Frostblood: Elly Blake

Frostblood follows the story of a young woman named Ruby, blessed with the power of flame. Unfortunately, she can’t control it very well.
Ruby lives a relatively simple life, alongside her mother, in her village… until someone turns her into the guard for being a Fireblood. She is then imprisoned, rescued, and decides to aid a revolution by eliminating the reigning king.

So I enjoyed Frostblood; I thought Ruby was an pretty multidimensional character. She goes through a lot of physical development after training hard and basically becoming a soldier of this revolution. She also goes through emotional and mental maturation, which is good since, you know, she’s planning to kill a king.

Arcus is her love interest and mentor, a sullen, solemn man who guards the revolution’s base with a sword, and his heart with a wall. What a cheesy sentence. I can’t believe I wrote that but I’m leaving it here bc it’s funny. Anyways, Arcus dislikes Ruby intensely in the beginning, and the feeling is very much reciprocated. He thinks she’s childish and weak, and in no shape or way ready to kill a king. And he’s right. Ruby’s still offended, though.  We find out a lot more about him; his big twist isn’t all that big a twist. Once you start reading, you’ll know what I mean. But I thought his character was still compelling. And I did feel bad for him. You find out a lot more about Arcus that makes him more personable than I’m making him out to be, also.

I think that the one thing I resent is not learning more about the current king, Rasmus. He was the really interesting character in this book; also, I don’t remember her name, but there’s a woman in his court who basically acts as an ally to Ruby for her own ulterior motives. It turns out that she’s been in love with Rasmus since they were young, though he basically ignores her existence. She’s watched him morph from the boy she loved into a tyrant, but she believes that he can be redeemed. Their story would have been more interesting than that of Ruby and Arcus; I think so, anyways.

So all in all, Frostblood was a good book. I enjoyed the character arcs and the villain had an interesting origin story; the only downside is that it’s not really anything new for the high-fantasy YA genre. Girl finds out that she is special. Girl meets brooding boyfriend-to-be.  Girl hones her skills with the help of an old and powerful rando. Girl has weird chemistry with the antagonist. Girl topples dictatorial empire by herself. Sound like any book you’ve read?

I might keep going with this series but the next book touts a love triangle so… probably not. Still, if you enjoy elemental powers and rebel factions, crazy kings and a weird, shadowy entity that’s (who’s?) hellbent on taking over the world, give this book a go.

 

 

Minor update: I’m trying to make my tags more descriptive so that you can look through my books to see tropes you might enjoy. 🙂

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The Diabolic: S.J. Kincaid

I recently finished reading The Diabolic, a science fiction adventure by S.J. Kincaid. Diabolic follows the story of Nemesis, a genetically-engineered humanoid creature who has bonded for eternity to the daughter of a powerful senator: Sidonia. When the senator displeases the emperor and his family, Sidonia is summoned to be held hostage in their Chrysanthemum Court, where all of the imperial family and their most ardent supporters live. Nemesis goes in her stead, only to find herself delving deeper and deeper into a web of politics and lies.

I really enjoyed this book! It was fantastically planned– writing out a plot can be very difficult, but Ms. Kincaid managed to wrap up all loose ends and weave a story that flowed from point A to point Z, without any trouble. The universe she created was fascinating, with the strange aristocracy, the abandoned Excess, and the manufactured creatures such as Diabolics, Servitors, the fighting beasts, and the Exalted. And the characters were very likable: each had their individual story, which came to a climax during the events of the book. Neveni, Nemesis, Sidonia, Tyrus, Cygna, the Emperor, and everyone else involved, had a resolution to their tale.

Speaking of Tyrus: he was like a breath of fresh air in the realm of YA. Maybe I’m not well-read, but I don’t think I’ve encountered a character like him in any book that I’ve ever read. Tyrus is the nephew of the current emperor, well-informed of his grandmother’s scheming, and fully aware of his mortality. In order to protect himself in a court of vipers, he plays the part of a madman—and successfully fools everyone. He only drops the act when he discovers that Nemesis might be the most useful ally he could have ever found, and she quickly discovers that not only is he a good actor; he’s also fathomlessly clever, and ten steps ahead of everyone else in the game.

Another thing I appreciate deeply is the hint of unease at the very end of the story. Can Nemesis really trust Tyrus? After all of her misgivings during the latter half of the story, can she really believe that he had no hand in Sidonia’s death, nor that he would sacrifice far too much for her, or that he really loves her at all? Their union is bittersweet and fraught with tension on Nemesis’s side, but she has to find a way to reconcile her love for Tyrus and her distrust towards him. It’s a precarious position to be in and sets up a fascinating relationship to be featured in the next book.

