The King of Crows (The Diviners #4) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The King Of Crows (The Diviners #4)

Author: Libba Bray

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: January LaVoy

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, again, I didn’t keep track massively well!

Content Warnings: Racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, sexism, eugenics, blood, gore, animal death, mentions of suicidal thoughts, mentions of rape and abuse, mentions of slavery (there’s probably more that I may have left out)

So here we are, the final book in the Diviners series! I actually can’t remember a time I finished a book series this quickly, I usually read as they come out, and by the time I started The Diviners, there was only this book left to come, so I actually finished all these books less than a year after I first started the series. I think the only recent series that I finished as fast, or maybe faster, is the Shades of Magic trilogy which I absolutely devoured back in 2016/early 2017.

Anyway, naturally I was really excited for The King of Crows, especially after I really loved Before The Devil Breaks You. And I did enjoy it, but I wasn’t quite as blown over by this series conclusion as I hoped I was going to be. The pacing, something I think I’ve complained about with this series before, was totally off and honestly I think it was a lot longer than it really needed to be. That being said, of course I loved the characters, and I did find the conclusion satisfying, so it wasn’t a total loss as a series finale. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The breath-taking finale to the epic New York Times bestseller, The Diviners, from Printz winner and beloved author, Libba Bray.

After the horrifying explosion that claimed one of their own, the Diviners find themselves wanted by the US government, and on the brink of war with the King of Crows.

While Memphis and Isaiah run for their lives from the mysterious Shadow Men, Isaiah receives a startling vision of a girl, Sarah Beth Olson, who could shift the balance in their struggle for peace. Sarah Beth says she knows how to stop the King of Crows-but, she will need the Diviners’ help to do it.

Elsewhere, Jericho has returned after his escape from Jake Marlowe’s estate, where he has learned the shocking truth behind the King of Crow’s plans. Now, the Diviners must travel to Bountiful, Nebraska, in hopes of joining forces with Sarah Beth and to stop the King of Crows and his army of the dead forever.

But as rumors of towns becoming ghost towns and the dead developing unprecedented powers begin to surface, all hope seems to be lost.

In this sweeping finale, The Diviners will be forced to confront their greatest fears and learn to rely on one another if they hope to save the nation, and world from catastrophe…

So as I mentioned above, my biggest problem with this book was definitely the pacing. It was very uneven. The first half does a pretty good job at building the tension, but then it really lagged in the middle and the conclusion was just totally rushed. Someone on Goodreads described the middle of this book as like the infamous Camping sections in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows and I really feel like they hit the nail on the head. It felt like all the stakes and tension had been completely drained and the Diviners were just wandering the country aimlessly. Obviously that’s not true, but as a reader it felt kind of pointless. I don’t care what Memphis and Henry and Bill are doing in Mississippi, I want to know how the King of Crows is gonna go down!

I also feel like the book was just too long? I get that maybe Libba Bray wanted all her books to be of a similar length and maybe that her readers were expecting a long book, but I just didn’t feel that the book needed to be as long as it was. I mean one of the chapters on the audio was over an hour long! There was plenty from this book that could have been cut and the story wouldn’t have lost anything.

One of my other major problems with this was something that I complained about in my reviews of both The Diviners and Lair of Dreams. The Diviners works best when the whole group is together, it thrives off that group dynamic. We had that in Before The Devil Breaks You, but here we’re back to the group being split up for a large portion to the book, and I didn’t really like that. I appreciated that we got to explore different dynamics within the group (the amusement of Jericho and Ling being stuck on the road together was something I didn’t know I needed) and I also loved getting to see Evie and Theta’s friendship more, but I still would have liked more of the whole group together.

With such a big cast of characters, it’s pretty much a guarantee that some get lost in the shuffle. The books have been pretty good about giving everyone a chance to shine, but I still felt kind of sad that some of my faves weren’t featured as prominently in this book. For me, I wished Henry, Ling and Sam had more time to shine in this book, Henry especially because I feel like he was barely used after Lair of Dreams? Also I really, really love Sam and just wanted to see more of him.

Speaking of Sam, I felt like the mission to rescue him was kind of rushed? I mean it was such a huge part of the way the last book ended, and it just seemed way, way too easy. I also would have liked it if his trauma from being hooked up to the eye was explored more, Libba Bray has been so good in the other books about dealing with characters’ trauma and it would have been nice if Sam had been given the same care. His reunion with his mother is also another moment that I would have liked to have been given more consideration, since the two haven’t seen each other in a decade!

I said this in the last review, and I’ll say it again, The King of Crows is a lame villain. I get what Libba Bray was trying to go for, with the whole “the villain is the evils of humanity” but I prefer my villains to be less abstract. The King of Crows felt kind of wishy-washy and I always felt like Jake Marlowe was the real villain of the story anyway.

I feel like I’ve complained a lot about a book that I actually did enjoy, so let me focus a little on the good parts of this book for a moment. The narration, as it has been for the other three books, was amazing. January LaVoy is a real talent, and I definitely hope to find more audiobooks she has narrated in the future. I also really loved Libba Bray’s writing, it was so creepy and eerie.

And of course, I love these characters. I have my favourites (Sam, Henry, Ling, Theta) and those I love a little less (Memphis, Jericho, Evie, though she has grown on me) but ultimately as a group, their dynamic is so brilliant that it doesn’t even matter if you love some more than the others. You are rooting for all of them, as their own little family. It’s been brilliant to see their development over the course of the series, particularly for Evie and Theta, I feel like those two have definitely grown the most from where they were in book one to where they end up. Seeing Theta reclaim her power and come into her own is probably one of the most gratifying arcs of the series for me.

