[ARC] Breakwater: Catherine Jones Payne

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

I finished reading Breakwater last night and I’m still not exactly sure what I think of it. I keep oscillating between 2 and 3 stars because there were parts of the book that I really enjoyed, but then there were an equal number of parts that I just… didn’t find interesting at all.
Let’s start with the cover, though. The cover is gorgeous, A++. It looks like it’s supposed to depict Jade, the main character, who’s described as having fuchsia hair and dark skin. It’s really gorgeous, and I know that they say to never-judge-a-book-by-its-cover but I don’t think anyone really listens to that rule anymore lol. So yeah, I approve of the artwork.

Now onto the actual story.
The writing, I noticed, is really, really… jerky? Transitions from chapter to chapter are sometimes super sudden, so you’re left grasping at straws like– what. what just happened. For example: (I’m not tagging this as a spoiler because we all know, from the description, that Jade’s fiance kills a naiad) Chapter 1 consists of Jade and her friend Rhea getting all dolled up to go to her future in-laws house for a party. The mood is super light, super fun, Rhea’s talking about how she wants to get in with the King’s youngest son, so she’s gotta make him jealous by flirting with other handsome mermen and Jade’s like “oh Rhea, u a riot girl” and Jade’s quietly admiring Tor and wondering what jewelry she should wear and you know, the mood is generally, super happy.
Then the chapter ends with: “When I reached the fire coral, I stopped short and locked eyes with Tor. My whole body trembled. In one arm, he held the dead body of a red-haired naiad girl.”
This would be a super, super cool transition– if the next chapter didn’t start off so stilted. Jade immediately starts freaking out and accuses Tor of killing her, and all of a sudden she’s antagonizing the crap out of him even though in the previous chapter, she kept singing praises in his name. It just seemed really strange to me that Jade would immediately jump to the conclusion that he murdered her. And maybe, as they explain later on in the book, there’s good reason for her theory: after all, most mer hate the naiads. But they don’t explain that in the beginning of the book (there’s something about how they live in “uneasy coexistence” but I didn’t think that would point to outright murdering each other), so it’s just a super confusing interaction. And, I mean, she’s not wrong. Tor did kill the girl. But their confrontation scene and her subsequent panic happens so fast that it’s kind of funny, in a bizarre, what-just-happened kind of way.
This sudden change in atmosphere from really sunny to really awful and depressing happens consistently throughout the book.
Also, Jade’s everywhere. She has a tail and they live underwater, so she swims to get to places, which means really fast scene changes where she’s in the city, then suddenly she’s near the breakwater horizon, then suddenly she’s with the naiad, then suddenly she’s at the palace. These journeys are encompassed in maybe one sentence; it ends up being jarring to read.
I mean, I kind of imagine Jade like

One of the better things about this story is that it introduces an enormous kingdom with a lot of unrest. I really, really wish that Ms. Payne had gone further in her description of this world, or tried world-building just a little more before she jumped into the story. I think that the way that this novel is constructed, it reads like a companion book to a previous story that really sets up the Thessalonike nation.
Like the naiad. Who are they? What do they look like? I still don’t know if the naiad walk on two legs or if they have tails, because it’s never stated in the book. Do they look like humans, as opposed to the mer with their tails and their rainbow hair? How does the water-casting thing work when they all live… underwater? And how on earth do they attack people with their water-casting? Do they make whirlpools and send mermaids spinning away from them? Can they actually like impale someone with a stick of water? Why isn’t this talked about?

Another thing that I noticed: Jade is the¬†only dynamic character in this book. She goes through some personality changes and has some realizations, but everyone else is so… their personalities are really… consistent. Cleo is just as businesslike and cutting in the beginning as she is in the end, whether Jade, her daughter, is getting engaged, is getting almost-murdered-by-an-angry-mob, or is being a brat in general. She never loses her cool, which is admirable, but it also makes her unrelatable. That goes for a lot of the cast: Aunt Junia, who comes off as always kind of worried by ready for adventure. Rhea, who is vapid and spoiled. Kora, who is anxious and maybe a little naive. They never change, throughout the story.
The one thing that Jade keeps constant is her spur-of-the-moment decisions. I think the one decision that she put some thought into, and that was after nearly getting the life choked out of her by Tor, was refusing to accept his incoming marriage proposal on behest of the king.¬†Jade doesn’t listen to anyone. She just goes and goes and goes and goes. That girl doesn’t stop going and doing things without thinking first.

