Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Snow Like Ashes, by Sara Raasch | a fast-paced fantasy adventure with a kickass protagonist

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4 stars

A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

I had quite lukewarm feelings toward Snow Like Ashes, which I did not expect at all considering the amount of praise for this book seen on Goodreads. The ratings for Snow Like Ashes seemed to be so calm and non-polarized, and while my experience with it didn’t start off so great, my feelings greatly improved throughout the course of the story. There is a sense of calm and collectedness instilled in the progression, but it still makes a striking impact.

Unfortunately, fantasy worlds do tend to follow a formula, there isn’t a multitude of ideas that can be utilized to create something totally different, but I appreciate the fact that Snow Like Ashes maintained a more unique atmosphere even if its plot was a tad repetitive. This world is split up into 8 kingdoms, 4 season and 4 rhythm kingdoms. They each have their own histories with each other, and the book does take some time to outline that. The writing was a tad difficult to swallow because of all the info-dumps in the beginning, which I could have done without, thank you very much. Interestingly, while there is so much seriousness and darkness in the basic story, I got a very relaxed, calm and collected vibe from the ease in progression. Nothing felt rushed or directionless, some plot points took some time to sink in and other maintained their unpredictability throughout. It might seem a little blase and too quiet for some, but I thought its atmosphere only added to the overall impact.

Meira is so badass, dear lord. For once, a fantasy heroine is more focused on the revival of her kingdom, the politics surrounding it, and how she can contribute in a major way toward Winter’s comeback instead of just sticking to being a pawn that wears pretty dresses and eat fancy food all day. I might be calling out a few specific heroines on this one, but I miss the times where female fantasy characters didn’t sit their asses down on plush couches, wear long, glittery ballgowns, and dignify us with extensive passages on their makeup and hair and dressing when getting ready for a royal ball. It seems as though all these fantasy novels take place in palaces and castles, and all the political engagement we get from the main character is how her involvement in the inevitable love triangle is a problem. While Meira does experience the #royallyfe for a bit after getting into a political alliance with the Rhythm season Cordell, her strength and loyalty toward her kingdom, her relentless fight to discover her role in Winter’s revival, and her determination to stay true to herself throughout make her not only a badass female character but a relatable one. She was this book’s biggest asset and biggest victory, I loved her narration and can only hope she doesn’t turn into a wuss in the sequel.

I will never understand why Raasch decided to add in a damn love triangle, but I have to commend her for not putting that much emphasis on it. I think we have entered a new era of YA fantasy in which the political sides of each world is finally payed attention, but it doesn’t mean the romances stay in their lanes and not take over the plot. Theron and Mather are both interesting and layered characters (even if they get on my nerves a whole lot), but it’s clear their involvement with Meira isn’t supposed to be entirely developed in this book, which is why the triangle itself has a minimized page time. Meira, being the badass that she is, doesn’t really give a fuck about her ‘feelings’ for the boys, and by this, I mean she has the good sense to not describe their bodies in full detail and not angst about both of them constantly. She’s the ultimate gift, honestly.

Snow Like Ashes doesn’t do much different from other YA fantasies, but if you want an engaging, fast-paced, adventurous read, with an actually competent leading lady, this book is definitely for you. I’d recommend it to everyone, honestly.

-Haven

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Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Royal Bastards, by Andrew Shvarts | an engaging enough fantasy with an excess of wasted potential

25752041Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.

At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.

Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery.

The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey . . 

2 3/4 stars

Royal Bastards was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017, and while I don’t check out new releases almost immediately, I had to make an exception for this one. I loved how mature, chaotic, and fun the synopsis sounded and was pretty sure it was going to be a wild ride. It was a wild ride indeed, but nearly not as interesting as I thought it would be. The writing is very middle grade esque (besides the numerous cuss words thrown around), the world building a tad uninspiring, and the character development — fast. However, I do think it was engaging enough for me to be interested in the second installment, but it could have done so much better if it went a completely different direction.

The writing and pacing of the novel were, to say the least, incredibly unexpected. The prose itself is actually quite simple and modern, something you wouldn’t expect from a medieval fantasy novel, but at the same time there is profuse cussing between the characters. More formal writing is usually up my alley, and I was taken aback with the style, but I did get used to it as the story progressed. I can’t say I loved it, but as someone who is akin to sophisticated prose (think the His Fair Assassin series) in fantasies, the prose in Royal Bastards was strange but also entertaining and very relatable. I am disappointed with the overall maturity level, though. I liked the cussing, and I wanted a more destructive, dark, and at least a little psychological story. The Bastards sounded so fun yet complex in the summary, and I suppose I was expecting the vibe of the book to be darkly comic but still serious. It went a completely separate way, but I guess that’s what I deserve for expecting something so precise anyway.