I also really liked that Evie finally faced up to her mother again, her issues with her family have been something that have been hanging over her for the whole series and it was great to see her embracing herself and realising that she doesn’t need the acceptance of her family, because she’s created her own. Her arcs were actually weirdly some of my favourite in this book, seeing her grapple with her grief over Mabel’s death was really emotional and I’m glad that Bray didn’t gloss over all the feelings she had about that. I would have liked it if her feelings over Will hadn’t been brushed over as quickly, granted you don’t have much time to process when you’re saving the world, but it did seem like a bit of an oversight.

The representation in this was also, of course, really good. I love the wide range of diversity, we have POC, we have LGBTQA+ characters, we have a Jewish character, we have a disabled character, there’s a lot to love about the diversity in this cast. I also love that Bray doesn’t shy away from talking about mental health, the frank discussion that Evie and Theta have about depression and suicidal thoughts is difficult to listen to, no doubt, but I love that she was willing to go there and not shy away from it.

This book is the first one that takes place largely away from New York, and whilst I appreciate that Bray was trying to show life in the 1920’s away from big cities, I feel like a lot of the series’ character comes from the setting and that this book was definitely missing something there.

I do have a small bone to pick about Ling’s asexuality here. Obviously, I’m not part of that community, so I’m not an authority on this, but I did feel a little uncomfortable with parts of her story here. I didn’t love that Bray made out like the only way that Alma could be with Ling was if she was able to have sex with other people. Of course people have different levels of sexual attraction and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s pretty harmful messaging to send that the only way someone can be in a relationship with an asexual person is to have sex with other people.

I loved how Libba Bray explored internalised misogyny with Ling though, I thought it was really cool and one of the best parts of Jericho and Ling’s little sojourn with the Haymakers as she does have a tendency to judge Evie much more harshly than Henry for very similar behaviour and it was great to see that acknowledge on page.

I do like that these books touch on politics, but it felt a little heavy handed here, more so than in the first few books. There were whole chapters here that were basically devoted to talking about America’s history and facing up to the demons of the past, which is fine, it’s the theme of the series, but I didn’t really need entire chapters of Memphis talking about the country’s history. I feel like she could have got the point across without having entire chapters about it.

I was expecting more action for this being a final book, there was some, but not quite as much as I was hoping for.

There were a lot of stupid decisions made by the characters, and I felt like Bray kind of wrote herself into a corner with some of them. I can’t really talk too many specifics as it would be spoilery, but a few times there were plot points she needed to happen at the end of the book, and she then had to deus ex machina her way out because of stuff that had happened earlier in the book.

I did find the ending satisfying, even if it was perhaps a little rushed. It also felt from the epilogue of the book that Bray might be setting up for a future spinoff series with The Diviners, which I seriously hope is true, because I don’t want this to be the end for the gang forever!

Overall, this was a satisfying end to The Diviners series, even if it wasn’t my favourite book in the series. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a decent send off for Sam, Evie, Theta, Ling, Jericho, Isaiah, Memphis and Henry. I hope that one day we will see them all again!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of Sara Holland’s newest release, Havenfall, which I have almost finished, so you guys should be getting that within the next week!

 

 

 

Spin The Dawn (The Blood of The Stars #1) Review

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Book: Spin The Dawn (The Blood of Stars #1)

Author: Elizabeth Lim

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Maia and Lady Sarnai have a brief discussion about her dresses.

Content Warnings: Ableism? (main character pretends to be disabled for a significant portion of the novel), hints of homophobia, mentions of alcoholism, death of parents and loved ones, mentions of war, sexual harrasment, spiders, violence

What’s this? A review? Of a book I read in 2020? I know, I know, it has been a while since my blog which ostensibly reviews books has had an actual book review on it. I had intended to catch up on reviews of books that I read in Cape Town, but I realised it was going to take me too long to catch up on all of those, so instead, I’m just going to start my reviews from now and do mini reviews for the books I read in Cape Town in my first #RockMyTBR Challenge Update of the year.

Anyway, Spin The Dawn was my #RockMyTBR book for March and I was really excited about it because I had heard such good things. Sadly, it seems like this was yet another victim of the hype monster. I enjoyed it, but found it somewhat underwhelming. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

I loved the concept of this, it sounded really creative. Project Runway meets Mulan? It sounded brilliant. Sadly, it failed to fully live up to the potential promised in the blurb. For one thing, the Project Runway aspect? Lasted barely a third of the book. I was expecting a really cutthroat competition, with everyone putting up a real fight to win, but it seemed like our protagonist just breezed through. It’s a shame, because the tailoring aspect was something that made this book stand out and it didn’t seem to be utilized enough. Also Mulan? The only real similarity was that the protagonist dresses as a boy and the aim is to help her family.

The map at the start of the book was definitely a plus, I always love it when fantasy books have maps!

Nothing for Maia seemed to be a challenge at all. Obviously it’s a foregone conclusion how the story is going to work out, but you need to see your protagonist struggling at least a little and everything felt far too easy. The quest to find the sun, moon and stars which is supposedly so difficult that the people who have previously attempted it have died? No problem. The tailoring contest? A breeze. Sewing three impossible dresses? Easy. You get the picture, the entire plot relied on deus ex machinas and conveniences that meant nothing for Maia was ever a real challenge.

