Review: Queen of Shadows (Sarah J. Maas)

Review: Queen of Shadows (Sarah J. Maas)Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #4
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens on 01-09-2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 656
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

The queen has returned.

Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she's at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past . . .

She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight.

She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die for her. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen's triumphant return.

The fourth volume in the New York Times bestselling series contrinues Celaena's epic journey and builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.

SPOILER ALERT: As Queen of Shadows is book 4 in the series, there will probably be spoilers for Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight and Heir of Fire.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

The storyAs in Heir of Fire, Queen of Shadows has multiple plot threads and point of views.  We see Aelin, Rowan and Aedion in Rifthold, Dorian in the glass castle, Manon and her Thirteen in Morath, and obviously we also get to see more of Chaol too.  While I enjoyed all of the threads, Manon and the story at Morath was probably my favourite thread in Queen of Shadows (I didn’t see that coming either!).  Queen of Shadows isn’t a small book, but I was hooked by it, and I happily read it in just under a week.  As always, Maas sent me on a rollercoaster of emotions, and it felt like every five minutes I was telling Matt “This happened and it was awesome” or “Oh! Listen to this, it’s so sad” or giggling out loud and getting strange looks.

The characters
In Heir of Fire, I fell in love with Manon and her Thirteen, and Queen of Shadows just reinforced that love: I still love Manon and I adored learning more about Asterin and some of the other witches.  We met new characters in Queen of Shadows too, and the biggest additions are probably Lysandra, Nesryn and Eilide.  While Eilide and Nesryn are perfectly interesting and likeable enough, Lysandra is clearly the show-stealer: she’s an awesome character in her own right, and her interactions with the others are priceless.

While I loved most of the characters, I did have a few concerns, mostly that I felt like Aelin became a little less likeable and Chaol felt like a stranger at times.  I’m also a little confused by Rowan and Aelin’s mental communication: maybe I missed something, but I didn’t think it was true telepathy so much as reading a lot in glances, but if that’s the case, there were times they read too much in a look for me to find it truly plausible!

And of course, it’s difficult to talk about Queen of Shadows without mentioning the relationships.  Queen of Shadows seems to have absolutely polarized readers and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that a lot of those strong feelings probably come about from fans of different ships.  With so many different ships, there was absolutely no way Sarah could please everyone, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when I didn’t adore the way the romance went. I did feel like the romance was a little heavy-handed at times, and I wonder whether that was perhaps to satisfy the ship fans, or try and convert non-fans.   I found myself occasionally frustrated with endless male posturing and dominance, and I think that almost certainly contributed to my love of the Manon storyline.  Having said that however, I still loved the book, and although it wasn’t the ship I’d have chosen, it did grow on me so I definitely don’t think you should let negative reviews put you off reading!

final thoughts

I said in my review of Throne of Glass that it wasn’t a book that had you hooked only for the storyline, or only for the characters, and that remains true even now: Maas manages to combine epic storylines with great pacing and a cast of characters that you wish you could meet in real life (even if they might be a little intimidating!).  Where some books sometimes feel like wonderful characters, fantastic world-building or gripping plots are ‘making up’ for another area which may disappoint, the Throne of Glass series genuinely feels like it does all three areas well.  I debated back and forwards for a long time whether to give Queen of Shadows four or five stars – I definitely didn’t think it was perfect, I found the romance frustrating, and I found both Aelin and Chaol a little less likeable.  On the other hand, Manon and the Thirteen’s story was brilliantly addictive, I adored Lysandra and learning more about Asterin, and the story sent me on an emotional whirlwind.  It took me a long time to decide, so in the end I took a step back and just thought about what a four or five star rating truly means – four stars means I really liked it, and five stars means I loved it.  At the end of the day, despite my issues with Queen of Shadows, on the whole, I loved it (I’d have loved it enough for Manon’s thread alone), I’ll happily re-read it, and the series is a favourite, so for me, that makes it a five star read.

Buy it? This one is definitely worth buying from my perspective!
In a nutshell: Not perfect, but nonetheless an epic, emotional, gripping read that I didn’t want to end.

Other Reviews of Queen of Shadows: Not another dumb blonde | Alexa Loves Books | The Perpetual Page-Turner (This one has spoilers but if you’ve read the book it’s well worth reading this review for Jamie’s perspective on the ship!)

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Clariel (Garth Nix)

Clariel (Garth Nix)Clariel by Garth Nix
on 14-10-2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon
Goodreads

Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilp. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.

With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her - and it is herself she must question most of all.

