TBR list review: Flame in the Mist

TBR list review: Flame in the MistFlame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1) by Renee Ahdieh
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

I’ve seen a lot of great reviews for The Wrath and the Dawn and it’s sequel, but Flame in the Mist is the first Renée Ahdieh book I’d ever picked up, so I had pretty much no idea what to expect.  Feudal Japan, Mulan-inspired, Fantasy… It sounded pretty epic, and so I had high hopes.  Plus, although the cover isn’t necessarily an indication of a great book, this gorgeous cover certainly stands out and kept me coming back to it often, wondering if I should finally give it a chance.  On the other hand, Flame in the Mist has seen massive positive hype, and that always makes me a little cautious which is why I didn’t pick this up until it was chosen as the TBR list winner for May.

Flame in the Mist started really slowly in my opinion – it took me 5 days to read the first third, and I felt like very little happened in that third.  I found myself starting other books, or just choosing to do things other than read, a lot of the time during those first five days, because I just wasn’t gripped at all.  The second half was addictive and took me only a day to get through, but ultimately Flame in the Mist was a bit of a disappointment for me.

I liked most of the characters, or at the very least I was curious about them even if I didn’t necessarily like them – Ranmaru, Yoshi, Okami and Yumi are all interesting, and I was particularly intrigued by the relationship between Ranmaru and Okami.  I didn’t have particularly strong feelings for Mariko either way – her logic sometimes baffled me, but I didn’t dislike her, and I liked the fact she had opinions of her own about being married off etc.  I didn’t like the romance particularly though, and I just didn’t believe the sexual chemistry between them at all.  It felt like it was trying to be a sort of enemies to lovers ship – one of my favourite types of ship! – but I felt like the attraction between the two came out of nowhere.

There were times when Ahdieh’s descriptions were lovely and evocative, and there are some clever quotes you can’t help but admire, but there were also times when the writing style infuriated me and distracted me from the story. There were a lot of times when the description descends into tiny short sentences which didn’t work for me at all.  I’ve lent my copy to a friend so I can’t skim it for more examples, but consider this one, a featured quote on Goodreads.  Some of this sort of works for me in a taking-control-of-her-destiny-way, but is a prime example of the tiny little sentences I mean:

“But Mariko knew it was time to do more. Time to be more. She would not die a coward. Mariko was the daughter of a samurai. The sister of the Dragon of Kai. But more than that, she still held power over her decisions. For at least this one last day. She would face her enemy. And die with honor.”

These short sentences, inevitably all jammed together in rapid succession jarred me out of the story, and I found myself wondering why they were there.  In the example above, I can see that it helps dial up the intensity, but they were dotted throughout the whole book, even in completely non-dramatic moments. I just began to wonder what was wrong with a descriptive sentence of more than one clause – particularly as there are times in the book when they’re used brilliantly!

The fantasy elements are few and far between, with very little explanation.  If you’re expecting to be able to understand the rules of magic in the same way you might in something like a Maria V. Snyder novel, you’ll be sorely disappointed, and ultimately this feels more like a historical romance than a fantasy.  While I understand not wanting to give away all the answers at once, particularly as this is going to be at least a two book series, Flame in the Mist went too far the other way for me, and I was left not understanding the magic at all.  I almost started to feel like the magic was a later addition to the original story – on the rare occasions something magical felt plot-relevant, I was left not quite sure what happened or how or why.

The setting is great, and probably my favourite part of the book.  If you ignore the magic, the world-building is great and it’s certainly the only reason I kept reading during that slow first third of the book.  Ultimately though, as great as the setting was, the slightly strange writing style and the pretty-much-incomprehensible magic system meant I didn’t love this half as much as I wanted to. The addictiveness of the second half and the great setting (combined with an unsatisfied curiosity about the magic) mean I’ll be picking the second book up, but I won’t be rushing to pre-order it.  I loved the idea, but the execution left me disappointed.

 

One StarOne Star

Review: One of Us Is Lying

Review: One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Published by Delacorte Press on May 30th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon's dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them."