Nemesis is also a really wonderful character. After being told that her only purpose is to serve, and that she’s a monster through and through, she holds herself in very low regard. Nemesis is convinced that she’s brutal, heartless, merciless, some kind of killing machine—and she is—but massively discounts her own humanity. It was sweet to read about Nemesis discovering the beauty of laughter, of love and of pain, through the pages of this book. She reminds me a little bit of an android—perhaps similar to the one in This, My Soul.

All in all, I found he Diabolic to be a really good read, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel– The Empress, and discovering what horrors await Tyrus and Nemesis. And the friction in their relationship. If you like a good sci-fi story and were intrigued by the likes of Illuminae and Gemina, definitely give this book a try!

Song of the Current: Sarah Tolcser

Song of the Current is a debut novel by Sarah Tolcser, and follows the adventures of Caro Oresteia and her wherry crew, consisting of frogman Fee; joined this time by an “arrogant young courier with a secret”. When Caro’s father is imprisoned for refusing to transport a package down the river, Caro takes it upon herself to deliver the item– but instead falls into an adventure with hired guns and pirates and all sorts of shady types trying to kill her. Caro needs to keep herself, Fee, the courier, and the wherry in one piece, but that proves to be easier said than done.

For a debut novel, this was a fantastic read. Most of the time, authors haven’t really found their voice by their first book– I think so, anyways. It takes a few tries to settle into something that can resonate with the audience, or maybe that it’s by the third time around, you’ve kind of honed in on your audience. Anyways, it was really good for being her first try at publishing a novel, and I laud her for that success. The characters are fully fleshed and the world is fascinating, meticulously detailed, and you can tell that Ms. Tolcser knows her stuff about ships.

I really appreciate our arrogant courier. He’s charming in a newborn sort of sense– he doesn’t know the first thing about sailing or wherrymen or what life is like outside of his red carpet and silver spoons. But the character development is wonderful; he really matures over the events in the story, and proves to be a formidable enemy and a trustworthy ally. Also, his arrogance is really funny.

Caro is a headstrong, ferocious young sailor, and she really holds her own when seemingly the whole world is against her. And the choices she makes are emotional, but she acknowledges the dangers that come with each option and chooses the best course of action regarding what they’re going to do. An interesting quirk of Caro’s is that, while her whole family can speak to the river-god, he’s unbearably silent when it comes to her. It’s the language of little things, is what she says over and over again– the way the light flickers off the water, the birds and the bugs in the air, but Caro can’t decipher a word he is saying– that is, if he’s saying anything at all. She comes into her own power eventually, and it’s a relief. Caro deserves the best.

A last aspect I enjoyed is the relationship between Caro’s parents. Her mother is a calculating Bollard, a merchant’s daughter and a branch of the massive Bollard network. She works for her family: shipping, trading, smuggling. Caro is unsure if she can trust the Bollards due to their proclivity towards whichever side can pay the most; is her precious cargo safe in their hands? Unlikely. So another relationship tested by rough waters (haha) is the one between Caro and her mother.
Oh, but mom and dad: so they live separately, but there doesn’t seem to be animosity between them. In fact, the opposite: they do love each other, to some extent. They’re just two fundamentally different people. It’s an interesting romantic relationship, because there’s no indication that either has someone on the side, so I think that they’re still invested in each other but their lives branch in different directions, and both are fine with this setup. When they are together, there’s chemistry between the two and they make use of that chemistry; but when they’re apart, it’s fine, and they don’t pine for one another.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot! It was lovely to explore the vast ocean, and it gave me very pirate-y vibes, so that was awesome because I’ve been looking for a sea-faring novel to read soon (my eye’s on Daughter of the Pirate King).  So give it a go if you’re into the sea, rough-and-tumble adventures, headstrong protagonists and over-confident couriers.

Gemina: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Man, I read this a while ago and never wrote a review for it, but the delight of reading a good story still lies light in my heart. If that makes any sense. Gemina is the much-anticipated sequel of Illuminae, but follows the story of Hannah Donnelly and Nik Malikov, residents of the Heimdall space station, which, if you recall, our heroes from Illuminae were hurtling towards after the disastrous invasion of the illegal mining colony Kerenza, and subsequent attack on the survivors’ ship by dreadnought Lincoln.

Hannah is the capable, and rather formidable, daughter of Captain Donnelly of Heimdall Station. He runs the whole enterprise with fair judgement and a lot of patience. Meanwhile, Nik is a member of a notorious crime family which operates on Heimdall. The two of them are closely acquainted—Nik is Hannah’s dust dealer, dust being a drug similar to, I guess, weed? – but find themselves forced to become even more closely acquainted when BeiTech mercenaries descend upon Heimdall, tasked with wiping out everyone on the station and intercepting the Alexander.

