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

Sea of Shadows (Kelley Armstrong)

Sea of Shadows (Kelley Armstrong)Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong
Series: Age of Legends #1
Published by Harper Collins on 08-04-2014
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Horror & Ghost Stories, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon
Goodreads

In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court—one that will alter the balance of their world forever.

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

I was really intrigued by Sea of Shadows, because the blurb sounded amazing.  I was a little apprehensive too though, because while I loved Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series to begin with, I’ve yet to make any progress with Haunted because I found it quite slow to begin with.

Moria and Ashyn have grown up knowing that their role is to quiet the souls that live in The Forest of The Dead.  After chaos erupts in their village, Moria and Ashyn are separated, and the two set off on a quest to find each other – and to figure out just what happened to their village.

The premise of Sea of Shadows was amazing, and I absolutely loved the beginning.  I loved the Forest of the Dead, learning about the twins, and the truly eerie atmosphere Armstrong created when the village is found devastated.  I found some of the middle a little slower going, but the story soon picked up again, and overall I really enjoyed the plot.

Sea of Shadows flicks back and forth between Moria and Ashyn’s point of view, but as the twins are so very different in personality, it’s easy to keep track of who’s chapter it is.  Moria is the feisty, short-tempered Keeper.  She scares the children with tales of mythical monsters – and they love her for it.  Ashyn is the quieter, more responsible Seeker.  It’s her job to go into the Forest of the Dead, locate bodies of the dead and put their spirits to rest.  I enjoyed both characters, and the two had a really interesting relationship – not too sugary-sweet, but still fundamentally loyal and good.  I also especially loved the girls’ pets.  Moria’s wildcat Daigo, Ashyn’s hound Toga, were great and the girl’s relationship with their pets made them that much more likeable.

I found Sea of Shadows a little strange genre-wise at first, because the beginning is pretty damn creepy (for me at least, though I admit to being a wimp!), whilst the rest is more of a standard fantasy-adventure.  Although I found the mix a little strange to begin with,  I enjoyed it overall – think a YA fantasy adventure with some creepy elements in the same sort of vein as the  Game of Thrones White Walkers.

My only real complaint with Sea of Shadows was the world-building, which I found a little lacking.  For a long time, I had only the vaguest sense of what Ashyn and Moria were supposed to do, or how.  Whilst some mystery can be a good thing, this went on a little too long so instead of feeling like intionally building intrigue it sometimes felt more like an accident.   While I found the world-building a little disappointing, I enjoyed the plotline and the characters, and I think the series has great premise, so I’ll definitely be checking out book two.

Buy it? This is one worth buying for me, but I’d probably buy it on a deal.
In a nutshell: Great premise and interesting characters – a very promising start to an exciting new series.

Other Reviews of Sea of Shadows: Dark Faerie Tales | My library in the making | The Diary of A Bookworm

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Grim (Christine Johnson)

Grim (Christine Johnson)Grim Published by Harlequin on 25-02-2014
Genres: Adaptations, Fairy Tales & Folklore, Fantasy & Magic, Paranormal, Short Stories, Young Adult
Pages: 474
Format: eARC
Amazon
Goodreads

Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today:

Ellen Hopkins
Amanda Hocking
Julie Kagawa
Claudia Gray
Rachel Hawkins
Kimberly Derting
Myra McEntire
Malinda Lo
Sarah Rees-Brennan
Jackson Pearce
Christine Johnson
Jeri Smith Ready
Shaun David Hutchinson
Saundra Mitchell
Sonia Gensler
Tessa Gratton
Jon Skrovan

My opinion:

I couldn’t resist Grim when I saw it on NetGalley.  Fairytales with a sinister twist?  There were so many great authors too – some I already knew and loved, like Kimberly Derting, but even more that I’ve heard a lot about but have yet to try.

Unfortunately, what Grim really taught me is that I just don’t really get along with short stories! I absolutely loved the concept behind so many of these stories, and yet I wanted more from them – more build up, more depth, more everything! As expected from an anthology, some stories worked better for me than others, and the highlights for me were The Twelfth Girl, Better and A Real Boy.

The Key (Rachel Hawkins)
In The Key, Lana is embarrassed to find her psychic mother has agreed to do a reading for some of the kids she goes to school with.  Lana has a small amount of psychic powers too, and in this story she sees something she shouldn’t when she peeks into someone’s head after promising not to.

While I enjoyed the storyline, this was one of the stories that stood out to me most clearly as a reminder of why short stories just don’t work for me.  I felt like the ‘twist’ was reasonably predictable, and the open ending meant the story felt like it’d barely begun before it ended.

Figment (Jeri Smith-Ready)
Figment, it turns out is a retelling of Puss in Boots, although my vague inkling while reading was that it reminded me a little of Tinkerbell.  In Figment, Elias, a 17 year old guitar player, inherits a little stuffed cat when his father dies, that turns out to be much more than it seems.