Despite that, I did like Maia initially. She was feisty, she really cared about her family, she was ambitious and wanted to win the competition so badly. I liked that she was stronger in different ways than your typical YA heroine. All that changed when the romance was introduced though, and once again, any semblance of her personality was absorbed into Edan.

Speaking of Edan, he had entirely no personality whatsoever. I am so done with YA romances being with completely bland boys. It’s so difficult to feel chemistry between characters when one of them seems to have hardly any personality at all. I’m also really done with the “hundreds of years old guy falls in love with teenage girl” trope, it’s no less icky, the ten thousandth time you read it as it was the first.

I did like the diverse world, it was great to have a world that is populated entirely by POC and I enjoyed the Chinese influences, though it did feel like they were very lightly done. I think this was a byproduct of the lack of world-building. We get some details about the world, the food, sewing techniques, that kind of thing, but I felt like there could have been a lot more.

For a fantasy, it’s also kind of magic lite, there are some hints of magic, but by and large, the magic is very little and it’s not really explained all that well.

This brings me to another issue with the world, as great as the racial diversity was, the world was incredibly hetero and cisnormative. It feels like an oversight for a novel published in 2019, which is using cross-dressing tropes, to not even explore the main character’s relationship with her gender or sexuality. There are even a few badly placed “no homo” jokes where Maia worries about being perceived as gay, which didn’t sit very well with me.

I also hated that Maia didn’t really have any significant female relationships. I don’t know if this is because she’s disguised as a boy for part of the book, but even then that comes back to male/female platonic relationships in books, even perceived ones, needing to be more of a thing. By nature of the story, Maia is the only one, the “exceptional” woman, but I would have loved it if we got to see her relationships with other women more.

The side characters were also really flat, which was a shame because they had the potential to be interesting. Lady Sarnai in particular, we don’t really get to see her motivations as the book is in Maia’s POV, but I was really interested in her and how she happens to be impervious to Edan’s magic and I would have liked that to be explored more. I also felt like this book was really lacking in a villain, we get a couple of villain-like characters but no one that felt like that really posed a threat.

The second part of the book felt like a completely different story to the first and third parts. I think the author just took on too much with this story, a sewing contest to become the imperial tailor and the quest to retrieve the sun, moon and stars, could have been two separate stories. It managed the strange feat of feeling like it was too crammed and also feeling slow paced at the same time!

The ending was my absolute biggest bug bear with the book though. I can’t really say why because it would be massively spoilery, but it was a real let down and felt kind of redundant because the main character made a really stupid decision that really didn’t achieve what she wanted it to and it seemed like she could have used her choice so much better!

Overall, this book could have been really fantastic but it just failed to reach it’s full potential. Yes, the cool concept was there, but it tried to do way too much and as always, the romance squandered any real character development on the part of the main character. I may still read the sequel, but I will go into it with much lower expectations.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my latest audiobook read, The King of Crows, the final book in Libba Bray’s Diviners series! I’m almost done and THINGS ARE GETTING REAL!

Hunting Prince Dracula (Stalking Jack The Ripper #2) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: Hunting Prince Dracula (Stalking Jack The Ripper #2)

Author: Keri Mansicalco

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Format: Audiobook

BECHDEL TEST: Honestly unsure, I find it hard to pick out Bechdel passing content in audiobooks because I get too engrossed in listening!

Content Warnings: PTSD, blood/gore/murder, spiders

I read Stalking Jack The Ripper back in September of last year, as part of my 2019 #RockMyTBR challenge and I really enjoyed it but as the books aren’t published in the UK (I found the first one in Foyles as they get some American releases), I tried the second one on audio and I’m glad I did because the narrator really made this book for me! I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first one as I found the mystery kind of convoluted, but it was still a pretty good book. Here is a short synopsis of it:

In this sequel to Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper, bizarre murders are discovered in the castle of Prince Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. Could it be a copycat killer…or has the depraved prince been brought back to life?

Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper’s true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe’s best schools of forensic medicine…and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

But her life’s dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school’s forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

As I said at the top of this review, I really enjoyed the narrator for the audiobook, Nicola Barber was brilliant, she was great at the accents (I’m pretty sure her accent for Thomas was half the reason why I liked him more here) and she was really good at conveying the atmosphere for the story. If you like audio, then I definitely recommend trying this series in that format, because the narration was great.

Thomas and Audrey kind of switched places for me in this book in terms of who irritated me more. I totally get why Audrey was stressing about losing her autonomy and wanting to be independent and do things on her own, but she takes a lot of stupid risks because of this and her constant whining about it kind of irritated me. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a lot of admiration for her and her refusal to put up with sexism, and obviously all I liked about her in the first book was still there, I just found that more about her irritated me this time around.

Thomas meanwhile, kind of grew on me this book. I don’t know how much of this was to do with me really liking the accent that the narrator did for him, but I felt like the charm that the author was trying to convey in the first book, came across way better for me in the audio. I don’t think he was in any way malicious by offering to take Audrey home when she looked like she was suffering though I can understand why Audrey was annoyed at him telling her professors that she was “delicate”. Still, I felt like he was less of a jerk in this book, and though I could see where Audrey was coming from, it did feel like she overreacted slightly (though his prank on Audrey Rose in the morgue was seriously messed up).

The setting in this was amazing, the creepy old castle with all the secret tunnels? It’s the perfect horror/mystery novel setting and Mansicalco describes it so well, it really adds to the atmosphere of the book.

