Review: THE POINT by John Dixon

Review:  THE POINT by John DixonThe Point by John Dixon
four-stars
Published by Del Rey Books on August 7, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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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.

MY REVIEW:

I really enjoyed John Dixon’s last two novels, Phoenix Island and Devil’s Pocket.  They were fast-paced, action-packed reads that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading them.  Since I enjoyed those so much, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of The Point as soon as I heard about it, especially once I read the synopsis and saw that it was set at West Point Military Academy.

The Point follows the story of Scarlett Winter, a rebellious, thrill seeking teenager who has no interest in conforming to whatever life plans her parents have dreamed up for her. She just wants to do her own thing and be left alone.

That is, until one night when she finds herself on the wrong side of the law.  Scarlett tries to sneak into a party one of her former friends is having.  She knows she’s not invited but thinks it will be a good time to sneak in and shock everyone.  Instead, she stumbles upon some other folks who are lurking on the property planting a bomb.  She throws herself on the bomb and when it explodes, she walks away, basically unharmed.  Witnesses see her at the scene of the crime and before she knows it, two military recruiters come knocking at her door.  They know that she has some kind of superhuman power and they present her with an ultimatum – she can either attend West Point and serve in the military for a few years, or she can go to prison.

Scarlett chooses West Point, of course, but has no idea what’s in store for her once she gets there.  Can she tame her rebellious nature enough to keep from getting kicked out of West Point?  And what happens when a threat from the school’s dark past emerges placing Scarlett and all of her fellow classmates in danger?   Scarlett may be the only one with powers great enough to neutralize the threat, but will she rise to the occasion for the greater good?

Scarlett.  I’ll confess right now that I was not a big fan of Scarlett’s at first.  While I admired her sense of independence and her adventurous spirit, I was a little put off by the way she completely blew off her high school graduation ceremony –without telling her family – so that she could go off and get high with her boyfriend.  Scarlett just lets her parents go to the school and sit in that audience, only to end up shocked and embarrassed when her name was called and she’s not there. All I could think at that moment was “What kind of person even does that?”

That said, Scarlett also quickly began to grow on me the more I got to know her and could see firsthand the dysfunctional family dynamic that she was surrounded by.  Her father is abusive towards her older brother Dan, who then proceeds to hand down his own brand of abusive behavior to Scarlett, while their mother just sits by and lets it all happen.  It became so much easier to understand why Scarlett had such a rebellious streak.

I actually flat out fell in love with Scarlett once she arrives at West Point.  I am always one to cheer on an underdog and it’s clear from Scarlett’s first moments on campus that that’s exactly what she is.  Everyone around her is out to make her life hell and I became extremely invested in cheering on her successes and seeing her really grow and mature as she comes to embrace a life where she is part of something bigger:  the Long Gray Line.

West Point (and The Point).  I have a thing for books that are set in schools so I was thrilled to learn that the bulk of this book is set at West Point military academy.  Dixon has clearly done his research and beautifully captures the atmosphere of what it’s like for a plebe to walk onto this prestigious campus for the first time.  I also thought the whole concept of The Point, a secret training unit for superhumans located beneath the main campus was brilliant.

Superhuman Powers.  The superpowers were, by far, my favorite part of The Point.  And when I say superpowers, I’m talking X-Men, Marvel, whatever — pick your favorite superhero and imagine someone with their powers being trained to serve as a special strike force in the U.S. military.  There are students who can engage in combat using telekinesis, students who can walk through and manipulate the dreams of others, and then there’s Scarlett, who may truly end up being the most important weapon of all:  Scarlett has the ability to absorb and temporarily store any raw energy that is directed at her, and then redirect and release it toward whatever target she chooses.  I thought it was fascinating to watch Scarlett and her classmates practice and hone their incredible powers.

Excellent Pacing and Lots of Action.  If you like a fast-paced novel with plenty of vivid action scenes, you won’t be disappointed.  This book grabbed my attention from the first page and I devoured it in a day!

The only issue I had with The Point is that I would have liked the explanation for how those with the superhuman powers actually acquired them to have come earlier in the novel. I was glad to finally get the explanation towards the end of the novel and I thought the explanation itself was very well done, but I would have preferred it earlier so that I didn’t spend so much time wondering about it while reading.

John Dixon’s The Point is an action packed thriller that I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys military and/or superhero novels.   It also has a powerful coming of age story woven in with Scarlett and her journey, so I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes stories that feature strong heroines.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What if you had a power you had to hide from everyone–until now? In this bold sci-fi action thriller, a secret training program at West Point is turning misfits into a new generation of heroes.