The characters were equally complex but not complex enough. I understood the basic outlines of their conflicts and personalities, but the motives for their actions were simply not explained enough. They are entertaining, but not as complicated as they should be. Weirdly enough, I expected the most from the characters in this novel because it’s not everyday we read a story through the eyes of royal rejects. I wanted to see their psyche and their conflict concerning their want for belonging yet dislike for the society they’ve been barred from. Tilla does show this, she wants to be loved by her father even if she pretends she doesn’t care, but this complexity was stated so simply and bluntly. I liked Jax and Lyriana, even if they reminded me too closely of other fantasy characters, and Zell was intriguing. On the other hand, I would like to clock Miles in the face.

It seems all negative right now, but there are a few positives. The narration and dialogue were hilarious and relatable. The Bastards are actually somewhat representative of teens nowadays if they were stuck in a fantasy novel. The action and fight scenes were entertaining and there were surprises everywhere, ones that I didn’t see coming. I think I would have liked it so much more if everything was a little bit more bloodier, darker, and Tarantino-esque (I want everything to be Tarantino-esque, don’t ask why), but it was engaging for the most part.

I would recommend Royal Bastards to anyone in search of something different from the usual fantasies imposing on YA right now (I’m looking right at you, Sarah J. Mass). But, if you’re in for a more mature, complicate read, skip this one.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Hunted, by Megan Spooner | a slow but very unique Beauty and the Beast retelling

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3.25 stars

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

Hunted is a refreshing change from the typical fairy tale retellings, specifically Beauty And The Beast retellings, which tend to focus more on the romance. Hunted, on the other hand, is more intent on exploring Yeva’s character and how she connects with the Beast as a human, instead of their combined romantic tension. It’s also largely descriptive and prose-lead, and contains a much darker vibe than the original Beauty And The Beast. It actually differs a lot from the original but in a really necessary way and it does manage to contain the most important elements. Unfortunately, while this book does a number of things wonderfully, its style was just not for me, hence the 3.25 rating. I’m simply not the type of reader that enjoys a slow plot and a gentle build, but I can appreciate all the things Hunted did well.

One of the many elements that separates Hunted from the original/other retellings, is its addition of Russian folklore and culture. The story is set in medieval Russia, and there are are multiple stories traded throughout the book which definitely further that magical vibe that is already there. The snowy setting was largely emphasized as well as Yeva’s skills as a hunter, with descriptions of her frequent excursions into the chilly and dangerous yet peaceful woods. The prose was beautiful, I loved the dark, mysterious, and guarded feel of the story but the vulnerable moments were wonderfully written too.

I’m not the type of reader that enjoys reading slower, more description-based stories, which is exactly what Hunted is. The story can be draggy and dull at times, bogged down by the immense description and lack of enough dialogue to match it. The story’s progression felt very tentative to me, and I had a difficult time investing myself into the mystery behind the Beast and how Yeva fits into it. While there are many intriguing elements added as the plot moves on, I can’t quite say what caused my ‘meh’ feeling for the plot, it just wasn’t my type of story. Which sucks, because it has so much going for it.

The characters though, I was definitely invested in. Yeva came as such a surprise. She’s badass, spirited, and strong but also compassionate and vulnerable. Her love for nature and the woods, as well as her yearning for magic were so expertly expressed, specifically her wanting for something beyond. It’s definitely reminiscent of the original Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but Yeva’s wanting is more entwined with the mystical elements of the story and the nature of her character itself. Contrary to the lone Belle, Yeva actually has two sisters, Lena and Asenka, with who she shares a huge bond. All three sisters are so loving and understanding toward one another while remaining utterly realistic. It’s a refreshing change from the warring and jealous siblings we usually see in fairy tales. B&B’s Gaston is also there in the form of Solmir, who is actually supportive and loving toward Yeva and her sisters instead of being villainous and arrogant like in the original.

Interestingly, the only character I couldn’t come to invest in was the Beast himself. This book did something different by showing the Beast’s perspective too, but it wasn’t enough to make me connect to him. The only time I felt something for the Beast deeply was when Yeva tries to kill him, which was a beautifully written scene altogether.