I liked the writing in this book for the atmosphere it provided, but I did feel like Audrey’s inner monologue got somewhat repetitive and I hated every time she reminded us about her “virtue”. I get that this is a Victorian set book, and girls would genuinely be worried about that, I just kind of found myself rolling my eyes every time she mentioned that anything would scandalise her “reputation”.

I liked that there were more women in this book, I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s still overwhelmingly dominated by men, but here you have Anastasia, Ileana and Daciana as well as Audrey and they all play a major role in the plot. It was nice to see Audrey looking to other women for advice and forming bonds with them, as the first book definitely lacked this.

I found the angst between Audrey Rose and Thomas, kind of infuriating, most of the book, there’s this angsty back and forth between them, basically Audrey thinks Thomas doesn’t respect her independence, and Thomas, though well-intentioned and wanting to help, kind of puts his foot in it a lot. Honestly, so many of their problems could be solved by COMMUNICATION, which hurrah when they finally did, but it took far too long.

The story was a little slow paced, it took a long time for the mystery to unfold, it took a few chapters before it was even really introduced, and then it just unravels at such a slow pace through the book, some chapters don’t even seem to further anything. It definitely could have been a shorter book, I reckon had about a hundred or so pages of this been cut, it would have been a much tighter mystery.

I did feel like Audrey had slight “Not Like Other Girls” syndrome, she’s constantly reminding us how restricted she feels in corsets and how she likes wearing her breaches and how unusual it is for women to be doing forensics. Like we get it, you’re maybe slightly ahead of your time, but I don’t need to be reminded for the entire book!

I still can’t say I’m massively interested in Audrey and Thomas’ romance, other than my obvious issues with the angst in this book, I’m still not really feeling the connection between them though I don’t know how much of that is just my natural cynicism. I mean I don’t think they make a bad couple, I just wasn’t fully invested in their romance.

I thought the contest between the students for the places at the forensic academy was going to play more of a role in the book, like one of the students was taking out the rest of the competition, but it kind of seemed like more of an afterthought.

A lot of the side characters were really underdeveloped, I mean I get it because it’s in first person POV and the cast of side characters changes in each book, but I still would have liked some of the other students and staff at the school to be a bit more fleshed out.

I liked the inclusion of Romanian folklore and culture, I thought that was done really well, and seemed respectful to the culture, though I’m not Romanian, so I obviously can’t say that for sure!

The mystery itself was a bit convoluted to me, though the culprit wasn’t as obvious as in the last book, the resolution didn’t feel earned, like it didn’t feel like there were loads of clues pointing toward that particular character, but maybe that was just me not picking up on them! The motive was a bit messy for me and I also felt like the entire ending was kind of rushed? The last few chapters for me just felt really short and kind of choppy, so the ending was almost abrupt. I think had the pacing been better throughout the book, perhaps the ending would have felt quite so rushed. I did enjoy the epilogue though, I thought that was sweet.

Overall, I liked this book well enough, but I thought the central mystery this time was somewhat overcomplicated and all of the internal angst between Thomas and Audrey Rose was quite irritating, though I did really love the narration and will definitely be continuing this series in audio format.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of Malorie Blackman’s Crossfire, but after today, I likely won’t have anymore reviews for you till I’m back from Cape Town in April, beware, there’s going to be a massive bombardment of everything I read whilst I’m out there after I come back!

Reign of The Fallen (Reign of The Fallen #1) Review

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Book: Reign of The Fallen (Reign of The Fallen #1)

Author: Sarah Glenn Marsh

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Kasmira and Odessa have a conversation about the world outside Karthia.

Content Warnings: Grief, substance abuse, death

This was my #RockMyTBR book for December, and much like An Enchantment of Ravens, I didn’t really know much about it, I knew going in that it was about necromancers, and had an f/f romance, and that the cover was gorgeous but that was about it. I thought I would really love it, and I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, I thought it was going to be a really fun, zombie adventure romp and it was a more quiet, introspective look at death and grief, which was fine but not really what I was reading it for. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their souls from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised–the Dead must remain shrouded, or risk transforming into zombie-like monsters known as Shades. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, the grotesque transformation will begin.

A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears among Odessa’s necromancer community. Soon a crushing loss of one of their own reveals a disturbing conspiracy: someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead–and training them to attack. Odessa is faced with a terrifying question: What if her necromancer’s magic is the weapon that brings Karthia to its knees?

I loved the idea behind this book, it’s definitely one of the most unique fantasies that I’ve ever read, I mean necromancers that can bring the dead back, but if they don’t remain shrouded then they turn into killer zombies? It’s definitely a cool idea, and it’s not just necromancers, the people in this world all have different powers depending on what colour eyes they have, so there are lots of different types of powers, including people who can control animals and people who can control the weather.

I did think that the magic system was pretty underdeveloped, you have the basic concept of power corresponding with eye colour, but no one knows how the relationship between the two work, how exactly does having blue eyes, manifest itself as necromancer powers. No one in the world tries to explore it either, so you as the reader are just kind of left wondering as to why exactly this specific magic system came to be.

I also thought that the world was underdeveloped as well, I had so many questions! It hasn’t changed in 200 years and everyone is just fine with that, despite the fact that people are dying, and no one cares that the King isn’t doing anything about it? Also the monarch hasn’t changed in 200 years and there doesn’t seem to be any implications from that? Also the nobles constantly throw parties whilst the peasants are starving and there’s no rioting? And these people can all become super powerful mages by 17, meaning they start training to do this at 7? There were just a lot of little things like that which didn’t seem to have been thought through.