The book follows the same format as Gemina, with transcriptions of text messages, diagrams of the ship, so on and so forth. It never gets old because they’re so much fun to read—and of course, the same tension is found in every page, every unanswered message and every foreboding circumstance. It is heart-stopping in the truest sense of the word. And then the inclusion of time-space dynamics near the end, with the hermium rods and the black hole… agh.

And good lord, everything is incredibly terse. Not only is the station collapsing around Hannah and Nik– there are numerous people trapped on the same slab of metal in space, plus merciless mercs stomping around and shooting anything that moves.
And aliens.
There are aliens on the ship.
And these aliens are scary. Plus, they’re parasitic.

I can’t adequately put the plot of this book into words, but seriously loved it. It was a fitting sequel to Illuminae and I’m so so excited to pick up Obsidio, whenever it comes out! Happy reading! 😊

Rebel of the Sands: Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands is the first of a trilogy by debut author Alwyn Hamilton. Well, I guess she’s not really a debut author anymore but this was her first book. It came out a while ago, amidst all the djinns-and-the-Middle-East-and-India fervor; the one that resulted in books like The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, and The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi. I think I was overwhelmed by the similarities in the setting of all of these stories, so I ignored them in favor of other books. Then one day I was at the library, and Rebel of the Sands was sitting guilelessly upon the shelf, shimmering gold and black and blue, so I figured I should check it out at least for the sake of the cover.

I enjoyed this read! It was a welcome change after the start of a series of bad books, so here’s to hoping that I broke the curse. Rebel of the Sands follows a young woman named Amani Al’Hiza, “more gunpowder than girl”, desperate for a way out of her unwelcoming home. She’s a Cinderella of sorts; her aunt’s family hates her, she’s a bit of the chore-child, and her prince comes in the form of a reckless young foreigner named Jin. Amani, unlike Cinderella, isn’t looking for a man– only for a way out. Jin and Amani endure several misadventures before finally making it to their destination, or, well, Jin’s, and Amani finds herself wrapped up in a plot to overthrow the tyrannical Sultan and bring about “a new desert, a new dawn.”

I actually don’t feel too strongly about the first half of the book. It’s a lot of build-up to justify the relationship between Jin and Amani, which is good, because the author took her time to clarify Amani’s goals and give the reader more time to connect with her. Jin and Amani fall in love even though neither of them says it outright; honestly, I don’t think I’m a huge romantic so I was kind of (rolls eyes) at those parts, but it wasn’t overwhelming or anything. I found it — funny? Considering how harsh and cold Amani tries to be, but how she melts whenever Jin’s around, and she knows this and hates it.

I was more interested in the latter half, after Amani and Jin reach the secret kingdom where the rebels are all hiding away, plotting at capturing the throne for the rightful Prince Ahmed. During the entirety of the first part of the novel, I expected Jin to turn out to be “the Rebel Prince” that everyone seemed to be obsessing over, supposedly this huge legend and slowly making his way to the capital and the Sultan. It turns out that the Rebel Prince is his brother. Ms. Hamilton presents a lot of red herrings in this way, where she reveals stuff at the last minute or introduces new aspects of familiar characters that we wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. I really liked this about Rebel of the Sands. After reading so much YA literature, you get a little jaded and find yourself thinking, “I know what’s going to happen.” But I actually didn’t with this book.

I liked how Amani was not the quintessential good-girl hero trope that we see a lot. She leaves behind her best friend, Tamin, perhaps to die. She abandons a young prisoner despite the boy’s pleas for her to help. There’s another instance of this, but it would be too much of a spoiler, believe it or not. Amani debates with herself, sure, but in the end she always saves herself when faced with the choice– unless the person in danger is Jin or one of her other rebel friends. Usually you get protagonists who are very much “no, I have to save everyone, I’m the Chosen one,” or whatever, but Amani is self-serving and that makes her interesting.

The lore that comes into play during the latter half was really interesting as well. We get introduced to a whole cast of secondary characters who make more of an impact in like one hundred pages than Jin did in the entire book. Not that Jin is bad; I liked him, but he seemed a little bland to me. I don’t want to say more on that because I’d have to dissect his character, and I’d rather let you guys make the decision for yourselves.

Anyways, if you’re looking for a gun-toting, folklore-quoting, scapegoats and gold-coated beaut of a book, you’re in luck.
Do you know how long it took me to rhyme that? I’m not even sure it made sense.
Anyways, yeah, give Rebel of the Sands a try!

The Crown’s Fate: Evelyn Skye

I really enjoyed The Crown’s Game, which came previously to The Crown’s Fate, but I feel like something changed. Was it the writing? There was such a lack of intrigue in this novel, which is so disappointing because I remember feeling like The Crown’s Game was very Night Circus-esque. The writing felt like lines and lines of mindless description– like Ms. Skye was rushing through the story just to get it over-with. My biggest problem was that this book was not fun to read.

It wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t good.

Yuliana and Pasha were, in my opinion, the most obnoxious characters in this story. We’re supposed to sympathize with them but Yuliana is a brat and has no redeeming qualities, and Pasha is a pushover who we’re supposed to root for as the tsar? He’s so weak, though. The country is honestly better off without him. I feel like Nikolai actually would have been a better ruler. And though Pasha’s supposed to have come to this realization that he wants to be tsar and he would be a good tsar somewhere in the middle, he really only wants the position because it’s his birthright; not because he actually cares about his country and people. And this would be fine, if the author wasn’t trying to paint him as the golden boy.

Yuliana is just real annoying. She’s supposed to be the more efficient half of the kingdom but she does all of Pasha’s work for him, and she’s a jerk to everyone else. I don’t understand how she was supposed to be a character we grew attached to. And how is she content to just sit on the side and let everyone else run the kingdom when she’s the one who has been doing all the hard work? She made no sense; she probably would have been a good villain but?? I don’t understand what happened there.

Nikolai and his mom were weird. I didn’t really understand the mom’s role; she’s just there to infect him with her bad magic and then she eventually dies. Which is really anticlimactic because she had this really creepy character going, but then she drops dead halfway through the book. I mean, Nikolai kills her so I guess that’s a character-development thing for him but it was pretty disappointing. And Nikolai was basically a toddler throwing a tantrum through the whole story– I got the impression that he was more upset at the fact that Vika, who he’s known for like a month, presumably isn’t in love with him because she chose Pasha, rather than his state of being in ante-death and the trauma of having died. It just didn’t make any sense. And good lord Nikolai really needed to get his shiz together because seriously, every other one of his lines was “I can’t believe she chose him… instead of me.”

The only person I liked is Vika. She was still cool. But the rest of this story was subpar. You know another thing that annoys me? If you’ve ever read The Night Circus, you’ll know how gorgeously magic was described in that story. Even in The Crown’s Game, we get really detailed, enthralling descriptions. But this book just skims over the magic like “oh yeah Nikolai waved and thousands of small stone birds burst into the sky,” like what happened to the meticulously painted picture that we got in the first book? What happened between then and now?

Man, I’m just so upset that this story wasn’t anything compared to The Crown’s Game, which I had really high hopes for. I think the only good thing I can say about this is that Ms. Skye researched Russian culture thoroughly and it shows. But honestly? I would give this sequel a hard pass. Just pretend it doesn’t exist.

Oh, and the ending? The ending was ridiculous. It was so convenient and so hastily wrapped up. Literally the plot to the entire book is resolved in under ten sentences. So that was very very disappointing. And that’s basically what my opinion is of this entire book: utterly disappointing.

Red Sister: Mark Lawrence

This review is going to be short because I didn’t finish the book, so I’m going to only be talking about the first half. Red Sister is the beginning of a new series (Book of the Ancestor), by Mark Lawrence. He’s also known for his Prince of Thorns books, which I also tried to read but they were a bit too intense for me. I was interested in a “cruel prince” character, but there was nothing redeemable about Jorg Ancrath, our protagonist, so I didn’t get past the first few chapters. This is not to say that Prince of Thorns isn’t a good book; it was written well, but it wasn’t for me. I hope, however, that I’ll have time to try it again in the future.

Anyways, Red Sister sort of shared the same fate; I didn’t finish it, either. But I actually enjoyed Red Sister for as long as I was reading. The protagonist, Nona Grey, was really sympathetic and I felt kind of a motherly attachment to her, I guess. She’s only ten years old, so an interesting protag choice for a book geared towards adults. Nona’s had a hard life, from being sold to the “Child-Taker,” and then sold again to a man who owns a fighting ring. There, she works alongside other small children as a janitor. It could have gone very badly- I wouldn’t have been surprised if she and the other children had been used for far more unsavory things- but Mr. Lawrence decided not to take that route and I’m glad for it.

The real trouble starts when Nona kills a very important man, who was threatening her friend. I forgot to mention this, but Nona takes her friendships very seriously. Anyone who declares themselves her friend is guaranteed fully and unadulterated protection from Nona, who has proven herself as a force to be reckoned with. So she almost kills this guy, who belongs to a powerful family. Rather than being hung for what she did, she’s spirited away by the abbess of Sweet Mercy, a convent of nuns who are trained in battle, espionage and poisoning, religious studies, and magic. By “magic,” I’m referring to this thing that they call “The Path,” which I’m still not entirely sure about. From what I gather, rather than being able to summon fireballs or perform magical spells or something, they can bring people who are on the brink of death closer to life again and things like that. I’m still lost on the subject, though I’m sure that if you read further, it comes into play.