The ‘romance’ between Yeva and the Beast was very minimal, as it wasn’t the romantic part of their relationship that was emphasized the most. I loved the way Spooner showed how Yeva and the Beast were inevitably bound together, through their mutual love for nature and their yearning for something beyond their reach. I do like how they were never viewed or intended to be romantically involved, but that it was their connection and trust that brought them back to each other. Unfortunately, I still thought the development behind their relationship was a tad rushed and simply ‘not enough’ even if I see the idea behind it. I wanted Yeva to stay with the Beast longer and further explore his psyche, instead of jumping to conclusions and finding out she is right about his past immediately.

Hunted contains many elements that readers will love, but it simply wasn’t my type of book. I’m not that big a fan of fairy-tale retellings anyway, which might explain my indifference toward it to an extent. I do have a strong appreciation for it though, and would definitely recommend to those who like slow plots, descriptive writing, and a more mature vibe from a retelling.

-Haven

Books, Original Post, YA Fiction

Waiting On Wednesday #3 | Leigh Bardugo’s ‘The Language Of Thorns’

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme created by Breaking the Spine where each week we discuss upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Hey guys! This week’s ‘Waiting On Wednesday’ book is The Language Of Thorns: Midnight Tales And Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo! (YEEEEEEEEEE)

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Release Date: September 29, 2017

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

I’m so hyped for this, y’all don’t even know. The Grishaverse is probably my favorite fictional universe ever and I was not prepared to let it go when the Shadow And Bone trilogy and the Six Of Crows duology ended. So ready for the slayage.

What are your guys’ anticipated releases? Let me know in the comments 🙂

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle #4) | an enjoyable story w/ a dissatisfying ending

17378527The fourth and final installment in the spellbinding series from the irrepressible, #1 New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater.

All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

I’m teetering between giving this book 3 or 3.5 stars, because while I liked the majority of the book, the ending failed to live up to the theatricality of the rest of the series, and failed the conjure up the amount of emotion I should have felt. If I gave into simply remembering the last few chapters, this book would have been a 3-star read, but the story as a whole was just as enjoyable as the others. I still can’t forget that clusterfuck of an ending though.

The writing was beautiful, as usual, but I did notice something different about it. Stiefvater relies heavily on further defining the ‘aesthetic’ of the series and describing the overall vibe of a setting, character, or group of characters in this particular book. There are a number of shorter, more descriptive sentences that encompass the feeling or visual aesthetic, which I quite liked, actually. This isn’t as easily seen in the other books, but I like how it totally enhanced the story without feeling forced. I’m usually very keen on emotional expression in the finales, and Stiefvater definitely delivered. Even if her writing style isn’t conventionally raw and honest while conveying emotion, the amount of feeling is still abundant through the unique prose.

In my opinion, the fantasy/science-fiction portions left a lot to be desired. There are a good amount of newer fantasy/sci-fi aspects introduced and they are somewhat elaborated on, such as Blue’s background and history behind her father and Henry Cheng’s whole deal. However, I still feel disconnected from these concepts besides there wasn’t enough time or elaboration involved for me to truly understand and absorb it. There are so many revelations made about the characters and the whole Raven Cycle world that are only quickly touched upon and left behind with no resolve. It almost makes me wish for another book, so everything can sink in properly.

As expected, the characters were brilliant and my favorite part of the book. All of them are still struggling to utilize their powers and discover further details about themselves to ultimately find Glendower and possibly save Gansey. I loved the emotion involved with out four main characters, it was so truthful yet poignant and understandable. The relationships between Ronan and his brothers, Gansey and Blue, and Ronan and Adam are further developed and constantly had me in the feels.

I don’t want to say much about the ending parts because I’ll be spoiling otherwise, but it did let me down to an extent. Honestly, it felt as though all the emotion that had been covered throughout the rest of the book was a waste, considering the very end, the climax, the true end was incredibly lackluster and anti-climatic. Everything was stated so plainly and blandly and things … just happened. I wish I could say more but I don’t want to spoil, and I don’t want to discuss spoilers because my thoughts are so jumbled and I’d probably never get them organized. Long story short, I hated that epilogue. Straight up.

Finales of series/trilogies are always difficult to read/review, because they could either make or break the series for you. I don’t remotely dislike The Raven King, but that ending was so soulless that I had to dock a star off. It’s upsetting to be dissatisfied with a goodbye to a series, but it is what it is.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle #3) | an underwhelming third installment but still fairly enjoyable

17378508Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

I had fairly high expectations for this installment because I liked the other two so much, and while I did enjoy this one, it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. This book is certainly slower and deeper plot-wise, the characters are getting closer and closer to finding Glendower and even more secrets about themselves. There are new characters introduced but the story mainly zeroes in on the complexities of their mission and the characters’ abilities, such as Adam’s connection to Cabeswater and Blue’s role other than being an ‘amplifier’. While all of this was pretty interesting, it definitely did take away attention from the psyches of each character and their psychological nature throughout. The characters and their complexities are my favorite part of this series, and considering I am a generally character-driven reader, pushing through this book was a bit difficult.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is certainly dirtier and harsher than the other two books when it comes to the hunt for Glendower. Welsh mythology is further delved into and the gang ventures into more dangerous territory, exploring caves, their own abilities, and Maura’s mysterious disappearance. I enjoyed it all honestly, but my liking for it was hindered by the very slow pacing. Parts of it felt as though there was so much yet nothing going on, but I did find the gang’s visits to redneck Virginia and expeditions through cursed caves pretty interesting even if I couldn’t love it fully.

