Vengeful (Villains #2) Review

Vengeful (Villains, #2)

Book: Vengeful (Villains #2)

Author: VE Schwab

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Marcella and June have a conversation where they discuss their powers and how they got them, which does not revolve around men.

Yes, I know, I know, it took me FOREVER to get to this book, especially since I finished Vicious the week before it came out, but in my defence, it came out at the beginning of fourth year and I was super busy! But I finally got around to it, and am obviously kicking myself for not having time for it for so long because it was AMAZING. I really enjoyed the first book, but this one had the volume turned up 1000%, I loved all the badass women, I loved all the new EO powers, V’s writing was as always amazing, and all the new characters were brilliant. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Eli Ever and Victor Vale were only medical students when their mutual discovery that near-death experiences can, under the right conditions, manifest extraordinary abilities.

They were best friends, and rivals, and then enemies. They were dead, then alive, and then—Eli killed Victor, once and for all.

Or so he thought—but Sydney Clarke felt otherwise, and used her own superpower to tip the scales. Now, a trio hides in the shadows, while another takes advantages of post-death life to take over the city of Merit.

If there can be life after death—will there be calm after vengeance, or will chaos rule?

As with any VE Schwab book, her writing in this book was spectacular, every sentence sucks you in, she has such a masterful way with words that I honestly knew from the very first sentence that I was going to love it, which has been the way with most of my favourite books. It’s hard for me to exactly describe what I love so much about her writing, it just has this way of pulling you in, making you feel like you are a part of the story too and honestly I just find it totally addictive!

I also am in awe of her pacing, this book is over 570 pages long, and yet I never felt like I was bored, it helped that the chapters were short, because that meant I could read more in each session, but this book was much better paced than Vicious, which was 200 pages shorter and unlike a lot of long books, definitely did not feel like it was as long as it was.

I really loved that the women took centre stage in this book, I’d obviously heard before I read it that there were more women in this book and that they were going to play a major role but it was definitely great to read for myself. I loved the exploration of women and power, and getting to see women take control. The two new women in this book are Marcella and June, who are both awesome badasses in their own way: I liked that Schwab doesn’t monolith her female characters, they all have their own strengths and powers and flaws. Sydney also plays a major role in this book, watching her develop her powers and struggle with growing up whilst still maintaining the outward appearance of a thirteen year old was great. Her body image issues due to her lack of aging was also a very interesting aspect of her storyline in this book.

Marcella and June were particular favourites of mine in this book: Marcella is just so done with all the men who have ever underestimated her and wants to take the power that is rightfully hers, and June is powerful in a more subtle and less flashy way, and I love how well their powers fit with their personalities. Both of their powers were really awesome too, Marcella can ruin things with a single touch (even people) and June has the power to shapeshift, which was AMAZING. I loved Marcella’s death, it was such an awesome way to open the book and I hope we get more background on June’s death if we do get another Villains book, though I have to admit I did kind of like the mystery there.

The switching timelines were far easier for me to follow in this book than in Vicious, I don’t know if it was just that I was expecting it this time and so was more used to it, or if Schwab is just a more skilled writer now and did the transitions between the past and present better, honestly it was probably a combination of both. The plot of this book was complex and engaging without being difficult to understand which was perfect.

We got Eli’s backstory in this book which was awesome, I can’t say that I totally feel for him, but I do understand him a lot more now, and it was good to see where he came from and how he came to be who we know from Vicious. We got to see some particularly awesome flashes from his past, including how he originally met Eli, and how he originally ended up at Lockland.

I also loved that Schwab included Marcella’s backstory as well, it fleshed out an already awesome character, and really enhanced her present storyline. Schwab definitely knows how to use flashbacks effectively in a way that informs character decisions in the present timeline.

The worldbuilding in this book is, as per usual fantastic. You don’t get as much of a sense of place as you do in the Shades of Magic books, but honestly, I found that I didn’t really care, the powers and the limits of the world are established so well that you still feel like you’re in a fully fleshed out world, even if you don’t necessarily know what everything looks like.

Schwab is so skilled at fleshing out her villains, none of them are wholly good or wholly evil, they all live in shades of morally grey which makes them so much more interesting to read about than purely evil villains. I was rooting for even the most morally deplorable characters in this book, because as Schwab shows us, nothing is ever as simple as good vs evil. Honestly, Dr Haverty was the only person in this book who I felt was truly evil, and even he had quite an interesting role to play in the story.

Mitch, Victor and Sydney’s little family was another one of my favourite things about this book, I have such a soft spot for found families, it’s one of my favourite tropes, and I just love how much this trio obviously care for each other.

It was very interesting how Schwab explored religion in this book through Eli, for me and the books I read, it’s quite rare to see a religious character and it was really cool to see how his religion influenced his attitude to his powers, and other EOs. I also liked how each part of the book was named after a different part of the Bible.

Marcella introduced a new element to the Eli/Victor rivalry in this book, and it was interesting to see how the two of them interacted both with her, and with each other, and though I can’t say much about what happens between the three of them, because it would be a massive spoiler, I can say that I loved it!

Stell’s storyline was quite an interesting one in this book, he works for EON, and is ostensibly meant to be capturing EOs, but he seems to have quite a complicated relationship with EOs and their status as human/not and I enjoyed seeing him struggle with this throughout the book, especially as he has to decide how to use Eli when Marcella’s threat becomes greater.