So the whole book is set in Sweet Mercy, which functions like an academy. The girls go to classes, train, there are friendships forming everywhere, Nona finds herself tangled in a web of conspiracy about a million layers thick– your typical “school” universe. I enjoy these types of books, and I really did like Red Sister, because it subverted some important tropes too: like the act of pitting two girls against each other. We’re introduced to Arabella Jostis in the very beginning; like Nona, she’s a new arrival, but she’s sent to Sweet Mercy by her family and has all the money in the world. Nona and Arabella get off on the wrong foot and their relationship fragments more and more as the story goes on, but after Nona proves herself in a life-or-death situation, they get over their mutual distrust and start becoming friends. They even take on the role of “The Chosen One and the Shield,” with the former being Arabella and the latter, Nona.

Another thing I enjoyed was the whole “prophecy” angle. From the very beginning, Arabella is touted as “the Chosen One” and therefore the most important person at the convent. Nona discovers later, however, that all of the important religious and political leaders in their country think that “the Chosen One” and subsequent prophecies are just stuff and nonsense. No one actually believes that Arabella’s important for any reason other than being a Jostis.

The reason I stopped reading couldn’t be summed up better than Diana Wynne Jones, author of Howl’s Moving Castle (my favorite book of all time!) and a multitude of other stories. In one of the essays featured in Reflections: On the Magic of Writing, Wynne Jones recalls that adult books needed an inordinate amount of description. When she tried to publish her first story for older readers, the would-be editor objected, claiming that her writing was “too short,” and “[he] didn’t get enough of a sense of wonder.” To which she wanted to retort, “But you should get a sense of wonder if you stop to imagine it!” She summarizes with two short sentences: Adults are different. They need me to do all that for them.

I’m all for description, sure, but Red Sister was so chock-full of meticulous details that I lost track of the story several times. Mr. Lawrence really doesn’t let you imagine anything for yourself because every single tiny thing- from Nona picking up a butter roll at dinner to Nona presenting herself in front of the High Priest- is fastidiously recorded. Do you think the butter role smells like fresh bread and salt? Wrong. The butter roll smells like x, y, z. Do you imagine Nona looking up at the High Priest with a glint in her eye? No. Nona does x, y, z. Pages and pages of description, whether it was inner monologue or the actions of the character, and for every single little thing that happened. I found myself getting bored even though the plot itself is very interesting, because we aren’t allowed to think independently while reading. Also, since each chapter is about four pages of action and twenty pages of description, the book moves at a snail-like pace.

I don’t plan on picking this book back up, and it’s sad because I really am interested in finding out what happens to Nona and Ara and the rest of their friends. But I’m not interested in sifting through thirty thousand pages of metaphors.
It’s still a good book, just not for me. If you’re interested in magic and warfare, and political turmoil piques your curiosity, you should check Red Sister out! Anyways, onto the next book. I think I’m going to try out Rebel of the Sands.

The Romantics: Leah Konen

The Romantics is a short “rom-com” novel, featuring a protagonist disillusioned with love and his two love-interests… though he fails to acknowledge his one-true-soulmate, who is standing on the sidelines of this love triangle. It is also author Leah Konen’s third book; she has previously written The After Girls and The Last Time We Were Us, though I have read neither of them.

If you like romantic comedies, you’ll be better prepared for this book than I was. I have an amicable relationship with the genre: most pass over my radar, but there are a few that I like. If The Romantics had been a movie, I probably would have made a hard pass; but it caught my attention as a book because it features the amorphous, metaphysical, divine entity of love as its primary narrator. Love has messed up and is trying to clean up the mess afterwards. A young man named Gael has been dating Ankita for a while; he’s infatuated with her, but finds that a week after her drops “I love you,” on her, she cheats on him with his best friend. Gael is heartbroken from both betrayals, but finds himself getting caught up in a whirlwind romance with the spirited, effortless Cara, who wields hot-sauce like ketchup and likes to go on hiking adventures.

If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know that the one thing I hate more than anything else in the literary world is the LOVE TRIANGLE CLICHE. It is honestly such an overused, underwhelming trope that generates more frustration and disgust than interest in the plot. So, Pratyu, you hypocrite, why did you pick up a book whose main plot is literally a love triangle? Because the synopsis describes it as “The more Love meddles, the further Gael drifts from the one girl who can help him mend his heart. Soon Love starts breaking all her own rules—and in order to set Gael’s fate back on course, she has to make some tough decisions about what it means to truly care.”
I thought that love would make this discovery that hey, sometimes romance comes out of the blue and you can’t control everybody, free will and yadda yadda. I thought love would be learning something. But no. I don’t even know what this last line has to do with the book at all, because I didn’t see love discovering anything about “what it means to truly care.” Gael learned a lesson for sure, but the whole book was love patting itself (herself?) on the back.
Also: this thing about love breaking all her rules. She breaks like one or two, and there’s no consequence to that, so I don’t understand why this was also featured as A Big Thing in the summary.