This book is described as Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club, and that’s a perfect description.  Five students go into detention, and only four make it out alive.  It’s quickly determined that the death of Simon – the school gossip – is no accident, and no one had better opportunity than the four students that go into that detention with him.  When it’s revealed that Simon had uncovered very deep, personal secrets about each of those four, it seems like no one had better motive either.  One of Us is Lying alternates between these four students in the aftermath of Simon’s death – as they’re each suspected of murder, as their secrets are revealed and as they grow both closer and yet ever more suspicious of each other.

The four characters begin as stereotypes, but quickly develop into interesting, complex people and it’s particularly interesting watching how their relationships change throughout the course of the novel.  Although the blurb describes them as strangers, in high school, how many people are truly strangers?  They have histories, old friendships, and if nothing else, opinions and prejudices about each other, that change throughout the book.  No one knows who to trust, and while they find themselves getting closer through their awful shared experience, they also can’t help but ignore the tiny voice in the back of their head that wonders “Is this the person who killed Simon?”

One of Us is Lying is an absolutely addictive read – I started it on my lunch break one day, and I’d finished it by the next.  I loved the twists and reveals, the cliffhangers and the suspense, but I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I came to like the characters, and how much I cared about their relationships.  While I’m not a huge contemporary fan – no dragons, no spaceships! – this was an enjoyable, addictive read that delivered exactly what I expected, and even a little more.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Assassin’s Fate

Review: Assassin’s FateAssassin's Fate (The Fitz and the Fool, #3) by Robin Hobb
on May 4th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 976
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

The final book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river.

Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee's only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.
Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected?

But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices.
ASSASSIN’S FATE is a magnificent tour de force and with it Robin Hobb demonstrates yet again that she is the reigning queen of epic fantasy.

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS FOR BOTH EARLIER ROBIN HOBB BOOKS AND THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE FITZ AND THE FOOL TRILOGY

If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll be well aware I am a huge Robin Hobb fan (see here, here, and here!), so it’s probably no surprise to you that Assassin’s Fate was without a doubt my most anticipated read of 2017.  Knowing that this was the finale not only to the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, but to The Realm of the Elderlings as a whole, I went in with both huge anticipation and nerves.  I didn’t feel I had time to re-read the whole Realm of the Elderlings series, but the long wait between Assassin’s Quest and Assassin’s Fate gave me plenty of time to re-read the first two books in this trilogy before Assassin’s Fate so that I’d be fully refreshed on the details before Assassin’s Fate.  I finished Assassin’s Quest on holiday and immediately picked up Assassin’s Fate.  Over the ten days it took me to read it, I wanted to fly through because it was so addictive and because I so desperately wanted to know what happened, and yet I also never wanted it to end. Reading on holiday worked out as a reasonable compromise, because we were so busy I didn’t actually have that much time to read, so I got to savour a little longer!

Don’t do what you can’t undo, until you’ve considered well what you can’t do once you’ve done it.

In this final volume, Fitz, Lant, Perseverance, Spark and the Fool are heading to Clerres to seek revenge on the Four and the Servants, while Bee is unwillingly being taken to Clerres by Dwalia.  Those two plot-lines are addictive in different ways.  Bee goes through even more character growth than she did in Assassin’s Quest, and she’s come a long way from the little girl we first met in Fool’s Assassin.  She has to explore how ruthless she’s willing to be as she and Dwalia try to survive their trip to Clerres, often having to choose between the enemy you know versus the one you don’t.  Hers is a fairly isolated journey, and although there is plenty of danger on the route, there’s also a lot of internal conflict but it’s no less intriguing for that – the snippets of Bee’s dream journal in particular make for interesting mysterious reading.

Fitz’s journey in comparison, is full of people and the complex relationships between them that Hobb is so good at writing and which I have such a weakness for.  The relationships between Lant, Perseverence and Spark, as well as their interactions with both Fitz and the Fool are interesting enough on their own, but of course it’s Fitz and the Fool’s relationship which remains, as it always has from my perspective, the most mysterious, the most intriguing, the most intricate.  In this book, as they read Bee’s journals, the two also form a bond with Bee, and the way those bonds differ, as well as the way they impact the Fitz and Fool’s relationship adds another layer of complexity to their relationship.

She could be prickly and exacting, critical and demanding. But she was like that in the confidence that they shared a love that could withstand such things.

