journalism in 1971, also from Northwestern.

As a conscientious objector, Martin did alternative service 1972-1974 with VISTA, attached to Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation. He also directed chess tournaments for the Continental Chess Association from 1973-1976, and was a Journalism instructor at Clarke College, Dubuque, Iowa, from 1976-1978. He wrote part-time throughout the 1970s while working as a VISTA Volunteer, chess director, and teacher.

In 1975 he married Gale Burnick. They divorced in 1979, with no children. Martin became a full-time writer in 1979. He was writer-in-residence at Clarke College from 1978-79.

Moving on to Hollywood, Martin signed on as a story editor for Twilight Zone at CBS Television in 1986. In 1987 Martin became an Executive Story Consultant for Beauty and the Beast at CBS. In 1988 he became a Producer for Beauty and the Beast, then in 1989 moved up to Co-Supervising Producer. He was Executive Producer for Doorways, a pilot which he wrote for Columbia Pictures Television, which was filmed during 1992-93.

Martin’s present home is Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (he was South-Central Regional Director 1977-1979, and Vice President 1996-1998), and of Writers’ Guild of America, West.

Book Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #2)

Book Review:  Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #2)Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2) by Marissa Meyer
four-half-stars
Series: The Lunar Chronicles, #2
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 5th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 454
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

My Review of Scarlet:

The Lunar Chronicles series is definitely one of the most original and entertaining retellings I’ve come across in recent years.  As was the case when I read Cinder, I totally flew through the 450+ pages of Scarlet in just a couple of day because the story being told is just so darn good!  I also love that even though this series is a fairytale retelling, it doesn’t really feel like we’re just rehashing a story that has already been told.  Meyer may use those fairytale characters as the jumping off point for her story and may incorporate a few elements here and there — like little shoutouts to those fairy tales – but her story is truly an original.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before and I love that freshness about it.

As you can probably guess from the title, Scarlet is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, with Scarlet in the Red Riding Hood role (complete with fiery hair and a little red hoodie that she loves to wear).  As with the original Red Riding Hood tale, there is also a grandmother who is in danger, as well as a wolf (well, a character named Wolf anyway).  From there, as I said, the story takes off on a completely original path that eventually ties it in to Cinder’s story from the first book in the series.

Things I Loved:

Strong Women:  I have to say I loved Scarlet every bit as much as I loved Cinder.  They’re quite different from each other in the sense that Scarlet tends to be more brazen and rash than Cinder, but bottom line, they’re both fiercely protective of those they love and are determined to stop anyone who means them harm.  It’s great to have these two strong, smart females leading the series.

The Plot Thickens:  I especially loved how effectively Meyer begins this second book with a whole set of new characters and a whole new storyline.  Scarlet is trying to find out what has happened to her grandmother, who has mysteriously gone missing early on in the book.  Along the way, Scarlet meets this odd Wolf character and enlisted him to help her.  As their story unfolds, Meyer weaves the tale in such a way that it seamlessly entwines with the storyline from the first book in the series, and all of the major players in both books end up working together.

Chemistry:  Let me start here by saying that I think The Lunar Chronicles series so far has been, for me anyway, the perfect mix of action and epic adventure with a hint of romantic potential thrown in to spice things up.  I found Scarlet and Wolf to be just as likable as a potential pairing as I did Cinder and Prince Kai from the first book.

What kind of surprised me though was how much I LOVED newcomer “Captain” Carswell Thorne. who was charming in his own roguish, kind of clueless way and who often provided a bit of comic relief throughout the story.  I think he’s meant to be a minor player, but in many ways, he steals the show as soon as he appears in the story when Cinder comes across him trying to download porn in prison.  He and Cinder accidentally cross paths after Cinder is imprisoned at the end of the first book, and they decide to break out of prison together.  Adventure ensues (as well as a great deal of chemistry, in my opinion).  Even though Cinder clearly has feelings for Prince Kai, I actually have to confess that I found myself shipping her a bit with Thorne.  I’m probably the only reader on the planet who did, but I just loved their banter and found their interactions to be a lot more natural and realistic than I found those between Cinder and Kai in the first book.  I’m curious to see who, if anyone, Cinder ends up paired with, but at this point, I’d be cool with either Thorne or Kai.

Plot Twists:  I don’t want to give any important plot details away, so I’m just going to say that If you like plot twists, you’ll love Scarlet then because it’s full of them!  All I’ll say is that if you thought the idea of Cinderella as a Cyborg was WOW!, wait until you see how Meyer pays homage to the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood.  It’s mind blowing!

Anything I Didn’t Love:

Queen LeVana:  Ugh, I also didn’t think it was possible to loathe Queen LeVana anymore than I did in Cinder, but yep, it’s definitely possible.  She is just pure evil and I can’t wait to read the next book in hopes that Cinder, Scarlet, and their companions finally take her down once and for all.

 

Final Thoughts?

If you’re looking for a truly unique read, definitely give The Lunar Chronicles a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

 

Rating:  4.5 stars

four-half-stars

About Marissa Meyer

meyer

“One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed.

When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. Those so inclined can still find my first stories at fanfiction.net. Writing fanfic turned out to be awesome fun and brought me in contact with an amazing group of fanfiction readers and writers. As Alicia Blade, I also had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007).

When I was sixteen I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma, Washington, affectionately termed “The Spag.” (Random factoid: This is also the restaurant where my parents met some 25 years before.) I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University (which you can learn more about here). After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader.

Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER was my first completed novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around, too.

I married my husband in 2011, two months before the release of Cinder, and we adopted our two beautiful twin daughters, Sloane and Delaney, in 2015. Reading lots and lots of bedtime stories is most definitely a new favorite pastime.”

Marissa Meyer in her own words, from www.marissameyer.com

ARC Review of The Bone Witch

ARC Review of The Bone WitchThe Bone Witch (The Bone Witch, #1) by Rin Chupeco
two-half-stars
Series: The Bone Witch #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on March 7th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

My Review:

The Bone Witch follows the story of a young witch named Tea (pronounced Tay Uh).  Tea wants to train to become an asha.  There are several different kinds of asha, all of whom can weave spells to a certain degree using elemental magic, with the rarest of all ashas being the Dark Asha, or Bone Witches, who have the power to raise the dead.  When Tea accidentally raises her brother from the dead at his funeral, she realizes that she is one of those rare dark asha.  She is then removed from her home and sent to train with an older, more experienced dark asha because she must be trained how to wield the dark asha magic.

 

What I Enjoyed:

What I enjoyed the most about The Bone Witch was Chupeco’s writing and her world building.  – the way Chupeco describes these ashas with their elaborate costumes, their gorgeous jeweled hairpins, their graceful movements, and their painted faces had me envisioning magic-wielding geishas.  The descriptions were just so vivid and beautiful.