Let’s talk about characters. Gael surprised me because usually, books focusing on romance feature female leads. It was nice to see a guy’s perspective. I was a bit worried that he’d be like Jaxon from Cure for the Common Universe, but he managed to avoid coming off as a prick. Also, the source of Gael’s misery makes sense: his parents are getting divorced out of the blue, and his girlfriend (who he thinks he loved) cheated on him with his best friend (since elementary school). I felt bad for the guy. And the contents of the story made me sympathize even more.

Most of the people that Gael is friends with, are friends with his best friend and Ankita. In fact, Ankita’s best friend chastises Gael at one point of the story for “slut-shaming Ankita at a restaurant.” What was this slut-shaming? Well, Gael’s mom invites Ankita and Mason (best friend) to Gael’s birthday dinner. Gael sits there stewing from his recent break-up, how his friends have treated him, and the fact that his parents are trying to act all happy and normal despite the fact that they are splitting up. Sometime during the dinner, he blows up at Ankita and shouts angrily to his parents that she cheated on him with Mason, then storms out of the restaurant.

That was the slut-shaming. Gael calling Ankita out on what she did. Which is totally reasonable, especially considering that all the remorse that Ankita and Mason seem to show is totally shallow (weak apologies, excuses, etcetera etcetera).

What the heck, Leah Konen? Her message gets even more convoluted throughout the story. She seems to be pushing a feminist perspective — which I would usually support, because I do consider myself a feminist — but calling someone out on cheating =/= slut-shaming, just because they’re a girl. Also, Cara, the love interest: she is your typical dream girl character, but love derides her for everything she does simply because she doesn’t follow the narrative that love wants her to.  I’m associating love with Leah Konen, by the way, because it seems like love is the “author” of the story of “Gael and X, his soulmate”. Also, love is the mouthpiece for Ms. Konen’s philosophies, and while this can be done gracefully, this book shoves the author’s messages down your throat. This is what feminism is. This is what modern romance should be like. This is what love should be like. There’s this point where Gael forgives Ankita and says something like “life is too short to not be with the person you love,” which in any other case I would fully support, but in this context… he makes it sound like “oh it’s okay to cheat on someone because LOVE ya know, LOVE is the greatest thing and you should sacrifice everything for LOVE.” which, no. Hurting people for such a selfish reason is unforgivable.

My main problem with the book is that our narrator is unlikable. Love is patronizing, smug, and acts like Gael, Ankita, Mason, and all the other people in this story are little pawns for her to play with. She even admits to being the reason for Mason’s parents’ divorce, having been too lazy to check up on them ever few years and remind them of the good times or something.

This book was not for me. I wouldn’t recommend it because of how much I disliked “love”, and because it acted as a soapbox for Ms. Konen to preach her ideas about feminism and romance. Hopefully one day, I’ll stumble upon a good book about love; but I’m starting to think more and more that the genre isn’t for me. I guess, if you have read this story (and I mean even if you haven’t, context clues should be enough) I’d fall under what Love labels “Cynics”.

 

A Darker Shade of Magic: V. E. Schwab

So… I got through nearly half of the book, and I still can’t find myself caring about any of the characters.
There’s an inordinate amount of description; for every one thing Kell does, like open a door to another London or put on his coat-with-many-sides, there’s like two or three paragraphs of backstory and random worldbuilding. This is fine if you do it occasionally but when every other sentence is explanation as to why he’s doing this thing orhow this thing pertains to other things, the story becomes really convoluted and dull. Very tedious to read. Not at all enjoyable.

I didn’t like Lila at all. I thought I started liking her, but then… nope. She has a very hardened personality, which is fine and dandy, but it didn’t sit with me. I struggled similarly with Feyre from the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series. Both of these characters were unfriendly, patronizing, and toed the line between prideful and bullying. Lila kills someone in the first few chapters and just walks off thinking about how she needs a new place to stay. The guy definitely deserved it but she faced no internal struggles at all; there was nothing. She just stabbed him in the gut and then toodle-oo, off we go. And, funnily enough, with all the detail the author poured into world-building, she never established whether the world that they were in tolerated that sort of stuff. Like, is that a normal occurrence in “Gray London”?
I’m getting a feeling that Lila was supposed to be this really kickbutt female protagonist, but… strong women are always a favorite of mine and she just seemed… flat. Her role in the story was unconvincing. I didn’t find her relatable or likable.