I loved that there was so much LGBTQ+ representation in this, a large part of the cast is LGBTQ+, you have a bisexual girl, a lesbian, and two gay guys, and the world is not homophobic in the slightest, which is brilliant. There’s also some POC rep, with Odessa and Danial, though there could have been a bit more. It was really great to have a fantasy world that didn’t reflect society’s prejudices, as well as no homophobia, it wasn’t a sexist or racist world either, which was brilliant.

Another sufferer in the not developed enough camp, was Odessa’s friendships. We’re told that she has this really tight knit friendship group, but we don’t really get to see any evidence of it, we’re just told, “Oh I’ve been friends with these people since I was a kid” but I never really felt any closeness between them? Same goes with Master Cymbre, we’re told by Odessa that they’re really close but we barely see them interact!

I thought the necromancy aspect was really cool, but I thought it was going to be explored more, and yet it seemed almost incidental in comparison to Odessa’s grief and her romances. I can’t really explain this too well without giving away spoilers, but the Shade attacks that much of the book revolves around are obviously related to necromancy and I didn’t really understand a certain aspect of how all the worked because the necromancers’ powers weren’t really explained all that well.

Odessa’s grief is obviously a key plot point in this novel, and whilst I thought it was explored well, it’s kind of dull to read about! I also felt that because we didn’t really get to know the people she was grieving for, I just didn’t really feel it. I think it’s also that Odessa as the POV character in the novel, does kind of keep you at arms length, I can’t really say I got to know her that well, so I think that also affected things.

The side characters, and there were a lot of them, weren’t really developed all that much either, unfortunately. I would have loved some of the characters, like Valoria, or Kasmira, to be expanded on more, because I really liked them, Valoria is an inventor which is pretty awesome and Kasmira is a pirate, such awesomeness and we did not get enough of it! The villain, I didn’t feel was developed all that well either, they actually didn’t really seem all that unreasonable, they go about things the wrong way sure, but I thought they had a point for what they were wanting to do.

The pacing wasn’t great, it’s pretty slow, takes about 100 odd pages for the real inciting incident to happen, and even then, it’s definitely a slow burn kind of a book, which is fine, it just wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be. The stakes never really felt particularly high either, they have a healer on side to attend to all their scrapes (there’s an ableist moment where Odessa temporarily goes blind and is magical healed by it).

I wasn’t massively keen on either of the romances in this book, Odessa’s first relationship, with Evander, just wasn’t really developed enough, we don’t get to see enough of him to root for it and her second relationship, I didn’t think was exactly healthy and they’re both grieving….plus wait for it….she’s Evander’s sister! Which is incredibly icky.

The writing style was decent, nothing monumental but it was easy enough to read and aside from some repetition in places, there was nothing glaringly annoying.

I did also just find it kind of miserable? There’s a lot of sadness and grief in this book, and whilst that’s fine, I find in sad or dark books, I need at least some levity otherwise I feel too despairing.

The ending was also kind of anti-climactic, everything is resolved, it all seems to have been tied up neatly and then we get thrown into a situation that is clearly setting up for a next book, which I obviously knew as the next book is already out, but it kind of felt like an afterthought rather than something that the book at had been working towards.

Overall, this was a decent enough book and I loved the concept, but I definitely felt as if some things could have been executed better and whilst I think I will read the sequel, I don’t think that my expectations will be that high.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my final read of 2019, Hunting Prince Dracula by Keri Maniscalco, the sequel to Stalking Jack The Ripper.

 

 

An Enchantment of Ravens Review

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Book: An Enchantment of Ravens

Author: Margaret Rogerson

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Aster and Isobel talk about books and Craft.

This was my #RockMyTBR book for November, and I actually hadn’t really heard that much about this book going into it, I really only knew that the cover was gorgeous and that it was about faeries, but other than that I didn’t know much. Unfortunately, I didn’t really love it, it weirdly felt both far longer than its 300 pages and like it should have been expanded beyond that length. Not an awful lot really happened, the characters weren’t given the space to be developed properly and neither was the world, so despite the concept being something I should have enjoyed, I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. I mean when a 300 page book takes you almost three weeks, it’s not great is it? Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A skilled painter must stand up to the ancient power of the faerie courts—even as she falls in love with a faerie prince—in this gorgeous debut novel.

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

I’m going to start off with my two biggest problems with the book: the lack of depth, and the pacing, both of which I reckon are tied into each other. If you’re going to do a 300 page book, you really have to be tight with the pacing and I think it’s pretty hard really to get a fantasy book in 300 pages with a well developed world and well developed characters, this was really more middle grade length than YA.

The pacing was incredibly uneven, it was so slow to start off with, and the middle also lagged, but then the end felt incredibly rushed. I think this probably has to do with how short the book was, Rogerson took too long setting everything up and then realised she only had so long to wrap it up, so the ending felt rushed. The chapters were also weirdly long, considering the length of the book, so that made the story feel like it lagged even more.

As for the lack of depth, 300 pages is not a lot to go into major detail about a fantasy world, and maybe this is me and being a bit of a nerd about that kind of thing, but I just felt like this book could have gone into so much more depth about the world. There were so many things I felt weren’t explained, we learn practically nothing about any of the other courts, aside from the Spring Court, the Alder King isn’t really fully explained, we don’t get to learn about any other laws aside from The Good Law, it’s not really explained why Fair Folk can’t use Craft, or why Isobel’s Craft affects them the way it does, the Fair Folk’s powers aren’t really explored much…..I could go on and on, but you get the picture. When I read a fantasy book, I want to come out with a working idea of how the world works and with this one, I just didn’t. I also found it really weird that Rook is the Autumn prince but we never get to see the Autumn Court. The world in general isn’t really explained either, we have Whimsy, the Faerie Lands and the World Beyond, but we don’t know how they are connected, whether they are all separate, whether they are all one thing, how that whole thing works.