Dom also had a really interesting role in this book, as he straddles both worlds, as part of EON and being part of Victor’s little crew (he’s a spy on the inside for them) and I wasn’t expecting to grow to love him quite as much as I did by the end of the book. He’s not really in Vicious much, so we didn’t really get to know him all that well in the last book, but in this book, you really get to see him come into his own.

The powers of the EOs in this book are awesome, and I loved that as well as introducing new characters with new powers, Schwab showed us how the powers of the EOs we already knew, like Victor and Sydney could be extended, so we got to see elements of their powers that we didn’t see in Vicious and that also fitted well with the fact that it had been five years since we last saw them (in the timeline) so of course their powers had grown and developed.

I only have one little, tiny nitpick of this book, and it was that the use of full names vs nicknames wasn’t consistent. Characters would be referred to by one, then switch to the other and back again quite quickly. I know it’s common if you use a nickname to occasionally go by your full name in certain situations, but I think for reading purposes, I’d rather authors decide on one version of the name or the other.

As in all Schwab’s books, or at least the ones I’ve read, there are queer characters in this, Victor is confirmed asexual, which is brilliant as that’s rep that you don’t often get to see in books. I feel like June might be lesbian or bisexual (definitely not straight), given how she talks about Sydney, but that’s not confirmed on page, so don’t quote me on that one!

Vengeful wrapped up really well, in a way that was satisfying and it definitely could conclude the Villains series, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen Schwab say that she wants to do a third book and there is definitely enough still left to explore that I would welcome a third instalment of this series (and with that ending I’d be very interested in seeing how she did a third book)!

Overall, I thought Vengeful was an absolute masterpiece, filled with badass, awesome female characters,  so much moral complexity, an engaging and brilliant plot, creatively told and incredible writing. I am honestly in awe of VE Schwab’s talent and I seriously hope she does do another Villains book, because I would love to see these characters again!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will be of my latest audiobook You, which I only have about 3 hours left of, it’s been an interesting one, definitely very different from my usual reads!

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The Diviners (The Diviners #1) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Diviners

Author: Libba Bray

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: January LaVoy

Bechdel Test: FAIL-All conversations between the girls somehow come back to the guys, whether it is about Naughty John, or Jericho, or Sam.

Another month, another audiobook review. After my success with Priory, I decided to keep the audiobook ball rolling and I think I’m going to try and do one a month for the rest of the year, it’s been a pretty great way to get extra reading in and they’re super useful on the bus. Anyway, my friend Nicola absolutely loves The Diviners books and has kept recommending them to me, so since I signed up to Audible and had heard the audiobook was good, I decided to try it.

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, the narration was excellent, the writing was really evocative and creepy (if leaning on the side of over-descriptive) but it was SO SLOW. It took so long to really get into the book, and this isn’t a short book anyway, it’s just over eighteen hours and you’re waiting a good ten or eleven hours for things to get really good.

Here is a short synopsis of the book:

SOMETHING DARK AND EVIL HAS AWAKENED. . . .
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. 

Evie worries her uncle will discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho is hiding a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened. . . .

Honestly I’m kind of unsure how to review this one, as it’s quite a hard one to review. The plot, such as it was, is ostensibly quite simple, a murder mystery following our protagonists as they attempt to solve a series of occult style killings. However within this, there are numerous subplots, and multiple different POVS, and it all got rather hard to follow. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the audio chapters ran over multiple parts, so one chapter could take several parts, it was difficult to keep track of where I actually was in the story, I had to keep rewinding to work out if it was a new chapter or not.

I usually enjoy multiple POVs but in this book, it felt like we followed too many irrelevant characters, characters would appear for a chapter and then leave again, and they were clearly just there to set up for the next book, but didn’t really have anything to add to this book. I think if this book had just followed Evie, Sam, Will & Jericho, that would have been okay, Theta and Memphis didn’t really seem to add much and all the other POVs were extraneous, either there to show the murders or to set something up for the next book.

The writing was very evocative and really set the scene, and the creepy tone for the book, though I think that was in large part thanks to the excellent narration but I do think Bray had a tendency to over-describe, I really don’t need to know the pattern of every leaf falling on New York streets, especially since my visualisation isn’t that great anyway!

I felt like the cast was a bit too sprawling to really get to know many of the characters that well. Evie is probably the one that we follow most, and she is well….quite annoying. She’s very selfish, and kind of obnoxious and doesn’t really care if her actions hurt people, which does make her realistic as a seventeen year old, but wasn’t the most fun to read about. I also felt like she didn’t really change that much over the course of the novel? She’s still largely the same person at the end as she was when she came to New York. The other characters we just don’t really see enough of to care much about, I got a vague sense of each of their personalities, but for the most part, the supporting cast felt quite flat and some characters, like Mabel, Evie’s friend, felt pretty pointless.

I did like that the parental figure in this book, Evie’s Uncle Will (annoyingly known as “Unc” by Evie) actually played a role in the plot, though he does seem to run very hot and cold, one minute wanting to send Evie home and not wanting her to use her powers, and the next encouraging her.

I appreciated that Libba Bray attempted to include diversity in her book, there are LGBTQ+ characters, and POC characters, though whilst she acknowledged the issues that these characters would have faced in this time period, it felt to me like it was done in a rather shallow way. You could definitely tell that this was an earlier YA novel, before the real push for diversity in YA.

I liked the supernatural powers, but I wished they had been dived into a bit more, we only really get to see Evie’s powers and then a surface level of what the others can do, so I hope the next book explores that more.