The worlds that were established were kind of flimsy. We’re thrust into three different versions of London: White, Gray, and Red. Kell hails from Red London, and Lila from Gray. White is a Mad-Max-esque death circus, where magic is dying or eating people, I’m not sure. It’s run by two psycho twins, as well as the only other magician with powers similar to Kell: Holland. I didn’t find the tale immersive because there was so much to absorb, and we weren’t given enough information to shape the world. I mean, I know that someone may try to argue that you’re supposed to “use your imagination” but it’s difficult to do that when there’s nearly nothing to go off of.

Kell was developing into some sort of character, but any curiosity I held for him was solely based off of his background. Personality-wise, he was uninteresting. What were his goals? His ambitions? I was almost halfway through the book and I had no idea what he wanted, nor what he was like. It seemed like most of Kell was just “Kell is doing this” or “Kell is traveling” or “Kell is smuggling stuff,” but there’s no trace of an identity. He’s the “wise-older-brother” stereotype. He’d make a great side-kick, but I couldn’t be bothered to care for him as our main protagonist.

O yah. Another thing. Prince Rhy or whatever. He’s like the token queer character. It’s good to have representation, but Rhy was so flat. He was the stereotypical gay/lesbian/bi/pan person that shows up in modern-day literature (I call them checklist characters– the author writes them in so that they can get brownie points for being inclusive, but ultimately, they don’t matter to the story and they have no persona whatsoever). I only saw a little bit of him, so maybe he got fleshed out more, but I mean… halfway through the book and all I knew was that he was gay and he likes having sex. And he’s sad that Kell doesn’t feel like he belongs in their family, which, granted, was the beginning of some sort of backstory. But he didn’t come off as important; he didn’t come off as anything other than flamboyantly gay. This is fine, if it’s an aspect of his personality, but it’s not good to have queer characters who are only there to be “the queer character”.

The only people I was interested in were the twins and Holland. I thought that Holland would be our primary antagonist, but it turns out that he’s being controlled by the twins? I think? Anyways, I was hoping to see more of him but if that requires sifting through the rest of the book, count me out. Athos and Astrid were bizarre, but they didn’t seem very original. They were the weirdo, power-hungry sibling monarchs. I don’t know. I felt like they weren’t that compelling.

It had one thing going for it: the conceptualization behind magic. I think that Ms. Schwab had an interesting thing going and you know, maybe I’ll pick this book up again when I have nothing to read– but honestly, there are so many better books out there right now. Still, A Darker Shade of Magic was rated pretty high, so I’m probably just an outlier.

😦
I’m kind of sad because the beginning definitely had strong Howl’s Moving Castle vibes.
I think that my main criticism of this book is that it moves at a snail’s pace. It is so slow. Unless you’re willing to sit through pages and pages of exposition, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Illuminae: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Woohoo, I love collaborative writers (like J.D. Vaughn of The Second Guard)! It’s always fun to try and figure out who wrote what. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff are two Australian nationals who have woven together a spellbinding book about a girl, a boy, a battle, a psychotic AI, a horrifying disease, and space. How exciting!

Honestly, Illuminae has been on my radar for a very long time; I just didn’t bother with it because I read the word “exes Kady and Ezra” in the synopsis, and I was like, “lol no.” I hate it when the author reveals the love interest to you (one of the main plotlines, imo) right in the cover. So I had no interest in the book until it was highly recommended to me by two friends. They convinced me with the format: it’s written in a very avant-garde manner, filled with diagrams, transcriptions of interviews, maps, basically everything except for pages and pages of paragraphs. Not that pages and pages of paragraphs are bad; I mean, that’s 99% of YA literature. That’s what I enjoy. But it’s interesting to see something different once in a while. I thought that perhaps, this sort of varied format would be easier on the brain; I was proven wrong by the twists and turns the story took. There were quite a few times where things got too intense and I had to put it down for a while, which might sound dramatic but I just needed to wrap my head around what was happening.

It’s hard to describe the exact line that the plot takes. Basically, a small, illegal mining planet called “Kerenza,” where our protagonist, Kady, lives, is attacked by a huge corporation known as BeiTech. Kady and Ezra manage to escape the carnage, and there’s a lot of carnage. BeiTech basically hurls missiles at Kerenza until it deteriorates from a block of ice to a bunch of half-melted snow-cone shavings. Many die. The few thousand that escape are rescued by a nearby ship called the Alexander, along with its fleet, including the research vessel Hypatia and another vessel whose role I can’t remember: Copernicus. Alexander, Hypatia and Copernicus beat a hasty retreat, but are closely followed by BeiTech’s dreadnought (a war-ship,) the Lincoln.
Kady and Ezra are split up both physically and emotionally. Kady is on the Hypatia, while Ezra is on Alexander. She had dumped him a day before the attack commences, so things are fairly awkward between the two. Unfortunately, due to the lack of support they have from anyone else on the ship, they have nowhere to turn except to each other. Things become especially tense when it is discovered that the Lincoln is following them and has supposedly destroyed Copernicus, but suspicions are rife that high command on Alexander and Hypatia are hiding something big.