A lot of characters are introduced suddenly, then are taken away for long periods of time. I personally never grew attached to the guard, Maximus, this mer named Cassian who’s introduced later and shows up once or twice throughout the course of the book, Aunt Junia, who’s Jade’s aunt and confidante, Kora, or Pippa’s (the sister of the naiad that was killed) band of friends.
Ms. Payne fleshes these characters out enough so that you think they’re going to be important, but they only show up when it’s convenient to the story. I guess it’s like that with most characters in novels, but it felt super overt in this one. They’re just confusing additions to the plot and I almost wonder if some of them were necessary. Maximus, especially, though he made more sense later: it seemed like he was SO fleshed out for only appearing in like one or two scenes, but then by the end of the book, with Alexander’s departure… that’s when you’re like oh. Duh. He’s the next love interest.

Speaking of unnecessary characters, Alexander, the merman who lives in the naiad district and turns out to be some long-lost school-kid crush that Jade had years ago, is the most irrelevant character in this story.¬†I don’t even know why he was necessary to add. He’s Jade’s love interest, but the story could have functioned entirely without him. In fact, it would have been ten times better without him, because he’s introduced randomly, feels like he’s forced into the narrative, and does nothing but contribute to the damsel-in-distress trope that pervades the story. The romance came out of nowhere. Total left-field. Jade could be a seriously formidable character on her own, but I feel like the love story was contrived to humanize her, or something, or make her seem a little more vulnerable, which Ms. Payne already does a good job of. I don’t know why there’s a love story at all because it’s seriously the worst part of this book… I would have given it 3.5 stars if not for Alexander.

Lots of interesting situations occur in this book, but the introspection and emotional reactions of the characters to these situation– don’t exist. It’s a lot of, as I said before, action. Jade is doing this. Jade is saying that. Jade is angry because of this. Jade is hopeless because of this. But we learn everything from dialogue; there’s no looking into her persona, as you would with another character who has more internal monologue.
I was going to say that it seems like she’s always being saved, but that’s not entirely fair: she does save herself from Cassian when she thinks he’s about to attack her, and she *sort of* saves herself from Tor… although that part was infuriating. Jade, I know that your father was some kind of great, forgiving martyr figure, but she was going to let Tor murder her, even though she had a blade, because she would rather die than hate, even a skub like Tor. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! She literally has a dagger in her hand, she can stab him and get away, but she remembers that her father told her to always be brave? That he knew he might die any day, while working for the emancipation of the naiad people? How does that pertain to the situation at all?? That scene was so infuriating omg.

There is one thing, though: the trial that takes place for a third of the book, which pits Jade’s family against Tor’s, was really exciting. I thought it was well-written, emotions are running high, there’s betrayal, and it’s just a fun read. This was the part of the book that I enjoyed the most. It also wasn’t stretched out for too long, which ensured that the reader didn’t get bored. And there are some really good quotes in the book. Two in particular that I liked were:

“Don’t make me out to be a hero. I don’t have the energy for that kind of responsibility.” which Jade throws pretty resentfully at her mother and Pippa, post-trial. It makes her seem more like, you know, a seventeen-year-old who’s accusing her ex-fiance of murder. It humanizes her.

Then there’s “It’s easy to move on when things are so bad that you can’t stand them anymore. It’s harder when they’re just mediocre.” which is Pippa’s explanation as to why the naiad won’t leave this kingdom that hates them so much. The naiad have a really interesting backstory. I wish that we got more history on them, because they’re a very strong presence in the book.

In conclusion:
This book gets a lot better during the latter half. I think that Ms. Payne was more comfortable with the world she had built by this part, because it reads a lot easier. Jade is an interesting main character, and the whole undercurrent (ha. undercurrent) of politics and manipulation that makes up this story is really intriguing. I love that there’s so much complication over this supposedly easily solved dilemma. I love that the King isn’t this figure of absolute authority, and there are rioting naiads, anti-monarchists, and jilted aristocrats/Mer Noble Guard that are threatening his power. I love that Jade’s tangled up in this, and she does a pretty good job of making the right choice.

I think that the idea behind the story was fantastic– but the execution wasn’t.