The murder mystery also felt somewhat tangential? Like if it hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t have made that much difference. We know exactly who is doing the killings, the whole time and the rest of the book just seems to be marking time till the big showdown at the end. Whilst I liked the cult aspect, I did feel like some of the murders were a little too gruesome for me.

The book deals with a lot of difficult topics which I appreciated, though it did feel a bit overstuffed at times, Bray explores immigration, eugenics, racism, gang violence, the effects of war, all things that were being dealt with at the time, but it felt like she was looking at too much and didn’t really do any of the topics justice. She also touches on illegal abortion, and it’s very rare to see abortion talked about at all in YA, let alone in this time period, so I really appreciated that. Bray had clearly done her research about the period which I did appreciate but sometimes it felt like she was trying to show that off a bit too much and including things just for the sake of it!

One thing I felt a little uncomfortable with was that Evie’s dependency on alcohol was really not addressed at all. She’s pretty consistently drinking to the point of hangovers and being ill, and it felt like she had a problem that wasn’t really addressed properly, though maybe it will be in the next book? I hope so, because it definitely seems like there is something more going on there.

I didn’t really like the romances, there’s hints of a love triangle between Evie and Jericho and Sam (another thing that shows this was definitely a 2012 novel!) which makes me want to run for the hills. I could kind of see Evie and Sam, they did seem to have some chemistry, but the fact that he kissed her without her consent kind of turned me off him.

The book definitely dragged on too long, once the main mystery has been wrapped up and you think the book will end, you then get another 20 pages of set up for the next book, introducing plots that have nothing at all to do with the story in this book, and I definitely felt like they could have been saved for the next book.

Overall, this was a decent enough book, and it’s very different to a lot of fantasies that I’ve read, and I loved the narration, but it was just way too slow and there wasn’t really enough plot to justify the length. Hopefully with all the set up for book 2 in this one, it will be much better!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of Vengeful by VE Schwab, which I finished today, so my review of that should be up during the week!

Strange The Dreamer Review

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Book: Strange The Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Bechdel Test: FAIL-All conversations between named female characters in this book tend to revolve around either Eril Fane or Lazlo.

Strange The Dreamer was my #RockMyTBR book for July this year, and after hearing both of my friends, Hannah and Nicola raving about it, I had really high hopes for loving it. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way, I spent almost a month reading this book, partly because I’m working weird hours for my job and was often just too tired to read which definitely factored in, but also because the book was just very slow and kind of confusing, I didn’t understand what was going on half the time! I also thing the longer I spent with it, the less I cared, by the end I found myself just really wanting to get to the end and move onto another book rather than caring about what happened to the characters. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

THE DREAM CHOOSES THE DREAMER

Since he was five years old, Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the mythical lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to go in search of it. Then a stunning opporunity presents itself – in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legandary warriors – and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

I guess I should start with the pacing, since that was probably my biggest bugbear with this book: it is SO SLOW. Nothing happens for a good two hundred pages of the book, and even then, it’s still really slow. I understand that not all books can be non-stop action, and there’s nothing wrong with a slower paced book, but there has to be something happening to engage me and here there really wasn’t. I also found the plot really confusing and I wasn’t sure what was going on half the time, which didn’t really help. It’s the kind of book that you need a lot of focus and attention for and I just didn’t have that. The book was several hundred pages longer than it needed to be, and the fact the chapters were by and large overly long didn’t really help.

I do think Laini Taylor’s writing is beautiful, but it can be quite overwhelming? All of the dense prose doesn’t make it easy to engage with her books because half the time you’re trying to work out what she means!

I’ve found a particular problem with Laini Taylor’s books that I first noticed in the DoSAB series to a lesser extent but it’s also here to a greater extent: she uses rape as a plot device A LOT. So many of the characters in this book, in fact I think almost everyone, has either been raped or was the product of rape and it makes it seem normal, which really bothered me. Like rape already isn’t taken seriously enough in our own society, I don’t really want to see worlds in books where it’s seen as something totally normal. I’m obviously not saying that rape can’t be explored in books, I’ve read some really great books that have, but I do think it needs to be treated seriously, and delicately and I don’t think this book did that.

A lot of the big plot twists were really easy to work out, one is revealed in the prologue which I somehow totally missed (I told you that you needed to pay attention) and one is just so darn freaking obvious that it doesn’t really deserve to be called a twist because it is so heavily hinted at throughout the book.

The world building was okay, but I wanted MORE. We get the basics of how Weep came to be how it was at the beginning of the book and about the Mesarthim but I felt like quite a lot was left out, like why did the Gods need so many babies in the first place?  I thought the Godspawn powers were really cool but I wish we’d seen more of how those powers were decided, after all, the powers don’t manifest themselves in quite the same way in the kids as they did in the Gods and I wanted to know why that was. Basically I wanted way more information than I got.

There was WAY TOO MUCH focus on the romance at the detriment of other things (character development, world-building, you know, small stuff like that). I didn’t feel that much chemistry between Sarai and Lazlo, for one thing THEY MEET IN DREAMS, NOT IN PERSON, how can you know you love someone that you haven’t in reality actually met? It was way too much insta-love and I just didn’t feel like I could root for the two of them together, because their romance felt so clunkily done.