I was also really into the story early on because it had such a unique premise.  I loved the idea that there were so many different kinds of ashas, each with their own unique abilities, and I was also intrigued by the idea that the dark asha’s magic was often feared in the various kingdoms, which we witnessed throughout Tea’s training.  I loved the air of mystery it lent to the dark asha.

I was also especially into the story because Tea’s newly resurrected zombie brother now basically follows her around everywhere she goes and is considered her familiar.  It’s totally cute (in a creepy sort of way).

I think my favorite part about the story was how it was structured.  In between the chapters that take us with Tea through her early days of training to be a dark asha, we are given small teasers of Tea in the future.  In these teasers, what we see is that Tea has been exiled to a deserted island and is plotting revenge against those who sent her there.  As part of her revenge, she is also using her dark magic and skeletal remains that are on the island to build herself an army of undead beasts.  These teasers really help to build up the suspense as we’re left to wonder 1) what in the world Tea could have done that was bad enough to yield such a punishment for her and 2) wow, how powerful is her magic that she can build such a monstrous army to unleash on her enemies?  You just know as your reading those teasers that we’re in store for something huge as we continue reading about younger Tea’s training.

What I Didn’t Like:

My biggest issue with The Bone Witch is that even though I loved the descriptive writing, overall there was just too much description and not enough action.  Once Tea found out she was a bone witch and left to begin her training, it just didn’t feel like much else happened. Tea spends what feels like forever working as some kind of indentured servant before she actually even starts training. Then once it is determined she can finally start training, more time is spent describing a shopping spree to buy her the proper robes (referred to as hua) and jeweled hairpins than is spent describing what she’s learning.

Then once the story does start to focus more on the training, we have long descriptions of dance moves she is learning and instruments she is learning to play and we just breeze through other elements of the training, like fighting, that probably would be more interesting.  As much as I loved the descriptive passages early on, I really started to get bored with the lengthy descriptions of the patterns on asha’s hua.  This continued to be an issue for me throughout the book.  Every outfit that each asha wore was described in such great detail, but in comparison, a terrifying attack that kills 20 soldiers is just a blip on the radar. It seemed like, in so many cases, the main action of the story really took a backseat to descriptions of items that didn’t seem nearly as important.

Who Would I Recommend The Bone Witch to?

I think I would recommend The Bone Witch to readers who don’t mind a very slow build to what could perhaps end up being a truly phenomenal series.  Those teasers that we get of Tea on the deserted island hint that big things are going to happen and those big things are going to be pretty darn exciting.  Even though I was disappointed with the lack of action in this first book, I definitely see myself continuing with the series because I feel like the second book has the potential to be a great read.

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and Rin Chupeco for providing me with an e-galley of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Rating:  2.5 stars

 

two-half-stars

About Rin Chupeco

Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. Dances like the neighbors are watching.  She is represented by Rebecca Podos of the Helen Rees Agency.

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

Book Review:  A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2) by Sarah J. Maas
four-half-stars
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #2
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 624
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

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

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

My Review:

I have to confess I’ve been putting off reading A Court of Mist and Fury, partly because I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses so much that I just didn’t think the second book could possibly live up to the impossibly high expectations I had for it.  I finally broke down and read it this week for the Beat the Backlist challenge I’m participating in and all I can say at this point is WOW and OMG, how long do I have to wait to get my hands on the third book?!

I had actually managed to avoid spoilers for ACOMAF so I had no clue what to expect going in and man, was I shocked! Based on the events of ACOTAR and the direction I was anticipating the series moving in, in my mind, this entire book was a giant plot twist.  And what a glorious plot twist it was! I truly loved pretty much everything about it.

Here are a few of the biggest highlights for me:

 

Rhysand!

Rhysand was actually one of my favorite characters from the first book and I remember lamenting that I wished there had been more of him in that story. Well, I got my wish in A Court of Mist and Fury because Rhysand and the Night Court feature prominently in this book.  As much as I adored him as the handsome but amusing rogue we met in A Court of Thorns and Roses, my love for him grew tenfold as we got to actually learn more about him and the sacrifices that he has made for his people.  He may present himself as a devilish figure, but there’s really just so much more to him than that.  He’s a fierce warrior, a loyal friend, and a compassionate ruler.

Theme of Female Empowerment:

The theme of female empowerment really resonated with me in this book.  As much of an epic romance as Feyre and Tamlin seemed to have in A Court of Thorn and Roses, they are clearly not the same two people they were after everything they went through “under the mountain” at the hands of Amrantha.  After nearly losing her, Tamlin becomes so overprotective of Feyre that their relationship takes a very unhealthy turn and he basically imprisons her in his home, perhaps the worst thing he could have done to someone who is already reeling from having been imprisoned and forced to do things she never thought she would have to do.  As sad as it was to see their relationship fall apart, I liked that Maas had Feyre make a conscious choice to walk away from the unhealthy relationship that is practically suffocating her.  I thought that was a positive message for Maas to send out there to her female readers.

And even though she does end up in another relationship, this time it’s a healthy relationship where she is allowed the freedom she needs and where she is treated as an equal, not as some pretty plaything that needs to be protected and sheltered.  Plus, it wasn’t as though she just rushed from one to the other; it took nearly the entire book for her to embrace the idea of beginning a new relationship.  I found the way the relationship developed to be very realistic and I really loved Feyre that much more once she evolved into an even fiercer version of the Feyre we met in the first book.  She’s a real badass by the end of A Court of Mist and Fury!

Rhysand’s team:

OMG, I love these guys so much!  One of the things that really makes a book work for me is when the author creates a fantastic group of secondary characters and Maas really outdoes herself here. ACOMAF probably has one of the best I’ve read in recent years with Mor, Cassian, Aziel, and Amren.  I loved the dynamic between them.  They could laugh and poke fun at each other in one breath, but when it mattered, they would clearly fight to the death to protect one another.  They are so much more than just the High Lord’s chosen team; they are his family.  Each character was so unique, fascinating, and so well fleshed out that I found myself wishing Maas would give each of them spin-off series of their own.  I’d totally read them if she did!

So Much Action!

I don’t want to give away any details, but this book clearly isn’t just about Feyre recovering from what happened to her in the first book and finding love with a different man than we were expecting her to.  If you like lots of action, epic battle scenes, unexpected betrayals, and lots of plot twists, you’re going to love this book because it’s all here.  The book starts off at a fairly slow and steady pace as we watch Feyre begin her recovery, but once she leaves Tamlin, the pace really picks up and by about the halfway point, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Anything I Didn’t Like: 

As I said, I loved pretty much everything about the book. That said, however, I was a little disappointed in the direction that Maas chose to take Tamlin in.  He wasn’t my favorite character by any stretch in the first book, but it bothered me that he was made so unlikeable in this one.   I kept wondering if that was really necessary.

Who Would I Recommend A Court of Mist and Fury to?