Vengeance Road: Erin Bowman

I saw this book at the library, sitting kinda inconspicuously on a shelf, and I thought that the cover was really gorgeous, so I had to pick it up. Then I realized that it was a novel about the wild west¬†and all my Texan blood started singing. So I grabbed it. And I’m really glad that I got a chance to read it.
Vengeance Road¬†is a tribute to the gun-slinging Westerns of the 19th-20th centuries, featuring lawless towns, high-profile gangs, jaded cowboys, and a girl burning for revenge. Author Erin Bowman is known¬†for her¬†Taken¬†series, and¬†Vengeance Road¬†is a pretty drastic step from that genre. Still, it’s the first cowboys-and-Injuns, ragtime-playing, whiskey-sipping, cow-bones-and-burros sort of book that I’ve ever encountered. It was a really great break from the usual.

Starting right off, I felt weird about the dialect. I’ll confess that dialect is not my favorite literary device– especially after the adventure that was having to read Zora Neale Hurston’s¬†Their Eyes Were Watching God. The story was important, of course, and invoked a lot of reflection, but I couldn’t stand the dialect. I’ve never been able to, which is why I also tend to stay away from novels that take place in Victorian-era Britain or other ancient European settings. Not even books that take place in India and use arbitrary Hindi words. I always felt like it detracted from the story, so I was going to give up reading¬†Vengeance,¬†but I decided to stick through the first few chapters but did not expect much– I mean, I’d never gotten used to dialect in¬†TEWWG, and I didn’t see why that would be different for this book. But somehow, I developed a sort of understanding of the language, even started to enjoy it. Maybe it’s because I’ve always low-key wanted to have a deep Southern accent, haha. But whatever it was, I’m glad that it worked out.

That was a really long paragraph about language. Geez. Sorry.

Anyways, on to the actual book. Kate is like a female version of Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo,¬†who was a very powerful character, so it’s great to see some characteristics of his in this young woman. Kate’s suffered an enormous loss: her father is strung up by a gang, left to die, and their house is burned down. Furious and thirsting for revenge, Kate decides to track the gang down and take them out herself, all in the name of avenging her father. During the course of her journey, however, she slowly discovers that there’s a lot more to her father’s story than she’d ever known.

Within the first ten pages, someone’s already dead: this really sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Kate is this force of brutality, as hard and cutting as the Arizonan dust storms that drown men in earth, with a blood-lust that won’t be sated until Waylan Rose, her father’s murderer, has a bullet in his brain. To start this journey off, Kate dresses like a man and begins to make her way to Wickenburg to meet a man named Abe, friend of her father’s. The journey is difficult –¬†“The frontier ain’t for the faint of heart, and it certainly ain’t kind to women,” after all. Another thing to note about Kate is that she’s incredibly grounded. After her father dies, she immediately buries him and then sets out to find more on the men who did this terrible thing. She doesn’t cry until she’s taken one of them out, and even then, only allows herself to cry for something like a minute before counting down and ceasing entirely. She doesn’t have time to be sad; she doesn’t have time to sit around and mourn. If she wants to track down the Rose Riders, she’s got to get on it immediately.

Once she reaches Abe’s (only to find that he had passed away a few years earlier), she begrudgingly consents to being joined by Jesse and Will, Abe’s two eldest sons, who are supposedly on their way to Tucson anyways. She’s informed them of her mission to kill Rose and get rid of his gang, The Rose Riders, all of whom are notorious outlaws. Though the brothers think that she’s insane, and rightfully so, they insist on accompanying her halfway. The trick here is that Will and Jesse know her as “Nate,” a hard, grumpy young man.

Jesse and Will are really fun characters. Jesse’s the responsible older brother, but he faces some guilt from his past: his mother died in an Apache raid and he never quite moved on. She shot herself in the head to avoid being taken by the Apache, all while little Jesse watched, trapped underneath an overturned carriage. As a result, he’s grown up to be a very responsible, very cautious man, with a deep distrust for the Apache. Also, there’s a whole thing about how he spent hours squinting into the sun while he was trapped and he never stopped squinting. That was kind of tragic, but an interesting detail that humanized the character further.
Will is the younger of the two; he’s got a proclivity for chewing tobacco, has a sardonic humor that contrasts hugely from Jesse’s gentle jibes, and his family always comes first. The two of them make quite a pair, and they worm their way into Kate’s heart before she can stop herself.