Which brings me onto my next point: characters. I didn’t feel like I could connect to any of the characters. Lazlo was nice enough, but he felt kind of bland to me, and he wasn’t really an active participant in his own story, until right at the very end. Sarai also felt very passive, like she wasn’t really doing anything to drive the story forward. The others just felt like they weren’t fleshed out enough for me to really care about, which was a shame because I definitely think there were side characters that could have been interesting, like Nero, and the other Godspawn, but they just weren’t given anything more than one dimensional characteristics. I also thought Minya had the potential to be really interesting but her cruelty wasn’t really explored enough.

I also felt like this book was very similar to Daughter of Smoke and Bone? The whole war between humans and Gods, the orphan who doesn’t know where they came from and ends up being special? A relationship between different species? A lot of the things in this book felt very similar to Taylor’s previous works.

The ending was incredibly deus ex machina, and the whole “problem of Weep” that Lazlo spent the entire book trying to solve, was solved within like three chapters. Basically the book spends about 60 chapters doing nothing and then all the stuff actually happens in the last five or six. I also thought that what Lazlo did at the end was incredibly out of character, and if he loved Sarai, he never would have put her through that. I also felt like the ending was forced to make the book a duology when it didn’t need to be: it tells a pretty self contained story, there was no reason for this to be two books.

Overall, I was sorely disappointed in Strange The Dreamer. I was expecting to love it because I’d heard such good things, but it had very little plot, bland characters and didn’t live up to its potential. I don’t think I’ll be reading Muse of Nightmares, this book was such a struggle, I can’t imagine wanting to read another one.

My Rating: 2.5/5

My next review will either be of Libba Bray’s The Diviners, or VE Schwab’s Vengeful, depending on which I finish first.

 

 

Ever Alice Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Ever Alice

Author: HJ Ramsay

Published By: Red Rogue Press

Expected Publication: 1st August

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: PASS-Rosamund & Bess have a conversation which doesn’t revolve around men in Chapter 4.

I received this book from Red Rogue Press, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

As always thank you to Red Rogue Press and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book.

I honestly requested this book on a whim, the author being a debut that I had heard very little about, I just liked the idea of a retelling of Alice in Wonderland focusing on what happened after Wonderland, it sounded like a creative concept and worth a try. I did enjoy parts of it, but I felt like it wasn’t as well executed as it could have been and it took me much longer to get through than a book of this length really should have. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Alice’s stories of Wonderland did more than raise a few eyebrows—it landed her in an asylum. Now at 15 years of age, she’s willing to do anything to leave, which includes agreeing to an experimental procedure. When Alice decides at the last minute not to go through with it, she escapes with the White Rabbit to Wonderland and trades one mad house for another: the court of the Queen of Hearts. Only this time, she is under orders to take out the Queen. When love, scandal, and intrigue begin to muddle her mission, Alice finds herself on the wrong side of the chopping block. 

I’m not really sure quite where to start with this review, because this was a very strange book, as you would expect from a book about Wonderland. As I said at the top, I liked the concept, I think the idea of following Alice after Wonderland is a good one, but I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. For one thing, the pacing was all over the place, it started off with short, one or two page chapters and then later on in the book the chapters were much longer, it felt very uneven. Time skipped ahead quite often, months at a time passed which was hard to follow.

Alice as a protagonist I also had mixed feelings on. I liked that she was a younger protagonist, 15 rather than 16 or 17 because I feel like YA so often skews towards the upper end of the teenage spectrum, and ignores the 13, 14, 15 year olds, so it was nice to see that. But I felt like she lacked agency, she wasn’t driving the story, the story was just happening around her and if she hadn’t been there, then I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference.

Rosamund, also, as the Queen of Hearts felt incredibly flat. She didn’t feel like a three dimensional villian, she felt like a caricature and there was little insight into her motivations. She could have had potential, and I liked the idea of her being haunted by the heads of those that she’d had executed, but she just wasn’t fleshed out enough. The same was true for pretty much all the characters in this book for me, I didn’t feel like I knew any of them by the end of the book. I liked how she genderswapped Tweedledum and Tweedledee though. I found the inclusion of the Marilyn Monroe character quite jarring though, considering that Alice is from a Victorian world, it felt somewhat anachronistic.

The plot weirdly felt both slow paced and like too much was going on? It’s hard to explain, but basically, there were a lot of subplots, Alice is trying to kill the Queen, the Mad Hatter might be a traitor, one of the Queen’s maids dies, there’s so much going on and yet none of it is focused on enough to really gain attention, which meant I was never really engaged by what was going on. I also felt it was kind of monotonous, even when exciting things were happening, the narration felt somewhat detached.

I did think the author captured Wonderland’s whimsy well, though the Wonderland-esque phrases, using opposites, got on my nerves at times. Still, there were lots of little weird details I liked, like putting butter in tea, playing croquet with hedgehogs, etc. It could definitely have been much better described though, I’m not a very visual reader so I don’t really picture things in my head anyway, but even I could have used some better indicators of what Wonderland looked like!

There were certain issues I had with the writing of the book as well. The book is obviously trying to use British English, but it tries to hard with the overuse of words like Mum and there are occasional instances of American slang slipping in. I found the chapter titles hard to follow, each one in Wonderland was in a different “flower” year and they are italicised which made them difficult to read. Generally, the writing was okay and added to the whimsical feel but it did have jarring moments and there were quite a few uncorrected proof errors, though I’m sure those will be fixed in the published version.

I didn’t really get the inclusion of the romance, if it can even be called that, it was more of a crush really. It’s hinted that Alice has a crush on the Queen of Hearts’ son and that he likewise likes her, but it never really goes anywhere and I found it kind of pointless really.