I’d recommend this book to pretty much anyone who enjoys fantasy that is filled with action, adventure, and complicated relationships.  I’d personally probably only recommend it to older readers of YA fiction just because it does contain some pretty graphic sexual encounters.  It’s a great read though so I’d highly recommend it to anyone else.

 

Rating:  4.5 Stars

four-half-stars

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, will release on September 6th, 2016.

She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Book Review:  Practical Magic by Alice HoffmanPractical Magic by Alice Hoffman
three-stars
Published by Putnam Adult on June 13th 1995
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 244
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  The bestselling author of Second Nature, Illumination Night and Turtle Moon now offers her most fascinating and tantalizingly accomplished novel yet — a winning tale that amply confirms Alice Hoffman’s reputation not only as a genius of the vivid scene and unforgettable character but as one of America’s most captivating storytellers.

When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts’ mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society.

But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes — in the form of a menacing backyard ghost — the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift — and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment — Alice Hoffman at her spectacular best.

My Review:

Practical Magic is the second book that I’ve read from Alice Hoffman. I read her 2016 release Faithful last fall and fell in love with it, so my sister, who is a huge Alice Hoffman fan, loaned me this book as well as several other Hoffman novels. I chose Practical Magic since it was the one I had heard the most about, primarily because of the movie of the same name.

Practical Magic tells the story of Sally and Gillian Owens, two sisters who are orphaned at a young age and are taken in by their eccentric aunts. We soon learn that the seeming eccentricity is actually magic and that the aunts are apparently witches of some sort.  They are, for the most part, shunned by the people in the community, unless of course, someone is desperately seeking help in the form of perhaps a love potion or some other magical concoction.  Superstitions abound when it comes to these aunts and, as Sally and Gillian now live with them, the superstitions soon surround them as well and they spend their time either being mocked relentlessly or else avoided entirely by their classmates.  That is, until they hit puberty and Gillian, in particular, becomes quite the magnet for boys.  Without even trying, she practically has them falling at her feet. At first, this comes across a little silly and over-dramatic until it clicks that these girls probably have some magical powers of their own that they’re unaware of.  Gillian eventually runs off with one of her many suitors and begins her adult life basically moving from city to city, following man after man when each relationship doesn’t ultimately work out.  Sally, who spent much of her time in Gillian’s shadow while she was living at home, eventually finds someone who falls madly in love with her as well and they live happily with the aunts and begin their own family. But then tragedy strikes and the young man is killed. Looking for a fresh start and a “normal” life for her children, Sally too leaves the aunts behind and moves to a new city.  Sally grieves for her dead husband for a long time but eventually starts to feel more like herself and starts living again. All goes smoothly until one fateful night when Gillian shows up on her doorstep unannounced, bringing a world of trouble with her.

 What I Loved:

What really stood out for me in Practical Magic, even more so than the actual magic, is the authentic portrayal of the sisterly relationship.  In these relationships, Hoffman is a master of really getting the reader inside the mind of her characters and then perfectly capturing all of the emotional complexities of what it feels like to have a sister: the love, the jealousy, the rivalry and competitiveness, the protectiveness and loyalty, and even the occasional disappointment that sisters feel for each other.  Sally is often jealous of Gillian because of her incredible beauty and her ability to attract male admirers without even trying.  When Gillian leaves home and basically falls man after man around the country, Sally is incredibly disappointed in her and is not at all happy when Gillian turns back up on her doorstep years later looking for help.  But ultimately that sisterly love and sense of loyalty wins out and Sally takes her sister in.  The relationship between Sally’s daughters, although a minor part of the book in comparison, is still portrayed with that same sense of authenticity.

I also really liked the book’s main theme, which centers around the importance of family.  No matter how hard Gillian and Sally try to avoid their past and escape from the embarrassment of being associated with their aunts and whatever magic they may possess, they still ultimately need them when the going gets tough.  And even though both girls basically abandon their aunts because of that embarrassment, the aunts come running, no questions asked, as soon as they hear the girls are in trouble and need their help.  Just like no matter how upset Sally is at Gillian for showing up on her doorstep and bringing trouble with her, she still loves her and would do anything for her, without question, even if it means turning her own life upside down.  That’s what family is all about.

When it comes to this theme, I actually found the synopsis of the book to be quite misleading.  Practical Magic is described as “funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic.” That’s not how I would describe the story at all.  While I did find it to be haunting and almost eerie at times, especially because of the trouble Gillian brings to town, I didn’t find the book to be especially humorous at all. As I’m sitting here thinking about the story, I can’t even recall a single funny moment actually.  And while the two sisters were definitely seeking love, I can’t say that I found this to be “shamelessly romantic” either.  The synopsis makes it sound like it’s going to be a light-hearted romantic comedy, but I found it to be a much heavier, more dramatic read, which for me is a good thing since I’m not typically big on romantic reads or chick lit of any kind.

Misleading blurb aside, another element of Practical Magic I loved was the writing itself.  Hoffman’s writing is just atmospheric and mesmerizing– vivid and lyrical – but without being overdone or overly wordy.  The writing doesn’t move at a fast pace, but the sentences just glide from one to the next, smooth as silk.  As I was reading this story, I kept wondering if she has ever written any poetry because if so, I’d certainly love to read it. I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful.  Below are a few sample lines from Practical Magic:

“Do you ever just put your arms out and just spin and spin and spin? Well, that’s what love is like; everything inside of you tells you to stop before you fall, but for some reason you just keep going.” 

“You can never tell about a person by guessing…that’s why language was invented. Otherwise, we’d all be like dogs, sniffing each other to find out where we stood.” 

“Some things, when they change, never do return to the way they once were. Butterflies for instance, and women who’ve been in love with the wrong man too often.” 

What I Didn’t Love So Much:

 I have to say that I didn’t particularly care for the way the novel was structured.  Instead of being broken into manageable chapters, it was organized into 4 or 5 lengthy sections.  Since the read isn’t a fast-paced read, I found myself getting a little bored at times and wanting to find a good stopping point.  Since there were so few natural breaks in the story, I often found myself just leaving off mid page at the end of a random paragraph because I’d just give up trying to make it to one of the breaks.  The section titles – Superstition, Premonitions, etc.  – were great in the sense that they really added to the book’s slightly supernatural atmosphere, but I still definitely would have preferred more chapters.

The structure also tended to make the different points of view more confusing to follow than I think they would have been if the story had been organized differently.  The point of view jumped back and forth quite a bit between the different characters so that I sometimes had to backtrack to see who I was reading about and, in some cases, to figure out if the event being depicted was in the present or if it was a memory.  I had that problem several times with Gillian as she kept randomly thinking back on her time with her abusive ex Jimmy.

Who Would I Recommend Practical Magic to?