As well as all of that, the journey takes them through many lands familiar to us from previous books, and Hobb ties up the whole Realm of the Elderlings series, showing us glimpses – and sometimes more involved appearances – from characters we’ve loved in other trilogies.  Hobb’s characters feel like old friends – in some cases, very old friends – and even as you’re addicted to the storyline in Fool’s Assassin, the nostalgia may well have you adding a re-read of the other books into your reading plans too.  My boyfriend said to me at one point that Assassin’s Fate was like my Avengers movie, and I agreed that it was – but better.  The liveships, the dragons, the white prophets, the Bingtown traders, the Pirate Isles – it’s all here, and it was everything I could have hoped for and more.

Hobb’s writing is, as usual, one of my favourite things about the books.  I re-read favourite sentences, I copied down quotes, I just-barely restrained myself from reading bits aloud to my other half (who has only read the original trilogy so far).  The way Hobb ties up the series as a whole, bringing in previously loved characters never felt awkward or contrived.  Despite the fact we haven’t seen some of these characters in years, there’s no info-dumps; the characters are there, as interesting and three-dimensional as they’ve always been, and so, particularly for more minor appearances, when Hobb assumes you’ll know who they are, you just do.

So much of his life was mine and so much of mine was his.

I’ve followed Fitz from the very beginning, and here, at the end of the series, I wasn’t sure what to expect, or what to hope for.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll say only that it was perfect.  We got answers to questions we’ve had for a long time, we got the fantastic worlds and characters Hobb always delivers and we got a plot I didn’t want to put down.  When this ended, I genuinely found myself hugging the book and smiling.  Fool’s Assassin made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me ramble incoherently with excitement, and it only solidified my love for the series.  I’m not sure what else you could possibly want from a series finale really!

All I can say is, thank you Robin Hobb.  And whether she returns to the Realm of the Elderlings or writes something totally different, I’ll be happy to follow, because she’s never once let me down.

 

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Fellside

Review: FellsideFellside by M. R. Carey
Published by Orbit on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Horror & Ghost Stories, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

The unmissable and highly anticipated new literary thriller from the author of the international phenomenon The Girl With All the Gifts.
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It's a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★★
Addictiveness: ★★★

When I read it…

I read this between March 18th and 23rd 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Mostly great things, that people hadn’t wanted to put it down!  I couldn’t resist this one because I really enjoyed The Girl with All The Gifts.

What worked for me:

  • The atmosphere: I was actually expecting Fellside to be a lot scarier than it was, but I enjoyed the way Carey instead made you feel just vaguely uneasy instead.  The book isn’t scary, but it is definitely uncomfortable, and that made it hard to put down, and easy to get sucked back in once you did.
  • The interlinking stories: Fellside has a lot of different characters, and the way these characters gradually interlink, with their plotlines becoming more and more entangled, reminded me in many ways of a Jodi Picoult novel (which I pretty much universally love, so that’s a good thing!).
  • The mystery: Although Jess didn’t particularly care about her trial, and whether she’d burned down the flat, I desperately did want to know the exact details, and that plotline had me hooked from the beginning.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The paranormal/horror: A lot of the reviews I’d read before I started said Fellside was really scary, and given that I’m a bit of a wimp, I waited until I’d psyched myself up for something super scary before starting.  When I started though, I didn’t find the whispering walls particularly sinister, and actually an awful lot more of the tension came from the prison-drama, which although not bad, wasn’t at all what I was expecting.  Many, many reviewers are comparing Fellside to “Orange is the New Black meets *paranormal film or book*” and while I agree with the Orange Is the New Black comparison, the supernatural elements were a bit weak to me.  If you’ve seen Inside Out, the scene where they enter abstract thought is about how I felt about the supernatural elements – they were all sort of fuzzy and unclear, and certainly not as spooky as I’d expected.
  • The length/pacing: At virtually 500 pages, Fellside felt a bit longer and a bit slower than it needed to be, and there were times, particularly early on, when the story didn’t really feel like it was going anywhere so it took me a while to get engrossed.
  • The ending: Difficult to comment without spoilers, but I wasn’t a fan of the ending!

I didn’t dislike Fellside, but I just wasn’t wowed by it, and it probably isn’t one that I’d bother re-reading later, so overall, this was just an okay read for me.  I’m a little disappointed, since I went in with high expectations after The Girl With All The Gifts, but even had this book been written by someone else, I think ultimately it still would have been just an okay read.  Predominantly a prison-drama, with a few paranormal elements, and no characters I particularly connected with, it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t really my cup of tea.  I definitely seem to be among the minority though, so if you’re curious I would absolutely give it a go!