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★★
Readability: ★★★

 

The storyClariel is sixteen when her family move to Belisaere for her mother’s work. Clariel hates Belisaere before they even arrive – she wants to live in the forest, not in a city, cut off from nature and forced to endure social niceties like the tea drinking ceremony.  I had really high hopes for Clariel, based on my love for the series as a teenager, but unfortunately for me, it was a real disappointment.  Somehow, it felt like nothing happened, even though when I was talking it over with my other half it became clear that actually, quite a lot HAD happened. But the book generally felt very slow paced, and it took me over a month to get through the 400 pages – I felt like I spent the whole book waiting for it to pick up, and until the last 25%, I never really had a burning desire to keep reading, or to squeeze in ‘one more chapter’ before bed.

The characters

Where to even start with Clariel? There were things I loved about her – her connection with nature, the fact that she’s a berserker, the fact that she had sex and, quite frankly, did not find it a big deal. She’s asexual, which had the potential to be interesting but which I didn’t find particularly relevant – it’s mentioned but as we’re supposed to be following Clariel’s attempts to end up alone anyways, and with no romance involved in the story, it almost felt like it had been added just for the sake of it.  Her growth from the beginning of the book to where she ends up felt unfinished to me, which is disappointing as it’s kind of the whole point of the book.

I really liked Bel, and I liked seeing Mogget, but I wasn’t particularly fussed by any of the other characters. There are unrequited feelings everywhere, characters mentioned frequently who never appear, and characters who appear frequently but seem to achieve nothing, and a whole bunch of irresponsible adults.

final thoughtsWhen the next book comes out, I’d like to read the whole series in one go, and see if Clariel lives up to it’s predecessors better in that context, but on it’s own, I found this disappointing.  I still love Nix’s world, it’s interesting reading about Belisaere, and I really liked some of the characters, but I felt largely ambivalent about reading on for far too much of this book.  Having said that, the last quarter or so of the book was gripping, so if I’d read this at a time when I wasn’t so busy with uni and could get through it in a few days, as opposed to reading it in bits and pieces around essay work, I suspect the slow pacing would have been a lot less frustrating.

Buy it? This is one I’d borrow personally.
In a nutshell: Interesting world building, some good characters, but ultimately too slow for me to really get into.

Other Reviews of Clariel: Not Yet Read  | Read Breathe RelaxHere there be books

One StarOne Star

Heir of Fire (Sarah J. Maas)

Heir of Fire (Sarah J. Maas)Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #3
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens on 11-09-2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, General, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 576
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Celaena has survived deadly contests and shattering heartbreak—but at an unspeakable cost. Now, she must travel to a new land to confront her darkest truth . . . a truth about her heritage that could change her life—and her future—forever. Meanwhile, brutal and monstrous forces are gathering on the horizon, intent on enslaving her world. Will Celaena find the strength to not only fight her inner demons, but to take on the evil that is about to be unleashed?The bestselling series that has captured readers all over the world reaches new heights in this sequel to the New York Times best-selling Crown of Midnight. Packed with heart-pounding action, fierce new characters, and swoon-worthy romance, this third book will enthrall readers from start to finish.

SPOILER ALERT: As Heir of Fire is book 3 in the series, there will probably be some spoilers for Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

 

The storyFollowing the cliffhanger ending of Crown of Midnight, in Heir of Fire Celaena is alone in Wendlyn, sent there by Chaol for own protection. Chaol is preparing to head home to Anielle with his father – something he never wanted but the price for ensuring Celaena’s safety.

Unlike previously, the characters are spread out in different areas, so in Heir of Fire, for the first time (I think, though it’s been a while since I read the first two), we have shifting points of view.  There are, I would say, three main threads to the story.  We meet Manon Blackbeak, a kick ass Irontooth witch, and we follow her from her isolated hunting down of Crochan witches to the gathering of three clans and all the backstabbing tension that entails.  We see Celaena, alone in the land of magic and myth, as she goes looking for the Fae, and we see Dorian and Chaol still in the Glass Palace.

At first I was unconvinced about the three storylines, particularly with the introduction of new characters, but it really works for the story.  I actually loved Manon’s story the most by the end!  The plot perhaps doesn’t move as far as in Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, so I think for me, without the multiple points of view, it could have run the risk of feeling like a bridge to book 4 only, without enough to keep me gripped.