From other reviews I’ve read, many readers who have watched the movie Practical Magic think that the movie is actually better than the book.  I haven’t watched the movie so I can’t attest to that, but I saw similar comments enough to say that I’d probably recommend the book to someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet.  Even with my issues with the way it was structured, I still found Practical Magic to be a solid and entertaining read with realistic characters and relationships but also with that little added magical twist to spice things up a bit.  It’s also such an atmospheric and, at times, almost spooky read that I kept wishing I had saved it to read in October.  It would make for an excellent Halloween read.

 

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Alice Hoffman

alice hoffman

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston.

Hoffman’s first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of twenty-three novels, three books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Hoffman’s advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman’s recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. Her most recent novels include The Third Angel,The Story Sisters, the teen novel, Green Witch, a sequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fairy tale, Green Angel. The Red Garden, published in 2011, is a collection of linked fictions about a small town in Massachusetts where a garden holds the secrets of many lives.

Hoffman’s work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay “Independence Day,” a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her teen novel Aquamarine was made into a film starring Emma Roberts. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Times, Architectural Digest, Harvard Review, Ploughshares and other magazines.

Toni Morrison calls The Dovekeepers “.. a major contribution to twenty-first century literature” for the past five years. The story of the survivors of Masada is considered by many to be Hoffman’s masterpiece. The New York Times bestselling novel is slated for 2015 miniseries, produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, starring Cote de Pablo of NCIS fame.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things was released in 2014 and was an immediate bestseller, The New York Times Book Review noting, “A lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances… Imaginative…”

Nightbird, a Middle Reader, was released in March of 2015. In August of this year, The Marriage Opposites, Alice’s latest novel, was an immediate New York Times bestseller. “Hoffman is the prolific Boston-based magical realist, whose stories fittingly play to the notion that love—both romantic and platonic—represents a mystical meeting of perfectly paired souls,” said Vogue magazine. Click here to read more reviews for The Marriage of Opposites.

ARC Review of Gilded Cage

ARC Review of Gilded CageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, #1) by Vic James
three-stars
Series: Dark Gifts, #1
Published by Del Rey Books on February 14th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

My Review:

Vic James’ debut novel Gilded Cage is a novel that I’ve been looking forward to reading for months now.  The premise – that a form of slavery is alive and well in England and that the ruling class uses magic to keep this unfair, dehumanizing system in place – intrigued me from the moment I first read the book’s synopsis and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publisher, and Vic James for providing me with an e-galley of Gilded Cage in exchange for my honest review.

So, what did I think of it?  Well, honestly, my thoughts about Gilded Cage are a bit all over the place.  There were definitely plenty of things I liked about the book, but that said, I also encountered a few problematic areas.

Let’s start with the good.

What I Liked:

Slavery vs. Rebellion:  I was intrigued by the class-based society where magic-wielding “Equals” ruled over a non-magical citizen body and where each member of the non-magical citizenry is required to submit to a decade-long period of servitude called ‘Slavedays.’  While serving a Slavedays term, an individual basically relinquishes all of his or her legal rights as a citizen and becomes a slave to the Equals until your ten years are up.  The concept of the Slavedays was quite fascinating because although the decade-long sentence of slave labor is mandatory, each citizen is able to choose when they serve their sentence. Some choose to serve fresh out of high school or college, while others choose to postpone it as long as they can. Families, if at all possible, are also allowed to serve their sentences together, and even if it’s not possible to keep all family members together, young children are required to be kept with a parent.

James’ readers get to see Slavedays up close and personal as we are introduced to some of the novel’s main characters, Luke and Abi Hadley, as they and their family members prepare to enter their Slavedays.  Older sister Abi has deferred her acceptance to medical school to go ahead and serve her sentence and, as part of her deal, has managed to secure her family a pretty decent gig serving out their Slavedays at Kyneston, a magnificent estate owned by one of the most prominent Equal families in England, the Jardines.  Compared to the alternative, a grungy, smog-filled industrial city called Millmoor, Kyneston sounds like a dream.  Things don’t go according to plan on the day they are supposed to depart for Kyneston, however, when what appears to be a clerical error separates Luke from the rest of the family and he is sent by himself to Millmoor.  We thus get to see both Millmoor and Kyneston as we follow both Luke and Abi on their very different journeys into Slavedays.

As expected, Millmoor is pretty much a nightmare filled with cruel supervisors, back-breaking labor, unhealthy food, and just an overall demoralizing atmosphere.  What I liked about seeing the inside of Millmoor though was that the reader is immediately presented with covert signs of rebellion.  I was so glad to see this because up until this point, I had been sitting here thinking “Why the heck are these citizens just voluntarily giving up ten years of their lives, selling off their homes and possessions, just because some uppity ruling class says that’s the way it is?”  It was great to see that some folks weren’t just lying down and taking it without offering any kind of resistance.  As Luke joins the resistance, we get to see more and more brazen acts of defiance and it’s pretty exciting to read and root for this band of underdogs that Luke has joined up with as they are clearly gearing up for a rebellion.

In contrast to the horrendous living and working conditions Luke and his fellow Millmoor inmates are  subjected to, Abi and her family are given fairly nice housing to live in at Kyneston, ample food to eat, and their workloads are quite manageable as well as respectable, especially considering they are serving the same kind of sentence Luke is.  Abi works as an administrative assistant to one of the Jardine brothers, her mother works as a nurse for an elderly family member, her father does maintenance work on vehicles on the property, and little sister Daisy is providing child care for Gavar Jardine’s daughter.  Apparently all Slaveday terms are not created equally.

Politics:  In addition to seeing that Slavedays is quite different depending on where you are assigned, we also get to see the flipside of things as we follow Abi and the rest of the family into the heart of Equal society and all of its political games.  I’m a bit of a political junkie anyway so I found the goings on within the Equals’ ruling body to be quite fascinating. There are apparently a lot of ambitious and ruthless people within the Equals. There are power plays to be Chancellor, a small but vocal faction who supports the abolition of Slavedays altogether, and all sorts of other exciting things at play as Parliament is in session.  If you’re into reading about politics and all of its behind-the-scenes machinations, there’s definitely a lot for you to enjoy in Gilded Cage.

Cloak and Dagger:  I also really liked how James kept me guessing as to what side many of the characters in Gilded Cage were even on.  It was never safe to assume any particular character was pro- or anti- slavery just based on their standing in society.  There were several jaw-dropping surprises throughout the novel as it became clear that the rebels weren’t necessarily who I thought they were.

What Didn’t Work for Me:

Too Many Points of View:  Where I’m somewhat conflicted about Gilded Cage has more to do with how the book is structured and the lack of explanation about certain key elements. First of all, there are so many points of view that without the book’s synopsis singling out three characters, I really had a hard time distinguishing who the main characters were supposed to be. You have the points of view of several members of each class –  Abi and Luke, who are regular citizens beginning their period of servitude, and then you have several points of view from those who are considered Equals, such as Silyen and Gavar Jardine, who are brothers in one of the most prominent Equal families. While it was definitely interesting to see the class dynamic and the rebellion from both sides, it just made for a confusing time trying to keep track of everyone and it also made it hard to really connect with any of the characters.