Welcome to The Point, future leaders of the Posthuman Age.

New Cadets, society is not ready for you. The oldest, fiercest fear is ignorance. The general population would burn you at the metaphorical stake.

Here, you will train alongside other posthumans. You will learn to control and maximize your powers and to use them for the greater good. You will discover camaraderie and purpose.

You will become a part of something bigger than yourselves: the Long Gray Line. 

Scarlett Winter has always been an outsider, and not only because she’s a hardcore daredevil and born troublemaker–she has been hiding superhuman powers she doesn’t yet understand. Now she’s been recruited by a secret West Point unit for cadets with extraordinary abilities. Scarlett and her fellow students are learning to hone their skills, from telekinetic combat to running recon missions through strangers’ dreamscapes. At The Point, Scarlett discovers that she may be the most powerful cadet of all. With the power to control pure energy, she’s a human nuclear bomb–and she’s not sure she can control her powers much longer.

Even in this army of outsiders, Scarlett feels like a misfit all over again, but when a threat that endangers her fellow students arises from the school’s dark past, duty calls and Scarlett must make a choice between being herself and becoming something even greater: a hero.

 

four-stars

About John Dixon

John Dixon’s debut novel, Phoenix Island, and its sequel, Devil’s Pocket, won back-to-back Bram Stoker Awards and inspired the CBS TV series Intelligence. A former boxer, teacher, and stone mason, John lives in West Chester, PA, with his wife, their daughter, and a freeloading dog. When not reading or writing, he obsesses over boxing, chess, and hot peppers.

Review: DAUGHTERS OF THE STORM by Kim Wilkins

Review:  DAUGHTERS OF THE STORM by Kim WilkinsDaughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins
three-half-stars
Series: Blood and Gold #1
Published by Del Rey Books on March 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 448
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.

MY REVIEW:

The first novel in an exciting new fantasy series by Kim Wilkins, Daughters of the Storm follows the story of five very different royal sisters who must put aside their differences and come together to save their kingdom.

These sisters are so different from one another, at times, it’s hard to believe that they share the same blood.  There’s Bluebell, the eldest, a fierce warrior who has been trained by her father to rule the kingdom of Thyrsland someday.  She is feared by all and actually rumored to be unkillable in battle.  Then there’s Ash, a gentler soul than Bluebell.  Ash is studying to be a healer but has discovered she has the ability to see the future.  As she struggles to learn more about and control this ability, she becomes more and more torn about whether being a seer is a gift or a curse.  The third sister is Rose, and Rose is ruled by her passion.  Her father married her off to the ruler of a neighboring kingdom, as a way to form an alliance and keep the peace.  Rose, however, does not love her husband and is willing to risk peaceful relations between the kingdoms by pursuing a forbidden love.  And finally, there are the twins Willow and Ivy, who have been living with a distant relative for a while and left to their own devices. For Willow, being left to her own devices translates to her joining a new religion and behaving as though she’s a brainwashed member of a cult.  For Ivy, it means being vain and flirtatious and trying to bed any man she desires.

When their father, the King, is stricken by a mysterious illness that appears to have magical roots, the sisters, led by Bluebell who appears to be the most devoted to their father, come together in a desperate attempt to save his life and their kingdom.  Not only do they need to track down a powerful witch who can cure the King, but they must also do so while not letting word get out that the King is near death. They have enough trouble on their hands trying to keep their treacherous stepbrother from stealing the throne; the last thing they need is to alert the rest of the King’s enemies that he is vulnerable should they wish to mount an attack.

 

What an exciting and fast-paced read this was!  I originally picked it up because I liked the idea of these sisters who would normally have little to do with one another being forced to come together to save their father.  But in many ways, it was so much more than that.  Not only are these sisters different from each other, but they also differ in their devotion to their father.  Bluebell, even though she would become ruler of the kingdom if her father were to die and is clearly ready to rule, is desperate to save his life at all costs.  Ash appears to be similarly devoted, but the younger three seem almost indifferent as to whether they save him or not.  They are annoyed they have been summoned from their lives to be a part of this rescue mission.  That was quite unexpected and added a layer of depth to the story I wasn’t expecting going into it and I wanted to know more about why each of them felt the way they did.

I got my opportunity to learn much more about each sister too as the story is presented to us from the alternating points of view of all five sisters, not to mention a few chapters from the stepbrother’s point of view as well.  At first I thought so many POVs would be too confusing and would bog down my reading experience, but Wilkins does a great job of incorporating each POV in a way that wasn’t confusing while still advancing the overall plot. I think the sisters being so different probably helped with that.  I never got one mixed up with another.  I also really loved getting inside of each sister’s head because wow, they are each holding on to some secrets that if they got out, could easily bring down their kingdom whether their father lives or not.