The lack of depth also extended to the characters. Isobel started off really promising, feisty, clever, funny but I felt like she kind of faded through the book. Rook, honestly just felt flat to me, and I get that maybe that was the point as the Fair Folk can’t feel human emotions (which is a plot hole when it comes to the whole Good Law thing, because if Fair Folk can’t feel then how could they fall in love with humans?), but it didn’t make him all that interesting to read about. The same goes with all the other Fair Folk.

I also wasn’t that keen on Isobel and Rook’s romance, it felt underdeveloped, I didn’t really feel the chemistry between them, so it’s difficult to feel the stakes of the Good Law, because I wasn’t really invested in them as a couple. Also the hundreds of years age gap, again? REALLY?

There was WAY TOO MUCH JOURNEYING. This book is very much a journey book, and that doesn’t really work for me. I don’t really find endless wandering in the woods very interesting, so for half the book, I was close to falling asleep because I was just so bored reading chapter after chapter of Isobel and Rook wandering in the woods.

I did appreciate the emphasis on consent, with Isobel enforcing that Rook wasn’t allowed to touch her without her consent, though I felt that was kind of undermined by the part where she spied on him bathing, because that kind of undermines the point she made to him.

I wasn’t massively keen on Rogerson’s writing style, I’ve seen a lot of reviewers really loving it, but it was a bit overly descriptive for me. The fun, witty banter saved it from being a complete washout for me, because I do appreciate authors who do dialogue well.

I felt kind of cheated that we didn’t learn Isobel’s true name also.

Honestly there’s not really much more I have to say about this one, it was a nice concept, but lacked content, world-building, and character development. I think it could have been really good, but it was just all crammed into too space and the author wasted a lot of time with journeying rather than exploring and expanding her world.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my final #RockMyTBR book of the year, Reign of The Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh.

 

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) Review

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Book: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Alex and her professor Marguerite Belbalm, have a discussion about her grades and her future at Yale.

I was really excited for this book, because I love Leigh Bardugo and I was looking forward to seeing how she would transition from YA to Adult. I’ve also been talking about wanting to find more Uni aged protagonists in fiction, especially fantasy for a while now, so naturally the premise really appealed to me. I thought the concept for this book was fantastic, and I loved the creativity in the world building but unfortunately the pace just lagged for me. It was a good 200 pages before I felt like I was really invested in the story, and I just didn’t really warm to the characters at all. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

I have to start with my biggest problem with the book, which was the pacing. It was incredibly slow paced, and I get that it was more of a slow burn mystery type book, but if you’re over 200 pages into a book and it’s not really gone anywhere, then I consider that a problem. The chapters, especially in the beginning, were overly long and honestly, I felt like it could have used trimming a little, it didn’t feel like the story needed the 450 pages it had, and I think if it had been shorter, the plotting and pacing may have been tighter.

I did love the concept, I thought it was really creative and not something I’d really seen much of before. I loved all the different societies having different types of magic, though we didn’t really get to explore all of them, the book mainly focuses on Skull and Bones, Scroll and Keys, Aurelian and Manuscript. I also really liked that this was a fantasy that focused on University students, it’s something I’ve been looking for and I hope that the success of this book might make publishers more willing to take on stories like this.

There was a fair bit of controversy when this book came out about the dark themes, and Bardugo definitely didn’t shy away from the darker elements of life, but I didn’t think it was anymore gritty or brutal than anything else I’d read. There are a fair few trigger warnings for this book though, which include: child rape, sexual assault, drowning, violence, gore, magical drug-related sexual assault, drug addiction, overdose, suicide, blackmail, consumption of human waste, murder and racism. There was quite a graphic rape scene which I found rather uncomfortable, but by and large, I didn’t find the book overly graphic.

I really loved the map at the beginning, I’m not massively familiar with Yale, or New Haven, so that was definitely helpful, and I do love it when a fantasy book has a map.

As for the characters, well it took me a while to warm up to any of them. Alex is by nature quite guarded, which is understandable given the trauma that she’s been through, but she did feel quite flat and her motivations were quite hazy for me for most of the book. I did find that she grew on me more later in the book, but she wasn’t quite as developed as I would have liked her to be. Both Darlington and Dawes, the other two main “Lethe” characters in this book, also felt like they were quite poorly developed, I got a general sense of both of their characters, but not enough to feel any kind of connection to them, and Darlington was barely there for most of the book.

In general, Bardugo’s writing was great, though I will admit, I thought there was a little too much exposition and info-dumping, especially in the first 200 pages of the book. She definitely does know how to create atmosphere with her writing though, and there were some really beautiful turns of phrase here.

I also thought there was a little too much reliance on narration and internal monologue. Bardugo does dialogue so well, I’m surprised she didn’t use more of it here and I definitely felt that contributed to the plodding pace. I also think that more dialogue between the characters would have helped in terms of establishing clearer character dynamics.

I also thought that the switching back and forth between the past and the present was a little choppy, especially in the first half of the book where it was switching between Darlington and Alex’s POVs. I think that was a little too much, either have two narrators both in the same time period, or switch between the past and the present with the same narrator, because the way Bardugo did it here didn’t seem to work.