Why Are Characters Doing What They’re Doing?

Characters’ motivations also weren’t clear to me. Aside from the general wrongness is the idea of mandatory servitude, why is Luke so quick to jump on board with the rebellion? Even though we’re in his head seeing what he’s doing from his point of view, there is still no real explanation for why he starts participating. It’s basically just one minute he isn’t, the next he is.

There were similar instances with the Jardine brothers as well. Silyen is, by far, the most fascinating character in the book and all of his schemes are so intriguing. He almost appears to be playing both sides against the other, but it’s not entirely clear why he’s doing what he’s doing. Is he truly an abolitionist even though he’s an Equal? Is he trying to create chaos and disruption so as to stage a power play and overstep his older brother to become his family’s heir? I’m hoping all of this will be become clear in the next book because I definitely found Silyen to be the most interesting character in Gilded Cage.

Abi’s Inappropriate Flirtation:

So those who regularly follow my reviews know I’m not big on romances randomly being inserted into a storyline where it’s unnecessary.  To James’ credit, it does take a back seat to the rest of the action of the story but it’s still there so I have to comment – mainly because again, her motivations are unclear.  Abi works very closely with one of the Jardine sons and becomes attracted to him. First of all, it’s not appropriate since it would basically be a master-slave relationship. Second, she is supposed to be working diligently to try to get her brother out of Millmoor and back with them, so why is she sitting around letting herself get distracted by a cute boy?

I’m all about strong female characters so in this sense, Abi was kind of a letdown if she really is supposed to be one of the main characters. She does do something risky and heroic at the end of the novel though so I’m hopeful this means she will step up and be the strong character I want her to be as the series continues.

The Verdict:

All in all, I found Gilded Cage to be an entertaining if somewhat confusing read.  With a few of the kinks worked out regarding point of view and starting to explain why some of the characters are behaving as they are, it’s got the potential to be a great series.

Rating:  3 Stars

three-stars

About Vic James

Vic lives in London’s Notting Hill, but her life is more action-adventure than rom-com.

She studied History and English at Merton College, Oxford where Tolkien was once professor. Relocating to Rome, she completed her doctorate in the Vatican Secret Archives (they’re nothing like The Da Vinci Code), then spent five years living in Tokyo where she learned Japanese and worked as a journalist. She now writes full time.

Vic has scuba-dived on Easter Island, camped at Everest Base Camp, voyaged on one of the last mailboats to St Helena, hang-glided across Rio de Janeiro, and swum the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. But there’s little she loves more than lying in bed till midday with a good book and a supply of her favourite biscuits.

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

Book Review:  A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. SchwabA Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2) by V.E. Schwab, Victoria Schwab
five-stars
Series: Shades of Magic #2
Published by Tor Books on February 23rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 509
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

My Review:

What an incredible read! I could seriously kick myself for waiting so long to pick it up, especially considering how much I loved A Darker Shade of Magic, the first book in the series.

A Gathering of Shadows picks up about four months after A Darker Shade of Magic and what I really loved about it was how character driven the entire book is.  Of course it has an incredibly entertaining plot as well, with the Element Games tournament as well as a darker subplot which follows a character we thought we had left behind in the first book, but even with those storylines at play, what drives this book and makes it such a fabulous read are the psychological journeys of these characters and how much we get inside of their heads as they each deal with the fallout from the events of the first book.  The struggle of each of our favorite characters is palpable in A Gathering of Shadows as they are each desperately trying to figure out who they even are anymore because everything has changed for each of them.

What I Loved:

The Bond between Kell and Rhy:  The fallout from Kell binding his life to Rhy’s to save him in the first book really permeates through everything that takes place in A Gathering of Shadows.  Kell doesn’t regret saving Rhy for a single moment, but he is also miserable because he can’t live like he normally would for fear of harming Rhy in the process. In the early chapters, Schwab paints him almost as a restless tiger pacing in a cage.  He longs for action and adventure but is terrified of harming his brother in the process.  As we learn right away, this magical bond between Kell and Rhy is so strong that if Kell takes a punch, for example, Rhy can actually feel the pain as if it’s happening to him as well. Kell is also miserable because he can feel that the King and Queen, his “parents”, no longer trust him because of what happened in the first book.  Rhy, in his own way, is equally miserable because he knows the sacrifice Kell has made for him and he hates it because he can literally sense how trapped and miserable Kell feels.  Schwab has so vividly described this bond between the brothers that I just felt so horrible for both of them but also really appreciated that these two men, even though they are not brothers in blood, would truly sacrifice anything and everything for the other.

Speaking of Rhy, I also loved that we got to see so much more of him in this book.  His father is grooming him to take on more of a leadership role and so has him hosting the Element Games.  As much as I adored Rhy as the fun brother who often served to lighten the mood in A Darker Shade of Magic as he bantered with Kell, I loved seeing this more mature and responsible side of him as he represents  his country.

Delilah Bard: There’s no way I can talk about what I loved about this book without mentioning Lila.  I didn’t think it was possible to love her more than I did in the first book, but she really blew me away in this one and has become one of my favorite female characters of all time.  I actually found myself chuckling at her antics quite a bit in the opening chapters as we see that she has, in fact, realized her dream of becoming a pirate.  Lila has earned her spot on Alucard Emery’s privateer by proving — in typical Lila style – that she is the best thief around.  On a bet with a couple of Alucard’s crewmen, she actually scams her way aboard a rival pirate ship and then promptly attacks and takes it over.  I love that she’s such a badass and that she does whatever she needs to do in order to survive, even if it’s a bit morally questionable.  She has always been a survivor and a risk taker and in this book, she takes that to a whole new level as we learn that she has somehow managed to start mastering the elements of magic, which by most accounts, she should not have been able to do.  In many ways Lila is shocked at her own magical abilities and so she has somewhat of an identity crisis. Who or what am I and why can I do all of these things that I shouldn’t be able to do?  She spends much of the novel testing the limits of her abilities, including, securing by somewhat shady means, a position for herself as a competitor in the Element Games.

Alucard Emery:  What a fun new addition to the series Alucard Emery is.  Alucard is the captain of the ship Lila has ensconced herself on and the two of them have bonded tremendously as they’ve traveled the seas together.  Alucard is also quite the charmer. His banter, both with Lila and then later with Rhy, who it turns out he has a bit of history with (to Kell’s dismay), is just so much fun to read.  In many ways he becomes the mood lightener that Rhy was in A Darker Shade of Magic.