 

The characters

In Heir of Fire, we see our old favourites – Celaena, Dorian and Chaol – but we also get introduced to a whole bunch of new characters too.  Celaena grows a lot throughout the story, both in terms of her abilities and her self-awareness.  She’s mentored by Rowan Whitethorn, a new character.  Rowan is a fae warrior who takes no crap – he has no issues telling Celaena when she’s being whiny or difficult, and he’s willing to fight her, to push her to her limits and to keep pushing her when she wants to give up but he knows she has more left.  A lot of people LOVED Rowan, but while I really liked him he just couldn’t compare to Manon…

Manon Blackbeak is a new character, and she’s one of our point of view characters.  Manon is bloodthirsty and ruthless and yet somehow still so immensely likeable.  At first I was kind of cautiously curious about her plotline but also skeptical because I already had characters I loved and how could Manon live up to those?! And yet, I ended up loving her as a character!  Her determination, her relationships with her thirteen, her training with the Wyverns… (And all I’m going to say about the wyverns is that they’re awesome and if someone could please get me one for Christmas that would be awesome)

We also meet Aedion Ashryver, who is abvove all, loyal to his cousin Aelin Galathynius.  Aedion didn’t have as much of an impact on me as either Rowan or Manon, and I don’t really want to say too much about where he fits into the storyline, but he’s an interesting, complex character I’m definitely curious to hear more about.

final thoughtsHeir of Fire is definitely a worthy follow up to Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight.  I thought the pacing was definitely a little slower than the first two books, but the new characters/character development easily made up for it for me.  There’s definitely less romance in Heir of Fire too, which is a little disappointing because Maas does romance so well but….well it does have wyverns so I think it can be forgiven! It’s also great to read a story which has such a focus on non-romantic relationships and development that isn’t driven by romance!  Despite being 500+ pages, I devoured this in a couple of days and although I do think it could have been shorter in order to up the pace a little without losing anything, I really enjoyed it.

Buy it? Yes, absolutely!
In a nutshell: A fantastic follow up, with some truly amazing characters.  Definitely remains a favourite series.

Other Reviews of Heir of Fire: Great Imaginations | Behind the Pages | Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Red Rising (Pierce Brown)

Red Rising (Pierce Brown)Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 28-01-2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Goodreads

The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity's last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it's all a lie. That Mars has been habitable - and inhabited - for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield - and Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda.

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★★

 

The storyDarrow is one of the Reds burrowing deep into Mars to mine the elements needed to terraform the planet so that the other colours can one day join them.  Or so he believed.  Helped by a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow is disguised as a Gold, one of the ruling class, and manages to obtain entry into The Institute, where Golds learn and compete for apprenticeships.  Darrow hopes to work his way up from the inside, but the Institute may be more than he bargained for – and he soon finds out that not all Golds are created equal.

The story is dramatic, gripping and full of twists and turns – but it’s also dark and gritty.  If you’re expecting fluff, or romance, or anything of the like, put Red Rising down and step away!

 

The characters
Darrow is great.  I can definitely understand the comparisons between him and Ender (of Ender’s Game). Both are old beyond their years, occasionally ruthless and hrd, but also compassionate.  Darrow is, with good reason, driven by fury and hatred of the Golds, and it’s absolutely impossible not to sympathise with him.

Brown’s writing is evocative and emotional, and it will suck you into Darrow’s mind and world.  You feel Darrow’s heartbreak, his rage, his shock, as he does.  His love for Eo comes through so clearly which also makes him very easy to like.

There are a lot of characters in Red Rising but it’s hard to comment on many without spoiling elements of the story.  I will say I thought the women were great – Eo, Mustang and – to a lesser extent – Harmony are strong, fierce, opinionated and independent women you can’t help but like.

 

final thoughts

Red Rising was slightly darker than I expected – more adult than YA I would say – but I really liked it despite, or perhaps because of, that.  It’s refreshing to read a dystopian novel that stands out, both because of the unusual setting and the dark events that Darrow and the other characters are put through.

There were a few things I didn’t think were perfect about Red Rising.  For one thing, the language took me a little while to get used to, and the sheer number of Houses was a little confusing at first, but overall I really enjoyed Red Rising and I’ll definitely be getting my hands on book 2!

Buy it? This is one I think is worth buying.
In a nutshell: A hugely absorbing start to the series – I can’t wait for the next book!

Other Reviews of Red Rising: Not Yet Read | Popcorn reads | Fantasy Book Cafe

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The Last Savanna (Mike Bond)

The Last Savanna (Mike Bond)The Last Savanna by Mike Bond
Published by Mandevilla Press on 15-06-2013
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

With Africa's last elephants dying under the poachers' guns, Kenya rancher and former SAS officer Ian MacAdam leads a commando squad against them. Pursuing the poachers through jungled mountains and searing deserts he battles thirst, solitude, terror and lethal animals, only to find that the poachers have kidnapped a young archaeologist, Rebecca Hecht, whom he once loved and bitterly lost.

McAdam embarks upon a desperate trek to save not only Rebecca but his own soul in an Africa torn apart by wars, overpopulation, and the slaughter of its last wildlife. Based on the author's experiences pursuing elephant poachers in the wilds of East Africa.

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★
Readability: ★

I thought, with a blurb like that, that I would LOVE The Last Savanna.  Conservation is what I study, I love elephants, I have some very strong opinions on poaching and Africa is one of the most beautiful settings.  I expected some uncomfortable reading given that it’s about poaching, but I also expected a realistic, gritty but hopeful portrait of the fight against poaching.

Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.  I honestly feel like a lot of the blurb could be talking about a totally different book.  The poaching felt like a completely secondary part of the story.  MacAdam isn’t really hunting the poachers out of a love for elephants, in fact he doesn’t even really want to go along.  The Last Savanna is really all about MacAdam and Rebecca.  This is the story of MacAdam searching for Rebecca, of Rebecca’s feelings towards her kidnappers, of their current relationships with their partners, their prior relationship with each other, and their soul searching. Rather a lot of soul searching.  The Last Savanna is not a story of a man who loves Africa and risks his own life to take on the poachers and illegal wildlife trade.

I found MacAdam completely unlikable.  He lives with his wife Dorothy, who hates Africa and desperately wants to go home to England.  Their relationship is on the rocks, and MacAdam deals with that by….searching the country for his kidnapped ex-lover.  We spend a lot of time in MacAdam’s head, and to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it at all.  He alternates between these thoughts of how beautiful Africa is and how the only thing that really matters is killing.

Rebecca is flighty and frustrating, and I couldn’t get behind the romance at all.  Both characters are with other people now, which is always a bit of a risk, but something I could have coped with if done well.  What I couldn’t really cope with was that they spent so much time thinking about each other when I couldn’t really feel a connection. Physically, yes, but not romantically.

The most interesting character is Warwar, one of the Somali poachers who kidnapped Rebecca.  He grows throughout the novel, and I understood his motivations for the way he acted more clearly than anyone else’s.

As expected, the setting is beautiful.  The landscapes are vividly portrayed and Bond clearly has a love for Africa.  Bond shows his obviously intimate knowledge of Africa by using local terms for plants and animals, in much the same way as Anthony Lawrence does in his books.

My biggest issue with The Last Savanna was the writing style, which just did not work for me at all.  As I read an ARC copy, these issues may have been fixed, but the writing put me off the story the whole way through.  I’ve included a quote below which is an example of the ways the writing style bothered me.

“And this has broken my heart for so long now, because I’ve loved the wild, loved the animals, the forests, each tree and bush and river and hidden spring, those I know and those I’ll never see, each heath and wild shore and the herds of wilde-beest and zebra far as the eye can see, and then beyond, then beyond that, outspanned beyond time – the magnificent multiplicity of earth reduced now to these few outposts, these last cornered survivors of rain forest and savanna to be eliminated in my days, before my sons are old.”
[93% e-arc]

This sentence is so long and wordy, not the sort of writing I expected when I thought I was signing up for a drama filled desperate pursuit of poachers!  Secondly, this quote just comes back to my issues with MacAdam.  One minute he’s a rugged, disillusioned ex-SAS man “Only killing’s not false; only killing changes things” [64% e-arc] and then the next he’s waxing lyrical about the intrinsic value of Africa.  It feels like the two sides just don’t fit together well.

Both Ian and Rebecca spend a lot of time soul searching, and between that and the writing style, it felt like the author was trying too hard to make this book deep, meaningful and literary.  Sometimes I like that sort of thing, but not when I’ve picked up a book on poachers.

I struggled through the book, determined to find out what happens in the end.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say, most emphatically, that the ending did not redeem the story for me.

I definitely seem to be in the minority with my opinion, so perhaps it’s due to my own biases that The Last Savanna and I just did not click on any level.  I expected something great from Mr Bond, an environmental activist, but unfortunately I was disappointed.  Aside from providing a small insight into the motivation behind poaching at ground level, The Last Savanna does little to address the poaching crisis.  We see no insight into why the poachers would get paid so much for the ivory, no mention of the end users and not one method for stopping poaching (as opposed to simply hunting down the individual poachers).  I didn’t find The Last Savanna enlightening or hopeful.  It didn’t connect with me as an animal lover, as a conservationist or as a reader. Although the setting was beautiful, I didn’t enjoy the writing style, the characters or the romance.

If you’re looking for a character-driven slow building thriller with a literary feel, you will probably love The Last Savanna.  If you already know you like Mike Bond’s writing, (or the quote above didn’t put you off) The Last Savanna may be a new favourite.  But if you’re looking for a fast-paced tale of elephants and the men who try to protect them, I’d recommend putting The Last Savanna down and walking away.

Buy it? This is one I wouldn’t be willing to buy, or in fact, even borrow.
In a nutshell: I expected to love The Last Savanna but unfortunately it just wasn’t for me. Could not recommend.
I preferred: The Last Rhinos & The Elephant Whisperer

Other Reviews of The Last Savanna: Something Wordy | Bea’s Book Nook | Merry Meerkat Marginalia

One Star