I did like that Darlington and Alex had a platonic relationship, at least for now. There were hints that Darlington might have a thing for Alex, but I’m hoping that Bardugo doesn’t decide to explore that, because I am so sick of platonic relationships always turning into romance. Speaking of romance, I did read Alex as potentially having some feelings towards women, her relationship with her former roommate Hellie definitely seemed like it had romantic undertones, so I’d like to maybe see that explored in future books (though I may have read that totally wrong).

The world building was good, but it was almost overwhelming. You get so much information thrown at you right from the get go, you’re basically dumped in the action and I’m guessing we were supposed to feel like Alex, kind of confused by everything, but as a reader, that’s not a particularly fun place to me. I mean, everything was developed well, I know how Lethe works, I know the basics of all the societies and their histories, but I just felt like too much information was getting thrown at me all at once. I also wish I’d read the appendix with all of the Houses of the Veil and their details before reading, because I think I’d have been less confused.

I did feel like some of the character relationships and dynamics were lacking. I really enjoyed Alex’s dynamic with Turner, I think they bounced off each other well, but with the other characters, I felt like either we didn’t really see how they worked together or it wasn’t developed enough. Like Alex and Dawes definitely had the potential for a great friendship, but I don’t think it was developed and I really want to see more of that in future books. Same with Alex and Darlington, or Darlington and Dawes. In the first book of a series, I always want to get a sense of how the characters relate to each other, and I don’t feel like I got that here.

I also really wish we’d got see Alex with her non-Lethe friends more, as when an event happens that impacts one of her friends, she goes all out to get revenge for her, but as readers, we’ve not really seen any textual evidence to suggest that their relationship is that strong.

I definitely think that this book could have had more diverse representation: Alex is stated to be (I think) a biracial Latina, though that definitely could have been made clearer, and Detective Turner, who is black, and I think Alex’s friend, Mercy was black as well, but I definitely felt like the diversity could have been better, it did seem to be a largely white cast, other than these few characters. There’s also not really any LGBTQ+ representation, or disabled representation which would have been great to see.

I thought it was great that Bardugo included a scene with Alex getting her first period, it’s great to see that being normalised in fiction.

I think Bardugo went a little overboard on the sheer number of mysteries needing to be solved in this book: we had North and Daisy Whitlock’s murders, Tara Hutchins’ murder, the Scroll and Key portal magic not working, Darlington’s disappearance…..and though everything tied together in the end, I feel the book would have been better if Bardugo had perhaps just focused on one or two main mysteries.

The exploration of both trauma and white male privilege was done really well, and it was quite interesting see how the magical aspects tied into both things.

There were some really great twists in the book, both in Alex’s past and in the events that happened in the current timeline, though I will say that I felt like the murder case was solved a little too easily at the end and there were perhaps a few too many coincidences and convenient leaps, rather than clues to follow throughout the book. Still it definitely ended in an exciting place (though I wish the details around Darlington’s disappearance hadn’t been so hazy) and made me excited to read the next book.

Overall, I think this book had a lot of potential, I loved the concept, and I thought it tackled difficult topics well, but it was definitely bogged down by too much detail and too many subplots, which made it feel very slow paced. Still I enjoyed it enough that I will definitely be reading the second book, in the hope that now everything is set up, I will be able to fully immerse myself in the world and characters.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my November #RockMyTBR book, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson.

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7) Review

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Book: Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7)

Author: Sarah J Maas

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Yrene and Elide have a conversation about healing her ankle.

I FINALLY FINISHED THIS BOOK. Kingdom of Ash was my most anticipated release of 2018, and yet it took me almost exactly a year from first getting the book to finishing it. In hindsight, I probably should have just read it on audio from the very beginning, but I only got Audible this year and I didn’t realise quite how much I was going to struggle with the physical copy. 980 pages is a lot for a book, and this one definitely DID NOT need it, as about 400 of those pages was complete filler, it felt like SJM was just trying to write the biggest book she could because the storylines that she needed to wrap up could have been resolved in fewer pages, and in some cases, she extended plots over several chapters that could have been resolved in one or two. We also had a lot of characters spread across an entire continent in this book, which led to some confusion as you had to keep track of which character was where when and what characters knew what. It did resolve the series in a satisfying way, which is the main thing you want from a series finale, but it was definitely not up to the levels of Heir of Fire or Tower of Dawn for me. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Aelin has risked everything to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. Aware that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, though her resolve begins to unravel with each passing day…

With Aelin captured, Aedion and Lysandra remain the last line of defense to protect Terrasen from utter destruction. Yet they soon realize that the many allies they’ve gathered to battle Erawan’s hordes might not be enough to save them. Scattered across the continent and racing against time, Chaol, Manon, and Dorian are forced to forge their own paths to meet their fates. Hanging in the balance is any hope of salvation―and a better world.

And across the sea, his companions unwavering beside him, Rowan hunts to find his captured wife and queen―before she is lost to him forever.

As the threads of fate weave together at last, all must fight, if they are to have a chance at a future. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever in the explosive final chapter of the Throne of Glass series.

So as I kind of touched on at the top of this review, I actually read this book kind of weirdly, as I did half of it in physical format and then the other half in audio. Basically, I had kind of been dipping in and out of it with no real regularity since November last year, and was making pretty slow progress because of that. After doing so well with Priory on Audible over the summer, I finally decided that enough was enough and that I was going to finish the remainder of Kingdom of Ash on Audible.