There are some content warnings for this book, for mental illness (unspecified), fat shaming, and mentions of lobotomy.

The ending was somewhat anticlimactic, and incredibly confusing. The author attempts at a plot twist, but I felt somewhat betrayed by it because a) mental illness should NOT be used as a plot twist and b) it just felt jarring and didn’t really fit with the rest of the story. I think the author spent so much time on the buildup that she rushed the ending which was a real shame.

Overall, this Alice in Wonderland sequel had so much potential, but with underdeveloped characters, a confused and slow paced plot and an anti-climactic ending, it definitely under-delivered on all that it promised and I don’t think I’ll be reading another book from this author.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of The Priory of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon.

 

The Priory of The Orange Tree Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Priory of The Orange Tree

Author: Samantha Shannon

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Liyah Summers

Bechdel Test: PASS-There are numerous conversations between named female characters in this book about things other than men.

Today’s review is going to be a little different, as it’s the first audiobook review I’ve ever done on my blog. My relationship with audiobooks has been a bit strange, as I loved them when I was a kid and used to listen to them on cassette tapes (YES I KNOW IT MAKES ME SEEM OLD. It was actually truly horrifying reading this book and realising I’m pretty much exactly between the ages of Ead and Tane) but as I got older, for some reason I fell out of love with them and it’s not until now I’ve tried them again. I really enjoyed the experience though, I’m already reading my second one (The Diviners by Libba Bray for anyone wondering) and I definitely see this becoming a regular thing.

I actually bought the hardcover of this book, and had it signed by Samantha, which I’m glad I did because this book is all kinds of gorgeous but from a purely practical standpoint, I realised reading it in that format was never going to work, I read on the bus, that book is massive whereas my phone…..easily transportable and always on me. So I got Audible and chose this as my first read.

I was so excited for this one, and it was, well it was good but perhaps not quite worth the hype. I did love the world, and enjoyed the characters, but the plot moved too slowly for my taste and I found the sprawling cast quite confusing, especially in the first part of the book. I did warm up to it as time went on, and ended up enjoying it quite a lot, but the ending kind of ruined things for me as it was incredibly anti-climactic. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

I suppose since this is an audiobook, I should probably start with the narrator, as that’s a pretty large component! I really enjoyed Liyah Summers’ performance, I thought she did a great job and I found her voice very relaxing to listen to, but I had an issue with how she did characters’ accents. I found that whilst the four main characters had very distinct voices, there were a lot of secondary characters who had similar accents and that kind of confused me. When Tane was speaking to her friend Susa, I couldn’t follow the conversation because they both sounded the same! I know it’s hard when people are from the same place and should have similar accents, but more differentiation would have been nice.

Samantha Shannon’s writing was gorgeous, it really immersed you in the world, and though I can’t picture everything in my head like some people do (I’m planning on talking more about this in a future discussion post) her words really made me feel like I could be there. She has such a way with words, and though she does have a tendency to be a bit verbose sometimes, I do love her writing. I also really loved the humour in her dialogue, I noticed that a lot more with this book than I did in The Bone Season.

The pacing was probably my biggest problem with this book. The first two parts, and much of the third part are incredibly slow, they are all really just set up for the rest of the book. I understand why this was needed because obviously this is a sprawling fantasy world and it takes a while to introduce but then we were left with the problem that the last three parts felt incredibly rushed, because Shannon had to fit the rest of the story in. Honestly I felt like this book was much longer than it really needed to be, if the beginning parts had been trimmed a little, and the end parts expanded, I reckon the story might have been slightly better paced.

The characters I generally liked, but I did have some issues with them. I found it quite difficult to connect to any of them to start off with, just because there were SO MANY (there are four narrators and numerous other supporting characters) and I felt like the narration somewhat kept you at arms length? This did change through the book and I found myself connecting to the characters more, but I initially found it difficult because I honestly couldn’t remember who was who! I also found that the deaths where they occurred didn’t have much impact because the cast was so big, it was hard to care about everyone!

My personal favourites were Ead and Niclays, I felt like the two of them went through the biggest journey over the course of the book and I was most invested in what happened to them. I also really loved Sabran and wished she’d had a POV, I found I could relate quite strongly to her feelings about motherhood (having never had the desire for children myself) and her desire not to be reduced to simply her ability to reproduce. Tane I found it hard to connect to start off with, she felt kind of aloof and distant but as her story started to intertwine more with the others, I enjoyed her parts more. Loth was a sweetie, but I wasn’t sure that in the end he added as much to the book as all the others? The biggest issue with all the characters was that the stories felt very separate for much of the book, and it took far too long for all of them to merge, so for a while it was hard to see how everything was going to connect.

Ead and Sabran’s story was definitely my favourite part of the book, Ead gets the lion’s share of the POV space anyway, and I found their story the most interesting, there’s so much intrigue and drama in their parts.

I LOVED that the female characters all had so much agency. Ead, Sabran and Tane are all leaders in their own lives, they’re not treated as any lesser for being women and that was one of my favourite things about this book, fantasy worlds don’t HAVE to be misogynistic guys. Ead, Sabran and Tane are all respected for their skills and power and they drive the story forward just as much, if not more than the men do. I also loved that all the characters lived in some range of morally grey, except perhaps Loth (actual cinnamon roll), especially Niclays. I also loved that the Queendom of Inys was a matriarchy, because I feel like that is way, way too rare in books!