Other Reviews of Fellside: Girl with her head in a book | For Winter Nights | The Discriminating Fangirl

One StarOne Star

Review: Morning Star

Review: Morning StarMorning Star by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #3
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on February 11th 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Pages: 512
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

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

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Addictiveness: ★★★★★

When I read it…

I took just over a week to read this one, between February 5th and 14th 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

All good things! [Sidenote, anyone else incapable of hearing the phrase ‘All good things, all good things’ in a voice other than Olaf’s from Frozen? Just me?]  Morning Star was by far one of my most anticipated reads for 2016 so I couldn’t wait to read it, but I’d deliberately not gone looking for reviews in fear of spoilers. I had seen a few comments on twitter though, and they were all VERY favourable!

What worked for me:

  • The plot: Sometimes, a writer tries so hard to be unpredictable that it becomes predictable (Steven Moffat & Doctor Who for example), but that wasn’t at all the case with Morning Star. Given the ending of Golden Son, I didn’t think Morning Star could shock me – I was wrong.  There was at least one occasion where I wanted to update my GR progress and couldn’t think of a single update that didn’t involve swearing because I was so surprised by what had just happened.  Morning Star‘s plot is brilliant; full of epic drama and exciting plot twists that meant I just didn’t want to put it down.
  • The characters: There are so many characters to love, and love them I certainly do! Sevro, of course, remains the favourite, but I also adored Ragnar, had a total soft spot for Kavax au Telemanus and Sophocles, and loved how kickass Victra is.
  • The relationships: From Sevro and Darrow’s witty back and forths to Victra’s casual flirting to the Howler initiation, Morning Star is full of funny, teasing moments between characters that had really believable, satisfying relationships.  In a book that could otherwise be so dark, the humour is surprisingly frequent, and I loved that – while the drama is still heart-pounding (and at times heart-warming and heart-breaking) the book felt epic rather than grim.
  • The world-building: From the beginning of the series, Darrow’s world has fascinated me, and with each new book we get more details about the intricate, complex world that Brown has created.  I particularly loved seeing the Obsidians, meeting Alia Snowsparrow and Sefi and seeing a bit more of Ragnar’s world.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • Mustang: I found Mustang a little less likeable in Morning Star than in the first two books – maybe just because we had so many other awesome female characters who were more readily accessible!  I didn’t dislike her, and I certainly still wanted her to get her happy ending, I just found her a little harder to connect with than the other characters.

Something worth mentioning…

  • I’m not sure why, but it took me a little longer than I expected to get truly engrossed in Morning Star.  I’m not sure how much of that was because I was reluctant for the series to end or due to nerves that the book wouldn’t live up to my hopes (which it did!) or even that I was too excited to concentrate 100% (this genuinely happened on the first day I tried to read it) but I didn’t feel as instantly addicted as I did with the two earlier books.  Once I did get hooked, I just didn’t want to put it down, and it was every bit as gripping as I’d expected it to be based on Red Rising and Golden Son.  The question of WHY it took me longer to get hooked (whether it was the pacing of the first section, or whether it was a matter of timing/my reluctance to finish the series) is one I’ll figure out when I re-read, but I thought it was worth mentioning.  If you’ve started Morning Star and aren’t instantly hooked, rest assured you will be soon!

Overall thoughts:

I had to think for a while on the ending of Morning Star and whether it was satisfying, but ultimately I’m very happy with it – it wasn’t what I expected, but the more I thought about it the more I realised I couldn’t think of anything I would have found more satisfying!  Now that it’s all over, I’m confident in saying Red Rising is one of the best trilogies I have ever read.  I adored Red Rising and Golden Son and have been pushing the books on friends and family even more than usual since reading this truly awesome finale.

If you’re looking for something light and fluffy, this is definitely not the book for you. If you’re looking for an awesome plot, kick-ass characters and a fantastically built world then this is absolutely the book for you – just be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster too!

Other Reviews of Morning Star: Stephanie’s Book Reviews | Rabid Reads | Star-Crossed Book Blog

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star