The size of this book was always going to be a challenge for me, generally my preference is for books of about 300-500 pages, 600 pages at a maximum, so a book that is over 300 pages more than the books I generally like to read, was always going to be difficult. Still, I don’t mind a book being a bit longer, if the story justifies it. THIS ONE DID NOT.

Aelin’s rescue was dragged out over the first 200 odd pages of the book, the Lock storyline took about 5 chapters, the last twenty odd chapters of the book was literally just them battling Morath, all of it could have been condensed into a much more streamlined book. The torture scenes of Aelin in Doranelle could definitely have been shortened, they were very hard to read.

In addition to the book being overly lengthy, it’s also not the best paced. The first half was excruciatingly slow, and it felt like all of the real plot took place in the second half, as the first half was basically just them trying to hold Morath back so that they weren’t completely destroyed before Aelin and the rest of their forces could get to them.

I did enjoy the writing as always, although the audio did highlight some of the more cringy aspects of SJM’s writing which kind of pass me by when reading, particularly in the more….intimate scenes! The prologue in particular was really gorgeous, I love the kind of old folktale style of it.

As with any SJM book, there is romance in this book, though thankfully, the romantic drama does seem to take a backseat here, after all there is a war on! I still really don’t like that she has to have everyone in her books paired off though, I don’t think it sends a great message to young female readers that every woman in the book “requires” a man and & that they all need to be paired off, especially given that some of the men in the book don’t treat their partners very well.

Speaking of that, I have to mention Aedion because he was SO AWFUL in this book. He was terrible to Lysandra pretty much the whole way through, even at one point throwing her out naked in the snow and by the end everything’s all hunky dory and they are totally loved up again? NO. I actually really did like Aedion and Lysandra but the way he treated her in this book was not okay.

Aelin kind of took a backseat for a lot of this book which wasn’t what I was expecting. I was glad that other characters got the chance to shine, and given that Aelin was imprisoned for a good portion of the book, it made sense but I wish she’d got to Terrasen sooner and been a bit more involved in the action because she only really seemed to do stuff right at the very end!

Without giving away any spoilers though, I was particularly thrilled with Yrene’s role in this book, I did not expect it and thought it was brilliant! Elide also really shone for me in this book, she had some brilliant moments and was really integral to saving Aelin and in the final battle as well.

It’s really difficult to talk about some of the things that frustrated me with this book without giving away massive spoilers but I’m going to try! Basically we know from previous books that the forging of the Lock with the Wyrdkeys and it will require a sacrifice from either Aelin or Dorian. Well the way it went down in this book just really annoyed me, not only because it was dragged out over more chapters than it needed to be but also because the way SJM resolved it felt really anticlimactic and I felt kind of cheated because it was a moment that the series had been building to for so long.

There was a LOT of deux ex machina in this book. Dorian can suddenly do things that he’s never been able to do (shapeshifting) because the plot requires it, impossible situations are resolved at the last minute by characters pulling something out of their hat that they “planned earlier”, and I know Sarah J Maas has done this in some of her other books too, but it was especially noticeable in this one being the final book. Everything just seemed to come a little too easily, the stakes were high enough but it just didn’t feel like it was enough of a struggle for the characters.

I’m glad there was a map in the front of this one, though it wasn’t very useful when I was listening to the audiobook!

There were way too many POVs in this book, it’s grown to such a large cast and whilst that’s fine, because everyone was scattered in this book, and there were so many things happening at once, it did get a little bit difficult to keep track! I also really missed the group dynamic, this group of characters have such a fun dynamic but they’re separated for most of the book and that was a shame.

This is a weird little thing but some of the accents in the audiobook really threw me off! I know it’s fantasy and they can feasibly have any accent they want but I just found some of the narrator’s accent choices a little weird. Some of the pronunciations in the audiobook weren’t quite what I expected either, but I guess that just means that I’ve been pronouncing them wrong all this time!

The battle scenes kind of lost their impact after a while, Sarah J Maas isn’t really an action writer and you can definitely tell, her writing is much better when she’s writing emotional arcs or character dynamics, rather than big set action pieces and plus there were so many, the last twenty odd chapters were really just one long battle and I got a bit bored!

I was weirdly disappointed that Ansel didn’t have a bigger role in this, after she was teased to be coming back, I was hoping that she would be a bit more involved, but she was barely there and we didn’t really get to see her at all, let alone see her interact with Aelin which was a shame. Nesryn also seemed to serve basically no purpose in this, I feel like she could have done so much more than she was given.

I was hoping this last book would be a bit more emotional, but aside from the ending, and one other event in the book which I can’t talk about because of spoilers, it wasn’t quite the emotional rollercoaster I was expecting, which is fine, I guess I was just hoping that the final book in this series would make me feel a bit more.

I really wanted a big confrontation between Manon and her grandmother, and was kind of disappointed in the way things worked out for them as I felt like they weren’t really resolved properly.

The ending was really beautiful, the whole of the last couple of chapters and the epilogue, it was a really fitting end to the series, and I’m glad that the last line, which Sarah talked about at her event last year did not disappoint. For all of the gripes I had with this final book, and I did have many, SJM really stuck the landing!

Overall, I did think this was a satisfying conclusion to the series, but it wasn’t quite the thrilling final book I was hoping for. The second half was great, but the first left a lot to be desired and I think had it been trimmed a few hundred pages, and not relied so much on lucky coincidences, then I would have enjoyed it more. Still, I am definitely going to miss this series and these characters, I hope SJM does come back to them at some point in the future.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo, my current read.