The characters and their psychological development definitely take somewhat of a backseat in this book, compared to the others. Before, even if each book focused on a specific individual, all the characters were incredibly developed. Nothing new about this installment, but I did think the characters and their personalities were a little less vibrant this time around. Blue Lily, Lily Blue obviously looks closer at Blue, and I am quite thankful for that. I’m still not completely on the Blue hype train, but I can somewhat understand her struggle and inner conflict better than before. With that being said, I still felt as though her character didn’t ‘pop out’ as well as Ronan in The Dream Thieves or Gansey and Adam in The Raven Boys. All the characters were a bit underwhelming in this novel, actually.

On a lighter (or heavier) note, things between Gansey and Blue are continuing to heat up and I’m totally on board with this. I love their guilty late night talks and their overall dilemma dealing with Blue’s curse. It’s the perfect amount of angst and it doesn’t feel forced at all. Everyone is crazy for the Ronan and Adam pairing and I am too. I do wish there was more buildup because it does feel like it came out of nowhere, but I’m desperately hoping something happens between them in The Raven King.

Overall, Blue Lily, Lily Blue was a bit underwhelming to me, but I suppose I expected it to be much greater due to my love for the previous installments. I’m so ready for The Raven King to come through and break my heart.

-Haven

Books, Reviews

A Conjuring of Light, By Victoria Schwab

5 Amazing, Amazing, Stars

Witness the fate of beloved heroes – and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Many of you out there know that last month, for high schoolers, was AP testing season. I personally, had five AP tests to take, and a whole bunch of stress that came with it. So instead of studying, what did I do? I picked up A Darker Shade of Magic for the second time. And then I picked up the next book. And the next one. And my soul (and hopefully not my test grades) cried with the wrenching knowledge that I had just, within the span of a week, finished what is perhaps one of the most expertly crafted YA series of all time.

This isn’t a great book. This is a phenomenal one. For all the filler and buildup of the previous book, this blew away all my expectations for what the final book in this series should be, and I can probably go as far as to say that this third installment is probably the best one out of the three.

A Conjuring of Light picks up immediately after the previous book, and I have to say, the stakes were high. From the very beginning the pace is fast and action-filled, and did not relent until the end. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and spent a solid five hours (that I personally couldn’t afford to spend) flipping pages faster than I could read them.

Lila and Kell are back, and as awesome as ever, but what I didn’t expect was how much I would yearn for moments with Alucard and Rhy, both of whom I mistakenly assumed were side characters but absolutely are not. They are layered and likable in their own ways and really add depth to the story. Although there is character development, the personalities of all the characters does remain constant throughout, and I adore each and every one of them.

But the one person who stole my heart was Holland. Holland is the epitome of a tragic hero, someone forced into terrible situations that left him more than a little mangled, and I was drawn to him most of all. We get a lot more backstory on Holland’s end in this book, and it added so much to an already extremely layered character. Holland goes from villain to background character to something in between hero and villain in these three books, and in my opinion, that kind of complexity makes for the best kinds of characters. I definitely shed a tear at the end because I love his character so much.

I mentioned this in my review of the previous book, but in addition to the exquisite world building, the Schwab’s style of character romance is on point. Romances in real life don’t take precedence over all other more pressing matters, and it absolutely does not intrude even a bit on the plot here. Romantic endeavors are pushed aside to be pursued in calmer times, and that made me cherish the few ship-worthy moments. Nobody likes it when the main characters finally get together after multiple books of teasing, only to lose their capacity to keep their mouths off each other as soon as their relationship becomes official.

If I had to point out a flaw, I would say that I would have liked some answers with regards to Kell’s past, as well as a bit more dimensionality to the main villain, but these are minor in the grand scheme of the book.

Overall, the Shades of Magic series, and particularly this last installment, are phenomenal by many standards, and if you haven’t read it yet, I would suggest you get your hands in a copy as soon as humanly possible.

~Aliza