Lord of Shadows (Cassandra Clare)

Lord of Shadows (Cassandra Clare)Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on May 23rd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 701
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Would you trade your soul mate for your soul?

A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.

Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?

Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.

When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.

SPOILER ALERT: As this is book 2 in The Dark Artifices series, there will be spoilers for Lady Midnight throughout this review.

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

Given my somewhat inconsistent opinions of Cassandra Clare’s books in the past, I was nervous about Lady Midnight – but then ended up loving it! I bought Lord of Shadows as soon as I had an audible credit, and I binge listened to both books in a row.  I have to admit, part of my motivation for getting the audiobooks was that I knew Lord of Shadows was narrated by James Marsters, one of my favourite narrators (although I miss his Spike accent!).  Picking an audiobook based on the narrator might seem like a pretty risky strategy, but it paid off in this case – I enjoyed Lord of Shadows even more than Lady Midnight.

I felt like we got to see more of the Blackthorn siblings in Lord of Shadows, and I really enjoyed that. I adore Ty, and I’m definitely a not-so-secret Ty and Kit shipper!  The romance element got heavier in Lord of Shadows, which could have been a dealbreaker for me, given that I didn’t love the romance in Lady Midnight, but there was enough here to enjoy to more than balance it out.  Three love triangles are definitely too many, especially when I feel like two of them have a clear way they should pan out (in my head at least).  Feeling like they’ve got an obvious resolution takes away some of the intensity, and instead just felt like a slightly annoying, predictable way to try and ramp up the intensity.

Having said that, I love a lot of the characters, so I’m willing to overlook some of their irritating romance habits to a certain extent.  Mark and Kieran are both pretty emotionally damaged, and those are my favourite kind of characters, so it’s no surprise I’d love them! Christina and Emma are kickass, and Kit and Ty are just kind of adorable.  I mostly just feel a bit bad for Dru, who seems to always get a crappy deal – she’s very relatable, but I do occasionally want to shake her a bit!  Livvy is the weakest character in the family for me, I just find her a bit strange and forgettable.  Tavvy hasn’t had much of an impact either but he’s only little still so I’m not really expecting him to! Maybe it’s just because Ty is such a good character, that I can’t help feeling Livvy is somewhat flat in comparison.

As with Lady Midnight, I found the plot addictive, and burned through this very quickly: 10 days for a ~24 hour audiobook is way above average pace for me!  There is a cliffhanger, so if you’re not fond of those, it might be worth waiting and binge-reading the trilogy all in one go, but having read the first one and knowing the second one was out, I couldn’t convince myself to wait!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Lady Midnight (Cassandra Clare)

Lady Midnight (Cassandra Clare)Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 698
Format: audio
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

In a kingdom by the sea…

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?

The darkly magical world of Shadowhunters has captured the imaginations of millions of readers across the globe. Join the adventure in Lady Midnight, the long-awaited first volume of a new trilogy from Cassandra Clare.

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

I have a somewhat rocky track history with Cassandra Clare’s books… I loved books 1-3 of The Mortal Instruments but I thought 4 was pretty poor, and then ended up enjoying 5 & 6.  I’ve tried multiple times to get into The Infernal Devices, but despite having read Clockwork Angel I remember almost nothing about it and felt decidedly underwhelmed by it.  I put off picking up Lady Midnight because I assumed I’d need to have read The Infernal Devices first, but since I had an audible credit to spend I thought I’d just give it a try and look up a wikipedia summary for if I really needed to.

Lady Midnight follows Emma Carstairs and the Blackthorns, five years after City of Heavenly Fire. Based mostly at the LA Institute, this is a shadowhunter world that’s both familiar and still a little new to us as readers.  We’ve got characters that we know, sort of – we met Emma and the Blackthorns in City of Heavenly Fire – as well as new characters, like Kit Rook and Kieran.  We’ve got a few plot threads to follow throughout Lady Midnight: the return of Mark, who’s both changed and unchanged by his time in faerie, Emma’s search for evidence of what happened to her parents, and her desperate desire for revenge, and Emma and Julian’s potentially-veering-into-dangerous-territory feelings.

I have to say, I actually love most of the characters. Julian, like Jace, is a little too perfect-seeming for me at times, but I loved his siblings.  I instantly liked Kit and both Emma and Christina are very easy to like. The family dynamics between the Blackthorns are great, and the intense feelings stirred up by Mark’s return led to some moments that tugged on the heartstrings!  The romance definitely wasn’t my favourite aspect – one of my least favourite things in YA, especially when there’s a big cast, is when everyone gets paired off so neatly, with their forever partners (I don’t love all of Maas’ pairings for the same reason!) – but I didn’t dislike it. It felt plausible enough, and I could see why each would like the other, even if I thought everyone’s feelings were a little over the top!

Listening to audiobooks always takes me longer than reading a book of the same length because I only listen while walking to work (which I don’t do every day) and briefly to fall asleep.  Having said that, I listened to nearly 20 hours of audiobook in just under a month, which is a little higher than usual probably, because I was enjoying it!  While Morena Baccarin probably won’t be making it onto my list of all-time favourite narrators – which are all men so far, weirdly – I did find her very pleasant to listen to, and I’d happily listen to another audiobook she narrated.