It was fabulous how much platonic relationships were centred in this book! Loth has two female friends who are completely platonic (Ead and Sabran) and there are rumours about him being in love with both of them, but they are just friends. Friendships are so important to all the characters in this book which I loved because so often that is ignored in favour of romance.

The world-building is obviously incredible, it’s clear how much research Samantha Shannon has put into this book, and the cultural touchstones she has used (Elizabethan England, Japan etc) are clear whilst still feeling fresh, and I loved seeing an Elizabethan inspired fantasy world as I feel like it’s not a very common one. The world she has created is so lush and detailed, and you really feel like you could just fall into it. I was a little confused though because obviously the audiobook didn’t have the map, so I had no frame of reference for where all the places were! The magic system with the fire and starlight was pretty cool, though I actually would have liked a little more magic, for a fantasy, I felt this one was very magic-lite. Same with the dragons, I loved them when they were in there, but I would have loved to have seen more of them.

There were plenty of twists and turns through the story, a few of which I saw coming, but there are definitely enough surprises to keep it interesting. There were a few parts towards the end though where it felt like there were a lot of conveniences, there were SO MANY near death experiences and everyone magically ends up fine, and they didn’t really seem to struggle to achieve what they needed to, which somewhat lowered the “end of the world” stakes.

I loved that this book was LGBTQ+ and racially diverse, it’s such a great thing to see in a book and racism and homophobia aren’t things that exist in Shannon’s world which is wonderful. There is a main f/f romance which is beautiful and slow burn and I really loved. There’s also a gay romance between two older characters which I loved as I think that’s not something you get to see often.

The religious politics were very interesting, I find that fantasy books tend to stray away from religion so it was cool how big of a part of this world that was, and how much religious differences impacted the relations between the world. I did find that the sudden religious tolerance of some of the characters at the end of the book was a bit unbelievable, given how much of the book was spent with the characters at odds over them. Honestly the speed at which many things happened at the end of the book was a bit ridiculous and that all comes back to the pacing issues I mentioned earlier.

The ending I found incredibly anticlimactic. The whole book builds up to this big battle which is ultimately disappointing and though most of the characters stories are wrapped up well, Tane’s is left on kind of a weird note, which I’ll be honest kind of ruined the end of the story for me because everything else was wrapped up so well.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, the writing and the worldbuilding were great, but the characters and pacing did leave something to be desired. However I still enjoyed the story enough to want more in this world, so I hope we do get more, because I have questions!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my July #RockMyTBR book, Strange The Dreamer, by Laini Taylor.

Bedlam (Skulduggery Pleasant #12) Review

Bedlam (Skulduggery Pleasant, #12)

Book: Bedlam (Skulduggery Pleasant #12)

Author: Derek Landy

Bechdel Test: PASS-Valkyrie has several conversations with China, Tanith and Kes that are not about men.

I actually don’t have many books to read to prep for YALC this year, as there are very few authors I want to see, but this was one of them. I went to a signing with Derek back at the beginning of June and said that it usually took me two weeks to finish his books, which in fairness, it did, I started this one on the 13th June and finished it on the 27th! I have to admit, it’s taken a while for the latest phase of Skulduggery Pleasant books to really settle in for me, the first two books were very so-so for me, they didn’t feel much like the first phase of the series, but this book feels like a return to form for Derek Landy, now that the messy set up phase of this half of the series is over, we can dive back in at full speed ahead with many exciting reveals that I can’t wait for the rest of the series to explore. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The 12th explosive novel in the internationally bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant series, BEDLAM will blow your mind – and change everything…

On a desperate journey to recover her sister’s lost soul, Valkyrie Cain goes up against the High Sanctuary itself, and there’s nothing Skulduggery Pleasant can do to stop her.
 
With Abyssinia’s grand plan about to kick off in a night of magic, terror, and bloodshed, it falls to Omen Darkly to save the lives of thousands of innocent people. 

And as the madness unfolds around him, as hidden enemies step into the light, and as Valkyrie is sucked into a desperate, lawless quest of her own, he has no choice but to become the hero he never really wanted to be — or die in the attempt.

So this book marks the end of the Abyssinia arc, as it seems this series will follow the same pattern of a mini arc per trilogy of books and I have to say, I’m not all that sorry to see the back of Abyssinia. This book couldn’t decide whether Val and Skulduggery were meant to be helping Abyssinia or fighting her and honestly, I just still don’t find her a convincing villain, I’m far more intrigued as to what Crepuscular might do, as we don’t quite know what his motives are yet and he seems to have more potential as a villain. It’s a shame because I feel like Abyssinia could have had potential, but Landy just couldn’t decide what to do with her.

The pacing was much better in this one than in Midnight, I will say that I did still find elements confusing, there’s a lot of switching between different character POVs and a lot of different plotlines, but overall, the plot felt far more coherent in this one than it did in Midnight and despite being a much longer book, the pacing was far better, though it probably still could have used a bit being trimmed of the page length! The chapters were also a nice length as well, I love that Derek Landy tends to stick to quite short chapters as that’s what I tend to prefer! The ending chapters in particular felt incredibly rushed and I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on.

I appreciate that Derek Landy is making an attempt to make this phase of the series more diverse than the last phase, with success more in some areas than others. The mental health representation with Valkyrie is wonderful, her PTSD definitely isn’t glossed over and it’s something that she acknowledges that she needs help with, which I hope we get to see in later books.