The Element Games (or Essen Tasch):  Just wow! In some ways this magical tournament reminded me of the Triwizard Tournament from the Harry Potter series – with its magicians visiting from two other countries to participate.  Rather than quests for each of the competitors, however, the Essen Tasch is more about using magic in combat.  Schwab does a magnificent job of bringing this tournament to life – each match is so vividly described that I felt like I was right there watching earth, air, fire, and water springing to life as commanded by each magician.  I also loved how meticulous Schwab is about developing the rules, disqualifiers, and other minute details of this tournament such as the costumes, masks, and props.  No details were left to chance and the whole tournament felt that much more authentic because of her efforts.  It was incredibly entertaining to read!

That Cliffhanger Ending!  OMG! I don’t want to give anything away here, but let’s just say that that dark subplot that has been lurking throughout the novel finally rears its ugly head at the conclusion of A Gathering of Shadows. I have to applaud Schwab’s ability to craft a masterful cliffhanger that has me desperately wanting to get my hands on the next book to make sure my favorite characters are going to be okay.

Anything I Didn’t Like?

That I don’t already have the third book in my hands because of that insane cliffhanger?! No, seriously, I cannot express how much I LOVED this book.  As annoyed as I am at myself for putting off reading it for as long as I did, in a way I’m grateful because now I only have to wait about a month for A Conjuring of Light.  I think I would have lost my mind if I had read this months and months ago and had such a long wait.

Who Would I Recommend A Gathering of Shadows to?

I would recommend this to anyone and everyone.  If you’re looking to get into the fantasy genre for the first time, I think this series is a fantastic place to start.  The world building is just so vivid but also relatable since it’s grounded in London, a city that is so familiar to most of us.  The characters are badass and yet also charming and fun and sometimes vulnerable.  Seriously, if you don’t fall in love with Kell, Lila, and Rhy, I’d be very shocked.  I’d also highly recommend this series to readers like me who tend to be somewhat cynical when it comes to romances.  So far this series has done a marvelous job of just hinting at potential relationships without having it take over the rest of the plot.  It’s very well-balanced in that sense, and so it earns extra high marks from me.

 

Rating:  5 Stars

 

 

five-stars

About V.E. Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria is the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Because of this, she has been known to say “tom-ah-toes,” “like,” and “y’all.”

She also tells stories.

She loves fairy tales, and folklore, and stories that make her wonder if the world is really as it seems.

ARC Review of Frostblood

ARC Review of FrostbloodFrostblood (Frostblood Saga, #1) by Elly Blake
three-half-stars
Series: Frostblood Saga, #1
on January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable, and she’s not sure she’s willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon.

All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to take part in the king’s tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.

Fast-paced and compelling, Frostblood is the first in a page-turning new young adult three-book series about a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies—but together create a power that could change everything.

 

My Review:

Elly Blake’s exciting debut novel Frostblood tells the story of a young woman named Ruby Otrera.  Ruby is what is known as a Fireblood, which means that she possesses unique magical abilities that center on fire and heat.  Rather than celebrate her powers and use them as she would wish to, however, Ruby has been raised to conceal and suppress her fire.  Why?  Because the land Ruby lives in is ruled by Frostbloods.  Frostbloods possess similar magical abilities to Firebloods; their powers are just ice rather than flame-based.  The Frostbloods also have a king who has a fierce hatred of Firebloods and wants to see them all destroyed.  Thus it is for Ruby’s own protection and survival that her family has never encouraged her to use her magic.

That all changes, however, when the Frost King sends men to Ruby’s village because they suspect a Fireblood is living there.  When someone betrays Ruby and reveals her to be the Fireblood, the King’s men end up killing Ruby’s mother when she stands in their way to protect her daughter.  In her anguish, Ruby unleashes her fire power on those who murdered her mother and ends up arrested and taken to prison.  Her stay in prison, however, is short-lived because a band of rebel Frostbloods come and break her out on the condition that she join them on their mission to kill the ruthless Frost King.  They believe that she alone, with her unique fire powers, can successfully complete this mission.  Because she desperately wants revenge against the man whose orders got her mother killed, Ruby agrees to be their assassin.  The rest of the novel follows Ruby as she first learns to master her powers in preparation for her mission and then later as she finds herself captured and imprisoned by the Frost King and forced to participate in his deadly tournaments, all the while biding her time and hoping for an opportunity to destroy him before he destroys her.

 

What I Loved about Frostblood:

One of the favorite parts of Frostblood was the use of Fire vs Ice.  Fire and ice imagery has always appealed to me so as soon as I saw that the magic in Frostblood was based on these elements, I knew I had to read the book.

As  soon as I started reading and watching the Frostbloods and Ruby the Fireblood wield their magic, I was immediately captivated.  The magic Elly Blake has created in her Frostblood world is not only mesmerizing and darkly beautiful, but it also vividly brings to mind one of my all-time favorite poems (quoted below for those who haven’t read it):

“Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire. I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate.

To say that for destruction ice. Is also great.

And would suffice.”

–“Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost

Aside from the incredible use of the fire and ice imagery, I also loved the epic fight scenes that Blake gives  us when the Frost King captures Ruby and forces her to participate in his tournaments.  The competitions are truly badass.  They are basically death matches between Firebloods and Frostbloods, but really can be between anyone or anything the King sees fit to pit against each other for his own amusement because at various times, we see him pit champions against ferocious animals and other assorted beasts.  The fights are sick and often pretty graphic, but they are also a pure adrenaline rush to read.  When I read them, especially the fights where Ruby was a participant, I kept envisioning gladiators fighting in the Colosseum in Ancient Rome.

 

Where I was Conflicted:

As much as I enjoyed these elements of Frostblood, there were still a few areas where I was conflicted.  Surprisingly enough, the main character Ruby is one of them.  I really did like Ruby.  She’s spunky and shows great determination against seemingly impossible odds, and I also had tremendous sympathy for her since her mother was murdered right in front of her.  As much as I liked her though, I did think she was a little cliché at times.  The feistiness and fiery temper seemed a somewhat predictable description for someone who basically has fire running through their veins.

I also found her frustrating.  She’s supposed to be mastering her powers and admittedly isn’t making great progress with her training, but yet she keeps letting herself get distracted by the mysterious Frostblood named Arcus.  I won’t go so far as to call it love at first sight since they seem to hate each other when they first meet, but considering what she is preparing to risk her life to go do, there is definitely way too much flirtation going on.  In that sense, she reminded me of Mare from Red Queen, who I also wanted to throttle for being more focused on her potential love interest than on her mission.

Speaking of Arcus, in some ways I actually found him to be a more compelling and less predictable character than Ruby.  Although he starts out as seemingly cliché with his frosty and arrogant manner, we soon learn (and so does Ruby) there’s a lot more to Arcus than initially meets the eye.  He’s much more human and vulnerable than the rest of his Frostblood counterparts seem to be.  I don’t want to give too much away about Arcus since he does play a major part in the novel’s climax, but I will say that as much as I disliked the flirting at inopportune moments early in the novel, the more I got to know more about Arcus, the more I liked him and the more supportive I felt toward his budding relationship with Ruby.  The gratuitous flirting definitely still irritated me, but overall I was very intrigued by the idea of the two of them together, especially since he’s a Frostblood and she’s a Fireblood and they should be mortal enemies.