I enjoyed Lady Midnight a lot more than I expected to, and as soon as I got another audible credit, I bought Lord of Shadows, and listened to it pretty much straight away.  You can bet I’ll be getting book 3 when it’s out too!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Review: Wonder Woman: WarbringerWonder Woman: Warbringer (DC Icons, #1) by Leigh Bardugo
on August 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Source: From the publisher
Amazon
Goodreads

She will become a legend but first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning...
Diana is desperate to prove herself to her warrior sisters. But when the opportunity comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law to save a mere mortal, Alia Keralis. With this single heroic act, Diana may have just doomed the world.
Alia is a Warbringer - a descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery. Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies, mortal and divine, determined to destroy or possess the Warbringer.
To save the world, they must stand side by side against the tide of war.

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

I have to admit, I’m not much of a DC fangirl: I’ve never read any of the original comics, and my feelings on most of the DC movies are pretty lukewarm… But I loved the Wonder Woman film, and I liked Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, so I was really excited for Warbringer.

Leigh Bardugo’s take on Wonder Woman sees a young Diana save Alia from drowning, only to discover that Alia is a Warbringer and Diana may have just doomed the world.  Desperate to prove herself as a hero, to put things right, and to prevent being exiled by her sisters for the crime of saving a mortal, Diana leaves Themyscira to try and break the Warbringer cycle.

“I am done being careful. I am done being quiet. Let them see me angry. Let them hear me wail at the top of my lungs.”

I had pretty high expectations for Wonder Woman, and sadly the book didn’t quite live up to those.  I liked the premise well enough, but the story felt very slow and I found the twist predictable.  Warbringer, despite being a teen book, felt very young to me; it has a definite Percy Jackson-esque feel, which isn’t a bad thing but wasn’t what I was expecting.  I didn’t feel the dangers and consequences were believably threatening, and the fact that the characters respond to trouble with giggly banter made it even harder to take seriously.

Bardugo’s writing was enjoyable, and the book is endlessly quotable.  The book is clearly trying to be Epic though, and occasionally those inspiring or kick-ass or feminist lines felt shoe-horned in.  I liked Diana and Alia, and I LOVED Nim. I wasn’t particularly bothered by either Jason or Theo.  I loved the diversity of the cast, and the mixtures of points of view we got, rather than everyone always agreeing and thinking the same way.  I never really got emotionally invested in the romances though, to be honest I think I’d have found a relationship between Diana and Nim (or even Alia) more believable than the ones we got!

All in all, Wonder Woman was a good, fun read, and a genuinely solid choice.  If you loved the Wonder Woman movie and want a superhero book with a diverse cast and lovely writing, you’ll enjoy it. You just might not love it, even if you’re expecting to.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Tower of Dawn

Review: Tower of DawnTower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6) by Sarah J. Maas
on September 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 660
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

In the next installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, follow Chaol on his sweeping journey to a distant empire.
Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.
His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica—the stronghold of the southern continent's mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.
But what they discover in Antica will change them both—and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

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

Tower of Dawn runs parallel to Empire of Storms, following Chaol and Nesryn’s journey to try and gain more allies for Aelin and the others.  On top of dealing with the politics and negotiations, trying to gain allies without revealing what they know about the Wyrdkeys because they don’t know who can be trusted, Chaol is also dealing with the aftermath of his injuries.  I like Nesryn and Chaol well enough, but I knew my two favourite characters (Manon & Lysandra) wouldn’t be in Tower of Dawn, so I went in not sure how attached to the characters I’d feel.  I’d also seen a few reviews saying it was too long, which seemed very believable looking at it. I shouldn’t have worried; I ended up loving a lot of the characters, especially Nesryn and Sartaq.  Nesryn and Chaol actually spend quite a lot of time apart throughout Tower of Dawn, so we alternate between their points of view, which was a thing I liked. I’m always a fan of multiple POVs, and I thought it worked really well here. While I preferred Nesryn’s storyline over Chaol’s, I could also see the importance of Chaol’s, and of course, I still enjoyed it.  Alternating between the two characters’ stories meant a slow-scene in one storyline could be followed up by something action-packed in the other, which kept me flicking through the pages saying ‘one more chapter’ far later than I should have been!

I actually was really pleasantly surprised by Tower of Dawn: I finished the book in 72 hours, even around work – in comparison, it took me almost two weeks to finish Empire of Storms, even despite having Manon to keep me addicted!  From my first-read of Throne of Glass to now, Maas has amazed me with the characters, the plot and the world-building.  In Tower of Dawn, that’s still the case, and we also got to see so many loose (or previously insignificant-seeming) threads link back together, and it becomes clear just how much planning Maas has put into the series.  This felt similar in many ways to the early Throne of Glass novels: it’s a little simpler and the cast is a little smaller, and while I’ve loved the way the series has developed as it went on, it was also nice to return to the same style that made me fall in love with the series initially. I missed Manon and her thirteen, but this was absolutely a worthy addition to the series.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

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