There’s a lot of anti-Native sentiment in this book because it takes place in the old West. The settlers are fighting off Apache, who are rightfully incensed about the¬†trespassing of these “White-eyes” on their mother land. To make it worse, the settlers mine gold from her caverns, thereby destroying her beauty. Gold plays a huge role in this story: it’s the reason why Kate’s father was killed; it’s why the brothers are tracking Rose with her; it’s why anyone does anything in this story. The only person that’s entirely uninterested in gold is Kate, who only wants revenge. She claims, later in the book, that she has no need for gold; she has no need for anything. She has no home anymore, no one to go home to. If she dies taking down Rose, she’ll be happy knowing that she dragged him down to Hell too.

The racism comes to a head when the group is joined by a young Apache girl that Kate saves: Liluye. She’s ¬†blas√©, entirely indifferent to the hatred of Jesse. Will doesn’t acknowledge her much, and Kate tries to stay on good terms with the girl– after all, she’s their guide into Superstition Mountains. Liluye is like the ocean; she doesn’t care what the rest of the group does, she moves in her own path. The only reason she’s helping Kate is because she feels somewhat indebted to the girl for saving her, but also because her tribe lives amidst the mesas of the Mountain and she’s heading there anyways. It causes an interesting dynamic in the group, with Kate defending Liluye and then wondering why she bothers; Jesse trying to antagonize her at every turn; and Liluye simply looking for her way home. I was annoyed with her at first– she doesn’t even try to befriend the gang– but that annoyance quickly trickled away into understanding. She’s been hunted by white people for her entire life. She’s lost most of her tribe to them. It’s amazing that she doesn’t completely despise them.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this book. A¬†lot.¬†And you don’t see them coming, but you really should. Ms. Bowman is good at making readers comfortable, then pulling the rug out from underneath them. It’s important to remember that this is a book about deep-seated prejudice, burning anger, and overall: vengeance. Kate isn’t here to make friends. She wants Waylan Rose dead. Will and Jesse might be good friends, but they’ve got an ulterior motive, too. Like Kate’s father says: “Gold makes monsters of men.”

The ending was written well, though. I don’t want to spoil any more than I have, but it’s paced perfectly and the whole thing plays out as realistically as possible. I really enjoyed this book. It’s the first time I’ve ever read a YA novel that delves into the west, and I’m hoping that this is a trend that continues. Anyways, if you’re looking for an action-packed read, one with a lot of heart and soul:¬†Vengeance Road¬†by Erin Bowman might just be for you.

[UPDATE] Vassa in the Night: Sarah Porter

I emailed author Sarah Porter a few days ago, just to let her know how much I loved the book– but also to get some clarification on a scene that I didn’t fully understand.

During the events of¬†Vassa, we find that these creatures like Erg and Babs have some sort of a magical gag that disallows them to give our protagonist information regarding the “otherness” that inhabits the world alongside humans. The magical gag doesn’t kill, but it might as well: any being that disobeys these rules loses their inherent magic. Vassa’s initial plan is to get Babs talking, thereby taking away her power, but also because she doesn’t want to kill the old woman. She still feels some pity for her and has some conviction that Babs is a good person, corrupted by magic. She starts to get Babs talking, but then, right when it looks like Babs is going to lose her powers forever, but live– a swan chomps her tongue off. She goes tumbling out of the BY and splatters all over the concrete some thirty feet below.

Unfortunately, Vassa has one last question that¬†needs to be answered: how does she open the Night Rider’s eyes? Erg, who has already broken her oath twice in the past few chapters, reluctantly explains the whole situation to Vassa, but insists that there is something that Vassa needs to do first.

This is where we get the painting scene. It’s a new chapter, with Vassa, at age eighteen or nineteen or however old she is in present time, posing for her mother, Zinaida. She’s painting the picture that we saw earlier, in Babs’s apartment: a young girl holding a gun to her mouth, with white roses lying behind her. The roses are supposed to be red, she recalls, in current time. And they will be. Once she shoots herself, her blood with wash them in red.
Vassa, in this scene, is made of paint. She doesn’t have flesh and muscles and bones– she’s just pigment. But over the course of the chapter, which involves a lot of self-reflection and I think, realization that she wants to live, she slowly tears herself out of her painted world and drops the gun, then makes her way over to Zinaida and puts her hand on the brush. Zinaida says something about how the painting isn’t finished, silly girl– you have to get back to posing.
“No,” Vassa says. “It’s done.”