Although I couldn’t tell quite where the inspiration came from, I really enjoyed this story.  Despite being part of an anthology of unusual stories, the originality of this stood out to me.  The story is told from the point of view of the immobile stuffed cat (the titular figment), which was a really interesting point of view to read from.  I felt that this was a story that was truly complete, despite it’s short nature.

The Twelfth Girl (Malinda Lo)
The Twelfth Girl is a modern, urban retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  Liv is the new girl at the Virginia Sloane School for girls, and she’s fascinated by Harley and her friends, who reportedly go dancing every night and seem able to get away with anything.

The Twelfth Girl was one of my favourite stories of the anthology.  Although I don’t think the characters were particularly likeable, they worked really well for the story.  I enjoyed the writing, the plot and the imagery, and I would be more than happy to read a full novel of this story.

The Raven Princess (Jon Skovron)
The Raven Princess is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the story of a queen who wishes her daughter would turn into raven and fly away because she’s fed up of listening to her cry.

This is one of the clearest re-tellings, which is a little bit disappointing.  I also didn’t feel like it was particularly sinister – it was enjoyable, and charming rather than dark and twisted.  I enjoyed the twists Jon Skovron had put on the story, and it was a solid read, but it wasn’t one of my favourites.

Thinner than Water (Saundra Mitchell)
I don’t honestly know what this was a retelling of. I didn’t mind it but I didn’t particularly love it either, and I know a lot of people were put off by the incest and abuse themes.

Before the Rose Bloomed: A Retelling of The Snow Queen (Ellen Hopkins)
This is, obviously, a retelling of The Snow Queen, but it was one of my least favourites.  I found it quite dry and slow, and unfortunately this one really didn’t work for me.

Beast/Beast (Tessa Gratton)
This is a retelling of Beauty and The Beast.  I really enjoyed the writing, but the meaning behind the title honestly escaped me a little. I found that by the end of the book, Beast/Beast had just got lost among some of the more memorable stories.

The Brothers Piggett (Julie Kagawa)
This is a retelling of the Three Little Pigs, and it was one of the stories I enjoyed the most throughout the anthology.

Untethered (Sonia Gensler)
According to Hidden in Pages, this is apparently a retelling of The Shroud.  Although I didn’t find it quite as gripping as some of the other stories, I really loved the way it was written, and it seems to have been the favourite for a lot of people.

Better (Shaun David Hutchinson)
Better was one of my favourite stories.  The story follows Pip, an ‘artificial being’, who was created with the intention of using her to find a cure for the Disease, and Levi, the son of the scientist who is experienting on Pip. I really loved the way Pip was developed, and I’d be happy to read a longer story with this plotline.

Light it Up (Kimberly Derting)
Light It Up was a really creepy, modern Hansel & Gretel retelling.  Hansen and Greta are camping with their father and stepfather and wake up to find themselves alone.  Light it Up wasn’t one of my favourites, but I did like the way the relationship between Hansen and Greta was portrayed, and the story was convincingly creepy.

Sharper than a serpent’s Tongue (Christine Johnson)
I honestly have no idea what Sharper than a serpent’s Tongue is a retelling of, and it’s really hard to talk about the story without giving much away.  In short, the story follows Clara and Dina, two sisters living with an alcoholic mother and very different attitudes. In all honesty, I just found this story a bit strange.  It had lots of different elements and for me personally, it just didn’t work.

A Real Boy (Claudia Gray)
This was a sci-fi retelling of Pinnochio and probably my favourite of the anthology.  I loved the way this was written, the characters and the plot and I’d love to read an entire novel based on this story.

Skin Trade (Myra McEntire)
Another one where I didn’t know which fairytale this was a retelling of! Unfortunately it just didn’t work for me.  Despite the very strange nature of the story, I was really intrigued, but I didn’t feel like there was enough to sink your teeth into.

Beauty and the Chad (Sarah Rees Brennan)
This was a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a twist.  The Beast in this case is a modern day frat boy, sent to a classic fairytale setting.  This was one of the more amusing stories because the two characters may as well have been speaking different languages!  This seems to have been a lot of people’s favourites, but for me it didn’t live up to The Twelfth Girl, A Real Boy or Figment.

The Pink: A Grimm Story (Amanda Hocking)
This felt like the most classic fairytale of the bunch.  While I liked it, and enjoyed the heart-warming nature of the story, I didn’t feel like it fit in with the theme of fairytales with a sinister twist.

Sell Out (Jackson Pearce)
Sell Out was like a very twisted retelling of Snow White/Sleeping Beauty.  In this, the main character is able to bring people back from the dead by kissing them.  This was one of the more original feeling stories, probably helped by the male POV.  One of the better stories in the anthology for me.

 Buy it? This is one that I would personally borrow.
In a nutshell: A really interesting mix of fairy-tale retellings with a few real gems hidden in there.

Other Reviews of Grim: Book Munchies | The Daily Prophecy | In Bed With Books

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