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.

 

The Last Namsara (Iskari #1) Review

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Book: The Last Namsara

Author: Kristen Ciccarelli

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-None of the conversations Asha has with other female characters revolve around anything other than men.

I got The Last Namsara in Fairyloot’s November 2017 box, Ladies Who Slay, specifically because it was said to be a book about dragons with a badass female character, and finally got around to reading it this year, as my October #RockMyTBR book. Sadly, I was somewhat disappointed by the book, it was slow paced, I found it hard to connect to the main character, and the world building, aside from the mythology and stories, was lacking. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her. 

I’m kind of unsure how I feel about this book. The concept was so brilliant, I loved the idea of a world built on stories, and of course dragons are absolute catnip for me so this should have been a slam dunk. And there were parts I liked, I really liked the stories and the mythology of the world, I thought that was really great and honestly, I could have read an entire book of those. I also really enjoyed the dragons, though I think if you’re going to market yourself as a “dragon book”, you kind of need to have more than two!

The pace of the book was extremely slow as well, for the first 200-300 pages there wasn’t really all that much happening, honestly, it could have been a much shorter book than it was. It doesn’t usually take me an entire month to finish one book, and though I was quite busy this month, I also think the slow pace of the book had something to do with it.

The writing was decent, if not particularly memorable, though the author did have a problem with repetition, she used a lot of the same phrases over and over again throughout the book. And whilst I know that “breath they didn’t know they were holding” is a legitimate thing that happens to people with anxiety, I wish authors could find a different way to express it because it’s such an overused phrase!

Asha was an okay MC, I found it hard to connect to her in the beginning, because she was just so mean and whilst I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, it took a while to connect with her because I didn’t understand why she was being so awful. She was also incredibly dumb, there were a lot of things that she could have worked out a lot earlier if she’d just thought to ask her brother! I think the problem was that the author told us a lot about Asha’s personality and skills without really showing them in action, it was hard to believe that she was as evil as she was leading us to believe, she just came off as kind of bratty.

The side characters were hardly developed at all, it felt like they had a name and maybe a few key characteristics, but no real depth to them at all, which made it hard to care. Torwin, Dax and Safire all had the potential to be interesting, but they just weren’t developed enough, if I’d known more about them, then I might have cared about their stories more. Safire in particular just seemed to be used as a plot device to motivate Asha.

There were several things that made absolutely no sense within the world building: the entire world being afraid of Asha since she was an eight year old girl, when by all accounts, she was the one severely burned by a dragon? And the whole regicide rule, like if you kill the King, you are sentenced to death? Surely people plotting to kill the King are wanting to take the throne (as was the case here), and so if you are successful and become King or Queen, then you then have to sentence yourself to death? That makes no sense at all. Asha also changes her mind awfully quickly about slaves and dragons for someone who has been indoctrinated her entire life to hate them, and for a great dragon slayer, she doesn’t seem to do a very good job of it in the book, as she is injured in pretty much every fight she has with a dragon.

The gender dynamics of the world were also difficult to pin down, as there is clearly no male/female preference in terms of inheritance of the throne, Firgaard has had both kings and queens and there’s nothing that seems to hint that their society considers women as lesser, but then no one seems to bat an eye at Asha’s fiance being abusive and its implied that marital rape is legal, so clearly they don’t care about women that much.

Aside from the stories, the world building was lacking. There are no descriptions of the characters, or the world, and though there are names of a few places thrown about, we don’t really learn much about them. I’m not a visual reader, so I don’t need lengthy descriptions, but I do want to have an idea about what the world and characters are meant to look like and I don’t think I got that here.

Torwin and Asha’s romance made me quite uncomfortable because of the master/slave dynamic. I just don’t think that there is any good way to write that, the power dynamics are so unbalanced that it feels wrong and so I can’t root for the couple. In addition to that, the romance in general was just weak, it wasn’t developed enough, I didn’t really feel the chemistry between the two characters and in general just felt quite insta-lovey to me.

There were some twists through the book, a lot of the major ones I guessed though, because the author pretty much spelled them out for you. I don’t mind authors leaving clues for the readers to work the twists out for themselves, but I don’t want them to be in your face obvious.

The book was quite light on dialogue, it was mostly Asha’s stream of consciousness, and the dialogue that was there wasn’t done all that well. I think if there had been slightly more dialogue and interactions between characters, not just Asha’s internal thoughts and feelings, then we would have had a better sense of the characters’ dynamics and relationships.