Or something like that. I don’t have the book with me. :’-)

I interpreted this scene to mean that Vassa was, and has always been, a painting. Like she was a magical creature herself, paint that had turned human, and she had false memories of her entire childhood. That would certainly make sense. She didn’t have a conventional childhood, what with her father abandoning their family to become a dog and all. I figured that maybe Zinaida had carved Vassa into the world solely for this purpose of bringing down Babs and the BY stores, and I asked Ms. Porter about this. My interpretation wasn’t true, but the true meaning behind the chapter, I think, is so much better. The following passage is her reply to me:

“I’m intrigued by your interpretation of the painting–it hadn’t actually occurred to me that it could be read that way, but I see where you’re coming from! No, Vassa is human. But, you know, she has an extremely self-destructive, borderline-suicidal, personality, that comes from her grief over her mother, and from their difficult relationship while Zinaida was alive. She wouldn’t go into BY’s in the first place if there wasn’t part of her that wants to die. So it’s in that the sense that Vassa is trapped in the painting; basically, since it was painted, she’s been ambivalent about her own life, figuratively holding a gun in her own mouth. So freeing herself from the painting is the moment where she truly decides to live. That’s why this is the last thing Erg needs her to do.”

So what we see isn’t a literal metamorphosis from painting to human, but a shift from passively to actively living. It ties the whole story together.
I didn’t know if anyone else had trouble interpreting that scene but here you go! I really love the whole idea behind it, though the execution of the chapter was maybe a little confusing. Still, it acts as a transition between Vassa and her battle to the death with Babs Yaggs and BY, to Vassa and her battle for life, accompanied by Tomin and Chelsea but unfortunately, save Erg– who is released from her magical bond after giving Vassa the third answer.

Um, I’m not sure how to wrap this up. Happy reading!

Vassa in the Night: Sarah Porter

Vassa in the Night¬†is a retelling of the Russian folktale¬†Vasilisa the Beautiful,¬†which I feel like is a pretty obscure story in the USA. I only know about it because Baba Yaga was a character featured in some picture books when I was young, and I used to read this Indian comic book collection called¬†Tinkle,¬†which had (I think) several stories whose primary antagonist was Baba Yaga. I also remember reading a variant of¬†Vasilisa,¬†where a young man performed the customary three tasks to save her. I like the original better. Anyways, the story goes: a young girl named Vasilisa is given a small wooden doll, a gift from her dying mother. Her instructions are to give the doll a little bit of food and a something to drink when she needs help with something. She and the doll grow to be friends. One day, Vasilisa’s cruel stepmother sends her to the Baba Yaga, the evil witch, I think to fetch a candle. With no other choice, Vasilisa sets off with the doll. When Vasilisa finds Baba Yaga’s cottage, she discovers three riders: black, white and red; she then meets Baba Yaga, who tells her that she must complete three tasks in order to earn the fire, and if she fails, she will be killed.

I think that’s everything that’s pertinent to the story. If you’d like to read the whole synopsis, which I’m too lazy to write, here’s the link to the wikipedia page. So our story is a re-imagined version of¬†Vasilisa,¬†one that takes place in the enchanted city of Brooklyn, where Baba Yaga’s cottage is a BY convenience store and Vasilisa is a young woman named Vasa Lisa, the orphaned daughter of a man-turned-dog and an insane artist. Vasa now lives with her stepsisters, Stephanie and Chelsea, and her stepmother, Iliana, who isn’t as cruel as her Russian counterpart, but still retains some neglectful tendencies. The real antagonist in Vasa’s life (at this point, anyways,) is Stephanie– her only remaining blood relative as the daughter of her father and Iliana, and who hates her with a burning passion. Stephanie isn’t the biggest problem Vasa faces, however; that would be too easy. No, enchanted Brooklyn is nothing like¬†Once Upon a Time,¬†where fairies float around and princesses live next door. Enchanted Brooklyn means that night stretches on for days; the local convenience store, BY, dances on enormous chicken legs while surrounded by a tall fence of staked heads. BY is the only convenience store that is open all night, and shoplifters are beheaded. Vasa and other Brooklyn residents consent to this reluctantly, unable to do much because it casts some sort of haze-inducing spell over anyone in its vicinity. Luckily, the magic brings one good thing to Vasa’s life: Erg, her wooden doll, a gift from her late mother and one of her few friends. Erg is tiny and personable, a true force to be reckoned with, and with a stomach like a black hole. She causes some grief for Vasa, though, due to her kleptomaniac tendencies. Her insistence on stealing Chelsea and Steph’s things is the main reason that Vasa is cast out by the latter, and ultimately ends up in BY.