I think where I was actually most conflicted about this book is that while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I still wished it had been more of a unique read.  Maybe I’ve just read way too many YA fantasy novels recently, but throughout my reading of Frostblood, I kept thinking “Wait, didn’t Mare in Red Queen go through that too?  Wait, this reminds me of Britta in Ever the Hunted who is scorned because of her magical powers”, etc.  It’s still a great read that I would recommend to pretty much any YA fantasy lover; I just wish Ruby had been more of a standout from all of the other YA heroines.  To Blake’s credit though, she does start to introduce a more unique element towards the end of the novel – the fact that Ruby does seem to have a bit of darkness within her.  We start to see it early on in Frostblood in her intense need for revenge against those who killed her mother, but that darkness takes on an entirely different dimension in the closing chapters of the story.  I thought it was fascinating to see a heroine grapple with such an inner darkness and I’m really hoping that Blake will continue to explore this aspect in the second novel of the series. I think that’s the more unique angle that would really take this series to the next level for me.

Who Would I Recommend Frostblood to?

I’d recommend Frostblood to anyone who likes a fast-paced YA fantasy read.  Frostblood was a quick and easy read for me. I was able to knock it out in just a couple of days and, even though, I wished for a little more originality at times, I was still entertained by the story the entire time.  I think readers who are newer to the genre would especially enjoy it, especially if you enjoyed books like Red Queen or Ever the Hunted.

Rating:  3.5 stars

 

three-half-stars

About Elly Blake

Elly Blake loves fairy tales, old houses, and owls. After earning a BA in English literature, she held a series of seemingly random jobs, including project manager, customs clerk, graphic designer, reporter for a local business magazine, and library assistant. She lives in Southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and a Siberian Husky mix who definitely shows Frostblood tendencies.

Her work is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media.

Book Review: Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

Book Review: Ever the Hunted by Erin SummerillEver the Hunted (Clash of Kingdoms, #1) by Erin Summerill
four-stars
Series: Clash of Kingdoms #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on December 27th 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:   Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.

 

My Thoughts:

What a fun read this was! Erin Summerill’s Ever the Hunted is one of those books that has something for everyone.  There’s fantasy and magic, there’s political intrigue and a King who is acting as though he’s gone mad, there’s adventure and danger, and yes, there’s even a bit of romance thrown in there as well. I don’t want to give away too many plot details but let me just say that you should only read Ever the Hunted when you don’t have any pressing real-life responsibilities to attend to – I made the mistake of starting it while getting ready for Christmas. I got so thoroughly sucked into Britta’s story that I ended up way behind in my Christmas preparations.  Cookies almost didn’t get baked, gifts were bought last minute, and I was down to the wire with getting all of my decorations up. Very stressful.  That said, it was totally worth it. Ever the Hunted is just that good!

Highlights for me:

The World Building and the System of Magic:   Summerill has set her novel in the kingdoms of Malam and Shaerdan.  These neighboring kingdoms are on the brink of war with each other, so tensions are running high all around when the novel begins.  Summerill does a wonderful job of conveying that sense of tension every step of the way. You can just feel that war is about to break out at any moment.  At the center of all that tension is magic.  The kingdom of Shaerdan embraces magic and has among its citizens women who are called Channelers.  Channelers possess magical powers that enable them to manipulate certain elements in nature – water, for example.  While Shaerdan and its citizens accept this magic and the belief that Channelers use their gifts for good, the kingdom of Malam and its people, on the other hand, scorn and shun Channeler magic as well as those who practice it.

Britta Flannery:  Britta is, by far, the highlight of Ever the Hunted for me. Britta is the protagonist and right from the start, Summerill creates in her a character that readers will immediately connect with. When we meet Britta, she is mourning her father, a respected Malam bounty hunter, who has been murdered.  As if that wasn’t tragic enough, Britta is also basically homeless due to circumstances beyond her control.  Britta’s mother, who is also deceased, was a Shaerden citizen who was also believed to be a Channeler.  Because the magic passes from mother to daughter, Britta is ostracized by the people of Malam because she could possibly be a Channeler, and she is prohibited by Malam law from inheriting her father’s land as well. Britta is therefore completely alone and desperately seeking both shelter and food when we first meet her.

While I felt that immediate sense of empathy for Britta because she’s in such a vulnerable state, what really attracted me to her was her resourcefulness, her intelligence, and her sense of independence.  It’s very clear that her father has taught her well in the time they had together, probably anticipating that there would come a time when Britta would need to fend for herself.  She therefore doesn’t just roll over and accept her situation as a death sentence. No, she grabs her dagger and her bow and sets out to track and secure food not only for herself, but also that she can trade in town for a place to stay.  And she does this knowing all the while that the penalty for poaching is death. I loved that she was willing to take such risks and make the hard choices. She’s the ultimate survivor.

I have to admit that I admired Britta’s resourcefulness so much that I was actually a bit excited when she got caught poaching because I wanted to see how she was going to get herself out of such a predicament. My excitement did wane a bit once her way out was revealed:  Britta could have her freedom and her father’s land if, using her tracking skills, she helped to track down his killer.  Sounds like a fair deal, right? Well, there’s a bit of a catch.  The suspected killer is a young man by the name of Cohen McKay, who was Britta’s only friend in the world as well as her father’s apprentice.  Britta doesn’t believe for an instant that Cohen is guilty, but has no choice but to go along with this deal if she wants to live.

When she tracks Cohen and they escape together, they quickly realize that the only way they’re really going to ever be free is to find the real murderer.  This is where the real action of the story actually begins as they embark on a dangerous quest across these two warring kingdoms following clues and searching for the killer. It is also while on this quest that Britta learns that, like her mother, she too possesses a kind of magic and must learn how to understand and control her power.

Fabulous Secondary Characters:

Enat:  Enat is a Channeler who helps Britta to better understand who she really is.  After Britta, Enat is definitely my next favorite character. She’s this feisty old lady who is truly a force to be reckoned with.  Enat, like Britta, knows how to wield a bow and arrow and isn’t afraid to use it, whether it’s to hunt or to fire warning shots at people she thinks are creeping around too close to her home.  She’s just a real character in every since of the word.

Leif:  Leif was a surprise favorite character for me.  He’s actually one of the prison guards who attends to Britta when she is captured for poaching and who is assigned to escort her on her mission to track her father’s killer.  While the other guards are just rude and nasty, Leif shows Britta a lot of kindness at every opportunity and tries to help her whenever he can.  The friendship that grows between them is just really sweet.