The best way I could think to describe this would be… a literary version of Dead Space. Two people are trapped in space with horrifying things happening around them; it’s not really aliens, though. The virus that infects the refugees and crew members is sort of like whatever it was that Eveline infected the Baker family with in Resident Evil 7. It basically turns kind, normal people into these frothing, psychotic, stabby psychopaths. They run around the ship, gleefully slaughtering everything in their path, screaming “DON’T LOOK AT ME,” at their unfortunate victims. The virus has elements of your typical murder-plague, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying.

There’s also the AI, colloquially known as AIDAN. During the battle of Kerenza, AIDAN is responsible for taking down three of the four BeiTech ships. It is heavily damaged from the fight, and trouble begins a while later when it orders Alexander personnel to destroy Copernicus. This is ordered under a (perhaps) misguided attempt to save the majority of the remaining humans from the effects of Phobos (the virus) which, at this point, is still widely unknown among administrators, staff, and refugees aboard the Alexander. Horrified that the AI has forced them to kill their own people, they shut it down. Unfortunate circumstances lead to AIDAN being powered back up, but the computer recognizes that these personnel have the ability to turn it off again; so it does the only “logical” thing and releases quarantined, Phobos-infected escapees from the Copernicus massacre, into the Alexander’s halls. AIDAN is a wild-card, and makes a surprising shift throughout the story. It’s a really, really frightening concept–AI that is solely responsible for their survival, turning against them– that is executed brilliantly. Not only do we see the effects of AIDAN; we see AIDAN’s thought-processes through transcriptions of data retrieved from its core. This allows us to look inside the AI’s head and keeping in mind that AIDAN is a secondary antagonist, allows us to basically better understand the motivations of a singularly-focused villain. And we find that AIDAN isn’t a villain, not really; it is deluded and far too logically-minded to deal with the emotional complexities of our protagonists, but it’s not a villain. The relationship between AIDAN and Kady is one of the most intricately-woven and human relationships I’ve ever witnessed in a story. Kady is forced to depend on a thing that she hates to survive; likewise for AIDAN, to complete his core objective. I have to admire the way the authors laid it out because it’s hard to shape such a relationship without it coming off as unrealistic or flat-out abusive.

Kady is our primary protag, with Ezra following closely behind. They mostly communicate through private messaging, and though I was turned off by the idea that they were exes and would be obsessing over each other for the entire book, I was disproven… sort of. It doesn’t get to obnoxious levels anyways, so no worries.
Kady is a hacker, and the descriptions of her getting into the system make sense. They’re not arbitrary attempts at techno-lingo. I mean, I’m no authority on this because I don’t know the first thing about computers or coding or hacking, but for the unenlightened, it’s believable. She’s got a strong personality, and her actions make sense for her age. She’s in a very stressful situation, so though she makes some bad decisions, they don’t seem out of place.

Ezra is pretty great. He’s a good dose of entertainment amidst horror and grief, and he quickly endears himself to the reader. I thought that the way he was fleshed out was pretty interesting, and I’m glad that though his main role consisted of “love interest,” he had his own ambitions and motivations. It always sucks when the love interest is a flat character. Also, Ezra’s role is intrinsic to the story; he’s actually the one doing most of the physical labor and primary sneaking around for Kady.

The side characters, like James McNulty and Byron Zhang, aren’t forgettable. I found that even though we only knew them for a few chapters, they had charismatic personalities or were so meticulously detailed that they felt as important as our protagonists. I’m glad that no one sold short, if that makes sense? They all had distinctive roles, and even if they weren’t main characters, they were paid attention to. Even Captain Annie Chau, Syra Boll, David Torrence, all of them.

There were enough plot twists in this book to keep me at the edge of the seat, but not becoming a convoluted, twisty, Rainbow-Road type story. That was especially good, because when you have too many twists, you start to anticipate them. I didn’t anticipate any of these, and honestly? They left me kind of breathless. Like the wait– what– what is happening– kind of breathless. AIDAN. Kady. Ezra. They go through a lot of awful stuff.

I don’t want to give too much away; this is one of the best books I’ve read in the past few months / other than Crooked Kingdom / so I’d love it if you checked it out! Illuminae is followed by Gemina and Obsidio, so you don’t even have to worry about not having your hands on the sequels when you finish this one. I hope you give it a chance, because its format is super original and really enticing, and the story (while familiar) is still so dazzling. Illuminae is an immersive tale that takes place in the empty blackness of space, where monsters hide in every corner, and there’s nowhere to run because you’re stuck on a floating tin can. See if you can brave its depths and give it a try! 😉