As you can see, this book starts out totally bizarre, but it only gets more confusing as you delve deeper. Babs, the manager of BY, is a sadistic old woman who employs two disembodied hands, remnants of her previously-beheaded victims, and these three run the dancing store. By the way, when I say that BY dances, I’m not being metaphorical– the store literally dances on two enormous chicken legs, in the middle of a parking lot. A parking lot that also features several tall stakes, tipped with the bloodless heads of “shoplifters”. As we learn, the two disembodied hand employees of Babs– their names are Sinister and Dexter– are responsible for framing innocent shoppers by sliding items into their pockets while they browse the store, unaware. Then Babs inevitably catches them, and Dex does the honor of chopping off their head with the store’s official head-chopping axe, which has seen many unsuspecting throats in its time.

The book is incredibly dark. Its atmosphere reminds me of¬†The Night Circus— Ms. Porter, like Erin Morgenstern, is incredible at creating visual narratives– but its tone is much darker, much grittier. There are a few very graphic deaths and a lot of really bewildering scenes, like an entire sequence where Vassa explores Babs’s apartment within the store. Here, she discovers paintings by her mother, Zinaida, which hint at her inscrutable past; tiny neon-dressed people who are murdered by a glittery dust, and a room that is entirely black save for two glittering gold crescents in the distance, who are indubitably connected to the strange, motorcycle-riding night watchman that drives in circles around the store, forever blinded by an opaque visor.

The cast is wide and varied, featuring the old, terrifying Babs; Vassa, a cunning heroine with her own secrets; Erg, the tiny doll whose bark is just as bad as her bite; Night, the wide expanse that plunges Brooklyn into darkness, but who is also searching for something important; Dexter and Sinister, loyal to a fault; Tomin, the strange senior from Vassa’s high-school whose guilt forces him back to BY; Picnic and Pangolin, otherworldly attorneys with a bone to pick with BY; the motorcycle man, an enigmatic figure who can’t do much more than loop around the chicken-footed store, and the aforementioned store, whose personality is so vivid and comical and utterly blas√© that it has to be counted as its own entity.

Nothing is quite as it seems in Porter’s Brooklyn. The world is more dangerous than Vassa could ever imagine, and she finds out the worst way possible; but she also discovers the truth about herself along the way, and the deepness of a friendship that she often takes for granted. To tell you the truth, reader, I’m not entirely sure myself what the story entailed. It’s so confusing to think back on– some of it, I’m like, did that really happen? Even though I started and finished it today. I couldn’t put it down. It was one of those roller-coaster stories that pulls you in, takes you for a ride, and spits you out with your hair askew¬†and your face slick with sweat.
Man, that was a dramatic sentence. How embarrassing lmao.
Still– you’ll find yourself struggling to understand what’s going on, thinking that you’ve got it down, and then realizing that oh lord, I really don’t know what’s happening. But it’s fun. It’s shocking. It’s devastating. It’s exciting.

I hope that you decide to check this book out. I can’t really do it justice in a review, nor could I explain the story. It’s something that you have to discover for yourself. For people that have already read¬†Vassa— I might suggest playing through¬†Ib,¬†a short game about exploring an art museum, which features a very similar atmosphere. If you haven’t, yet,¬†The Night Circus¬†is another story that has similar depth in its detail, though is a bit more straightforward. And if you’ve never checked out Ms. Porter’s other series,¬†Lost Voices— I¬†highly¬†recommend it. It’s one of the best mermaid-centric books that I’ve ever read, and I really, really enjoyed it. Be warned, the story can get horribly tragic but overall, it’s one of my favorite series of books. I hadn’t even realized that Sarah Porter was the author of that incredible trilogy until I looked her up after reading¬†Vassa,¬†so it was a really cool little surprise. Anyways, have fun exploring the streets of enchanted Brooklyn, and make sure to stay far from BY– or you might just get caught by Babs Yageen and her axe-wielding hands.