The ending didn’t feel earned, it all wrapped up a little too easily for my liking, the characters didn’t really have to struggle to achieve their goal and they weren’t really any sacrifices made by them. There’s nothing wrong with a standalone being wrapped up in a neat bow and a happy ever after, but it has to feel earned, and it didn’t here.

Overall, this book had a lot of potential, but it didn’t really live up to it, with weak characters and lacklustre worldbuilding. I don’t think I will be reading the companion novels.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of the final book in the Throne of Glass series, Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J Maas, which I’m hoping to finally finish soon after almost a year of reading it!

Before The Devil Breaks You (The Diviners #3) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: Before The Devil Breaks You (The Diviners #3)

Author: Libba Bray

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: January LaVoy

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, honestly I didn’t keep very good track, I was so engrossed in the book and it’s not as easy to flick back through audio as it is in a physical book!

This series has just got better and better with each book. What started as a promising but relatively shaky first book, progressed into an exciting series with a brilliant and sprawling cast of diverse characters, with each book upping the stakes more and more. This book is the most high stakes yet, as all the Diviners come together to save America from the onslaught of ghosts, caused by the mysterious King of Crows. After the events of this book, I’m very excited to see what will happen in the conclusion next year. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

After battling a sleeping sickness, The Diviners are up against a group of new and malevolent foes–ghosts! Out in Ward’s Island sits a mental hospital full of lost souls from people long forgotten. Ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the Man in the Stovepipe Hat also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over New York City, the Diviners must band together and brave the ghosts haunting the asylum to bring down the King of Crows.

Heart-pounding action and terrifying moments will leave you breathless in the third book of the four-book Diviners series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.

Beforre we start, there are a lot of trigger warnings for this book, including: sexual assault, eugenics, medical abuse, body horror, Holocaust imagery, murder, mentions of paedophilia, homophobia, racism, many of which will be touched on in this review.

Once again, the narration of this book was just brilliant. January LaVoy has definitely been my favourite narrator in my admittedly short so far foray into audiobooks, the way she does such distinct voices for all the characters, she really throws herself into her performance, even singing at points during the story, which all adds to the creepy atmosphere of the book and really enhances your reading experience.

I loved that the Diviners were all working together in this book, in the last two books, the cast has felt somewhat disparate, each one working towards their own thing but in this book, the whole group came together. I loved the dynamics between them, and this book explores different combinations of characters as well, so you truly get to see how every one of the characters interacts with the others. I found it much easier to keep track of all the characters in this book, I think in large part because they were together a lot more and their stories were more intertwined.

Speaking of character dynamics, the dialogue in this is just brilliant. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that dialogue is one of the things that I really love in books and this book has witty banter in spades, which really adds some levity, especially when things are starting to get quite dark in the story.

I said in my review of Lair of Dreams that I hoped Theta got more of her own plot in this book, unrelated to Memphis and Henry and boy did Libba Bray deliver on that front! Theta is a survivor of sexual assault and an abusive marriage, and this book really explores her journey of healing and coming into her own power and realising that she doesn’t have to be held back by her abuser any more. It was a really powerful story and I think Bray handled it with care and consideration.

I was also glad that Mabel, who was largely sidelined in the first two books, finally got more of a story in this one, and really came into her own in terms of figuring out who she wanted to be and how she wanted to fight for her cause.

As with the other books, the diversity in this book is amazing, we have POC characters, with Memphis, and Isaiah, and Ling and now Theta confirmed to be biracial (her birth mother was Cherokee), we have LGBTQ+ characters with Henry being gay and Ling being homoromantic asexual, we have Jewish characters in Sam and Mabel, we have Ling with her disability & Evie being confirmed to have depression. These characters come from all different backgrounds and it’s wonderful to see that in a historical novel, because so often authors take the easy way out and have only white, straight characters because it’s “accurate to history” (History graduate here, it’s not).

Then we come to the romance in this book. Memphis and Theta’s relationship continues to face obstacles, especially when she pulls away from him because of Roy and of course because of the opinions of interracial romance in society in the 1920s. Their relationship is really sweet though, they are both so supportive of each other and given all of Evie’s relationship drama, it was nice to see a relationship that faces it’s troubles, but both people love and support each other and know that they want to be together.