The LGBTQ+ rep is decent and the conversations Val has about her sexuality felt realistic, and I really enjoyed her coming out to her parents. I will say that there were some phrasings that I felt were ill advised (particularly a bit where one of the characters says “all sorcerers turn bi eventually”) and could potentially have used some sensitivity reading? I don’t know if this book had sensitivity readers or not, but there were a couple of sentences about LGBTQ+ people that made me a little uncomfortable (bear in mind that I am an allocishet woman so I don’t know if what made me feel uncomfortable would be the same for LGBTQ+ readers, I just wanted to point it out in case it did) and could have used some tweaking.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually realise that Miltisa and Val were dating before this book, it came off as kind of sudden for me. I mean I’m happy because I think Miltisa is great and there were definitely hints of the two getting closer in the first two books, but I just think the transition to them being girlfriends could have been handled a little less clunkily?

It was nice to see Skulduggery and Valkyrie somewhat back to their old partnership in this book. There’s still some awkwardness and it’s clear that they’re still learning to be around each other again, after a while away, but their classic banter comes more to the fore in this book, which was lovely to see, the humour in this book felt much more akin to phase one that the previous two, which I loved. I will say that Skulduggery still seems to be being under-utilised in this series, and I hope we get to see more of him in the next book.

I still don’t really understand the point of Flanery, I don’t think that this series needed a Trump-a-like, and although his storyline serves more of a purpose in this book than it has done previously, I still feel like he’s not really needed? I’m only really interested in Flanery in terms of what Crepuscular is using him for as I feel like there’s still a greater story to be explored there. I also don’t really get the whole point of the Sebastian finding Darquesse plot is because I don’t feel that she needs to come back and of all the plots in this book, that one is the one that really doesn’t fit and I think the book would have been stronger without it.

I liked Omen’s plotline a lot more in this book than I have in the previous two, his storyline felt more tied into the narrative this time than it has done in the past and I feel like he became much more a part of the team in this book which I liked. It is nice to have a sorcerer in these books that’s just kind of average, rather than super-powered as so many of the others seem to be. He has quite an awkward relationship with both Val and Skulduggery, which is quite humourous and he and Skulduggery have a particularly great conversation in this which shows some potential for mentorship later on in the series.

It was really great to see Tanith back, Val doesn’t have all that many female friends, so it’s nice to see her interact with other women and I definitely think her, Tanith and Militsa have the potential to be a great group from their few interactions in this book.

The actual asylum portions of the book that the book gets it’s title from were incredibly difficult to read. I get the point of showing Val’s increasing guilt, but I’m not sure that asylum was the way to do that, having her confronted by the ghosts of people whose deaths she feels responsible for is a good idea, but I don’t think it needed to take place in the asylum setting. I also didn’t like some of the weird formatting that crept into these chapters.

Val’s new skills are interesting but I feel like it’s getting kind of overkill, she can see auras, throw lightning, heal herself, manipulate auras, the list goes on and whilst it’s cool that she can do all of these things, I feel like it makes it too easy sometimes, like whatever tough spot she’s in, oh it’s cool, she has the exact right power to get out of it? It is explained in the book why (though I can’t say due to spoilery reasons) and it makes sense, but making her have so many different types of powers, just seems like a lazy fix to get her out of whatever dangerous situation she’s been thrown in and I kind of preferred it in the first phase of the series, when she didn’t always have the exact right skills for the situation.

There are A LOT of great reveals in this book that could make for some really interesting plots in future books, most of which I can’t talk about because SPOILERS, but for the first time, I’m feeling really excited about what’s going to happen in the next book, especially because the spark from Phase One seems to have finally returned.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, it felt like a return to form for Skulduggery and co., with lots of exciting adventures, interesting reveals and great character development for both old and new characters and I really think the next couple of books could be absolute standouts taking the plot from this one forward….if they’re done well that is.

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will probably be an e-ARC review, of Ever Alice, by HJ Ramsay which will be around the book’s publication at the end of July.

The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue Review (Montague Siblings #1)

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Book: The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue (Montague Sibilings #1)

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Bechdel Test: Fail-By conceit of this novel, it kind of has to fail, the narrator is a guy, his friend is also a guy and they travel with his sister, but aside from her, there are very few important female characters in this book and given that the book is narrated by Monty, he is involved in pretty much all the conversations we see her have.

This book was my #RockMyTBR challenge book for June, and I’ve heard so much great stuff about this book over the past couple of years that I was super excited to dive in, but also nervous in case it didn’t live up to the hype for me. I’m so happy to say that wasn’t the case and you can consider me fully on the bandwagon because I LOVED THIS BOOK. It was so funny, and diverse and heartbreaking but also hopeful and the characters were amazing, and I am so excited to read the sequel now BECAUSE FELICITY (but more on that later). Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

I kind of have to start this review with Monty, because he’s one of the many reasons that I basically fell in love with this book from the first page. His voice is just brilliant, dry and sarcastic and cheeky and just so engaging, I loved it. Voice is such a hard thing to get right and Mackenzi Lee completely nails it. Monty is brilliant, he’s a complete and utter dickhead, but he owns it and where Lee could have made him one dimensionally awful, she creates a flawed, but incredibly well rounded character. You feel for Monty, in part because he’s very upfront about who he is and doesn’t shy away from his less tolerable attributes, but also because Lee shows us the vulnerability beneath the surface, he’s dealing with a lot, especially with regards to his father, and suffers from low self esteem and self doubt so even when you want to slap him (which is often), you still feel for him. It also helps that he’s pretty charming and hilarious! He has great character development too, Felicity and Percy aren’t afraid to call him on his bullshit and he does learn and grow from his mistakes over the course of their adventure.