Starfall: Melissa Landers

I finally got my hand on¬†Starfall,¬†sequel to¬†Starflight,¬†by author Melissa Landers, and it was a pleasant surprise. I always go into sequels hoping for the best, and my expectations were met. The plot was engaging and the characters, familiar, were lovable (though irritating sometimes). The character development in this book was pretty subtle. It doesn’t appear as a dynamic change or a sudden realization on the character’s part; it’s very much a process. This story follows Princess Cassia and Kane Arric, fugitives of the Rose Kingdom of Eturia. This is a plot that’s briefly introduced in¬†Starfall,¬†but we get to see the whole backstory as to why Cassia left her kingdom, and why Kane followed her.

The book starts off with an argument between Kane and Cassia, one whose roots are growing frayed with time: Kane loves Cassia, and Cassia loves Kane, but she refuses to give him a chance because of her royal origins.¬†When¬†they get back to Eturia, and she knows that it will happen, they will never be allowed to be together. Kane leaves in a huff, stinging from some backhanded comment that Cassia makes. Cassia chooses to work on a Banshee retrieval mission, only to find that she’s walked into a trap set by the Daeva, intergalactic bounty hunters (as far as I can tell) who have been paid to bring her back to her kingdom. Cassia suffers pretty badly at their hands and this later results in PTSD, which was an interesting plot point that was resolved badly. It’s remedied in one chapter, later on, but it happens very quickly, which isn’t too true to the disorder. Still, her capture at the hands of the Daeva coincides, unfortunately, with Kane’s cozying-up to one of Gage Spaulding’s sales associates– while he’s making out with this chick on a simulated beach, Cassia is being beaten within an inch of her life. This puts an enormous amount of guilt upon his shoulders when he later finds out what happened to Cassia, and guilt is always a fun character circumstance. This is the path that the rest of the book follows in regards to their relationship: Kane and Cassia upsetting each other, making confessions to each other, fixing their friendship, and then being punched in the gut by some perceived betrayal that one or the other has apparently made. This isn’t a bad thing at all, just a point of observation.

All in all, I found Starfall to¬†be a really exciting read, but so emotionally exhausting at times. There are some books that are emotionally exhausting because of all the terrible things happening to the characters, but in this one, it was just the amount of arguing that goes on between Kane and Cassy. Their relationship follows the highs and lows of a roller-coaster; it’s a constant tug between two extremes, there’s never a pause to breathe. Still, these moments of relationship drama are put on hold to deal with the kingdom drama that Cassia is facing, and boy is there a lot of it. Between Marius, the twisted new king of Eturia whom she abandoned at the altar, and a strange new disease that is vexing her subjects, and a rebellion that wants her off the throne– Cassia finds herself in the throes of deposal, deceit, and betrayal.

There is a love triangle in this book! Several, actually, but the main one is Cassia – Captain Jordan – Kane. Jordan is an Eturian commander (?) that makes his first appearance during Cassia’s imprisonment in her kingdom. He’s an aloof, militaristic man with a cunning mind, his sights set on fixing up the country. This is one of the only love triangles that I’ve read in recent times, that didn’t totally annoy me. I think this is because the triangle only existed when Kane messed up. Otherwise, Cassia was pretty much devoted to him. She flirts with Jordan a little, even considers starting a relationship with him after a particular brutal blow on Kane’s part, but her heart is never in it. Also, Ms. Landers doesn’t go on for pages and pages about “should I choose Jordan or should I choose Kane,” which is something that love-triangle authors tend to do, and a tactic that is quick to put me off a book.

Doran and Solara make minute, blink-and-you-miss-it appearances which I’m actually glad for, because they weren’t the main characters of this story. Daro the Red returns, as do the pirates, and so do Spaulding Industries. Captain Reny shows up and he makes an interesting new friend, so that’s something to look out for. We’re introduced to a lot of new locations and characters as well as some familiar faces, so it’s a fun time. Also– the antagonist’s evil plan actually caught me off guard. I had no idea that they had been planning what they had been planning, and the disease sub-plot also takes an unexpected twist.

I would definitely recommend this book to fans of¬†Starfall¬†and anyone who enjoys the sci-fi, fantasy genre. It’s a great duology featuring friendship, love, and space adventures; who isn’t up for that?¬†And I’m glad that Melissa Landers ended her story here, because I feel like any more stories featuring these characters would start to dilute the world that she’s created. Starfall¬†can’t be read on its own, though, so anyone who’s interested should definitely start with¬†Starflight,¬†which I really, really enjoyed as well. Happy reading!