Okay so Evie. The love triangle of the first two books is still alive and well for most of this book, and it does get a little tiresome seeing her go back and forth, especially when the chemistry between her and Sam is so damn obvious! I was glad that the love triangle was resolved, but I wasn’t really happy with the way Bray did it. This might get slightly spoilery, but I think it’s important to talk about: essentially, Jericho attempts to sexually assault Evie, whilst under the influence of serum given to him by Jake Marlowe. Sexual assault SHOULD NOT be used to resolve a love triangle, and I was really disappointed that Bray went there, considering how carefully she handled Theta’s story. I’ve genuinely never felt so uncomfortable reading something in my life, I think the audio element definitely heightened that for me, as I don’t picture things very well in my head, but hearing Evie’s struggles…….I actually out loud said “No, No, No” when I was listening and almost switched the audio off, so I wanted to warn about that scene to other readers, because I didn’t see it coming and it really threw me.

We also had Mabel and her new beau Arthur, and I have to admit, I didn’t really care too much for their romance, mostly because we didn’t really know Arthur, so it’s kind of hard to root for and see chemistry in a relationship when you barely know one of the characters.

I liked Evie a lot more in this book than the others, I feel like she really developed as a character and the fact that she knows her friends are more important to her than fame is definitely a big step in the right direction, she developed a lot as a character through this book, which I appreciated, especially after her downward spiral in Lair of Dreams.

I did like that during the few sex scenes that we had in this book (not fade to black, but not overly explicit) that consent was featured in all of them, which is another thing that makes me so annoyed about the whole Evie/Jericho thing because Bray is so careful to include consent in all her sex scenes (not something that you always see with YA authors) that it seems odd she would think it was okay to use sexual assault as a way to resolve her love triangle. I can’t really go into details without being spoilery, but I liked that there was an instance with two characters in the book where the girl is slightly unsure, her partner asks if she wants to stop and she agrees, but then changes her mind, and he again clarifies whether she is sure. Quite often in books, the “Yes” is seen as the be all end all, and this book showed that consent can be withdrawn or regiven even once sex has started and I liked that a lot.

I appreciated that the chapters in this book were organised a lot better than in the other audiobooks in the series, each chapter is largely self contained, and it was much easier to follow from one chapter to the next. I also found the pace much better in this book, Lair of Dreams was somewhat meandering, in this book, the goal is clear, the characters were more streamlined, it all came together for a much faster paced book.

The scenes in the asylum were definitely creepy, though I was expecting from the synopsis for the asylum to play more of a role, but it was actually only featured for a few chapters. I did appreciate that this book highlighted mental health, and the treatment of patients with mental illnesses in the 1920s. I knew a little about eugenics and the sterilisation programme for people in asylums from other books I’ve read but it was great to see Libba Bray touch on it here as well, as I feel like America’s role in eugenics isn’t widely known? It’s largely seen as a phenomenon of Nazi Germany, but actually goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. In fact, the modern field of eugenics was developed by a British scientist Francis Galton, something I didn’t know until writing this post. Nazism was actually the beginning of the end of eugenics rather than the origin of it.

I really liked that this book showed an example of a friendship “break-up” between Mabel and Evie, because I feel like it was coming for a while, the two have been growing apart for some time and YA definitely does not touch on how painful these can be enough, so I liked seeing it here.

I didn’t find The King of Crows quite as compelling a villain as I’d have liked, he’s kind of this faceless Big Bad, which I don’t find particularly scary. I though Jake Marlowe was a much more compelling villain, because he’s the kind of evil that you can recognise from our own world, a guy who does bad things but truly thinks he’s doing them for the benefit of people, even when he hurts others in the process.

I actually read the synopsis for King of Crows before I read this one, so there was a particular event that I knew was going to happen for the whole book and I was basically just looking for it, and waiting for it to happen. I did end up being surprised though, as I wasn’t expecting the person or the circumstances surrounding the event!

There were lots of other twists and turns as well, lots of reveals about Project Buffalo, the 144, Evie’s brother, Sam’s mother and other things that have been hinted at throughout the series. If The Diviners and Lair of Dreams were the set up, Before The Devil Breaks You and King of Crows are the answers. I particularly loved the flashbacks to Will and Sister Walker’s time in Project Buffalo.

Overall, I really loved this third instalment of The Diviners series. We got so many more answers, in the first two books we only really got hints to what was going on, now everything is coming together, the whole gang is united and it’s all setting up for a massive conclusion in the next book. I am very glad King of Crows is out in early 2020 because I’m not sure how long I can wait for it!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will be of my October #RockMyTBR book, The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli (and yes, I know I said that after my last review, but I finished BTDB first and I wanted to review in reading order).