Subtle Handling of the Romance:  Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of romance, especially love at first sight or when the characters are so obsessed with each other that they lose sight of what they’re supposed to be focused on.  (Mare from The Red Queen comes to mind.)  Therefore I was a little apprehensive when I started to sense some attraction between Britta and Cohen.  Summerill thankfully, however, does a very nice job of keeping the romantic element subtle, and most importantly, believable.   As I’ve already mentioned, Cohen and Britta grew up together, becoming the best of friends while Cohen apprenticed for Britta’s father.  They clearly have history together and now that they’re both grown, their friendship is becoming something more.  It’s a natural progression for their relationship and it doesn’t overshadow the action/adventure/danger element of the story.

The Unexpected Twist at the End! I can’t really say anything at all about it without giving too much away, but as soon as I read the last few pages, I immediately wanted to get my hands on the next book in the series.

Anything I Didn’t Care For:

I would have liked a little more insight into the Channeler magic, especially Britta’s specific kind of magic since it apparently is quite rare even among Channelers.  I guess since she was just learning about it herself, it’s to be expected that we would just get the basics, but I definitely hope that the second book will more fully explore it as Britta hones her skills because what she is able to do is really quite fascinating!

Who Would I Recommend Ever the Hunted to?

 As I said, this book has something for everyone so I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t recommend it to.  If you like resourceful heroines and plenty of action and adventure, I think you’d like this one. I also think this is one of those YA books that would appeal to a wide range of ages, from teens on up through adults.  It’s just a wildly entertaining read!

 

Rating:   4 Stars!

 

Thanks so much to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and of course to Erin Summerill for allowing me to preview this wonderful book!


four-stars

About Erin Summerill

Erin Summerill was born in England. After spending years bouncing between Air Force bases in Hawaii, England, and California, her family settled in Utah, where Erin graduated with a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University. She had aspirations to write the next great American novel, but writing proved tougher than she first thought. So she grabbed a Nikon and became a professional photographer while crafting manuscript after manuscript. The scenic detour of shooting weddings across the United States, as well as internationally, provided world-building inspiration. It gave her the vision to draft her debut YA fantasy, EVER THE HUNTED. Now when she isn’t writing, or shooting a wedding, she’s chasing her four kids, two dogs, one cat, and five chickens. This could be why she downs massive amounts of Coke Zero and Hot tamales.

ARC Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

ARC Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine ArdenThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
four-half-stars
Published by Del Rey on January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

My Review:

The Bear and the Nightingale is, by far, one of my favorite reads of 2016.  I had high expectations for as soon as I read the synopsis comparing it to Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus, which is one of my all-time favorite reads, and I’m thrilled to say that The Bear and the Nightingale far exceeded my expectations.  A tale steeped in Russian folklore, mythology, and fairy tales, it’s pure magic in every sense of the word!

I personally think the story is best appreciated going in with as few spoilers as possibly so I’m not going to expand too much beyond what is already in the synopsis, but I do want to hit some high points of what made the book so special for me.

What I Loved:

The Setting and Atmosphere:  Not since visiting Narnia when I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe have I felt so immersed in another place and time as when I began reading The Bear and the Nightingale.  With her rich and vivid descriptions, Arden transports her readers to Medieval Russia. The atmosphere feels so authentic that the snow, the bitter cold, the wilderness, and the dangerous mountainous terrain are almost palpable as we follow Vasilisa and her family through the story.

I also loved that the whole story had this oddly cozy yet often creepy vibe to it – I felt like I was actually taking shelter from the cold in front of the fire with Vasilisa and her siblings and listening to nurse Dunya tell the old Russian fairytales of Frost the blue eyed demon.  It made it especially creepy when the story takes a very Game of Thrones “Winter is Coming!” turn that makes it feel like Dunya’s chilling tales are coming to life right before the characters’ (and our) eyes.

Vasilisa (or Vasya as she is more affectionately known):  I fell in love with Vasya right away. Vasya is an utterly charming free spirit.  She has no interest whatsoever in conforming to anyone else’s preconceived notions of how women should behave. Vasya much prefers to spend her days frolicking outside in the woods and, much to the dismay of her parents, often disappears for hours at a time to go off adventuring.  Vasya is obviously headstrong and a bit defiant, but she’s also smart, brave, and when it comes down to it, would sacrifice anything to protect her family.  Everyone around her has suspected since she was a small child that there was something different about her, and it soon becomes clear that she has a gift and a connection to the spirit world that few others do. In harnessing that gift, she clearly demonstrates later in the novel that she is a force to be reckoned with.  When it becomes clear that extreme danger is closing in on her village and that she is the only one who can stop it, Vasya displays incredible inner strength that men twice her age and size probably couldn’t muster in her situation.

Christianity vs. Tradition/Ritual:  While this story is perfectly entertaining as a magical fairytale retelling, I loved the extra layer of depth that was provided by this religious conflict.  For generations Vasya and her fellow villagers have relied on their traditions of honoring the spirits of house, yard, and forest to keep them from harm.  They consider it to be a symbiotic relationship where they take care of the spirits with offerings of food to keep up their strength and the spirits reciprocate by protecting the villagers from harm.  Then suddenly Vasya’s new stepmother, who may or may not be mentally unstable, comes into the picture, bringing with her Christianity and a priest, suddenly the villagers’ old ways come under attack. The offerings to the spirits are deemed foolish and the priest tells the villagers they must abandon their old ways and turn to God for protection instead.  I found it especially interesting that the least likable characters in the novel are those who profess to be the most Christian.  The priest, in particular, is portrayed as quite arrogant and as having questionable, even egotistical motives, for trying to “enlighten” these villagers.  He doesn’t consider for a moment the possibility that there might really be protective spirits out there or that the danger closing in on the community could be beyond the realm of his wildest imagination.  When he convinces the villagers to abandon the spirits and the spirits abandon them in turn, it becomes clear that perhaps he and Christianity are not the answer.

Any Complaints?

About the only complaint I had was early on I thought the pacing was a little slow at times, mainly the part where Vasya’s father travels to Moscow in search of a new wife.  Once he brings his new wife home, however, the action picks up immediately as the wife is the catalyst for much of the rest of the story’s dramatic events.  If you find it a little slow like I did, stick with it. I promise you won’t regret it!

Who Would I Recommend The Bear and the Nightingale to? 

I’d definitely highly recommend The Bear and the Nightingale to anyone who loves fantasy, historical fiction, and folklore, but honestly, because the story is so wonderful, I’d recommend it to pretty much anyone.  In fact, I wish this book was already out because I can think of at least half a dozen people who I’ve love to give it to for Christmas. Put The Bear and the Nightingale on your must-read list for 2017. It’s truly a magical read!

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Katherine Arden, and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine/Del Rey for the opportunity to preview this beautiful book!

Rating:  4.5 stars!

four-half-stars

About Katherine Arden

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.