It’s not just Monty who makes this novel though, we have two other parties in our trio. We have Percy, the lovable and incredibly caring best friend, who is so sweet that like Monty, you just can’t help but want to protect him. And we have my personal favourite, Felicity, Monty’s smart and brilliant younger sister. She’s basically the mother hen of the group, grumpy and disapproving, but secretly enjoying her brother’s antics, and she’s also incredibly funny (she has the best one liners in the entire book, including an incredible period joke which had me chuckling long after I read it. She’s also the only one of the three of them who actually gets shit done, without her Monty and Percy wouldn’t have made it to Barcelona, let alone the end of their trip! She is done with the 18th century sexism and is determined to make use of her medical skills, acquired by covertly reading medical textbooks. I’m so excited to see Felicity take centre stage in her own adventure!

The three of them make such a brilliant team, Monty gets them into all the trouble and Percy and Felicity (mostly Felicity) have to help solve all the dangerous situations Monty lands them in. They have such a great group dynamic as well, Monty and Felicity are the bickering siblings, Monty and Percy are clearly in love but won’t admit it and Felicity and Percy basically bond over eyerolling at all Monty’s stupid decisions. I really loved Monty and Felicity’s sibling dynamic, it felt very authentic, they argue a lot but ultimately love each other and always have each other’s backs and it was so lovely to see Monty’s respect for his little sister grow through the book.

There is so much diverse representation in this book, which is awesome! I love seeing historical fiction becoming more diverse, because history wasn’t full of white, straight people and it’s amazing to see historical novels starting to reflect that. The entire main trio is LGTBQ+ (Monty is bi, Percy is gay and Felicity is aroace, though that is only hinted at here, it’s confirmed in Lady’s Guide apparently). Percy is also biracial, and epileptic and Monty pretty clearly suffers from depression and PTSD.

I loved that Percy’s epilepsy wasn’t resolved with a magical cure, it seemed like that was where this book was going, but Lee definitely came through and Percy is seen to be happy and comfortable with his epilepsy as part of his life, rather than something that needs “fixing”.

It was also really nice to read about 18th century history rather than 20th century for a change, I feel like YA historical fiction can so often be saturated with 20th century stories, so it’s nice when I get to read books outside that time period. Lee definitely doesn’t shy away from dealing with the less palatable aspects of the period, homophobia, racism and sexism are all explored in the book but in a very natural way that never feels preachy and Monty is called out on his white, male privilege multiple times. I will say that the time period could have done with a little clarification, this is probably a nerdy history student thing, but I would have liked to know exactly what part of the 18th century the events were happening in!

I’d never heard of The Grand Tour before reading this book, so it was really cool to learn more about a part of history I wasn’t all that familiar with.

I also thought in places, the setting could have used being described slightly better? I felt this was mostly an issue in Barcelona & Marseilles, the author does a pretty decent job of painting a picture of 18th century Paris, Venice & Santorini.

The book is also really well paced, there’s a lot of great drama and shenanigans throughout the trio’s adventure but also lots of smaller, quieter moments as well. There’s a particularly great scene with Monty and Felicity discussing their sexualities and though they don’t have our twenty first century language to describe their identities, it’s a beautiful thing to see in a historical novel. I will say that some of the chapters felt overly long, but for the most part, the 500+ pages of this book definitely don’t drag. My only quibble with the pacing was that I felt the climax was slightly rushed, I had to read back over parts of Chapter 29 because I kind of missed what was going on.

I really enjoyed Lee’s writing style, she manages to write in a way that both fits the time period and is appealing to a contemporary reader, which is no mean feat and she particularly excels with dialogue and humour, which pleased me immensely because those are always my favourite aspects of a book. You can also clearly tell that she knows her stuff when it comes to history, and she doesn’t describe all European countries as a monolith, which can be an issue when it comes to American authors writing Europe.

The balance between humour and heartbreak is straddled really well, there are definitely more serious aspects to this novel (content warnings for homophobia, abuse, alcoholism, PTSD, racism, ableism, epilepsy) and it definitely takes some dark turns, but this is all very well balanced with the more light, humourous, adventurous events in the novel.

I really loved the pirates and I wished we could have seen more of them, not just because I love pirates, but because I really liked the burgeoning, almost father/son relationship that Monty and Scipio developed and I would have loved to see more of it.

Percy and Monty’s romance is brilliant, there is a ridiculous amount of romantic and sexual tension through the book and so much flirty banter, but of course, they’re both morons who can’t see that they’re both equally as besotted with each other! It has such a beautiful payoff though, the final scene was just EVERYTHING and I loved Monty’s letter to his dad at the end. It takes a lot of getting there, but don’t worry, there is no #buryyourgays here. I also loved that all sexual activity in this book, even kissing, happened WITH CONSENT. It’s so important to show teens what consent looks like and that definitely happens here.

Overall, I really loved this book. it had everything I love, bickering siblings, a great LGBTQ+ romance, an adventure filled with pirates and highwaymen and alchemy, tons of humour, a brilliant voice and an incredibly badass woman! I wish I already had the second book to read right now!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will be of the latest Skulduggery Pleasant book, Bedlam, by Derek Landy (also coincidentally, will be the only book by a male author that I’ve read so far this year).