I also really liked the complicated family dynamic with the Queen as stepmother to the five sisters instead of their birth mother.  In many ways the Queen sets most of the drama into motion because of her assumption that Bluebell and the girls hate her and will expel her from the castle if their father dies.  Because of this fear, instead of sending word out to the girls first when their father falls ill, she summons her son instead. She wants him there in case they try to throw her out.  This just opens up a whole can of worms as Bluebell finds out elsewhere that her father is ill and thus immediately suspects that her stepmother and stepbrother are up to something.  Getting on Bluebell’s bad side from the get go probably wasn’t the smartest move.

As far as the sisters themselves, my reaction was a bit mixed.  Bluebell and Ash were, by far, my favorites. I admired the fierceness of Bluebell and the fact that people truly were scared to death of her.  I chuckled a few times throughout when people referred to her as Princess and then practically fell over themselves apologizing after receiving a death glare from her.  It becomes clear that it’s well known throughout the kingdom that she hates the term Princess and wishes only to be addressed as My Lord.  I found Ash to be equally as interesting as Bluebell, and I liked that they did appear to be pretty close unlike the other sisters. I also enjoyed the subplot involving Ash’s seer abilities that ran alongside the main storyline of the book.  It was fascinating to watch her learn more about and control her abilities, which are apparently a bit more than being able to see the future, to help on their quest to save their father, and I liked the self-sacrificing side of Ash that comes out whenever she thinks her abilities may cause others to be hurt.

Strangely enough, in many ways, however, the most interesting character was the stepbrother, Wylm. I think what I liked about him was that he was such a complicated character and kept me guessing throughout the story as to how much of a villain he really was.  At first I was okay with him, but then I hated him.  Then a bit later, something else happened and I thought “Hmmm, maybe he does have some redeeming qualities” and so on.  If you enjoy complicated characters, he’s definitely the one to keep your eyes on.

 

I didn’t have a lot of issues with this book, but I did have a couple.  The first of which is the name Bluebell.  I know it’s shallow and nitpicky to get hung up on a character’s name, but I just found it distracting, especially every time she was referred to as Bluebell the Fierce.  It’s hard to think of a character as a fierce warrior with a name like that.  So yeah, shallow nitpick from me because I loved everything about Bluebell except her name, but there it is.

The other issue I had was that I didn’t like the other three sisters at all.  Aside from the drama they added to the plot with their secrets and their willingness to betray one another and their kingdom, I just didn’t find them nearly as compelling as Bluebell and Ash. I’m wondering if they’ll play more important roles in later novels in the series, but for this one, most of the time they just felt like background noise to me.

 

Even with the couple of issues I had, I still thought Daughters of the Storm was an exciting read and I look forward to seeing where Wilkins takes the story next.  If you’re into strong female characters, with a side of secrets, lies, and betrayal, this is a fantasy world you’ll want to immerse yourself in.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Five very different sisters team up against their stepbrother to save their kingdom in this Norse-flavored fantasy epic–the start of a new series in the tradition of Naomi Novik, Peter V. Brett, and Robin Hobb.

FIVE ROYAL SISTERS. ONE CROWN.

They are the daughters of a king. Though they share the same royal blood, they could not be more different. Bluebell is a proud warrior, stronger than any man and with an ironclad heart to match. Rose’s heart is all too passionate: She is the queen of a neighboring kingdom, who is risking everything for a forbidden love. The twins: vain Ivy, who lives for admiration, and zealous Willow, who lives for the gods. And Ash, who is discovering a dangerous talent for magic that might be a gift–or a curse.

But when their father is stricken by a mysterious ailment, they must come together on a desperate journey to save him and prevent their treacherous stepbrother from seizing the throne. Their mission: find the powerful witch who can cure the king. But to succeed on their quest, they must overcome their differences, and hope that the secrets they hide from one another and the world are never brought to light. Because if this royal family breaks, it could destroy the kingdom.

three-half-stars

About Kim Wilkins

Kim Wilkins was born in London, and grew up at the seaside north of Brisbane, Australia. She has degrees in literature and creative writing, and teaches at the University of Queensland and in the community. Her first novel, The Infernal, a supernatural thriller was published in 1997. Since then, she has published across many genres and for many different age groups. Her latest books, contemporary epic women’s fiction, are published under the pseudonym Kimberley Freeman. Kim has won many awards and is published all over the world. She lives in Brisbane with a bunch of lovable people and pets.

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.